Matt Craig added a Green Jacket to his trophy collection on Saturday night, winning the Masters of the Pros presented by Day Racing Products at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway (TN). He did so while paying tribute to a short track legend, dedicating the win to Robert Hamke.
Craig took the lead on lap 83 of the 150-lap race and dominated the final green-flag run to take the $10,000 victory. The Kannapolis, North Carolina driver ultimately won by nearly 10 seconds over Bubba Pollard.
After the race, Craig could not say enough about the performance of his Pro Late Model against a field of some of the top racers in the country.
“My car was awesome. I can’t thank Rowdy Manufacturing enough, they gave me a good setup,” Craig told Speed51. “It was really awesome. The car was just good. After the first couple of runs, we made some adjustments, and the car was just a whole lot better. It was right at the right time.”
Craig dedicated the win to the memory of Robert Hamke, who passed away Thursday. Craig had a bond with the legendary racer and car builder, who offered him a ride in the Hamke house car during his career.
“I never drove his house car, but he asked me a couple of times. We were always going to races in our own car, so I wasn’t going to drive his car. Robert was a good guy.
“They’d send me to the Hamke shop to get parts, and I’d walk in. He’d be like, ‘What do you want, m-f’er?’ I’m trying to buy something from you. He’d cuss at me and whatever, it would always put a smile on your face. You knew he was joking. He was just really funny. He will be missed.
“When I was younger, getting started, he would tell me something I was doing on track I couldn’t quite understand. Sometimes, I’d tell him, ‘Robert, the cars have changed a lot since you drove.’ He was always smart, though, he knew what he was talking about. I’m sure he could get it done. He wanted to get in the race car a couple of years ago and he said he could probably fit in my seat. I told him to get in there and see what happens, but he never did.
“He was a great guy, and he will be missed. This win will definitely be in his honor.”
Bubba Pollard entered the race as the winner of the last two Masters of the Pros, but that winning streak ended with a second place finish on Saturday night.
“We just got beat tonight,” said Pollard. “We got here today and went to work quickly. All in all, it was a good weekend. I’m happy with it. We’ve had some fast race cars the last couple of weeks. We just got flat-out beat tonight, but we’ll try again.”
While Craig pulled away from Pollard in the closing laps, an intense battle brewed involving Cole Williams, Travis Braden, Jake Garcia and Jackson Boone for third.
Garcia ultimately prevailed in the hard-fought battle, holding off Braden coming to the checkered flag.
“Me, Cole Williams and Travis Braden, we ran there for that whole long run,” said Garcia. “I was trying to get a run, but all of us had pretty tight race cars, so it was hard to hold the bottom.”
During that battle, Williams and Braden made contact, sending Williams into the outside wall and ultimately relegating him to an eighth-place finish. Williams chalked the contact up to hard racing as he tried to hold off Braden.
“It was just hard racing. Braden was trying to find the outside and I was trying to hold him off. I knew it was bound to happen eventually. He was so much better center-off compared to me. I was just trying to hang on for the last eight or nine laps.”
Braden echoed the sentiment, knowing everyone involved was fighting for every position they could get in the closing laps.
“I thought it was good, hard racing. There were a couple of times Cole was chopping me a little bit but he didn’t really know I was there. It was just one of those races where everyone was in a little gaggle. You want to still pass, so you try everything you can.
“It would have been awesome if it was racing for the win instead of third. It was four cars under a blanket, racing at the end. I thought it was great racing.”
Race fans who missed Saturday’s Masters of the Pros can watch an on-demand replay of Speed51’s broadcast of the race by clicking here.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo
- Matt Craig
- Bubba Pollard
- Jake Garcia
- Travis Braden
- Jackson Boone
- Josh Brock
- Cody Coughlin
- Cole Williams
- Christopher Tullis
- Chase Burda
- Mandy Chick
- Jim Wall
- Austin Wilson
- Chase Johnson
- Trever McCoy
- Zachary Tinkle
- Bennie Hamlett
- Stephen Nasse
- Justin Marks
- Hunter Wright
- Davey Coble
- Dillon Oliver
- Dylan Fetcho
- Michael Bolden
- Michael House
- Mark Day
- Mason Keller
- John Bolen
- Daniel Bolden
- Austin Brawley
- Charlie Keeven
- William Hale