The climax of Saturday night at 4-17 Southern Speedway came down to the last lap of the Top Gun Super Late Model 100 feature. Jesse Dutilly stole the show early on, but as the king of the bullrings crossed under the checkered flag for his first victory of the season, all eyes were fixated on the battle for the runner-up position behind him.
Steve Dorer powered through turn three to the outside of George Gorham as a last-ditch effort to salvage a second-place finish. The drivers mirrored each other, neither relinquishing an inch as they barreled out of turn four towards the start/finish line.
Photographers became scorers; their photos revealed Gorham’s nose sticking ever so slightly ahead of Dorer’s. Officials confirmed the finishing order after reviewing the photos and comparing transponder placement on the cars with a tape measure.
Dorer’s photo finish with Gorham came after the Michigan native worked his way up from the rear of the field. An earlier incident had sent Dorer scrambling to the pits to change a tire.
“I had to pit after [TJ Duke] cut down my tire,” Dorer told Speed51.com. “The only replacement we had was a 180-lap garbage tire.”
Dorer said the worn tire made handling a challenge, especially in the corners, though the swap seemed to pay off in the end.
Gorham noticed the difference in Dorer’s machine as well, though he believed the tire change to be an advantage for the No. 94.
“He got a run up on the outside of me,” Gorham told Speed51.com of his battle with Dorer. “I was doing all I could to try and keep him behind me. The car got real tight and he ran us down. He had a new tire on the right rear and that makes a big difference.”
Ultimately, Gorham was pleased with his last minute duel with Dorer.
“It was a great finish,” Gorham said. “We raced side-by-side and never touched. It was a perfect finish for the fans.”
Gorham hopes his next battle will be with Dutilly, who’s combination of luck and strategy has proven indomitable at similar 3/8-mile tracks.
“Every time he pulls the pill, he always gets to start out front,” Gorham said. “We’ve got to race to try and get to him while he’s out front saving his stuff because no one is there to pressure him. He’s hard to beat, but we’re getting closer every week.”
Dutilly contributes the night’s success less to luck and more to hard work by himself as well as his crew.
“The car was hooked up and I couldn’t be any happier,” Dutilly said. “We’ve been working non-stop in the shop. We’ve changed everything three times over, kind of went down our own road and we’re finally finding something that’s working for us.”
Dutilly feels the early 2018 win is just the beginning.
“There’s a lot of good things to come.”
A pair of Michaels — Michael Goddard and Michael Atwell — completed the top five Saturday night.
For on-demand coverage of the race, visit Speed51.com’s Trackside Now.
-Story by Melissa Strahley, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
Top Gun Super Late Model 100 Unofficial Results
417 Southern Speedway (FL) – February 24, 2018
1 30 Jesse Dutilly
2 03 George Gorham Jr.
3 94 Steve Dorer
4 37 Michael Goddard
5 51 Michael Atwell
6 8 DJ Hoelzle
7 24 Jamison King
8 67 Aaron Williamson
9 59 Dustin Dunn
10 97 Brian Dorer
11 51X Ritchie Anderson
12 99 Cody Martell
13 22 David King
14 28 TJ Duke
15 17 Jett Noland
16 28 Dylan Bigley
17 15 Sean Lemaster