Riley Thornton didn’t have the fastest car in Saturday night’s Pro Late Model 100 at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway. In fact, for a while, it seemed like he maybe had top-five car at best. But when the checkered flag waved, after some fireworks from other competitors and a penalty for the alleged guilty party, it was Thornton’s No. 21 machine out ahead of the pack.
“I haven’t raced since like June,” said Thornton in victory lane. “I’m kind of taken back by it. It’s not really registering yet.”
The win is the first in a Late Model for Thornton, but it didn’t come without some luck in the form of other competitors issues.
Brad May had the dominant car throughout much of the race. The only car that could keep up with May’s No. 9 was Daniel Keene Jr.’s No. 5 machine.
After an undiagnosed issue early in the race that dropped Keene deep in the field, he rallied back to the front to battle with May.
On a restart with about 25 laps to go, Keene and May ran side-by-side for close to two-straight laps. They bounced off of each other numerous times in all four corners of the race track before Keene eventually cleared May for the lead off of turn four.
Going into turn one May got into the back of Keene’s car and shot the number-5 up the race track. They bounced off of each other a couple more times going down the backstretch before Keene appeared to drift down the track and into the right rear of May’s car. That contact turned May head-on into turn three wall.
May’s night ended in a shower of sparks in turn four as a result of the hard contact. Keene’s night ended as a result of the incident as well when track officials parked Keene for the rest of the race.
“We passed 20 cars clean,” said Keene. “I got to (May) and stayed right with him. I don’t think he liked that we were able to stay with him. We cleared him off of four and ran into one and he tried to dump us. He was able to get back under me and we went down the back straightaway and he drove up into us again. We touched again going into turn three and it wasn’t too good for him.”
Keene said he did not agree with the officials decision to park him for the rest of the race.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “I drove everybody clean all race. I understand he’s leading the race, but when I get by he should settle back into place and try to get back by me. Obviously he didn’t want to take that chance.”
May’s take on the incident is a little different than Keene’s assessment.
“He got a little sideways off the corner and I got a run and got under him,” said May. “He turned left down the straightaway and destroyed a race car.”
May and Keene will be back on the race track together on Sunday afternoon when both take the green flag in the Governor’s Cup 200.
When asked if he and Keene should discuss the incident before Sunday’s race, May said, “We probably should.”
As a result of the incident, Thornton inherited the lead with New Smyrna Speedway stalwart Tim Russell in second-place. Thornton and Russell battled hard for most of the remaining laps before Russell started to fade away.
“I was digging,” said Russell. “He got smart and took my line away. But I picked up a vibration in the right front with about seven to go and it didn’t turn as well after that. I don’t know if we had a tire going down or what, but my hat’s off to them. He drove a great race tonight.”
For Thornton, he can now call himself a Late Model winner, and that has yet to sink in for the 19-year-old Georgia driver.
“It hasn’t really registered yet,” he said. “I’m really excited. I’m pumped.”
For an on-demand replay of Saturday’s Trackside Now coverage, click here: http://speed51.com/trackside-now-fl-governors-cup-200-saturday/
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Regional Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com
Pro Late Model 100
New Smyrna Speedway, New Smyrna Beach, Florida
1. 21 Riley Thronton
2. 36 Tim Russell
3. 33 Carter Stokes
4. 17Blaise Hetznecker
5. 00 Daniel Miller
6. 10 Matt Montineri
7. 25 Paul White
8. 22 Brandon Herbert
9. 14 Conner Okrzesik
10. 41 Jeff White
11. 4 Ali Kern
12. 9t Derek Thorn
13. 15 Cody Blair
14. 5K Daniel Keene Jr.
15. 9m Brad May
16. 13 Kevyn Terry
17. 97 Cole Anderson
18. 17C Colby Clements
19. 30 Fredrick Moore
20. 63 Doc McKinney
21. 80 Rich Clouser
22. 1 Rod Butcher
23. 67 Terry Mackey