SEYMOUR, TN – The 2015 Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series season opener on Saturday night at 411 Motor Speedway was one for the ages, as defending series National Champion Ronnie Johnson of Chattanooga, TN thrilled the packed house by starting 23rd, taking the lead on lap 35, and posting over a three second margin of victory at the end of 50 laps.
Johnson started 23rd after failing to post a time during qualifications when his left-rear tire rolled off the wheel on his first qualifying lap. At that time, Johnson thought his chances for a win were gone, but he would try to just take it easy, get a decent finish, and go on to the next race.
When Johnson pulled his NeSmith Chevrolet Special into Victory Lane after the race, he looked as surprised as anyone that he was actually there!
“I thought I had no chance to win this race from the 23rd starting spot, so I thought I would just ride around easy, stay out of trouble, and see if I could salvage close to a top ten finish,” Johnson said. “At about the halfway point of the race, we had a caution and I looked at the scoreboard at the top five cars. I then realized I was racing with those guys, and if I stepped it up a notch, I just might have a chance to win this thing!”
The “Chattanooga Flash” got up on the wheel and brought the capacity crowd to their feet while he showed them why he is an Inductee in the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame. By lap 29, Johnson was fourth, and on lap 30, he went from fourth to second. Johnson chased down the race leader Adam Martin of Talladega, AL and the pair raced side-by-side for the lead for three laps.
Johnson took the lead on lap 35, but he reached heavy lapped traffic on lap 40. This enabled Mario Gresham of Rome, GA to close in and begin to look for room to challenge Johnson for the lead. That opportunity never came, as a caution flag on lap 45 opened up a clear race track for Johnson, and he checked out to take the amazing win in the final six laps.
Gresham finished second in the Gresham Racing Parts Special and the Cruise With The Champions Rookie of the Race Award. Martin hung on to take the third spot in the Seals Insurance Special and Pierce McCarter of Gatlinburg, TN was fourth in the McCarter Lumber CVR. Tim Busha of Boaz, AL drove the Kilpatrick Racing GRT to a fifth-place finish.
Tyler Crowder of Lamont, FL took the sixth spot in the Crowder Excavating Special and Brandon Williams of Crossville, TN was seventh in the Swallows Produce Special. Ryan King finished eighth and ninth, as Ryan King of Seymour, TN was eighth in the Brian King Roofing Stinger, and Ryan King of Anniston, AL was ninth in the David King Automotive Special.
Jadon Frame of Winchester, TN rounded out the top ten in the Poultry Electric/Pro Hardware Special. In preliminary action, Forrest Trent of Talbott, TN set Fast Time honors among the 25 entrants with a lap in 13.881 seconds in the Service 101 Rocket to earn the pole position for the 50-lap main event.
Gresham took the lead at the start of the race from his outside front row starting spot followed by Trent, Jake Knowles of Rome, GA in the Coosa Heating and Cooling Rocket, Williams, and Martin until the field was slowed for the first of eight times by the caution flag after a multi-car pile-up in turn four mid-pack through the field.
Gresham had Knowles, Williams, Trent, Martin, Busha, Crowder, McCarter, Lavon Sparks of Phenix City, AL in the Modern Images GRT and Tennessee Ryan King doubled up behind the leader for the “Dixie-Style Double-File Restart.” Williams was on the move when the field went back to green flag action, as he got under Knowles for the second spot in turn two.
Williams then took the lead from Gresham on lap five, bringing Knowles with him up into the second spot. Gresham fell back to fourth on lap seven when Martin got by him for third. Sparks stalled in turn two while running ninth to bring out the second caution flag of the race.
The polesitter Trent was falling back through the field, and while running sixth, spun on the restart in turn two. Williams led Knowles, Martin, Gresham, Busha, McCarter, and Crowder down for the double-file restart. Martin got by Knowles for second coming off the second turn, and on lap 11 he took the lead from Williams.
Once he took the point, Martin began to pull away from the field. By lap 12, Johnson had worked his way up to the tenth spot. On lap 15, Williams jumped the cushion in the fourth turn which opened the door for Knowles and Gresham to take over the second and third spots respectively.
Martin had to slow his pace down a tad by lap 18 when he began to encounter lapped traffic. By lap 20, Johnson had worked his way up to the seventh spot. The field was slowed at the halfway point of the race on lap 25 when Josh Johnson of Winchester, TN spun the Johnson Flooring Special on the front straightaway.
Martin led Knowles, Gresham, Williams, McCarter, Crowder, Johnson, Busha, Tennessee Ryan King, and Cory Hedgecock of Loudon, TN in the Eagle Racing Engines Rocket down for the restart. Hedgecock brought out the sixth caution flag when he stalled in turn four on lap 27. In the meantime, Johnson moved up another spot and was sixth for the next restart.
Lap 29 saw Knowles and Gresham tangle on the front straightaway while battling for second. Knowles was charged with the caution flag, and Gresham restarted in the second spot behind race leader Martin.
Before the green flag came out for the restart, the fans in the stands were pointing and waving. Johnson had their full attention now. Martin led Gresham and McCarter in second and third respectively. Johnson restarted fourth and was in full attack mode now. The riding around strategy was out the window!
On lap 30, Johnson drove under McCarter down the backstretch to take the third spot, and then got under Gresham in turn three for second. By lap 32, Johnson was alongside Martin battling for the lead, but the young second-generation driver would not give up the point without a fight.
Martin and Johnson battled side-by-side for the lead for three laps before Johnson moved underneath to take the lead coming off the fourth turn on lap 35. Gresham was able to regroup to pass Martin for the second spot on lap 38.
As Johnson came up on heavy lapped traffic, Gresham was closing fast, but before he could try to make a move to challenge for the lead, the caution flag came out on lap 45 when Rusty Ballenger of Sevierville, TN stalled the East Tennessee Metal Special in turn four to bring out the eighth and final caution flag.
With clear race track in front of him for the restart, Johnson pulled away in the final six laps of the race to seal the deal and end his miraculous 50-lap 23rd to first journey with a 3.101 second margin of victory at the checkered flag and a standing ovation salute from an appreciative crowd at 411 Motor Speedway.
The Chevy Super Series will now head to Mississippi for its next two races in April. Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus, MS will host the Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series on Friday night, April 24 for a 40-lap $2,000-to-win race, and then it’s on to Whynot Motorsports Park in Meridian, MS on Saturday night, April 25 for a 50-lap $3,000-to-win event.
For more information about the Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series visit the series web site at www.525superseries.com, or visit the series on Facebook at Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series.
-Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series Press Release. Photo credit: Adam Stewart
OFFICIAL FINISH OF ROUND 1 AT 411 MOTOR SPEEDWAY IN SEYMOUR, TN ON 3/21/15:
POS STRT CAR # DRIVER HOMETOWN LAPS $ WON
1. 23 5 Ronnie Johnson Chattanooga, TN 50 $3,000
2. 2 21 Mario Gresham (R) Rome, GA 50 $1,500
3. 5 47a Adam Martin (R) Talladega, AL 50 $1,000
4. 10 71 Pierce McCarter Gatlinburg, TN 50 $850
5. 8 15 Tim Busha Boaz, AL 50 $750
6. 7 47c Tyler Crowder Lamont, FL 50 $700
7. 3 95 Brandon Williams (R) Crossville, TN 50 $650
8. 12 30 Ryan King Seymour, TN 50 $600
9. 22 55 Ryan King (R) Anniston, AL 50 $550
10. 19 J8 Jadon Frame Winchester, TN 50 $500
11. 11 47r Ross Martin Talladega, AL 50 $475
12. 17 99g Jacob Grizzle Blairsville, GA 49 $450
13. 16 23 Trevor Thompson (R) Dallas, GA 48 $425
14. 18 29 Rusty Ballenger Sevierville, TN 42 $400
15. 21 58 Tony Thompson Ohatchee, AL 34 $375
16. 1 101 Forrest Trent Talbott, TN 33 $350
17. 4 66 Jake Knowles Rome, GA 28 $325
18. 24 23h Cory Hedgecock Loudon, TN 25 $300
19. 15 85 Jeff Smith Dalton, GA 23 $300
20. 13 J1 Josh Johnson (R) Winchester, TN 22 $300
21. 6 A19 Adam Beeler (R) Knoxville, TN 21 $300
22. 20 23a Barry Anderson Andrews, NC 9 $300
23. 9 11 Lavon Sparks Phenix City, AL 8 $300
24. 14 18 Matt Dooley (R) Brooks, GA 4 $300