With Myrtle Beach Speedway kicking off the 2016 Late Model Stock Car schedule this past weekend with the Icebreaker 200 event, we at Speed51.com decided to take a look around the Virginia/Carolinas region to preview the upcoming season for the hard-nosed drivers of the Late Model Stock Car ranks.
Saturday's Icebreaker 200 at Myrtle Beach Speedway was as competitive as it gets at Myrtle Beach. Multiple lead changes, lots of passing, and a field that saw the top 20 cars within a second of each other after qualifying. At the end of the day it was Tommy Lemons Jr. taking the win and becoming the first driver to be locked into the Myrtle Beach 400.
This past weekend's Icebreaker 200, as well as the track's July 1st “Sun Fun 101” and the “Lock n’ Load 200” on October 15th will give guaranteed starting spots to drivers for the season-ending Myrtle Beach 400. That may not seem like a big deal, but the 400 always draws a big car count and often times good cars get behind real quick and can miss the show.
New Champion at Myrtle Beach?
Last year Sam Yarbrough dominated at the legendary half-mile of Myrtle Beach Speedway. Yarbrough scored a top-five finish in all 18 of his NASCAR Whelen All-American Series starts last year, winning a staggering 13 of them. He also took the victory in the CARS Tour race held there last September. Basically, if a race was being held at Myrtle Beach, he was winning it.
But according to Yarbrough, that won't be the case in 2016. Yarbrough has plans to run part-time at Myrtle Beach and travel around a lot more instead of committing to chasing the track championship once again. Yarbrough said that the plan is to get better as a driver at more race tracks, and get the team better as well. Yarbrough said he plans on running at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, as well as Dillon Motor Speedway, and maybe Caraway Speedway too.
Two New Race Tracks
We now live in a time period when more tracks are closing than are being built. But this year we have a new track in Virginia and a new track in North Carolina.
In Virginia, Dominion Raceway is set to run its first race on the oval track on April 9. The Late Models will run 100 laps around the banked 4/10-mile oval. Dominion Raceway will have some other big shows throughout the season including two 150-lap Late Model races in the month of September.
Caretet County technically is no longer a "new" track, at least not for 2016. The new and pristine track in Western North Carolina made a big splash in 2015 and will look to carry that momentum into the new season. With raised purses, including $1,200-to-win Late Model shows on the docket, Carteret County will look to build on some Late Model momentum built up from when the cars first raced at the track in September of 2015. Carteret County will open its season on April 2.
A year ago the uncertainty of the start-up Late Model Stock Car tour had some people asking questions. Now the groundwork has been laid and CARS could see more drivers than it did in it’s first season. A total of 62 drivers raced in the first 10 events of last season. We did see several drivers race in both the series and at their weekly tracks chasing NASCAR points. One thing we can expect is more winners. Guys like Tommy Lemons Jr. are due for that victory.
In addition to new drivers scoring wins, there's a good chance we will see a new champion for the CARS Late Model Stock Tour. As of now, 2015 champion Brayton Haws has no plans for the 2016 season. Haws is without the proper funding to go racing this year. In 2015, Haws scored three wins and four top-five finishes in 10 races en route to his championship in the inaugural season.
Another Big Season at Hickory
Hickory Motor Speedway will feature 10 Paramount Kia Challenge races again in the 2016 season. Those events will be 100 laps like they have been in the past. The first race of the Paramount Kia Challenge will take place this Saturday, March 5, and will be $2,000-to-win. In addition, the Fall Brawl and the Bobby Issac Memorial will both be on the schedule along with the weekly shows. Dexter Canipe, Jr. won six races last season along with his four pole awards. That pushed his career win total to 13 in a Late Model at Hickory. Josh Berry added to his total with four wins in the Paramount Kia Challenge. His overall win total at Hickory now stands at 17.
2016 will be a year in which Matt Bowling will look to be a repeat champion in the Late Model Stock class. It’s only been done by two drivers before. That title run will likely have to go through the shop of defending NASCAR Whelen All American Series National Champion Lee Pulliam. The five wins by Matt Bowling was enough with his strong finishes to win the title. Pulliam won 10 races pushes his win total to 49, only a handful behind Philip Morris for the all time leader. Also with the new passing points program and plans to limit tires purchases will help aid the car count.
In 2015, Lee Pulliam turned Redford, Virginia's Motor Mile Speedway into his own personal playground. Pulliam scored double-digit victories en route to his third straight Motor Mile Speedway Late Model championship. He had an average finish 1.2 thanks to finishing no lower than second all season long. The only people that were able to take wins away from Pulliam? Matt Bowling and Tommy Lemons Jr. So what happens in 2016? Does Pulliam continue to dominate the .416-mile oval, or does one of Bowling or Lemons stand up and defeat Pulliam? Motor Mile's season opens on April 9 with a 150-lap Late Model main event.
New life has been breathed into the Late Model Stock Car division at the North Carolina bullring in 2016. As was recently announced, there will be six LMSC events at Caraway this season, each paying $5,000 to win and $500 to start. The boosted purse should help bring this track, which has a ton of Late Model history, and its weekly events back to the forefront.
Here are a list of the tracks that run Late Model Stock Cars or a close version and their opening day events.
Ace Speedway (NC) - April 1
Anderson Motor Speedway (SC) - March 18
Caraway Speedway (NC) - March 6
Carteret County Speedway (NC) - April 2
Costal Plains Raceway (NC) - TBA
Dillon Motor Speedway (SC) - March 5
Dominon Raceway (VA) - April 9
East Carolina Speedway (NC) - April 16
Florence Speedway (SC) - April 9
Franklin County Speedway (VA) - March 20
Greenville-Pickens Speedway (SC) - February 6
Hickory Motor Speedway (NC) - March 5
Kingsport Speedway (TN) - March 19
Langley Speedway (VA) - TBA
Lonesome Pine Raceway (VA) - April 9
Motor Mile Speedway (VA) - April 9
Newport Speedway (TN) - April 2
Orange County Speedway (NC) April 9
Shenandoah Speedway (VA) - April 2
South Boston Speedway (VA) - March 12
Southern National Motorsports Park (NC) - April 2
Southside Speedway (VA) - April 1
Wake County Speedway - April 1
The Marquee Events
Here are some of the biggest races in the Late Model Stock Car world.
5/13 - Rodney Cook Classic - Ace Speedway (NC)
6/4 - Racing for Wishes 150 - Shenandoah Speedway (VA)
7/1 - LMSC 200 - South Boston Speedway (VA)
9/3 - Bobby Issac Memorial - Hickory Motor Speedway (NC)
10/16 - Valley Star Credit Union 300 - Martinsville Speedway (VA)
10/22 - Fall Brawl 200 at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC)
11/19 - UNOH Battle at the Beach (SC)
11/27 - Thanksgiving Classic 200 at Southern National (NC)
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com