For Late Model Stock Car competitors, it’s time to battle at the beach. Over 40 drivers are entered for Saturday’s UNOH Battle at the Beach at Myrtle Beach Speedway (SC). With 225 laps of feature racing and a $10,000 prize on the line Saturday night, the event promises to be one of the biggest gatherings for Late Model Stock competitors of the year.
A wide mix of talent from rookies to champions, with touring drivers, weekly competitors, including Myrtle Beach’s home guard, and even a few ringers are prepared to compete in the event.
The list of heavy hitters is an impressive one with names like Matt Bowling, Tommy Lemons Jr., Anthony Anders, Lee Pulliam, and Josh Berry all set to head to “The Beach.”
Out of those drivers, Berry has a tremendous amount of momentum behind him, one week ago he closed out the CARS Tour season with his season-leading fifth win at Southern National Motorsports Park. He is also undefeated at Myrtle Beach in 2016.
“We’ve typically run pretty well there. This year we went down there twice, once for the CARS Tour and once for a local deal, swept twin races for that and won the CARS race. We feel pretty good about where we’re at there,” Berry told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “If our success translates well from those two races, we should be able to stay up with it this weekend and we’ll have a good shot to win.”
With those previous events being 100 laps or less, Berry knows that this will be a whole different race, especially when you account for Myrtle Beach’s abrasive racing surface.
“It’s different from what we’re used to, there’s a lot of tire strategy involved with the race. The race plays out a lot of times with being fortunate and catching the caution right. There’s a lot to it, but it’s fun to go down there and finish out the season.”
Another name sticking out on the entry list is that of Mike Looney, the underdog driver who scored a popular win just one month ago in the Valley Star 300 at Martinsville Speedway. While the win has put him on the heavy hitter list of some, his return to Myrtle Beach after 10 years has him walking the line between favorite and dark horse.
“Anything’s possible, winning Martinsville is about the most impossible thing you can do and we did that. You never know, we got a pretty good hotrod,” Looney said excitedly. “I don’t have as much experience at Myrtle Beach as I do at Martinsville. I raced there one time back in maybe 2005 or 2006, I think I just about forgot everything I remember from then. It’s going to be a lot on the driver this weekend trying to learn the track and how long to save. It’ll definitely be a challenge.”
Looney’s biggest concern is mechanical endurance, not just for the race, but the entire weekend. He and his small team are putting emphasis on qualifying to make sure they don’t race any more than they have to.
“It would be big to get timed in and not to go through heat races, that’s another set of tires you have to buy. Plus, getting these Late Models to hold together for 225 laps, you got to be well prepared,” Looney explained. “We don’t have the man power to prepare them like the Cup cars. There’s so much that can wear and go wrong over that many laps. With practice, you’re looking at a 350 to 400 lap weekend, so you got make sure you don’t miss anything on the car. Any kind of failure and you won’t be there at the end.”
While Southeast drivers make up the bulk of the field, the race has also brought in talent from outside the region. 2016 American-Canadian Tour (ACT) Late Model Rookie of the Year Devin O’Connell is making the trip all the way from Connecticut to make his debut in Late Model Stocks. He will drive for AK Performance in deal that started on Twitter and was driven by nostalgia.
“I ran Myrtle Beach in an Allison Legacy car back in 2012 and I found some old stickers, Myrtle Beach Ministries or something like that. So I took a picture and posted it on Twitter, they saw the tweet and replied, ‘Hey Devin, why don’t you drive our car for Myrtle Beach 400?’” O’Connell explained. “I texted them to see what the deal was and he said to come down and drive the car. I’m not going to pass up on that.”
With 46 teams already entered, it is set to be a challenging weekend for all involved in this final chapter for Late Model Stock racing this year.
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
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