A year that started in confusion ended in elation for Brandon Ward at Bowman Gray Stadium Saturday night. Ward claimed his first career win at "The Madhouse", leading wire-to-wire to win the Carolina Farm Credit 150, which brought down the curtain on the 68th season of racing at the famed facility.
"This was the best car I ever had," a smiling Ward told the crowd moments after being drenched by his crew. "It just took off so well and the harder I drove her, the faster she went."
"We've been inching away at it That thing would turn across the middle and it would stay the same all night long. We even got better after four or five laps. It was a great way to get this Rookie of the Year deal sealed up."
The win in the finale was ironic considering the events of the season opener, the grinding 200-lapper held in early May. Ward appeared to have won his first Modified race in that event, driving away from John Smith in the waning laps. But a scoring recheck showed that Ward had actually fallen a lap behind during a pit sequencing and ultimately had his win stripped and relegated to 13th in the final, official rundown.
"That [the opener] was a bad deal. We knew something was messed up and tried telling the tower a few times. Just could never get through and figure it out. It was a bad situation. But we had a fast car that night and I knew we had a chance to win later in the year. We just kept getting faster and faster and tonight we had luck on our side. We set fast time, didn't have to worry about a redraw, started on the inside and controlled the race. Tonight was perfect."
Jason Myers could do little more than bother Ward at various points through the race, seeing Ward routinely grab two carlength leads on each restart. The only time Myers got ahead, the restart was waved off. Myers finished the year with three wins, while third place finisher Tim Brown added four wins in 2016 to bump his all-time record total to 81.
But the top honors for 2016 would go to Burt Myers. The 40-year-old from Walnut Cove claimed his seventh career Bowman Gray title, rarified air for any local racer, all the more impressive at one of the most unpredictable race tracks in the country.
"It's hard to wrap your head around," Myers said wearing his trademark grin, "We didn't the year we wanted in terms of wins , but we were very consistent. I've never seen a year where all a car had to do was start [to win the title], and that's a real credit to my team. I told the guys that God has been kind to us. We've worked hard, we've put ourselves in this position. But you never know what's in His plan, yet tonight here we are."
Myers will now seek to hold off the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour regulars to win his second championship in that division. With the Bowman Gray season concluded, that tour gets going in earnest beginning with four races in five weeks beginning Labor Day weekend at East Carolina Motor Speedway.
"To win two titles [the Whelen and Bowman Gray] in the same year would be unbelievable. These championships are hard to come by. But that's why we run for them – moments like these."
1 04 Brandon Ward
2 4 Jason Myers
3 83 Tim Brown
4 1 Burt Myers
5 27 Jonathan Brown
6 87 Mike Speeney
7 77 Lee Jeffreys
8 50 Michael Clifton
9 66 Ronnie Clifton
10 5 Randy Butner
11 18 Daniel Yates
12 16 William E. Smith
13 40 Chris Fleming
14 53 John Smith
15 2 Bo Bo Brown
16 75 Al Hill
17 10 Mike Robertson
18 01 Jimmy Wallace
19 14 Jason Tutterow
-- Story and Photos by Tim Quievryn // @thethirdturn // Speed51.com Correspondent