(Editor's Note: Following the publication of this story, Speed51.com learned that second-place finisher Burt Myers was disqualified in post-race technical inspection.)
Winston-Salem, North Carolina’s Brandon Ward was no stranger to victory lane in 2017, winning four times overall and twice at Concord Speedway. Nevertheless, the veteran short track racer had been noticeably absent from the field leading up to Friday night’s 75-lap Southern Modified Racing Series feature at Concord.
After the fastest six qualifiers redrew, Ward was scheduled to line up in fifth position. A mechanical issue for pole starter Tim Brown on the pace laps moved him up to third, and by the time the field circled back to the start-finish line to complete the opening lap, the lead was his.
“We had a really good race car all weekend,” Ward told Speed51.com. “Yesterday in practice was the first time we had this car out. Not only was it the first time we ran this car all year, it was the first time we’ve been on this particular tire. We felt like we had a lot of catching up to do pretty quickly.”
Getting acquainted with the new tire combination of the Hoosier M30s on the left side and M450s on the right side has been the name of the game for most of 2018, Friday night being the fifth race of the season.
“It’s a huge difference,” Ward indicated. “We had to make a bunch of changes. We won four races with this car last year, two here, and had to basically take a new swing at it to try and get ahead of the game for today.”
Despite that, the No. 19 team worked tirelessly to prepare and it paid off.
“I can’t say enough about Will Spaugh,” Ward commended. “He does a good job crew chiefing these cars; he owns this car right here. It’s just a pleasure to drive for him and to have Jeff Day and Kevin Powell involved. Hopefully we can finish out the year and run the rest of them.”
While on paper it may have seemed like the 37-year-old driver had a leisurely journey to the win, it was nothing of the sort. His lead would only extend to a few car lengths throughout the distance, most of the time over local favorite Bobby Measmer Jr. In addition, a restart that knocked out contender John Smith in the second half of the feature could have ended Ward’s night if it went another way.
“I hate really bad that John got wrecked up down there,” Ward commented. “My back wheels were off the ground off of four. I don’t know if someone else was pushing him or what was going on, but we were all just jammed up there and about got turned around there. I hate John got caught up in that too and I hate (Measmer) had trouble. He was hanging right there with us. That was going to be a good race between us I think. All in all, a pretty flawless race for us.”
The trouble for Measmer came on lap 57 when his Modified began to sputter and slowed, bringing out the yellow flag that set up the aforementioned tricky restart. The Concord, North Carolina driver rallied back to round out the podium.
“We had some electrical wires shorten out under the dash,” Measmer recapped. “Once we got that all clear, ended up coming back to life, so went ahead and swapped left (side tires) while we were in there to try and give me a little better drive.”
While Measmer was confident he may have had something for the win, it was also his first 2018 SMRS start and his comments echoed Ward.
“It would have been hard to pass him,” Measmer admitted. “This is my first time running on this new tire and if you get out front and have a car that maintains what the guys behind you maintain, you’re not going to get passed. It was tough. I probably would have ended up second behind Brandon.”
The driver that did finish in the runner-up position was fast qualifier Burt Myers. The former series champion from Walnut Cove, North Carolina ran top three the entire race, but fell one spot short in a winless SMRS season to date.
“The key at the end was just track position,” Myers said. “I think we were really equal. We were better on different ends of the racetrack. The car was pretty solid in practice and performed the way we needed it to in the race, just came up one spot short.”
Heading into the next series race on Saturday, July 7 at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, North Carolina, the performance leaves Myers and team with a good amount of optimism.
“We’ve been strong and have been right there, but just lacked a little bit,” Myers continued. “This tire has us a little bit thrown off since it doesn’t really fit the setup we had on the car last year, but I think tonight proved that we’re getting on top of it. It’s just a matter of fine tuning and being at the right spot at the right time.”
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com National Correspondent – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
Southern Modified Racing Series Unofficial Results
Concord Speedway (NC) - May 26, 2018
1 19 Brandon Ward 75
2 1 Burt Myers 75
3 17 Bobby Measmer Jr. 75
4 15 Jeremy Gerstner 75
5 97 Bryan Dauzat 75
6 14 Trey Hutchens 75
7 83 Tim Brown 74
8 77 Gary Putnam 65
9 25 John Smith 57
10 5 Tom Buzze 24
11 66 Tyler Truex 10