Coming off an incredibly successful 2018 season which featured a championship battle that came down to a tie after the final lap of racing was completed, the ULTIMATE Super Late Model Series Southeast Region is already looking to be bigger and better for 2019.
ULTIMATE Super Late Model Series Southeast Region race director Kelley Carlton is eager to put the offseason behind him and get back to the track, starting at North Georgia Speedway next weekend on March 2.
“The best part of the whole thing is you worry about everything, stress over the weather and who’s racing,” Carlton told Speed51. “When you get to the race track, everything falls into place. We are super ready to get back. All my guys are itching to go. We’ve got all our equipment ready to go, the trailers is all loaded up. Just a matter of getting there and hoping for that good weather.”
“The biggest thing is we’re looking to hopefully have some better weather so we can have more races,” said Carlton. “We had 12 rainouts last year and we could only make one of those up. That’s tough. We did really well and had great races and great car counts and things like that. Hopefully we can get Mother Nature’s blessings and get a few more races in this year.”
Last season’s championship hunt went down to the wire, as Zack Mitchell and Kyle Hardy competed for the title. When it was over, Mitchell and Hardy both finished with 422 points, the title going to Mitchell on a tie-breaker.
“It will be hard to top what we did last year as far as how close it was and the guys we had racing with us last year were excellent racers,” Carlton said, reflecting on the dramatic 2018 season. “Kyle [Hardy] has moved on to World of Outlaws. and we wish him the best of luck. We hope he can get that Rookie of the Year title.
“This year we should have another good group of guys, we’re going to some new race tracks,” Carlton added. “That’ll be neat, expanding our market to some different places. I think one of the things that’s really great for us is going back to Volunteer Speedway this year. One of the best race tracks in the country by far, it has a lot of history involved with it. There will be two $10,000 events there. The racers like those bigger-paying events.”
Strong purses are a common theme across the ULTIMATE Southeast schedule. Events at Volunteer Speedway, Virginia Motor Speedway, and Kentucky’s Richmond Raceway all pay at least $10,000 to win, as well as “bonus races” at Texas’ 105 Speedway hosted by the ULTIMATE Deep South Super Late Model Series.
While these big-money races often draw competitors from around the country competing for a big payday, Carlton said the series made a point to give their supportive local drivers a stronger chance to bag at least one of the five-digit purses.
“One of the things that’s neat about one of our Virginia Motor Speedway events is we purposely looked and found a date where Lucas [Oil Late Model Dirt Series] and World of Outlaws both were racing somewhere else,” said Carlton. “All the national guys will be racing somewhere else, so a regional guy has a significantly better chance of picking up a really great payday.
“It costs so much to race these cars and go up and down the road, so any time we have a chance to put a little extra purse money in their pocket is always a good thing.”
The biggest paydays of the season come at Virginia Motor Speedway, with a pair of $20,000-to-win events – the King of the Commonwealth on April 20 and the USA 100 on June 15.
“We always look forward to Virginia Motor Speedway, we have two $20,000-to-win one-day shows there,” Carlton said. “They are definitely the two biggest regional touring events in the country. There just aren’t any one-day $20,000 to win shows, especially on a regional level. That’s pretty neat. It’s always racey, it’ll be neat going there.”
Carlton has reasons to be excited about every date on the ULTIMATE Southeast slate. Some hold personal sentimental value, while others are intriguing opportunities to bring the series to new facilities for the first time this year.
“I love going to Dixie Speedway, we have two events again this year,” explained Carlton. “The Swims family has always been very special to me. They have such a deep, rich history in the sport. The late Mike Swims, I was a Hav-A-Tampa fan as a kid, so going to that race track and being a part of that is a really neat experience. Me and most of my guys started at Laurens County Speedway down in South Carolina, so we have an event there every year now. Going back there is really nostalgic, like a homecoming.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to everyone we go,” added Carlton. “Some of those new tracks like Lake View and Patriot’s Park, that’s pretty exciting to go to new places, meeting some new fans, and hopefully making them fans of our series.”
Now, it’s time to get to the track and kick off the new season. With big purses, a healthy point fund, and a growing series, Carlton has plenty of reasons for optimism.
“One thing I’m proud of is that all of our sponsors from last year are back,” said Carlton. “I think that speaks to the quality of the program. We have a really strong point fund. Our points fund is $20,000 to win, which is the largest-paying regional dirt late model touring series championship amount there is. That’s pretty special for us, really a feather in our cap, I think.
“I think that attracts some of the different competitors that come and take a look at running,” Carlton added. “I think we will have another strong year. I know Zack Mitchell is looking to defend his title. Tyler Millwood is going to run with us and try to get back into 2017 form, when he won the championship. We have some rookie guys coming along. I’m pretty excited to see where we end up.”
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51.com photo