Nearly two months after racetracks across the country started shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wheel Man Racing Series restarted its season Saturday night at 4-17 Southern Speedway (FL). No doubt due to the unexpected hiatus, an otherwise simple recipe of fast cars on the Florida 3/8-mile made for a dramatic feature that played out like a racing-themed whodunit, complete with plot twist after plot twist, even after the checkered flag.
The clues pointed to one of two drivers, either Brooke Storer or Brandon Morris, taking home the win as the duo engaged in a tight battle for the lead following a restart with just a handful of laps to go. What was shaping up to be a photo finish came to an abrupt halt into turn three as Morris and Storer made contact, Storer going nose-first into the outside wall.
The fans in the stands were quick to play judge and jury, assigning fault to Morris through collective boos that evolved to cheers as Morris exited the speedway, parking his machine. A wrecker towed Storer’s No. 9 machine back to its stall.
Morris denied dumping Storer, saying the 21-year-old caused the incident that ended both of their nights.
“I know it looked really bad like I wrecked her on purpose but that’s not what happened,” Morris told Speed51. “Once we went through one and two going down the backstretch, [Storer was] turning left trying to block when I’m beside her. My right front tire and her left rear tire got locked. We were stuck together and couldn’t get off of each other at that point. She had so much wheel into it, pointed to the right trying to get off of me, that that’s what planted her in the fence.
“If you’re going to play games, door me on restarts and try to move me to win a race and you get the bad end of the deal, then it is what it is. I hate it for her.”
Storer had an opposite account of events, blaming Morris for overzealous driving.
“Coming off of two, he just decided to get into me and stayed into me,” Storer said. “When he finally decided to make the move into three, we were done. It definitely destroyed this thing. We’ve raced side by side for years now and never had an issue until tonight. I feel like we were both just going for a win and we did what we were trying to do, but I think he took it a little bit too far.”
Third-place runner Adam Briggs was able to capitalize on the drama, advancing to the lead for the restart and holding onto it until the end of the race. His victory, however, was short-lived.
“That one restart, I saw [Morris and Storer] beating and banging on each other.” Briggs said. “They said they were fighting in the spotter’s stand, so we kind of gave them some room. The next restart they wrecked each other. We were sitting p1 so I thought we had a good chance at it and we did, but tech had other words for us.”
According to Wheel Man Racing Series officials, Briggs was disqualified for a drilled tail shaft on his transmission. The rules state that competitors must run a stock three or four-speed transmission with no alterations.
“We broke a transmission last week, so we had to put that one in to get by this week,” Briggs said. “To be honest, we didn’t think we were going to be up front and we were. We’ll back next time and get them I guess. It was a good five minutes while it lasted.”
The shake up handed over the trophy to second-place finisher Chad Rutherford, who celebrated the news of his first Wheel Man Racing Series win from the tech shed.
While the win ultimately comes by virtue of Briggs’ disqualification, Rutherford showed plenty of muscle earlier in the day by setting fast time in qualifying and recovering from an early-race mishap to score his original podium finish.
“The car was so good and we just kind of methodically took our time and got back through the field,” Rutherford said. “Got in the top ten, then the top five. I kept telling [Chad Pierce] on the radio, ‘Man, we might just get a top two or three here.’. Obviously, finishing second wasn’t a reflection of how good the car was, because we really had a winning car. I’m pretty excited for the next one coming up.”
The Wheel Man Racing Series has not announced a revised schedule for the remainder of the season as certain racetracks in Florida begin limited operations under “Phase One” of the state’s reopening plan.
-Story & photo by: Melissa Strahley, Speed51 Gulf Coast Editor