OCALA, FL – Mark Whitener of Middleburg, FL bounced his way to victory on Wednesday night in the 40-lap NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series season opener at Bubba Raceway Park driving the Dave’s Towing Special. Whitener had to hold on through adverse track conditions to bring his race car home in one piece to take the win.
Several inches of rain earlier in the week gave track owner Bubba Clem and his crew a challenge just to even have the track with a new clay surface ready to race on Wednesday night for the Rock Auto.com Winternationals season opener. A deep hole in the turn four surface developed with ten laps to go that sent the dirt late models airborne coming off the corner.
“I race here a lot and Bubba and his crew do a great job to always have the best track conditions, so tonight was an exception because of all of the rain we’ve had here,” Whitener said. “I thought they did great just to give us a track we could race on early, but when the hole developed in turn four, we just had to get through it as best we could.”
As the rut deepened in turn four, Whitener had a big lead over Jacob Hawkins of Fairmont, WV in the Bland’s Towing Rocket. After Whitener bounced through the hole a couple of times, he started to drive around it on the high side of the track. After a caution flag restart with four laps to go, Whitener was back down rough riding on the bottom of the track in turn four.
“After I bounced through the hole in turn four a couple of times, I tried to go around it on the high side,” Whitener said. “When I did that, the car didn’t feel as fast as it did when I was driving through the hole. After the car landed coming out of the hole, the car felt like it got better forward bite. We’ll have to look at the tape and see which way was faster.”
Whitener was able to hang on and take a 1.415 second margin of victory over Hawkins. Max Blair of Centerville, PA finished third in the R&J Poultry Rocket, and Walker Arthur of Forest, VA took the fourth spot in the Cecil B. Arthur Beef Farms Special. Ryan King of Seymour, TN was fifth in the Brian King Roofing Stinger.
Sixth-place went to 12-year-old Tyler Clem of St. Petersburg, FL, who was both the Rookie of the Race and the Young Gun of the Race. Then it went from the youngest driver in the race to the most senior driver, 61-year-old Johnny Stokes of Columbus, MS, who drove the Bassett Hound Motorsports Special to a seventh-place finish.
Cody Martin of Christiana, TN took the eighth spot in the Martin Motorsports Warrior. Ryan Crane of Panama City, FL started 22nd and finished ninth in the Panama City Cycles Special to earn the Beyea Headers Hard Charger of the Race Award. NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Cale Conley of Vienna, WV rounded out the top ten in the AAA General Contractors Special.
History was made in preliminary action, as 13-year-old Michael Lake of Uniontown, PA became the youngest driver in the 11-year history of the NeSmith Late Models to earn a Fast Time Award, as he toured the track during Qualifications in 15.755 seconds and take the pole position for the main event. The two 12-lap B-Main Races were won by Stokes and Rick Singleton of Hesston, PA in the Rick Singleton Rentals Special.
Lake took the lead at the start of the race followed by Whitener, Hawkins, King, and Cody Dawson of Westover, MD in the R&J Poultry Rocket. The first of five caution flags came out on lap two when Cla Knight of North Augusta, SC in the Augusta Aquatics Special, Singleton, Logan Roberson of Waynesboro, VA in the Cecil B. Arthur Beef Farms Special and defending and two-time NeSmith Late Model Champion Ronnie Johnson of Chattanooga, TN in the NeSmith Chevrolet Special tangled in turn one.
The second caution flag came out on the restart after Dawson pounded the backstretch wall while running fifth. The next restart saw Clem work to the inside of King, and take the fourth spot on lap three, only to give up the spot a couple of laps later when the Young Gun Challenge Series driver dropped to the eighth spot.
Hawkins drove inside Whitener coming off the fourth turn on lap five to claim the second spot. While Hawkins and Whitener battled for second, Lake began to pull away, but his big margin was erased on lap nine when Conley spun in turn two to bring out the third caution flag. Lake led Hawkins, Whitener, King, Arthur, Blair, Stokes, Clem, Joe Mike of Mayfield, KY in the Mike Farms Special and Martin down for the restart.
On the restart, Arthur got to the inside of King coming off the fourth turn to take the fourth spot. Whitener picked up the pace on lap 13 when he powered inside of Hawkins coming off the fourth turn to take over the second spot, but he didn’t stay there long.
Whitener quickly reeled in Lake, who seemed to be slowing off his early race pace. On lap 14, Whitener once again used the bottom groove coming off the fourth turn to get underneath Lake and take the lead. Lake began to drop through the pack before calling it a night on lap 17. At the halfway point, Whitener led Hawkins, Arthur, Blair, King, Clem, Stokes, Crane, Mike and Martin.
With just about every car in the field using the bottom groove in turn four, the surface gave up the ghost on lap 30 and began to come apart, sending all takers in its path airborne coming off the corner. If anything, it created wholesale position changes, as drivers straightened themselves out and tried to maneuver around to depression.
Bronson Berry of Huntingdon, TN lit up the caution bulb for the fourth time on lap 32 when he stalled the Garner Brothers Farms Special in turn one. The top ten for the restart were Whitener, Hawkins, Blair, Arthur, King, Stokes, Clem, Crane, Martin and Conley, who was one lap down. Whitener was sailing around the outside of the turn four crater and was pulling away from Hawkins.
Johnson stalled in turn four with a cut tire on lap 37 to bring out the final caution flag. The top ten for the dash to the cash were Whitener, Hawkins, Blair, Arthur, Stokes, King, Clem, Crane, Martin and Conley. Whitener stayed on the treacherous bottom groove to the finish, with his car coming completely off the ground a couple of times before taking the checkered flag.
The NeSmith Late Models return to Bubba Raceway Park on Thursday night for a 50-lap $2,500-to-win main event. For Whitener and the rest of the competitors, it will be long and busy 24-hours, as they go over their race cars with a fine tooth comb looking for anything bent or broken from the night before.
“These race cars are pretty tough, but we’ll take some extra time before tomorrow night looking everything over closely and we’ll probably replace some things just to be on the safe side,” Whitener said. “I know Bubba, his crew, and this race track pretty well. I believe we will have a much better race track tomorrow night and the rest of the week.”
For more information and rules about the NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series, visit the series web site at www.nesmithracing.com, or visit the series on Facebook at NeSmith Racing. Becoming a fan of the NeSmith Racing Facebook page will make you eligible for special prizes that will be given away each month. You can follow us on Twitter @NeSmithRacing.
-NeSmith Dirt Late Model Series Press Release. Photo credit: Photos by Trace.com
OFFICIAL RESULTS OF ROUND 1 AT BUBBA RACEWAY PARK IN OCALA, FL ON 1/28/15:
POS STRT CAR # DRIVER HOMETOWN LAPS $ WON
1. 3 58 Mark Whitener Middleburg, FL 40 $2,000
2. 2 RJ1 Jacob Hawkins Fairmont, WV 40 $1,000
3. 8 111 Max Blair Centerville, PA 40 $700
4. 9 87 Walker Arthur Forest, VA 40 $550
5. 4 30 Ryan King Seymour, TN 40 $500
6. 7 14 Tyler Clem (R) St. Petersburg, FL 40 $425
7. 15 1 Johnny Stokes Columbus, MS 40 $375
8. 18 21m Cody Martin (R) Christiana, TN 40 $350
9. 22 10 Ryan Crane Panama City, FL 40 $325
10. 11 14c Cale Conley Vienna, WV 39 $300
11. 13 4 Joe Mike Mayfield, KY 39 $275
12. 21 5 Ronnie Johnson Chattanooga, TN 39 $250
13. 20 72 Frank Wilson Harold, FL 39 $225
14. 6 25 Justin McRee Woodstock, AL 38 $200
15. 10 42 Cla Knight (R) North Augusta, SC 38 $175
16. 12 00 Bronson Berry Huntingdon, TN 30 $150
17. 1 27 Michael Lake Uniontown, PA 16 $140
18. 17 33 Jeff Mathews Valrico, FL 15 $125
19. 23 19 Marcus Minga ` Shannon, MS 14 $125
20. 14 66 Jake Knowles Rome, GA 10 $125
21. 24 18L Brent Lewis Harrisburg, IL 6 $125
22. 5 36 Cody Dawson Westover, MD 1 $125
23. 16 99 Rick Singleton Hesston, PA 1 $125
24. 19 17 Logan Roberson Waynesboro, VA 1 $125