There are thousands of racecar drivers all over the United States that pour their heart and soul into Saturday nights. Running at their local track, they compete to take home their own special trophy, as well as some pocket change most put right back into their car to help it succeed. Well, the top level of these racecar drivers are the late model racers. They drive cars that have similar dimensions and specifications to the cars that are run in the upper levels of NASCAR, and they generally have the most technology involved in putting them on the track and making them go fast. For the men who drive these machines, the biggest race of the year is the Bailey’s 300 held every September at Martinsville Speedway. The race pays $25,000 to win… and it draws racers from all over the country.
For good reason.
This year’s event was a very competitive race. There were 115 cars who showed up to try and make the field; can you imagine a Nextel Cup race like that? As it stood, 108 cars made qualifying attempts and the difference between the polesitter and 103rd was one second. Now, the top-22 drivers in qualifying were locked into the race based on their speed, while the rest of the drivers have to race in one of four qualifying races. Should they pass that test, the top-five finishers in each of the 25-lap qualifying races transfer into the main event. Once underway, the event is scheduled for 200 laps long, with a 10-minute intermission at the race’s midway point. After the intermission, there is an inversion of some of the frontrunning cars to make the racing more interesting; this year, it was the top six cars that were inverted. Of course, when it was all said and done, Dennis Setzer (yes, THAT Dennis Setzer) took the victory and the winner’s check along with a grandfather clock, just like every other race winner at Martinsville.
If you are interested in the future of stock car racing, the field of cars that shows up for this race on an annual basis is a great place to find the potential future stars of the sport. Just a few of the drivers that were on the entry list this year: Davin Scites, a Frontstretch favorite, started on the pole and led for a good portion of the first half of the race but was only able to get back to third after the mid-race inversion. Phillip Morris, last year’s Late Model National Champion started on the outside of the front row and led for part of the first half as well and collected the halfway leader bonus money. After the inverstion he was unable to advance past sixth place by the end of the event. Jamey Caudill, who finished third last year, was able to come home second; he was just never able to get back to Setzer as the race wound down to try and move him out of the way for the win.
Matt DiBenedetto, a 16-year-old driver from Hickory, N.C., drove an incredibly clean race and was able to finish fourth. If any Cup owners are looking for a young driver who can not only run fast but who takes care of their equipment, DiBenedetto is the man they need to look at. Rounding out the top five was Matt McCall, a former Hickory track champion himself and a one-time Yates developmental driver. McCall qualified into the main event from a qualifying heat and drove an outstanding race to come from the back of the field and end up in the top five.
There were other stories that made up this year’s event as well. Tink Reedy is a 51-year-old driver from Roanoke, Va. busy recuperating from surgery to remove a blockage in his carotid artery. Reedy qualified 13th and stayed on the lead lap all day, ultimately coming home in 18th position. Another youngster that is trying to make a name for himself, Jake Crum, had his dream end very early in his qualifying race. The 16-year-old was hoping to make the race for the first time, but was taken out of his qualifying race on the second lap.
There are more stories that end in heartbreak at Martinsville than end in elation; however, here are a few other names that competed in the weekend’s event that you should know: Timothy Peters, Justin Labonte, Drew Herring, David Triplett, Andy Loden, Frank Deiny Jr., Jamie Yelton, Coleman Pressley, Jonathon Cash and Randy Burnett. That’s just a handful of the guys who are trying to make a name for themselves running at the local racetracks, a place where you can go see a race for a lot better price than you can go see a NASCAR event… and many times, a race that would produce a whole lot better results.
There are hundreds of tracks across the country where these talented men, old and young, go out and race their hearts out every week to try and win for pride and possibly get noticed. So, if you get the chance, go out and support your local track this Saturday night if they are still racing. You won’t be disappointed; after catching the Bailey’s 300 last month, I certainly won’t allow myself to be.