NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2021 Peach State Classic at Senoia

The Headline(s)

Capitalizing on the absence of Georgia (and the nation’s) top super late model drivers, Chris Madden walloped the field to score a $52,052 win in the inaugural Peach State Classic at Senoia Speedway, while said Georgians got skunked in Las Vegas.

Our Feature Spotlights

2021 Cajun Swing (Short Track Super Series)
Where: Super Bee Speedway – Chatham, La. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $20,000

It took until the final race of the swing, but Matt Sheppard won the one that paid big, leading nearly the entirety of Saturday’s Mods in the Marsh 75 at Super Bee Speedway Saturday night. Sheppard fielded a strong challenge from Ryan Godown, who clinched the tour’s points championship on the same night, then weathered a rash of late-race cautions to score his first 2021 victory in Louisiana after sweeping the Cajun Swing a year ago.

Godown’s championship run was unlikely, and it came ironically with a helping hand from Sheppard’s own crew. Godown, who did not leave for Louisiana until Sunday night after racing at his home track at Bridgeport Sunday afternoon, relied on assistance from the No. 9 team to be race-ready on Tuesday.

2021 Duel in the Desert
Where: Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Las Vegas, Nev. (streamed on RaceXR+)
Winner’s Purse: $50,000

In a field that included the nation’s top late model drivers in Brandon Overton and Jonathan Davenport, as well as Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion Tim McCreadie, it was an absolute shocker that Bobby Pierce emerged not only as the winner of the Duel in the Desert finale, but also the XR bonus money that turned the feature into a $100,000 victory for the “Smooth Operator.”

The win was the richest of Pierce’s career and makes him only the third driver alongside Overton and Ricky Thornton Jr. to score a six-figure victory in super late model racing in 2021.

The 80-lap feature was shaping up to be a repeat of Friday night’s preliminary event, with Davenport leading more than 50 laps from lap 5 onward; the No. 49 car led Friday’s 40-lap feature flag-to-flag. However, around lap 55 Davenport’s car started to smoke in the corners, and come lap 58 Davenport jumped the cushion in turn 3, peeling back his nose and ending his night; Davenport clipped Thornton Jr. in the chaos, who assumed the race lead.

On the ensuing restart, Pierce pulled a textbook slide-job on Thornton in turn 4 and never again was challenged for the lead.

2021 Peach State Classic
Where: Senoia Speedway – Senoia, Ga. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $52,052

He lost the World of Outlaws late model war to Brandon Sheppard, but Chris Madden put a major-league cap on his 2021 campaign with a dominant performance in Saturday’s inaugural Peach State Classic at Senoia, leading the final 44 laps of the 75-lap finale to score a $52,052 paycheck and top a whopping field of 63 super late models.

Madden, who bested Mike Marlar on lap 32 with a low-side pass in turns 3 and 4, was easily the strongest car across the two-day program, though he got a major assist when Kyle Bronson suffered a terminal ignition failure prior to Saturday’s feature. Bronson, who led all 25 laps in scoring Friday’s $10,000 preliminary feature running the Kyle Busch 2008 Darlington line that saw his late model scraping the turn 4 wall seemingly ever lap, failed to start Saturday’s main event.

Success Stories

Savannah, Ga.’s Andrew Stone executed a picture-perfect crossover move with two laps remaining to go from third to first to win the Street Stock feature at Oglethorpe Speedway Park on Saturday, the final race to ever run in the 71-year history of the track, which has been sold and is expected to be demolished. Stone was so ecstatic over his win that he spun himself out on the cooldown lap. The full story of the “Final Race” at Oglethorpe will run this Thursday on Frontstretch.

An early-race flat tire in Saturday’s late model finale may have cost Ricky Thornton Jr. a shot at the big-money win, but Thornton proved absolutely unstoppable in his modified, winning A-mains on all four nights of competition in Las Vegas this week.

Josh Richards finished fifth and second in both super late model features in Las Vegas this weekend while driving Boom Briggs’s second racecar, the first time Richards accomplished this feat since June.

Brady Bacon’s sprint car feature win at Arizona Speedway Friday night clinched his fourth career USAC national sprint car series title.

Ryan Godown went four years between his last Short Track Super Series win and the victory in the Tuesday race at Boothill, then won another STSS race two days later and finished the week with the Cajun Swing points crown. The Bridgeport Speedway track champion did New Jersey proud.

Now having said that, Godown himself acknowledged in victory lane at Ark-La-Tex on Thursday that part of the reason he was able to actually race the Cajun Swing was thanks to help from Matt Sheppard’s crew. Godown wasn’t the only driver to say so; numerous other drivers with smaller crews thanked Sheppard’s No. 9 team for helping them out. That made Sheppard’s victory Saturday all the more deserved.

One more note on Sheppard. He came out on the short end of the Friday battle with Stewart Friesen, but said battle at Super Bee was the best race of the tour, with the two drivers both using all grooves of the track in the closing laps. Plus, Friesen’s first career win in Louisiana was all the more impressive given…

Vexed, Villains & Victims

That Friesen rebounded from a nasty wreck that arguably topped his stunningly hard crash at Bubba Raceway Park back in February.

Big Ones aren’t just for superspeedway racing. Just ask the crate late model field at Senoia or the street stock field at All-Tech Raceway.  

Unfortunately, wrecks come at a cost, and Daison Pursley’s nasty flip in midget heat race in Arizona was just such an incident, with the driver suffering a serious spinal cord injury.

As of this writing, Pursley is undergoing surgery to repair the damage done. All of us at Frontstretch wish both driver and family a speedy recovery.

Fanning the Flames

Driving down I-81 and then 95 on my way to Georgia this weekend, there were as many Canadian license plates as there were American from Virginia through the Carolinas. If there’s one place all those snowbirds weren’t headed, it must have been Louisiana, because the crowds for the Short Track Super Series Cajun Swing looked positively anemic all week long. Then again, having watched the entirety of the tour on Flo Racing this week, I can’t blame the fans for staying away, assuming their decision to do so was based on something other than weather that was in fact a problem across the whole state. 

Center-drive modifieds are the headline class in the Northeast. The Cajun division stable? They shouldn’t headline $5 fan appreciation night. Not only was the Southern cadre of drivers nothing more than obstacles for the regulars of the STSS, seemingly every single mechanical failure and/or flat tire that slowed the race events this week were courtesy of the local drivers. That disparity in quality and speed was on full display for the tour’s 75-lap finale on Saturday, where the yellow flew five times in the first seven laps… all for issues involving Cajun division drivers.

Speaking of geographical oddities, it was bizarre that the state of Georgia was literally the spotlight of the dirt racing world this weekend, yet the nation’s top-two super late model drivers, Georgians Brandon Overton and Jonathan Davenport, were out in Nevada chasing a bonus (that it turns out neither driver won). Though I do think it says something that even though XR’s Duel in the Desert Las Vegas race did draw major names in the form of the Georgians and Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion Tim McCreadie, the Pollards’ new Peach State race at Senoia beat them in car count by a 2-1 margin.

Johnny Gibson, the voice of the World of Outlaws, had some very relevant words to say to Brian Walker’s latest lamentation that midget racing doesn’t command anywhere near the stature or prize money that other dirt racing disciplines do.

I’m going to add another point to Gibson’s comments; branding. Midgets, micros, hell even wingless sprint cars are damn near impossible to put an identifiable paint scheme on, with the identifying numbers almost always included solely on a tail tank that in smaller cars is never easy to read. Couple that with the fact that USAC’s three national series all tend to see the same drivers in different cars, outside of the NOS-sponsored drivers like Justin Grant and Chris Windom, you need one of Walkapedia’s spreadsheets to watch a midget race and know who’s actually racing. 

And I’ll add one other note. For my money, I’ll pay what it costs for admission to see a $25,000-to-win super late model race just for the spectacle of hearing full-size, 900-horsepower racecars shake the stands and my internal organs. Midgets and their three-quarter scale, four-cylinder engines are never going to deliver that type of experience, no matter how many slide-jobs they throw.

Numbers Game

1 – number of yellow flags across 100 laps of super late model racing at Senoia this weekend. Job well done drivers.

6 – minutes it took to run Friday’s Peach Bowl preliminary late model feature at Senoia.

$1,450 – how much less Ryan Godown collected for winning the week-long Cajun Swing points championship than Matt Sheppard did for winning Saturday’s 75-lap finale race.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give this week four decent Georgia Mimosas. The folks at Oglethorpe swore their after-party would carry on till daylight, making such a cocktail appropriate and maybe even necessary. The Peach State Classic at Senoia was good stuff and the Vegas finale was a surprise, making up for a messy Cajun Swing.

Up Next: The USAC national midget tour continues its West Coast swing all week long, while both the Southern All-Stars and Carolina Clash Late Model tours contest big-dollar King of the Sandbox and Blue Gray 100 events. Coverage will be available on Flo Racing.

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