Maryville, Tennessee (April 17, 2021) – With a picturesque backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains and puffy white clouds casually streaming by, the much anticipated first event of the 2021 South Atlantic Diesel Steel Block Bandits Dirt Late Model Challenge had finally came to fruition on Saturday evening at the breathtaking Smoky Mountain Speedway.
With the Southern All Star Dirt Racing Series in the house as well, the pits were a Late Model fan’s wonderland, as virtually every car was one of the 2300 pound ground pounding monsters. Twenty seven steel block warriors were on hand as well, with 9 different states represented between them. Qualifying kicked off the festivities with all drivers taking two laps on the the clock. Even though he was one of the very first to take time, Willie Milliken set down the quickest lap ( 17.170) and would have to wait and watch as the rest of the field took their shot at his time. Jason Manley would take aim at Milliken but would come up just short with a 17.220. Milliken would grab the pole and the $200 from Bryan Sullivan in memory of his brother Ricky.
In the HGR’s Truck & Trailer Sales, Inc. Heat Race #1 , Milliken and Cory Hedgecock would bring the field to green in the 8 lap heat to determine who starts on the pole for the feature. The solid black Barry Wright Race Cars entry of Milliken would dash away from Cory but the #23 Black Diamond Racecars Mount found something up top and reeled in Milliken but comes up a lap or two short as Willie grabbed the win.Heat Race #2 is powered by Scott Service Company saw Manley and Kyle Courtney on the front row with the 32 of Manley grab the early lead. Knoxville native Courtney challenged but came up just short as Manly snagged the win.
Mega Plumbing of the Carolinas Heat #3 had Austin Neely and Mack McCarter up front as they roared to green off turn four. McCarter and Neely would go door to door into turn three before Neely lost grip and spun . Even though he had to restart in the rear , Neely battled back for a runner up finish as McCarter would take the checkers.
Finally it was feature time as 25 drivers saddled up for the 40 lap main event. Before the race, our drivers walked through the grandstands and took donations for the Racing for Heroes non profit organization, a staple we will do at all of our events at intermission. Milliken and Manley would bring this star studded field to a perfect start as the roar echoed through the valleys of the Great Smokies. “The Wildchild” would lead the first 10 laps convincingly before contact with a lapped car cut down his left rear tire. Hedgecock would take control for a while before Courtney who was in third cut down a tire as well. Maryland’s Derick Quade also suffered a left rear flat on his Longhorn Chassis as the growing concern of tire issues started to loom.
As the field reached the half way markers , it was evident that Hedgecock and McCarter had decided that they were going to settle it on their own. McCarter would stretch out a comfortable lead with five to go but hold the phone, here comes Hedgecock. Cory would draw right up to Mack’s fuel cell bar in turn three and the two would drag race down the front straightaway with every person in the grandstands on their feet! McCarter would win by just a millisecond in one of the closest finishes ever on “The Mountain”.
“Man that was unbelievable, that was so much fun, we were throwing sliders and never touched “ noted an excited McCarter. “ I was hanging on for dear life those last few , I knew he was coming and then I saw his nose, that was fun!” Jason Manley made a strong run at the end as well. “ Just ran outta laps, I wanted to get up and join that party and I probably could have if it would have been 50 laps tonight” said Manley.
Notable tidbits: Russell Erwin started 15th and grabs a 5th place finish in his Mastersbilt late model. Milton, Delaware’s Robbie Emory rolled off 13th and comes home with 7th place run in his Swartz Chassis.Matt Henderson quietly started 12th and comes home with a solid 4th place finish in his CVR chassis Heartbreak city for Milliken who was fastest in practice and qualifying, won his heat and was on a rail before the lapped car slowed his night.
Next up : Race #2May 22nd 311 Speedway Madison, North Carolina $5000 to win $500 to start
The brand-new Steel Block Bandits Dirt Late Model Challenge Series enjoyed a dramatic debut on Saturday night at Smoky Mountain Speedway. Mack McCarter turned back Cory Hedgecock’s furious charge over the final two laps to claim the $5,000 victory by 0.006 seconds.
“My car tightened up quite a bit,” McCarter said. “When that tire finally fired, I was just so tight. It took all the guts I had just to finish that race. It was a heck of a race. I mean, we was pulling sliders and everything else. (The top of the track) is really good. It’s come in. Roger (Sellers) and his crew really did a great job on the track.”
Jason Manley, Matt Henderson and Russell Irwin rounded out the Top-5 finishers.
Steel Block Bandits Dirt Late Model Challenge Series
Smoky Mountain Speedway (April 17, 2021)
Rockin’ with the Stars
- Mack McCarter
- Cory Hedgecock
- Jason Manley
- Matt Henderson
- Russell Erwin
- Austin Neely
- Robbie Emory
- Derick Quade
- Kyle Courtney
- Jason Cardwell
- Shaun Harrell
- Bobby Giffin
- Roger Best
- Willie Milliken
- Mitchell Burke
- Ruben Mayfield
- Clint Hodges
- Chuck Southard
- Chris Lewis
- Michael Dotson
- Taylor Puckett
- Ross White
- Sammie Russell
- Kelvin White
- Jordan Horton