2009 HALL OF FAME WEEKEND FULL OF RACING EXCITMENT
Odd things seem to happen at race tracks when the evening sky is illuminated by a full moon.
Superstitious folks have thought this for years. They can quote you race dates, car numbers, and driver names that will support their claims about the affects of a full moon over a race track. During the Super Late Model Heat Races Sunday night at the Cherokee Speedway, many folks were saying, "You see that full moon up there? I told you so!!! It makes the cars go nuts!!!"
There were several spins in qualifying, but when all of the 26 cars on hand had completed their laps, Jonathan Davenport gave his Barry Wright Team the Pole Position. Davenport’s crew had thrashed over the car all day Saturday due damage received in a crash last Friday at the Carolina Speedway in Gastonia.
The third heat race had the crowd on their feet as right from the drop of the green flag, Chris Madden, Randle Chupp, and Jeff Smith went at it door to door. After a few laps, Madden pulled away into the lead while Smith and Chupp leaned on each other at both ends of the speedway. After contact in turn one, the two cars touched again entering turn three, which resulted in Smith pounding the retaining wall, ending his night.
Chupp spun later in the race, falling from a locked in transfer spot, placing him in the first of two consolation race-last chance races. Chupp had the lead and was pulling away on the last lap until he hooked the cushion in turn four and spun into the inside wall.
The race was restarted with a green-white-checkered finish that was under the full affects of the full moon. Chupp charged from sixth place all the way up to second on the restart. The field thundered under the white flag and stormed into turns one and two. Somewhere on the back stretch the glow of that full moon must have distracted all of the drivers as all of them let off the accelerators and appeared to be heading to pit road. When they realized the race was not over, all of the drivers jumped back in the gas for this true, dash to the checkers.
As the cars fanned out four wide, the track narrowed quite a bit. When six cars go four wide something is going to give. Three cars pounded both the outside and inside walls in turn one including the car of Chupp which received very heavy damage AND THE CAR OF Keith Freeman came to rest against the outside wall near the entrance to the outer pit area. Chupp did start the feature, but had to retire due to handling problems.
Chris Ferguson, who won his heat race, blasted by defending series Champion and current point’s leader Casey Roberts to take the lead on lap one. Ferguson was able to hold off all challengers for the first half of the race. Fast qualifier Jonathan Davenport was running inside the top six, before being sidelined by mechanical problems. Ferguson continued to lead while Madden closed in several times only to be turned away by lapped traffic that prevented him from attempting a pass. Ferguson had contact with a couple of those lapped cars, one of which caused a tire rub on his right rear tire, as that tire got hot, Madden and Casey Roberts closed the gap on the race leader.
The final restart came with just four laps remaining, Madden drove deep into turn one to grab the lead. Ferguson stood on it and pulled back alongside Madden heading into turns three and four. Both of the cars bobbled for a moment, which allowed Roberts to dive to the inside. Madden pulled clear, while Roberts and Ferguson battled side by side for a lap and a half to decide second place. Roberts nailed down the runner up spot and Ferguson had to settle for third.
"We didn’t have a winning car tonight, but we worked on it after the heats and made it better. 75 laps can be tough here but Lennie and his crew had the track in very good shape tonight," said Madden.
Inman’s James Abernathy won the Renegade division. Abernathy started on the front row and led every lap of his feature. "The car started a little on the tight side but it really seemed to handle better every lap. Any time you win here at Gaffney is nice but winning during the Hall of Fame weekend is special," said Abernathy.
Among the other winners, Zack Mitchell of Enoree won the Crate Late Model feature. Brayden Pruitt, from Boiling Springs, NC captured the Street Stock Four Feature. Campobello’s Taylor Puckett held off a strong field of Super Stock Fours to grab the checkered flag. Josh Wilkerson from Hickory Grove found his way back to the winners circle. On Saturday night, Wilkerson won his heat race by less than a foot in a battle with Scott Tessner. Sunday night Wilkerson won the Limited Sportsman feature by five car lengths over Scott Tessner and Adam Yarborough. All of these winners were happy, but perhaps none as happy as the lone first time winner of the weekend.
Andrew Wilson, of Boiling Springs, SC just started racing this spring in the Young Guns class. He has just been logging laps while gaining valuable track time and experience. Folks have noticed his performance getting better and better each week. Saturday night, he drove to a solid third place finish, or so it seemed as the checkered flag waved.
The two cars that crossed the line in front of Wilson had filed protests against each other, and both came up wrong in post race technical inspections. Track photographer Mike Butler pulled his camera back out, as Wilson was instructed to bring his car back to the Winner’s Circle. Wilson, grinning from ear to ear, had his pictures made with his car, and then he took a slight detour on the way back to his pit area.
Since most of the infield was empty, with the inspection process lasting a couple of hours, Wilson drove to the turn four area of the infield. He stopped for a moment, looked around, and then he dropped the hammer on his Mustang and cut a few donuts before parking his car.
With the Hall of Fame weekend, there were lots of stories being told. Remembering past races that featured the 2009 Hall of Fame inductees like Otis Spencer, Charlie Blanton, Roger Hamrick, Petey Ivey and cars sponsored by Jack Starrette. But there were a lot of things that happened during this race weekend, which may be talked about during a future Hall of Fame weekends.
Some of the things I will remember include: Watching Chris Madden drive deeper into turn one than any other driver dared, Davenport ripping off another super fast lap in qualifying, the excitement of the side-by-side/wall scrapping finish in the Limited Sportsman Heat Race between Josh Wilkerson and Scott Tessner, knowing how dejected Chris Ferguson was following the Super Late Model feature, but watching him shake hands with race winner Chris Madden and the runner up Casey Roberts, the look on the face of the little girl that Brayden Pruitt lifted up and sat on the roof of her race car after the Street Stock Four race, the mob of folks on hand to congratulate every race winner and how each winner smiled and thanked the folks that made his or her race possible whether they were crew members, family members or sponsors, and the cloud of dust that lofted toward and briefly eclipsed that full moon after Andrew Wilson celebrated his first win are just a few of the many memories that I will carry away from this Hall of Fame weekend.
I am certain that we witnessed several drivers add to their resumes this weekend, things that will have them on a future Hall of Fame ballots at the Cherokee Speedway. As the years pass, some of us may return to the Cherokee Speedway and we might talk about the night a tire rub that kept Ferguson from winning. We might even rehash some of the on track heroics of guys like Chris Madden, Jonathan Davenport, Jeff Cooke, and Dennis Franklin. We might talk about a driver taking time to make a kids day by spending just a little time with them before or after a race. We might talk about how a driver celebrated their first win, or even their most recent win.
Hall of Fame moments are not planned. Folks don’t strap into racecars hoping to get in the Hall of Fame. They strap into their cars hoping to win races. We remember the things that these drivers do both inside and outside the car, and from that their legends are formed.