The Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series made its way to the Cherokee Speedway for the Blue-Gray 100 on Sunday afternoon. In the end, Darrell Lanigan won what proved to be a tire strategy race and came away from the Gaffney, SC facility with a handsome $15,000 check in his possession for winning the prestigious event.
The victory was Lanigan’s second consecutive triumph in the race that has been run 27 times in its history.
Zack Mitchell was also crowned as the Carolina Clash champion for the 2017 racing season.
Chris Madden led the way in qualifying among the 27 cars signed in for competition when he turned a lap of 15.574 seconds around the big clay oval with Casey Roberts, Chris Ferguson, Brett Hamm and Darrell Lanigan following.
Madden dominated the first heat race and earned the pole for the main event as he beat Brett Larson and Hamm to the checkered flag.
Contact between front row starters Roberts and Lanigan on the first lap of the second heat opened the door for Ross Bailes to take the early lead. Bailes won the preliminary ahead of Don O’Neal and Roberts.
Jonathan Davenport got the jump on the start of the third heat and parlayed that into a win over Ferguson and Jimmy Owens.
Madden looked as if he might run away and hide from the field during the early stages of the race as he dominated the first half of the event with the likes of Davenport, O’Neal, Bailes, Ferguson and Owens battling for positions behind him. Even when confronted with slower traffic, Madden was typically able to maintain his advantage as his car easily worked through the cars he was putting a lap in arrears.
However, the real drama in the 100-lap feature would take place in the later circuits. In such a long race on the red Carolina clay that began to show signs of worn rubber, tires were bound to become a factor. And that’s exactly what began to happen after a lap 61 caution when Jay Sessoms had a tire to go down. From that point the race became a contest of who could best manage tires and calculate the best time to pit.
Ross Bailes and Casey Roberts became the first of those running in the top-10 to start playing the strategy game as they stopped to take on new rubber during a lap 68 yellow flag session. Bailes ended up getting caught in an accident but Roberts used the new found grip to charge up through the field. By lap 71 he had made his way up to second and then assumed the lead when Madden peeled off the race track to the attention of his crew during that caution period.
Davenport had been the last of the front runners to remain on track with his original tires but that effort failed him on lap 72 when he slowed with a flat. By that time, Roberts found himself leading Brent Larson, Lanigan, Ferguson, Ross Robinson and Madden.
The race ran the next 19 under green and Roberts built up what appeared to be an insurmountable advantage. However, the No. 101 would be slowed by lapped traffic later in that run which allowed the now second-running Lanigan to close in.
On lap 90, the Clint Bowyer Racing driver made his move and swiped the lead from the Georgia Bandit in turn 4. The cars just cleared the start/finish line before the yellow flag would wave once again. The lap was scored as official and Lanigan remained as the race leader.
The final caution came on lap 94 when O’Neal had a right front tire go down which sent him bouncing off the turn 3 wall. From that point, Lanigan bolted away from his pursuers and won the race to the checkered flag.
Feature Finish: 1. Darrell Lanigan, 2. Casey Roberts, 3. Brent Larson, 4. Chris Ferguson, 5. Jimmy Owens, 6. Chris Madden, 7. Mike Maresca, 8. Don O’Neal, 9. Ross Robinson, 10. Jonathan Davenport, 11. Benji Hicks, 12. David Yandle, 13. Johnny Pursley, 14. Dennis Franklin, 15. Ross Bailes, 16. Scott Shirey, 17. Zack Mitchell, 18. Jay Sessoms, 19. Brett Hamm, 20. Michael Brown, 21. Doug Sanders, 22. Brandon Haley, 23. Anthony Sanders, 24. Gary Stuhler