The Southern Nationals mini-series kicked off its 2017 season with a $10,000-to-win event on Saturday night at Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, VA. Vic Hill beat the field to the checkered flag to pick up the win and the first prize payout in a race that featured more than its share of action and drama.
Ross Bailes led the way in Group A qualifying by turning a lap of 16.441 seconds around the big clay oval. Dale McDowell, Craig Vosbergen, Jonathan Davenport and Chris Combs followed Bailes in that group.
Hill proved to be the fastest in Group B qualifying and overall after posting a lap of 16.393 seconds to beat out Chris Ferguson, Brandon Overton, Johnny Pursley and Ivedent Lloyd Jr.
Bailes won the night’s first heat race over Vosbergen, Combs and Steve Casebolt while McDowell took the second preliminary ahead of Donald Bradsher, Robby Moses, and Dennis Franklin.
After two false starts in the second heat, the front row of McDowell and Davenport were moved back one row. Davenport took the lead away from Franklin on lap 5 but then had a tire blow out on the next circuit. The exploding tire appeared to do other damage to the under side of the car.
Overton took the lead at the start of the third heat then drove on to the win over Ivedent Lloyd Jr., Hill and Billy Ogle Jr. It was Ferguson who drove to victory in the fourth and final heat race as he bested Shanon Buckingham, Billy Hicks and Pursley.
There were no B-main races since all 28 cars that signed in for competition were allowed to start the main event.
Bailes took the early lead from his pole position when the green flag waved over the field to start the 53-lap feature but Overton offered an early challenge. However, it would be Ferguson who would make the strong early move as he swept around Overton on lap 2 to grab second then around Bailes to take the lead on lap 8.
Further back, Lloyd and Vosbergen fought over the fifth spot with Buckingham looking to move forward as well.
First first of numerous cautions slowed the action on lap 11. It was on the ensuing restart in which Overton worked his way around Bailes to claim second while Hill began his climb up the leader board as he moved up to the sixth position.
Overton looked to wrest the race lead away from Ferguson on lap 14 but almost lost control of his car in turn four. As a result, Ferguson bolted away to a ten car length lead as Overton fell back into the clutches of Bailes. Those two drivers would exchange the second and third spots multiple times over the next three laps.
The yellow flag again waved on lap 18 when Ogle slowed on track. That restart created mayhem when Kenny Collins got turned going into turn one. His whirling machine then collected no less than six other cars, inflicting heavy damage to several.
The next restart saw Hill continue his move forward as he passed by McDowell to take over fourth and then immediately challenge Overton for third when another caution flag was displayed on lap 20.
The lap 20 caution provided a turning point in the race when the Ferguson brought his leading car to the pit area as everyone circulated at slow speed. Mechanical issues ended his night at that time.
Davenport, who had started shotgun on the field due to his heat race issues, climbed up to fourth on lap 20 as Hill worked on Overton for the runner-up position. Hill moved into second on the next lap with McDowell moving into fourth at the same time.
Bailes continued to lead but Hill began to close in. Suddenly, Bailes had his car drift up the track in turn four and he jumped the cushion and completely lost momentum. Not only did Hill get by the slowed Bailes but seven other cars did as well.
Another pivotal moment in the race occurred on lap 27 as McDowell and Overton battled for second. McDowell’s car just clipped the inside guard rail in turn four and went spinning wildly up the track. Davenport was collected in the mishap. McDowell retired from the race but Davenport was able to continue.
The final 22 laps ran without any more yellows. Hill broke away from the pack and looked to be on cruise control until his rear brake rotors began glow a bright red. Overton quickly closed in and appeared poised to strike as the drivers worked the 50th lap. However, Hill was able to maintain control and keep Overton behind him. Overton’s final attempt on the last lap almost proved disastrous as his car slid up the banking in turn four and bounced off the wall but he was able to keep his momentum and get to the checkered flag.
Feature Finish: 1. Vic Hill, 2. Brandon Overton, 3. Steve Casebolt, 4. Shanon Buckingham, 5. Johnny Pursley, 6. Donald McIntosh, 7. Donald Bradsher, 8. Jonathan Davenport, 9. Ross Bailes, 10. Kenny Collins, 11. Ivedent Lloyd Jr., 12. Craig Vosbergen, 13. Ben Nicastri, 14. Farrel Shelton, 15. Ben Watkins, 16. Dale McDowell, 17. Brandon Umberger, 18. Dennis Franklin, 19. Chris Ferguson, 20. Billy Hicks, 21. Robby Moses, 22. Stacy Boles, 23. Billy Ogle Jr., 24. Mason Massey