The Southern All Star Dirt Racing Series opened its 2018 season on Sunday at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, SC as part of the 16th annual March Madness event. At the end of the day, it was local hero Chris Madden of Gray Court, SC who came away from ‘The Place Your Mama Warned You About’ with the glory and a first place prize of $12,000.
It was Madden’s seventh March Madness triumph at Cherokee Speedway.
Chris Ferguson set the pace in Group A qualifying for the Super Late Model cars when he posted a lap of 15.654 seconds around the 4/10 mile clay oval to beat out Don O’Neal, Ivedent Lloyd, Jr., Benji Hicks and Ross Bailes.
Chris Madden proved to be fastest in Group B qualifying and overall when he toured the 4/10 mile clay oval in 15.615 seconds to beat out Scott Bloomquist, Michael Brown, Casey Roberts and Jonathan Davenport.
Ferguson earned the pole for the main event by winning the first heat ahead of Bailes and Zack Mitchell while O’Neal beat Hicks and Kyle Hardy to the finish line in the second preliminary.
Madden would start from the outside of the front row in the feature as a result of his heat 3 win over Davenport and Brown just before Bloomquist took the fourth and final heat ahead of Roberts and Dustin Mitchell.
At the start of the 60-lap feature, it was Madden who showed his dominance early on by bolted to the lead from his outside front row starting spot. Ferguson, Bloomquist, O’Neal and Bailes gave chase just after the green flag waved to start the event.
By the third lap Madden was pulling away from the pack as Bloomquist closed in and applied pressure on Ferguson as they contested the runner-up position. However, a lap 6 yellow flag for the slowing car of Ray McElheny bunched the field back up again.
On the ensuing restart, Bloomquist jumped ahead of Ferguson to grab second while Bailes and Zack Mitchell worked their way around O’Neal to move up to fourth and fifth respectively. Soon after, however, virtually all the front running competitors made their way to the bottom groove and as they logged some high speed laps before catching the tail of the field and having to deal with slower traffic.
The closest battle on the track during the first half of the race was that between Bailes, Mitchell and O’Neal as they contested positions 4-6.
A lap 31 caution brought out when Tristan Sealy slowed on the racing surface once again caught the field back up to Madden’s rear spoiler. On this particular restart it would be Ferguson who would make a strong move as he got by Bloomquist to seize the second position bringing Bailes and Mitchell along with him. But Bloomquist would not sit idly by as he passed Mitchell to capture third just one lap later.
Madden, meanwhile, was on cruise control as he built a lead of a straightaway as the race worked through its second half. But a lap 52 caution would give his pursuers another chance to make a move.
On the first attempt at a restart Bailes bolted around Ferguson to grab second. In the process, Ferguson’s car clipped the inside berm in turn one and spun, collecting Brad Skinner, Benji Hicks and Dusting Mitchell. That cost Ferguson a top-5 position as he was forced to restart from the rear.
On the final restart, Madden got away cleanly and dove on to a dominating victory.
Feature Finish: 1. Chris Madden, 2. Scott Bloomquist, 3. Ross Bailes, 4. Don O’Neal, 5. Zack Mitchell, 6. Casey Roberts, 7. Jonathan Davenport, 8. Benjy Hicks, 9. Kyle Hardy, 10. Michale Brown, 11. Parson Lee Williams, 12. Chris Ferguson, 13. Ivedent Lloyd, Jr., 14. Dennis Franklin, 15. Tristan Sealy, 16. Chicky Barton, 17. Dustin Mitchell, 18. Brad Skinner, 19. Jay Scott, 20. Kenny Collins, 21. Mark Dodson, 21. Ray McElheny