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Johnson Tops a Thriller at Magnolia

Johnson Tops a Thriller at Magnolia

COLUMBUS, Miss. (Nov. 12) — Trading the lead with Macon, Ga., driver Hunter Peacock on an eye-widening seven different occasions during a 75-lap event, veteran competitor Ronnie Johnson of Chattanooga, Tenn., emerged victorious after a tough battle in a $10,000-to-win Newsome Raceway Parts Crate Racin’ USA Dirt Late Model Series event Saturday night at Magnolia Motor Speedway.

Embroiled in a back-and-forth duel on an extremely-raceable track surface, Johnson emerged from the mid-race brouhaha to score his first victory of the season on the Adam Stewart-managed touring circuit in a race that also served as the next-to-last contest on the organization’s E-Z-GO $100,000+ Challenge schedule.

Johnson took the lead for good on the 50th circuit, and the three-time series champion then held off a late-race, low-groove effort from runnerup finisher Randall Beckwith to secure his first win of the season on the circuit in limited appearances.

Trailing Johnson and Beckwith to the line were reigning series champion Jimmy Thomas, Peacock and Florida-based teen sensation Trey Mills.

Johnson has only three starts on the touring circuit during the ’22 campaign, and has a second-place finish and a seventh-place showing to go with his lone victory. His other two appearances on the series took place Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 on the Red Farmer Tribute Weekend at Talladega Short Track in Eastaboga, Ala.

Epic Mid-Race Battle
Peacock led the opening 33 circuits after starting from the front row next to fastest qualifier Zach Sise, and immediately the well-prepared track produced a host of position changes and passing opportunities back through the field. Drivers scattered their machines all over the facility searching for the proper and fastest groove, signaling what was to come for the entire distance.

Johnson was part of that early-race scrambling, having started sixth in a 24-car field. He smoothly and deftly took advantage of his early opportunities, including a low-side, three-wide squeeze underneath both Rodney Wing and Sise that helped pave his path to the front.

When the race’s first caution appeared after 33 laps of uninterrupted green-flag racing, the restart triggered a 16-lap flurry of side-by-side racing for the top spot as Johnson fired the first volley by pacing the 34th circuit. From there the pair staged an epic duel that will be long remembered by those who witnessed it.

Six lead changes (and seven overall) spiced the race from laps 33-50, with Johnson repeatedly charging low in turn three several times to get underneath Peacock as the high-flying duo exchanged the front spot seemingly at will. When the race’s second and final caution appeared on lap 51, Johnson held a grip on the point that he never again relinquished.

For Peacock, it was his first-ever appearance at the facility, which he praised for the maneuverability it offered. For Johnson, it served as a memory of what the track was like for his last appearance “probably about four or five years ago,” according to the long-time competitor.

“This racetrack is known for having a really great surface, and Johnny [track promoter Stokes] works extremely hard to keep it a good racetrack for everybody who comes here to compete,” Johnson said. “It has been a long time since we raced here, so we didn’t know what to expect, but it was the same ole’ Magnolia we always remembered. It seems there aren’t as many places these days where you can race side by side like that for as long as we did, and I really don’t know how many laps that Hunter [Peacock] and I ran door to door. I enjoyed that, and it’s been awhile since I’ve been able to race like that. This place is so racy, and it’s one of my favorite tracks.”

Peacock, who felt he chose the wrong tire compound in his first-ever appearance at the track, was still pleased with a solid performance that resulted in some quick learning.

“Yeah, I got schooled by the man himself,” he said after finishing second to Johnson. “There was a lot of good give and take in that race we had. We slid each other, but it was all done in good sportsmanship. It’s fun to race like that. This was an immaculate racetrack tonight, and a good race. I learned a lot.

“We tried stuff in practice, but the car was a little snug,” Peacock continued. “We gradually backtracked to where I was originally, but then turns one and two cleaned off on the high side a little quicker than I expected, and there was nothing to lean on with our tire selection, and we ran out of racetrack. Surface-wise, it was excellent.”

Here Comes Beckwith…
Once a clear-cut leader over Peacock, Johnson’s work was far from over. Beckwith appeared on the leader’s radar screen, running the low side to issue a late-race challenge. He ducked underneath Johnson for several laps, tried the top a time or two, and eventually faded in traffic as Johnson smoothly sliced through the slower cars like a hot knife through already-melting butter.

“I thought I heard somebody, but you can’t really see a whole lot the way these cars react in the corners these days,” Johnson said. “The driver’s side of the car is up in the air a little more, and it’s tough to see someone underneath you. I knew he [Beckwith] was there, because I could hear him every time he got closer. I couldn’t find my signal guy, and we got in some lapped cars, and I started counting down the laps on the scoreboard. That’s not something you really need to be doing, and especially when it looks like the other guy is closing on ya. I just wanted to make sure we made the right moves late in the race.”

Rarely missing a beat, Johnson seemingly caught every slower car in the right spot, and made the opportunities pay as he took another clear-cut lead and Beckwith faded in the latter stages, finishing 1.607 seconds behind at the finish line.

Hello, Old Friend
After watching the highly-competitive event unfold, an obviously-happy Stokes met Johnson in the winner’s circle with a knowing glance, a shared handshake and a huge smile. The pair raced together in the Super Late Model division for many years, and carry a mutual respect for each other that was obvious during the victory lane ceremonies, and especially when Stokes requested a photo with the race winner.

“One photo together for the old guys,” he said with his typical grin, laughing along with Johnson as he stepped into the postrace photo sessions.

Later, Johnson reflected on the meaningful moment. Both men are now in their mid-60s, and still near the top of the game and very successful in the industry.

“Absolutely that was a really nice moment,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day when all is said and done, all a racer can hope for to end their career is being respected. I try real hard these days to not rock the boat, but when I was younger and racing all over the country, I stepped on toes and made my share of mistakes, and back in those days I was probably the first one to complain when a track took rubber, or was too rough. I was a lot younger. You get older, and you tend to appreciate the sport a little more, and the time you have left to be a small part of it. It’s what I love to do.”

His appreciation for Stokes—like his heartfelt feelings about still being able to race successfully well into his 60s—was clear. So were his memories, and he recalled the first time he was at the same racetrack with the veteran driver-turned-promoter.

“I can remember the first time I met him [Stokes],” Johnson said. “He came to race at Boyd’s Speedway [Ringgold, Ga.] in 1983, and I’m pretty sure it was one of B.J. Parker’s early Southern All Star races. I really didn’t know who he was at the time, but he’s now been around a lot of years and he’s been to all of these tracks during his racing, and he played an important role in getting GRT Race Cars to be a well-known chassis company. Bill Frye, Johnny Virden and the rest all did their part, and Johnny [Stokes] was among the group that helped Joe Garrison [GRT owner] build his company’s reputation.

“Like the rest of us who have been around a long time, the sport has to be a true passion to anyone who participates in it. It’s a tough business, and you end up sacrificing your health, your family, your time and everything else when you’re still involved in racing well into your 60s. Johnny is one of those guys, and I’ve got a lot of respect for what he’s accomplished. For him to ask to have a photo taken of us together, that’s special and really means a lot to me.”

Next Up!
The touring series has two races remaining on the schedule, and will now head to Needmore Speedway in Norman Park, Ga., on Nov. 17-19 for the next-to-last event of the season.

The final contest of the season will be held Nov. 24-26 at Cochran (Ga.) Motor Speedway with the annual Crate Racin’ USA World Championship taking center stage, featuring a significant format change for the event.

Twin features will be held on the final night of the three-day weekend at the 3/8-mile oval, and each will pay $10,000 to the winner. A separate 24-car starting field will take a green flag in each main event, giving 48 different drivers a chance to earn money.

The top five finishers from each feature will advance to a third main event, and the 10-car field will stage a shorter race to determine the overall Crate Racin’ USA World Champion.

About Crate Racin’ USA
The economical Chevrolet Performance 602 and 604 Circle Track Engine is utilized by competitors in the various divisions presented by Crate Racin’ USA. It’s in stock and available from Newsome Raceway Parts in Hartsville, S.C.

Each engine is built and sealed at the factory to prevent any expensive modifications. To place an order, call 1-877-497-3624.
For more information and rules, visit the organization’s website at www.crateracinusa.com, or follow our extensive social media programs on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Newsome Raceway Parts, a division of Raceway Chevrolet in Hartsville, S.C., is the title sponsor of Crate Racin’ USA. E-Z-GO Golf Carts is the title sponsor of the second-year E-Z-GO $100,000+ Challenge.

Chevrolet Performance is an official sponsor of the organization, along with Advanced Laser & Machine, Cruise with the Champions, Hoosier Racing Tire, KRC Power Steering, Knowles Race Parts and Bodies, My Race Pass, VP Racing Fuels and Lubricants and Willy’s Carburetors.

Official chassis sponsors
include Warrior Race Cars, Rocket Chassis and CVR Race Cars.

Magnolia finish: 1. Ronnie Johnson, 2. Randall Beckwith, 3. Jimmy Thomas, 4. Hunter Peacock, 5. Trey Mills, 6. Zach Sise, 7. Oakley Johns, 8. Colton Leyendecker, 9. Jake Rainey, 10. Jake Knowles, 11. Jadon Frame, 12. Bryson Mitchell, 13. Rodney Wing, 14. Bryant Marsh, 15. Jason Welshan, 16. Matthew Brocato, 17. Dalton Dowdy, 18. Tyler Burnett, 19. Mark Fleischer, 20. Kyle Shaw, 21. Cody Chism, 22. Matt Henderson, 23. Bailey Callahan, 24. Shane Stephens.

Entries: 46
Boyd-Bilt Fast Qualifier: Zach Sise, 14.254 seconds
Lead changes: 7 (among two drivers)
Lap leaders: Hunter Peacock 1-33, Ronnie Johnson 34, Hunter Peacock 35-38, Ronnie Johnson 39, Hunter Peacock 40-43, Ronnie Johnson 44, Hunter Peacock 45, Ronnie Johnson 50-75.
Cautions: 2
Margin of victory: 1.607 seconds
KRC Heat winners: Oakley Johns, Zach Sise, Rodney Wing, Hunter Peacock.
KRC Power Steering B-main winners: Jake Rainey, Kyle Shaw.

Crate Racin’ USA Dirt Late Model Series (current points): 1. Jason Welshan, 1,552 points; 2. Jake Knowles, 1,402; 3. Jake Rainey, 1,384; 4. Jimmy Thomas, 1,250; 5. Matthew Brocato, 1,232; 6. Jason Markewitz, 1,054; 7. Jeremy Pate, 938; 8. Tanner Collins, 916; 9. Randall Beckwith, 736; 10. Dalton Dowdy, 680; 11. Cody Overton, 610; 12. Mark Whitener, 524; 13. Tyler Millwood, 522; 14. Hunter Peacock, 476; 15. Clay Harris, 466; 16. T.J. Brittain, 454; 17. Mark Fleischer, 410; 18. Joseph Joiner, 388; 19. Cory Hedgecock, 372; 20. Matt Henderson, 361.

E-Z-GO $100,000+ Challenge (current points): 1. Jimmy Thomas, 594; 2. Jason Welshan, 574; 4 and . Jake Rainey, 540; 4. Jake Knowles, 530; 5. Matthew Brocato, 480; 6. Randall Beckwith, 474; 7. Hunter Peacock, 382; 8. Clay Harris, 346; 9. Trey Mills, 328; 10. Jason Markewitz, 322; 11. Cody Overton, 298; 12. Jeremy Pate, 264; 13. Tanner Collins, 258; 14. Mark Whitener, 252; 15. Henry Carter, 246; 16. Cameron Weaver, 228; 17. Jeremy Steele, 226; 18. Nevin Gainey, 216; 19. Jackson Hise, 212; 20. Tony Lindsey, 204.


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