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News

Four Drivers in Hunt for E-Z-GO Title

Four Drivers in Hunt for E-Z-GO Title

NORMAN PARK, Ga. (Nov. 19) — After completion of seven races at six different tracks during a season that started way back in mid-April at Greenville (Miss.) Speedway, the stage is set for an eighth and final battle to determine the ’22 season champion on Crate Racin’ USA’s popular E-Z-GO Challenge Series at the season-ending Early Bird 50 tonight at the Kelly and Mandy Walker-operated Needmore Speedway.

The “series within a series” makes up a portion of the overall Newsome/Raceway Parts Network Crate Racin’ USA Dirt Late Model Series, and features a collection of events that pays (at least) $10,000 to the winner. Points are kept separately from the organization’s regular touring series, and $5,000 is tabbed for the overall champion.

The sanctioning body’s regular touring series still has a single event remaining Nov. 24-26 at Cochran Motor Speedway when the Crate Racin’ USA World Championship closes out the season. Remarkably, seven different drivers have visited the winner’s circle this season in seven E-Z-GO events: Randall Beckwith, Henry Carter, Ronnie Johnson, Joseph Joiner, Hunter Peacock, Jason Welshan and Mark Whitener.

Current series points leader Jimmy Thomas, who has not yet won a race on the E-Z-GO circuit, will square off in a head-to-head, points-collecting matchup with Welshan at the 11th edition of the annual event. All eyes will be on the dueling duo during the 50-lapper as the season winds to a conclusion. Thomas enters the race leading Welshan by 20 points in the E-Z-GO standings, while Jake Rainey and Jake Knowles lurk behind them with a mathematical chance to upset the apple cart and steal away with the title should the right scenarios play in their respective favor.

More realistically, it’s a Thomas-Welshan championship shootout that will occupy center stage at the semibanked oval. The E-Z-GO points chase has been close all season and changed hands earlier in the year, but over the latter part of the season it’s been mostly in favor of Welshan.

Thomas badly wrecked a car in late June during qualifying for the J.T. Kerr Memorial at 411 Motor Speedway in Seymour, Tenn., and dropped off the regular series long enough to not be a major factor in the points, but remained a regular in E-Z-GO events. He entered the series’ last event at Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus, Miss., trailing Welshan by four points in the chase for the crown.

When the highly-competitive race ended, Thomas had posted a third-place finish after he appeared to be a potential late-race threat to win, while Welshan left the racetrack with a disappointing 15th-place finish that created a 20-point deficit to Thomas in the chase for the E-Z-GO championship with a single event remaining.

“I was hoping to come out of Magnolia in better shape, but my dumb ass hit one of the track’s yuke tires on lap five, and the car wasn’t no good from there,” Welshan said. “The front end was dragging’ so bad, I couldn’t steer it and we ended up going a lap down. Now that’s got us behind.”

Thomas agreed that Magnolia was a key in the late-season evolution of the intense points battle.

“The main deal that keyed this whole scenario for us was Magnolia…that place is just slick, and fun to race,” Thomas said. “We were racing all over the track. We needed a yellow toward the end, and I think we could have won it, but finishing third is what helped us take the points lead coming into this weekend, because Jason [Welshan] had some bad luck down there, and we didn’t.”

It’s also got Welshan second-guessing his chances for the title at Needmore, and even worse it’s a racetrack that doesn’t make his list of favorites. Throw in the fact that Thomas came from 22 points behind last year at the same facility to steal the regular series championship from Welshan, and it’s easy to see why the never-give-up competitor from Maryville, Tenn., isn’t exactly enthralled about his own chances in the championship battle.

“Jimmy [Thomas] is too good down here, and this place is like another home track to him,” Welshan said. “To be honest, I’m not really looking to pull no rabbit out of the hat. It’s just not a racetrack that I like a lot, and that’s probably because we haven’t figured it out. We’ve never been no good here. We just can’t seem to figure out the place, and maybe it’s because it’s a circling-type racetrack. You’re always turning here. I don’t really know why we struggle, but I know we’ve come here with six different setups on our car, and we haven’t gotten it right yet.”

The frustration runs extremely deep for Welshan, and especially after last year’s loss of the regular series title at the track. It doesn’t help his mental state that the touring series makes three visits annually, capped by the Early Bird 50.

“I’m actually so frustrated with this place that I asked Adam [series director Stewart] if I really had to come here this weekend, since we have a pretty good lead in the regular series points standings and might be able to skip a race and still win that title, “Welshan said. “He didn’t answer yes or no, but he smiled and said, ‘You want your championship money, don’t you?’ I probably shouldn’t tell you exactly what I said, but it wasn’t nice.”

While the conversation was a good-natured one, the point was made and Welshan did arrive to compete for the E-Z-GO title. He’s all but sealed the crown on the regular series, and will likely do so in the season finale at Cochran. He leads Jake Knowles by 150 points in the standings, and at this point it would take a small miracle for Knowles to beat the owner of Savage Race Cars for the crown.

“We’ve had a pretty good year overall with four wins and the national championship,” Welshan said. “We’ve got two Savage Race Cars sitting at the top of the regular points standings, and that’ll be good for our company’s reputation as long as Jake [Knowles] is able to hang on and finish second in points. We really can’t complain about too much. This is just a tough track for us, and because of that I’d probably just as soon go anywhere else in the country except here.”

Advantage Thomas? Not so fast. During qualifying for the event on Nov. 18, Welshan was third fastest overall in a 26-car field and will start seventh in the main, while Thomas begins the grind just two spots behind him.

“We were third-fastest overall in qualifying, and I guess we’re starting seventh in the feature,” Welshan posted after time trials on his social media accounts. “That’s probably the best we’ve ever been here. I guess we’ll see what happens."

Thomas has raced long enough to know you can’t count on anything in short track racing, where it’s never easy and always unpredictable. He arrived early on Thursday, Nov. 17, for practice sessions, even though his past experiences at the facility have been mostly positive.

“Here we go again,” Thomas said. “Same as last time here. This time we’re leading the E-Z-GO points, and not coming from behind. We’ve had some bad luck in the points this year, and had some things that could have played out better, but everyone has that happen during a racing season. We’re just here early tunin’ on the car.

“Just about anything can happen in this stuff, and especially racing for a championship. You never know how it’s gonna work out. We just have to make sure we do our things all weekend, and hit our marks.”

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