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Whitener Leads Entire Distance in Gene Maine Memorial

Whitener Leads Entire Distance in Gene Maine Memorial

NORMAN PARK, Ga. (May 13) — Mark Whitener of Middleburg, Fla., has decided to chase the series championship on the 2023 Newsome/Raceway Parts Network Crate Racin’ USA Dirt Late Model Series, and moved into the points lead for the first time this season with a flag-to-flag victory over Joshua Bishop in the prestigious Gene Maine Memorial Saturday night in front of a good crowd at Needmore Speedway.

The fourth edition of the annual event honors the late driver who was a regional favorite that was very popular among his fellow competitors, and a former National Late Model Sportsman Series champion on promoter Ray Miller’s successful regional circuit. Maine lost his life a few years ago in an off-track accident, and Whitener was joined in the winner’s circle by members of the late driver’s family.

The event brought a strong 43-car field of contenders to the 3/8-mile oval, but Whitener set fast time with a lap clocked at 16.075 seconds, and often led by a comfortable margin while cruising to the $10,000 victory in a 40-lapper over Bishop, Hunter Peacock, Jake Knowles and Blake Craft.

It was Whitener’s first victory of the season on the Adam Stewart-managed touring circuit, and he joined Kyle Bronson, Dillon Brown and Jason Welshan as one of four different winners on the traveling circuit this season. He currently leads Welshan in the chase for the $10,000 series title by a two-point margin [348-346], and just 56 markers separate the top eight drivers in the current points standings.

Honoring Gene Maine
The importance of the victory wasn’t lost on Whitener, who remembers watching Maine compete at various tracks when he was a teenager.

“These memorial races always mean a lot more when you win one,” the 42-year-old driver said. “I knew Gene Maine as a kid, and he was a badass race car driver. It means a lot to me to win his race. I’ve been fortunate to win several of these memorial races, and they’re important. There’s a lot of memories associated with these people who are honored, and it also means a lot to fans who remember them.”

Whitener’s father and uncle also competed against Maine during their careers.

“I might have raced against him back in the day, but it was very early in my career,” Whitener said. “I know he raced against my father and uncle a little bit, and he was for real a great driver. He was just more in their era than mine, but I know how good he was behind the wheel. I watched him a lot when I was probably 15 or 16 years old.”

Race Distance Reduced
The race was reduced 10 circuits from its originally scheduled 50-lap distance due to difficult track conditions, and passing was at a premium for much of the night. Practice slated the night before the race was postponed by rain, creating uncertainty in track preparation procedures and resulting in a track that didn’t provide a lot of racing room, and especially on restarts.

The first caution appeared on lap 31, and two more yellows followed on laps 33 and 37, but Whitener survived the last one with three laps remaining to secure the victory.

“We all know the track wasn’t the best here tonight and this place has definitely been a lot better at some recent events, but Chance [Smith] gave it a strong effort to give us racers the best track he could possibly give,” Whitener said. “It’s a tough ‘ole racetrack, and with last night’s rain it wasn’t easy to decide what to do on track prep. He didn’t want to get it too wet, and make it muddy and rough. It was a tough situation for him, but the positive is that he had a good crowd here tonight. That was really good to see the fan support.”

Whitener led every circuit without serious challenge and held a steady margin over his fellow competitors during green-flag conditions while en route to the winner’s circle. He finished 1.689 seconds ahead of Bishop after a late caution tightened the field with three laps remaining.

Taking Second Place
Runnerup finisher Joshua Bishop of Statesboro, Ga., drove underneath Hunter Peacock to steal the runnerup spot on the 32nd circuit, making the move in turn three after Peacock slipped coming off the second corner. The exchange happened on a restart right after the race’s first caution period slowed the field on lap 31.

“We passed a couple cars early, but it was tough trying to accomplish that here tonight,” Bishop said. “You basically had to wait on someone to mess up, but we did manage to get a couple on the initial start and moved from fifth-starting spot to third.”

Bishop improved another position and placed second when Peacock slipped high off the second corner, allowing Bishop to find a hole on the low side to steal the runnerup slot.

“He [Peacock] drifted up a little bit, and we were able to get under him down the straightaway and into turn three,” Bishop said. “The track surface was pretty difficult. I had a harder 55 compound tire on the right rear, and should have had three of ‘em…right rear, left rear and right front. You never like to finish second, and I’ve never won a $10,000 show before so that would have been nice to have happen, but at least we were able to run up front. With the right tires, I might have been able to give Mark [Whitener] a harder time in lapped traffic.”

Peacock Coming in Points
After a couple less-than-desirable performances that buried him in points early in the season, Peacock has showed signs of life and improved to fourth in the championship chase, just 30 points behind the leading Whitener and 32 behind Welshan.

Every position is important through a lengthy season, and Peacock is experienced enough to know that points come harder as the season moves forward. It’s too early to start tallying numbers just four races into the season, but those precious points might come into play later. Losing a spot with eight laps to go left him disappointed.

“I hate we lost second place, but the track was abrasive on tires and we did not have a harder 55-compound tire in the trailer,” Peacock said. “I was riding behind Mark [Whitener] and could maneuver pretty well on the bottom earlier in the race, but I felt the left rear giving up on me and I slipped up coming out of turn two. Both Mark and I were getting sideways over there. The caution hurt me…it’d have been a more decent run for us without the caution.”

While his challengers struggled with tire wear on the abrasive track that was drier than usual even after a rain-soaked practice evening left behind a soggy, muddy infield, Whitener admitted his performance wasn’t as easy as it might have looked.

“Towards the end my car started tailing off turn two, and I could feel the right rear getting used up,” he said. “I knew I had to slow down and maintain the lead. I was having trouble passing lapped cars, so I felt like the second-place guy was also going to have difficulty passing me. Then we had that late yellow, but fortunately we held on to win the race."

Sponsors and Schedules
Whitener’s Kody Jett-owned Savage Chassis machine carried his own wrap design, and sponsorship was provided by Southeast Ship Repair, Whitener’s Tractor Service, ML Motorsports, Johnny Doan Plumbing, Boswell Oil, Ocala Restaurant Supply, Jett Concrete Works, Baker Farms and Topknotch Kustom Concepts.

The series’ next event will be held May 26-27 at All-Tech Raceway in Ellisville, Fla., where the annual Harvey Jones Memorial will take place at the racy half-mile oval. An open practice session will precede the actual race day on May 26.

The event at the Wendell Durrance-promoted oval will be part of the Crate Racin’ USA $100,000+ Challenge circuit, which is a collection of 10 designated events that each pay at least $10,000 to the winner. The “series within a series” carries a separate points fund from the regular touring circuit, and pays $5,000 to its champion.

Series competitors will then face a doubleheader weekend slated June 2-3, and visit two different racetracks. I-75 Raceway Speedway in Niota, Tenn., will host the tour on Friday, June 2 and pay $5,000 to the winner. Talladega Short Track in Eastaboga, Ala., will host the organization at its home facility on June 3, paying $10,000 to win. That event will also be part of the Crate Racin’ USA $100,000+ Challenge.

Gene Maine Memorial: 1. Mark Whitener, 40 laps; 2. Joshua Bishop, 40; 3. Hunter Peacock, 40; 4. Jake Knowles, 40; 5. Blake Craft, 40; 6. Jason Welshan, 40; 7. Pearson Lee Williams, 40; 8. Clay Harris, 40; 9. Jackson Hise, 40; 10. Jimmy Thomas, 40; 11. Ricky McClain, 40; 12. Mario Gresham, 40; 13. Ty Giles, 40; 14. Lucas Ruark, 40; 15. Russell Brown Jr., 38; 16. Carson Ruark, 36; 17. Cody Overton, 33; 18. Trynt Lloyd, 31; 19. Cole Exum, 30; 20. Bubba Roling, 25; 21. Jason Markewitz, 24; 22. Jeff Baggett, 17; 23. Shane Riner, 13; 24. Stacy Roberts, 11.

Entries: 43
Fast qualifier: Mark Whitener, 16.075 seconds.
Lead changes: None.
Lap leaders: Mark Whitener 1-40.
Margin of victory: 1.689 seconds
Cautions: 3
Heat winners: Jake Knowles, Mark Whitener, Blake Craft, Hunter Peacock.
B-main winners: Jackson Hise, Jeff Baggett.

Crate Racin’ USA Dirt Late Model Series (current points): 1. Mark Whitener, 348; 2. Jason Welshan, 346; 3. Jake Knowles, 330; 4. Hunter Peacock, 318; 5. Blake Craft, 312; 6. Trynt Lloyd, 308; 7. Jimmy Thomas, 300; 8. Mario Gresham, 292; 9. Cody Overton, 246; 10. Jason Markewitz, 204; 11. (tie) Joshua Bishop and Lucas Ruark, 172; 13. Clay Harris, 162; 14. (tie) Jeremy Steele and Ty Giles, 146; 16. Joseph Joiner, 140; 17. Mark Underwood Jr., 138; 18. Cody Haskins, 132; 19. Ricky McClain, 130; 20. Doug Van Den Brink, 126.


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