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Emotional Whitener Gets Biggest Victory in Powell Family Memorial at All Tech Raceway

Emotional Whitener Gets Biggest Victory in Powell Family Memorial at All Tech Raceway

ELLISVILLE, Fla. (Oct. 25) — Two days before securing the biggest victory of his career, and just one day before the race was originally scheduled to happen, Mark Whitener of Middleburg, Fla., stood in the pit area under overcast skies and reflected on the meaning of the 25th edition of the Powell Family Memorial at All-Tech Raceway.

“This race definitely ain’t just about $25,000,” Whitener said of the 67-lapper that honors the memory of six members of former driver James Powell III’s family, all of whom lost their lives in a plane crash near Gainesville, Fla., on June 7, 1995. Included in the devastating incident was the loss of Powell’s parents James “Buddy” Powell and Elizabeth Powell, and his twin 4-year-old daughters Ashley and Nicole. He also lost an uncle and aunt in the tragic incident, which gave rise to the annual race 25 seasons ago.

The race was washed out by storms on Saturday night—possibly a sign of a few tears from heaven—and was moved to Sunday evening at the Wendell Durrance-promoted facility. A re-working of the oval’s surface led to a very competitive event on a normally-slippery surface made faster by the deluge of rain that delayed the race for a little less than 24 hours.

The plane crash that claimed the lives of Powell’s family members happened long before the 40-year-old Whitener met the now 54-year-old Powell, but the impact of the tragic incident isn’t lost on the driver who was just in his mid-teens when Powell’s family members were involved in the accident.
“I can’t imagine what he went through after something like that,” a somber Whitener said, reflecting on the race’s history. “This is a huge event for a reason, and it’s honestly not the money. I would probably run this race for free, and I’ve told James [Powell] that in a few conversations we’ve had. I’ve gotten to know him fairly well, and he’s a great guy.

“This place is 45 minutes from my house, it’s probably the biggest Late Model race in the state, and of course I’m going to run it. Yeah…$25,000 is nice, but there’s a lot more happening here than just a big race paying big money. This is about his family, and really in a way about all families. When I found out the full story behind what happened, and why this race is held every year, this event took on way more importance to me.”

The next time Whitener explained what the race means, he was speaking to the large crowd and track announcer Joe Kelly during the postrace interview. He had just climbed down from the roof of his car in the winner’s circle at the half-mile oval, having driven to the biggest and most prestigious win of his career. He’s a multiple-time winner of the event, and his raucous celebration matched the importance of the moment.

Go ahead and deposit that money, but Whitener also took time to advise all of his fellow competitors and the large crowd of fans to always remember what the race means. Whitener and his wife Bridgett were both teary-eyed in the winner’s circle, and the race winner embraced Powell several times during the aftermath of the event, in which Whitener paced the final 15 circuits.
He first took the top spot from early leader Clay Harris, making nifty moves amid slower machines and squirting through the heavy traffic on the backstretch to take the lead on the 15th circuit. He led until lap 51, when fastest qualifier Michael Brown snuck ahead for a single lap before Whitener surged back to the point.

He went on to hold off both Cory Hedgecock and Brown, with Hedgecock making a side-by-side bid for the lead before hopping the cushion in turn two and striking the outside wall, which ended his bid for the high-dollar payday. Hedgecock finished 17th in a 25-car field that was culled from an entry list of 70 drivers.

Earl Pearson Jr., making his first-ever start in a Crate Late Model, moved to second in the latter stages and used his patented bottom-groove style to make his presence known, but Whitener wheeled his machine away from the multi-time Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series champion to cross the stripe 4.133 seconds ahead of the Jacksonville, Fla., driver.
Brown settled for third over 12th-place starter Michael Page and Kyle Bronson.
Whitener drove a Barry Wright Race Cars entry with sponsorship from Baker Farms, Penske Shocks, H&R Race Engines, ML Performance, Motorsports Mac, Massey Racing, VP Race Fuels, Hoosier Tires, Dynamic Drivelines and Ocala Restaurant Supply.

Powell Family Memorial: 1. Mark Whitener, 2. Earl Pearson Jr., 3. Michael Brown, 4. Michael Page, 5. Kyle Bronson, 6. Clay Harris, 7. Trey Pearson, 8. David Whitener, 9. Ivedent Lloyd Jr., 10. Jackson Hise, 11. Bud Chancey, 12. Jody Knowles, 13. Bo Allen, 14. Johnny Collins, 15. Ryan Crane, 16. Jordy Nipper, 17. Cory Hedgecock, 18. Ross Bailes, 19. Patrick Williams, 20. Jimmy Sharpe Jr., 21. Trevor McKinley, 22. Layton Sullivan, 23. Devin Dixon, 24. Garrett Loyd, 25. Cody Overton.


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