Needmore Speedway11/20/2021CRUSA Dirt Late Models
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Needmore Speedway11/19/2021CRUSA Dirt Late Models
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Magnolia Motor Speedway11/6/2021CRUSA Dirt Late Models
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All-Tech Raceway10/23/2021CRUSA Dirt Late Models
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Boothill Speedway10/16/2021CRUSA Dirt Late Models
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Whitener Takes a Thriller at Magnolia Motor Speedway

Whitener Takes a Thriller at Magnolia Motor Speedway

COLUMBUS, Miss. (Nov. 6) — Check out the postrace statistics from a 75-lap Newsome Raceway Parts-sponsored Crate Racin’ USA Dirt Late Model Series event Saturday night at Magnolia Motor Speedway, and the official lead change category might not read too impressively considering there was a single swap of the point between eventual winner Mark Whitener and runnerup finisher Spencer Hughes at the 3/8-mile oval.

It occurred with 23 laps remaining, and was the climactic moment that officially sent Whitener to victory lane in a 75-lap event that served as the sixth race of the season for the first-year E-Z-GO $100,000 Challenge, a series-within-a-series schedule of events that each paid at least $10,000 to the winner. It carries a separate points fund from the regular touring series and offers $5,000 to the overall champion. The race also awarded points toward the $10,000 series championship on the Newsome Raceway Parts-sponsored Crate Racin’ USA Dirt Late Model Series.

But hey, let’s dig deeper into the “unofficial” lead change numbers. If you were one of the fortunate souls who purchased a grandstand ticket on a chilly weekend at the Johnny Stokes-promoted oval, or perhaps one of the many folks who watched the action live on Crate Racin’ USA TV, those official lead change numbers hide the absolute dogfight that took place all night among the top five or six contenders.

Whitener, competing for the first time in his career at a facility he classified as “a badass racetrack” during his winner’s interview, took the checkered flag less than two car lengths ahead of Hughes after a spine-tingling, nip-and-tuck battle between the pair that electrified the crowd from the lap-52 mark until the end at a 3/8-mile speedplant that was built in 2004.

Completing the top five in the 27-car field, and also enjoying a competitive track surface that lent itself to plenty of side-by-side racing for positions among them, were Matt Henderson, Jason Welshan and 2020 series champion Wil Herrington.

Surgical Procedures

It was perhaps the touring circuit’s most impressive race of the season to watch, and it happened on an immaculately-prepared track surface that was engineered by the facility’s owner and promoter, a man affectionately known as Dr. Dirt for his prowess and knowledge of track preparation procedures, and his overall efficiency as a heavy equipment operator during the process.

This was one for the ages, and the good doctor’s scalpel has perhaps never been so sharp.

It takes as much finesse and educated guessing to work a gumbo-style, slippery track surface into proper shape as it does to drive on one. The track was racy as the dickens, and the battle for the point between Hughes and Whitener over the final 25 laps turned into a total slugfest after the race’s first caution period appeared for Mike Combs’ car sitting backwards in turn two, an incident which occurred after Hughes had paced the opening 51 circuits.

Restart Pounce

Whitener took advantage of the restart, and drove underneath Hughes entering turn one, rubbing the young driver’s sheet metal during the executed pass, and initiating the start of a determined battle that increased its intensity with each passing trip around the typically-slippery battlefield.

The pair swapped the lead back and forth on numerous occasions, but each time Whitener managed to hold the official lead at the stripe, as the duo repeatedly traded slide jobs and rubbed fenders in a sometimes metal-banging war for the lead. Often they would swap the lead two or three times within a single circuit, but Whitener always prevailed at the line as laps clicked away.

“It was a helluva race…a damn good race,” Whitener said. “I was driving the car for everything it had, and so was he [Hughes] over the final laps. “Hell, if the fans didn’t like that one, they just simply don’t enjoy racing.”

Lead Battle Entertains Fans

Official lead changes? One. Unofficial lead exchanges that flip-flopped before the lap was completed? Pick a number. Seven or eight, perhaps 10? Maybe 15 or 20, depending upon how you count them, or depending upon how close Hughes got while racing door to door underneath Whitener. One thing you can be sure about is they were racing extremely hard.

“On that lap-52 restart, he got a lot better start than we did, but he ran all over me when we got down into the first corner,” Hughes said. “It knocked my nose down into the dirt, and he stayed in the throttle and pushed it even harder into the racetrack. Our car wasn’t quite the same the rest of the night, and that’s a shame because I felt our Capital Race Cars machine was the one to beat. He [Whitener] kinda has a reputation for not racing with any respect, but we’ve had a helluva racetrack here the past two nights, and there were a couple times I fed it right back to him. He tried to clean us out more than once, and the next time we went into the corner together, I basically handed him the same exact treatment.”

Whitener is well known as a hard-nosed racer who’s not afraid to exchange a few licks, and the 41-year-old Middleburg, Fla., driver wasn’t about to make apologies after the thrill show that took place. He can race smooth, he can race less than smooth, and he can also take a stubborn, rugged approach when the time comes. It’s a trademark he’s never shied away from during his career.

“He [Hughes] was arcing the corner, and I was driving in low and coming off high, and we got together a couple times,” Whitener said. “I started fifth, and used the same driving style I had been using when I got to him, and basically changed nothing in my approach when we were battling for the lead. I hate it, and he’s got a bright future, but we’re racing for $10,000. There was a $5,000 difference between first and second, and that’s the way I see it. We were just racing really hard. I mean…really hard, ya know?”

The Pot Boils Down

Rarely do feature events boil down like this one did, and arguably there were times it was razor-edge close to boiling over. When drivers pass and re-pass each other at least a dozen times, and slide jobs are tossed willy-nilly on the table in a high-speed game of finesse chess, and there’s big money waiting for the man who can make the final move, the possibility for drama increases with every scrape. Checkmate, lads.

“The last time we hit in turn four, he knew what he was doing and he knew what he needed to do to win the race,” Hughes said. “He got paid $10,000 to win, and I got paid $5,000, but I didn’t feel it was worth destroying two cars. Sure it’s $10,000, but if he can live with it, I can live with it. I’m probably gonna be aggravated for a year or more about this one. It was a good race, but to be that close and not win the deal? Yeah, it’s going to hurt for a little while.”

Whitener knew the night was one of those special ones, and for both drivers. Long after the checkered flag waved and while sitting on the end of his hauler’s rear step discussing the race with his friends, family and crew members, Whitener’s voice was still laced with an excited edge. He knew it was a good one, and Hughes also knew it.

Memorable Conclusion

Whitener took a few moments in his car after pulling into the winner’s circle to de-compress from the event before climbing out of his machine, but couldn’t wipe the smile from his face. The race was simply that good.

“I was out there racing in the car and smiling from ear to ear,” Whitener said. “I knew the fans were getting their money’s worth, and I think he [Hughes] passed me for the lead about seven or eight times. I was lovin’ every second of it. I think he passed me seven times, so I had to pass him back at least that many, so that’s at least 14 or 15 lead changes, and probably more that that. It’s one of the most fun races I’ve ever been involved in, and he’s a great kid with a huge future, and he’s one helluva race car driver.”

The give-and-take between them on the track’s famed “black ice” surface provided a memorable night, and perhaps will be remembered as the high point of a season that has also featured a four-way battle for the regular touring series championship between Welshan, Jimmy Thomas, Jake Knowles and Tanner Collins. Welshan took the points lead on this night when troubles for the previously-leading Thomas left him sitting against the wall between the third and fourth turns, while Welshan posted a fourth-place finish.

It’s been a focal point all season on the Adam Stewart-managed traveling circuit, but on this occasion it was clearly the racing that shined brightest.

“When there’s $10,000 hanging out there, everyone wants it and the racing…sometimes it is what it is,” Whitener said. “This is definitely one great racetrack! I’ve never been here before, but I can tell you it’s one of those places you can race all over, and we damn sure did that tonight.”

The Championship Battle

One event remains on the E-Z-GO $100,000+ Challenge schedule Nov. 6 at Needmore Speedway in Norman Park, Ga., and there are two more that will count towards the championship on the Newsome Raceway Parts-sponsored Crate Racin’ USA Dirt Late Model Series. A Friday night [Nov. 19] show at the same facility paying $2,000 to the winner will also award points toward the regular touring series title.

Welshan, who has never claimed a touring series title and has disappointingly finished second on multiple occasions in his championship-chasing efforts on various touring circuits, is currently leading Thomas in the Newsome Raceway Parts-sponsored Crate Racin’ USA Dirt Late Model standings by a slim 22 markers (1,606-1,584), while Knowles sits third with a solid chance at 1,554 points.

Collins has dropped back slightly to 106 points in arrears, and would probably need a mathematical miracle to claim the championship considering four competitors have an opportunity, and it would take multiple pieces for everything in the puzzle to fall into place. He’s currently listed fourth in the battle for a $10,000 championship with 1,500 points accrued.

Whitener leads the current E-Z-GO $100,000+ Challenge standings by 58 markers [560-508] over Welshan, and is focused on claiming the $5,000 crown in the season finale for the seven-race “series within a series.”

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 for free, next-day delivery 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 newly-established 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.

E-Z-GO Race #6 (finish): 1. Mark Whitener, 2. Spencer Hughes, 3. Matt Henderson, 4. Jason Welshan, 5. Wil Herrington, 6. Joseph Joiner, 7. Tyler Burgess, 8. Rodney Wing, 9. Cory Hedgecock, 10. Brian Rickman, 11. Jeremy Shaw, 12. Cameron Weaver, 13. Colton Leyendecker, 14. Jake Knowles, 15. Tanner Collins, 16. Jamey Boland, 17. Bryant Marsh, 18. Jose Parga, 19. Jamie Tollison, 20. Evan Ellis, 21. Jimmy Elliott, 22. Troy Dixon, 23. Jimmy Thomas, 24. Mike Combs, 25. Matt Cooper, 26. Oakley Johns, 27. Randall Beckwith.

Crate Racin’ USA Dirt Late Model Series (current points): 1. Jason Welshan, 1,606 points; 2. Jimmy Thomas, 1,584; 3. Jake Knowles, 1,554; 4. Tanner Collins, 1,500; 5. Mike Combs, 1,228; 6. Troy Dixon, 1,142; 7. Matt Henderson, 669; 8. Colton Leyendecker, 637; 9. Mark Whitener, 604; 10. Jadon Frame, 524; 11. Wil Herrington, 496; 12. T.J. Brittain, 440; 13. Jake Rainey, 402; 14. Jimmy Elliott, 392; 15. Trynt Lloyd, 346; 16. Austin Horton, 340; 17. Joseph Joiner, 338; 18. Brad Skinner, 322; 19. Monte Skinner, 296; 20. Garrett Mosley, 289.

E-Z-GO $100,000+ Challenge (current points): 1. Mark Whitener, 560; 2. Jason Welshan, 508; 3. Jake Knowles, 452; 4. Wil Herrington, 380; 5. Cody Overton, 314; 6. Jimmy Thomas, 300; 7. Tanner Collins, 280; 8. Trynt Lloyd, 272; 9. (tie) Cory Hedgecock and Joseph Joiner, 270; 11. Jake Rainey, 207; 12. Pearson Lee Williams, 206; 13. Kyle Bronson, 196; 14. Matt Henderson, 194; 15. Walker Arthur, 192; 16. Garrett Mosley, 186; 17. Troy Dixon, 178; 18. Dylan Knowles, 177; 19. Russell Brown Jr., 164; 20. Carson Ferguson, 160.

Entries: 58
Fast qualifier: Spencer Hughes, 14.286 seconds
Lap leaders: Spencer Hughes 1-51; Mark Whitener 52-75
Cautions: 3
Heat winners: Spencer Hughes, Matt Henderson, Cameron Weaver, Mark Whitener, Jeremy Shaw, Jason Welshan.
B-main winners: Cory Hedgecock, Bryant Marsh, Joseph Joiner.