By Ronald L. Jerger, Jr. / James Essex
Florence Speedway once again paid homage to one of its racing heroes with its 29th annual running of the “Ralph Latham” Memorial for the Late Model Division. Promoters Jerry, Mona & Josh King welcomed 88 entries, (41) LM’s, (33) Mod’s (season high) and (14) Crate Late Models to compete on the “The South’s Most Exciting ½ mile high-banked Dirt Track” and home of the “North/South 100” and “The National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame”.
After two afternoon downpours the second causing a delay of the scheduled 6:00 late model hot lap sessions, Florence Speedway and the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Officials ran a none stop program schedule that beat Mother Nature to the grounds and provided everyone in attendance with a superb racing surface and racing action that those in attendance have come to expect.
Jonathan Davenport dominated the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series-sanctioned Ralph Latham Memorial main event on Saturday Night at Florence Speedway. Davenport led all 50 laps in his K&L Rumley Racing; Longhorn Chassis to win for his first ever victory at the 1/2-mile oval.
With less than five laps to go, Earl Pearson Jr. drove around Scott Bloomquist to claim second. Bloomquist finished third, followed by Jared Landers and Steve Francis rounding out the top five.
“I have never run well here,” said Davenport in Lucas Oil Victory Lane. “I haven’t been here since 2012, when I ran for Rookie of the Year on the Lucas Oil [Late Model Dirt] Series tour. Obviously, this is first time here in this Longhorn car, and it was just flawless. I ran the top for most of the race, and then on that restart, I decided I was going to go low, and the next thing I knew Scott [Bloomquist] was right beside me, so I quickly went back to the top.”
“They have changed the track some since I have been here. After the rain, they had this afternoon, the track was super fast. Beating Scott in that heat race was really big for us to get the outside front row starting spot. “I would like to thank all of my sponsors: TS Crane Service, Sundance Services, Sundance Flowback Well Testing, and Mega Plumbing of the Carolinas; without all of them we couldn’t do this, that’s for sure!”
“Everybody racing up front gave each other plenty of racing room. Scott could have cut me off coming off of four when I went around him, but he raced me clean. I’m so thankful to Lucas Oil Products, Midwest Sheet Metal, Sunoco Race Fuels, Moree’s Enterprises, and Ohlins.”
Bloomquist had one shot at passing Davenport for the lead after the final restart of the race, but could not clear him. “Our car fired really well on that last restart and he changed the line he had been running. I was able to pull alongside of him, but he shot right back by me. Congratulations to him again; that’s two nights in a row he has gotten the job done. I want to thank Reece Monument Company, Mark Martin Automotive, Crop Production Services and everyone who has come on board this year.”
“I am still sore today from the barrel roll we did at Tazewell last night,” said Earl Pearson Jr. following his runner-up performance. Thanks to Ronnie Stuckey for building such a safe race car. The cage held up like it was supposed to. To come out here tonight and run as well as we did, I just can’t thank this Dunn-Benson Ford team enough.
Completing the top ten were Brandon Sheppard, Jimmy Owens, Dennis Erb Jr., Devin Moran, and Eric Wells.
In preliminary action, Scott Bloomquist set the overall Miller Welders Fast Time (Group B) amongst the 41 entrants, with a lap of 15.125 seconds. Earl Pearson Jr. set the fastest time in Group A with a time of 15.142 seconds. Earl Pearson Jr., Jimmy Owens, Jonathan Davenport, and Don O’Neal won their respective heat races. Josh Rice and Eddie Carrier Jr. won their respective B-Mains.
In the Modified 20 lap feature Dave Baldwin in his first ever visit @ Florence Speedway) started on the inside pole alongside 2 time track Champion Matt Hamilton who was making his first appearance at Florence in 2015. Before lap (1) could be scored Hamilton would spin and restart from the tail. The restart now had Brandon Webber alongside Baldwin, but after the green flag waved a couple of other talents aka “The Rocketman” and “Kid Dasco” would have something to say as the 3rd starting Joey Kramer and 4th starting Devin Gilpin would shoot by Baldwin and Webber to take the 1st and 2nd spots leaving Baldwin 3rd, Webber 4th, and Adam Stricker 5th. Lap (2) the 2nd caution would fly for the spinning #97 of Shawn Brown he would not continue. Before the restart #02 of Patrick Alcorn, #55s of Jim Szekacs and #1Hjr John Holt, Jr. would go pit side ending their night prematurely. The restart showed Kramer, Gilpin, Baldwin, Stricker and Webber covering the top five. Lap (3) Gilpin would overtake Kramer for the lead, Stricker and 8th starting Brandon Green and Webber would overtake Baldwin. Lap (4) Green gets by Stricker for 3rd. Before lap (5) was scored #1am of Austin Mills stopped on track bringing out the 3rd caution. Lap (5) 7th starting Larry Pickelheimer, Jr. cracked the top five overtaking Webber. Then the fun began as Gilpin and Kramer looked like two Hot Wheels being pushed around by a kid while imagining the race of his life. The two hot shoes would battle lap after lap for the point as they traded slide jobs at each end of the coliseum. Lap (8) the #14 of Joe Godsey would take his mount pit side without a caution being needed. Then on lap (13) a much needed pause for the cause came as the #07 of Cory Skipton stopped on track for the final yellow flag of the race (he would not continue). The battle thus far for the lead was just unfathomable, but with (7) laps to go the crowd was anticipating a wild and crazy end to this epic battle. Before the race resumed the #66 of Spencer Watson would retire from the race. The reset had Gilpin out front with Kramer, Green, Stricker and Webber in tow. As the green flag waved Gilpin jumped out with Kramer on his tail. Kramer would turn under Gilpin in turns 3 & 4 and take the lead at the line for the first time since lap (2). Gilpin would return the favor in turns 1 & 2, Kramer once again turned under Gilpin in turns 3 & 4 and would again lead the field back to the line. But it would all come crashing/flipping down as Gilpin repeating his previously successful sliders in 1 & 2 would come up severely short as Kramer who took the high side entering the turn would keep his momentum up and Gilpin had nowhere to go except for body slamming Kramer, pinching him against the wall and causing Kramer to roll over and land on all four wheels. With just (4) laps to go Gilpin, Kramer and Colin Green would all retire from the event. The final restart now sported a new leader as Brandon Green inherited the point with Stricker, Pickelheimer, Jr, consi transfer #112 Billy Vaughan and #k12 of Scotty Kincaid rounding out the top five. Green powered away from Stricker but 18th starting Steven Brooks eased by Kincaid for 5th. Lap (19) Vaughan got by Pickelheimer for 3rd. But it was Brandon Green taking his 2nd “A” main here at Florence Speedway.
Green piloted his owned Nemesis chassis powered with a Dargie racing engine, and sponsored by Complete Towing and Complete Auto Care.
Finishing 2nd was Stricker, 3rd Vaughan, 4th Pickelheimer, Jr. and 5th Steven Brooks.
The “Hard Charger” of the race was #m1 of Ryan Morton who started the race as an alternate after the #9 of Ken Schrader was unable to make the call, started 24th and powered his way to 6th.
In the Crate Late Model division 15 lap feature event, Adam Bowman of Seymour, IN took the early race lead over pole starter Conner Meade and led the first (12) laps with 4th starting Grant Garrison on his heals pressuring him lap after lap. Garrison would get by Bowman on lap (13) of the caution free event and held off Bowman over the final laps to capture his 4th “A” main out of six races while also notching his 6th career here at Florence Speedway.
Garrison drove the Mark Garrison owned Chevy Camaro sponsored by Darrell Lanigan Racing, Gotta-Go Rentals and Septic Services, Slick Rollers and Nickerson & Trantor Appraisal Services.
Finishing 2nd was Bowman, 3rd Conner Meade, 4th Hudson O’Neal and 5th Jerry Gibson, Jr.
The “Hard Charger” of the race was the #1 of Garrison who started 4th and found a way to win.