The October 21st, 2017 race at Myrtle Beach Speedway marked several important occasions for the track and its competitors, as general manager Steve Zacharias used the event to help promote awareness towards the ongoing battle against breast cancer, while also serving as the final race of the season for the track’s Late Model drivers prior to the Myrtle Beach 400. The absence of track champion Lee Pulliam also created an opportunity for track regulars such as Matt Cox, Chad McCumbee, and others to secure a victory in a season dominated by the four-time Whelen All-American Series champion.
A chance at a win quickly evaporated for a good portion of the field early on, when polesitter Ryan Repko was hit from behind by Sam Yarbrough going into the first turn on Lap 2, which sent both drivers spinning in front of the rest of the field. More drivers quickly piled into the accident, and by the time the smoke had cleared, approximately 20 cars had been involved in the accident, with drivers such as Repko, Yarbrough, and McCumbee all being eliminated from contention.
Craig Stallard was also among the drivers involved in the multi-car accident at the beginning of the “Breast Cancer Awareness Night” Late Model feature, but he was the only driver who sustained a serious injury. The Jenkins, Kentucky native suffered a broken wrist in the crash, and although he initially planned to compete in the Myrtle Beach 400 with the injury, doctors determined that Stallard was too injured to compete in the event.
“I’ve seen videos of the wreck, but I don’t recall much of it,” Stallard said. “I knew something was wrong before the car even stopped. I reached up to turn the ignition switch off, and I noticed some of my fingers weren’t going in the right direction. Once I got back home, they took me to a specialist and they put me in a cast, but they wouldn’t let me race for about six weeks.”
With his wrist now completely healed, Stallard is focusing on his return to the CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour for the Bakerdist.com 200 presented by Honeywell on Saturday afternoon at Myrtle Beach Speedway. Stallard has been a part of the CARS Response Energy Tour since its inception in 2015, and he has amassed six Top 10 finishes in the series over the past three years, which includes a career-best finish of seventh at Concord Speedway in 2017.
Stallard has competed in both races that the CARS Response Energy Tour as held at Myrtle Beach, where he earned a 16th place finish in 2015, but was forced to settle for a disappointing finish of 19th the following year after encountering mechanical issues late in the race. Outside of the CARS Response Energy Tour, Stallard is a frequent regular at Myrtle Beach, with his most recent race being the Performance Plus 300 on March 17th, where he brought his #24 Late Model home in 15th place.
Although Stallard has a long history with several tracks that include Motor Mile Speedway and Southern National Motorsports Park, he considers Myrtle Beach one of his favorite tracks. Stallard commented that the track’s ability to produce competitive racing from start to finish makes it an attractive venue for both drivers and fans.
“I like the whole idea of the discipline of the track,” Stallard said. “With the tire-wear and the package that the CARS Tour brings, it makes it important to manage your tires as opposed to going straight to the front, as that will put you laps down later. It’s a place that’s been good to me even though I’ve had some bad wrecks there, and it’s a great place to take the family as well.”
Stallard will once again receive support from Tommy Lemons Jr. and Jumpstart Motorsports for the 2018 season but will be piloting the #27 Late Model normally driven by Lemons, who will be providing assistance to both him and his teammate Grayson Cullather throughout the weekend. Stallard has been thankful for all of the help that Jumpstart Motorsports has provided to him in recent years, and added that Lemons has often stressed that patience is the key to obtaining a strong finish at Myrtle Beach.
Saturday’s race at Myrtle Beach will not only be the first time that Stallard and Cullather have raced together as teammates, but it will also be the first time that the two have met each other in person. Stallard is unsure if Cullather will go to him for advice on how to navigate Myrtle Beach, but stated that the best technique for Cullather to practice during the weekend would be to learn how to back the corner up in order to maintain consistent lap times and not fall off the pace.
As with the Do the Dew 150 at Tri-County Motor Speedway, the preliminary entry list for the BakerDist.com 200 presented by Honeywell features a strong group of Late Model drivers, including defending Myrtle Beach 400 winner Josh Berry, as well as defending Myrtle Beach Late Model track champion Lee Pulliam. Stallard understands that there will be little margin for error once the green flag drops on Saturday and that his main goal will be to study his competition in order to come home with a good finish.
“I looked at the cars that were on the entry list for Tri-County, and I also looked at the list of cars that will be at Myrtle Beach this weekend, and it’s going to be the toughest Late Model field you’ve ever raced against,” Stallard said. “Being there with Lee and some of those other guys, I hope to learn from them. Lee’s got so many wins there, but I don’t think you’re going to be behind anybody bad.”
Stallard will look to have a strong qualifying run in order to have a chance at scoring his first career CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour victory, as both divisions of the CARS Response Energy Tour will participate in the first group qualifying session of the season as opposed to single-car qualifying. The green flag for the BakerDist.com 200 presented by Honeywell is expected to fly at 3:30 pm, with the Late Models taking to the track first, followed by the first CARS Response Energy SLM Tour race of the season in which drivers will be competing for $10,000 over 100 laps.