Late Model veteran Josh Berry made the ultimate gamble to give up his pole and come from the back of the field in order to add $1,000 to a potential winning paycheck, but it ended up paying dividends for him as he passed teammate Sam Mayer with 50 laps to go to pick up the victory in the Fall Brawl at Hickory Motor Speedway.
Berry and the JR Motorsports organization were not even supposed to be in Hickory for the Fall Brawl, as they had made plans to participate in the inaugural Commonwealth Classic at Richmond Raceway. With that event being postponed due to rain, Berry elected to make the trip to Hickory instead, and was overjoyed to visit victory lane at the historic short track once again.
“We had a really good car in practice and a good car in qualifying,” Berry said. “We knew we were going to be good, and with the challenge coming about, I thought it would be a good opportunity to take it. It’s a long race, you get a break and you get tires, so I thought we could manage it and be smart. Getting up to third before the break was a little bit better than I expected. After that, it was ride for the first fifty and then set the pace.”
Berry established himself as one of the cars to beat as soon as cars hit the track, as he was only one of two drivers who successfully broke into the 14-second bracket in qualifying alongside Hickory Late Model points leader Jacob Heafner. Although he posted the fastest lap in qualifying, Berry elected to pursue an added bonus of $1,000 by relinquishing his pole to Heafner and starting in the 21st position.
Berry elected to ride around in the back of the field for the opening stint of the 200-lap feature, but after an accident between Thomas Beane and Bryson Dennis brought out a caution, Berry began to carve his way through the field. While Berry was picking off his fellow competitors, Heafner and Austin McDaniel were busy battling it out at the front of the pack, with Heafner eventually pulling away from the field to set the pace early.
McDaniel would take the lead away from Heafner after he got loose on a restart, but it would only take a few laps before the second JR Motorsports car in Sam Mayer was all over McDaniel’s back bumper for the lead. Mayer took the lead from McDaniel after another restart, and would hold on to the top spot going into the halfway break with Berry not far behind him in third.
Mayer would have a hard time escaping McDaniel’s clutches after losing the lead on a bad restart, but Mayer was able to work his way around the Hickory veteran a few laps later, which left him in the clutches of Berry. Knowing that Berry would find a way around McDaniel, Mayer attempted to check out from the rest of the field, but could not hold off his teammate, who passed him for the win with 40 laps remaining.
Berry and Mayer brought home a 1-2 finish for the JR Motorsports stable, and although Mayer was happy with his performance, he was hoping that he would be in victory lane instead of Berry. Mayer congratulated his teammate on his hard-earned victory at the end of the evening, and believes that he gained a lot of valuable experience in his first 200-lap race at Hickory.
“I mean, what are you going to do about it?” Mayer said. “Josh saved his tires a lot better than I did, and I wasn’t really thinking about saving as much, as I haven’t needed to save here as much in the past. I just missed it on that end, and if I didn’t, I probably would have been in victory circle. A 1-2 JR Motorsports finish is still pretty awesome.”
Berry’s victory in the Fall Brawl is his third in the prestigious Late Model event, and serves as another accomplishment in Berry’s long history with Hickory that includes a Late Model championship and a win in the Throwback 276. Berry has been grateful for all of the success that he has had at Hickory over the years, and is looking forward to adding more victories at the track to his resume in the near future.
“It has always fit my style,” Berry said. “Ever since I came here for the first time, I’ve really taken to the place. I can’t really explain the success that I’ve had here. I’ve just always been good, and I’ve always had really fast cars and we’ve just been able to capitalize and get a lot of wins.”
McDaniel managed to hold on to the third position while Heafner was able to celebrate his first career Late Model championship at Hickory after crossing the line in fourth. Track regular Zach Bruenger rebounded from an earlier accident to finish inside the Top 5.
Late Model Results:
1. 88 Josh Berry
2. 9 Sam Mayer
3. 12 Austin McDaniel
4. 95 Jacob Heafner
5. 55 Zach Bruenger
6. 18 Ty Gibbs
7. 9 Charlie Watson
8. 2 Mike Darne
9. 5 Cole Glasson
10. 14 Ryan Repko
11. 51 Jeremy Pelfrey
12. 23 Terry Brooks
13. 15 Bryson Dennis
14. 57 Carter Davidson
15. 22 Grayson Cullather
16. 29 Mitch Walker OUT
17. 32 Nik Williams
18. 2 Austin Green OUT
19. 31 Thomas Beane OUT
20. 7 Tyler Gregory OUT
21. 7 Justin Crider OUT