The sudden retirement of CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour driver Justin Johnson left series officials and owners scrambling to figure out who would take his place in the series’ Touring 12 program. Robert Tyler, who owned Johnson’s car prior to his departure, worked quickly to find a replacement driver, as he signed fellow Touring 12 member Charlie Watson shortly before the U.S. Short Track Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway to pilot his Late Model for the rest of the year.
Watson’s signing created another void within the Touring 12, as Tyler had to figure out whether or not he would transfer Watson’s original owner points to another team, or if he would run the #44 as a start-and-park for the remaining CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour races. The owner points situation would be formally resolved in the days leading up to the series’ first visit to Ace Speedway, as Grayson Cullather would inherit Johnson’s owner points with his family-owned team, while Deac McCaskill obtained Cullather’s owner points.
As a result of the owner points transition, Cullather will have to use the #44 on his car for the rest of the season, while McCaskill will have to carry the #22 on his H&L Logging Late Model according to the CARS Response Energy Tour rulebook. McCaskill admitted that the entire process has been confusing to him and his team, but is looking forward to being a part of the Touring 12 program and chasing after his second CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour championship.
“The Touring 12 program is a great incentive,” McCaskill said. “I was asked to do it at the start of the year, but it just didn’t feel right signing my name on a contract. The other reason was that if you missed a race, you would get a hefty fine, but even though we missed a race last year, I wasn’t planning on it this year unless something came up. With this program, entry fees are paid for, you get a tire discount as well as four free grandstand tickets. It all adds up, and I’ll take what I can get.”
The number change for McCaskill comes in the middle of another strong season for the long-time Late Model veteran, as he has finished in the Top 10 in four of the first five races in the 2018 CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour season prior to Ace Speedway. McCaskill also managed to bring home a victory for his team in the 2018 Mid-Atlantic Classic at Orange County Speedway, after he held off challenges from Lee Pulliam and Brandon Pierce in the closing laps of the race.
While McCaskill has been enjoying success during the 2018 season, the driver who carried the #22 before him, Grayson Cullather, has found himself struggling during the opening races. After recording two Top 10 finishes in his first two starts with the CARS Response Energy Tour, and forming a partnership with Tommy Lemons Jr., Cullather has failed to crack the Top 10 in every race this year, with his best finish of the season coming at Orange County and Hickory, where he placed 12th.
Cullather hopes that the transition over to his family-owned team will yield results that are more positive for him, but is thankful for all the help that Lemons and Jumpstart Motorsports provided him over the past few months. Cullather’s team put his car for Ace Speedway together in one week, and he knows that there will be obstacles for his team to overcome if they intend to reach their goals.
“We want to run consistent each week,” Cullather said. “I know these guys like family, and I just wanted more of a family feeling around me. We’re still trying to figure things out though.”
With Cullather leaving Jumpstart Motorsports and McCaskill using the owner points of the #22, Lemons will only run his car in CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour competition for the rest of the season, which will be split between him and Craig Stallard. Although Lemons is a fan of the Touring 12 program and the benefits that it provides to the team, he hopes that the complicated rules surrounding owner points will be changed in the near future.
“The Touring 12 is locked to the owners,” Lemons said. “It would probably be best going forward if the CARS Tour would lock it to the drivers. That way if the driver wants to switch teams, like in our case, it doesn’t affect the owner. However, that’s what we signed up for at the beginning of the year, and it is what it is.”
The first race for both McCaskill and Cullather under their new owner points did not go as planned for either of them, as Cullather found himself behind the wall early after suffering a mechanical failure on the 65th lap of the race. McCaskill, who had to work his way up to the front after starting at the rear of the field, was on the verge of cracking the Top 10 when he was caught up in a multi-car accident on Lap 70, forcing him to settle for a 17th place finish.
McCaskill, Cullather and the rest of the CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour competitors will get a couple of weeks off before the series visits its second new track on the schedule in Carteret County Speedway. Many CARS Response Energy Tour competitors enter the Crystal Coast 125 little to no experience at the track, among them including points leader Bobby McCarty, who enters the Crystal Coast 125 riding a wave of momentum after picking up his third victory of the season at Ace Speedway.