Myrtle Beach Speedway is one of many tracks along the east coast that have become closely associated with Late Model racing over the past 25 years. The half-mile short track hosts a weekly Late Model series that concludes every November with the prestigious Myrtle Beach 400 Late Model race, which has featured several notable winners that include Lee Pulliam, Timothy Peters and former NASCAR driver Scott Riggs.
Unlike other high-profile Late Model races such as the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville, the Myrtle Beach 400 is split across two weekends, with features in the SELLM Pro, Super Trucks and Mini-Stocks divisions making up the first weekend, while the Modifieds and the 225-lap Late Model feature conclude the festivities on November 18th. Trinity, North Carolina resident Thad Moffitt will be among the drivers who will participate in both weekends, as he will run the 100-lap SELLM Pro feature on November 11th, and hopes to make the Late Model feature on the following weekend.
Although his last name may not indicate it, Moffitt is the grandson of 7-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Richard Petty, who ran seven Cup races at Myrtle Beach between 1959 and 1964, earning a career-best finish of second twice at the track. Moffitt said that his family played a large role in getting his racing career off the ground, but added that it was his decision to start racing at an early age.
“My family never really pushed racing onto me,” Moffitt said. “When I was eight or nine years old, I figured out that I could drive one of these cars one day. My family bought me quarter-midgets and go-karts, but my grandma got sick with cancer, so I wasn’t able to start racing until I was 14 years old.”
Moffitt transitioned over to Late Models full time this season after spending 2016 making Limited Late Model starts along the east coast. Moffitt has run at several different tracks this season, including Carteret County Speedway and Ace Speedway, but Moffitt has made eight starts at Myrtle Beach Speedway, earning a season-best finish of sixth at the track during the “Night of Champions” on September 9th.
Moffitt’s most recent attempt at Myrtle Beach was during the track’s “Breast Cancer Awareness Night” on October 21st, where Moffitt saw an opportunity to earn his first Late Model victory with track champion Lee Pulliam absent from the event. However, on the second lap of the race, Sam Yarbrough got into the back of polesitter Ryan Repko going into Turn 1, which triggered a 20-car pileup that included Moffitt, who sustained two cracked ribs in the accident.
“I don’t know what happened up front, because some people say one thing, while other people say another thing, but we had missed the wreck, and then we got hit from behind and spun,” Moffitt said. “I then got hit on the driver’s side door, which bent a little bit into the side of my rib cage.”
Despite the injuries sustained in the crash, Moffitt quickly returned to competition at Ace Speedway on October 21st to participate in the 4th annual Rodney Cook Classic, where he was involved in an accident on Lap 1 when the front row of Layne Riggs and Kyle Dudley made contact in Turn 1. Moffitt’s team continued to repair the car throughout the evening with the aid of several cautions, and Moffitt was able to bring home the #46 Transportation Impact/Performance Plus Oil Late Model home with a Top 10 finish.
The cracked ribs did not bother Moffitt during the race, but the pain quickly returned once Moffitt had climbed out of the car. Moffitt received physical therapy treatments prior to competing in the Rodney Cook Classic, but his team has also purchased a new seat and extra padding for him in order to make Moffitt feel more comfortable inside his Late Model.
The Rodney Cook Classic featured one of the most talented Late Model fields that Moffitt had gone up against in his brief Late Model career, but the 25th Myrtle Beach 400 is expected to attract more talented drivers, with names like Lee Pulliam and Tommy Lemons Jr. expected to file entries. Moffitt stated that learning from the veteran Late Model drivers has helped him navigate Myrtle Beach Speedway less strenuous.
“The most important thing I learned from racing at Myrtle Beach was tire wear, and how to take care of my tires,” Moffitt said. “I wasn’t sure if I was taking care of them good enough, until I got behind Lee Pulliam and Chad McCumbee, and realized what they were doing to take care of their tires. I followed those two for 50 laps during a race, and I figured out what they were doing, and since then, we’ve been competitive every time I go up there.”
Moffitt has also discovered that it is impossible to run wide open at Myrtle Beach, and that the best strategy is to save the tires until the last 20 laps. However, Moffitt understands that Late Model races at Myrtle Beach are known to be competitive and unpredictable, as he was one of several drivers who missed the Myrtle Beach 400 in 2016. Moffitt plans to implement a conservative strategy in order to have a chance to add his name to the long list of prestigious Myrtle Beach 400 winners.
“We think it would be best if we could make it in on time,” Moffitt said. “If we can do that, then were are just going to ride around a while and see how the race plays out, and then after the break, we’ll really start racing our way up to the front.”
Moffitt plans to run the Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park on November 26th to conclude his first Late Model season. Moffitt’s 2018 plans are quickly coming to fruition, as he currently plans to run three ARCA races with Empire Racing, while continuing to focus on competing in several prestigious Late Model events and CARS Late Model Stock Car Tour races throughout the season.