Bowman Gray Stadium will begin their 70th season of operations on Saturday night April 21st with the running of the 2018 Hayes Jewelers 200 presented by Q104.1 New Country. The Sportsman division has been the best division at the track for the past few years and this season promises to be one of the most competitive in the 46-year history of the division, with a mix of rookies, veterans, and longtime racers.
With two-time series defending champion Derek Stoltz only running a limited schedule, the door is wide open for another driver to step up and take the title. Two of those drivers are hungry to win the championship are veteran driver Tommy Neal and young up and coming star in John Holleman IV.
The 47-year old Neal is a one-time champion of the division, with it coming only a few short seasons ago in 2016. His also got the title of Most Wins by an Active Driver in the Sportsman Division with 40. Neal had a great year last year with 4 wins, which tied his season best, but he came up short in the championship thanks to some incidents. The biggest mistake from last year occurred on July 15th a double points night event when he and Taylor Branch came together and caused Neal to spin, that wasn’t the end of the incident. After a mid-race restart, Neal waited on Branch and spun him out from the second position which caused Neal to get disqualified from the race.
In 2018, Neal will try to improve upon his third-place finish, he’ll be looking to keep pace with Holleman and the other competitors. Neal once again will have Omni Source, Gale Force, Gossett’s Landscape Nursery and Brad’s Golf Cars on board, which has all the makings of a championship run again.
At the age of 20, Holleman is already an accomplished Legend car and Bandolero National Champion and he has quite a few wins at Bowman Gray, with four in the street stock and 15 in the sportsman division. Holleman won the Sportsman portion of the season-opening Hayes Jewelers 200 event last season and won a modern-day record-tying 8 races last year, but he had some troubles that faltered him and took him out of the hunt for the title.
Holleman’s most notable accomplishment was his first pole in the K&N Pro Series East at Stafford Motor Speedway. The second most notable moment would have to be Holleman’s performance in the 2016 East vs West race at Iowa when he finished 10th overall (but 6th in the East) he was running up front for most of the race against some talented drivers like truck series drivers Noah Gragson, Justin Haley, Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton.
Heading to the first event of the season just a few short weeks away, the Sportsman competition is shaping to be incredibly competitive, with the field for the 40-lap race possibly pushing over 20 cars. With such a dense field projected to be there, Holleman and Neal are sure to have their hands full with a stellar talented plethora of cars, but both of them love the competition on the always exciting quarter-mile bullring.
It’s small, tight, and you can beat and bang on each other without wrecking,” said Neal. “It’s great short track racing for the crowd and the crowd really seems to get into it more at the short tracks with all of the beating, banging and going three-wide on a track like that. I’ve always liked the smaller tracks and it seems like I have a better handle on the smaller ones than I do the bigger ones. Maybe it is because I have a lot of more seat time on them than I do the bigger ones.”
Holleman also gave his praises about his hometown track, “I really like running at Bowman Gray,” Holleman began. “I’ve traveled to other tracks before, but nothing matches Bowman Gray. The racing is good, you can be bumping and banging and not wreck, it’s always fun though. The fans are insane, you can have anywhere from 12,000-15,000 people screaming your name and telling you you’re number 1 in many different ways.
When the green flag drops in less than 3 weeks, look for the bright blue car of John Holleman IV and the most active winningest driver in the division to be scrapping for the wins every single race with the likes of former champion in Derek Stoltz, Taylor Branch, Robbie Brewer, Michael Adams and a whole bunch of talented drivers in what most people consider the best division at the most exciting of them all.