The Thanksgiving Classic is the annual end to the Late Model Stock Car racing season and that race will take place this Sunday at Southern National Motorsports Park.
The Thanksgiving Classic began in 1998 with now five-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Champion Philip Morris picking up the victory. The race has been an annual event at the Lucama, NC speed plant since with the exception of 2009-2011 when the track was closed. This year’s race will be the 18th running of the event and is shaping up to be one of the best in the track’s history.
This year’s event will be a 200-lap race for the Late Model Stock Cars but for the first time in the event’s history, they will utilize controlled cautions which offer a competitor the opportunity to come down pit road under caution for two tires (once) while not losing positions to the other cars that pit. This addition will add strategy and should make for an exciting race with different drivers and teams on different plans.
Let’s take a look at some of the headlines of the weekend for different competitors.
5-Time Looks for Second Classic Victory
The races first known winner back in 1998 is still a favorite to win as he enters the event this season. Morris, the only five-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Champion who competes in Late Model Stock Cars, will be looking for his second win in the Thanksgiving Classic. Morris won 23 times in 35 starts this season across the region including a victory in the season opener at Southern National.
Cup Crew Chief Returns to Defend TGC Title
Matt McCall spends 36 weekends a year on top of the pit box for Chip Ganassi Racing’s #1 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup car driven by Jamie McMurray but usually once or twice a year he gets to get behind the wheel of his Late Model Stock Car and compete. This year he hasn’t been in the seat of his Late Model in a race yet but that will change on Sunday when he straps in to compete against the best of Late Model Stock Car racers in the Thanksgiving Classic in a car prepared by Wendell Davis. Together they won last year’s race despite some controversy over the placement of his scoring transponder and this year he’ll look to repeat as winner.
Defending his Turf
Arguably no one has been better at Southern National Motorsports Park the last few years than Mike Darne. Whether that was from behind the wheel of his own car or crew chiefing the likes of last years Late Model Stock Car champion Mason Diaz or this years Limited Late Model champion Andrew Grady. Darne picked up his first Late Model championship on the 4/10 mile track this season and will be trying to keep the trophy at home this Sunday.
Langley Speedway Represent
Among the drivers pre-entered for the Thanksgiving Classic are a handful of Langley Speedway regulars and several of them could be considered among the favorites to compete for the win. Leading that group is Mark Wertz and Brenden Queen. Wertz made his way back to victory lane at Langley Speedway this year and Queen is known for being great at longer races. Casey Wyatt, who had a tough season at Langley this year is also entered as well as Andre Grier. That’s four drivers from Langley Speedway that will be looking for a good run in the Thanksgiving Classic.
Daniels Returns, Teams with Queen
Cliff Daniels is probably a name familiar to many old-school Late Model Stock Car fans, though he hasn’t competed much over the last few years. Daniels was a top competitor in LMSC racing in the late 1990’s, early 2000’s before becoming an engineer for Hendrick Motorsports 48 cup team for driver Jimmie Johnson. Daniels has run an occasional Late Model race over the last few seasons but with the grind of a 36-race NASCAR Cup Series schedule, he’s been unable to compete on a regular basis. For the Thanksgiving Classic he’s running as a teammate to Brenden Queen. Both drivers could play a role in this year’s race.
From Limited Winner to LMSC Challenger
14-year old Mini Tyrrell picked up the victory in last years Thanksgiving Classic in the Limited Late Model feature but this year he’ll be stepping up to compete against the best drivers LMSC racing has to offer in the 200-lap main event. Tyrrell’s fortunes in Late Model Stock Car races haven’t been very good since he turned 14 in September. Tyrrell crashed out of his heat race early on in the ValleyStar Credit Union at Martinsville and had nowhere to go crashing into Ronald Hill in the CARS Tour season finale at South Boston Speedway earlier this month. Tyrrell will be hoping to turn around his luck this weekend.
CARS Tour Champion and Teammate Entered
2018 CARS Tour Late Model Stock Car Champion Bobby McCarty and his teammate Brandon Pierce will be among the cars competing in the Thanksgiving Classic. McCarty comes in on somewhat of a cold streak after winning four of the first seven CARS Tour events, he’s gone winless since then. He also had a dismal performance at Martinsville Speedway in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 after failing post-qualifying tech and rallying to make the race only to fall out early and finish 39th.
Pierce, on the other hand, comes in as the most consistent of the Nelson Motorsports drivers having picked up his first win at South Boston Speedway earlier this season and having several strong runs in CARS Tour events and finishing third at Martinsville. McCarty and Pierce could easily contend for the win this weekend.
Gullie Teams Up with Solid Rock and Puryear
Camden Gullie has been solidly improving the more he gets behind the wheel of a Late Model Stock Car. This year he finished second in points to Chuck Lawson at Orange County Speedway and he’s slowly begun to venture out to compete at more venues. Gullie will make his Southern National debut this weekend with the help of race sponsor Solid Rock Carriers and family friend Stacy Puryear. Puryear who started a driver development program this year will field Gullie in one of his cars. Puryear will also compete in the race but will focus on giving Gullie a good chance at having a great run in his first Thanksgiving Classic.
Looking for a Little Luck
One driver who is always fast but seems to run out of luck before the end of a race is Layne Riggs. Being the son of former NASCAR Cup series racer Scott Riggs adds a lot of extra pressure, but the younger Riggs has lived up to the pressure and the name. Riggs won on the CARS Tour this season at Kingsport Speedway and nearly won at Carteret County Speedway as well. He was in a position to challenge for the win at Martinsville before a late race run-in with Peyton Sellers ended his night. Riggs comes into the Thanksgiving Classic looking for some good luck and as fast as he is everywhere, he travels if he finds some good luck the other competitors will be chasing him for the trophy.
Deac Looks for Second TGC Title
The hometown favorite at Southern National is easily Deac McCaskill. He’s one of the guys from the immediate region who’s made it big in Late Model Stock Car racing winning all over the region including a CARS Tour title in 2016. McCaskill won the Thanksgiving Classic in 2006 but since then he’s been shut out of victory lane for the prestigious event at his home track. He’s primed and ready for a run at it this year as he goes for $20,000.
Back for Vegence
After losing last years Thanksgiving Classic in controversial fashion, Justin Johnson is back and looking to close his season with a win. Last year a late caution saw Johnson lose the lead to Matt McCall due to the placement of McCall’s scoring transponder being further to the front of the car than Johnson’s. Had the track reviewed hand scoring of the caution Johnson would have been the leader. McCall never gave up the lead from there and despite Johnson’s team protesting, McCall kept the victory. Johnson returns this year driving a car for JTS Built Driver Development and will be looking to avenge last year’s loss.
A Winner Could Come from Anywhere
Among the other early entries for the race could be a handful of guys who could challenge for this year’s Thanksgiving Classic title. Some of the other drivers entered include two of this year’s title contenders at SNMP, Terry Dease and Ryan Wilson. Both drivers competed with Mike Darne all season for the championship but came up short after neither reached victory lane and Darne won the final four races of the season. Both drivers will be looking to capitalize on their experience gained on the track this season in search of the biggest win of the year.
Other drivers entered or expected include; Tommy Lemons, Jr., Terry Brooks, Bradley McCaskill, Colin Garrett, Jonathan Findley, Drew Dollar, Taylor Gray, Davin Scites and Dennis Holdren among other drivers who could make an attempt in the final race of the season.
It appears the Thanksgiving Classic could be one of the best races of the year and a perfect ending to the 2018 season for Late Model Stock Car racing. Qualifying for the event is set for Saturday at 2:30pm and the 200-lap feature race will take place Sunday at 12:00noon. RACE22.com will have Solid Rock Carriers RACEDAY LIVE Coverage of everything beginning at 9:00am Saturday morning and again on Sunday beginning at 11:00am.