The Thrifty Tire/Puryear Tank Lines 300 was shaping up to be Ronald Hill’s best weekend in the CARS Response Energy Tour since the BakerDist.com 100 at Myrtle Beach Speedway. After starting 13th in the race, Hill gradually climbed his way to the front of the field, and found himself within striking distance of the front two cars of Josh Berry and Deac McCaskill by Lap 125.
Hill saw his solid 3rd place run quickly fade away when the engine on his #74 Gardner Marsh Late Model began sputtering on the frontstretch, which caused him to quickly fall off the pace that Berry and McCaskill were setting. With the car continuing to suffer internal issues, Hill elected to bring his car down pit road with less than 10 laps to go, and would end his evening in the 12th position.
A long-time veteran of the speedway, Hill has both CARS Response Energy Tour races at Orange County circled on his calendar every year, and he had hoped to bring home a solid finish at his home track after sustaining crash damage in the early stages of the Mid-Atlantic Classic in April. Hill was impressed by the speed that his car showed throughout the entire 150-lap feature, but attributed his strong run to the amount of experience he has at Orange County.
“I think it comes from 30 years of racing around this place,” Hill said. “It also comes from running against the guys in the CARS Response Energy Tour. They keep you on your game all the time, and there’s some great competition in the series.”
Hill has been a long-time veteran of the CARS Response Energy Tour since making his debut at Orange County in 2015, where he brought his Late Model home in the 12th position after encountering fuel pickup issues in the final laps. Hill would join the series full-time in 2016, where he picked up six Top 10’s through the end of the 2017 season, including a career-best of second in the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Classic.
Hill had high expectations going into the 2018 CARS Response Energy Tour season as a part of the Touring 12 program, with his season getting off to a strong start in the Do the Dew 150 at Tri-County Motor Speedway. After barely making the race by qualifying 27th, Hill charged his way to the front of the field around many of the best Late Model drivers on the east coast before mechanical issues caused him to fade to 15th by the end of the race.
The CARS Response Energy Tour’s next race at Myrtle Beach Speedway would be the best run of Hill’s career, as a sixth-place starting spot allowed Hill to quickly work his way to the front and pass Justin Johnson for the lead on Lap 64. Hill would lead the next 27 laps of the Bakerdist.com 200, but did not have anything for a hard-charging Lee Pulliam, who passed Hill with 10 laps to go as he picked up his first career CARS Response Energy Tour victory.
Although Hill managed to lead his first laps in the CARS Response Energy Tour and match his career best finish of second at Myrtle Beach, he has struggled to duplicate that success over the course of the season. Hill has avoided getting into trouble over the last nine races on the schedule, but has not led another lap or recorded another Top 5 finish, with his best run since Myrtle Beach coming in the Cloer Construction 300 at Hickory Motor Speedway, where he placed sixth.
The Thrifty Tire/Puryear Tank Lines 300 at Orange County initially had the makings of another mediocre weekend for Hill, as he struggled to find speed in his car on both Friday and Saturday, posting a best time of 14.726 in the second and final practice on Saturday. A brief rain shower would eliminate any qualifying for both Late Models and Super Late Models, forcing the CARS Response Energy Tour to set both fields by practice speeds, which put Hill in the 13th position.
Once the green flag dropped, Hill established himself as one of the fastest drivers on track, as he quickly worked his way around both Pulliam and Bobby McCarty, who were the top two drivers in the CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour point standings. Hill believed that he had a car more than capable of challenging McCaskill and Berry for the win, but began to feel something go wrong inside the car with 15 laps remaining, which eventually ended his solid run prematurely.
“It definitely wasn’t the motor,” Hill said. “Steve Ashworth and his guys are building us great engines, but from my experience with driving, the motor was not the issue. It was either the ignition or battery.”
Hill’s mechanical troubles barely left an impact on his position in the CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour point standings, as he currently finds himself 87 points back from McCarty in seventh. However, Hill is more focused on bringing home solid finishes with only one race left in the season, and hopes that his Late Model will once again show blistering speed when the series travels 50 minutes north of Rougemont to South Boston Speedway.
“Any time you run good, it builds your confidence,” Hill said. “That’s just the nature of this sport, as you have the highs and the lows, and we were on a high, but now we’re on a low. We look forward to going to South Boston and hopefully we’ll have something for them there.”
Both divisions of the CARS Response Energy will wrap up the 2018 season when the green flag drops for the SoBo 250 on Nov. 3. Bobby McCarty nearly has the LMSC championship locked down with a 20-point advantage over Lee Pulliam, while Jared Fryar will look to hold off Kyle Busch Motorsports development driver in the SLM division to pick up his first career title.