A victory by Casey Roderick in the All-American 400 at Nashville Speedway on Nov. 1 formally wrapped up a challenging sixth year of operation for the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour.
With so much uncertainty surrounding daily life in the United States, series owner Jack McNelly was initially unsure if the 2020 season would even be completed, but he credited the drivers, tracks and everyone with the CARS Tour for adapting and persevering through the adversity.
“We were able to complete our season as advertised, and we’re very proud of that,” McNelly said. “We had great car counts throughout the year even though the Supers tailored off at the end. Fan participation was also strong given the situation we were facing.”
The 2020 season for the CARS Tour began just like the five previous ones for McNelly and his staff at Southern National Motorsports Park on March 7, with Taylor Gray and Matt Craig securing victories in the LMSC and SLM divisions respectively.
While the series prepared for its next race at Hickory Motor Speedway on March 21, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 minutes before a game with the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 11, setting off a chain of events that concluded with many states issuing shelter-in-place orders to stop the spread of the deadly virus.
As the COVID-19 pandemic claimed thousands of lives during March and April, McNelly waited patiently for states to start easing restrictions so he could restart the season, as he knew that teams were beginning to experience financial hardships by not being at the track.
“I was not only concerned for the CARS Tour, but for the owners that had investments in the series, the employees and also for our country,” McNelly said. “I’m in my seventh decade of living and I never thought I would see a country shut down and everybody stay in their house, so I knew we had to get started and that’s what we did.”
When NASCAR returned to action at Darlington Raceway in May, the CARS Tour followed shortly afterwards with the Race at Ace 125, which brought 30 Late Models to Ace Speedway and featured an incredible finish that saw Ryan Millington hold off Layne Riggs for his first career victory.
Although the CARS Tour had successfully resumed, COVID-19 remained a prevalent issue for the series to deal with, as restrictions in North Carolina and Virginia eventually resulted in several races like the planned season finale at South Boston Speedway and the Old North State Nationals at Orange County Speedway to either be cancelled or moved.
McNelly said that the restrictions proved to be frustrating from a business perspective, but he worked diligently with the tracks that remained open to ensure that the CARS Tour would still be able to compete there, and believed everything was executed as well as possible.
“We almost had to play everything a week at a time,” McNelly said. “After our first race back, I wasn’t sure if we would be able to go on or not, but things started to fall into place. When we went to [Jennerstown], the motorsports community in Pennsylvania did an awesome job lobbying the state capital of Harrisburg and they were able to pull that race off with fans.”
McNelly added that some races were much harder to pull off than others, as the Race Face Tel-Med 300 at Hickory had to be conducted without any fans in attendance, while only a small number could be let in for the VisitHampton.com 125 at Langley Speedway to take place in August.
With restrictions carrying over into the summer and the early fall, particularly in North Carolina, the CARS Tour had to make further adjustments to their schedule and ended up visiting Franklin County Speedway and Florence Motor Speedway for the first time in series history.
McNelly was pleased with how the races at Franklin County and Florence unfolded with both tracks being such late additions to the schedule, adding that he is looking forward to seeing the series return to the latter facility on Oct. 2, 2021.
“Every thread has a silver lining,” McNelly said. “I had personally never been to [Franklin County or Florence] and I didn’t even know where they were on the map. We worked with Langley [Austin] at Franklin and with Steve [Zacharias] at Florence and I visited both tracks beforehand so that I knew everything would be safe for the drivers, and each race turned out great.”
The LMSC division of the CARS Tour capped off their season with the re-located Old North State Nationals at Greenville-Pickens Speedway on Oct. 25, while the SLM Tour regulars ended up battling many of the best drivers in the country during the All-American 400 that was held in conjunction with the Southern Super Series, CRA Super Series and ARCA Midwest Tour.
While only four different drivers brought home a checkered flag in the SLM division, the LMSC Tour had its most competitive season with nine different competitors scoring a victory, three of which visited victory lane for the first time in their careers.
Matt Craig dominated the SLM Tour to claim his second consecutive championship while the LMSC title came down to a three-way battle between Jared Fryar, Layne Riggs and Corey Heim. Fryar narrowly clinched the championship at Greenville-Pickens to become the first driver in CARS Tour history to accomplish that feat in both divisions
McNelly hopes that future seasons are not as tumultuous off track like 2020, but he affirmed that the circumstances enabled the CARS Tour to experiment and venture out to new locations, which he believes helped strengthen the foundation of the series heading into the rest of the decade.
“This was a challenging, but rewarding season,” McNelly said. “Not many things in racing are smooth, but if you go un-challenged then you don’t really appreciate things. When you’re challenged, you wonder if you can pull things off or if this is even the right thing to do, but if it works, it’s very rewarding. This was challenge for the drivers, team owners, sponsors and promoters, but I think everyone got a really good feel for the 2020 season.”
Now that the 2020 season is over, McNelly is turning his attention towards what is expected to be an eventful 2021 campaign, which will kick off on March 6 with the first race at Rockingham Speedway since 2013.