A new generation of Late Model racing officially got underway with Saturday evening’s Fifth Annual Icebreaker at Myrtle Beach Speedway, as seven of the 36 entered teams showed up with a body that closely resembled the Gen 6.

Former Myrtle Beach track champion Sam Yarbrough ended up taking the new body to victory lane after passing Austin McDaniel with 25 laps remaining, while Sammy Smith and Jason York also scored Top 5 finishes in their first races with the Gen 6 body.

Prior to the Icebreaker, questions were raised about how the Gen 6 would handle in an actual race, but Smith noticed many similarities between the past and current model once he climbed into his #12 TMC Trucking Toyota.

“There were no differences at all,” Smith said. “If I’m being completely honest, [the Gen 6] races exactly the same as [the Gen 4].”

Five Star Bodies introduced the Gen 6 model all the way back in December 2013 but has faced numerous hurdles in attempting to get the cars approved for on-track competition, with their main adversary being the ABC Committee, which includes the CARS Solid Rock Carriers Tour, Southern Super Series, SRL Southwest Tour, and others.

Concerns raised by the ABC Committee include the amount of money the newer model could potentially cost Late Model and Super Late Model teams, as well as a potential gap in parity between those who use the Gen 6 and Gen 4.

Despite the controversy, Five Star Bodies has proceeded with their plan to get the Gen 6 approved for on-track competition, and successfully gained approval from NASCAR to have Late Model teams use the updated model for the Myrtle Beach 400 and the Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park.

Nelson Motorsports, which fielded Smith’s car for the Icebreaker, brought the Gen 6 model to the Myrtle Beach 400 in November with two-time ValleyStar Credit Union 300 winner Timothy Peters behind the wheel, who obtained a fourth-place finish in the curfew-shortened event.

Several more teams showed up with the Gen 6 model for the season-opening Icebreaker, which included Jacob Heafner, who put his #95 Powerhouse Recycling Ford on the pole by being the only driver to qualify under 20 seconds with a time of 19.998.

Heafner would not lead a single lap in a race dominated by McDaniel and Dexter Canipe Jr. in the Gen 4 bodies and Yarbrough in the Gen 6 body, but the latter proved that experience mattered more than aerodynamics by conserving his equipment and making a charge towards the front in the closing stages to secure the victory.

Like Smith, Yarbrough failed to find any significant differences about the Gen 6 car in a race dominated by tire conservation and pack racing, but he believes that some changes could come to the surface as more drivers and teams compete in races with the updated body.

“If there is an advantage, it’s minute I believe,” Yarbrough said. “We went quicker last year with the old body than we did this year with the new body, so you can’t really count longevity because the car was so much better chassis wise. When it gets hot and everything gets slick, if there is an advantage, that’s when it will show its head. We can’t really know it until then.”

McDaniel was the highest finisher of the drivers with the Gen 4 body after holding off B.J. Mackey for the second position and was thrilled to obtain a strong finish after challenging one of the most successful drivers in Myrtle Beach history for a majority of the 125-lap feature.

“I have struggled with this place for the last 10 years when it comes to making it to the end of the race with tires,” McDaniel said. “We came here to be in contention and that’s exactly what we did. If we were going to get beat by somebody, then at least it was someone who has won more races here than anyone else put together, so finishing second without a scratch on our car was definitely a win in our book.”

The top 10 positions in the Icebreaker were evenly split by teams utilizing the Gen 4 and the Gen 6 models, which is a pattern that will likely repeat itself as Late Model programs field both bodies in several standalone NASCAR-sanctioned races throughout the year.

With the ABC Committee set to approve a body for the 2021 season that will not be Five Star Bodies’ Gen 6 model, the controversy over the future design of Late Models and Super Late Models is expected to continue for the next several months.

The body-style debate itself was not on the mind of Smith and his fellow drivers during the Icebreaker, as he was more focused on developing the right strategy to contend for the win but was ultimately forced to settle for a Top 5.

“We had a really good car,” Smith said. “When it came down to 25 laps to go, it was time to go hard and I was just getting way too loose in. I just can’t thank everyone at Nelson Motorsports and TMC for all the help they’ve provided me.”

An even mix of Gen 4 and Gen 6 models are expected to show up for the rescheduled Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park, which will take place on March 1. That should give us a better look at how the two bodies compare.

Cover photo by Morgan Odum.