Deac McCaskill celebrates in victory lane after winning the CARS Tour season opener at Southern National Motorsports Park in March 2023. (Andy Marquis photo)

LUCAMA, NC – Deac McCaskill returned to victory lane for the first time in seven years at Southern National Motorsports Park on Saturday, a track he won four championships at.

McCaskill’s victory at the Wilson County track came in the 125-lap season opener for the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour, and it did not come easy for the veteran driver.  In the closing stages, defending series champion Carson Kvapil began to reel McCaskill in, but once the leaders found themselves in lapped traffic, the advantage went to McCaskill, who won the series championship in 2016.

“I was looking in my mirror a little bit and I told my team I didn’t want to hear any information,” McCaskill told Race22 after scoring his 10th career CARS Tour victory.  “I don’t know how close he got, I just was focused on lapped traffic.  My car was driving really good and, once I got by the lapped traffic, I knew he was going to have to have a really good piece to get around me because my car was driving phenomenally all race.  My biggest worry was getting through lapped traffic and trying to save [tires] a little bit in case a caution came out.  Everything worked great.”

While Kvapil appeared to have the faster car late, McCaskill was able to use his many years of experience at Southern National to his advantage.

“We’ve got a million laps around this place,” McCaskill said.  “I knew where to time my runs and where I was going to pass them at without hurting me.  Everybody did great getting out of the way.  What a way to kick the year off.  This is really special.  I haven’t won here since 2016, we’ve been off our game here, and Josh [Berry] has been making me look bad but it’s really special to win this race.”

McCaskill was a regular at Southern National even in the immediate years after the track reopened in 2012 under the ownership of Michael Diaz, but in 2015, he made the decision to begin racing in the CARS Tour.  In recent years, Southern National has largely sat dormant with the exception of a handful of races each season, something that is changing this year as the track returns to racing regularly, which has limited the number of times McCaskill could return to his home track.

“It sits here and ages a lot,” McCaskill explained.  “You saw the tire game going on with a lot of teams today.  You’ve got to do it if you’re going to win.  Mike and Mason [Diaz] are working their butts off with painting and [facility improvements.]  We’ve got a lot of great memories here.  We used to watch Mason and my kids play together on the golf cart.  Just a lot of great memories.  I miss the good ole days sometimes.”

Deac McCaskill leads late during a CARS Tour race at Southern National Motorsports Park in March 2023. (Andy Marquis photo)

Kvapil took his runner-up finish in stride.

“He just got through lapped traffic better than we did,” Kvapil stated.  “I felt like my car was actually a little faster the last whole run.  If we were all clear, I thought I’d run him down a little bit, just a half-tenth or so a lap.  This was the best car I’ve had here, but Deac was in his own league.  Good job to him, they did a really good job today.”

Kaden Honeycutt, Connor Hall, and Ryan Millington rounded out the top five.

Man of multiple hats

Mason Diaz on track during the 2023 CARS Tour opener at Southern National Motorsports Park. (Andy Marquis photo)

Mason Diaz, who has won two Late Model championships at Southern National Motorsports Park, does not often get the opportunity to focus solely on racing when he is at the track.  On Saturday, however, he had that rare opportunity.

Diaz, who now races with Chad Bryant Racing after spending several seasons with Mike Darne Racing, ultimately finished eighth in Saturday’s CARS Tour opener.  It was a relaxing change of pace for the Manassas, Virginia driver who often spends his days at Southern National doing everything from changing tires to working with the cleanup crew.

“I had everything prepped prior to today,” Diaz explained.  “I came down three weeks ago, four weeks ago, and de-winterized the place, painted the walls.  Came down last weekend and prepped the cleaning crew, made sure everything’s fired up, filled with gas, made sure these guys had an easy day today, takes a lot of stress off me.  My dad, myself, everyone at the track, we all work together to make the place look clean.”

The hard work leading into the race paid off.  The Lucama facility, which hosted a stellar crowd on Saturday, provided a clean aesthetic for the dawning of a new era for the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour.

Mike Hopkins prevails in wild Pro Late Model feature

Mike Hopkins celebrates his win in the 2023 CARS Pro Late Model Tour opener at Southern National Motorsports Park. (Andy Marquis photo)

Mike Hopkins dominated in the second half of the 100-lap CARS Pro Late Model division race but had to survive a series of late-race restarts to score the victory.

The driver from Hermon, Maine, did just that, nailing each of his restarts and getting himself clear of the chaos that unfolded behind him.

“This place is phenomenal,” Hopkins said. “It’s fun, it’s racy and there’s a good class of cars. [Michael Diaz] does a phenomenal job along with the CARS Tour. This is only my third CARS Tour race, but winning never gets old, especially when you race part-time like myself.”

Hopkins is no stranger to victory lane, with wins at Richmond Raceway, Jennerstown Speedway, and Seekonk Speedway throughout his career.  Hopkins is also a former Pro All Stars Series (PASS) National Champion, a title he earned in 2019.