Taylor Gray makes a lap around Orange Count Speedway prior to his pole-winning run for the Old North State Nationals on Saturday afternoon. (Photo: Brandon White)

ROUGEMONT — Two weeks after he picked up his first career CARS Late Model Stock Car Tour victory at Hickory Motor Speedway, Taylor Gray found himself in a good position to pick up his second win and an added bonus of $30,000 by qualifying on pole for the inaugural Old North State Nationals at Orange County Speedway.

Gray attributed all of the credit for his strong qualifying run towards his crew members that have worked diligently on his No. 17 Gray Motorsports/Valvoline Toyota, and he hopes that he can reward their hard work by taking home the checkered flag on Sunday.

“I’ve thought about that $30,000 paycheck many times,” Gray said. “It would be really cool to bring home the trophy as well as $30,000. It’s not necessarily about the money but it’s about the experience and all of the good times that I’ve had with my guys.”

Driving for the Toyota-backed DGR-Crosley team, Gray picked up from where he left off at Hickory by posting consistent lap times in all three Saturday practice sessions, with his best lap being a 14.089 in the first session.

Although Gray slowed down slightly in the following two sessions, he made up that lost ground when single-car qualifying began, as he secured a new track record at Orange County by posting a time of 13.969.

The only other driver to crack the 13-second barrier during the session was Oak Ridge native Brandon Pierce, who will be driving the #2 Fremont Properties Chevrolet for four-time Whelen All-American Series champion Lee Pulliam.

Pierce came close to victory in the Mid-Atlantic Classic at Orange County last season, but was unable to get the run that he needed to pass 2016 CARS LMSC Tour champion Deac McCaskill on the final lap.

Pierce began his 2019 season by obtaining his first career CARS LMSC Tour victory in the Solid Rock Carriers 300 at Southern National Motorsports Park on March 9, and he is optimistic that he can build off that momentum and pick up the most prestigious victory of his Late Model career.

“I hope to have a car good enough, but it’s a lot longer race this time around,” Pierce said. “It’s 200 laps, so it’s too early to say, but we have a good car though. We’re just going to have to survive and see what happens at the end, and if we are there at the end, then I think we’ll have a good a shot as anybody.”

2017 CARS LMSC Tour champion Josh Berry earned the third starting position for Sunday’s 200-lap Late Model feature, while Pulliam and Pierce’s teammate Corey Heim rounded out the Top 5 starters that clinched spots in the field.

A victory in the Old North State Nationals would come as a great relief to Heim, who had victories at South Boston Speedway and in the Commonwealth Classic at Richmond Raceway taken away from him after his car failed post-race inspection, and was forced to settle for a second-place finish in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway despite video evidence showing him in front of winner CE Falk III at the moment of the last caution.

Heim wants to put all of his past misfortunes behind him this afternoon, but despite encountering some issues with his Late Model during the Saturday practice sessions, he now believes that he has a car that can easily contend for the win.

“This race is run by some good people in the CARS Tour,” Heim said. “If we win, I shouldn’t have to worry too much about tech and getting screwed over in that manner. Hopefully we can go get that $30,000.”

Many talented drivers were forced to battle for starting spots in the three heat races and last chance qualifier as a result of the Top 5 drivers getting locked in on speed, including McCaskill, former NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series driver Timothy Peters and defending CARS LMSC Tour champion Bobby McCarty.

Peters earned the pole position for the third heat race of the evening by qualifying eighth, while Layne Riggs and RD Smith will start up front for the first and second heat races, respectively. The green flag for the Old North State Nationals will fly at Orange County Speedway this afternoon at 3 p.m.

Qualifying Results:

1. 17 Taylor Gray- 13.969
2. 2 Brandon Pierce- 13.974
3. 88 Josh Berry- 14.013
4. 5 Lee Pulliam- 14.026
5. 78 Corey Heim- 14.033
6. 99 Layne Riggs- 14.052
7. 16 RD Smith- 14.063
8. 12 Timothy Peters- 14.069
9. 18 Ty Gibbs- 14.098
10. 8 Josh Oakley- 14.107
11. 08 Deac McCaskill- 14.142
12. 22 Bobby McCarty- 14.150
13. 27 Tommy Lemons Jr.- 14.151
14. 07 Bradley McCaskill- 14.157
15. 1m Craig Moore- 14.185
16. 1d Terry Dease- 14.190
17. 77 Trevor Ward- 14.208
18. 2s Myatt Snider- 14.216
19. 95 Jacob Heafner- 14.228
20. 17p Stacy Puryear- 14.229
21. 81 Mini Tyrell- 14.231
22. 2y Joshua Yeoman- 14.252
23. 4c Mike Chambers- 14.274
24. 25 Zack St. Onge- 14.299
25. 63 Tyler Matthews- 14.303
26. 98 Adam Lemke- 14.306
27. 4 Jonathan Findley- 14.316
28. 74 Ronald Hill- 14.325
29. 01 Camden Gullie- 14.330
30. 35 Carson Kvapil- 14.340
31. 57 Justin Carroll- 14.360
32. 19 Cameron Bowen- 14.347
33. 23 Terry Brooks Jr.- 14.465
34. 19c Jessica Cann- 15.247