Jessica Dana, pictured at Motor Mile Speedway on September 9, 2017. (Shane Green/ photo)

Story by: Corey Latham ~ [email protected]

Winston-Salem, NC(June 2, 2011) — Bowman Gray Stadium is the home of the Modifieds, the tracks feature division, but other divisions do get their time in the sun.

This past weekend it was the Sportsman division with their annual 100 lap affair with their qualifying spots counting and cars actually being sent home for not making the field. While it was not the usual type of racing at Bowman Gray with lots of carnage, it did include some good racing at the front. The Neal family would be the only ones to know about that though.

Tommy Neal would set the fast time of the day over Gary Ledbetter who was making his first start of the season at the stadium, after all, he is the defending champion of the Whelen 100 and was expected to defend his title of the prestigious race. Usual races have the field draw but since the entire field qualified only the top six redrew putting Bryant Robertson on the pole with Neal to the outside. Ledbetter would roll off sixth behind the other three cars of Todd Gray, Barry Edwards and Kevin Neal.

As the field went to green it was a drag race into turn one as drivers tried feverishly to get to the inside, the inside groove at Bowman Gray is by far the fastest way around. Tommy Neal would put his Dodge power to the pavement and beat Robertson into turn one taking the lead as the rest of the field would settle out.

Early on it looked a lot different than most race at the Stadium as everyone was clean and forgiving with no one pushing the issue. This is typically the scene of the bigger races for each division as the track let’s them qualify and keep their starting spots, rather than the usual blind draw out of a Crown Royal bag for positions. This puts cars at equal ability near each other, rather than fast cars mixed up in the back of ther field on a mad dash to get to the front. this was evident all night as the race was clean and green with Tommy Neal pulling away from the field early on.

We make it to lap 20 before the first caution of the night when Taylor Branch gets into Todd Gray pushing him into the infield and out of the fifth spot. The famous “cone restart” would make It’s first appearance of the night with Kevin Neal jumping to the outside to challenge uncle Tommy for the lead. Before the caution Kevin had gotten by Barry Edwards for third and was hounding Robertson for second, he definitely had one of the fastest cars on the track.

Any restart at Bowman Gray is wild and this one held true to form as Kevin Neal dives down in front of Robertson in second and goes to the inside of Tommy for the lead in turn two banging fenders the whole way. Tommy Neal hangs on for the moment as Branch punts Robertson high taking third while Ledbetter gets under Edwards for fourth. Edwards, a former champion and 20+ year veteran of the stadium, would have problems and fall through the field rapidly from this point but later on rectified his problem and came back for a top ten finish.

Robertson was not impressed with the Branch move and returned the favor a few laps later to take the spot back. Ledbetter would become the story for the second half of the race as the field would get strung out with the Neal’s leaving the field behind. Ledbetter looked to be on a mission running times faster than the leaders as he passed inside the top five at ease. His progress would come to a stop on lap 75 as a struggling Ryan Robertson gets spun off the front bumper of Kenny Bost collecting the cars of Todd Gray, Evan Duggins, Zach Cliffton and David Adams in the biggest crash of the night.

The restart would come with 15 laps to go and Kevin Neal makes a gutsy move, he goes to the outside of the cone to line up beside the leader…………from second. If he doesn’t get the lead or fall right behind Tommy, he could get freight-trained out of the top ten. They all barrel into turn one fairly clean, as they exit turn two Bryant Robertson gets into the back of Tommy Neal and gets him sideways, just enough to let Kevin Neal slip into the lead from the outside. This would turn out to be the winning move as Kevin Neal would not be challenged again.

A late caution with a few laps to go would make Neal sweat a bit, but anything in the last ten laps results in a single-file restart and having family behind you can ease the tension just a little. Ledbetter would challenge Tommy Neal for second but couldn’t get by, even though Neal’s brakes were failing the last 40 laps.

Victory lane was a special place as Kevin celebrated his biggest win to date with Tommy lifting him high in the air with the checkered flag in hand. Kevin may have won the battle but Tommy is winning the war as he looks poised to pick up another championship leading the points by 23 entering this weekend. Either way, if you want to win a Limited race at Bowman Gray, it looks like you’ll have to beat a Neal.

Whelen 100 Results:
1. Kevin Neal
2.Tommy Neal
3.Gary Ledbetter
4.Bryant Robertson
5.Taylor Branch
6.Kyle Edwards
7.Luke Fleming
8.Robbie Brewer
9.Barry Edwards
10.Derek Stoltz
11.Ryan Robertson
12.Mitch Gales
13.Ryan Nelson
14.Cody Evans
15.Michael Adams
16.David Adams
17.Jeff Garrison
18.Danny Cornwell
19.Kyle Southern
20.Kenny Bost
21.Todd Gray
22.Evan Duggins
23.Zack Clifton
24.Matt Hill
25. John Lain