There once was a time that a driver with the surname Loden graced Victory Lane at Hickory Motor Speedway on a near-weekly basis. On Saturday in the season opener for Carolina Pro Late Model Series, that tradition continued with 16-year-old Nick Loden taking the victory in the 100-lap main event to follow in the footsteps of his father Andy — a three-time track champion at the historic 0.363-mile oval.

The pits were overflowing with cars and teams during the first Carolina Pro Late Model Series race of the season as Hickory Motor Speedway on Saturday, March 13, 2021. (Photo by Brandon Zumbach)

In a race slowed by several cautions over its first half, Loden used the outside lane of the front row to his advantage on each restart. He first battled with William Sawalich, a youngster from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and then Tyler Church, a veteran of straight-rail racing in the Southeast. Once Loden completed each pass he was able to open a large gap of nearly half a straightaway. The final re-rack came on Lap 57, after which he cruised to victory.

“It was pretty hard, especially racing with Tyler there on the last couple,” the Stanley, North Carolina driver said of the multitude of restarts. “He was competition. They beat me on the start, usually off the line, but going through that corner right when we got to the gas my car was good. It had a lot of drive. I’d be able to drive right by him coming off the corner and that really helped me.”

His father, who won three straight track championships at Hickory from 2007 to 2009, was a master of the high side. He now has passed his knowledge along to his son.

“He’s taught me a lot about how to pass people on the outside,” Loden said.
“The first race we came here I tried to pass people on the outside and I couldn’t figure it out. He worked with me a lot on that and I passed five cars on the outside tonight so it worked out pretty well.”

A 26-car field of Carolina Pro Late Model Series entries come to the green flag for their 100-lap season opener at Hickory Motor Speedway on March 13, 2021. (Photo by Brandon Zumbach)

Loden started from the third position and spent several laps in the race’s runner-up spot in the early stages while Caden Kvapil, younger brother of 2020 series champion Carson, jumped out to a massive early lead. However, a power steering line failure on the race’s first restart forced him to pit multiple times, handing control of the race to Loden.

A total of 26 cars representing 10 states took the green flag for the main event. Drivers not used to racing against one another and a variety of experience levels led to the rash of yellows, including one melee on the frontstretch just before Lap 30 necessitating a red flag.

Several caution flags waved over the field during the 100-lap Carolina Pro-Late Model Series season opener at Hickory Motor Speedway including this meelee that left a lot of cars damaged on the front stretch. (Photo by Corey Latham)

When the checkered flag flew a pair of New Englanders rounded out the podium. Kyle DeSouza from Turner, Maine, finished second and Madison, Connecticut’s Devin O’Connell came home third.

DeSouza began from the middle of the field, but his car started to come alive in the second half of the event.

“Being from up north we never time trial to qualify so that set us behind the 8-ball,” he said. “I knew we had a good car, but we had to start 15th and I knew I was better than half the people in front of me. I just needed a long green flag run to be able to pick them off one at a time and unfortunately we didn’t get a long one until after Lap 50.

“At the end I had nothing for Loden, I was never going to get there, but I had a pretty good idea we could find our way to the top three if we got a long enough run.”

O’Connell meanwhile brought out the race’s first caution flag after being tagged from behind by Church in Turn Four with 24 laps complete. While cars crashed behind him, O’Connell escaped damage but was forced to give up his top-five running position and restart from the rear. He used timely cautions and a methodical drive to return to the top three by night’s end.

“Just hats off to all the guys on the radio because I was pretty hot after that one,” he said. “But they did an awesome job keeping me cool, making me focus and worry about the job ahead. It paid off. We drove through the field. It’s not a P1 but it’s a P3, it’s a podium finish. It’s my first race working with Port City Racecars and this new chassis. I’ve got to say it’s an awesome piece, I’ve got a feeling it’s going to get us a lot of wins this year.”

Sawalich and Toby Grynewicz from Clyde, Texas, rounded out the top five.

Nick Loden’s win was his second in the Carolina Pro Late Model Series and his first ever at Hickory. That significance was not lost on his father.

“It’s very rewarding,” Andy Loden said. “He was close a couple of times last year and it feels really good to see him get a win at Hickory. It’s such an awesome track, I just love it here. I’m just ecstatic.”

Full Results:
1. 43 Nick Loden
2. 1 Kyle DeSouza
3. 143 Devin O’Connell
4. 43s William Sawalich
5. 48 Toby Grynewicz
6. 4 Leland Honeyman
7. 1x Tyler Church
8. 71 Katie Hettinger
9. 2 Amber Lynn
10. 51 Nathan Byrd
11. 81 Bryce Carver
12. 22 Tim Hollis
13. 24 Penn Crim
14. 63 Josh Lowder
15. 07 Riley Neal
16. 44 Josh Van Winkle
17. 5 Jasec Holladay
18. 35 Caden Kvapil
19. 76 Jerick Johnson
20. 15NC Chad Malloy
21. 21 Tommy Neal
22. 12 Annabeth Barnes Crum
23. 11 Tony Cosentino
24. 2 Ronald Renfrow
25. 03 Kyle Campbell
26. 98 Matt Henley

Cover photo by Corey Latham.