Welcome Guys to another edition of “Off the WALL”!
Corey Latham(CL): Good to be back. See, I do do things on here when it’s cold outside……
Langley Austin(LA): I hear you Corey … so I guess we’re back for the 2009 season, this is twice in three weeks for us … shouldn’t there be some racing coming up soon?
CL: I’ve got a modified test at Bristol next week, then the test at Rockingham for the UARA, then the mods at Orange County March 6-7. I’m getting there, it’s been too long.
LA: I might head down to the Orange County test Saturday, then I could pretty much find something to do non-stop from there on out, I’m excited about the upcoming season, how ’bout you?
CL: Too bad for you on the Orange County test, it was yesterday Einstein. Ronnie Silk was turning low 13 second laps along with Jay Foley and Jason Myers all under 14 seconds. Anyway, I’m ready for something, I’m glad the UARA has finally released the schedule, it looks great aside from the dates being in the wrong place. The first of the season does look brutal on the teams, I hope everyone survives like you talked about last time.
LA: Get your head out of the Modifieds for a minute … the OCS test Saturday is for the Late Model Stocks and other weekly divisions. I too am glad the official UARA Schedule is out and yes it looks good. I’ve kinda taken it on the chin a little for what I wrote in “Analyze This” though. I think people thought that I was bad-mouthing the series and that wasn’t the case at all. I was simply questioning the top heavy schedule which is something that concerns a lot of people involved in the series from chassis builders and engine builders to racers and race teams. Everyone should know that I Love the UARA and would never do or say anything to put a negative light on them, I was simply speaking my mind and apparently the way some people read it wasn’t how I meant it. It was meant as a concern not a slap against the series.
CL: I know that, and I feel the same way you do. I would never say anything bad, but I’m not going to candy-coat anything either. The schedule is awesome, I just wonder about the first of it. Then again I’m not the one making it, I’m sure a lot of things unknown to me went into getting the dates at the various tracks. You can’t just pick and choose your dates when it comes to tracks like Rockingham and Bristol. Both of those races are going to bring more exposure than any Late-Model race in history, especially the Bristol race. I fully expect many surprise drivers to make the trip for both of these, I’m just worried about the Concord date and so on. But, you know how it goes they will be there with bells on, they always are.
LA: I agree and putting together a schedule for a series has to be tough and those two races are going to be huge, the largest in the history of the UARA and the largest in the history of Late Model Stock Car racing period. I’m proud of what the series has been able to accomplish and I hope for their sake that the races don’t take a big a toll on the cars as they could potentially. It will all work out in the end, those guys haven’t made too many mistakes in the seven year history of the series and I don’t expect this to be one either.
CL: Speaking of Rockingham, do you think this will be the start of something big? Potentially something in the coming years to say…..rival the Bailey’s 300 at Martinsville? I think Martinsville will always be the crown jewel, but I think if the UARA event at Rockingham is successful (and it will be), Andy Hillenburg and his staff just may have some other Late-Model events in the coming years.
LA: I’m sure that we’re going to see a lot out of Rockingham … Rockingham is hopefully going to be a huge part of the future of Late Model Stock Car racing. I’m really excited about Rockingham, but lets not forget about all the story lines in local Late Model Stock Car racing. What about Hickory, Tri-County, South Boston, Motor Mile and etc. You wanna take a minute and give the readers our thoughts on what we think we’ll see at their home track this season?
CL: On the local front, the track I’m wondering about is South Boston. Motor Mile had great car count last year, and this year looks to be the same. SOBO had diminished a tad last year, but with Southern National not running, business is picking up there. I’m looking for Deac McCaskill to have a break-out year and win the championship, I’m thinking this year there could be one of the most competitive on record.
LA: South Boston is going to be interesting, they’ve had a couple of tough seasons, but I do think they’ll benefit from SNRP closing. I think that Justin Johnson making the move from FDJ Motorsports over to Taylor Brothers Racing, the team that Wayne Ramsey has been driving for will be an interesting one to watch. Ramsey has had a lot of success with them and Johnson had a good amount of success with FDJ last season. It’ll be interesting to see how he does and will Ramsey be back in someone else’s car? Deac McCaskill would be my leading championship contender now too.
OK, Corey that’s SoBo … what do you think we’ll see at Motor Mile. Mike Looney is stepping up his program … Kelly Kingery is in his own car this season, is Philip Morris coming back? Derrick Lancaster will be tough for the title and what about Chad Harris, I know he’s got a brand new car coming and Tommy Lemons got back on his game last fall with his move to Dannie Cox engines? Who are you looking for to be the leading candidate?
CL: I think you would be hard-pressed not to go with Tommy Lemons. Philip is the man there, but you can’t be king but for so long. Tommy had some stellar runs last year, and at the end of the year races he was extremely tough, better than he’s ever been. We may have been talking about a different Bailey’s 300 winner if it wasn’t for….who was that…..oh yeah, Mr. Morris. It will be interesting seeing Kelly in his own stuff, and look for Chad Harris to be a top 3 car week-in and week-out. Tough to call the racing up there, it’s super-competitive and they may just boast the toughest weekly Late-Model Field in the country.
LA: I’m with you on Lemons and I think Harris may give him a tough run. On to Hickory … could this be the year that Andy Mercer finally breaks through with a championship with Andy Loden gone or will David Latour come in and steal the show? And, oh yeah don’t forget about Jamie Yelton … he might be Mercer’s worst enemy!
CL: Mercer is really counting his blessing that Loden won’t be there, that was one fierce battle. Bad thing is, Yelton is gonna be there to take up the slack, and he may just be tougher than Loden was. Mercer should win the championship, as long as he doesn’t have any “brain freeze” this year and let the competition get to him, and Yelton will be the one to do it. David Latour is a fast competitor, but good gosh, I don’t know if I’ve seen anybody with more bad luck than him. Jesse LeFevers could be your dark horse if he runs the whole schedule.
LA: LeFevers is by far my guy to watch I’m glad you brought him up, I was thinking about him for Tri-County, but yeah he will be good at HMS too. Yelton, Mercer, Latour and LeFevers will be a great foursome at Hickory. Tri-County is going be another good track and here’s LeFevers again, but he’ll have to hold off RA Brown, who finished second in the points chase there last year. I’m not sure who else will be in this chase, but it will be a good one.
CL: All the tracks should have good battles, and R.A. will tough, he always is. Tri-County will be interesting to watch, it’s a great track but it seems the management there has changed every year for the past 5 years. I hope the same people stay in place for a while and they can give the racers some stability. Lonesome Pine is another track to watch, their car count wasn’t very bad last year at all even with all the troubles the track had the past few years. With Jeff Roark and Harold Crook running the show up there, I can only see great things for the place. If they could get a big end of the year Late-Model show that paid a little bit, it would work wonders. And what about ACE? I’m digging on that one this week, who is gonna keep their word and never come back is a complete mystery. Rodney Cook said he was gonna go to Tri-County, but that was before the management was jumbled around.
LA: Those two are definitely a mysterious at LPR and Ace and I can’t really even tell you who’s going to be at those two tracks this season. I’m looking forward to seeing some stuff from those two places to try and figure out what’s going to happen there this season. Then you’ve got Greenville Pickens and I think you’ll see Marty Ward and David Roberts leading the charge and another track that it’ll be interesting to see is Orange County and last years champion Stacy Puryear will likely go to SoBo and he might be another top competitor there … so who will be the top dog there? I guess we’ll see. What else do you know about the local race season this year, Corey?
CL: Talked to my bud, Garrett Campbell today, and he was telling me about his brand new Dave Dunlap car he’s going to be running in the UARA for 09′. I love his attitude, he said he had his rookie year last year to learn, they are going for the championship this year. He’s got his work cut out for him, but if he can calm down a little, and relay exactly what is going on with the car before the race so they can make adjustments, I see no reason why he can’t pick up his first UARA win. A big question mark in my mind is Alex Yontz. I need to get in touch with him, I’m hearing rumors that he may not run at all this year. You got any info on that?
LA: Garrett may well be a strong contender, but he’s still got a little rookie in him and that will take him out of the championship hunt in my opinion. As far as Alex Yontz goes, I’m not really sure about him I think they are having some financial issues in this down economy and I think that the loss of crew chief, Ed Berrier, who left to go with Peyton Sellers to the Nationwide Series is going to hurt his program too. We’ll see with Yontz though, he’s certainly one of the top LMSC drivers of all-time and he’ll bounce back if at all possible.
I talked to Joey Bryant, one of last years top three or four Rookie of the Year candidates in the UARA, who fell out after the Hickory race due to blowing his only engine. He’s been down and out going through a divorce and now he’s coming back guns a blazin’ and he’s got a new Marlowe Chassis, his old car, a used Rayvon Clark engine and he’s got a brand new Graham Cole engine coming so he’s going to locked and loaded. He really came a long way in short time in 2008 and he may well be a contender before season’s end and will likely be a top five points guy in the UARA this season. Hopefully I won’t have to go give him a pep-talk this year to get him into the Bristol race.
CL: As much as I hate to say it your pep talk did wonders, if you hadn’t brought some points up that he was missing before the race started at Bristol, he wouldn’t of even been in it, he was loading his car. Joey was cool to be around, he does what a driver without much experience is supposed to do, suck up knowledge. Somebody else I just thought of was Cliff Daniels. I’m sure he will be at the big races, and I’d be stupid to bet against him. There are so many drivers that could be very good this year it’s mind-boggling. Most years you have maybe 5 in the UARA, and sometimes 2 or 3 at the local tracks who could win the championship after a few races. This year looks very different, with the UARA points up in the air, and each track in the region having at least 5 good cars going for it every week. Time will tell.
LA: I think you’re right. I’d like to see Cliff Daniels go for the UARA title or a title at Motor Mile, SoBo or somewhere like that … he’d be extremely strong. I think we’re in for a great 2009 season and I think we’ll see people win races this year that you never thought would, it’s going to be one of those seasons when the have and have nots meet somewhere near the middle and make the racing way more exciting. WOW! I’m all jacked up and ready to go and it’s still 20+ days to the first Late Model Stock Car race of the season … maybe I’ll get my fix with Frost Bite Winter Nationals Modified race … I know you’ll be there. I guess we’ll talk at the race fans again in a week or so … until then see ya, Corey!
CL: Whew, this one wore me out, bad thing is (really a good thing) we could keep on for 10 more pages. Until next time……..I’m out.