For the opening half of the 2019 ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway, Randleman, North Carolina native Ryan Wilson emerged as an underdog contender for a grandfather clock after driving past several strong competitors and settling inside the Top 5 in the second stage.
Wilson stated that the speed he displayed in the preliminaries through the 200-lap main event came from the hard work that everyone at TORP Chassis put in during the weeks leading up to the race, and he was thrilled that all of the efforts put into his #12 Late Model paid off once the green flag dropped on Saturday night.
“We had a really good car at the test the week before,” Wilson said. “We didn’t think the car was perfect of course, but we kept working on it, and we were right on the verge of being inside the Top 20 on Friday. We were confident heading into qualifying, but we also knew that everyone was going to be close to one another.”
Wilson had attempted the prestigious Late Model race nine times prior to arriving at Martinsville on Friday afternoon and had endured mixed success with four DNQs and three DNFs, but he also managed to put together two solid runs that included a fourth-place finish in the 2012 edition of the race.
With new qualifying procedures locking in the Top 20 on speed, Wilson and his team knew that they would have to match or defeat drivers like Josh Berry, Lee Pulliam, and others to obtain a solid starting position, but a sense of relief and excitement filled everyone on Wilson’s crew when his lap of 20.166 put him 18th on the grid.
“The first time we raced at Martinsville several years ago, we made the Top 20,” Wilson said. “That’s a feeling you don’t really forget because everyone is busting their tails trying to make the race themselves. It doesn’t matter how fast of a car you have in the heat races, as you can get turned around or have something break, so it’s a huge deal not having to be a part of those races.”
Wilson spent the last hours leading up to the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 calm and relaxed as he watched the two chaotic heat races unfold, in which several strong contenders that included Jeff Oakley, Brandon Pierce and former winner Jake Crum all experienced issues that prevented them from earning one of the available 20 spots for the 200-lap Late Model feature.
When it was Wilson’s turn to get behind the wheel for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, he initially elected to stay patient during the opening stage until his car came to life as the laps clicked off, which enabled him to pass several strong cars and climb inside the Top 10 by the Lap 75.
Wilson continued his charge up to the front after making a couple of minor adjustments on his pit stop, as he picked off Pulliam, Bubba Pollard, Timothy Peters, and others to move into the fourth position by the time the caution came out on Lap 132 for Taylor Gray’s flip down the backstretch.
It was during the ensuing red flag that Wilson’s race began to unravel after his car began to overheat and spewed water onto the track, which left Wilson concerned about his long-term prospects for a solid finish as he prepared to line up on the outside of the second row alongside Bobby McCarty.
Shortly after the restart, Wilson’s car washed up out of the groove in Turns 1 and 2 and lost several spots, but he did not have any time to regroup, as he lost control of his Late Model heading into Turn 3 and made heavy contact with the outside retaining wall, bringing his stellar evening to a premature end.
Wilson would be credited with a disappointing 28th at the end of the night and was unable to challenge Berry, who led all 200 laps to pick up his first ValleyStar Credit Union 300 victory, but even though Wilson was unsure of his ability to best Berry, he was confident that he would at least have an opportunity at a Top 3 if he stayed out of trouble.
“We’ll never know if we had anything for Berry because he was on rails, but I think we definitely had a second-place car,” Wilson said. “Some of the lap times between me and Berry were comparable, but he had clean air the whole time, so he controlled the restarts. It was going to be hard to beat him, but I know for sure we could have finished second.”
Wilson and his team plan to pickup a brand new Late Model next weekend that they plan to test over the next few weeks so that it can be ready to compete in the season-ending Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park on Dec. 1.
Cover photo by Jaden Austin.