Asheville, North Carolina resident Matt Leicht was shaping up to be one of the most notable surprises in the 2018 ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway. After starting 27th, Leicht raced his #0 Treadstone US Capital Late Model all the way up inside the Top 10 and was in a good position to leave one of the most prestigious Late Model races in the country with a solid finish.
Leicht’s good night ended inside the last 20 laps of the race, where he was involved in two separate accidents that forced him to finish behind the wall in 27th place. Leicht was frustrated at the way his night at Martinsville came to a premature conclusion, and criticized the way his competition raced him near the end of the 200-lap feature.
“A so-called professional racecar driver said the brakes quit,” Leicht said. “We were coming off the corner and he turned me around, which put us in the back and put us in a position to get our car torn up. Then the same guy missed a gear.”
A long-time veteran of both Late Model and Super Late Model racing, Leicht made his first attempt at Martinsville back in 2007, where he would bring his #30 Advanced Late Model home in the 30th position after encountering issues in the second half of the race. Leicht would not make another attempt in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 until 2017 but would suffer mechanical issues before the halfway break and finish in the 33rd position.
Despite the bad luck, he faced in his two previous starts, Leicht entered the 2018 ValleyStar Credit Union 300 with confidence on his side but found himself in the middle of the pack during the Friday morning test session with a best time of 20.576, which placed him 39th out of 72 drivers. Leicht managed to improve his time to 20.367 in the following practice session, but it would only be good enough to move him five spots up the leaderboard.
Leicht would not see his fortunes improve when it came time for qualifying, as he placed 42nd in the field after the times for Bobby McCarty, Matt Bowling and Todd Gilliland were disallowed following post-qualifying inspection. However, Leicht and his team continued to work vigorously on improving his car, which began to pay off in time for the first heat of the afternoon, where he ended up transferring into the main event after finishing ninth.
With Leicht starting 27th in the 200-lap feature, he found surrounded by strong drivers such as current CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour points leader Bobby McCarty, as well as Super Late Model veteran Bubba Pollard, who was making his Late Model debut. Although he was behind several other talented drivers on the starting grid, Leicht maintained his confidence in his car and knew he could work his way up through the field by utilizing patience.
“We had a good group of guys working on the car,” Leicht said. “Travis Byrd really knocks it out of the park every week, and we’ve really hit on some stuff during the last couple of races we’ve competed in. He really makes me look good for sure.”
Pollard and McCarty quickly picked off positions as they worked their way towards the front, but Leicht quietly followed their lead and found himself inside the Top 20 just after 50 laps. Leicht’s quest to the front would stall out after the halfway break, but he would battle for a position inside the Top 10 over the next 80 laps exchanging positions with drivers such as Myatt Snider and Brandon Pierce.
Shortly after the restart on Lap 180, Leicht would lose all of his track position after making contact with another car in Turn 2. Leicht attempted to work his way back up through the field while also trying to keep his car out of trouble, but a spin by Justin Hicks in Turn 4 brought out another caution, which created an opportunity for Leicht to regain some of his lost ground on the ensuing two-lap shootout.
A missed shift by Snider on the restart stacked the field up behind him and sent cars scattering, which sent Late Model veteran Jeff Oakley into the path of Leicht, who climbed over the top of his car while trying to avoid the wreck on the bottom line. Leicht ended up losing control of his car and crashed hard into the outside retaining wall, which brought his stellar evening in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 to an abrupt end.
While Leicht did not have the finish he was looking forward, he considered this year’s ValleyStar Credit Union 300 to be the best one of his career and is looking forward to having another opportunity at a grandfather clock in 2019. Leicht admitted that he was pleasantly surprised by his car’s ability to keep pace with many of the best Late Model drivers in the country, and hopes that his performance at Martinsville is a positive sign for his program.
“We were really surprised, especially since we were one of the only Fords in the show,” Leicht said. “They were down on power the whole weekend, so we were really surprised at how everything went in that regard.”
Leicht had plans to run the Myrtle Beach 400 in November, but his accident at Martinsville severely damaged his Late Model, which may force him to pull out of the event with the limited amount of time his team has to repair it. If Leicht is unable to make the trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, he plans to shift his focus towards the season-opening Icebreaker at the same track next year.
📸: Cover Photo by Brad Newman Photography