PINEY FLATS, TN:: Each fall Martinsville Speedway hosts the biggest, richest, most prestigious NASCAR Late Model Stock event in the country. The Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 pays $25,000 to win from a total purse of over $73,000, plus the winner takes home a treasured grandfather clock.
Hayden Woods of Piney Flats, an 18-year-old senior at Providence Academy in Johnson City, was looking to make his first-ever start at the historic .526-mile Martinsville Speedway.
The best-of-the best in Late Model Stock racing were present, with a total of 87 entries. Assembled was a talent-laden field headed by such competitors’ as two-time defending NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion Lee Pulliam, former event winners Timothy Peters, Dennis Setzer and Phillip Morris, along with NWAAS track and state champions.
After timing-in 45th quickest Saturday afternoon in qualifying, Woods started 12th in the first of four heat races on Sunday. With the top eight finishers transferring to the main event, Woods had worked his way up to seventh and appeared like he would advance. But with a few laps remaining he got moved up the track between turns one and two and dropped back to finish 11th, thus meaning he would have to race his way into the main event through a last chance qualifier.
A 20-lap last chance qualifier, with 36 cars starting, would fill the final 10 starting positions in the 42-car field. Woods started the LCQ from the ninth spot and drove his way to a fourth-place finish to earn the 36th starting position in the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300.
“You’ve got 87 cars gathered and there’s only 42 starting berths for the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300, so you’re under a lot of pressure to just make the starting field,” said Woods while reflecting on just how tough it is to get in the starting lineup for the country’s biggest Late Model Stock event. “Just take a look at the 45 cars that don’t make the race. You could line them up for a second show and that would be an unreal race.
“I really thought we were going to transfer in by finishing in the top-eight from the heat race, but unfortunately we got moved (up the track) by another car and we wound up finishing 11th and had to run the last chance qualifier. You’ve got one last chance, and you either go hard or you go home – that’s the bottom line. We started ninth and I was able to move up and finish fourth and that put us in the big show.”
With a 10-minute halfway break scheduled, Woods’ focus was to just bide his time and take care of equipment in the first half of the race and avoid getting collected in any wrecks and then come back in the final 100 laps and try to get at least a top-15, top-20 finish.
“Having to start so deep back in the field from the 36th position, you know the action ahead of you is going to be pretty wild with guys battling for real estate,” said Woods. “After we worked our way into the starting field, I talked some strategy over with my crew chief (David Roope) and other guys on the team and we decided it would be best to just ride during the first 100 laps up to the halfway break and see where we stood.
“During the break the pit crew changed tires and made a couple of adjustments on the car. With us having to run the last chance qualifier, we actually had 20 more laps on our tires when we started the race than the 32 cars ahead of us that had transferred in through their heat race. I give a lot of credit to my spotter, Cody Johnson, because he definitely helped me avoid some wrecks. I listened to him and somehow managed to not get involved in any of the cautions, even though there on a couple of occasions it was close. Cars were wrecking like crazy in front of me and someone I avoided them.”
Woods started the second half of the race from the 24th position, and steadily began to work his way forward by driving a smart race. With the race producing seven lead changes among eight drivers, the action was slowed by 11 caution periods. Woods used restarts off the cautions over the final 100 laps to his advantage and picked off several positions getting back up to speed.
Everybody in attendance knew the action was getting ready to be wild for a green-white-checkered shootout for the victory on lap 201. Two words could sum up what was about to unfold – “total chaos.”
Pulliam was pacing the field on the restart, and racing down the front straightaway into the first turn, Deac McCaskill took out Pulliam. Also collected in the wreck were three-time Martinsville winner Morris, Davin Scites, CE Falk III and Myatt Snider.
With darkness settling in, only one more attempt at a green-white-checkered would be tried. Woods restarted fifth and during the mad scramble to the finish, he got shuffled back in the final rundown to wind up in eighth-place.
Tommy Lemmons Jr. of Troy, N.C., captured the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 $25,000 victory, followed by Dillon Bassett of Winston-Salem, N.C., Dennis Setzer of Newton, N.C., Blake Stallings of Danville, Va., and Ryan Stiltner of Grundy, Va.
Completing the top 10 finishers were Wayne Ramsey of Amherst, Va., Brenden Queen of Chesapeake, Va., Hayden Woods of Piney Flats, Tenn., Dennis Holdren of Roanoke, Va., and Bruce Anderson of South Boston, Va.
“Man, what an experience it was to run the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300, and to bring home an eighth-place finish is just awesome” said Woods on Monday evening from his East Tennessee race shop. “Hey, you’re talking about the best Late Model Stock racers in the country were present for the event. For this to be our first-ever attempt at running this prestigious show, and to even be able make the field is just unreal. You’ve got guys that have never even made the starting lineup before.
“From racing against the caliber of competition we faced over the weekend at Martinsville Speedway, I really learned a lot and I know going forward with my racing it’s going to help me tremendously. This is just my second year racing a Late Model Stock, and when you come from running weekly at Kingsport Speedway, Motor Mile Speedway and Lonesome Pine Raceway, when you arrive at Martinsville you’re up against a lot of good cars. I want to thank my parents (Tommy and Tammy Woods) for the opportunities they give me to live out a dream and race a stock car, along with support from my sister (Haylee) and my grandparents (Mack and Nancy) and all other family members and friends. And then my crew chief David (Roope), he’s really a guiding force with my racing and he’s so knowledgeable about preparing the race car and then overseeing the effort for us at the track. I’ve got a great group of guys on the pit crew, and I thank every one of them for all of their hard work.”
Next up for Woods will be the Robert Pressley Invitational $2,000-to-win Friends of Coal – We Support Coal Miners 125 on Saturday, Oct. 19 at Kingsport Speedway.
In 15 starts at Kingsport Speedway in 2013, Woods captured three pole awards and recorded five top-five and 12 top-10 finishes. He ended the season ranked 91st nationally in the final NASCAR Whelen All-American Series top 500 driver standings.
Tommy Woods heads up Hayden Woods Racing, with David Roope serving as crew chief and Phil Tuell filling the role as driving coach. Crew members include Mark Torbett, Cody Johnson, Blake Thompson, Eddies Sykes, Aaron Alvis, Gary Gray, Joey Walton and Tam Tompkins.
Hayden Woods chauffeurs the Murphy Inc. Millwright & Rigging of Johnson City, Roadrunner Markets, Champion Chevrolet-Cadillac of Johnson City, Rustic Ridge Landscaping of Johnson City, Stay and Play at Home, Turbo Blue Racing Gasoline, Lone Star Super Gas Inc., Hy-Tec Specialty Coatings, In Memory of Josh Adcock, Hedgecock (Race Cars) Racing Enterprises, Kowalsky Racing Engines, No. 87 Chevrolet SS.
To keep up with Hayden Woods, visit his website at www.HaydenWoodsRacing.com or follow him on Twitter @hwr87.
To contact Hayden Woods Racing, you may reach Tommy Woods at (423) 946-3188.