“They were telling me that Joey’s probably going to do something.  He always will if he has a chance,” said an emotional Kelley after the race.  “He had the chance to run it up and he got me.  I tried to hold onto it and keep it on the outside, but it was just too hard of a knock.  He just ran in there and used me for (his) brakes.”

Both cars came to a stop in the first turn, but Senter pulled away and into Victory Lane while Kelley pulled his car into the infield.  Kelley’s team was not there waiting for him, however, as they rushed to where Senter and his crew were celebrating the win.  Words were exchanged, but nothing escalated. 

Last Lap Contact Ends Kelley’s Dominating Performance
It’s a common understanding in racing circles that all friendships are put aside on the last lap of the race.  Yet, that can be a hard pill to swallow for good buddies.  When a hard-charging driver such as Joey Senter believes he’s been done wrong, not even a friend will get in the way of going for the win. 

Senter got into the back of friend and former driver for his father’s team, Paul Kelley in the final corner of the Georgia Asphalt Series season opening race at Lanier National Speedway Saturday night.  After the contact, he scored the victory, but only as both cars slid their across the start/finish line beneath the checkers. 
“Me and Paul are buddies and I know what I did was dirty.  I made up my mind when I got to him that I was going to do what I did.  I have no problems with it at all.”

Kelley looked to be cruising to his first Lanier victory since July of 2003.  Back then he won a Pro Late Model race as part of the RS Trucking team that fields Senter’s current GAS entry.  On the lap-147 restart, Kelley pulled away from Senter, but Senter was determined not to let the leader get too far ahead.  Going into the third turn on the final lap, Senter drove the car in with a vengeance.  He caught Kelley’s #23 by the center of the corner got into the left rear of the car.  Kelley tried to catch his car by turning it hard left.  He was also trying to slow Senter’s momentum.  Instead, Senter’s #12 spun beneath the checkered flag, just slightly ahead of Kelley’s.
“I don’t know what happened.  I just saw him sitting up there in the middle of the track.  There was nothing going on that I was aware of.  I was hoping I could go because I had been up a couple car-lengths on Joey before the caution came out.  I didn’t really want the caution in the first place.”

“I heard that he was mad about the caution and that’s the reason he cheap-shotted me like that.  There will still be a time where I’m behind him and it’s going to go the same way.  I’m going to race him the same way he races me.”

Senter forced the contact as a response to Kelley’s car owner David Watters bringing out the caution with three laps remaining.  At the time the caution came out, Senter had run under Kelley for the lead.  The caution period allowed Kelley to keep the top spot, at least until the contact on the final corner of the final lap.

“I told my brother, who’s my spotter on the radio, that this wouldn’t have happened if his teammate hadn’t parked his car on the track with about four laps to go to cause a caution,” said Senter, the 2005 GAS Champion.  “If it wasn’t for that I would’ve raced Paul clean.

Paul Kelley (left) and Joey Senter (right) wrecked at the finish.  (51 Photos)
Senter's #12
Joey Senter celebrates his win.
“They’re mad and I’m sure they wanted to fight but we’re not fighters,” said Senter.  “We’re just going to go home and enjoy this one.”

The catalyst for the last-lap drama was the caution that came out with three laps to go.  The #43 of Watters came to a stop suddenly in the second corner just as Senter was sizing Kelley up for the lead.  When the field went back to green, Senter knew what he had to do if he wanted to win the GAS season opener.

Kelley said he had no knowledge of the caution coming out for his teammate until he got to the second corner under yellow and saw Watters’ car stalled there. 

“I heard that he was mad about the caution and that’s the reason he cheap-shotted me like that.  There will still be a time where I’m behind him and it’s going to go the same way.  I’m going to race him the same way he races me.”

When Senter and Kelley were having their donnybrook on the track, it looked like third place-man Frederick Moore would be in the best position to steal the victory from under them both.  Moore was far enough behind the two leaders when they tangled that he could find a path around them down the frontstretch.  The crashing cars kept up enough momentum to finish first and second, but Moore’s eyes were wide as he came to the checkers.

“I kinda knew something was going to happen,” said Moore.  “Going into the corner it looked like Joey got into him a little bit, but it was just hard racing.  Once he did get into the 23, it looked like the 23 retaliated a little bit.  Both of them spun to the outside fence and at that point I was just trying to get around and not get caught up in it.  If they wrecked hard enough maybe I’d have a shot, but I was just worried about getting involved in it and wrecking my car.”

When all the dust settled, it was Senter celebrating the win.  Taking down the victory in the first event is a slight departure from the Commerce, GA native’s 2005 season when he was the GAS Champion.
Kelley was out front all day, but Moore's #19 (top) had a good view of the Kelley/Senter melee.
“This win is huge for us,” said Senter.  “We went winless last year even though we had a good season and won the championship.  We didn’t win and that’s what this racing thing is all about.  That’s why I’m happy to win tonight.”

Senter’s happiness was a stark contrast to Paul Kelley’s feelings at the end of the Lanier season-opener, but there’s still a season’s worth of races remaining on the GAS docket and this friendship-turned-rivalry seems to be just heating up.

1.  12 Joey Senter - Jefferson, GA
2.  23 Paul Kelley - Snellville, GA
3.  19 Fredrick Moore - Gainesville, GA
4.  46 Richie Etheridge - Buford, GA
5.  77 Doug Stevens - Lovejoy, GA
6.  10 Greg Simpson - Gainesville, GA
7.  18 Ronnie Sanders - Fayetteville, GA
8.  15 David Elliott - Suwanee, GA
9.  45 Dwayne Buggay - Canton, GA
10.  17Jamie Stephens - Conyers, GA
11.  52 Kevin Stephens- Gainesville, GA
12.  15J JR Dudley-Athens, GA
13.  T18 Ronny Kittle-Watkinsville, GA
14.  28 Alan Happel - Kathleen, GA
15.  31 Scotty Ellis - Forsyth, GA
16.  8 Beau Slocomb - Julliette, GA
17.  34 Chris Cable-Griffin, GA
18.  97 Jimmy Garman-Dacula, GA
19.  44 Michael Pope-Dublin, GA
20.  55 Kevin Perry-Jefferson, GA
21.  43 David Waters-Jefferson, GA
22.  38 Mike Ezell-Eatonton, GA
23.  9 Greg Motes-Gainesville, GA
24.  75 Russell Shore - Commerce, GA
25.  51 Brian Smith - Gainesville, GA
26.  42 Tony Bennett-Jefferson, GA
27.  128 Skeeter Gosbee-Dawsonvlle, GA
28.  09 John Wes Townley- Athens, GA
29.  40 Taylor Satterfield-Jefferson, GA
30.  07 Randy Beeken-Gainesville, GA