Lawler’s Debut Ends Early, Frequent Flyer Hamner & More

All the opportunities were there for Ryan Lawler in South Boston.  Even though it was his first career NASCAR Southeast Series start on Saturday night, Lawler looked more like a seasoned veteran in his Richie Wauters-owned #52 than a wide-eyed rookie.  Lawler laid down the fastest lap in qualifying, earning his first ever Pole award. 

pretty well. That kid has a ton of talent. It’s unbelievable how good he controls the car with as limited amount of races that he’s run so far in his career. He is so smooth behind the wheel.

“I think Steven Wallace is going to be the next great driver of the future in the NEXTEL Cup Series. It’s a pleasure to work with him. As long as you put good equipment under him, Steven can win anywhere he races at.”


Late in Saturday night’s race, Jason Hogan had the field covered.  Nobody was going to catch him.  JR Norris got close on a restart with 30 laps remaining, but Hogan quickly pulled away, leaving Norris in Gary Helton’s clutches.  Helton and Norris had battled for second much of the race but the veteran was not able to get by the young Norris. 

Ryan Lawler walks dejectedly away from his #52 Richie Wauters entry. (51 Photos)
With the young guns of the series dominating the front of the field, Helton led the way for the old guard with his third place finish.

“Those guys are tough, that’s for sure.  JR Norris gave me a heck of a battle for a while tonight.  He’s strong wherever he goes and so is Jason Hogan.  They’re both great drivers.  They had their stuff together tonight. 
Helton's #86 at speed at South Boston
After the post-qualifying inversion, Lawler started eighth and immediately started working back up to the front of the field.  His march back up didn’t last long, however, as flames shot through the hood of Lawler’s Ford between the third and fourth turns on lap 38, putting an end to his SES debut.
“I got on the radio to the guys a couple of laps before it went up and I told them I thought the power steering was going away,” said Lawler.  “The steering may have gone away but there were some other problems under there too.  I don’t know what it was, but I knew that as soon as I saw the flames I had to get the heck out of there.

“I had a great car all night.  I was really happy to win the pole in my first race in the series and it was a lot of fun, up until the car caught fire.”
“We had a pretty good car.  It turned pretty good all night but we just lost our forward momentum.  We won’t get to come back here but we’ll just have to get it right for these last couple races of the season.”

On several occasions, Helton almost lost third place.  Third would’ve been the least of the things he lost, as he was pretty close to losing his car too.  His car was so loose that it nearly slapped the wall every lap coming off the turns.  Helton was fighting the car to the end but still hung on for a podium finish.

“When I pushed it a little bit it was a handful.  I was just trying to hold on to the car.  I knew I didn’t have anything for either one of those guys so I just wanted to take care of my racecar.”


Memorial Day weekend is when most people take a time and relax by the pool or by the barbecue with family and friends.  Instead of taking it easy, Josh Hamner ran two races in two nights hundreds of miles away from each other.  He didn’t mind being away from home all weekend, especially after taking down two top-10 finishes.

Hamner finished ninth with his Super Late Model at the Blizzard Series event at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL.   After a couple hours of sleep, Hamner packed up his helmet and firesuit and boarded a plane bound for Charlotte, NC where he made the quick drive up to South Boston for Saturday’s Southeast Series feature.  Hamner borrowed a trailer to have his #38 Super Late Model brought to Pensacola Friday while the rest of his team were waiting for the driver’s arrival at South Boston on Saturday with the SES entry.

“Our car was loose and way out of control during Saturday night’s race.  It was nothing like the line from the movie Days of Thunder, ‘loose is fast and on the verge of out of control.’  It was way too loose, but I held on to it.  This was the first time I had been to South Boston since I was about 13 years old, but that was the first time I turned laps here.  I qualified eighth, which was pretty good and started from the pole (after the invert), but the car was too loose to run with the leaders.”


By the time the Southeast Series drivers took the green flag on Saturday night, Justin Wakefield was already spent.  He had been busy all day long changing motors in his #98 machine after blowing his primary power plant early in practice.  Wakefield’s team spent the rest of the afternoon changing motors and they had the repairs buttoned up just in time for qualifying. 

Josh Hamner
Wakefield went through pre-qualifying inspection just as the first car rolled off for time trials.  When it was Wakefield’s turn, he showed that his backup motor was just as strong as the first when he qualified third.  The good luck didn’t hold through to the race, however.  Wakefield slapped the fourth-turn wall on the third lap, ending a frustrating night.

“I screwed up,” said Wakefield about his early exit from the race.  “I didn’t let the tires build up and on the restart I lost the rear end and put it in the wall.

“The day started off bad in practice.  We ran a session or two and the motor just went away.  We lost a valve it
Helton's #86 at speed at South Boston
“It was pretty cool to go from race-to-race like that.  If we had run a little better in Pensacola the flight would’ve been a lot better, but when I got to South Boston the team was all ready to go and they had a lot of high hopes for Saturday night’s race.  I was excited to run at that historic track, I just wish the car would’ve cooperated and been as excited as I was.”

Hamner qualified eighth but started on the pole after the inversion at South Boston.  Fighting a loose racecar, Hamner hung on for all that he could and brought his #38 machine home seventh. 

looks like.  We thrashed all day to get it fixed and just barely got it done in time to go out to qualify.  Then I pulled a bonehead move in the race and ruined everybody’s day.”

Wakefield certainly has had better days than he saw at South Boston.

“I’ve never had a day quite like today and I never want a day like today again.  The guys busted their butts all day today just like they always do.  I just wanted to go out and have a good race tonight and come out with a good finish and I hate that the guys have to suffer through my mistakes too.”


It wasn’t much of a dream night for the #99 Aaron’s Dream Machine for Michael Foy.  Foy struggled in qualifying and started 14th and his last visit to South Boston as a member of the NASCAR Southeast Series kept going downhill from there. 

Starting from the outside of the front row, Ricky Turner looked to be one of the cars to beat Saturday night.  He had never been to South Boston before, but this was his first and last visit to the track as part of the Southeast Series and that may be a good thing for him.  Turner still finished an impressive fourth to maintain his third place points position and also keep him atop the Rookie of the Year standings.  Even though it was his second-straight top five to start off the season, Turner is still looking for more out of his #28.

Foy's Aaron's Dream Machine
“My car was just not very good again, not where we need to be and not where we were hoping to be anyway and we have got some work to do obviously,” said Turner.  “From the start of the race I was hoping that it would be pretty good, I kind of goofed up a little bit in qualifying and I felt like our lap hurt us some.

“In the race we just got tight in the middle and loose off, it’s kind of a common problems so we just have to get a little bit better, I ran as hard as I could all night long to get fourth.”

Ricky Turner is hoping for better luck.
“We had a good car we just had some overheating problems and couldn’t ever get it worked out,” said the graduate of the Aaron’s Pro Challenge Series.  “We came in to the pits to get it cooled it off and went back out but it took about 30 laps more for it to start overheating again.

“That’s just the way it goes I guess.  We brought the car to the trailer and put some cool water in it, tried to get it cooled back down and back out there and go back out and run for some points.  It’s frustrating because it was definitely a top five car.  I’m not sure what the problem was, I don’t know if it’s a jetting problem or the radiator stopped up somewhere, I guess we will have to go through it when we get back to the shop.

The night almost came to an abrupt end for Turner when he lost control and spun by himself.  With the help of some quick-thinking fellow drivers that were able to avoid his spinning car, Turner was able to recover and salvage fourth.

“I just got in the middle of the corner and it just slid like I hit oil or something.  I don’t know if it was all of that oil dry and I just got a little bit high or what but it just came around.  It cost us some time but I don’t think we would have finished any differently if I hadn’t of spun out.

We adjusted the air pressure after we spun out, we didn’t have anything to lose so we went back out and it might have helped our car just a tad but it wasn’t a very good deal.  We just didn’t bring what we needed to for setup maybe because we didn’t come up here and test.   We’ve learned our lesson about testing.  We haven’t tested at either race so far this year and could’ve run a lot better, so we are going to test at Nashville and where ever else we race for the rest of the year.


Walter Sutcliffe spends his work days in charge of an Arnold and Freihofer’s bread delivery business in East Haven, Connecticut.  He delivers baked goods to shops and restaurants around the Southern Connecticut area every day.  South Boston Speedway in Southern Virginia is nowhere near his route, but that’s just fine by him.  Sutcliffe doesn’t mind the trip since he’s competing full-time in this year’s final Southeast Series schedule. 
Every event, Sutcliffe will bring his #70 machine from East Haven to racetracks across the Southeast.  The travel doesn’t get to Sutcliffe, especially when he’s able to make the journey back home after finishing in the top 10 like he did Saturday night at South Boston.

“The car was a little tight getting into the corner and I think that’s where I was losing a lot of time,” said Sutcliffe.  “We were having an exhaust leak so we were a little flat coming off and I think the left front shock went bad but at least we finished the race.  The last couple of times here I backed it into the wall once and got taken out by a lapped car while running fifth the other time, so I was happy just finishing the race.  It was fun.”

Walter Sutcliffe
Sutcliffe was attracted to the Southeast Series when it was known as its former name, the NASCAR All Pro Series, several years ago.  The former Stafford Speedway and Thompson Speedway Late Model and Pro Stock (Super Late Model) competitor began traveling to the Southeast whenever possible with his New England-based race team.

But why the Southeast Series?  With all the regional series in the Northeast such as the NASCAR Modifieds and Busch East Series, what would make a guy like Sutcliffe come all the way down from Connecticut to race in the SES?

“I liked racing with the southerners.  It was nice to come down and race 150 lap races.  I know that I don’t have the best stuff out there but at least I can come down here, run 150 laps and get some experience racing with these guys.

“Plus we’re lacking a little bit on help.  I thought about doing some Busch East stuff but the way the rules were you need a lot of body work on those cars.  You had to do a lot and spend a lot of money to get the bodies fixed and it’s a lot easier with these Southeast Series cars.  I saw these cars run at Bristol a few years ago and I really wanted to run Bristol and the speedways like this series used to run, so that’s what really sold me on this series.”

Now that the Southeast Series is in its final season, Sutcliffe still sees himself racing outside the Northeast further down the road in Super Late Models.

“We have to do some homework on where to go from here.  I don’t have the funds to build a straight rail car so we’re going to have to do the best we can with this car and hopefully run some PASS South races and some CRA Super Series races.”


Jeff Fultz is a popular name in the NASCAR Southeast Series.  However, it is one that hasn’t been mentioned too often this year as Fultz is competing for a different championship in the USAR Hooters Pro Cup series with his JCR3Racing team.

This weekend though, Fultz went back to his roots and made his season debut in the NASCAR Southeast Series at South Boston Speedway back behind the wheel of his familiar #54.  Fultz was able to bring home a sixth-place finish.   But it was not the return that he was hoping for.

“We passed a lot of cars, but whenever I got around them I had to be careful because the car wasn’t handling,” said Fultz.  “I will give credit to the guys though, they never gave up and they kept trying to get it better.  We just came out here to have some fun and we did a good job trying to get the car better.  We’ll get the next one, that’s all. 

Jeff Fultz
“This car has won probably 20 races before, but since we’ve switched to the Pro Cup Series this year, we haven’t paid attention to this car much this year.  It was just kinda sitting in the corner and we decided to bring it out here last-minute.” 

His sixth-place finish was hard fought, but it wasn’t an easy ride to the top 10 for the former NASCAR Southeast Series Champion.

“Something happened on the right side of the car and we were just trying to fix it all night long.  The car was loose and tight and that’s not supposed to happen.  We made multiple pit stops trying to fix it and we worked on it all race long, but we never were able to get it figured out.  We did pass a lot of cars though, that’s for sure.”