Johnson Outshines the Field for First ASA Victory by Steve Neely
Off The Map... He Holds Off Two Of Florida's Best
Surprise winners come along all the time, especially in a tour like the ASA Late Model South Series where most of the field is filled with rising young stars. However, one star outshined the rest on Saturday night. Longwood, Florida’s Brandon Johnson claimed his first ASA feature win in dominating fashion, leading all 100 laps of the Florida 100 at New Smyrna Speedway.
“It’s my first win in ASA in only my third time in the series,” said Johnson. “It was on a rail. There wasn’t much I could do to it to slow it up. It was just hooked up.”
Two of Florida's best, Jeff Choquette (left) and Jason Boyd (right) weren't able to get by Brandon Johnson for the ASA Late Model win in Florida. (51 photos)
Johnson was not on many people’s radars before the event, but after his performance, he might be seen a real contender for the points title. However, Johnson says that his main goal is just getting seat time in the ASA Late Model cars.
“Track time is pretty important,” said Johnson. “The more I’m in the car, the more comfortable I seem to get. This is the third time in the series, and I’ve gotten better every time.”
He had to out duel some of the best drivers in the Southeast region in order to cement his victory, including fellow Florida rival Jeff Choquette.
“Brandon and the 41 team; they were extremely good,” said Choquette. “He was way faster than I was through turns one and two and I just couldn’t get to him. We just needed to be a little freer in the middle. We came here and tested and were pretty good right out of the box. We used the standard setup we always use here. With the crate
motor, it really helped the setup out because you’re not going as fast as the Super Late Model is, so when you slow it down, it turns better and has more traction.”
The event was marred with 10 cautions and one red flag period, which forced drivers to make their moves early on restarts. Both Choquette and third-place finisher Jason Boyd attempted to pass Johnson, only to have Johnson slam the door and pull away.
“I was kind of worried a little bit on the starts, because that was the only time I would have problems,” said Johnson. “The carburetor was bogging down and it was slowing down a little bit on the straightaways. Other than that, I wasn’t too worried. It’s pretty cool. I’ve never really ran with most of these guys before and I had a really good time.”
Johnson credited his win to his team’s preparation for the race, including a test session at the high-banked New Smyrna Speedway a few weeks prior to the Florida 100.
Dillon Oliver had a wild ride before the Florida 100 even started. In qualifying, Oliver’s car broke loose, he steered up the track to save it, and then he hit the turn four wall. The impact caused Oliver’s car to overturn and slide down the track before coming to rest near the end of the frontstretch. Thankfully, Oliver was unharmed, but he was shaken up a bit.
“It scared me to death, actually,” said Oliver. “The first thing on my mind was to get the car shut off so maybe I could run the race. We’re trying to get it back out there and pull a Dale Earnhardt and maybe still finish.”
Oliver also proved that sometimes your first instinct is not always the best one.
Choquette (#170) and Johnson (#41) were two of the fastest cars all day at New Smyrna.
“We were out here about two weeks earlier, and that helped us out a lot,” said Johnson. “We had to change the front springs around a lot when we came back here, but once we got here it was pretty good.”
One of the night’s hardest incidents involved Michael Seeright, who was running seventh when he was collected in a chain reaction crash in the second turn on lap 30.
“We finally got the car where it was handling,” said Seeright. “It was the best we’ve been since we started this ASA tour. I finally was able to just ride and save the car. One of the cars started to blow up and dropped oil on the track and then we were just caught up in the wreck. The car’s in pretty bad shape. It’s going to need a whole new clip.”
Other top contenders who were running well before being collected in the race’s many spins were David Wilson, John Wes Townley and Boyd.
The race belonged to Johnson, who was in command of the race from its beginning. Johnson pulled alongside polesitter Travis Cope going into turn two on the first lap and motored past him going down the backstretch opening a gap of as much as ten car lengths in only a handful of laps.
After the night’s final restart on lap 86, Johnson cruised ahead of Choquette to seal the victory by five car lengths.
NOTES: ASALM South – Florida 100
Oliver’s Phoenix Rises From Its Ashes
Despite getting upside down in qualifying, Dillon Oliver was able to patch his car together and finish the race.
“The car was sliding on its top and the first thing that came to mind was to hit the brakes, and it wasn’t going to stop me, but it was worth a try I guess,” said Oliver.
Perhaps even more miraculously than Oliver being unharmed was the fact that the car was in relatively good shape. Oliver was guaranteed a starting spot due to his position in points, so his crew thrashed to replace the broken suspension parts and piece the car back together with an astounding amount of duct tape.
Amazingly, the car not only made it to the starting grid, but it made it to the finish line as well.
“I have to dedicate this whole thing to my guys,” said Oliver. “There’s a couple of these guys that don’t usually come. My chassis builder, Renegade Racecars, from Kentucky, builds a hell of a racecar. I really have to thank my guys. They did one hell of a job getting this racecar put back together and getting me back out there.”
Oliver’s plan to just ride around worked, and he finished ahead of a few of his closest competitors in points. Oliver finished 16th and was scored six laps down.
“My plan was to just ride and not tear it up any worse than it was, because I knew there was going to be crashes,” said Oliver. “People have told me that from the time I came here. This is my first time at the track. It seems like it’s a little rough on beginner drivers.”
Bass Extends His Points Lead
Sean Bass, the points leader in both the ASA Late Model South Rookie of the Year points as well as the overall series point standings, padded his lead with a good finish despite encountering a broken right front shock midway through the race.
The Orlando, FL native emphasized the fact that he’s still learning, and touched on some of the things he learned from this weekend’s races.
“I think the thing you learn from a place like this is just how to stay out of trouble by using your head and keeping your car in one piece, and that’s how you race to win championships, especially in the ASA Late Model Series,” said Bass. “Hopefully we can keep doing what we’ve been doing and go to all these different tracks and see what we can do there.”
In a race with a lot of attrition, Bass gave himself extra room on the night’s numerous restarts.
“I tried to lay back a little bit and kind of let those guys use their bumpers,” said Bass. “A few times they were really checking up, and there was some brake checking going on with the leaders. I got a little bit of front end damage from the restarts but nothing to worry about.”
Bass finished the race in fifth-place.
Boyd Puts on a Passing Clinic
Nobody passed more cars on Saturday night than fast qualifier Jason Boyd. ASA rules dictate that the fast qualifier must draw for an inversion, and Boyd drew an eight, meaning he would start eighth and Travis Cope would start first.
Almost immediately, Boyd, the former Sunbelt Series champion, charged towards the front, moving as high as second before cutting a tire on lap 17.
“About 17 or 20 laps in we had a flat right rear tire and we came in and changed it,” said Boyd. “To come back from the rear to third is awesome.”
He also overcame a spin caused by contact from Beau Slocumb, but he reassumed his position and kept moving forward through the field. He also had to battle without cool air on the hot, muggy night.
“It was really extremely hot and my helmet hose got caught and got unplugged about 30 laps in,” said Boyd. “It was hot but it’s Florida and a part of racing down here.”
Boyd capped off his night on the podium, finishing in third.
Cope Encounters Obstacles at New Smyrna
One of the pre-race favorites was Florida native Travis Cope. After starting the race from the pole, his race quickly went downhill.
“I was hanging in the top five, but after that I had a hole in the right front tire,” said Cope. “I felt it, and under caution I was trying to feel it out, and I thought I would be okay, but we went out that second time after that second caution and Choquette got by me and they just freight trained me. I don’t know who it was, but we just got together and I spun out unfortunately.”
That’s when Cope came in and his team found the flat tire that was the culprit of his early problems.
Another obstacle for Cope was a leaky water bottle. On a night where the temperatures were still in the mid 80’s, and one where drivers did not have the benefit of much fresh air due to the number of cautions, it was important for the drivers to stay hydrated.
“I’m fine, it’s just those 100 green flag laps took a lot out of me,” said Cope. “I had a leak in my water bottle, but I’m fine. There was also like 200 caution laps. I was holding the steering wheel with my knees under caution so I didn’t wear myself out.”
Even with those problems, Cope finished in ninth-place.