McLeod Conquers New Surface For The Win by Jason Buckley
New Surface Creates Mixed Reviews Among Drivers
Starting up front and getting some track time on the new surface was vital for BJ McLeod.
Friday night's Super Late Model opener at Smyrna Speedweeks frustrated some, but it was all smiles for McLeod, taking his first career Speedweeks win in the 25-lap feature event.
BJ McLeod at speed. (51 photo)
After a few days of practice on the new surface, drivers were scratching their heads wondering what to expect for the race. The old pavement allowed the dirt and grit to settle in to the surface and still allow for grip. The new black surface is smooth, and even after practice sessions where the drivers were forced to drive in the upper groove for a few laps by track officials, there was still only one racing groove available for the drivers.
Qualifying showed just how frustrating the track was to drive on. Many cars slid their way up the track during their run, forcing officials to halt qualifying just before halfway. A 10-lap 'warm-up' session was given to all the drivers to help get heat in the tires so they would stick to the track. Jeff Scofield was the fast qualifier, but after the inversion, McLeod started from the first position.
That was key for his drive to the checkered flag.
"It was a lot easier starting on the pole rather than seventh or eighth," said McLeod.
Drivers who were unfortunate enough to end up in the high groove saw their cars skate to the wall or spin. This caused them to hug the low line to protect their position. The end result was bumper banging and a few crashes.
Ted Christopher was one that felt the track frustration as he was on the receiving end of a bumper by Scofield that caused his car to loop around in turn four. Both were sent to the rear of the field by the officials and had to work their way back up towards the front around the slower cars.
McLeod took the first night's checkers. (51 photo)
McLeod seemed to cruise his way around the track, not making any risky moves. Being too cautious getting around lap traffic though almost cost him the win. Mike Fritts closed up within a car length on the final circuit, but had to settle for second behind McLeod.
"Fritts' car was coming to him and I just wanted to make sure I didn't mess up," explained McLeod. "I started backing off about a tenth of a lap to try to make sure I covered the bottom, I didn't overheat the tires or wear the brakes out.
"The last corner I drove out the rear window instead of the front one. I centered a lapped car up. That way if he stood on the brakes I would wreck him and it wouldn't hurt me. I looked in the mirror to make sure Fritts wasn’t trying to get by.
"It was a hard corner, but Fritts used his head and didn’t do anything stupid. He could have run in there 10-car lengths over his head and probably won the race but he didn’t want to do that. Fritts is a clean driver. He wont knock you out of the way. So I just did what I had to do to stay up front."
Jeff Choquette and Louie Mechalides came in third and fourth with Scofield and Christopher coming from the back up into fifth and sixth.
SLM NOTES: NIGHT ONE
New Surface Creates Mixed Reviews
New Smyrna received a fresh coat of asphalt prior to Speedweeks, throwing a new element into the mix for the drivers. After the first night, thoughts on the track were mixed.
Jeff Scofield was steamed after the first night.
"After every restart, it took me about four or five laps to get going," said third-place finisher Jeff Choquette. "It is going to get better."
Ted Christopher found the outside groove did have some grip as he worked his way up through the field.
"It does have some outside," explained Christopher. "It is not good there in the beginning, but once you start going it isn't too bad."
A little bit of testing changed BJ McLeod’s mind.
"I was upset when they went to pave it," said opening-night winner BJ McLeod. "I was one of the people that said they didn’t want to come. Don (Nerone) asked me to come up here to test it for him and I have been up here for a couple days. It’s awesome.
"Once we get the second groove completely done, the second groove is going to be a real good passing lane because it has a little more banking. It’s going to make for some awesome racing for the fans."
The most vocal was Jeff Scofield, who was not happy about the repaving.
"It’s ridiculous," said a frustrated Scofield. "It’s like driving on ice. I am a driver, so I couldn't tell you how to fix a track. I was told they could drag tires but they didn't want to.
"Lets just start single file because that is how we are going to end up anyway. Save our equipment."
No Hard Feelings Between Christopher And Scofield
With only 10 laps in the books, a bump from Jeff Scofield sent Ted Christopher's #29 machine around in turn four. The third- and fourth-place drivers both went to the rear of the field and were forced to weave their way through traffic to get back up front. Even though the crowd reacted, neither driver was upset with each other.
"Scofield just got into me and spun me out," said Christopher. "I knew he was coming, so I gave him some room. The bottom just didn't stick enough for him and he got me. We are all learning how this track is going to be. No big deal."
“I was at his left rear tire and he came down," said Scofield. "I do not blame him at all and I hope he doesn't blame me. That is racing. It wasn't like there was anything deliberate out there and I am sure he knows that so we will be ok."
Jack Smith took the win in the Crate Late Models.
Smith Surprises In Crate Late Models
Friday night’s Crate/ASA-Type Late Model feature provided a lot of surprises. The biggest surprise wasn’t the number of cautions in the race, it wasn’t the amount of passing and it wasn’t the margin of victory. The biggest surprise was who popped out of the car in victory lane.
Instead of the listed driver, youngster Keeton Feller, ASA Late Model veteran Jack Smith climbed from the car and celebrated the win.
“I was really just supposed to come down here to watch,” said Smith. “I really have to thank the Feller family. Keaton gave me an opportunity to drive this thing tonight.”
The night’s dominant leader, Florida native Dalton Zehr, passed polesitter Dustin Skinner in the opening laps and was poised to take an important opening day victory, but he was collected in a hard wreck in turn four. The lapped car of Charles Devine made contact with Zehr who slammed the outside wall hard and broke a rear wheel, sending the car in the air before coming to rest against the wall. The runaway wheel traveled down the frontstretch before stopping right in front of the flagstand.
Meanwhile, Smith ducked low to avoid the incident and inherited the lead, the final lead change of the night.
The win had added meaning for the driver, who, appropriately enough, donned a racing suit with the words “Rising Star” on it. Smith is already lining up a good schedule for the rest of this year, including a few races in the Craftsman Truck Series, in addition to his regular schedule in the ASA Late Models. Smith received congratulations from two of his future competitors in the truck series, Rick Crawford and David Starr, who were in attendance just to watch the festivities.
“I’m going to leave Sunday to get my ASA cars ready to go to Texas,” said Smith, adding, “To come out here, especially in front of Rick Crawford and these guys, that’s bad ass.”