Johnson Turns Some Heads with Victory at Rockingham
The High Banks of “The Rock” Produce a First-Time Winner
By Elgin Traylor
Many people wondered what was going to happen when the ASA Late Model Challenge Series hit the high-banks in Rockingham, North Carolina for the first time.  Would the veterans dominate the race?  Would an unknown driver cash in and make some noise?  Or would it be something else, someone in between veteran and newbie?  When the dust settled off the 25 degrees of banking pretty much all of the above happened.

A virtually unknown Floridian by the name of Brandon Johnson stole the show in what could have been a big party for one of the hottest drivers in the Midwest - veteran Brian Campbell.   Johnson sailed under the checkered flag about two full seconds in front of Campbell for the historic victory.

“The car was real good,” said Johnson. “It wasn’t quite as fast as the other guys on the short runs, but it really picked up after a few laps. We had a game plan of settling in and running consistent lap times. Once we did that we were really good on the log runs.”

Johnson took the lead just after the halfway point and was never really was challenged except on a late-race restart.  It would be his first-career win in the Challenge series as his only other ASA Late Model triumph came in the South series back in 2007.

“It feels good to get the monkey off my shoulders,” said Johnson.  “We have been so close in other series this year.  We have won some poles, we have run strong, we have finished good, but we hadn’t completed the deal until today.  To get it done at Rockingham is cool.  I will probably understand more of what it means tomorrow, it is a cool feeling.”

Campbell had his work cut out for him to finish second after he qualified 14th in the field.  He would spend most of the first part of the race working his way into the top five.  Once he was there, he was able to work his way up in to the second spot.

“He (Johnson) was good today,” said Campbell.  “Our goal was to come out of here with all four fenders on the car.  This place races like a short track, once you get going on it you get sliding around and you have to peddle it.  You wouldn’t think you have to peddle these cars with 400 horsepower, but you do. Racing at “The Rock” it’s like racing at Nashville, the nostalgia here is just awesome.”

Another driver who was key factor during the race was third-place finisher Dillon Oliver.  Oliver told the media after the race that he had spent most of his career riding around in junk.  Now that he had a solid car under him, it was easy to see he was being truthful about his past.

“We had a fifth place in Milwaukee and in my eyes, it wasn’t a real happy fifth-place because we weren’t actually that competitive.  Today was amazing, leading laps there for a few laps and holding on to second for a bunch of the race. It was just a real happy day for us. I am super excited that we have come this far with our Late Model program.”

Drew Brannon Taken Out Early After Wreck

Drew Brannon has been on fire thus far in ASA Late Model competition.  He won the first challenge series race at Milwaukee and finished second in the next one.  All eyes were on him at Rockingham as he was looking to pad his point lead with another good finish.  However, he never got his chance after an early race run in with Wes Burton on the backstretch.  Brannon spent several laps on pit road.  At one point Brannon himself was out of the car swinging a hammer at a bent rim trying to help out. 

“It’s not how we wanted to leave here at all but it’s part of racing,” said Brannon.  “I tried getting on the outside of him [Burton] and he tried to run me in the wall.  I turned left and hit him a little bit trying to let him know I was still there.  I got a run off on the bottom and he decided to turn left and the next thing I know I was head first in the wall. We got it back out there and it wasn’t too fast, but I think we picked up three or four positions.  You have to think of the big picture with the points and that’s our goal.”

Brannon limped around to finish 18th.

Jack Smith Hangs On For top Five

Jack Smith has been one of the many regulars in the ASA Late Model Challenge Series.  Just a few years back they were practically untouchable in the series.  Rockingham might be the turning point ,as he finished fourth despite having to be pushed started after halfway.

“We were getting plenty of fuel,” said Smith.  “They pulled the air cleaner off and said we were getting plenty of fuel, but it seemed like we weren’t.  So we reached in the car and one the plugs wasn’t plugged in all the way.  Then it fired right up after that.  We needed a run like this, so hopefully the monkey is off our back and we can get back to winning some of these races.”

Speed Shots

Rockingham Speedway was a staple on the NASCAR schedule for so many years and it was good to see yet another series use this great venue to host one of their races.  Talks are already underway for the track and series  to join forces again in 2010.

The speeds were up there for the late models as they were toping out at 160 MPH plus on the straightaways. 

Eddie Hoffman who was third is ASA Challenge Series Points was a no show at Rockingham.  We expect him to return the lineup at Salem Speedway later this month.

AJ Frank led a good portion of laps right up until halfway.  Frank then had a plug wire fall off and he went back peddling through the field.  He would recover to finish in the top 10.

Brandon Johnson took the win at Rockingham.  (Russ Calabrese Photo)
Brian Campbell in the #20 goes by the #33 of Dillon Oliver for the second spot. (Russ Calabrese Photo)
Drew Brannon waits as his crew works on the nose of his Late Model.  Brannon was involved in a early race incident.  (Russ Calabrese Photos)
Jack Smith came from the back of the pack to post a top-five finish.  (Russ Calabrese Photos)