Max Gresham gave himself an early birthday present Saturday rolling to a win in the American Speed Association (ASA) Southeast Asphalt Tour Carolina 100 at Dillon Motor Speedway.
The victory was the second in four ASA Southeast Tour events this season for Gresham, who will turn 16 on Thursday, April 30.
“The car was fast right off the truck,” said Gresham in Victory Lane. “We spent a lot of time with race set-up and trying to find the right line in Friday night’s practice. On Saturday, we worked hard on getting the car right and running the right line for qualifying. I knew by the second run that we had the car that we wanted.”
The Griffin, GA driver got his birthday celebration off with a bang early posting his first-ever Late Model top qualifying effort winning the pole on the 4/10-mile Dillon oval with a lap of 15.596 seconds.
Then, Gresham earned the right to start on the pole for the 100-lap main event when he pulled the No. 1 pill in the post-qualifying field inversion draw.
“I put my hand in the bag thinking I was going to pull a bad pill and we’d have to start in the back somewhere,” said Gresham. “I’m usually not too lucky when I pull the pill. I’ll usually pull a six or a seven. But I was messing around with my guys and I said ‘watch me pull the number one.’ When I did, it kind of surprised me. It was an amazing night for me in every way.”
Gresham quickly took advantage of the prime starting spot roaring away from the field at the drop of the green flag. Leading by as many as eight car lengths, Gresham paced the first half of the event and was in front when the first caution flag flew on Lap 57.
“I was kind of amazed we didn’t have a caution before that,” said Gresham. “I was happy to see it because I needed to cool my tires down. The car wasn’t handling as well as the race was going on. It was getting tighter and tighter.”
Now with Jason Hogan to his outside on a pair of double-file restarts, Gresham quickly realized he was at a disadvantage to the veteran racer.
“On the first restart, Jason almost got by me but I just drove it down into the corner deeper than he did,” said Gresham. “The second time after another caution a couple of laps later, he did get me. The driver on the outside had an advantage at the start because he could accelerate straight off the turn. On the bottom, I was still in a left hand turn in the start box trying to get back on the gas. He could pull me up there every time.”
Suddenly in second place and trailing with just over 35 laps remaining, Gresham wasted little time getting back to the front.
“I just kept my cool and played it smart,” said Gresham. “I was trying my hardest to get by Jason and stay off of him. Gene Roberts (Gresham Motorsports team manager) came on the radio and told me just to watch Jason and see where he makes a mistake. When he did, he told me to take advantage of it. After a couple of laps, I could see Jason was pushing up in the middle of the corner, so the next lap I just let off early going into Turns 1-2 and when he pushed up, I came back to the gas full throttle and got to the inside coming up off the corner. We raced side by side for a couple of laps before I was able to clear him.”
The final 20 laps had the crowd on its feet as Hogan would dive to the inside entering the corner time and again only to have Gresham pull away as they exited the turns. On several occasions, the two cars touched, but raced on cleanly without crashing.
“It was close and tight the whole way,” stated Gresham. “I tried back the car up, get out of the gas early, going into the corner all night so I could get the car turned and come up hard off the corner. That’s the way this race was won here last year. It was like that this year. I knew Jason could get to me, but I was able to drive up off the corner and beat him down the straights. It was working for us even though Jason got close enough a bunch of times to give us a nudge. I really have to give him credit, he raced me clean. He never went over the top. There was nothing crazy. We were both racing for the win.”
The Dillon victory was even sweeter for the soon to be 16-year-old driver than the ‘Happy Birthday Max' giant cookie’ on the Gresham Motorsports hauler.
“We had high expectations coming into the year, but I never thought we’d have two wins by now,” said Gresham. “Heck, I wasn’t sure we’d have one. Then we won the first race right out of the box and Mobile and I had the feeling this could be an extraordinary season. Of the four races we’ve been to, we’ve been in a position to win three of them and have won two. We have a great team, I have to thank them so much. They give me awesome cars, it’s just up to me to drive them and keep them clean. If we do that, we have a shot to win every time we race.”
Gresham will next return to ASA Southeast Asphalt Tour action on Sunday, May 17 at Hickory (NC) Motor Speedway. The green flag is scheduled for 2 p.m. Eastern Time.