Needless to say, in his long Late Model Stock Car racing career Jamey Caudill has a pretty good handle on when it’s time to go, when it’s time to patiently ride and when it’s time to get the heck out of Dodge if things are getting pretty hectic around him on the track. Young rookies and developing talents have a hard time flipping the “It’s Go Time” button that comes naturally to veterans like Caudill.
Take, for instance, Friday night’s UARA-Stars LMSC 150-lap feature at Tri-County Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Caudill qualified sixth and pretty much rode there for the first 100 or so laps.
Fans in the stands never really considered him a threat for the first two-thirds of the race. In fact, why would they? Outside-polesitter Matt McCall dominated the opening laps, only to fall victim to an ignition issue that put him out of contention for the rest of the night.
That put the lead in Paddy Rodenbeck’s hands. The young sophomore racer handled the lead well, holding off fellow young gun Brandon McReynolds through the middle stages of the race.
While the young guard played up front, sometimes touching bumpers and stealing one another’s lanes, Caudill was just cruising in traffic around sixth place.
Then, right around lap 100, the “It’s Go Time” button was triggered in Caudill’s right foot. While the focus was on Rodenbeck and McReynolds up front, the veteran Caudill saw their cat-and-mouse games up front as his chance to show the youngsters that the old man still has it in him for win number-12 on the tour.
“There for the first 100 laps of the race, we didn’t have a car to win. We weren’t that good. At that point, I was points racing and taking what I could. Then there at the end, they were running the top, but I couldn’t run the top. I had been tight all day. I really thoughtt they wouldn’t have been so hard on their stuff as they were.
“There at the end of the race, they started losing their cars and my car was getting better on the bottom. I had enough forward bite coming off to get up to them. We struggled all day to get it to work on the bottom. Our tires there at the end were good enough that I could get a good run off the bottom. After we got some laps on the tires, the bottom is what ended up working better and they couldn’t get down there.”
While Caudill patiently worked around inside the top-five in the middle stages of the race, all eyes were fixated on the side-by-side battle waged between the two young leaders, Rodenbeck and McReynolds. McReynolds, whose season leading up to Tri-County had been a disaster with four blown motors already in 2009, showed off his new Kowalski-built steam by running on the outside groove at the tight 3/8-mile track. Rodenbeck had the better runs going into the corner running the middle groove, but off the turns, McReynolds had the momentum on the outside to stay close to the lead.
Try as he might on the outside, then on the inside on a late restart, McReynolds couldn’t make the car stick to clear Rodenbeck.
“It’s tough to run the outside like that,” said McReynolds. “I told the guys with about 50 to go to watch for the fireworks because they were about to come out. Paddy did an awesome job taking my line away. If he wouldn’t have, we would’ve been sitting in victory lane, but woulda, coulda, shoulda. That was just a lot of fun. It’s a ton of fun when you get to go to a little racetrack like this and run the top all night and get a good finish.
“I told the guys I was calm and collected. I didn’t want to dump the 81, but I did push him around a little bit.”
Even though he was able to hold off McReynolds, not even Rodenbeck was going to be able to hold off Caudill in the final laps. Caudill caught the two leaders as they rode side-by-side, then made a thrilling bottom-shot move in turn three on lap 146 to pass both of them, leaving the once-dominant Rodenbeck to slide back through the field after contact from McReynolds and Richard Boswell III.
“It was just hard racing,” said Rodenbeck. “Everybody’s running hard and my car was going away from me. I was trying to protect both lanes of the racetrack. Jamey Caudill got on the inside of me and guys were getting some good runs towards the end. They saved their stuff for the end and I have to give him all the credit. Brandon McReynolds put pressure on me the whole race. I just have to give credit to all these guys. It’s nobody’s fault but my own.
Once out front, Caudill’s work was not done. He still had to hold off McReynolds and Boswell on a final green-white-checker restart, but after knowing when to flip the switch a few laps earlier, plus a little family motivation, Caudill wasn’t going to be denied.
“My dad couldn’t come today,” said Caudill. “He’s been having some heart problems and ended up having to go to the hospital today. He had a blockage and they had to put a stent in. I got news about 8 o’clock that he was doing well and to come out here and win this race is pretty cool.”
FAMILY FEUD GOES JAMEY’S WAY
Many waves in the Late Model Stock Car World were made over the winter when Jeff Caudill, Jamey Caudill’s younger brother and longtime crew chief, jumped ship – on good terms – to crew chief Paddy Rodenbeck’s UARA efforts. The jump came after Jeff lost his job at JR Motorsports, thus leaving him as a “free agent” of sorts.
Rodenbeck snatched Jeff up and the pairing has worked flawlessly, as Rodenbeck has run well all season and currently leads the UARA points after Tri-County. Without his longtime crew chief, Jamey Caudill has focused on more or less rebuilding in 2009, but that rebuilding became complete with the victory – over his brother’s car, in fact – at Tri-County.
“My brother, he went with Paddy this year when he got let go by Junior Motorsports,” said Jamey Caudill. “They’ve been on fire. He’s really helped those guys and I’m proud for him and happy for him. It’s been a little tough on me because he was a big part of my racing. We’ve been a little lost when we go testing and stuff, but we’re getting better. We’re working hard and it’ll take a little time to get up to speed, but we’ll get there.”
Winning for his dad was pretty cool, but Caudill winning over the car that his brother – and former crew chief – now crews for, was doubly sweet.
RODENBECK MIRROR RACING?
In the final laps, with Brandon McReynolds and Jamey Caudill breathing down his neck, it’d be hard to blame Paddy Rodenbeck for checking his rear-view mirror. So, was Rodenbeck mirror driving in the last laps?
“I was watching my mirrors,” said Rodenbeck. “I couldn’t even see which cars were behind me, just that there were two of them. Jamey got inside me and it was over from there. He’s a hell of a racer.”
Before the race, Coleman Pressley told Speed51.com that the higher he ran on the track in practice, the more his car liked Tri-County Motor Speedway. During the race, Pressley battled in or near the top-five using the outside groove.
So, after the race, even finishing fifth, you’d think Pressley would’ve been happy with the outside groove in the 150-lap race.
“We started off up there, but I kind of wish we had started off on the bottom because it looked like everyone that was down there was making progress. All in all, it’s a good run. I got a little tight the little longer we ran. We’ll have to fix that, since the last three times we came here it’s gotten tight at the end. We’ll fix it and be back.”
BEST-EVER RUN FOR CAMPBELL
Perhaps the biggest smile of all the top-five finishers after the Tri-County 150 came from fourth-place finisher Garrett Campbell. Campbell scored his best-ever finish and found himself on the frontstretch after the race with some of the biggest names of the tour.
“I’m real happy with this,” said Campbell. “I mean, we started 19th and we came out fourth in this kind of race. UARA is real tough, but we had her hooked up tonight.”
Making Campbell’s run even more impressive was that he had to steer clear of a good number of crashes, that seemed to continually occur just ahead or around him.
“We had to dodge some real bad wrecks that seemed to happen right in front of us. I dodged two of them that I was real close to getting in. We kept it clean and saved our tires for the end and we came out with a good finish with a real good car.”
SECOND NO BIG DEAL FOR BOSWELL
When Paddy Rodenbeck lost the lead, and subsequently got nudged out of the top-10, that left an opening for Richard Boswell, III to make a move up to the podium. As the top-three battled up front, Boswell made his way up to join in the fray, eventually taking second when Rodenbeck fell back.
Still, the second-place run was a better finish than the new Leavitt chassis car was in order for without the up-front jumbling.
“We tried saving our stuff at the beginning of the race,” said Boswell. “The plan at the start was to fall back to about sixth or seventh. We rode around, rode around and rode around, but that’s really all we had. I think we just had a little bit fresher tires than the 81 and the 28. If it hadn’t been for those guys racing so hard, I don’t think we would’ve finished second.
While Boswell didn’t have a second-place car, he certainly put forth a strong effort behind the wheel to get there.
“When you look and see them running as hard as they were, you know they’re burning their stuff up. We were just riding back there. It’s hard to run up front three-wide when there’s a guy running behind you by himself like we were. I knew I was going to catch them; it was just a matter of time. Jamey had the best car, by far. We raced with him around lap 100 and I knew right then that he’d be tough to beat.”