In front of a capacity crowd at Ace Speedway, round two of the Southeast Limited Late Model Series started with a bang Saturday night. In a race that saw the caution flag fly 10 times and the red flag brought out four times, sparks were flyin' and cars were smokin' in the North Carolina night sky.
34 cars entered the event, representing 12 different states across the country. After qualifying Saturday afternoon, a diverse field of 26 drivers prepared to take the green flag Saturday night. The No. 2 car of Tommy Peregory won the Goodyear Pole award for Saturday night's feature event. The No. 00 of Brian Pemberton came in second place with Jesse Little's No. 03, Danny Willis in the No. 23 and the No. 31 of Ryan Robertson rounding out the top-five.
The green flag dropped shortly after 7 p.m. and the pole-sitter, Peregory, jumped out to a quick lead; that lead, however, would be short-lived as the No.28 car of Ryan Glenski made contact with the No. 24 of Matt Merrell. The contact triggered a multi-car accident on just the second lap, and brought out the first caution and eventually the first red flag of the evening. At least five cars headed to pit road for repairs.
As the red flag was lifted and the cars started rolling, much of the top five remained the same with Peregory still leading followed by Little, Pemberton, Willis and Gary Ledbetter rounding out the top-five. The field went back to green until lap eight when the No. 23 car of Willis, who was running in the top five at the time, blew a right front tire in turn one and brought out the yellow for the second of the evening.
When the field reset, Peregory continued to lead until troubles struck Willis's No. 23 for a second time on lap 15. Willis lost control of his car and backed it in the turn two fence bringing out the third caution of the night.
Trouble came early and often for the 26 drivers entered in the race. The fourth caution of the night came out on lap 17 when the series champion from Ace Speedway, 15-year-old Ross "Boo-Boo" Dalton backed his car in to the wall in turns one and two. This caution would prove to be pivotal in setting up the running order for the rest of the event.
After the field took the green flag again on lap 17, the No. 03 car of Jesse Little began to put pressure on Peregory. He pursued the leader for the next four laps before he was finally able to get the inside position on Peregory to take the lead on lap 21. After grabbing the first position Little began to pull away from the field, stretching his lead out to over six car lengths.
Little, would go on to beat the veterans on six more restarts throughout the evening putting on a good show for everyone in the stands.
"The restarts were kind of annoying especially when I looked up in my mirror and I didn't see anyone until a half a straightaway or a straightaway behind and then a caution would come out," said Little. "That's when I had to really pay attention and make sure to hit my marks. I just had to make sure I didn't do anything to get myself in trouble."
Lap 98 of the 100-lap event brought out the 10th and final caution flag when the No. 63 car of Louder and the No. 58 car of Dalton collided on the backstretch collecting the No. 97 car of Ricky Williams. The three damaged race cars were effectively blocking the entire backstretch thus bringing out the fourth and final red flag of the night.
The final caution of the night set up a Green-White-Checker finish which was nothing short of spectacular. Little took the white flag in the lead and kept the lead through turns one and two and down the back stretch. The No. 31 car of Ryan Robertson nudged Little going in turn three causing him to get loose. As Little went up the racetrack to collect his car Robertson snuck low beating Little back to the checkered flag by a bumper. During post-race inspection, however, the No. 31 car of Robertson was deemed illegal, and officials disqualified him from the night's event. Little, who dominated the event throughout the night, was named the race winner.
"I knew the 31 would try to get underneath me," explained Little. "He knew it was a Green-White-Checker and he didn't have that many laps, because once the tires got hot, I was pulling away by two car lengths a corner. I knew he was definitely going to try everything he could. I just kept telling myself and my crew chief kept telling me just be calm, drive it in a little deep, use a little more break and just protect that inside. You can't control what he does, so do whatever you can and hope for the best."
Ace Speedway's 4/10-mile banked-oval offered anything and everything a race fan could want. There was bumper-to-bumper racing all the way around the track. There were a couple of long green flag runs, so the drivers could battle it out on the track. There were wrecks, even helmets were flying and tempers were flaring in the heat of the battle.
"This was one of the best races I have ever seen," said co-developer of the Southeast Limited Late Model series and Orion Motorsports owner Ed Cox. "This was really a great race, we learned a lot this time around. We have received a lot of good feedback from the fans that were there, and we are really looking forward to our next race at Hickory coming up in a couple of weeks."
The Southeast Limited Late Model Series will next take the track on October 16 at Hickory Motor Speedway in Newton, N.C.
For more information, please visit the official website of the SLLMS at www.southeastlimiteds.com.