The fans and racers came out in force on Saturday night for the 3rd running of the annual Billie Harvey Memorial 100 for Super Late Models, but few could have anticipated the incredible race they would witness as the drivers came together to put on an instant classic out on the track. The big race would be set-up perfectly by an equally thrilling Pro Truck feature, as well as appearances by other local weekly divisions. But it was the big 100-lapper that had the crowds on their feet for a race that will still be talked about for months to come, and set a high standard for the rest of the season.
A field of 26 cars would take to the track for the 3rd Annual Billie Harvey Memorial 100 with afternoon qualifying seeing #84 Wayne Anderson set the fast time and get the luckiest break possible in the pre-race pill-draw that saw him pull the number 1, meaning he got to keep his place at the front for the start. As the second race of the New Smyrna Speedway Triple Crown, the field was jam-packed with competitive cars and the front rows read like a who's who of the cream of Florida Super Late Model racing - #36 Tim Russell, #96 Ben Kennedy, #9 Rich Clouser, #33 Jeff Choquette and #73 Sam Watts all sitting right up at the front with each one easily capable of getting to the front and winning the whole thing.
With pre-race driver introductions done and the cars out on track with hot engines and their tires warmed up, the green flag would quickly be waved but it took less than half a lap for the yellow lights to be back on and the cars again touring the track behind the pace truck. As Anderson blasted away and took the lead cars into turn 1, a spin at the back of the field for #34 Shaughn McCormick coming out of turn 4 as he got on the gas was followed by his struggle to restart his car, meaning the officials had no choice but to bring the race quickly back under caution. It took several attempts for McCormick to get his car in reverse gear and pull himself away from the front pit wall, but eventually he was back underway and a second start could be attempted.
This one proved even less successful than the first, and again McCormick found himself in the middle of the mayhem. The cars managed to all get through turns 1 and 2 this time, but with the leaders heading out of turn 4 to put the first lap in the books it was contact on the back straight between #14 Mario Maresca and #52 Matthew Stichmann that caused the two cars to spin high into the wall, taking out McCormick and #21 James Carter for good measure as they tried to make their way past. Despite this unfolding way off on the far side of the track it was easy for the fans to see the ensuing action, as Stichmann climbed out of his window and began kicking the bodywork of Maresca's stricken car, before clambering up onto the roof and jumping up and down in anger. Once back down on the ground he then attempted to get at the driver himself, only for the track officials to grab him and pull him back out of Maresca's door, dragging the incensed racer away from the scene to calm down. Incredibly Maresca and Carter would be pulled clear, Carter able to continue racing once the whole nose and wings of his car had been pulled off by his pit crew, but both McCormick and Stichmann were finished for the night. Stichmann would later be disqualified for his incredible antics on the roof of Maresca's car that had provided such entertainment for the crowd.
Naturally this necessitated a lengthy stoppage for the track to be cleaned up and the damaged cars - and angry drivers - removed, so the cars were brought to a halt on the front stretch and the red flag shown. The cars would restart and make a third attempt to start the race nearly 30 minutes after they had taken the first green flag, this time finally putting a complete lap in the books as Anderson and Russell took the initiative at the front to race side-by-side around the high banks. Joining them at the front was Choquette who swiftly showed Anderson his intentions with a hard hit to Anderson's rear bumper as the cars crossed the start-line, but this just spurred the pole-sitter on and he was soon rubbing against Russell's door, trying to push his nose in front and into the lead on the low side.
The two leaders would take the next few laps absolutely locked together before they began to hit the slower cars at the rear of the field, forcing Anderson to drop back behind Russell once he found the lower part of the track clogged with back-markers. The action would pause once more with 10 laps in the books as #06 Mike Finn lost control in turn 2 to bring the pace truck back out again. With caution laps counting for the longer races this year it would be lap 16 when the cars got back up to speed again, Russell and Anderson quickly reengaging at the front while Choquette fought with #88 Justin Larson for 3rd as Watts quickly broke awy from the pack to round out the top 5.
There was nothing to choose between the leaders, and a similar battle was taking place for 3rd before Choquette managed to pull a slight advantage over Larson. Another caution was narrowly averted as #61 Mario Gosselin went high in turn 4 and brushed the wall, his car getting badly out of shape and Gosselin needing all of his extensive experience to regain control and straighten it back out again, dropping back down the field in the process but keeping the action under race conditions. The race would soon reach _ distance with Russell and Anderson as close as ever at the front, but with Choquette and Larson now joined by the hard-charging Clouser who had made his way around Watts and into 5th.
The gap at the front shortened dramatically just a couple of laps later as Anderson made a move on Russell, banging the #36 hard from behind in turn 4, causing both cars to get loose and struggle to regain composure. Backing off the throttle gave just enough time for the chasing cars to catch them, and suddenly the fans had a group of 5 cars all fighting it out for the lead, with Watts positioned ominously just a few lengths behind in 6th. Anderson would make his move as the race ticked over to 33 laps, trying a low-side pass out of turn 4 that Russell moved down to block. This just opened up a big door for Choquette on what was proving to be a much faster high groove, and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands to power around Anderson and snatch 2nd place for himself.
This would change the whole dynamic of the race as Russell now had Choquette on his tail, while Anderson suddenly found himself fending off the charge of Clouser behind him. Choquette would briefly take the lead with a charge down the back straight and around turns 3 and 4, but this lasted barely half a lap as Russell fought back to regain the lead heading into turn 1. Immediately to their rear Anderson and Clouser had again closed up and were looking for ways around Choquette. Anderson would once more look down the inside of Choquette, showing he hadn't learned his lesson as this allowed Clouser to copy Choquette's earlier move and go around Anderson, dropping him back to 4th.
Half-distance in the race would soon come around and now the action at the front was between a train of the top 6 cars, all running nose-to-tail around the track with Russell leading Choquette, Anderson settled behind Clouser for 3rd and 4th places, and Larson and Watts now running up at the front with the others. Just behind two more cars were charging their way forward in the shape of Kennedy and veteran campaigner #64 Joe Winchell, who were both positioned nicely to take advantage of any slip-ups in front of them. Finally someone would break Russell's hold on the lead as the cars crossed the line to start their 53rd lap, Choquette pushing his way through on the low side out of turn 2 and sending Russell high up the track. Clouser would try his luck too, but Russell quickly slammed the door shut on him and set off after the new leader. Changes behind them would also see Watts finally working his way past Larson to cement his place in 5th position, right on Anderson's rear bumper.
Choquette would make the most of the clear track ahead of him and for the first time in the race the leader would pull away a noticeable lead over the field. He would soon start to pass lapped traffic, but this lead to the next big incident of the race, and one that changed the final result decisively. Coming around turn 4 Choquette would pass Gosselin, making his way back up the field after his earlier brush with the wall, but as the leader went past, Gosselin dramatically lost control of his car, spinning out wildly and smashing hard into the front straight wall just past the upper pit entry road. Thankfully the track crew would quickly confirm that Gosselin was OK, but for such an experienced racer to lose control so badly something had to be amiss. With the pace truck bringing the cars around slowly while the #61 was pulled clear from the wall, both Choquette and Russell were ordered down pit road to check for a possible oil leak that may have caused the wreck. Russell would quickly be waved away to retake his position on the front row, but Choquette was not so lucky, his car quickly shut off and a pool of oil easily visible on the pit lane surface as his car was pushed back into the pits. To add insult to injury his fire extinguisher would automatically fire off, shrouding his car in a cloud as he dejectedly climbed out with his race over for the night, while the track crews cleaned up his oil on both the track and pit road. Another red flag would be displayed to allow the lengthy clean-up process to take place without denying the fans of too many laps in what was rapidly becoming a classic race.
Just 15 cars would remain once the race got back underway with 67 laps gone, but Winchell's slide up to the wall in turn 4 hurriedly bought the pace truck back out onto the track as Russell now found himself fighting with Larson at the front. Larson would try a charge to the front as he raced door-to-door with Russell once the green lights were back on, but as Russell leaned on him out of turn 4 Larson's car got loose and he was forced to scrub off some speed to regain control, letting Anderson and Clouser through. Larson was obviously still unsettled as he came around to complete the lap, spinning out in turn 4 and forcing Winchell and #9z Zach Donatti into emergency avoiding action, Donatti spinning out to avoid an even bigger wreck.
Yet another restart would see Anderson retake the lead as Russell just missed the start, but the #36 was quickly back up to speed and flying around on the high groove to retake his place at the front, and leaving Anderson to fend off Watts in 3rd, who was giving the 2nd place man a taste of his own medicine with some hard bangs to the rear of the famously hard-driving Anderson's car. But the racing would be interrupted again thanks to a spin in turn 1 for #4B Alan Bruns, Winchell and #33x Daniel Webster. Bruns would head back to the pits for remedial work to his car, his crew incensed at the short yellow-flag period they were given to carry out their work, but more importantly he was followed into the pits by Anderson, who pulled over to his pit crew for them to jack his car up and look underneath. Sensationally they did not drop his car back down for him to charge back out onto the track, and the restart would come around with Anderson still sitting on the pit road with his car jacked up on one side. So, with 83 laps in the books, Anderson retired from a race where he had been a major contributor to all the excitement, settling for an awarded 15th place that barely began to hint at the great race he had run.
If Russell thought the removal of Anderson from the field would give him an easy victory, he was very wrong as suddenly the experienced campaigner he had been fighting for so long was replaced in his mirrors by two of the up-and-coming stars of Florida's Super Late Model racing scene, in the shape of Watts and Kennedy. The flag stand would soon be indicating just 10 laps to go, and Russell would have Kennedy right on his tail while Watts fought off Clouser in 3rd, leaving Clouser to race with #141 Travis Hanson, who was benefiting from his controlled, careful drive to get up to 5th place without any fuss or drama, avoiding all of the wrecks and incidents.
And then, with three laps to go, the race erupted into life once more as Watts planted himself firmly on Kennedy's rear bumper before diving down his inside to try for 2nd place. With Kennedy forced high up the banked corners thanks to Watts aggressive move, Clouser saw his chance and tried to follow Watts through, only for Watts to slam the door shut, followed by Kennedy making the same move and pushing Clouser back down to 4th. Russell would take the white last-lap flag with a slim lead over Watts, who was now using every ounce of his strength to wrestle his car around the track, blocking every line Kennedy looked at to defend his 2nd place.
The checkered flag would soon be waved to give Russell a tremendous win in what had been an incredible race, full of great racing and twists and turns that had the fans on their feet throughout the whole 100 laps. Watts would do enough to hold off Kennedy to claim a hard-fought 2nd place, while Clouser and Kennedy crossed the line side-by-side with Kennedy inching out ahead for 3rd.
“My dad told me a lot of stories about Billie (Harvey) and how he would give you the shirt off his back, so it's real special to remember him and win this race for the second time” said Russell in victory lane. “I was real loose and just trying to hang-on on those long runs and Jeff (Choquette) was able to get by me. I hated to see him go out of the race like that. That was some good hard racing.”
Billie Harvey Memorial 100
1. #36 Tim Russell
2. #73 Sam Watts
3. #96 Ben Kennedy
4. #9 Rich Clouser
5. #141 Travis Hanson
6. #33x Daniel Webster
7. #4B Alan Bruns
8. #88 Justin Larson
9. #9z Zack Donatti
10. #127 Brandon Booth
11. #29 Mallory Harvey
12. #22 Dusty Cornelius
13. #21 James Carter
14. #64 Joe Winchell
15. #84 Wayne Anderson
16. #33 Jeff Choquette
17. #61 Mario Gosselin
18. #26c Travis Cope
19. #119 JR McMickle
20. #14 Mario Maresca
21. #80 Brian Finney
22. #05x David LeBeau
23. #06 Mike Finn
24. #13 Bob Greene
25. #34 Shaughn McCormick
DQ #52 Matthew Stichmann