The Track Is Back, “Crappy” Darnell Fifth, Old Guy Hoffman & More

Justin Wakefield could only describe his 15th-place finish at Nashville like he was in a pinball game.  His car, well, it looked like it was made more out of duct tape than fiberglass after getting involved in several accidents, most of which he was the innocent victim of.

“Me and Fultz were just going to take is easy and ride together early,” said Wakefield.  “I was just riding with him and we came off turn two and the whole track was blocked.  I was going to follow Fultz, but someone got me in the rear and we just wrecked from there.”
That wasn't the only close accident for Wakefield, who nearly ran into the sitting car of Roger Parker later in the race.

“That was too close.  We hit him, but not as hard as we could have.  I seen (Johnny) Brazier check up and we let off the brakes but we were still gong pretty fast.  Then, the orange car (the #5 of JR Norris) came in there and made it three wide under yellow, so I had nowhere to go and turned it around to stop from hitting that guy stopped on the track.
The cars of Justin Wakefield (#98) and Johnny Brazier pit to get repairs during the red flag.
“These guys worked hard tonight.  We just got this brand new body on it.  They are probably just as torn up as I am about the way it looks.”


The night's biggest surprise may have been that of Greg Pope.  Pope, who qualified eighth for the race, was the lucky recipient of the number eight beer can pulled by pole sitter JR Norris, meaning Pope would start the race on the pole.  Pope took advantage of the opportunity, leading the first 56 laps of the race.
“We qualified pretty good and, in turn, got to sit on the pole,” said the shy and quiet Pope.  “The car was pretty good.  We were taking our time.  Everyone was 'saying save your tires, save your tires, save your tires.'  But at the end of the race, we were going to let the 92 (Hogan) go and he just turned me around.  

“I think when it turned around backward, the motor turned backwards.  Every time I've ever had that happen, the motor has blown up and that is what she did a few laps later.

“I'm happy we ran well.  I didn't see any reason for what
Greg Pope was a surprise leader for much of the early part of the race in Nashville.
happened to happen though.  I really just wanted to finish in the top-five.  That is all I wanted to do. I didn't think we could win, I never had that thought, but it was pretty good though.”

Hogan said that Pope came down on him while the two were getting ready to go past a lapped car.

“I don't think it was intentional, but he just came down across my nose,” said Hogan.  I think he was getting ready to go by the lapped car that was in front of us.  I really didn't turn him.  I even had a couple of people come to me later and say that he came down on me.  I hate to see it, but it's racing.”


Rookie Michael Faulk had the unfortunate distinction of finishing last in event.  He was only able to complete eight laps before being involved in an accident.
“We were just trying to ride around and just mind our own business and learn some,” said Faulk, who took over the Pennzoil #00, formerly occupied by David Reutimann.  “We knew there would be some wrecks so we just wanted to get them out of the way, but some people like to race like it is the last lap on every single lap. 

“It's a bad night for us.  It's disappointing to start off the year like that.  It looks like all of the rookies are having problems tonight.  I guess that is good for us, but it isn't good for the race team when we have this wrecked race car sitting here because of someone's stupidity on the 10th lap.”
Michael Faulk's rookie race lasted a total of eight laps.

Erik Darnell classified his night as “crap,” despite coming home with a top-five finish.

“The car started bad during the day, but it picked up in qualifying, then it got worse again during the race when the tires wore down.   Yeah, we might have finished fifth, but they wrecked a bunch of good cars out there tonight.  We were fifth, but it wasn't a fast fifth, especially for starting second.”
Darnell was still not very happy after the race about a late restart lineup.  When Greg Pope's engine expired and left a huge cloud of smoke in turn three, many of the drivers came to a complete stop on the track because they couldn't see a thing.  Darnell was one of those drivers.  When the field was reset, he says several drivers got a little advantage.

“I got down in to the corner, my spotter was yelling 'back off ,back off' and I guess they were saying the yellow was out.  All I know is that I couldn't see a thing.  Then, once they got us all going again and reset the field, they put two cars in front of us that weren't even close to where we were running.  I guess I wish I was a regular here to get treatment like that.

What was the night like for Midwest Series regular and fourth-place finisher Eddie Hoffman?
“Watch people bounce off of the car in front of me and try to avoid them.  Half the battle was just finishing and staying out of the wrecks.  We were probably a little conservative, but we've had some bad luck lately, so you don't' want to chance it, especially not with some of the stuff that is running around out here.”

Why are the Midwest guys so good?

“We've got good racing up there.  We keep the fenders on the car.  I don't know, maybe a lot of us are just too old to make it in the Cup world so we just stay where we are.”
Hoffman (#8) and Dusty Williams (#40) race at Nashville.

Charlie Bradberry, the 2003 Southeast Series champion, won’t be back to defend his title this year, but didn’t miss a chance to take in the Southeast Series’ return to Music City Motorplex. Bradberry plans to compete on a limited schedule in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, beginning May 16 at Mansfield (Ohio) Motorsports Speedway.

He was in Nashville Saturday afternoon, observing practice from the top of Stanley Smith’s team transporter. Bradberry clocked lap times for Smith, who resides in the same town as Bradberry (Chelsea, Ala.), and visited with friends in the pit area.

Bradberry also reported that he’s sold one of his two Southeast Series race cars, to Richie Wauters’ No. 5 Victor Ford/UPI Painting team. Wauters obtained Bradberry’s superspeedway-prepared car, which Bradberry drove to his first career Southeast Series victory at Nashville Superspeedway in 2003. The car, a Port City chassis driven as a Chevrolet by Bradberry, will be fitted with a Ford body for Wauters and his rookie driver, J.R. Norris.

Music City Motorplex president Joe Mattioli III, who took over operation of the track in November 2003, reported that things were looking good at his new business venture.

“So far, this has been a very rewarding market to be in,” said Mattioli, who also operates South Boston (Va.) Speedway. “We’ve gotten a good response from the fans, NASCAR is back and even [NASCAR Vice Chairman] Bill France came here last week. Our car counts are certainly showing improvement – the drivers want to come back and race here. Short track racing, NASCAR-sanctioned, is alive and well in Nashville. The community greatly wants to see the whole fairgrounds
and the race track come back – they remember the days of the old Fair Park with roller coasters and waterslides here – and we hope to be the family entertainment destination in the marketplace.”

A quick count of the Late Model Stock Car field confirmed Mattioli’s comments – 25 Late Model Stock Cars competed in a 75-lap race prior to the AutoZone Spring Classic 150. Compared to the conclusion of the 2003 season, when reports indicated there were fewer than 10 cars competing in the track’s feature division, it seems things are looking good, indeed. Among the other physical improvements seen on Saturday was “Mattioli Vision,” an 11’ x 16’ video screen in the preferred seating section of the grandstands, offering an up-close video view of the action around the track.

CLICK HERE For SES Leftovers Part 1