Columns

Trip To New Venue Turns Out To Be A Pleasant Surprise

EAST LEROY, Mich.
As usual, I arrived at the race track too early. I’d never been to that particular facility before and there was much to take in.

Of all the aspects of dirt late-model racing that keep me going back, there’s one that always stands out above the others: the unknown. From the time the gates open until the final checkered flag, there’s simply no way to predict what you will see over the course of the event.

Racing in general, of course, is that way, but most of my attention is turned toward the full-fendered dirt cars.

The event on the aforementioned night was 40 laps, $4,000 to win and sanctioned by the long-standing Southern All Star series. The field was the standard mix of national travelers, and local and regional standouts.

It took place at Boyd’s Speedway, a 58-year-old track located near Ringgold, Ga., on the Tennessee stateline.

It was the first SAS race since series officials approved the use of the new GM Performance CT525 crate engine, which some say could eventually revolutionize the sport of dirt-track racing.

After what happened at Boyd’s, they likely could be deemed right.

Before the race, Ronnie Johnson had used the CT525 in just a handful of races, finishing in the top 10 every time. Johnson is known as a master setup man and one of the sport’s better drivers.

The Chattanooga, Tenn., veteran and National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame member has won his share of races, including two Dirt Track World Championships. He won 19 times on the now-defunct Hav-A-Tampa Series.

With 60 trips to victory lane, Johnson heads the SAS win list, and also is a two-time champion.

These days, Johnson stays pretty close to home, competing in a variety of limited- and crate-engined races, normally at tracks just a few hours or less from his shop.

Occasionally, he’ll enter an open-competition event. In one prior open event equipped with the CT525 engine, he only lost by half a car length.

Johnson is certainly no stranger to Boyd’s Speedway. He’s competed there for decades and grew up watching his father, inaugural World 600 winner Joe Lee Johnson, race at the third-mile.

When proceedings got underway, perhaps it opened a few sets of eyes when Johnson and his CT525 circled Boyd’s dirt faster than anyone else to win the pole.

Or perhaps it didn’t. Johnson was racing at home, and he’s a genius at getting power to the rear wheels and preparing his race cars to turn properly.

He performed flawlessly throughout the night, outrunning some of the best drivers in racing who were equipped with open-competition engines.

Johnson led every lap of the event, and excepting the times when he was driving through lapped traffic, he led by a fairly wide margin.

According to Johnson, the CT525 will benefit himself and other racers in the Southeast due to its low cost and the normal dry-slick track conditions found in the region.

But only if the car’s setup is right. That alone gives the longtime racer an advantage over much of his competition.

Although Johnson led the entire distance at Boyd’s, there still was a fair amount of racing going on.

South Carolina’s Chris Madden drove from 11th to second; Georgia’s Jonathan Davenport started seventh and finished third; Tennessee veteran Randy Weaver was fourth; and Louisiana’s Chris Wall ended up fifth after starting on the tail.

When you go to a new place, you never know what you’ll get. Boyd’s Speedway was a pleasant surprise.

And I’m glad I got there early to see it all.

Posted by on Apr 6 2010 Filed under Columns. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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