by Riley Hicks
Wall-to-wall, five-wide racing, countless lead changes, and cars rolling over was just some of the action that transpired at Senoia Raceway this past weekend as the Schaeffer’s Oil Spring Nationals took over the bull ring. The event saw drivers capture their first ever checkered flag, while others showed why they are the best on the gumbo.
The weekend kicked off Friday night with a $3,000 top prize Super Late Model race, along with the Limited and Crate Late models, Late Model Sportsman, Hobby Stock, and Mini Stock having a chance at a larger purse.
In the first race of the evening, Ryan Ray claimed the prize money with a win in the Hobby Stock division. He dominated the field throughout the race as he led the way the majority of the time, while the other competitors tried to give him some sort of fight for the lead but were unsuccessful. The drivers to round out the top three were Joe Hillman and Blake Harmon.
The second checkered flag was given to Michael Page, who jumped in his second car to capture the Crate Late Model win. He was flanked by Austin Horton and Clint Smith, who rounded out the top three. Just like Ray in Hobby’s, Michael Page put on quite a clinic controlling the entire race from the top spot to take home the $1,000 pay day.
Dylan Knowles drove his way to victory in the Late Model Sports to maintain his winning streak at three in a row in that division. Knowles positioned himself on the pole to start the race, and that would be all he needed as he drove away from the rest of the competition to lead flag-to-flag, while also winning by multiple car lengths. The two drivers to finish in the runner up positions would be Jack Millis and Keith Fields.
In the $1,000-to-win Limited race, the driver to assert himself as the winner was Ronnie Johnson, who claimed his first checkered flag on the Senoia gumbo. Johnson missed qualifying in the top spot by mere seconds, but when the green flag dropped, Johnson quickly positioned himself in first place, and he would not relinquish that spot for the rest of the race. The driver to finish second was Cruz Skinner, who qualified first, and rounding out the top three was Clint Smith.
For the Mini Stocks, Shannon Etheridge solidified his dominance to claim another victory at Senoia where he has been quite successful in the past. The other competitors had nothing for Etheridge the whole night as the next best finished almost three seconds behind him. As for the drivers that rounded out the podium, in second place was Bo Minor and third place was Tommy Faulkner.
In the main event of night one, the man to claim the first big Spring Nationals pay check was the phenomenal and well-known dirt driver Scott Bloomquist, who had to fend off 28 other competitors jockeying for the $3,000. Just after the green flagged dropped, a massive wreck in turn three caused Shannon Buckingham to flip his car and exit the field early. The rest of the 40-lap event saw multiple drivers contend for the top spot but every time someone built a good lead in first place their momentum would quickly slip away. Michael Page seemed to have the unstoppable car as he qualified first, but a minor mishap halfway through the race killed his chances at victory. One of the youngest drivers in the field, Zach Leonhardi, found himself in first, but a slight miscue in turn one allowed the lead to change once again. Clint Smith had the lead with two to go, but Bloomquist, who was working himself through the field the entire race, finally drove up to the bumper of Smith to make the pass and take the checkered flag on night one ahead of Smith and Shane Clanton.
On Saturday night, the grandstands and pits were packed as everyone waited to see which driver would claim one of the highest purses in Senoia history at $10,000. Unlike the previous night were 28 Supers battled for the money, this time 33 cars signed up to partake in the main event of the evening. Not only did the Spring Nationals run, but also the Limited and Crate Late Models, Late Model Sportsman, Bombers, Mini Stocks, and Hot Shots took to the Senoia gumbo.
The first checkered flag to be given on Saturday went to Dunie Dillard in the Bomber division. He started the night by qualifying first among the ten-car field that raced for $500. Once the green flagged dropped. Dillard ran flag-to-flag in the 15 lapper to continue his dominance at Senoia. The drivers closing out the podium were Abe Chase and young female driver Makenna Nelms.
In the Late Model Sportsman class with Knowles unable to attend the race, there was chance for a new competitor to claim the $1,000 pay day. This time it would be second-year driver Levi Campbell capturing his first-ever win in a dirt car. Campbell started the race in the second position and stayed there a majority of the race, but he finally found and opening to take the lead and drive to victory. The second position would be claimed by Keith Fields, who solidified another top-three finish following his run from the night before, and third place was Brandon McDaniel.
Just like the Late Model Sportsman, the Limited’s would have another victor as Johnson did not return. Instead, Dennis Hale would finally claim a victory at Senoia after having some unfortunate luck his last few trips to the track. Hale qualified first and had no trouble keeping himself in that position the entire 20 laps. Matt Dooley drove his way through quite a few cars to take second, after just missing the podium the night before by one spot and Dale Thurman closed out the top three.
In the Crate class, the three drivers who finished at the top also were a part of the Spring Nationals main event. Austin Horton captured the checkered flag after missing the night before by just one position. Horton completely controlled the 20 laps, leading flag-to-flag to win the $1,000. Michael Page finished second with Riley Hickman not far behind him in third place.
The Saturday night winner for the Mini Stocks was Dan Bennett, who also led flag-to-flag after his main competition Shannon Etheridge spun around midway through the race. Bo Minor finished in the second position for the second night in a row, and Etheridge battled back through the field to take third.
For the four cylinder Hot Shots, Brain Nicolas made his way to the front after trailing Dean Williams for the first half of the race. After Williams lost his first-place position, he fell out of the top three and finished fourth. The drivers to complete the podium were Mark Meyer in second and Nathan Farrow in third.
When it finally came to the 60-lap Spring National Super Late Models to close the Easter weekend two-night event, the fans were on their feet waiting to see if Bloomquist could repeat or another driver could capture the checkered flag. After splitting the 33-car field in half, Clint Smith and Dale McDowell each set the fast time in their projected groups. Following qualifying, there were four heat races that set remainder of the 26-car field with Smith, McDowell, Austin Smith, and Zach Leonhardi winning each of their heats to claim the top four respectively.
Once green flagged dropped to start the race, no driver had anything for McDowell as he led all 60 to claim the $10,000 pay check. Bloomquist was able to once again work his way through the field to get up to second, but unlike the Friday night where he made the pass for the victory, this time he was shut out by McDowell on every attempt. Closing out the final three was Aaron Ridley, who worked his way into third and stayed there for majority of the race.
On both nights, every division put on quite a show for the fans in attendance and did not disappoint. Senoia Raceway has become known as one of the top dirt tracks in southeast and after the racing those two nights it shows why. The track welcomes anyone who wants to try their luck on the gumbo. Senoia will now take this weekend off, and in two weeks be back in actions as drivers start to capture a championship in their respective divisions.