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CARS Tour premier Puryear OLD NORTH STATE NATIONALS at Orange County Speedway

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JOSH BERRY
JOSH BERRY cooks up another big win

CARS Tour premier Puryear OLD NORTH STATE NATIONALS presented by GSX Wraps at Orange County Speedway

WITH A BERRY ON TOP

By Billy Weatherman | Oval Track News

THE SERVERS-

I’m almost a little embarrassed to say it now. But despite all the races and tracks I’d been to, I’ve never seen a CARS Tour event, nor had I visited Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, North Carolina. I’ve seen late models, of course, all over the central east coast, as I’m fortunate to live in the middle of NASCAR country with some of the greatest short tracks in the country around me. Ace Speedway, Caraway Speedway, Hickory, Concord, and South Boston just to name a few. Too many to name really. But when we were checking our schedule, and looking at the upcoming premier events, I saw the opportunity to knock off two more things on my bucket list. And so on Sunday, we headed out to Orange County to see the CARS Tour’s premier event, the Puryear Old North State Nationals presented by GSX Wraps, to see the best in the late model world battle for $30,000. What I saw was literally one of the best races I’ve ever seen. We’ve already covered some big events this year. And I can tell you first hand, grassroots racing, whether it’s because the pandemic restrictions are being lifted, or whatever reason you want to point to, is back in a big way. We all know that over the last 20 years or so, the racing crowd count has been down, even at big events, all over this great country. But this year, every race I’ve covered, even with gathering restrictions in place, have still had great fan turnouts. And again today it’s no different. Orange County Speedway had as many people Sunday as the government of North Carolina would allow at this time.

The CARS Tour, originally the Hooters Pro Cup, has went through many changes. But Jack McNelly has reformed his organization into the premier late model touring series in the country. Not much more needs to be said. They’re as professional as it gets. So when it comes to their premier event, he knew exactly where it should be held- Orange County Speedway. I could tell you how immaculate the track is. Or how professional the staff is. Or how the place is perfect for huge capacity crowds. But as a race fan, I really only need to give you one word to describe the place- SPEED. The 19 degree banking in the turns, and the 16 degree banking down the straights, combined with a seasoned racing surface, allow for thrilling multiple lane racing. It states on their social media sites, and on their website, that it’s a three lane track. And I personally saw that happen more than once. But primarily, it’s a track where you can run two wide, lap after lap, which provides for some amazing racing action.

THE INGREDIENTS-
Josh Berry is fresh off the biggest win of his career in the Xfinity Series at Martinsville Speedway. And he’d love to have the big $30,000 check to add as ambiance beside the grandfather clock he just had delivered. But standing in his way are some of the best late model drivers in the country. Layne Riggs is the clear local track favorite, and is favored by many to win here as well, coming into the race as the only driver with more than one win in the previous season, and driving on his home track. Bobby McCarty is the latest CARS Tour Late Model winner, taking home the trophy at Hickory Motor Speedway, so he will be tough to beat here as well. But these guys will have to deal with a star studded 28 car deep field here today, all racing 200 laps for $30,000. With a payday that big, and the competition that strong, the CARS Tour and Orange County Speedway have all the ingredients they need for a great race today.

THE APPETIZERS-
A great bonus to the CARS Tour event menu today, is the addition of The Carolina Pro Late Model Series, and The Carolina Crate Modified Series. Keith and Wendi Graham debut the CPLMS touring series in 2020, and despite the pandemic and crowd restrictions they had to deal with, had a very successful opening season. So much so, that growing on that this year, they have added the crate modifieds to their show as well. They will be the feature event at their next show May 8th at one of my new favorite tracks, Florence Motor Speedway. So If you’re headed to the Darlington Cup or Xfinity race that weekend, stop by Florence, which is a mere 15 minutes down the road, and pop in to see the Carolina Pro Late Models and Crate Series run after the Xfinity race on Saturday. I promise you won’t be disappointed. As a matter of fact, tell them Oval Track News sent you, as we definitely recommend it if you’re down around Darlington at that time. And so the CARS Tour, and Orange County Speedway, should be commended for adding them to the show today. They were scheduled as the main event here Saturday, but as Saturday’s events were rained out, they will start and end the show here today, with a 75 lap feature for the Carolina Pro late Models, and 50 laps for the Carolina Crate Modified division. Qualifying times for these divisions were determined by practice speeds earlier in the day.

The crowd is ready, the Carolina Pro Late Models are all lined up, and the starters have given the famous start your engines command. Time to go racin’!

Nick Loden’s #43 machine will start on the point. Loden’s on a roll as he’s won the first two races of the season, and is looking to make it three in a row. But he has tough competition as Caden Kvapil, son of NASCAR star Travis Kvapil, starts second in the #35 car. The green is out and we are underway. Loden gets a decent start, but for the first 5 laps, Caden gives Loden everything he can handle. But after tire pressures rise, Loden begins to pull away and show his might. We get our first caution on lap 14 for the stalled #44 machine of Joshua Van Winkle. The track crew gets things taken care of quickly, and we are back underway, but as the field gets back up to speed on the restart, action is halted again, almost immediately, as Jasec Holladay’s #5 car spins coming off turn #2.

As they come back to green, Loden again gets a good start, and the field settles down and runs single file for a bit, giving the drivers a chance to see what they have for the remainder of the race. They are also trying to save tires for the end, but Loden’s hooked up, and he’s setting a demanding pace. And so as lap times visually start to slow for most of the field, Loden continues with great laps, and pulls out a 1 second lead on the rest of the field. On lap 53 however, the #118 of Landon DeVaughn spins in front of the front runners, and collects Kvapil, Leland Honeyman in the #4, and Nathan Byrd in the #51. The track crew has their hands full with this one, and the officials throw the red flag, halting the field for the cleanup. Tough break for Kvapil. He was saving his car for the final laps to make a charge on Loden, but he won’t get a chance to show what he’s got in this one, as his car sustains heavy damage, and he won’t be a factor at the end today. As the green comes back out, Loden takes off like a rocketship. Adding to his lead is the greatest battle of the race for second between Dylan Ward in the #7, and Josh Lowder in the #63 machine. Lowder tries everything he’s got to get around Ward on his inside, and they’re side by side for the final 10 laps. Lowder gets great runs on the bottom, but Ward uses the high line’s speed to counter his growingly ill handling car, and uses the high banks to his advantage in holding off the charging Lowder. But this allows Loden to build on his lead every lap they fight behind him, and he goes on to win in dominating style. Three races on the season for Carolina Pro Late Model Series season nets three victories in a row for Nick Loden. But I can’t express how entertaining Lowder and Ward’s battle was for second. How hard was the battle between the two? As I finished up getting Loden’s victory lane photos, I hurried over to the 2nd and 3rd finishing cars to get podium photos as well, and as I waited for the two competitors to finish their congratulatory conversation they were having about their amazing battle, a conversation of respect between the two I might add, I glanced at their race cars while they finished talking. And even after that amount of time, Lowder’s tire and wheel caliper were still rolling smoke from the workout he had given them. Excellent racing.

The Crate Modified Series would round out the night with 50 laps of open-wheeled action. James Civali would start on pole in the #9 car with Kevin Orlando in the #00 starting to his outside. The race got off to a wild start as James Civali would slip up in turn 1, and into Orlando, spinning him around. Civali would get a better start as they go back to green, but he would immediately come under fire from the fast machine of Junior Snow in the #51 hot rod, bringing Dean Lowder’s #63 into the fray. Lowder dives in making it three wide, and would lead for a moment before Snow shows his muscle and powers ahead. Kevin Orlando works hard to come back through the field to second, leaving Civali to fight off a hungry Cody Norman in the #12, who raced past Dean Lowder, and is all over Civali battling for 3rd. Nobody has anything for Snow though as he dominates the Crate Mods here today.

JOSH BERRY

THE MAIN COURSE- Puryear OLD NORTH STATE NATIONALS presented by GSX Wraps

Justin Johnson in the #44 sets the fastest time in qualifying with a lap of 14.081, and will roll off P1 today, with Deac McCaskill #08 to his outside. Mike Looney #87 will start inside the second row with Bobby McCarty’s #22 starting to his outside, and rounding out the top 5 starters is Josh Berry’s #8 machine. The entire field qualified in the top half of the 14 second bracket, with the 28th starter of Jessica Cann running a qualifying lap of 14.574. Everyone in this field is fast, and the competition is as even as you can hope for in a race of this magnitude. To win this race will take a flawless effort, and all the drivers will have to be on the top of their game to have a good finish here today.

Johnson leads them around to the starting zone and gets a clean start and the green is out for the Old North State Nationals. It’s two wide around the track for a few laps as everyone jockeys for a few positions on the start, but the majority of the pack settles in single file as it’s early in this one. Time to feel the cars out and save as much tire as possible. It’s still two wide back for 15th however as the #88 of William Cox lll and the #14 of Jared Fryar fight to get a little closer to the front, and they’re joined by the #1 of Craig Moore who gets into Cox coming off turn 4. Up front, McCaskill gets tired of looking at the sponsorship on the back of the 44 machine, and he gets under Johnson for the lead. He holds it for a few laps but Johnson wants the spot back and he gets under McCaskill taking back the top position while the battle for 3rd heats up as well between the #22 of Bobby McCarty and #87 Mike Looney. Lap 24 brings out our first caution as the #14J of Conner Jones is around after contact with someone on the frontstretch. Several cars come in to fix handling issues and some to play strategy, notably the #8 of Josh Berry who takes this opportunity to take fuel. It’s early, but this is a huge strategy call that could pay off big down the line in this race.

Lane choice goes to the leader in the CARS Tour restarts, and McCaskill chooses the bottom lane leaving Johnson to start on his outside followed by McCarty, Looney, and the #99 of Layne Riggs. Johnson gets a good start, and this time the top six settle in line nose to tail. Back in the battle for 10th, the #2 of Brandon Pierce gets into the #2N of Sammy Smith, sending him up the hill and almost into the wall, and that opens the door for #14 Jared Fryar and the #81 of Mini Tyrell as the battle for 10th on back has developed into a dog fight. Meanwhile up front, McCaskill goes under Johnson and reclaims the point. William Cox lll comes to the pits with a flat right rear, and a couple of laps later Johnson loses a right front bringing out the caution for the second time on lap 47. What a tough break for Johnson as he loses a tire while running up front, but will now have to start in the back and try to make his way back through this powerful group of cars on the CARS Tour. He’ll get a bit of a break however as almost the entire field comes to pit road but a handful of drivers who stopped earlier, including Josh Berry who took fuel earlier on a strategy call that now finds him at the front for the restart.

So it’s Berry, Conner Jones, the #2 of Brandon Pierce, Tyler Matthews, and the #19 of Jessica Cann up front when they go back to green, but it’s going to take a minute as there is a huge traffic jam on pit road. The drivers were warned before the race in the driver’s meeting that pit road would be extra tight with all the haulers down in the pit area because of the rainout on Saturday for the Carolina Pro Late Model and Carolina Crate Modified divisions, leaving everyone packed tight for today’s show. It looks like a quagmire, but CARS Tour race control were ready for this, and they get everything situated with relative ease in the age of GPS transponders. I looked up to the spotters box expecting to see a hornets nest of mad team members, but instead I see a calm bunch who’ve obviously been satisfied with the official starting order. So what looked to be a major issue has been handled with remarkable professionalism, and the field is lining up to take the green on the restart.

Berry protects the high ground and starts outside, but gets a great restart. But right from the wave of the flag, most popular driver Cann is in trouble, and the field puts her to the outside lane, going three wide to get by her. She’s obviously not handling as well as the leaders, and the field is getting stacked up behind her. That gives McCaskill and Johnson an opportunity, and they are moving up through the field which is now a true battle zone as the drivers are fighting for spots trying to get all they can. The #81 of Mini Tyrell gets sideways off turn 4 in the back of the pack but holds on to it, but up front Josh Berry has taken advantage of the fray and built a sizable lead. Jessica Cann meanwhile has survived the onslaught of hungry competitors, and looks to settle in the back of this strong field, but as she looks to get back in line and get off the wall coming off of turn 4, the #81B of Sam Butler comes up to get as much speed as he can to motor down the frontstretch, and the two collide. Just as it seemed Jessica was going to make it to the back with no incident, the two drivers went for the same spot, and we are under caution once again. Jessica drives away, but the day is done for Butler.

After the cleanup, Berry again takes the high side for the restart with Conner Jones, Tyler Matthews, McCarty, and Mason Diaz rounding out the top 5. Berry again gets a great start, leaving Diaz and Matthews fighting for second, as Conner Jones is ambushed and is under fire from McCaskill for fourth. McCaskill gets by as the race is getting intense, and the field is two wide from 11th place on back. The battle for second continues. Diaz keeps looking under Matthews, but Matthews gets a great run off the corners on the high side and holds him off down the straights. They get together off turn 3 on lap 79, and Diaz gets by, and brings McCaskill with him. Matthews falls to fourth and immediately comes under fire from Riggs. He gets into Matthews, who’s car is getting loose and this brings McCarty and the #87 of Mike Looney into the battle, all fighting for fifth. Riggs gets by and leaves them three wide behind him, but you can see his hood is bent up a bit around the hood bracket. But just then, the #17 of Joe Valento goes around in turn 2, and the caution flies once again. This gives Matthews a reprieve and he has got to be appreciative as he was in the fight of his life just trying to hold on to the front of the field.

Berry again takes the high side on the start protecting the high ground, with Mason Diaz, Deac McCaskill, Layne Riggs, and Tyler Matthews your top five starters. Berry gets another great start with Diaz settling in behind him, but McCaskill and Riggs door each other fighting for 3rd, with Looney tight up behind them. As they battle it out, McCarty also moves in, but the caution flies once more for a competition yellow. The crowd can feel it. The intensity was picking up through the entire field. Everybody pits except Conner Jones, as they are taking the gamble for track position while everyone else pits to get their cars straight for the run to the end of this one. So on the restart, it will be Conner Jones taking the high line, with Berry to his inside, and Deac McCaskill, Mason Diaz, and Layne Riggs on the restart. The green is out, but Berry jumps the start and gets the warning from race control and if he jumps again, he’ll have to line up in the rear. We’ll try the restart again, and this time it’s all good, but Berry still gets under Jones for the lead, with McCaskill following him, leaving Jones three wide with Diaz and Looney. Looney moves to third while McCaskill and Berry battle for the top spot, and Diaz and Riggs battle it out for fourth and Johnson gets under Matthews for sixth. Johnson sets his sights on Riggs. Meanwhile the battle up front has really heated up as Looney closes in on McCaskill and Berry as the battle for the lead, and takes them all three wide for the top spot. Behind them Johnson gets into Riggs and cuts another tire down off of the contact, and the caution is out again. What a tough break for Johnson, as he worked his way up from his earlier tire issues, and will again have to go to the rear of the field to try again. But barring a miracle, there’s not enough time for him now, as everyone is fighting tooth and nail for every position in this field, and I don’t see a path from him to the front again, even with the speed he has shown throughout the race. He is also being given a penalty for stopping in turn 4 after he cut his tire and got into the wall in one and two. I’ve seen it in every race I’ve been to this year, as sanctioning bodies are cracking down on drivers stopping to bring out a caution, and this will probably be too much for Johnson to overcome.

Berry will choose the high line again against McCaskill, with Looney, Diaz, and Riggs lined up behind them. Berry gets yet another great start, but in the intense battle behind him, the #91 of Jonathan Shafer goes around and is in the wall in the middle of turns 3 and 4 and has heavy damage. During the caution, Mason Diaz gets into Mike Looney in a freak deal and is on the top of his back rear quarter panel. That could be trouble for these cars, as they were lining up 3rd and 4th for the restart, and it’s going to be interesting to see how bad these cars are hurt from the incident when they go back to green. We’re coming to the end of this one, and the restart will be crucial. Berry again protects his high side, with McCaskill lining up on the bottom, followed by Looney, Diaz, and Matthews. Berry again gets a good start, but McCaskill is there this time and is giving him all he can handle. Behind them, Riggs gets a great restart, but Looney and Diaz’s machines are off the pace from their damage, and Riggs, despite being able to capitalize from their trouble, has his hood coming up, and it starts flapping looking like it could come off at any moment, and so he is being shown the black flag and will have to pit to repair the hood. His crew tries desperately to get it righted without him losing a lap, and he comes off pit road in front of the leaders, but the repair doesn’t work and the hood is waving like a flag down the backstretch. He’s gonna have to come back in, but he’s on the outside of the front of the field who are desperately battling for the win up front, and are tight, two wide all through the field. Riggs forces his way in however to make it to the bottom to pit, and he barely gets to pit road, almost spinning himself in the process. This shakes the field up however, and stacks them up behind him allowing Berry and McCaskill to get away and battle it out amongst themselves. Tyler Matthews runs third, and Jared Fryar, who had been two wide all day battling to stay in the top 10, now finds himself in the fourth position. Berry and McCaskill are alone up front though, and with just a handful of laps left in the race, McCaskill gets into him. He’d been getting to Berry’s inside, but this time he gets into Berry’s left rear quarter and jacks him up a bit to get Berry to make a mistake. But it’s Josh Berry. He’s not going to make a mistake. And despite McCaskill pulling every trick in the book to get by for the big money, and all the prestige that comes from winning this race, Berry holds him off by protecting the high ground and motoring down the straights, and takes the checkered flag with McCaskill looking underneath him at the line. Berry wins the CARS Tour Puryear Old North State Nationals at Orange County Speedway, and takes home a cool $30,000.

JOSH BERRY

DESSERT-(MY TAKE)

As I’m finishing up my report on this amazing race, I already see it on social media. Comments criticizing McCaskill for not taking Berry out for the win. Comments such as “he should’ve wrecked him for it, it’s $30,000…) and similar statements. I wrote before the race in several social media groups asking -What would you do for $30,000? It’s a lot of cash, yes. But in this level of racing, you are racing for more than money. You are racing for prestige. You are racing for your advancement in the sport. And you are racing for your legacy. Josh Berry is going to be a star in the upper levels of NASCAR. And he drives for Jr. Nation. McCaskill has too much class, and is confident enough in his skill, than to jeopardize all that he had gained in this race by taking out Berry for the win. This is about more than a big check. But all that said, people are ignoring one glaring thing. Although McCaskill didn’t jeopardize his finish, himself, or his respected competitor by causing what would surely have been a disastrous crash involving most of the field, and quite possibly and most probably himself,… he did, with 5 laps to go, get into Berry’s left rear quarter panel, hoping to fluster Berry into making a mistake. He got into him hard enough to get Berry sideways, but not enough to flat take him out. That my friends, is great racing. He knows Berry’s skill level. He got into him hard enough that a lesser driver would’ve lost it enough that McCaskill could’ve drove underneath for the lead and the win, or if not. wrecked himself trying to correct it. But he knew with Berry, the most he could hope for was that he got under his skin just enough that he would change what he was doing. He probably knew that Berry wouldn’t make the mistake he was hoping for. But the people that say he didn’t do enough to try to win are wrong here. He did take his shot, and in the victory lane photos, if you look, you will see the proof. He did do everything he could besides wreck the whole field to win. But Berry is on top of the late models for a reason, he’s that good. And McCaskill had too much class to do anything but race Berry as hard as he could for the win.

That brings me back to the point that Berry is going to be a star in the big leagues. He should’ve been in the top levels of NASCAR already. So sponsors, if you’re listening, get the check books out that you have put away during the period of shrinking crowds. At the very least, I can tell you that grassroots racing is back in a BIG way. I’ve seen it not just at this race, but every race I’ve covered so far this year. Drivers like Berry shouldn’t be struggling to get the funds to run in the top series. They should be able to stand on their talents, and be rewarded for them. What more does Berry have to prove? How many big races does he need to win? How much more does he, and drivers like him need to show you? I just hope that top companies are paying attention to the rise in attendance that I predict will spread across local short tracks all across this great country of ours. And that can only transfer to the top as well.

Our Blue Collar Racer award for this race was the hardest one we had to pick this year so far. Johnson was locked in early after coming from the back after his first tire issue. And Tyler Matthews worked hard all day to finish third. But Jared Fryar gets the nod for the CARS Tour Old North State Nationals. He spent the whole race two wide fighting to stay in the top 10. And in the end he worked harder than anyone to seal a fourth place finish.

This was a hard race to cover. Not because we didn’t have the tools we needed. Not because the tour didn’t give enough info for us, as they were amazing at the information and the hospitality that they provided. But because this was a great race all through the field. Orange County Speedway is a super fast track, with multiple grooves. And with a field this strong, the action was so intense, it was hard to catch it all. We also got a great bonus by the addition of the Carolina Pro Late Model Series who put on a great race as well. So we’d like to thank everyone at Orange County Speedway, the CARS Tour, and the Carolina Pro Late Model Series for an amazing event, and the great hospitality that they showed us. We got served an amazing show, and in the end, we even got a Berry on top.

Finish l Top 5 at Start l qualifying time
(1) 8 Josh Berry- 5th 14.139
(2) 08 Deac McCaskill- 2nd 14.099
(3) 41 Tyler Matthews- 14.359
(4) 14 Jared Fryar- 14.220
(5) 51 Stephen Nasse- 14.340
(6) 22 Bobby McCarty- 4th 14.127
(7) 26 Bubba Pollard- 14.167
(8) 2T Trevor Noles- 14.198
(9) 95 Sam Yarbrough- 14.345
(10) 4H Kaden Honeycutt- 14.182
(11) 2 Brandon Pierce- 14.186
(12) 97 Daniel Silvestri- 14.342
(13) 81 Mini Tyrell- 14.190
(14) 14J Conner Jones- 14.291
(15) 01 Camden Gullie- 14.523
(16) 74 Ronald Hill- 14.398
(17) 88 William Cox III- 14.260
(18) 19 Jessica Cann- 14.574
(19) 87 Mike Looney- 3rd 14.121
(20) 2N Sammy Smith- 14.190
(21) 99 Layne Riggs- 14.159
(22) 24 Mason Diaz- 14.173
(23) 91 Jonathan Shafer- 14.272
(24) 4 Jonathan Findley- 14.435
(25) 44 Justin Johnson- 1st 14.081
(26) 17 Joe Valento- 14.347
(27) 1 Craig Moore- 14.282
(28) 81B Sam Butler- 14.171

Photo Credit: Billy Weatherman | Oval Track News

By Billy Weatherman | Oval Track News

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