BATESVILLE, AR - Defending NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series National Champion Ronnie Johnson of Chattanooga, TN marked one off his bucket list on Friday night with his series leading 18th career win in night one of the Ozark Nationals for the NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series at Batesville Motor Speedway in Batesville, AR driving a borrowed Hickman Manufacturing Special.
"I've run a lot of races here at Batesville Motor Speedway with the Hav-A-Tampa Series and in the Topless 100, but I've never won here, and that's something I've always wanted to do," Johnson said. "I want to thank Riley Hickman for letting me bring his car out here this weekend. I was struggling to get my 5 car together, and Riley came by and said here is mine, it's ready to go, so we loaded it up and we were ready to go."
Johnson took the lead from Gavin Landers of Batesville, AR on lap 27 and never looked back. Landers ran second until the last turn of the last lap when he and Mack McCarter of Gatlinburg, TN got together. McCarter was able to finish second.
Justin McRee of Woodstock, AL took the third spot and Ashley Newman of Ripley, TN drove to a fourth-place finish. After the turn four contact with McCarter, Landers spun down the front straightaway and backed under the checkered flag in the fifth spot.
Johnny Stokes of Columbus, MS finished sixth and Chandler Petty of Austin, AR took the seventh spot. Point leader Walker Arthur of Forest, VA drove to an eighth place finish. Josh Adkins of Talladega, AL was ninth, and Brent Barrett of Cleveland, MS rounded out the top 10.
Johnson's win vaulted him from fourth to second in the NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series point standings, 20 points behind Arthur. McCarter is third just two points behind Johnson and Adkins is fourth, four points behind McCarter. Chris Noah of Rainbow City, AL finished 13th and was the Rookie of the Race. Noah is fifth in the point standings, and continues to lead the Rookie of the Year points.
In preliminary action, Montana Dudley of Phenix City, AL was the fast qualifier among the 31 entrants with a lap around the 4/10-mile clay oval in 13.798 seconds. The two ten-lap B-Main Races were won by Chase Washington of Houlka, MS.
Dudley led the first lap after the drop of the green flag to start the race, followed by Landers, McRee, Johnson and Petty. Dudley's reign at the point was short lived, as he lost the right-rear tire going into turn one on lap two, and parked against the wall to bring out the first of five caution flags.
That gave Landers the lead for the "Dixie Style" double-file restart. Landers set a fast pace when the field went back to green flag action. He began to lap the cars on the tail end of the lead lap by the tenth tour, and by lap 12 Landers had a half a straightaway lead on McRee.
While Landers pulled away from McRee, the second-place driver was busy trying to hold off a challenge from Johnson for the position. Johnson was able to make an inside move on McRee to take the second spot on lap 14, and then a lap 15 caution flag closed up the field after Roger Witt of Batesville, AR stalled.
Landers led the field back to green with Johnson, McRee, McCarter, Barrett, Petty, Newman, Arthur. Stokes and Washington doubled up behind him. Newman got by Petty on the restart to take the sixth spot, and then passed Barrett for fifth on lap 17. Lap 19 saw the Big Mac Attack, as McRee and McCarter battle side-by-side for the third spot.
McCarter worked hard to finally clear McRee for third on lap 24, but ahead of that battle, Landers and Johnson were fixing to have a battle of their own. On lap 25, Johnson got inside Landers, but couldn't make the move for the lead stick. After a three lap side-by-side battle for the lead, Johnson did clear Landers in heavy lapped traffic on lap 27 to take the point.
The field got to bunch up on lap 31 after Michael Blount of Sumrall, MS stalled the Lamar Auto Salvage Trak-Star to bring out the third caution flag of the race. Johnson had Landers, McCarter, Newman, McRee, Arthur, Stokes, Barrett, Petty, and Adkins doubled up behind him for the restart.
On lap 32, Newman tagged the inside wall in turn two, and McRee sailed around on the outside to retake the fourth spot. Johnson began to encounter lapped traffic on lap 43, but the caution flag came out on lap 46 before Landers could close in after Caleb Myers of Columbus, MS stalled the Columbus Nissan GRT in turn one.
While Johnson now had clear race track in front of him, the field bunched up one last time after Myers spun in turn four to bring out the fifth and final caution flag of the race on lap 47. Johnson took off and pulled away to begin the four-lap dash to the finish, but the big drama was unfolding behind him on the last lap.
McCarter got a run on Landers going down the backstretch and both drivers drove hard into turn three aiming for the same piece of race track. The two cars made contact in turn four with McCarter on the inside and Landers on the outside. They banged off of each other coming off the fourth turn until Landers spun to the inside. McCarter finished second, 1.479 seconds behind Johnson, while Landers backed across the timing and scoring loop in fifth.
NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series
Batesville Motor Speedway - Batesville, AR
Ozark Nationals Night One - May 2, 2014
POS STRT CAR # DRIVER HOMETOWN LAPS $ WON
1. 3 R1 Ronnie Johnson Chattanooga, TN 50 $2,500
2. 6 51 Mack McCarter Gatlinburg, TN 50 $1,250
3. 4 25 Justin McRee Woodstock, AL 50 $850
4. 12 73 Ashley Newman Ripley, TN 50 $700
5. 2 77 Gavin Landers Batesville, AR 50 $650
6. 8 1 Johnny Stokes Columbus, MS 50 $550
7. 5 47 Chandler Petty Austin, AR 50 $500
8. 9 87 Walker Arthur Forest, VA 50 $450
9. 14 19m Josh Adkins Talladega, AL 50 $400
10. 7 110 Brent Barrett Cleveland, MS 50 $375
11. 11 38 Chase Washington Houlka, MS 50 $350
12. 19 14jr Shawn Knuckles Poplar Bluff, MO 50 $300
13. 13 56 Chris Noah (R) Rainbow City, AL 50 $280
14. 17 17f Casey Findlay Bryant, AR 50 $260
15. 15 18 Tait Davenport Benton, KY 50 $250
16. 23 17 Ronald Dunn Corinth, MS 49 $240
17. 20 23 Travis Ashley Batesville, AR 49 $220
18. 21 17k Cody Kierre Beebe, AR 47 $200
19. 16 R3 Caleb Myers Columbus, MS 46 $200
20. 10 19 Marcus Minga Shannon, MS 43 $200
21. 22 121 Michael Blount Sumrall, MS 34 $200
22. 24 18 Roger Witt Batesville, AR 13 $200
23. 18 66 Robby Moore Brosley, MO 13 $200
24. 1 55 Montana Dudley (R) Phenix City, AL 1 $200