Volunteer Speedway opened the 2017 racing season Saturday afternoon under new management, with Mitch McCarter and family assuming operation of “The Gap” for the 44th year of racing on the high banks after leasing the facility earlier this winter from longtime owners Joe and Phyllis Loven.
With the McCarters offering a special $5 grandstand admission for their first promoted event at the track, fans from all around the region were treated to an exciting five division racing program which produced two- and three-wide action.
In the featured Steel Head Late Model main event, Dakotah Knuckles of Ewing, Va., powered into the lead on the second lap and never looked back en route to capturing his first-ever victory at the track.
Layne Clifton set fast-time in qualifying at 13.999 seconds to earn the pole position for the 25-lap feature. With Clifton and Knuckles racing side-by-side on the opening lap, they crossed the start-finish-line in a dead-heat.
But working lap 2 off the second corner on the high-side, Knuckles surged ahead of Clifton down the backstretch and quickly began to flex his muscles over those in pursuit. With Clifton maintaining a firm grip on the runner-up position, just behind him Mike Weeks and Carder Miller, who was competing at the track for his first time, were battling for position.
Some think the number “13” to be unlucky, and chances are the 12-year-old Miller will agree with that belief. Weeks and Miller were racing side-by-side into the first turn on lap 13, with a slower lapped car directly ahead in their path.
Contact between Weeks and Miller sent the youngster spinning high up against the outside guardrail between turns one and two, with fifth-running Bobby Mays also getting collected in the incident to bring out the caution. Both Miller and Mays retired into the pits for the remainder of the race.
Caution waved once again when Dale Ball and Greg Estes spun between turns one and two just after one circuit had been completed.
Just as he had done from the start, back under green Knuckles began to pull out ahead of Clifton to take control of the race. The 23-year-old Knuckles captured the $1,000 victory over Clifton, Weeks, Arthur and Ruben Mayfield.
Logan Roberson was quickest in Crate Late Model qualifying at 14.176 seconds to nail down the pole starting position, but it was Jensen Ford of Jonesborough who used his outside front-row starting berth to grab the lead on the opening lap over Roberson as the field raced off the second corner down the backstretch.
Behind Ford a spirited battle for the second spot involved Roberson and Rusty Ballenger. Racing into the first turn on lap 3, Ballenger made move to inside of Roberson to grab the position.
Behind the front-running trio of Ford, Ballenger and Roberson, Drew Kennedy, Walker Arthur and Tim Byrd had fans’ attention as they battled for real estate. Byrd got around Arthur for the fifth spot on lap 5 between turns three and four, and closed right in behind Kennedy.
With the race running clean-and-green, lapped traffic began to factor in as leader Ford caught tail of the field. Working his way with precision past the slower cars, Ford maintained his comfortable advantage over Ballenger.
In a race that ran caution-free for the 25-lap distance, Ford recorded the $1,000 victory over Ballenger, Roberson, Kennedy and Byrd.
Heath Alvey grabbed lead at start of the 20-lap Sportsman Late Model feature over Matt Tharp and Tyler Smith. Just after the opening lap was completed, caution waved when Ryan Carey spun between turns one and two, and then only three circuits later the yellow came out again when Terry Stone got against the outside backstretch wall.
Back under green off the lap 5 restart Alvey pulled out to an eight car-length advantage over Tharp, but the 26-year-old Tharp, from Luttrell, began chipping away at the lead. He closed to Alvey’s back bumper at the stripe beginning lap 14, and rolling down the backstretch into the third turn he made move on the inside of Alvey to drive around him for the lead exiting the fourth turn onto the front straightaway.
Tharp would not be denied his first-ever victory (just second start) at Volunteer Speedway as he won over Alvey, Smith, Adam Mitchell and Ray Jarnagin.
Austin Atkins of Morristown led all 20 laps en route to capturing his first-ever Modified Street win at “The Gap.” The 22-year-old cruised to victory over Wayne Rader, Charles Bates, Tracy Wolfe and Tony Reed.
John Stevens of Wallins Creek, Ky., rolled around the outside of Tim Stevens between turns one and two on lap 5 to take the lead in the 15-lap Classic feature and remained out front to the checkered flag to win over Tim Stevens, Matt Tharp, Lee Merritt and Josh Chesney.
Volunteer Speedway PR