Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
Racers from all around the Southeast are preparing to congregate to Southern National Motorsports Park in Lucama for a Thanksgiving tradition — the annual Thanksgiving Classic, the final race of 2017 and Southern National Motorsports Park’s fall highlight. This year’s race, the 17th installment, is the second richest race in Late Model Stock Car racing and is drawing the region’s heavy hitters to the high banks in Lucama.
LATE MODEL BATTLE
The region’s heavy hitters are set to duke it out one final time at Southern National. Philip Morris is making his return to the Thanksgiving Classic, his first start in the race since winning the inaugural in 1998. Matt McCall is returning to the site of his third-place finish last year. And Peyton Sellers, another former national champion, plans to compete in the Thanksgiving Classic. However, there is a new crop of talent hoping to leave their mark.
Layne Riggs is the son of former track champion and 1999 Thanksgiving Classic winner Scott Riggs. Last year, he finished eighth in the Classic, but this year, he hopes to improve upon that. Earlier this year, he edged four-time Southern National Motorsports Park champion Deac McCaskill in a photofinish victory at Dominion Raceway for a CARS Tour race. Now, Riggs has his sights set on a victory at the track his father, Scott, dominated at in the mid-90s.
Brenden Queen finished second in last year’s Thanksgiving Classic and won the track championship at East Carolina Motor Speedway in 2016. This season, he has gone winless — but his performances in long-distance races have the spotlight on him once again. Coming off a second-place finish in the summer highlight at Langley Speedway and a top-five finish at Myrtle Beach, Queen has momentum and confidence as he chases what would be the biggest win of his career.
Grayson Cullather is something of an underdog for the Thanksgiving Classic, but this young driver has already turned heads. Cullather finished second in points at Southside Speedway in Virginia and scored a victory in the track’s final race. Cullather backed that up with a surprising 12th-place finish in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway. A win on Sunday may not be out of the cards for the 16-year-old.
Sam Mayer enters the Thanksgiving Classic after two competitive runs at Myrtle Beach Speedway and is with a team that has won the Thanksgiving Classic before. In 2014, Brayton Haws scored the victory in the Classic driving for Lee McCall. Now Mayer is hoping to do the same.
SNMP track champion Mason Diaz will look to leave his mark by ending 2017 with a win in Southern National’s biggest race of the year. Then there are young guns suchas Cameron Bowen and Cameron Burke looking for a breakout run.
INVASION OF THE MODIFIEDS
The Southern Lightning Modifieds, which is a popular, fan-favorite division, will compete on Saturday night and interest has peaked all around the region.
D.J. Huffman will be making one of the longest drives to Southern National Motorsports Park for Saturday’s race. Huffman hails from Eleanor, West Virginia — a small town that sits just 20 miles from West Virginia’s border with Ohio. Huffman generally competes at Ona Speedway in West Virginia.
Jimmy Humblet and Chris Humblet, a father-and-son duo from North Carolina, have won races at several different tracks. This weekend, they will both be competing at Southern National where they will face off with Virginia driver Shawn Balluzzo, Hunter Slayton and Late Model Stock Car standout Austin Thaxton.
DEEP MINI STOCK FIELD
Saturday night’s racing program will also feature the Mini Stock division. All season, the division has produced headlines — from Ashlyn McCaskill’s triumphant return to the track after suffering a concussion to local favorite Joseph Pittman’s emotional first win.
The Mini Stock field for the Thanksgiving Classic is one of the most competitive fields to ever race at Southern National. A.J. Sanders and Brandon Clements will rekindle a rivalry that boiled over in the Spooktacular. That round was won by Clements, but this time, he will be returning with a different car.
However, Michael Rouse could stop both drivers in their tracks. Rouse dominated at Carteret County Speedway in 2016 and is no stranger to victory lane in a Mini Stock at Southern National either. Rouse, teamed up with Chuck Ruffner, looks to stand victorious on Saturday night.
Wil Smith, Doug Rembold and Robert Strimska will also prove to be tough to beat on Saturday night.
Emily Day will be quite busy during the Thanksgiving Classic. The 16-year-old will compete in four races — two Legends races and two Bandolero races. Day scored a victory in a Bandolero race on May 27, her lone Southern National victory, and has been a contender any time she’s at the track. As for her Legends car, she is racing in a car prepared by Dillon Spain Motorsports, the team that has dominated at Southern National in recent years.
The Super Late Model feature Sunday could be wide open. Taylor Stricklin, son of NASCAR driver Hut Stricklin, will make his first career Southern National start. Former Carteret County Speedway champion Chris Burns will make his second Super Late Model start — his first at Southern National. Bronson Butcher will also be competing in the race, along with a host of others.
TIMES AND TICKETS:
The 17th Thanksgiving Classic presented by Solid Rock Carriers got underway Friday night and runs through Sunday with a total of 775 laps of racing for the 11 divisions which will compete.
Saturday, November 25th: Bandoleros (20 laps), Legends (30 laps), Southern Lightning Modifieds (40 laps), Mini Stocks (50 laps), U-CAR (30 laps), Street Stocks (15 laps), Limited Late Models (40 laps). Green flag at 4:30pm.
Tickets: Adults – $20; Seniors, active military and students (with ID) – $15; Kids 6-12 – $5; Kids five and under – FREE.
Sunday, November 26th: Late Model Stock Car Last Chance Qualifier (25 laps), Super Late Models (125 laps), Late Model Stock Car feature event (200 laps). Green flag at 12pm.
Tickets: Adults –$25; Seniors, active military and students (with ID) –$20; Kids 6-12 – $10; Kids five and under – FREE.