SAVANNAH, GA - RIS - After being postponed until Sunday evening due to heavy rains on Friday, the Savannah 125 at Oglethorpe Speedway maintained the 1997 season tradition of a different winner every race as Gene Maine took home his first ever ...
SAVANNAH, GA - RIS - After being postponed until Sunday evening due to heavy rains on Friday, the Savannah 125 at Oglethorpe Speedway maintained the 1997 season tradition of a different winner every race as Gene Maine took home his first ever National Late Model Sportsman Series victory. The Ives Racing/Russell Brown Racing Chevrolet took the lead on the 34th lap and was never headed as Maine kept the car low on the dry and sandy surface of Oglethorpe Speedway in Savannah, GA. Never holding more than a two car-length advantage, Maine was able to hold of the hard charging Wendell Durrance in the Bill's Timber/Bennett Brothers Motors Chevrolet to nab the victory.
"It was tough," Maine said in Victory Lane afterwards. "I was able to get by Billy Godowns and then just held on from there. We were trying to ease into the turns and save the right rear tire so we could make it to the end. The track was really getting dry at the end."
Durrance, who started tenth, was able to work his way to the front, but again he was bit by the tire wear, as, by the time he was in a position to challenge for the lead his right rear was gone.
"I thought the track was going to get hard, black and fast, and we set up for that, and we just missed it," Durrance commented afterwards. " The track didn't come around for us like we expected it to and Gene drove a good race. He really deserves the win."
Billy Godowns set the quick time in time trials with a lap of 22.741 seconds for an average speed of 98.742 to take the pole. On the drop of the green flag, Godowns got a big jump on the 31 car field and opened a sizable gap. But after a few laps Maine was able to close the gap down on bring the rest of the field with him.
In a race marred by 16 caution flags, the most serious incident involved Derek Suits, who Got up on top of Mac Lipthratt's Java Coffeee/Coastal Concrete Chevrolet in turn three and rolled his T-Mans Window Service/JMR Masonry Chevrolet onto its roof at the top of turns three and four. Suits emerged unscathed, but the same can not be said for the car. A 22 minute red flag condition ensued while the cleanup was effected as a number of other cars were collected in the accident.
Godowns early burst of speed on the restarts got less and less and then on lap 33 he slowed noticeably, and Maine slipped by into the lead, taking 1996 series champion Ivedent Lloyd with him. Godowns held on to third trailed by Johnny Collins in the 2X4, Castrol GTX/Fickling Brothers Chevrolet, who was producing one his best drives on an extremely difficult track. Durrance was in fifth and Ricky Brant was steadily passing cars in his Atlas Sand and Gravel/Competition Products Chevy, and was up to fifth after starting in 12th spot.
Positions changed hands with virtually every lap, as the NLMS showed why it is considered one the most competitive Late Model series in the country. Some cars tried to run the high groove, but found that that was not the fast way around the track, and in many cases took a tour of the country-side after trying it.
During the latter stages of the race, everyone began to lose grip as the tires began to go away. Maine's right rear held out long enough to get him to post-race inspection before it went flat, while most of the others were suffereing the same fate. One car that did still have some rubber left was Brant, who made a neat move to get under Collins on the last lap and take the third spot.
As the final laps neared, Maine was seen to be running in the fresh dirt at the bottom of the track during cautions to cool his tires and Durrance had no rubber left to mount a challenge. The final restart came with just six laps to go, and Maine opened a fragile one car length lead and was able to hold on to take the win. Durrance finished second, followed by Brant and Collins. Rounding out the top ten were Robbie Metts, Paul George, Wiley McDaniel, Henry Carter Jr. and Everett Phillips. There were sixteen cars on the lead lap when the checkered flag flew to bring the race to an end. With Maine's victory the National Late Model Sportsman series has now had 28 different winners in just 32 events.
The next race for the National Late Model Sportsman Series, Southern Dir Tour will be at 441 Speedway in Dublin, GA on April 25-26.
John Kaiser, NLMS Public Relations