KELLEY WINS WORLD CROWN AND CHAMPIONSHIP JEFFERSON, GEORGIA - Paul Kelley, of Snellville, GA, entered the World Crown 200 leading the American Racing Association (ARA) Southern Thunder late model series championship points race by a single point...
KELLEY WINS WORLD CROWN AND CHAMPIONSHIP
JEFFERSON, GEORGIA - Paul Kelley, of Snellville, GA, entered the World Crown 200 leading the American Racing Association (ARA) Southern Thunder late model series championship points race by a single point over Stephen Leicht of Asheville, NC. He had a scant nine-point cushion over Michael Lance of Dacula, GA.
Following Saturday's time trials, Lance's fast time earned the Olympic Power Pole Award. But, more important, Lance earned five bonus points. So, entering Sunday's historic 200 lapper at Peach State Speedway, the top three drivers were separated by just four points.
"We did what we needed in qualifying," Lance said following time trials for the World Crown. "Now, All I have to do is back it up in the race."
Unfortunately for Lance, his Lance Used Auto Parts Chevrolet was quick early in the race. But, he couldn't maintain the pace throughout the race.
Rodney Landrum, of Jonesboro, GA, started on the pole courtesy of the invert by Lance. Landrum, in his R.S. Trucking Chevrolet, held off all challengers in the 36-car starting field for the first 54 laps.
On lap 55, 14 year-old Stephen Leicht, of Asheville, NC, took the lead from Landrum. Leicht looked to have the race and championship in-hand until after halfway when the right side of his Action Collectibles Chevrolet began to unzip.
"It seemed like the car started to drag," Leicht said. "It started with one pop rivet. One came loose, then another and another and another. The entire right side of the cars was coming off. We're not sure what caused it. But, it really slowed the car down."
By lap 120, Kelley, in the Roy Kelley Racing Chevrolet, had caught and passed Leicht for the final lead change of the race. While Kelley was working to hold off Leicht on the track and in the championship battle, Lee Langford, of Jefferson, GA, was lurking in fifth place.
With 20 laps to go, Langford eased his Langford Trucking Ford into fourth, past Michael Lance. Five laps later, he passed the U.S. Auto Sales Chevrolet driven by Russell Fleeman, of Dacula, GA, for third. Five laps later he went by Leicht for second.
With five laps to go, Langford had caught Kelley. Then came the 15th and final caution of the race. Langford's charge was done. Kelley held on for the win.
"We had a plan at the beginning, we wanted to be there with 50 laps to go," Langford explained following the race. "It took about ten laps for my tires to heat up and the car to get going. So, I didn't need that last caution. Without it, I had a shot at winning."
An excited Paul Kelley jumped from the car in Victory Lane. The 19 year-old Georgia Perimeter college student was mobbed by a happy crowd of friends, family and fans.
"It means a lot to me to win this race," Kelley said. "The World Crown has a long history of famous and legendary drivers as winners. I'm please to be associated with that group."
The victory also brought Kelley the ARA Southern Thunder Championship. Kelley is the first champion of the late model series. All four of his 2001 series wins came at Peach State Speedway.