Saturday night was a night of firsts at Gresham Motorsports Park (Jefferson, GA) as they kicked off their second year of full season competition in front of an impressive crowd for with a 100-lap Pro Late Model event. In the first race of the season, Winston, Georgia’s Austin Hill went to victory lane in his first Late Model victory ever, not just at the Jefferson, Georgia half-mile.
However, the excitement started for Hill long before he made his trip to victory lane. In the afternoon practice session, Hill looped his #24 machine and sustained significant damage when he encountered the stiff concrete walls of the North Georgia oval.
“The start of my day was horrible because I wrecked the car coming off of turn 4 in practice,” said Hill. “So we had to pretty much change everything on the left side and get it all back together and centered up. Then we only got about 5 laps to go out and shake the car down before qualifying to make sure that everything was alright and nothing was wrong with it still.”
After a slight struggle in qualifying, which landed him fourth on the board for the 100-lap main event, Hill was pleased with his car in the race as he rolled to victory.
“In qualifying we were fourth, which was decent,” said Hill. “I just messed up qualifying a little bit getting in the gas too early. But in the race, my car was on a rail. I could go anywhere on the racetrack, low, high - it didn’t matter, my car was going to stick and go. The whole race my car just stayed the same; it never wiggled on me, it never got tight, wherever I wanted to go I could go.
“When I got out front and pulled away, I didn’t really look in the mirror, I just started riding and saving my stuff a lot. I would go off in the corner and just let it roll through the center and when I’d get in the gas I’d just barely touch (the throttle) and I wouldn’t even be flat-footing it until I was down the straightaway. Our car was so good I was only running 50% when I was out front and they still couldn’t catch up to me. If we just come back here every time like this we’re going to be real hard to beat.”
In victory lane, Hill dedicated his win to fallen friend and fellow racer, Beau Slocumb, who lost his battle with cancer a couple weeks ago. Like many drivers throughout the Southeast, Hill’s life was touched by Slocumb early in his career as he purchased one of his first Legend Cars from the Juliette, Georgia hotshoe.
“I won this race for Beau Slocumb,” explained Hill. “The whole time I was out there out front I was thinking, ‘I’m going to win it for Beau, I’m going to win it for Beau.’ And when I did, I was on that radio screaming for about another whole lap.”
Although his #24 machine was in the palm of his hand all night, Hill was not without competion. Pro Late Model veteran Russell Fleeman pressured for the lead late in the event.
“We struggled all during practice,” said Fleeman. “It just didn’t seem like it had any speed. Then when they dropped the green flag I noticed right off the bat that the car was pretty good and after a couple of cautions, the car came to me. I was extremely happy tonight with it, especially there at the end. We started to close in on the lead a little, but just didn’t have the time to really get up there to him and try to make a run for the lead. Then we picked up a vibration with about 20-to-go that kind of slowed us down, but I’ll take second place and go with it.”
Pole sitter and early-race leader Bubba Pollard fell out of the event on a late race restart after experiencing motor issues and losing power.
“I had a really good car and we just we were just riding,” said Pollard. “The other guys up front wanted to go a little harder than I did that early in the race so I was just taking it easy and then on the restart the spark plug wire melted on the header and shortened our night.”
The opening day for the recently-renovated speed plant was complete with tailgating competitions and Easter festivities for the fans, including an Easter egg hunt which began with the eggs dropping from a helicopter.
The Pro Late Models will head back to Gresham Motorsports Park on August 13th with another 100-lap race called the Back to School Racing Classic.
Saturday, April 23
US Auto Sales 100 Official Results
Pro Late Model
1. 24-Austin Hill
2. 98-Russell Fleeman
3. 04-Jerrod Foley
4. 10-Greg Simpson
5. 26-Johnny Henderson
6. 18-Hunter Robbins
7. 45-Nick Potts
8. 4- Jeremy Mullinax
9. 45b-Dwayne Buggay
10. 19-Ricky Sanders
11. 5-Todd Nichelson
12. 08-Bubba Pollard
13. 02-Scott Patton
14. 51a-Joel Anderson
15. 1- Mike Garvey