Many young drivers in racing have to experience a little bit of heartache before they finally get to visit Victory Lane. Often times, they race out to big leads only to have poor tire conservation or late spins “throw it all away.”
Ronnie Bassett, Jr., in his second year on the UARA circuit, was certainly that driver in 2011. He faded late after leading at Rockingham to finish fourth and even crossed the line first at Anderson Motor Speedway (SC) only to have it taken away in post-race tech.
Friday night at Tri-County Motor Speedway, however, Bassett was the driver who looked most like a veteran, saving his tires and equipment to be, for the first time in his career, the driver in Victory Lane at the end of the night instead of the driver who came up a few laps short.
“It feels awesome,” said an exuberant Bassett moments after climbing from his machine, a sentiment he quickly hammered home with an, “Awesome, awesome, awesome!” After that, it was a bear hug with his father, Ronnie Bassett, Sr. and a popcorn shower from the pit crew.
While the smiles and celebrations associated with first-time winners continued long into the night, watching Friday night’s race from the stands, it must have seemed hard to believe that the driver of the #04 was not, in fact, a cagy old-timer.
Bassett won the pole for Friday’s race, turning in a lap time of 16.425 that beat current point leader Brennan Poole by just one ten-thousandths of a second. Y et on the initial green flag, both Bassett and Poole headed backwards. First it was Andy Mercer who streaked by into the lead. Then came Garrett Campbell and Scott Turlington and, just like that, Bassett was back to fourth.
“I kept asking my guys if I could go yet,” said Bassett in victory lane in reference to the slower lap times he was turning early in the event. “Andy and Garrett and those guys got about a half a lap ahead of us and finally they let me go and we were able to reel them in pretty easily using the bottom of the track.”
Sure enough, Bassett seemed to come at will. He flew into second place with about 40 laps to go and then cut down a nearly three-second deficit in just 25 laps to catch and pass Campbell.
Fireworks would come soon after, when George Miedecke got into Kyle Grissom racing for third place. Grissom spun in turn three, keeping the car intact while fifth-place running Andy Mercer was not so lucky as he tried to avoid Grissom’s machine. Because so few cars were on the lead lap on the ensuing restart (six), Grissom was able to catch right back up with Miedecke. While Grissom proved unable to pass Miedecke, a couple of shots to Miedecke’s back bumper made it clear Grissom was none too pleased.
Up front though, all of that was a distant worry to Ronnie Bassett. Despite the Grissom caution and one soon after that brought out a green-white-checkered, Bassett easily checked out on the restarts and took the checkered flag by a convincing margin.
In fact, the only thing the Bassett team had to sweat in the final laps was whether they would make it through tech after their Anderson heartbreaker. When asked if was worried about tech, however, Bassett made it clear that his team hadn’t taken any chances. “The car is 100% legal,” he said with a convincing grin, “we’re going to be fine.”
Campbell, for his part, led the most laps and deserves a pat on the back for being one of the toughest cars on the track all night despite being ill.
“I’ve been sick with flu-like symptoms all week and haven’t had very many fluids in me,” said an extremely pale Campbell after the event. “It’s a shame I didn’t have anything left because my guys did a heck of a job and this Ford crate motor really helped keep us in the race. I’m just exhausted and glad it’s over and that we could run second.”
Miedecke did finish third, right ahead of Kyle Grissom. Points leader Brennan Poole was fifth - his worst finish of the year - after never really being in contention all evening.
Results – UARA STARS 150
1 04 Ronnie Bassett, Jr.
2 72 Garrett Campbell
3 9 George Miedecke
4 31 Kyle Grissom
5 7 Brennan Poole
6 36 Harrison Rhodes
7 54 Kaleb Pressley
8 03 Randy Hawkins
9 23 Matt Kurzejewski
10 60 R.A. Brown
11 81 Jeremy Burns
12 1 Clay Alexander
13 92 Candace Muzny
14 48 Scott Turlington
15 09 Darrick Coomer
16 26 Joey Herques
17 77 Alex Yontz
18 32 Jerry Miracle
19 10 Andy Mercer
20 94 Brad Cox
21 71 Thomas Beane
22 22 Jimmy Simmons
23 11 Robert Johnson, III
24 18 David Roberts