Mobile, Ala. – It was a busy day in the Pro and Super Late Model world on Saturday with Pro Late action kicking off in Alabama as well as the first-ever combined event between the ARCA-CRA Super Series and ARCA Midwest tour at Toledo Speedway in Ohio.
More on the latter at the end of this post but first, Junior Niedecken and Bryce Dulabhan shared feature victories in Saturday's Midwest Cooling Towers Pro Late Model season-opener at Mobile International Speedway on Saturday.
The Speedway introduced a new format for the Pro Lates with 50-laps being split into two distinct features – both paying points and cash. The first amounted to a 20-lap heat and was won by Dulabhan while Niedecken won the 30-lap main event.
Midwest Cooling Towers Pro Late Model 30
Niedecken scored an impressive victory, his first in several years, holding off defending Mobile Speedway champion and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team owner Josh Bragg for the final 26 laps.
“We don’t race as much as we used to but this is a feeling that doesn’t get old,” Niedecken said in victory lane. “Josh gave me a good shove and I thought he might have enough but we were able to keep it pinned on the bottom.”
Bobby Baria missed a shift at the start of the race and the field crunched-up behind him. Jeremy Pate, David Jones and Elliott Massey all made contact with each other, sending Massey sideways in front of the field and littering debris all over the racetrack.
Massey and Pate pitted for repairs during the cleanup process, sending them to the back of the field for a complete restart. This is the standard procedure for Mobile at any time an accident slows the race before a single lap can be completed.
Jones opted to stay on the track despite heavy right front damage.
Eric Wilkerson was shot out of the proverbial cannon on the complete restart but couldn't shake Niedecken. The veteran stuck with Wilkerson and completed the pass on turns one and two at the start of the fourth lap. Josh Bragg followed into second.
A silent pace was established by lap six as the field spread out seemingly to avoid another major multicar accident. That was the case for most of the field except Pate, who restarted in the back but quickly marched into top-three by lap 11.
With Pate marching forward, second-place Bragg turned up the heat on Niedecken by lap 20, making contact with the veteran off the exit of turn two. Additional taps would come on laps 23 and 24 but Niedecken wouldn’t budge.
Bragg appeared to have the faster car in the closing stages but just couldn't navigate around Niedecken's defensive line at the bottom of the track. Bragg ran a conservative race, already thinking about consecutive championships and allowed Niedecken to celebrate one of the longest-awaited victories in track history.
Pate, Dulabhan and Jones completed the top-five.
Pro Late Model 20
Bryce Dulabhan captured the first 20-lap Midwest Cooling Towers Pro Late Model feature earlier in the evening and did so on the prowess of his restarts.
Twice the first Pro Late Model feature was stopped for an accident and twice did Dulabhan quickly escape Josh Bragg and Pensacola's Jeremy Pate on the ensuing restart.
Foreshadowing the main event, Bragg appeared faster than Dulabhan over the final five laps but was ultimately unable to shove the Fairhope-native off the bottom of racing surface. On the final lap, Dulabhan arched wide entering turn three and gave Bragg a look at the inside line but shut the door off the exit of turn four and pulled away by the start-finish line.
Jeremy Pate, Junior Niedecken and David Jones completed the top-five.
Montgomery Motor Speedway and commentary on competition
Just two hours up the road from Mobile saw Montgomery Motor Speedway open its Pro Late Model season with a pair of 60-lap features swept by Justin South. This led me to wonder why Mobile and Montgomery would both run Pro Late Model shows on the same night less than 200 miles apart from each other.
Mobile featured 10 Late Models while Montgomery featured 12. Put them together and that makes a solid field of 22 race cars -- more than a ticket’s value on an average Saturday night. I’m not blaming either track promoter for this happening but I am advocating more communication between all the tracks on the Gulf Coast to coordinate their plans in the same way the Southern Super Series has coordinated all of the same tracks Super Late Model efforts.
A dedicated state or regional tour for Pro Late Models could receive the same level of interest as the Southern Super Series in the same way that the CRA and PASS each promote their own brand of Pro Late Model racing.
Johnny VanDoorn wins inaugural ARCA-CRA and ARCA Midwest Tour combined event
In what some in attendance have called an early race of the year candidate, Johnny VanDoorn withstood a late challenge from Chris Wimmer to win the Border Wars 7-Up 150 Super Late Model event at Toledo Speedway.
This event was special on several fronts as it marked the first time the old Midwest Tour has directly competed against the longstanding CRA Super Series. This was made possible as a direct result of the ARCA Racing Series having acquired both Late Model tours over the last five years and establishing a clear-cut ladder system to ARCA and perhaps NASCAR.
The event at Toledo drew nearly 40 cars and several teams had to be cut from the final starting lineup in a last chance race. I can’t imagine this one not living up to the hype and the ARCA radio crew whom called the race certainly made it seem that way.
I more than regret missing this one and hope to put it on my 2014 calendar.
But what about you, grassroots racing fan? What did you watch on Saturday night? Share your stories and pictures in the comment section below.