Cory Hedgecock

SUNSHINE MAGIC: Florida’s Mark Whitener powers to DIRTcar Pro Late Model victory

“The Magic Man” won the opening race for the DIRTcar Pro Late Models at Sunshine Nationals

Less than 24 hours after sitting upside down in his Super Late Model, Mark Whitener climbed out of his DIRTcar Pro Late Model with a straw hat on his head and a smile on his face.

The Middleburg, FL driver found strength in his consistency and pure will to claim the first DIRTcar Pro Late Model Sunshine Nationals victory of the week Friday evening at Volusia Speedway Park – after the race was postponed from Thursday night.

Whitener “The Magic Man” said he was sore and battled brake issues in the final half of the 25-lap Feature, but knew he had a strong new Savage chassis underneath him.

“I knew I had a pretty good hot rod,” Whitener said. “This is a new car for us. Thanks to Jason Welshan at Savage (Chassis). That was scary in the Super last night. My hands are sore. I’m sore all over… but to be in Victory Lane for this Sunshine deal, it’s pretty much at home for us. Just appreciate everyone that puts this show on. Everybody is doing the best job they can.”

Shan Smith led the field to the initial green flag with Whitener in tow. The two paced ahead of the field in the early stage of the race, while Nevin Gainey made his way from fifth to third in the first two laps.

Smith held a strong command of the lead around the half-mile track until lap traffic became a hindrance. During an attempt to pass a group of slower cars around the outside, Smith was pushed out of the groove into a dirty lane, losing grip and allowing Whitener to sneak underneath him. The two raced side by side for a straightaway before Whitener launched ahead with the lead and never looked back.

“When I was leading and got to lap traffic, I should’ve just rode in behind those guys but I was afraid that Mark (Whitener) was going to dive out there to the outside and just drive around me and I’d get caught with my pants down. I just dive-bombed those guys around the outside and they kind of hung me out to dry when I was lapping them. That was the race.

“Basically, if you got off the bottom you were done. So, I want to thank all my guys for helping me and supporting me. We’ve been busting our butts like everyone else here.”

Whitener lost his rear brakes with 10 laps to go and had to readjust his approach to each corner but stayed committed to the bottom. Smith began to pull in Whitener, getting close enough to grab his bumper with eight laps to go. However, he hit a rut in Turn 2 and faded back into the clutches of Cory Hedgecock in third.

Three laps later disaster almost struck Whitener as a car slowed to a near stop in front of him to turn into the pit area, forcing him to lock his brakes and wrangle his car straight to avoid a collision. That allowed Smith and Hedgecock one last attempt at Whitener.

The “Magic Man” was in another dimension, however, needing only a corner to distance himself from his hunters again.

He drove away to claim a needed victory in a doubleheader day of racing around The World’s Fastest Half-Mile in which he’ll be pulling double duty with the DIRTcar Pro Late Models and World of Outlaws Late Models.

“I’d just like to thank everybody that is out here,” Whitener said. “All these fans and everybody that helps me on this car. Especially Jason Welshan at Savage Chassis. First night out and this thing was badass.”

UP NEXT
The DIRTcar Pro Late Models return tonight for the second night of the Sunshine Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park. If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch all the action live on DIRTVision.

Tickets for the Sunshine Nationals are available at the track or by clicking HERE.

RESULTS
1. 5-Mark Whitener[2]; 2. 32-Shan Smith[1]; 3. 23-Cory Hedgecock[6]; 4. 17-Nevin Gainey[5]; 5. 05-David Whitener[9]; 6. 6-Clay Harris[8]; 7. 66K-Dylan Knowles[7]; 8. 4-Rye Faulk[10]; 9. 66-Jody Knowles[3]; 10. 22-Jeremy Steele[13]; 11. 10-CChad Olsen[15]; 12. 2-Trynt Lloyd[16]; 13. 01G-Jason Garver[18]; 14. 71-Bo Allen[20]; 15. 28M-Sam Mars[12]; 16. 66-JJake Knowles[26]; 17. 2W-Justin Williams[21]; 18. 17SSJR-Brenden Smith[24]; 19. 127-Austin Yarbrough[23]; 20. 45T-Tom Fiebelkorn[19]; 21. 51-Mikey Kopka[22]; 22. 01-Jason Welshan[25]; 23. 38-Garrett Mosley[11]; 24. 25-Donnie Chappell[17]; 25. 00S-Richie Stephens[14]; 26. 14-Wil Herrington[4]

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Pro Late Models Set to Tackle Third Annual Sunshine Nationals at Volusia

Whitener, Hedgecock, McCarter and more set to battle for $10,000 grand prize on Saturday

The first two editions of the DIRTcar Sunshine Nationals saw the Pro Late Models with the highest car count of any division on the card. That trend looks to continue this weekend as the best Crate-engine drivers in the nation gather at Volusia Speedway Park in search of one $10,000 grand prize.

A night of practice starts the on-track activity on Wednesday, Jan. 19, followed by two nights of preliminary racing action before the finale on Saturday night. The Pro (604) Late Models race for $1,500 on Thursday, $2,000 on Friday and the $10,000 check on Saturday, making this one of the most lucrative Crate Late Model races on the winter racing calendar.

All three nights of racing will be broadcast live on DIRTVision. Sign up for a FAST PASS subscription today and be on the lookout for the following drivers to make some noise this weekend.

Here are the drivers to watch and storylines to follow this weekend…

MAGIC SHOW – Mark Whitener, of Middleburg, FL, comes into the Sunshine Nationals as one of the most accomplished 604 Crate Late Model racers in the field. Last season, he won two Crate Racin’ USA Challenge Series events en route to the Series title, plus a $10,000 marquee victory in the RUSH-sanctioned Bill Emig Memorial event last summer.

Magic Man was a threat to win on both nights of Sunshine Nationals Pro Late Model competition last year, coming in third behind Michael Page and Mack McCarter in the Thursday night prelim before a sixth-place run in Saturday’s finale to cap off the weekend.

Jacy Norgaard Photo

ON A MISSION – If there’s any driver coming to Volusia this weekend with a strong sense of vengeance, it’s Super Late Model veteran Michael Page.

Page, of Douglasville, GA, is one of only two Pro Late Model Feature winners in event history, breaking inaugural champion Kyle Bronson’s event win streak with a victory in the opening night last year. After a wash-out on Friday, Page took to the track for the Saturday finale and dominated to win the 30-lap event, or so it seemed at first. Upon a failed post-race engine inspection, Page was disqualified, handing the win over to runner-up Bronson.

This weekend, Page is projected to be in the Pro Late Model field once again, aiming to win the big show and avenge his lost championship from 2021.

MACK IS BACK – Mack McCarter, the 2021 Sunshine Nationals Pro Late Model champion from Gatlinburg, TN, returns to Volusia this weekend to defend his title just one year after denying Bronson of a repeat.

McCarter had an impressive showing against a 64-car field last year, finishing runner-up on both nights of competition. Over 55 total Feature laps, McCarter advanced 35 spots of position, going 19th-second on Thursday and 20th-second on Saturday. For his efforts, a shiny trophy for his cabinet after edging out Bronson for the title by five points.

Jacy Norgaard Photo

CRATE MASTER – Two-time Crate Racin’ USA champion Cory Hedgecock joins the Pro Late Model field this weekend, looking for his first trip to Sunshine Nationals Victory Lane after winning big two weekends ago in Alabama.

Hedgecock, of Loudon, TN, has the early season momentum rolling with a win in the Crate Late Model portion of the annual Ice Bowl event at Talladega Short Track, defeating several Crate touring regulars he’ll encounter again this weekend.

Hedgecock’s Sunshine Nationals track record has been strong as well, coming home 8th in the 2020 finale, followed by a third-place to McCarter and Bronson last year.

TRIPLE THREAT – The cousin-trio of Jody, Jake and Dylan Knowles are all projected to be in attendance this weekend, chasing their first Sunshine Nationals victories.

Dylan was crowned champion of Crate Racin’ USA’s Winter Shootout Series in 2021. Jake finished third in Crate Racin’ points last year and ran second to Hedgecock at Talladega two weeks ago, while Jody ran two spots behind in fourth.

Jake and Jody have both made the Sunshine Nationals big show on Saturday night in both years they’ve competed. All three drivers made the finale last year as well; Jake topped the clan with a ninth-place finish.