Jake Knowles

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.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: DIRTcar Pro Late Models Return with a Strong Field for 2nd annual Sunshine Nationals

Bronson preps for title defense, double duty with Whitener and Matthews

A grand total of 86 Late Models filled the Volusia Speedway Park pit area last year for the Saturday night finale of the inaugural DIRTcar Sunshine Nationals.

This year promises to be even bigger with the addition of a fourth class into the mix, setting some DIRTcar Pro Late Model drivers up for a double duty weekend alongside the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Models as they kick off their season at the event, running Jan. 14-16.

Others will be making their maiden voyage to the event, in hopes to capture the $10,000 top prize in Saturday night’s 30-lap finale. A night of practice on Wednesday will precede Thursday and Friday’s preliminary action; all three nights of racing will be broadcast live on DIRTVision. Get yourself a Fast Pass subscription today and be on the lookout for these drivers in the field to make some waves.

Here are the top storylines to follow at the Sunshine Nationals:

BRONSON EYES REPEAT – The inaugural Sunshine Nationals winner returns in 2021 to defend his DIRTcar Pro Late Model crown behind the wheel of his Racecar Engineering #40B. Last year, the Brandon, FL-native put together a complete weekend sweep, setting fast time in practice Wednesday night before winning all three Pro Late Model Features Thursday-Saturday and collecting $13,500 in first-place money for his efforts. After watching him take down headline Late Model names such as Michael Page, Randy Weaver and Max Blair in last year’s finale, Killer is the clear favorite heading into the 2nd annual event.

This year, with the addition of the World of Outlaws to the racing program, Bronson is expected to pull the double, racing in both classes while chasing after his second career Outlaws victory.

Bronson’s new Pro Late Model ride for 2021

MAGIC MAN RETURNS – Another Floridian with a chance to make it happen in this year’s event is Mark Whitener. He’ll also be pulling double duty in his Pro Late Model and Super Late Model with the Outlaws, looking for his first career victory in the event. Magic Man had a decent showing in last year’s event with the Pro Late Models with a fourth-place finish in Saturday’s finale. He struggled Friday night, dropping out early after starting on the outside pole, but is ready for redemption this time around.

Whitener has had success in the past at Volusia, landing himself a spot in the World of Outlaws redraw in three of his six DIRTcar Nationals starts last year, following a fifth-place effort in the opening night of Late Model week with the DIRTcar Late Models.

NEW YEAR, NEW CAR – It was an up-and-down kind of event for Jake Knowles in 2020. While he missed the Feature on Thursday night and placed 20th after starting sixth on Saturday, Knowles did have a solid fourth-place run on Friday night that showed he knows how to get around Volusia.

The 35-year-old from Rome, GA, will be starting the year off behind the wheel of a Jason Welshan-owned Savage Chassis house car instead of his usual red/white #66 while his own Savage Chassis is being built. Knowles already has one weekend of competition on the car, finishing 17th in Sunday’s Ice Bowl event at Talladega Short Track.

Jake Knowles’ Savage Chassis ride for the 2021 Sunshine Nationals

MACK ATTACK – The younger of the McCarter brothers, whose father Mitch owns 411 Motor Speedway in Seymour, TN, Mack McCarter comes into this weekend riding a big momentum swing from three consecutive Crate Late Model Feature wins in his last four starts. Mack swept the Crate competition at 411’s Leftover event in November, then went to Volunteer Speedway the next weekend and won the Crate portion of the Drydene Xtreme DIRTcar Series Grinch 40. Look out for this young talent as he makes his debut in the Sunshine Nationals this weekend.

TURNAROUND TIME – Another double-duty pilot from the state of Florida, Hollywood Jeff Mathews is one of the more experienced drivers in the Late Model field. As a former UMP Modified regular, Mathews knows his way around Volusia just as well as anyone else and has shown that on several occasions; most recently picking up a Modified Showdown Feature win in November at Volusia’s Reutimann Memorial.

He did not have the Sunshine Nationals results he was looking for in 2020, with finishes of 16th, 17th and 23rd, but 2021 could be different as Mathews is coming off a year that included four Features wins in his Late Model ventures.