Jeff Mathews

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.

SUNSHINE SHOWDOWNS: Allgaier, Dixon, Nicely, Mathews Win Reutimann Memorial Prelim Features at Volusia

Twenty drivers now locked into Saturday’s 50-lap, $5,000-to-win main event

BARBERVILLE, FL – Nov. 20, 2020 – Fifty-two of the best DIRTcar UMP Modified drivers in the country assembled at the Volusia Speedway Park Friday night for the preliminary night of action at the 7th annual Emil & Dale Reutimann Memorial. Twenty names have since punched their ticket into Saturday’s $5,000-to-win main event.

Four 15-lap Showdown Features hit the track after two groups of Qualifying, locking the top-five finishers into Saturday’s Feature and taking the top-two into the redraw.

Showdown Feature #1 – Justin Allgaier

He hasn’t been able to drive his Federated Auto Parts #7 Elite Chassis as much as he would have liked to in 2020, but Justin Allgaier looked as if he had been in the car all season Friday night with a flag-to-flag victory in the first Showdown Feature.

Grabbing the lead into Turn 1 from the outside pole on the opening lap, Allgaier fought off all challengers from behind, including his chassis builder and 2020 DIRTcar UMP Modified national champion Nick Hoffman, for the $500 victory.

Hoffman held on for second, sending both he and Allgaier to the redraw. Also transferring into the Feature were Austin Holcombe, David Stremme and Chris Arnold.

Allgaier’s been steadily working on his dirt program recently and said he feels very comfortable with the car and the crew working tirelessly behind him. Hoffman’s been in his car for most of the season and has provided both he and Allgaier with a great opportunity to pick up the big $5,000 victory Saturday night.

“Well, tomorrow’s 50 laps, tonight was only 15,” Allgaier said of his outlook to Saturday. “I’ve got to not make a mistake. There’s a lot of guys tonight that got caught-out by the track conditions in Qualifying. The conditions tonight suited my driving style really well. But if it gets slick tomorrow, which I think it will, Nick’s [Hoffman] gonna be incredible. I know it.”

UMP Modifieds Feature 1 (15 Laps) RESULTS

  1. 7-Justin Allgaier[2]; 2. 2-Nick Hoffman[3]; 3. 8A-Austin Holcombe[4]; 4. 35-David Stremme[6]; 5. 99W-Chris Arnold[1]; 6. 36-Kenny Wallace[8]; 7. 14D-David Taylor[5]; 8. 11R-Jesse Rupe[13]; 9. 40-Shawn Reiss[11]; 10. (DNF) 27-Jason Garver[9]; 11. (DNF) 1R-Ryan Rackley[7]; 12. (DNF) 72-Todd Neiheiser[10]; 13. (DNF) 32-Bruce Martin[12]

Showdown Feature #2 – Devin Dixon

Through the first half of the second Showdown Feature, it appeared as though the event’s Best Appearing Car Award winner Rich Dawson was going to drive away flawlessly for the win. But Apollo Beach, FL’s Devin Dixon had other plans.

Dawson won the battle into Turn 1 on the opening lap, but Dixon never let him out of sight. A restart five laps in gave Dixon the opportunity he needed to make the move, which he did to Dawson’s inside in Turn 1 after furiously reeling him in lap-by-lap.

“Once we got going there, [Dawson] took off pretty good and then he started fading a little bit the later the race went, and we started getting better. Down there into [Turn] 1, he jumped the cushion a little bit and I just slid him, and it was on from there,” Dixon said.

From that point forward, Dixon set it on cruise and was never challenged for the lead again as he drove across the stripe, punching his ticket to the redraw with runner-up Dawson. Steve Stevenson, Ryan Ayers and Rich Pratt also transferred to the 50-lap Feature.

UMP Modifieds Feature 2 (15 Laps) RESULTS

  1. 313-Devin Dixon[2]; 2. 80-Rich Dawson[1]; 3. 1-Steve Stevenson[3]; 4. 6-Ryan Ayers[6]; 5. 13P-Rich Pratt[8]; 6. M20-Mike Petoskey[7]; 7. 1SJ-Josh Sanford[9]; 8. 57-Mark Grosvenor[12]; 9. 33K-Kenny Mihalik[5]; 10. 80P-Paul Shead[10]; 11. 7N7-Jeff Solinger[11]; 12. (DNF) 96-Cole Parker[4]; 13. (DNF) 73-Mark Rhoades[13]

Showdown Feature #3 – Tyler Nicely

For the first weekend out in a brand-new car, Tyler Nicley’s certainly gotten off to a great start.

After laying down the night’s fastest lap in Qualifying of 18.740, a $250 cash prize courtesy of the Reutimann family, Nicely grabbed the lead from the pole of the third Showdown Feature and never once even thought about giving it up. The Owensboro, KY-native led every single lap en route to the redraw and $500 prize with runner-up Maverick Varnadore.

Even when he proved a green-white-checkered finish could not throw him off of his game, at the end of the day, Nicely was still looking for more speed.

“We weren’t as good as we wanted to be in that Feature,” Nicely said. “Just tried to get the car to work well on the bottom and rotating. Tomorrow night will be different, 50 laps. Hopefully the track slows down a lot and we get a good redraw.”

Also transferring into the 50-lap Feature was two-time event winner David Reutimann, Troy Johnson and Seth Geary.

UMP Modifieds Feature 3 (15 Laps) RESULTS

  1. 25-Tyler Nicely[1]; 2. 4-Maverick Varnadore[4]; 3. 00D-David Reutimann[2]; 4. 2J-Troy Johnson[3]; 5. 7G-Seth Geary[6]; 6. 17G-Brandon Grossman[7]; 7. 141-Justin Galbreath[8]; 8. 99-Ronnie Chance[9]; 9. 62E-Kim Edington[12]; 10. 206-Larry Mott[10]; 11. 3C-Tony Campbell[13]; 12. 1S-Brian Shaw[11]; 13. 18-Eric Moon[5]

Showdown Feature #4 – Jeff Mathews

The 2017 Reutimann Memorial Feature winner had absolutely no problem putting himself in position to win it a second time Friday night. Jeff Mathews did just that with a flag-to-flag victory in the fourth and final Showdown Feature.

Mathews took the lead at the drop of the green and never looked back, leading every lap en route to the $500 victory and a spot in the redraw with runner-up Garrett Stewart.

Even the restarts Mathews faced along the way could not slow his momentum. But he knows Saturday is the big one, and he’ll have to be extra prepared to be there at the end of 50 laps.

“We didn’t really know which direction we wanted to go, if we wanted to be getting tighter or freeing-up, or trying to stay neutral,” Mathews said of his car setup. “I think we made the right call, but tomorrow’s a whole different ball game. We’ve got 50 laps, and I don’t think we’ll have this type of racetrack tomorrow night.”

Justin Haley, Travis Vanadore and Buzzie Reutimann also transferred into the Feature. Reutimann, the 79-year-old racing legend from Zephyrhills, FL, was perhaps the biggest star of the entire show when he was spun sideways about halfway through the race, gathered it back in on the restart and hung on to the fifth and final transfer spot to punch his ticket into the big show.

UMP Modifieds Feature 4 (15 Laps) RESULTS

  1. 33-Jeff Matthews[1]; 2. 67-Garrett Stewart[2]; 3. 11-Justin Haley[3]; 4. 205-Travis Vanadore[7]; 5. 00-Buzzie Reutimann[5]; 6. 24B-Dillon Buhr[4]; 7. 39W-Brandon Wells[6]; 8. 11Z-Zane Oedewaldt[8]; 9. 21-Sean Monaghan[11]; 10. 2D-Ray Durrence Jr[10]; 11. 17-Patrick Vareika[12]; 12. (DNF) 10-Dustin Thayer[9]; 13. (DNF) 27S-Paul Schloss[13]

UP NEXT

The Reutimann Memorial action continues Saturday evening for the DIRTcar UMP the Modifieds, beginning with the redraw, Last Chance events and closing with the 50-lap, $5,000-to-win Feature. Catch all the action LIVE on DIRTVision!