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.
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.
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.
McCarter goes 20th-to-second to win title by 5 points, Bronson collects another $10k for finale victory
Kyle Bronson’s dominance at Volusia Speedway Park’s Sunshine Nationals continued Saturday night with an unexpected win.
Michael Page was initially declared the winner of the DIRTcar Pro Late Model Feature, beating everyone to the checkered flag first, but faced a disqualification following a post-race technical inspection.
It was determined by DIRTcar and Crate Racin’ USA officials that Page’s car had a valve spring installation height infraction, nullifying his victory. Upon a passing inspection of Bronson’s engine, Bronson was awarded the $10,000 check and declared the Feature winner.
“Anytime you can make some money, it’s always good. You hate to win ‘em that way, but we all know how these deals are going in. You’ve got to be 100 percent right,” Bronson said.
Mack McCarter was determined the overall Sunshine Nationals mini-series champion of the Pro Late Model division after back-to-back second-place finishes, beating Bronson 140 to 135 points over the two contested races.
Bronson began his charge to the front from outside the third row, using the early caution flags to his advantage by doing some of his passing work on the restarts. By Lap 6, he had cracked the top-three and was hot on the trail of second-place Joseph Joiner and leader Page.
Bronson was able to get by Joiner on Lap 13, setting him up for a charge through lapped traffic in pursuit of Page, who was a few car-lengths ahead. Bronson was able to close the gap to just over .3 seconds before Page pulled away again, and a final yellow was displayed with just eight laps remaining.
When the checkered fell, Bronson was unable to get ahead of Page at the stripe, leaving him with a runner-up finish but only for a few hours. Page’s technical inspection wrapped up after midnight on Sunday; Bronson passed his and was declared the winner in the early morning hours.
This victory now makes four Feature wins in five starts for the Brandon, FL-native in Sunshine Nationals Pro Late Model competition after sweeping all three Features last year, and two total on the weekend after his World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series triumph Thursday night.
“We won $10,000, motor got torn down and was 100 percent right and everything passed. So, I’m more than happy with it. We won two races this week for $20,000 and it’s going to help us pay for Speedweeks a little bit,” Bronson said.
Outside of Victory Lane was another unsung hero, making his Sunshine Nationals and Volusia Speedway Park debut, and he did not disappoint. Twenty-seven-year-old Mack McCarter put on a dazzling display of passing on both nights in his first-ever appearance, coming all the way from 20th to cross the line in third Saturday. He was later awarded a second-place finish following Page’s disqualification.
McCarter, of Gatlinburg, TN, was awarded Hard Charger honors on both nights, passing 17 cars Thursday en route to his runner-up finish and 18 cars (17 on-track) Saturday. As impressive as the run was, he knew he may have had something for the leader had he started farther forward.
“Our racecar is really good when [the track] blows off and gets kinda dirty,” McCarter said. “We qualified really well but the invert put us behind in the Heat and we didn’t tighten-up enough. I think if we would have started up front, I would’ve had a good shot to run, and possibly have won.”
Overall, McCarter was pleased with his performance and that of his crew and car builder. Considering he made his first-ever laps on the track just two days prior, coming out of the weekend with two runner-up finishes and an overall mini-series title wasn’t too shabby.
“Just to come down here and run with these guys like Kyle Bronson, outrun him Thursday night and then finish behind him tonight, it just speaks volumes to where our team is,” McCarter said.
McCarter soars from 19th-to-second, Bronson finishes fourth right after World of Outlaws win
The last time Kyle Bronson and Michael Page went head-to-head in DIRTcar Pro Late Model action at Volusia Speedway Park, Bronson got the upper-hand in a furious battle for the inaugural DIRTcar Sunshine Nationals finale victory. On Thursday night, it was Page’s turn to shine.
Page, of Douglasville, GA, led all 25 laps en route to his first victory in the event, snapping Bronson’s three-race win streak that be built in last year by sweeping the weekend and winning all three Pro Late Model Features and clinching the overall event championship.
A big move at the drop of the opening green flag really set Page out front quickly and gave him the advantage he needed over his competition. After redrawing sixth upon winning his Heat Race earlier in the evening, Page came out of Turn 4 considerably lower than the two cars in front of him on the original start and zoomed into third-place, full-bore into Turn 1. By the time he entered Turn 3, Page was the race leader.
The +5-spot differential in one lap made for quite an exciting sequence of passes, showing off the alive-and-well strength of a new power plant under the hood of 2003 MasterSbilt Race Cars chassis that Page used in his runner-up finish in this event last year.
“It’s a new motor, a Matt Bishop racing engine, a local guy around where we live, and that thing ran better than anything I’ve ever drove Crate-wise. And for an old MasterSbilt, that thing will get around the racetrack as good as anything,” Page told DIRTVision pit reporter Ruben Mireles in Victory Lane.
Beyond a few restarts in the second half of the race, not much else gave Page a serious challenge for the top spot. Bronson, however, was stopped just a bit short of his quest to continue his winning streak.
After winning the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series Feature just one hour before, Bronson hopped into his Pro Late Model and went from the pole but did not look as strong as he did with the Outlaws.
Bronson had faded back to sixth at one point but was able to rebound on the late restarts and lock up a fourth-place finish.
One of the race’s biggest highlights outside of the Page-Bronson storylines was the climb of young Tennessean Mack McCarter. He and his #51 came all the way from 19th to finish second in the Feature. McCarter had passed 15 cars in 10 laps and made the most of his time in the podium, even making up a little distance on leader Page in the closing circuits.
But there just was no catching Page and his #18x. His start was just too great, and the car was just too stable for any worthy challengers.
“I just tried to do something; to go where they couldn’t,” Page said. “The car just took off immediately. Sometimes doing whatever they don’t do is the right thing to do, but sometimes it’ll kick you in the butt. But it worked out tonight.”
Magic Man Mark Whitener crossed the stripe in third after a solid run inside the top-six the entire distance. Driving for Dale Mosley Racing this weekend, he really had a handle on his Pro Late Model ride, setting a new personal-best finish in the event.
The Sunshine Nationals action continues Friday night with more Pro Late Model, World of Outlaws, 602 Late Model and Florida Late Model action from Volusia Speedway Park on night #2 of the DIRTcar Sunshine Nationals. Catch all the action live on DIRTVision!
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.
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.
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.