Story and photo by Rhonda Beck 

Michael Brown Gets First World of Outlaws Late Model Victory at Cherokee Speedway

There was a lot of excitement and a few surprises last weekend when the World of Outlaws Dirt Late Models made their stop at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, SC. From local drivers, racers running regional series like the Carolina Clash, Ultimate and SAS Dirt series, and the World of Outlaw regulars, the competition made for a good field both nights. The Mid-East late models, modifieds and street stocks series also put on a good show.

The race weekend was held to honor Rock Gault, former owner and promoter for Cherokee Speedway. Gault was known to many people especially around the area and regionally in the Southeast.

“He was a good person. He was over here every day working on this racetrack,” said Dick Franklin, father of Dennis ‘Rambo’ Franklin who is a previous winner of the race.

Stanley, NC’s Brian Ledbetter, who hopes to contend in the Ultimate Super Late Model series again this year, came to Cherokee Speedway a lot in the past, both as a fan and a racer.

“I remember coming down here with my uncle some—back when he (Rock Gault) run it. Back when it was actually the big track, not the little track it is now,” said Ledbetter. “I ran on it before they shortened it. When it was a half-mile we run limited down here a couple times. And I’m pretty good friends with Mike. So the Gault family’s been pretty good to us.”

Anthony Sanders, of Spartanburg, N.C., finished 16th and 15th in the weekend’s World of Outlaws main events. He commented on the significance of the memorial race.

“Oh yeah, old Gault, he was a good one. Used to ride around in his little pickup truck. He made sure he’d stop and talk to everybody at his racetrack nearly every week. He was a good man and he done a lot for Cherokee Speedway. Definitely a good thing to run in his memory and try to keep his legacy going,” said Sanders.

Earlier on Friday, Lancaster, SC’s Michael Brown, who had just spoken to Mike Gault in the pits, talked about his chances to bring home a good finish. Brown, the 2021 Carolina Clash champion who recently became a dad, was one of the 40 super late model drivers hoping to get a victory in the Rock Gault Memorial.

“I’ve heard a lot about him. I’m just a first generation driver so I didn’t have anybody in my family that raced. So it’s definitely gonna be special to just to win the race, especially for what he’s done for this area,” said Brown. “And being able to win with the World of Outlaws too. Definitely looking forward to this night for sure.”

Brown went on to do just that; he dove to the inside in turn two to take the lead from second-place finisher Ryan Gustin of Marshalltown, IA in Friday’s main event. Centerville, PA’s Max Blair crossed the line in third.

Those who have followed Brown for many years were thrilled with his victory. People know him in the Southeast because he runs regularly at tracks like Cherokee Speedway, Lancaster Speedway and Carolina Speedway.

Carolina Clash promoter Marion Limbaugh commented on Brown’s win, after starting out his season the week before at Lancaster Speedway in Lancaster, SC.

“Michael Brown is the 2021 Carolina Clash champion. He had a good run at Lancaster going last week, running third, and the car run hot and pulled in. After the race he commented he really felt he had a hot rod and a chance of winning that race–felt real strong about it,” said Limbaugh. “I think last night he proved that because I felt like he had a pretty dominating performance. Talked to him after the race and he was pretty ecstatic about winning a World of Outlaws race.”

Fellow competitor Zack Mitchell of Enoree, SC and the 2017 Carolina Clash champion finished seventh on Saturday in the World of Outlaws main event. He was happy to see Michael Brown’s victory on Friday.

“Me and Michael, we’ve actually been racing go-karts since we were kids and so it’s always good to see one of your friends do good, no doubt. I feel we’ve both been really good competitors coming up through the ranks. Michael, he’s a great guy, and I couldn’t be happier for him,” said Mitchell.

On Saturday, Brown reflected on the victory and the celebration with his crew.

“I just told them guys to enjoy the moment last night ‘cause this stuff is definitely so tough and there’s a good possibility tonight not to have the speed we had last night. So we just enjoyed the moment last night and will try our best again tonight and see where we shake out,” said Brown.

Brown appreciates the local fans and those who come out to see him race.

“It was really nice. It meant a lot to me to get so many people texting me, congratulations and stuff like that. I definitely appreciate the support that I’ve been shown over the last 24 hours, so it’s really been nice,” said Brown.

And back when Brown ran crate late models, he had a special car owner named Sonny Elliott who helped him get his start. Elliott has since passed away, but Brown figured he’d be happy about the victory.

“Oh yeah, I can definitely tell you that he’s definitely ecstatic up in heaven watching us. So that’s pretty neat. I really do wish he could be with us, but I’m sure he watched it and he had a better view last night than we all did,” said Brown.

On Saturday night, Brown finished 14th in the main event, which was won by World of Outlaws Rookie of the Year contender Max Blair of Centerville, Pa. Clover, SC’s Ross Bailes was second and Daulton Wilson of Fayetteville, NC came home in third.

Other weekend winners at Cherokee Speedway included John Ruggiero, Jr. in the Mid-East Late Models on Friday, Mitchell Duvall in the Mid-East Street Stocks on Friday, Austin Holcombe in the Mid-East Modifieds on Saturday and Calob McLaughlin in the Mid-East Street Stocks on Saturday.

Clover, SC’s Ross Bailes Wins Drydene Xtreme DIRTcar Championship

It was a tight race between drivers from the Carolinas for the Drydene Xtreme DIRTcar Championship last weekend at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, SC. It came down to the final race on Saturday night, March 26, 2022 where Clover, S.C.’s Ross Bailes finished second in the World of Outlaws main event while Lancaster’s Ben Watkins finished 17th and Concord, NC’s Carson Ferguson, 11th. The runs resulted in Bailes earning the points championship, with Watkins second and Ferguson, third.

Earlier in the weekend Concord, NC’s Carson Ferguson talked about his first year running a super late model and he acknowledged the help he has received from Ross Bailes and Ben Watkins, his top competitors for the Xtreme DIRTcar championship.

“I guess that one race put me far back and they’ve had good finishes so far and a great season. Congrats to them on that. That’s really hard to do, especially with the competition, how equal everybody is. But like I said before, them two have helped me a lot through the years,” said Ferguson. “It’s a lot of money to win–$15,000.  I know all of us could use that. I’m glad it’s all three of us and if I can’t win, I’m glad them two definitely have a good shot.”

It was also Ferguson’s first time racing with the World of Outlaws Late Models Series. He finished 26th on Friday but received Saturday night’s Hard Charger award, advancing 13 positions and finishing 11th. Early in the weekend he talked about some of the series drivers he respected and wanted to do well against.

“Obviously ‘Sheppy’ (Brandon Sheppard) and Dennis Erb and all them. They do it for a living and they always run up front for a reason. You kinda watch how they drive and the tendencies that some of the guys have you know with taking air away. How close they run you and how close they don’t run you. And who is going to be more aggressive,” said Ferguson. “I’ve been watching them a lot. Like I said, I don’t know how any of ‘em race. This is my first World of Outlaws race. So I’m really excited for it. Hopefully we’ll have the home team power here and run good.”

Lancaster, SC’s Ben Watkins finished 22nd on Friday and 17th on Saturday, but it was enough to take second in the Drydene Xtreme DIRTcar Series championship.

Watkins talked about Cherokee Speedway being a bit of a challenge to him.

“I’ve had laps around here but to say that I’m comfortable, would be a reach. I still just don’t feel as comfortable as I want to feel around here yet. With this being the last two races of the Winter series , we’re on our toes but still hopeful,” said Watkins.

Watkins also had praise for his teammate, Carson Ferguson as well as Ross Bailes.

“Ross has been racing a while. He’s always somebody that’s been fast and local around here so definitely I’ve looked up to him,” said Watkins.

“And like with Carson–I look at Carson more as a teammate. We have a lot of mutual people together so at anytime I can go over there and we can feed off of each other. It’s pretty much an open notebook between him and me, which is definitely helpful. And with Carson, with the success and the driver that I know he is–even though he’s early in this super deal–I still ask advice from him. I can rely on his information to help me as well,” said Watkins.

Clover, SC’s Ross Bailes, who won the Dryden Xtreme DIRTcar series championship, has several people who keep his program going and his cars ready to run. One person is Billy LB Hicks, son of dirt late model racer and 1997 Carolina Speedway Shrine 100 winner Bill Hicks.

“Working with Ross is very fun and challenging—haha. He can drive just about anything and make it look good, so it can be difficult tweaking the setup as he can just drive around imperfections. He and Dad have similar ways of explaining how a car feels and drive similar styles, so they communicate well and that helps,” said Hicks.

“We plan on going to Bulls Gap, Wytheville and Tazwell next,” said Bailes.

Mount Holly’s Chris Ferguson won the $50,000 race on Saturday, March 26, 2022 at Bristol and also came up with two seconds and one third place finish to place third in the final points standings. Gray Court, S.C.’s Chris Madden won the overall points $100,000 championship at Bristol with two wins and two second-place finishes. Dale McDowell won the final night’s main event at Bristol. Michael Brown plans to race again in a couple weeks in FloRacing Night at Eldora Speedway. More information on current weekend events plus other local and regional drivers and thoughts on their seasons will be featured next week.