Story and photo by Rhonda Beck

Ross Bailes, of Clover, SC, won for a second weekend in a row with the Ultimate Super Late Model Series, taking a commanding lead and running away with the victory in The Mike Butler Memorial at Cherokee Speedway on May 29, 2022. Zack Mitchell gradually made his way to the front and surged to second on a late race restart. Trent Ivey, the night’s fast qualifier, finished third.

Bailes had known Mike Butler early on in his career.

“He used to take pictures back when I first started. He was a real nice guy and always would come up and talk to us. It was cool to win that race dedicated to him,” said Bailes.

Tires choices seemed to have made a difference in the night’s results.

“Yeah, I mean we qualified good. Trent, you know, he beat us by a couple thousandths. But then we chose a softer tire than he did, and I think that’s what helped us make the jump and get out front. I was just able to get by a couple lap cars and that held them up a little bit. We also had a really good car, so it just all worked out for us,” said Bailes.

“I said on the front stretch that usually getting a third would be like a win, but that ain’t the case this time. We were glad we got a decent run, but I think we could have won the race. We went with a different tire,” said Ivey. “I dropped back to fourth at the beginning with a hard tire and then it come on in the middle of the race and I run Ross down from like nine seconds to one and a half. So I was catching him and then I let it cool off too much under caution and it never got fired back up. But it was still good. I think we’ve got a really good racecar.”

Both Bailes and Ivey will head to Eldora this coming week for the Eldora Million.

Earlier in the day, Cherokee Speedway’s co-promoter Tony Adair, spoke about Mike Butler’s legacy and the race.

“Mike was a special guy. He was the photographer down here at Cherokee Speedway for many years. He loved racing. He loved the Pure Stock division. And the Pure Stock division has grown with the help of the fans and a lot of racers and a lot of people involved in racing to $3000-to-win tonight, which is just unheard of in Pure Stock. It was always his favorite division and we always run Pure Stock for The Mike Butler Memorial,” said Adair.

Adair noted that the large crowd was also there to see the Ultimate Super Late Model Series as well as other divisions.

“They have a real great following with the Ultimate Series and they always get several big names at all their shows. They do a real good job with it; we’re expecting it to be off the chart tonight. And I mean, everything else is running. We’ve got the Mid-East Thunder Bomber Series race for $1500-to-win; you’ve got Mid-East Street Stock for $1500-to-win; Front Wheel Drive was added to the schedule on Tuesday and I think it’s up to $900-to-win already; and MMSA Stock Four, $1500-to-win. We’ve also got Mini Late Models tonight for a $1000-to-win. I expect it to be a packed house,” said Adair.

Two motorsports photographers who have shot races at Cherokee Speedway and were there for the event included Steve Moore and Zackery Kloosterman. They discussed Butler’s impact.

“Unfortunately I didn’t know Mike, but I’ve tried to attend every memorial they’ve had. With the Ultimates being here it’ll be a pretty good crowd for the supers. And of course, we’ve got the $3000-to-win Pure Stock and that should be an interesting show in itself,” said Moore who shoots all the different classes of racecars on a regular basis.

“I do the supers, but so many people do photograph the supers. I try to get the all the winner’s circle shots with all the classes. I like to concentrate on them just as well as the supers because they need the photos and the publication and attention as well as anybody,” said Moore.

As far as Cherokee Speedway, Moore feels it is one of the better tracks in the Southeast.

“They draw the Outlaws, they draw Lucas, and of course, the Ultimate. A lot of people complain about it not still being a half-mile but I mean, it is what it is. They have a lot of action as well as a little bit easier on equipment. I would like to see Cherokee open up, to get away from one lane; a lot of times it’ll rubber up and be one lane. But you can’t beat the racing at Cherokee,” said Moore.

Zackery Kloosterman made it in time after driving seven hours from Ormond Beach, Fla. that morning to attend the race. Kloosterman has helped in the past, doing the track’s photography after Butler passed away.

“I didn’t know him personally, but when they asked me to fill in for him right after he died, it meant a lot to me–just because of what he done here. I looked up to him a bunch. Because basically Mike was more like the mold for what you’d get here. Big shoes to fill, but I think I done it well. And for these young people who didn’t know him either, I just wished they’da knew him too. He will be missed. Still is,” said Kloosterman.

Kloosterman remembered that when he was there as a spectator, Butler seemed to always do a good job taking control of the situation in victory lane.

“He knew how to run it when the big shows were here. He stood out because he ran it and he represented his home track very well. And I still see stuff floating around from Mike all the time. It’s the old memories and stuff. Mike loved everybody from what I could tell and didn’t really have no favorites. I feel like Scott and Tony’s done well with keeping the Pure Stock here for this event. It’s a little bit of a bummer that they’re not the headliner anymore. But we’ve got the Supers here and Mike loved them just as much,” said Kloosterman.

Kelley Carlton, Director of the Ultimate Super Late Model Series and the Executive Secretary of The National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame, commented on the significance of the race and his connection with Butler.

“Mike was a friend and he was every racer’s friend and we’re really proud to be part of it. It’s a big event for us, one of our highest paying events. $7500-to-win is really nice. We’re excited to put it on for him and of course Cherokee has so much history anyway, so it kind of goes hand in hand. And really neat that Chris Ferguson’s mom Allison–they sent me a message on the way here–they sent us $200 for fast time,” said Carlton.

Mount Holly’s Chris Ferguson had just won his first ever Crown Jewel race the night before in the Show-Me 100 in Wheatland, Mo.

“Yeah, that was a great race last night. It’s super exciting to be here. It’s our first time back this year so this is one of the places where the Ultimate started at. Chris (Ferguson) was the first champion with Ultimate, so it’s kind of full-circle kind of thing,” said Carlton.

Carlton acknowledged the tough competition in the area with Zack Mitchell leading the points, Anthony Sanders, second, Corey Gordon, third and then Brian Ledbetter, Doug Sanders and Dennis ‘Rambo’ Franklin.

“We have some of the best regional guys in the country right here. I do other stuff outside of Ultimate nationally. So people say if you can run at Cherokee, if you can win at Cherokee, you can win anywhere.  I believe that and I believe these locals are really good. Ross (Bailes) is one of the hardest racers there is in the country. And we’ve got Brent Dixon here today; Brent’s been pretty fast the last few times he’s been here. And, of course, Zack’s got his Longhorn keyed in right now. He’s usually not very good at Cherokee but I think he’ll be good today. And I think we’ll have a good show,” said Carlton.

Corey Gordon, currently third in series points, was glad to be at Cherokee. He finished 8th in the night’s main event.

“The Ultimate Series is a good series to run and we go to some good little racetracks around here close to the house. It’s a good little series to follow and race against some really good competition,” said Gordon.

Doug Sanders is also following the series and has had a few good runs in recent weeks.

“We found a few things wrong with the car; we run great at County Line. I was pleased with that, and I was good at Natural Bridge. But I was way off at Virginia. But we’ll see tonight. I left it just like I left Virginia ‘cause it was better in the main than it was the whole night,” said Sanders who finished 13th at Cherokee after a ninth at Natural Bridge.

Ultimate Super Late Models Results, Cherokee Speedway May 28, 2022: 1. Ross Bailes 2. Zack Mitchell 3. Trent Ivey 4. Dennis Franklin 5. Brent Dixon 6. Dale Timms 7. Anthony Sanders 8. Corey Gordon 9. Nick Hoffman 10. Adam Yarbrough 11. Tim Vance 12. Bryson Harper 13. Doug Sanders 14. Larry Grube 15. Brian Ledbetter 16. John Henderson 17. Johnny Pursley 18. Ben Watkins; Fast Time: Trent Ivey 15.117

Winners in the other divisions included:  Sharp Mini Late Models: Jody Sparks; Mid-East Thunder Bomber: Hunter Funderburke; Extreme 4: Newman Presnell; Mid-East Street Stocks: Mitchell Duvall; Pure Stock: Nathan Pierce and MMSA: Matt Gilbert.

Chris Ferguson Wins First Crown Jewel in Show-Me 100; Carson Ferguson Wins the Schaeffer’s Oil Spring Nationals Points Championship

Call it ‘Fergy Firsts’ for what happened last week, even though cousins Chris and Carson Ferguson have found themselves in victory lane many times during their racing careers. But last week, Mount Holly’s Chris Ferguson won his first ever “Crown Jewel” with a victory in the Show Me 100 Lucas Oil race in Wheatland, Mo. while his younger cousin, Concord, N.C.’s Carson Ferguson clinched his first Schaeffer’s Oil Spring Nationals Championship.

Chris Ferguson was still enjoying the past week’s media and accolades for his Lucas Dirt Series win in the Show Me 100 in Wheatland, Mo. After much celebration, Ferguson was back in North Carolina and he reflected on what the Crown Jewel win meant to him.

“Yeah, just am super thankful, gracious; I feel really blessed to join that list of people that’s won that race. Been working my entire career to win a Crown Jewel and we finally were able to do it. And do it in an exciting fashion, to say the least. It’s definitely been a lot of fun this past week,” said Ferguson.

Some of Ferguson’s regular crew wasn’t able to go to the race, but he was thankful for the help he had.

“Unfortunately, with us having to leave on Wednesday night after work, Tadpole and my brother (Brandon Conard) couldn’t come, which that really kind of stinks. But I had a couple guys that come with me that have been with me a couple times this year. They’re new this year and they stepped up and did a great job. And I had one guy that was there that’s from Mo., you know he sponsors us, but he lent a hand. We were able to do it. No matter what the crew was, we made no excuses and went out and got us a big win,” said Ferguson.

Ferguson was happy to add his name to of a phenomenal list of racing greats like Freddy Smith and Ray Cook, who have also won Crown Jewels.

“Naturally me, being a fan of the sport, I’ve known these guys have won Crown Jewels. And it’s not really a super big list from North Carolina, so to join the guys that were my heroes, like Freddy Smith and Ray, is just pretty cool. Just to be able to say that I’m on there now is pretty dang special. And the impact that those guys have had on the sport—Freddy and Ray Cook—to be on any kind of list with them is cool. When you start accomplishing things that your idols did, that’s when you know that you’re headed in the right direction. Pretty tickled with that,” said Ferguson.

He was also happy for his younger cousin’s accomplishment.

“And then I see Carson got his first championship in a super late model in his first year too on top of that. You know, that kid, he’s already light years ahead of where I was in my first year, so I just think he’s going to make it tougher for everybody else. He’s really got the talent and once when he gets the experience, he’s going to be one of the ones to beat. The skies the limit for him and I think he’s set up really, really good right now where he’s at. If he does his job, and wins races and championships, like I think he will, he’s going to be a tough one to outrun. He already is tough to outrun, but he’s going to keep getting better as he progresses as a driver,” said Ferguson.

Carson Ferguson, who had his first super late model win earlier this year at Crossville Speedway in Crossville, Tenn., had solid finishes over Memorial Day weekend with a third at Boyd’s Speedway and a sixth at Duck River Raceway Park. That put him ahead of Payton Freeman and Cla Knight in the final standings.

“We actually didn’t intend on running all the races or even running for that championship,” said Ferguson. “And then I think after the first two or three weekends, we were in the top three in points. We knew we were going to be racing against Payton and Clay Knight and we knew that they were really good in this region.”

Ferguson said they wanted to learn as much as they could, stay close to the competition, and let the points figure themselves out.

“At the end, we felt that we did our job and likely had a lot more things go our way than they did throughout the season and it fell our way,” said Ferguson.

One racing professional who has been integral to the success of many dirt late model crate and super late model racers, including Carson Ferguson, is Wesley Page of Rock Hill, S.C. Page owns WP Racing Shocks and is often thanked by racers for his help. In May, Page was in victory lane with Kyle Larson and the Kevin Rumley team after Larson won The Colossal 100 at The Dirt Track at Charlotte with the XR Super Series. He is co-owner of Carson Ferguson’s team with Doug and Gena Bradsher of Paylor Motorsports and owns the team of Ben Watkins, who already has had two Carolina Clash victories this season.

Page spoke about Carson Ferguson’s talent.

“Well, Carson’s a phenomenal racer. He’s a great kid, a great person. He had a wealth of knowledge at a young age. And I don’t want to be too premature in my next comment, but I’m pretty sure he’s gonna be a superstar in the dirt racing scene for a long time. He amazes me where he’s at, at such a young age. I think the span of his career might be longer than some of the superstars just because he’s getting a good start earlier. I think with maturity and what Donald and I have been able to provide and with his sponsorships and everything that he has, he’s been able to be in good equipment to get started. Where a lot of your guys that I call the superstars of today, they probably didn’t have the best stuff when they got started,” said Page.

Ben Watkins Wins with the Carolina Clash at Lake View; Dennis Franklin Leads Series

On Saturday, May 28, 2022, the Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series made its way to Lake View Motor Speedway in Nichols, S.C . Ben Watkins, who also won the pole, couldn’t be run down by second place finisher, Dennis ‘Rambo’ Franklin. Watkins got his second Clash victory this year, but Franklin was happy with his own result for the night.

“Well, it was like a win; I ain’t gonna lie to you. We been running in the back. We won there before, but the last couple times we been down there, we been no good. But last night we had a second-place car. Ben was better than we was. We was hitting the ground getting in the corner a little bit and he could turn in better. He was a little bit better than we was,” said Franklin.

Doug Sanders, who was with Franklin at the Ultimate race on Saturday at Cherokee Speedway, may have had a little different take on Rambo’s run.

“I want to make it clear–last night at Lake View, there wasn’t but two cars running and Rambo was three laps down and that’s how he finished second.  No–he had a good run last night. I wish I could get me a second or a third or fourth,” said Sanders.

Wesley Page, car owner for Watkins, is pleased with the team’s progress, which includes a couple of wins already this season and good finishes last month at The Dirt Track at Charlotte.

“I’m enjoying it. I mean last year we won that World of Outlaws race and had a Clash win and we’ve been real consistent. I think the more we race together, the more we’re growing as a team. The group of guys we have, you know Ben and his dad and some friends–we have a really good team. I think if we all just keep working hard and keep trying to better ourselves, we’re just going to get better. We have a good time; we really enjoy it. Ben’s a good guy and a good racer and like I say, I think we should be able to win more races,” said Page.

Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series: Lake View Motor Speedway, Nicols, S.C. May 28, 2022: 1. Ben Watkins 2. Dennis Franklin 3. Michael Rouse 4. Christian Thomas 5. Adam Yarbrough 6. Daniel Tucker 7. Mike Huey 8. David Yadle 9. Brandon Marshall 10. Josh Richeson 11. Brian Strickland 12. Rom Geehring II 13.Dean Bowen 14. Corey Gordon 15. Willie Milliken 16. David Baker 17. Mike Parker 18. Gray Parton