By Rhonda Beck
In 2011 Clover, S.C.’s Ross Bailes was just coming off of his first super late model wins on dirt and spoke to me about the Ultimate Super Late Model victory at Laurens Speedway and the Shrine 100 win at Carolina Speedway in Gastonia, N.C. He was heading to Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, S.C. the next day. Bailes wound up claiming the Robert Pursley Memorial there and has competed the past 10 years in various super late model series races.
In early February of 2022, Bailes got his first victory of the year in the Southern All Star Racing Series Winter Freeze at Screven Motorsports Complex in Sylvania, Ga. He heads to Lavonia for upcoming races with the Drydene Xtreme DIRTcar series February 25-26. He currently is the series points leader ahead of Carson Ferguson. SAS will be at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, S.C. on March 6, 2022 for March Madness; Bailes plans to compete in that event and has had success over the years there, including winning the race in 2017. He recently talked about the current racing season as well as his thoughts on running the various series and bigger races.
Rhonda Beck: First of all, I’d like to congratulate you on your success since I first started interviewing you about 10 to 12 years ago. Congrats on your Winter Freeze win. I do follow Dirt on Dirt and I watched it on FloRacing. It was a good way for you to start the year, and I wondered if you had a quick comment on that track and that race?
Ross Bailes: Yeah, we qualified pretty good and it was a really good race the first 10 laps between the top five. We got into lapped traffic and the two up front; they decided to go underneath the car. And they left the top open and I was able to run the top really hard and get around them. Once we got around them, I was just trying to not make any mistakes.
RB: I saw towards the end you went to the inside. You know how to deal with that and even trading paint a little bit with someone to keep them in between you and second place. Do you always feel confident that you’re going to keep the car under control if you do have to do that?
Ross: Yeah, usually the top really seems to be the fastest way around that track, so a lot of times when we get in lapped traffic it’s hard to get around them. But I think Redd (Griffin) moved the turns in a little bit and made them a little wider and you could run the bottom a lot better than usual. So, that’s about the best I’ve seen the track since I’ve been going there. It made getting through lapped traffic a little easier. There was one incident, like you said, where I got into a lapped car but I don’t know if he was pulling off the track or what, but he turned left and I was there.
RB: But that’s part of it and it was an exciting race. As far as the SAS series, I think the next one with them is at Cherokee Speedway. I looked at your schedule and for the Xtreme DIRTcar, I saw that they cancelled the one at Little River Speedway in Modoc but they’re doing two at Lavonia. Do you know any of the races in the next month or so that you’ll be going to?
Ross: So we’ll definitely go to the Drydene races (Xtreme DIRTcar series) we’re leading the points now. Not by a lot. But we’ve got a little bit of a point lead on Carson Ferguson. We’ll go to Lavonia for those two and then we’ll go to March Madness with the Southern All Stars. And the next weekend, we’re not sure about that one. But there’s plenty of races out there. You know, there’s good money getting paid out.
RB: Yeah, that’s a really, good thing. I was looking at your stats from 2021: 62 starts, nine wins, five top-fives, 39 top-tens. I watched the Senoia race through FloRacing and saw that you finished ninth and 14th. Do you have anything to say about that race down there? Have you raced there before and now with Clint Smith owning the track?
Ross: I’ve only been there a handful of times and that place gets slicker than any track I usually run at. We run okay–still trying to learn how to be faster there. But that’s what we gotta do. Just go and race at places like that, stuff we’re not used to. Try to get better at those conditions and that’ll make us better all the way around.
RB: You said that Cherokee Speedway is one of your more favorite tracks as well as your home track. You’ve won several times there, like March Madness in 2017 and the Hall of Fame race last year. It looks like they are hosting lots of different events for all different classes of cars. Anything more to say about that track?
Ross: Yeah, I mean Cherokee, like you said, is my home track and I always look forward to going there. And Scott Childress, ever since he took over, he’s been paying the money out. Several five-figure races are there this year. We’ve been good there in the past. We’ve just gotta make sure when we show up, we’ve got all our ducks in a row.
RB: You have 22 Carolina Clash series wins, five of them last year. You’re fourth on the all-time win list behind Rambo (Dennis Franklin,) Ricky Weeks and Jeff Smith. And you were the 2018 series champ. Do you have anything to say about your time in that series and any projected races to run in it in 2022?
Ross: Usually when the Clash comes close to town—when they come to tracks close by–we usually hit those. Like a Lancaster or Gaffney or Carolina. I’ve ran several of those races and there’s some pretty good competition with that series. Any time we go to the track, it’s hard to win a race, no matter what series it is.
RB: I hope to be at the 50th annual Shrine 100 at Carolina Speedway this year. Billy Scott won the first one there and you won it in 2011. You have said that your dad (Todd Bailes) is your hero, but anything to say about others you idolized growing up or any memories when you were young?
Ross: I didn’t go to Carolina a whole lot when I was younger. I guess I started going there in like ’07 something like that, ’08. But since ’07 –Carolina, Gaffney—that’s where I ran the most races growing up. I remember watching Ricky Weeks and Jeff Smith and those guys race there. They seemed like they were the ones to beat at the Shrine race when I was growing up.
RB: And what about the old-time racers? I went down to a car show in Gastonia (Charles Craig’s Cruise In) in October. Chuck Piazza and Billy Scott were there. Obviously, Mike Duvall has passed away, but any of those older guys that you liked to watch racing?
Ross: That was kind of before my time. I mean Duvall, I remember watching him race at Gaffney a lot growing up when my dad used to race there. He was really tough to beat, you know, back in the early 2000s at Gaffney. I don’t remember watching Billy Scott.
RB: Well, that was a lot earlier. You’re a lot younger. You’re like 32 now?
Ross: Yeah, I’m 32.
RB: So I was listening to an old interview I did with you in 2011. You had gotten your first super late model wins, including an Ultimate victory at Laurens and a win at Carolina. This year the Ultimate Super Late Model Series starts at Smoky Mountain Speedway in Tennessee.
Ross: I think we’re planning on going to that one. That one’s the day before Gaffney, so right now we’re kind of talking about going to there and coming back to Gaffney and racing—running those two races. They’re paying like $12,000; they’re good paying races.
RB: In the past, you talked about some of those races being about four hours from your shop and more realistic because of time spent with your day job and family. But you have raced the Lucas Oil and the World of Outlaws series too. Any thoughts on that? Does some of that remain the same?
Ross: Yeah, it still remains the same. We stay mostly about four or five miles from the shop. Unless, like last year we went to Eldora and we’ll go to some bigger-paying races. But it’s hard to skip a race that pays $5000 or $10,000 around the house to go run a bigger race where the best guys in the country are going to be there and you’ve gotta finish like top five to make it worth it. With all the travel expense and everything. I would like to go to new places and try to get better at places I haven’t been to. But it’s also trying to have the best shot of making some money.
RB: At Screven it said you ran the Longhorn chassis owned by Billy Hicks. Is that something that with certain opportunities you run different types of equipment? Ronnie McCarter had been your owner and you also ran the Rocket chassis in the past.
Ross: I’ve been driving for Billy (Hicks) the last two years. I drove for him back in 2017 and ’18, I think it was. And we got hooked up with him again last year. We’ve done the Longhorn cars for four or five years now. And we seem to do pretty well with those.
RB: Social media can be useful to get the word out but also detrimental at times. In some cases, for racers and media, people seem to think we need to be on it all the time and be responsive to every tweet and message. And if plans change or they don’t see you update or explain things, they respond. I’m older and a part-time writer. But these days, even compared to ten years ago, how do you balance that, because you do have your fans and sponsors?
Ross: My wife, she usually takes care of my Facebook page and apparel. If anybody has any questions they can get to us at my Facebook page and she’ll get back to them. Usually, we try to stay a month ahead. We’ll try to have the March races up by the first of March. We try to stay a month ahead so people can see where we’re going.
RB: I also saw listed that The Dirt Track World Championship is one race you’d like to win most. Why is that?
Ross: Well, I’ve only been there once. But it pays 100 grand. 100 grand was the highest paying race. Before the Eldora million.
RB: That was my next question. I was at the Dream 100 at Eldora Speedway. I was there back when Ray Cook got second one year and when they were doing the Prelude to the Dream. That was really nice. Are you planning to go there for the Eldora Million?
Ross: Yeah, I would say we plan on going there unless we’re not running good at the time. But if we’re running pretty good and feel like we’ve got a shot of going up there and competing to make the race and hopefully compete for the win, then yeah, we’ll go. But if I’m not winning races around here there’s really no point of us going up there. That decision will be performance-based.
RB: And have you been over to Phil Combs’ museum in Shelby?
Ross: I haven’t. What kind of museum is it?
RB: It’s the Combs Family Museum. His parents worked for a lot of places, like all of the Asheville tracks back in the day. His dad was flagman for NASCAR from about 1952-1972. They have a museum where they’ve collected tons of stuff. It’s all different levels and all different types of racing.
Ross: I’ve seen pictures. I know who Phil is and Roby is. I’ve seen pictures of it but didn’t know it was in Shelby. It’s not that far away.
RB: His home is out front there and the museum is in the back. He’s got stuff from racers like Jack Ingram and Harry Gant. He’s been friends with them all these years. He’s the announcer at Tri County Speedway too and has done karts for years. You’d probably enjoy it, just browsing around.
Ross: I’ll have to go check that out.
RB: And another museum that’s being remodeled/built is the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in Union, Ky. at Florence Speedway. I was there in 2010 when Billy Scott was inducted. Have you raced up there?
Ross: I went, I guess it was two years ago. It’s the only time I’ve been there. I like it. I hope we get to go back there again sometime soon.
RB: And what are some fun things you like to do with your family—your wife Constance and your son, Jordan–outside of racing?
Ross: We just like to hang out. We’ll go golfing. I like to golf. Sometimes they’ll go with me. Jordan, he loves to go out there and just run around and stuff.
RB: And your future goals? If I talk to you in 10 years again in 2032, what might be some of your accomplishments?
Ross: Obviously, most racers want to do it full-time. I want to win more races and maybe win some bigger ones. Like I said, that’s the main thing–win as many as I can.
RB: One more thing. Do you still do some crate racing? Selective races?
Ross: Mainly super. I mean I would like to run some crate stuff, but it’s hard to find time. There’s so many races these days that pay good money and it’s hard to find time to do crates.