GAFFNEY, South Carolina – Ryan Godown took down Larry Wight with 11 laps to go and made history at the inaugural ‘Rebel 50’, held at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, SC, becoming the first Halmar International ‘Elite’ series winner, a branch under the Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series (STSS) Fueled By Sunoco Umbrella Bucket Hat.
Godown’s triumph is worth $25,000 – the winner’s minimum purse during the six-race “Elite” series – and is his ninth in the STSS competition overall.
“I’m blown away,” said a muffled Godown in Victory Lane. “I never would have thought that…I can’t thank the guys back home enough, I’m nobody without them.”
2022 Short Track Super Series Elite at Cherokee Speedway
Godown’s win is a dream start for the Elite Series after more than 60 cars made the trip to Cherokee from the northeast.
“It’s really fun,” exhaled Godown. “I just wanted to qualify for this race; Honestly, just being here is really cool.
Godown led mid-race leader Wight to the line on a loaded duo of Billy Pauch Jr. and Jimmy Horton; Mike Maresca finished fifth.
HJ Bunting of Milford, Del. led the field to the green after redrawing the No. 1 earlier in the day, ahead of Bobby Hackel, Wight, Maresca and Ryan Watt, just ahead of sixth-starter Godown.
Through the first 15 laps, Bunting maintained a consistent advantage over the rest of the field, even passing Hackel and Wight just before they started entering traffic. The majority of the field was content to hold their lines and fight their way through the early part of the event, until Matt Sheppard came off the line.
On lap 10, Sheppard rounded Billy Van Inwegen for 10th place. Sheppard, who redrawn the No. 12 position out of a possible 12 spots, then rounded Stewart Friesen on lap 16 for ninth place.
As the rest of the top raced down, and as the top five cars closed the gap on Bunting due to cars circling ahead, Sheppard blitzed the contenders. Just one lap after passing Friesen, Sheppard passed Demetrios Drellos for eighth and then Danny Creeden for seventh on lap 18. Incredibly, Sheppard was around Godown in the 19th round and then quickly around Watt for fifth, ripping through a handful of heavy hitters in as many rounds.
When Sheppard broke into the top five, the rest of the field collectively said the game was on. On lap 21, Maresca used the outside to pass Wight for third, but when he missed the groove at turns three and four on the next lap, he lost places to Wight and Sheppard.
Just before halfway, Wight powered by Hackel for second and Sheppard and Maresca both followed.
The first warning of the night came on lap 25 for Andy Bachetti. At the time, Bunting ran Wight, Sheppard, Maresca, Hackel, Godown, Watt, Creeden, Friesen and Drellos. The field only did two laps before the next warning on lap 27 for Watt, Creeden, Drellos and many others, but Godown made a big charge. In those two laps, Godown muscled in from sixth to fourth around the top and got into position for the rest of the race.
“I tried to ride at the start,” Godown said. “But when Sheppard blasted around me at the top, I knew I had to move and keep up.”
VIDEO: Watch highlights from Saturday’s STSS Rebel 50 at Cherokee Speedway.
Going down the stretch, Godown mentioned he thought the top was going to be good at some point, but didn’t know when. After Sheppard brought him down to sixth place, he adapted quickly. There was another two-lap stint to bring the race to lap 29 and once again Godown clinched two places, moving into second place behind Wight, with Bunting, Sheppard and Maresca completing the top five.
When the green flag flew once more, Wight took control of the race, but Godown worked the bottom to keep pace. Eventually Godown got back to the top and followed Wight’s line for a few laps before taking on his next challenge with nearly 10 to go.
After it looked like Wight was pulling away, Godown grabbed a few car lengths with 12 to go. Thanks to a bottom charge, Godown led on lap 39. A lap later, the first caution due to a blown right rear tire halted proceedings.
With 10 to go, Godown went for the back and Wight took advantage of his attempt on the outside. The two raced an entire lap side by side with Godown finally obliterating Wight on lap 42.
“On those double-file restarts, he didn’t give me a lot of room and I didn’t give him a lot of room, but I don’t think we even touched each other,” Wight said last night. straight line of his battle against Godown. “It was a good, tough ride for $25,000 and we showed those fans what modified racing is.”
Godown fought off another double-file start with seven laps to go, then a few single-file starts at the end to seal the win. However, one of the most important reboots might have been the one that didn’t count. With five to go, Friesen used the outside to round Wight for the second, then set his sights on Godown but a caution called off the move. Friesen and Sheppard were eventually forced into the pits with a crash issue and a flat tire, respectively, in the final five laps.
“I didn’t really have a lot of fatigue to deal with him,” Wight explained. “I tried to go for it on the restart, but I just lined up and made sure I finished.”
Wight followed Godown across the line in second, worth $12,500, ahead of Pauch Jr., who came from 19th on the starting grid and was firmly entrenched in battles with Friesen and Sheppard in the latter moments of the race. Pauch’s third place wins $8,000.
“This one was tough, man,” Pauch said on the home stretch. “We fought for our draw on Friday; we missed the reprint, but I knew we had a great track.
“It’s great to be ahead here. There have been many times where the boys from New York have blown us away, but it’s time for the boys from the south to step up to the podium,” Pauch said.
Horton, who started 22nd, used a few late-race restarts and the top groove to his advantage to climb into the lead in the closing stages and clinch a fourth-place Cherokee and $5,000 as Maresca rounded out the top five, d worth $4,000.
Finishing sixth through 10th, respectively, were: Max McLaughlin of 20th in an under-the-radar performance; Ronnie Johnson, another deep starter from 29th; Darren Smith, who rebounded after several pit stops; Van Inwegen, who started eighth but was also forced into the tail after being involved in an accident; and Mat Williamson, who earned a top 10 worth of $1,750.
Sheppard, who finished 16th, still won $1,000 for his efforts, as is customary for the standard “Elite Series” purse.
Teenager Logan Watt of Boyertown, Pennsylvania recorded his first career victory on the Super Series Crate 602 Sportsman short track in the 30-lap event and $2,000 up for grabs. The silky Watt, the son of former Modified Series champion Ryan Watt, stalked leader Doug Kline before taking command two-thirds down the main course.
Watt edged out hard-charging Payton Talbot to etch his name into the series record books.
With a daring three-wide pass on the final lap and final corner, Mike Nagel Jr. split the middle to take the final podium spot. Kline and Jeff Watson rounded out the top five in Sunoco Race Fuel’s checkered flag race.
The Melvin L. Joseph Memorial at Georgetown Speedway in Georgetown, Del. is on deck for the Halmar International ‘Elite’ series, scheduled for just two weeks, Thursday to Saturday, March 10-12. Once again, the platoon will fight for $25,000, $1,000 for 16th and $500 to start.