Trophy Presentation at Southside Speedway September 15, 2017 – Top 3 in Late Model points from left to right. #05 Mason Bailey (car owner Chris Philips to accept). #22 Grayson Cullather. #43 Eddie Johnson. (Justin Kern/TheWeeklyRacer.com)
Midlothian, VA – It was Championship night this past Friday at “The Toughest Short Track in the South” located just south of Richmond, Virginia. Just one of the many tracks some of the current Monster Energy Cup Series drivers cut their teeth at during their young racing careers. With Mother Nature playing the spoiler for most of the season, track officials and management agreed to add another weekend to the schedule to allow drivers to settle their points on the track.
Grayson Cullather, 16 years old from Richmond, Virginia, entered the weekend second in the points standings just eight points behind local legend Eddie Johnson after Mason Bailey’s win was stripped from him the week before. Fresh off the Martinsville Speedway test, Cullather showed up to Southside with something to prove – and boy did he. Grayson was the fastest man in town during the afternoon’s group qualifying session posting a time of 14.976 seconds. In fact, Cullather was the only driver to hit a sub fifteen-second lap, Eddie Johnson, Lane Janosik, Chris Dodson, and Howie Disavino completed the fastest five qualifiers. With the pole point in hand, Cullather would draw a three inverting the top three qualifiers and handing the lead over the Janosik.
Once the sunset and the track lights were shining brightly it was time for the twelve-car field to go to work. Sailing off into turn one Eddie Johnson was able to make quick work of Janosik to assume the lead out of turn two. Chris Dodson and Cullather were right there to capitalize as well, setting up a thrilling three-way battle for the lead between two Late Model legends and a young teen in just his sophomore season.
Johnson would take the race lead from rookie Lane Janosik and hold onto it for the first five circuits around the .333-mile oval. Dodson ended up working his nose under Eddie’s machine to eventually take the race lead on lap six. However, the move also left the door open for Cullather who wasted zero time and took the second position away. The following lap Grayson would edge his nose under Dodson’s No. 0 Williamsburg Honda machine looking to take the lead. Dodson would do everything in his power to pinch him down out of four but it was not enough and Grayson Cullather was scored the new leader on lap seven.
Once in the lead and in clean air, it appeared that no one would have anything for Grayson who maintained a car or two-length lead over second as the laps clicked off. The evenings one and only caution for the Late Models came just one lap before halfway when Lane Janosik, who was in a pretty good battle with Brad Davis for fourth, went around out of turn four forcing officials to throw the yellow flag.
Once the filed was bunched up and everything was given the okay by race control the cone was set on the front stretch and we were ready to go back racing. Dodson was the first to take the cone, which would put him on the outside of Cullather. Eddie Johnson elected to keep his position in third, as did Brad Davis staying in fourth and lining up to Johnson’s outside.
Cullather would get what could arguably go down as the best restart of his young career when the green was displayed to the field because he was able to clear the field at the exit of turn two. This would leave Chris Dodson and Eddie Johnson to battle door to door and Cullather to get into a rhythm and check out and check out he did. Dodson would eventually prevail taking the second position from Johnson but it was too late as Cullather had built over a full second lead en route to his first career Late Model victory.
“When we got the pole I knew it was a good lap because the car felt good,” Culalther said in victory lane. “I was a little worried because Eddie [Johnson] and Chris [Dodson] was still on the track and they could bust a [good] lap. Once the race started I knew it would take a couple of laps for our tires to come in. I was riding behind Lane and saw Dodson pass him on the outside so I knew my shot to keep up with Eddie and Chris would be to go to the outside and try and get around Lane.”
Cullather then capitalized when Eddie and Chris started battling for the lead, which paid dividends for the first winner.
“I saw an opportunity to take it three wide out of four and keep the car under Dodson to clear him,” Cullather went on to explain. “Once I got clear I knew we had a winning car, I just wanted to keep the tires on it. This win means a lot to my family and crew. We have tried everything this year, lost a whole lot of races because of late race cautions. It just meant a lot to me and confidence level”
The win could not come at a better time for Cullather and his crew who will look to take this momentum into next weekends ValleyStar Credit Union 300. Having a decent test and learning the track to collecting his first Late Model win can do a ton for a race team and we asked Cullather how the test went and what he was looking for in the race.
“We had a really good test out at Martinsville,” Cullather explained. “We had good balance on the car, still room to improve but, we know what we have to do to get better.”
This year will be Grayson’s first attempt at making the prestigious Late Model event that pays $25,000 and a Grandfather clock. The great equalizer this year will be the lights. For years teams were used to starting in the middle of the day and running into the night as the track cools. With the feature not starting until 8:00 PM Saturday night, some of these rookies may have an even better chance than before.
“There are some nerves going into the race,” Cullather admitted. “I think we have a pretty good car for next week. [Our} times weren’t falling off like some others were. My main goal is to just make the race.”
With the third-place finish for Eddie Johnson was able to secure the 2017 Late Model track championship. With track titles in the 80’s, 90’s, 00’s and now in 2017, it should help solidify Johnson’s resume as one of the greatest to hit the track at Southside Speedway. During the trophy presentation, Johnson was beyond thankful to his car owner, family and all of the sponsors who have not only helped him throughout his career but through the 2017 season to make everything possible.
Jamie Hite picked up the victory in the UCAR divisions to end the evening and the 2017 season at Southside Speedway. Hite would qualify fourth but roll of the grid in the second position after pole winner Korey Lawson pulled the number four pill inverting the top four cars. Beejay Anderson would inherit the lead with Michael Chapman lining up on his rear bumper.
Chapman, running the No. 5 machine this weekend, looked as if he was hooked up to one of the steam launch cables from an aircraft carrier when the green was displayed taking the lead early and setting a pretty blistering pace. Hite would eventually track him down and apply pressure for the lead with five laps to go. In fact, Hite would ultimately take the lead from Chapman on lap twenty-one. Chapman would try and mount one final attack with just two laps left but it was not enough to move Hite out of the way who would go on to collect his second win of the season.
Late Model OFFICIAL Results
- #22 Grayson Cullather; 40
- #0 Chris Dodson; 40
- #43 Eddie Johnson; 40
- #18 Brad Davis; 40
- #55 Howie Disavino; 40
- #25 Michael Sutphin; 40
- #77 Mike Greathouse; 40
- #25 Sonny Allen; 40
- #17 Charlie Walker; 40
- #26 John Crews III; 40
- #79 Lane Janosik; 23
- #31 Chris Savage; DNF
UCAR OFFICIAL Results;
- #12 Jamie Hite; 25
- #5 Michael Chapman; 25
- #03 Korey Lawson; 25
- #96 Alex Ayers; 25
- #13 Beejay Anderson; 25
- #1 Mike Frayser; 25
- #40 Rickey Sylvester; 25
- #15 Mark Marshall; 25
- #97 Richard Sisco; 25
- #9 Kevin Garreau; 24