Ford, driving the No. 83 Chevrolet, set fast time in qualifying and led all 30 laps of the Crate Late Model feature on the 4/10-mile dirt track. The 31-year-old Johnson City driver, racing for the Elizabethton-based Whitehead Construction team, easily stayed ahead of the the fray in what was an action-filled night.
“The car was on a rail tonight,” Ford said. “I’ve been lucky with my crew chief, Wesley Laws, through the week and my father-in-law, Stacy Calfee, where we all work real good together.”
The driver explained that it has been feast or famine the first part of the season. They’ve been out front when they’ve not been plagued by mechanical issues.
“We went to Smoky Mountain last night, sat on the pole, led the first 10 laps and then had a radiator problem,” Ford said. “That’s been the case all year. We’ve been fast, but we’ve had some DNFs. Right now, either we don’t finish or we win. Hopefully, we’ve gotten the gremlins out in Elizabethton and can win some races like we need to.”
The night marked the first for Stallard as the new track owner. It was announced earlier Saturday that the 42-year-old construction company owner from Kingsport had purchased the facility from longtime track owners Joe and Phyllis Loven.
Stallard, whose 13-year-old son Kyle is an aspiring racer, will begin work on the facility Monday as a number of upgrades are planned. It will mean a change in the schedule with no racing this week. The next race is scheduled for June 8.
“I appreciate the opportunity which Joe and Phyllis have given me,” said Stallard, who said he has been attending races as a fan at Volunteer since he was 10 years old.
“They really wanted me to have the track because they see the passion I have for it and everything fell into place. We’re going to give it 200 percent. I went to the racers individually and told them I’m not coming in here acting like I’m the boss.
“Without the racers and fans we don’t have this place, so I want to respect their opinions. They can call me seven days a week. If something makes sense and we can fix it, we’re going to do it. This is as much their track as it is mine.”
BACK TO RACING
With weather causing the cancellation of many early season races, it was just the second time that cars had raced at Volunteer this season. It resulted in more contact than usual between drivers.
Such was the case for Jonesborough driver Tim Byrd, who qualified second and was behind Ford before his car was hit and turned sideways on a restart. Byrd tried to straighten his No. 24 machine, but was hit again by another car, sending him into Taylor Coffman.
Byrd slammed into the backstretch inside wall, while Coffman went head-on into the turn 3 outside wall. Neither driver was seriously hurt, although they ended the last two finishers in the 15-car rundown.
“Plumb down the back straightaway, I was trying to get it straightened out and I don’t know who it was, but he hit me in the left front and my day was done,” Byrd said. “I wasn’t hurt other than I jammed my fingers a little bit. Other than that, everything is good. It’s racing.”
With Byrd eliminated, Rusty Ballenger of Seymour finished second and Jason Welshan of Maryville wound up third.
Tim Maupin of Johnson City finished fourth. Running third before the final restart, he took issue with Welshan pulling to the outside of him before the starting line.
“They should have started it over. He jumped us and was on the outside of me,” Maupin said. “I could have made that play out a lot different and could have been justified, but I was being nice. He wouldn’t have gotten me if he hadn’t jumped me.”
Gary Crittenden of Mohawk rounded out the top five. Johnson City veteran driver Jackie Hughes posted a solid eighth-place run despite the power steering going out in his car.
“It was like the old days, but I’m getting old,” Hughes joked. “It handled pretty good to have no power steering. I had to run lower on the track to have more banking to sling the car into. It’s the first time I drove without power steering since the 80s. You have to let off the throttle sooner and let the car turn. I was tickled to death to do what I did.”
Knoxville driver Bradley Lewelling took the lead from Clyde Stanton on lap 19 of the Sportsman Late Model feature and led the rest of the 30-lap race. Kentucky racer John Stevens held off a late charge from Lee Merrit to win in the Classic division.
David Clark of Tazewell took home the Modified Street trophy. Jeff Hamby of Knoxville led flag to flag to win the Open Wheel Modified race, as did Tommy Newton of Seymour in his Mini-Stock victory.