Following a plethora of changes over the offseason, a new era for the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour begins this weekend.
With a new ownership group consisting of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Justin Marks to go along with talented driver rosters in the LMSC and PLM Tour, there is plenty of excitement for the series as it heads to Southern National Motorsports Park, which hosted the inaugural CARS Tour race weekend back in 2015.
The site of the prestigious Thanksgiving All-Star Classic in November, Southern National has not hosted the CARS Tour since 2020, but will welcome both divisions and race fans across the southeast who are eager to see the next generation of drivers battle seasoned short track veterans.
With an increased race purse and plenty of drivers determined to open 2023 on a high note, the on-track action at Southern National is expected to be fierce in the CARS Tour’s formal return to the facility in which owner Jack McNelly’s vision for the series was born.
Track: Southern National Motorsports Park
Location: Lucama, North Carolina
Length: .400 mile
Laps: 125 (LMSC) / 100 (PLM)
CARS LMSC Tour races: 6
CARS SLM Tour races: 6
LMSC South Boston winners: Todd Gilliland (2015), Deac McCaskill (2015 & 2016), Josh Berry (2016), Brandon Pierce (2019), Taylor Gray (2020)
SLM South Boston winners: Cole Timm (2015), Christopher Bell (2015), Quin Houff (2016), Raphael Lessard (2016), Bubba Pollard (2019), Matt Craig (2020)
LMSC Entry List (32 cars): #00 Jody Measamer, #03 Brenden Queen, #04 Ronnie Bassett Jr., #08 Deac McCaskill, #0 Landon Pembelton, #1 Andrew Grady, #2 Brandon Pierce, #2W Ryan Wilson, 4 Dylon Wilson, #4F Jonathan Findley, #6 Bobby McCarty, #8 Carson Kvapil, #8B Chase Burrow, #8F Tate Fogleman, #10 Kaden Honeycutt, #15 Ryan Millington, #16 Chad McCumbee, #19 Jessica Cann, #20 Joshua Dickens, #22 Cale Gale, #24 Mason Diaz, #29 Brian Obiedzenski, #32 Zack Miracle, #42 Carson Brown, #44 Conner Jones, #55 Isabella Robusto, #59 Blake Lothian, #67 Cameron Bolin, #77 Connor Hall, #81 Mini Tyrrell, #95 Jacob Heafner, #97A Jason Kitzmiller
PLM Entry List (22 cars): #03 Kyle Campbell, #5 Zac Fowler, #5B Gavan Boschele, #6 George Phillips, #7 Tristan McKee, #7c Justin Crider, #8 Rusty Skewes, #9 Ashton Higgins, #13 Austin MacDonald, #15 Brett Suggs, #19 Bryan Kruczek, #24 Carter Langley, #28 Isabella Robusto, #29 Logan Boyett, #43 Nick Loden, #43H Matt Horniman, #44 Justin Whitaker, #48 Jeff Batten, #49 Luke Morey, #77 Logan Jones, #81 Katie Hettinger, #96 Caden Kvapil
Carson Kvapil starts championship defense at Southern National
From the first green flag at Caraway Speedway, Carson Kvapil established himself as the driver to beat for the CARS LMSC Tour championship.
A total of four victories and 13 Top 5s enabled Kvapil to claim the LMSC Tour crown by 47 points over Connor Hall. Now in his second season with JR Motorsports, Kvapil is determined to kick off his quest for a second consecutive championship by winning at a track he has grown comfortable with in Southern National.
“I’m feeling pretty confident after the success we had last season,” Kvapil said. “We had a good run at Southern National [during the Thanksgiving Classic], but we played the wrong strategy and ended up sixth. Josh [Berry] won, so the setups we had were a good combination for the track, so as long as we stay out of trouble, we’ll be just fine.”
Kvapil knew finding success with JR Motorsports out of the gate would come down to being attentive with the advice being passed down to him.
With several prominent people to lean on that included Berry and his boss Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kvapil never felt out of place amongst the LMSC Tour veterans and rookies. Now that he has a championship season under his belt, Kvapil believes he can improve upon the dominance he showed with JR Motorsports last year.
Consistency is Kvapil’s main goal for 2023, but he understands a target is going to be on his back every single weekend. With drivers like Hall, Chad McCumbee and Cale Gale also going for the 2023 title, one bad race could be crucial in determining whether or not Kvapil gets to defend his crown.
For Kvapil, the best way for him to once again open the season in victory lane is to be fast from the moment his car hits the track for practice. While tire conservation is expected to be a factor at Southern National, Kvapil hopes to be up front through all 125 laps to avoid potential chaos in such a large field.
“A lot of [Saturday] will come down to qualifying good,” Kvapil said. “Everybody is going to ride to an extent, but being towards the front is going to help a bunch, as you’re less likely to get yourself into trouble. Being there at the end will be the key to success.”
Brenden Queen rides momentum into Puryear Tank Lines 225
Of all the Late Model Stock drivers entered in Saturday’s 125-lap feature at Southern National, Brenden Queen easily has the most momentum of the group.
In three races with Lee Pulliam Performance, Queen has notched two victories in the South Carolina 400 at Florence Motor Speedway and the Battle of the Stars at New River All-American Speedway, which is why he heads to Southern National with confidence on his side.
“[Those wins] are a huge deal for the [Lee Pulliam Performance] organization,” Queen said. “I’m honestly speechless and I’m so thankful everything has gone our way lately. Adding a couple of crown jewel wins to the resume is so cool.”
Having won three consecutive track championships at Langley Speedway, Queen knew he needed to branch away from his home track to fully showcase his talents, but the funding never materialized for him to do so with his family-owned operation.
The chance for Queen to even drive for Pulliam’s operation would not have been possible without the guidance of his crew chief Phil Warren. A seven-time Langley champion, Warren taught Queen all the fundamentals of navigating the facility, which gradually turned him into the track’s best Late Model Stock driver.
Queen has utilized all of Warren’s knowledge in his first few races with Pulliam. He is determined to keep the victories coming in the CARS LMSC Tour so he can continue the proud tradition of success long Pulliam has maintained in the discipline for over a decade.
“If we keep working hard and stay confident, we can accomplish so much,” Queen said. “I’m so excited to do it with a great group of guys and I love to see Lee Pulliam smile when we pull into victory lane. That man works so hard, and he doesn’t get to drive like he used to, so [winning races] is the only way we get to repay him.”
Katie Hettinger begins hunt for PLM Tour title with Anthony Campi
Katie Hettinger came away from the World Series of Asphalt at New Smyrna Speedway with plenty to smile about.
On the fifth night, Hettinger fended off a talented field of 27 cars to earn her first career Pro Late Model victory driving for Anthony Campi Racing. The win came as a cathartic moment for Hettinger while simultaneously providing her plenty of optimism heading into her first full-time CARS PLM Tour season with Campi.
“We definitely needed a win, and we were so close all week [in the World Series],” Hettinger said. “It still hasn’t sunk in and I’m still super pumped about it, but that showed we’re going to have a really great car this year for the CARS Tour.”
Being able to work with Campi and Super Late Model veteran Casey Roderick has helped Hettinger fine-tune multiple aspects of her driving style, especially when it comes to restarts and how to find speed on each different line.
With Campi’s experience to lean on, Hettinger finds herself in a great position to become the first woman to win a championship in either CARS Tour decision, but she will have to fend off a small but talented group of drivers that include last year’s PLM Tour runner-up in Caden Kvapil.
Hettinger is currently focused on putting together a flawless weekend at Southern National, but said a crucial component in pursuing a PLM Tour championship will come down to building chemistry with everyone at Campi’s operation so that she is contention to win all 13 races on the calendar.
“I need to stay focused and work hard with the team,” Hettinger said. “During the summer, I want to go down to Florida a few times so I can hang out at [Campi’s] shop and help them work on the cars. I want to grow with the team throughout the year, but I know I’m going to get a good car every weekend because my guys bust their butts. We’re going to have a good shot [at the title].”
The 2023 season for the CARS Tour formally gets underway at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday afternoon. The PLM Tour opens the day’s festivities at Southern National with a 100-lap race, which will be followed by the LMSC Tour feature.
For more information on the CARS Late Model Stock Tour and the CARS Pro Late Model Tour, visit www.carsracingtour.com. Be sure to stay active and social with the tour by liking “CARS Tour” on Facebook, following @CARSTour on Twitter and scrolling through photos on Instagram cars_tour.
Additional series information can be obtained by calling the CARS Tour series office, located in Mooresville, NC, at 704.662.9212.
-CARS Tour Press Release