Go slow to eventually go fast.
That’s how the South Carolina 400 was won and lost on Saturday night at Florence Motor Speedway in South Carolina. For the second consecutive year, the newest Late Model Stock major delivered a race of the year candidate … even if it took an unorthodox way to get there.
Florence is one of the most abrasive tracks in the region and extreme tire conservation was the key to victory for the second year in a row. Combined with the continued national tire shortage, a race that required teams to make 150 laps on their qualifying tires produced one of the most unusual visuals in all short track racing.
Zack Miracle set the fastest time on Saturday afternoon with a 17.484 but the first laps were run in the 19.5 to 20 second range and the speeds never consistently picked up throughout the first half.
Every tenth saved over the first 100 laps before the competition caution paid a tenth over the final 50, figuratively speaking. Sammy Smith emerged to a big lead early because spotter Frankie Kimmel wanted track position, but a parts failure prevented them from remaining a factor by the end of the race.
Meanwhile, defending winner Ty Majeski only made the field of 37 via a provisional but chose to ride in the back and ran the slowest lap times possible without getting lapped for the first 100 laps. He wasn’t alone either, as that strategy was also shared by the likes of Connor Hall and Brandon Pierce.
With the exception of Smith, frontrunners Doug Barnes, Carson Kvapil and Matt Cox were backing up the field too, creating a visual that looked like something out of Daytona or Talladega with cars two and three wide in a big pick all running 20 second laps.
Spotters were tasked with keeping their drivers running slow enough to not slip their rear tires while also preventing them from triggering The Big One™.
Even the Smith strategy had merit as Kimmel was betting on his driver being able to better manage tire wear by himself instead of finding himself door-to-door in traffic on a fifth-mile bullring. That’s to say nothing of being ahead of the massive crash that took place on the Lap 100 restart after the competition caution.
But that crash was also the saving grace for those who ran at the back of the field.
Spotting for Kvapil in their No. 8 JR Motorsports entry, Josh Berry immediately picked up on what had happened, telling his driver that while the crash eliminated several good cars, it also allowed Majeski, Hall and Pierce to pick up 15 free spots when they avoided the crash.
That was 15 spots they no longer needed to stress their right rears over to move towards the front. The three all immediately charged to the front and another caution with 12 to go gave Majeski all the track position he needed to outduel Kvapil for his second consecutive win.
Ultimately, Majeski appeared to have saved the most and it won Chad Bryant Racing with Triple R Racing the race for the second consecutive season.
It’s a discipline of racing that doesn’t come natural to any racer, intentionally going as slow as possible to be able to go faster by the finish, but it’s a skillset that can win races, nevertheless.
"Well, I was complaining on the radio about it, that's for sure. There were guys going even slower than we were behind me and I'm thinking 'what are we doing?' We don't have a lot of races like this in Super Late Models, so it's been a learning curve for me."
Hall finished fourth and when asked if he likes to race this way he said 'no, but yes, if that makes any sense.’
As much sense as going slow to go fast does.
"But seriously though, some days you want to play chess and some days you want to keep it simple and play checkers. I liked the chess match tonight. It's a lot of fun."
For those watching from their living rooms or at Florence, it had to be surreal watch a de facto slow-moving pack race. It’s one of those races where every fan would benefit from a radio scanner.
Jumping from Smith, who even as he backed up to 19 second laps, was still being told he needed to go even slower to Majeski who was wondering what they were doing running 20 second laps created the drama that otherwise wouldn’t be obviously apparent.
In an era where Late Model races are virtually full-throttle on fresh durable tires, it’s refreshing to see a variable get introduced in the form of tire conservation. Think of it this way: The strategy tasked Majeski, one of the best regarded best short trackers in the country, with gaining 30 spots in 50 laps after saving tires for 100 laps.
And albeit with a lucky crash, he did it.
It was a chess match and Majeski emerged as the Grandmaster of Florence Motor Speedway.