In what might be the greatest example of irony, the largest number of spectators to ever see a race at Tri County Racetrack in Brasstown came on a night when the grandstands were empty. On Thursday, April 30 the track made national news by being the first track in the country to hold a Super Late Model event since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
"I've been working on this thing for weeks," said track promoter Ray Cook. "I've talked to anyone in Clay County who I thought I needed to in order to get everything approved." After several discussions, Cook got clearance from the Clay County Health Department, Clay County Sheriff Bobby Deese and Clay County Commissioners. As part of the agreement, precautions were taken which included a limited number of race teams, pit stalls spaced at least 25 feet apart, three team members per car and the most noticeable change, no fans allowed.
With the parameters set, Cook partnered with dirt racing website Dirt on Dirt for a live broadcast of the event which was named The Tarheel Invitational. Based in Illinois, Dirt on Dirt covers late model events across the country either via live broadcasts, recorded races or news stories. The team decided to make the event free for subscribers of their site. "I talked to them and they were excited to carry the race and I was excited to have them be a part of it."
Knowing that the country would be tuning in, the pressure was on for Cook to have a solid field of cars. He started
making phone calls and the final line-up was made up of national names, regional stars and local favorites.
On Thursday, following a morning of showers, skies cleared and at 7:35 p.m. racing fans from all over the world got their first live look at Tri County Racetrack. The event was originally set to pay the winner $4,000 but that changed quickly. Potential prize money started pouring in from every corner of the country for the "front row challenge." Originally, that challenge was made to the two fastest qualifiers and would pay $2,000 in bonus money to either driver if he elected to start at the rear of the field and went on to win the race.
With donations coming in faster than could be announced, that challenge money quickly shot up to $25,500 and was opened up to the top four qualifiers. Prior to the main event, Cook asked each of the four fastest if they would take the challenge. Only one, Michael Chilton, of Silvasa, Ky. dropped to the rear to chase nearly $30,000.
Once the 40-lap race got underway, Shane Clanton put his No. 25 firmly out front and drove away from the field. It looked like he was going to stink up the show until Donald Macintosh closed the gap. Working lap traffic, Macintosh darted to the inside of Clanton and put his No. 7m out front. Just then, the caution flag flew and the line-up reverted
back to the last completed lap which moved Clanton back to the lead.
On the restart, Clanton again showed off his speed and pulled away, but a late-race yellow bunched the field up. With the green flag back in the air, Macintosh looked to challenge Clanton but found himself under attack from Murphy's David Payne. The three were within a second of each other but the checkered flew before either one of the challengers could overtake Clanton and the "Georgia Bulldog" got the victory. Challenge accepter Chilton crossed the stripe in ninth and still received more than $2,700 thanks to donations from fans who appreciated his effort.
As for the broadcast, while exact numbers weren't released, Dirt on Dirt CEO Michael Rigsby said, "It was one of the largest audiences in Dirt on Dirt's history." Rigsby had high praise for Cook and the track, saying, "Ray Cook is one of the finest people in all of racing and we are so glad it was Tri County Racetrack that re-opened racing to the late model world. Ray deserves all the credit and I hope the country sees just how amazing Tri County is."
There is no word on when the track will hold its next event, but it would be hard to believe that Cook doesn't have an idea churning.
1. Shane Clanton
2. Donald Macintosh
3. David Payne
4. Casey Roberts
5. Brandon Overton
6. Tyler Erb
7. Kenny Collins
8. Shannon Buckingham
9. Michael Chilton
10. Ashton Winger
11. Tyler Millwood
12. Cody King
13. Pearson Lee Williams
14. Hudson O'neal
15. Kyle Hardy
16. Jamie Oliver
17. Joe Denby
18. Shawn Chastain
19. Cla Knight
20. Jadon Frame