Billy Melvin Thunders Back to Win in Late Models; John Thomas Making a Habit of Victory Lane in the Open Wheel Modifieds

By Kevin Neal

Shades of the sultry southern heat yet to come this season drenched Huntsville Speedway

Saturday night as the Late Model and Open Wheel Modified divisions headlined a spectacular

night of action at the South’s Fastest Quarter Mile Short Track.

Keith Rankin of Chattanooga, Tennessee set the fast time of the night with fast lap of 13.962, but rolled a two on the inversion dice, placing Rossville, Georgia driver Bobby Castleberry on the pole for the 50 lap feature. Castleberry would quickly take the lead on the start with Rankin falling in line in second just ahead of wily veteran Gary Nix in the Super Signs number 99 car.

Castleberry would pace the field for 18 laps, but the portent of what was to come started at lap 16 when Nix would get a nose under Keith Rankin and surpass him for second with Billy Melvin in tow, knocking Rankin back to fourth. Nix would make his move on Castleberry to take the lead on lap 18, again with Melvin glued to his rear bumper. Castleberry would find himself  stuck in the high groove and dropkicked to fourth before he could fall back in line in front of Craig Bell, making his first start this season in the Total Hose sponsored Impala.

Nix would command the lead until caution flew at lap 27 for a spin involving Edwin Gurley’s TruckSouth Chevrolet and late model rookie Canon Cochran, a 14 year old prodigy and the 2016 USAC Quarter Midget National Champion. On the subsequent double file restart, Nix took the preferred inside line with Melvin flanking him. Billy Melvin flexed the horsepower of the Bob Massey Posten’s Overhead Doors Chevrolet to take the lead from the high groove and never looked back, holding off Nix for the win after succumbing to a blown engine in the last late model feature.

Keith Rankin, Craig Bell, and Bobby Castleberry rounded out the top five.

John Thomas of Harvest, Alabama continued his winning ways, picking up a second consecutive win in the 50 lap Open Wheel Modified feature. Thomas was also the fast time qualifier with a 13.703 and thanks to the mighty luck of crew member Roy Stogner, who rolled a one on the inversion dice two weeks in a row, Thomas was set for the pole alongside Troy Gray. With Thomas quickly to the point at the drop of the green, Gray pedaled hard to make a  strike at the lead, but quickly found his rearview mirror filled with the number 16 car of Billy Melvin, who pulled double duty in both the Open Wheel  Modifieds and Late Models. The race was Thomas’s to lose at this point as Gray worked to hold off Melvin for the runner-up spot with Melvin finishing third followed by Garrett Finley in his best finish of the season, Bradley  Malone, making his debut in the Open Wheels this season, Mark Ellenburg, who made his first appearance with the Little Deuce Coupe at Huntsville this year, and Josh Looney, also competing at Huntsville for the first time this season.

Caleb Thornberry is also making a habit of winding up in Huntsville Speedway’s Victory Lane, capturing his second consecutive victory in a Super Stock division that was shorter on cars this week, following the wild action of the previous race, but may well have featured some of the best racing of the evening. Todd Cagle started on the pole in his repaired number 98 machine alongside David Dean, Jr., who is already a race winner in the division this season. Cagle captured the advantage on the initial start and drove the wheels off of his Shrek adored Chevy holding off the fierce challenge of David Dean, Jr. Dean would find himself in the clutches of Thornberry who would overtake him for second, and eventually make the pass for the lead over Cagle.

The 20 lap Mini Modified feature saw Jeremy Davis return to Victory Lane with Doug Emerson of Athens, Alabama again the runner-up after having issues with his machine prior to the pace laps. Last season’s Mini Modified Champion Tommy Robinette experienced a bit of good luck/bad luck as his rear axle broke while still under pace, eliminating him from competing but keeping him from destroying his car had the failure happened under green. Charlie McKee  and Dewayne Vintson, a Nashville driver making his first start of the year at  Huntsville led the field to the green for the 20 lap feature, following a botched initial start. McKee had issues coming up to speed as the cars in the row  behind him buried the noses of their cars into one another, giving Vintson the early lead. Eddie Taylor, another Nashville Pro4 competitor would also flex some muscle during the race, but it was the familiar sight of number 85 in the lead when the checkers flew.

Floyd Brown would find his way back to Victory Lane in the Pro Buzz/Buzz 15 lap feature, narrowly edging Austin Thornton for the win. Courtney Gibbs continued to show improvement in her new car, lodging a third place finish ahead of Shane Jones and Michael Neely. Larry Lang bested Dakoda Emerson in the Amateur Buzz portion of the event.

Jeremy Price ended the winning streak of Josh Mac in the 15 lap Hot Shot feature with Price edging Mac at the line to capture the win. Josh had to reel Price in from the tail of the field after last week’s win and looked to be gaining ground and in position to make a move, but ran out of time and laps. Tommy Rigsby, Allen Gunter, and Johnny Oates rounded out the field.

Huntsville Speedway will return to action next Saturday night with races featuring the STAR SuperTrucks, Sportsman, Tennessee Pure Stocks, Super Stock, Mini Modifieds, Pro Buzz, Buzz, and Hot Shot divisions. Pit gates will open at 2PM with practice starting at 3PM, followed by driver’s meeting at 5:30PM, qualifying at 6PM, and racing at 7PM.

Late Model:

1. 59 – Bill Melvin

2. 99 – Gary Nix

3. 24 – Keith Rankin

4. 56 – Craig Bell

5. 14 – Bobby Castleberry

6. 9 – Brian Bentley

7. 27 – Edwin Gurley

8. 12 – Canon Cochran

Open Wheel Modified:

1. 47 – John Thomas

2. 74 – Troy Gray

3. 16 – Billy Melvin

4. 37 – Garrett Finley

5. 15 – Bradley Malone

6. 2 – Mark Ellenburg

7. 49 – Josh Looney

Super Stock Division:

1. 14 – Caleb Thornberry

2. 21 – David Dean, Jr.

3. 98 – Todd Cagle

Mini Modified Division:

1. 85 – Jeremy Davis

2. 5 – Doug Emerson

3. 66 – Eddie Taylor

4. 88 – Dewayne Vintson

5. 11 – Mark Sabin

6. 121 – Charles McKee

7. 9 – Tommy Robinett (DNS – axle broken on pace lap)

Buzz Division:

1. 84 – Floyd Brown

2. 16 – Austin Thornton

3. 99 – Courtney Gibbs

4. 192 – Shane Jones

5. 92 – Michael Neely

6. 5 – Larry Lang (Amateur Buzz)

7. 41 – Dakoda Emerson (Amateur Buzz)

Hot Shot Division:

1. 13 – Jeremy Price

2. 01 – Josh Mac

3. 45 – Tommy Rigsby

4. 15 – Allen Gunter

5. 03 – Johnny Oates