John Thomas Roars Back to the Winners Circle in the Open Wheel Modifieds

By Kevin Neal


It was a joyous Easter weekend celebration at Huntsville Speedway Saturday night complete with a visit from the Easter Bunny and Easter Egg Hunts that brought the next generation of racing fans out of the grandstands to hunt eggs and win prizes galore. When it came down to the racing action, the fans in attendance had plenty to cheer about as well!

Billy Melvin of Trussville, Alabama returned to Late Model racing driving the Bob Massey prepared Posten’s Overhead Door machine and looked to have his first victory of the season in hand, BUT, as it is said so often in racing, it’s not over until the checkered flag falls. Melvin would start on the pole after fast time qualifier Justin Ashburn of Nashville, TN turned a 13.762 in qualifying in his 31-W Insulation Camaro, but rolled a 4 on the inversion. Melvin was flanked on the start by short track racing veteran Gary Nix of Warrior, Alabama in the  Super Signs Chevy. Melvin would claim the lead on the initial start with Nix quickly wedging himself into the runner-up spot ahead of Lick Skillet’s pride and joy Johnny Brazier, a two time winner this season in his Knight Moves Ford. Melvin would stretch out on the field leaving Nix and Brazier to battle for second as the trio of veterans paced the field for the balance of the 50 lap feature.

With 20 laps to go, tell tale wisps of smoke were noticed from the tailpipes of Melvin’s Chevy Monte Carlo, but he was not lacking in power as he continued to pace the field. A restart at lap 38 saw Melvin’s woes continue to escalate as the smoke began to billow, and at lap 43, a scant 7 laps from the checkers, Melvin’s powerplant shut down. This placed Johnny Brazier in the cat bird’s seat as he had worked around Gary Nix on the restart. Nix would also fall into the clutches of fast qualifier Justin Ashburn as the leaders worked to avoid the rapidly  slowing car of Billy Melvin, with Ashburn getting the best of the affair and  moving into the runner-up position. Ashburn would begin to close on leader Brazier, but at that point, it was a matter of math as the laps ran out and Johnny Brazier took home his third win of the season in the Late Models.

The Open Wheel Modified 50 lap feature saw the resurgence of open wheel racing guru John Thomas of Harvest, Alabama as he put on a clinic with his competitors. The speedway welcomed Sayre competitors Jeremy Williams, Rocky Rogers, Blake Ferguson, and Walter Cartledge who all did their best to match the blistering pace set by Thomas, but only Troy Gray in his newly repaired number 74 machine could stay close. Gray would finish in the runner-up spot, followed by Jeremy Williams, Rogers, Cartledge, Garrett Finley, and Blake Ferguson.

Austin Odom was also in attendance, but was unable to compete in the feature after battling mechanical woes on his number 40 machine.

The Super Stock division, never short on great racing, may have offered up the wildest action of the night, before seeing Caleb Thornberry, a winner from last season, make a triumphant return to Victory Lane in the 20 lap feature. The Bama Parts number 1, driven in years past by Steve Jones, was brought out of retirement by Truck Series competitor Michael Neely for the event and started on the pole after the draw. Neely grabbed the early lead with Junior Jordan, winner of the first race of the season, in hot pursuit. Neely and Jordan ran nose to tail for the first 7 laps before getting together on the frontstretch. Both Neely and Jordan were relegated to the end of the field, putting Todd Cagle in the lead in the Shrek adorned number 98. Cagle would pace the next 6 laps with Thornberry, David Dean, Jr., Guile Hornbuckle, and Butch Rogers in a hornet’s nest behind him all competing for the same real estate. Thornberry   would make his way to second by lap 13 and was making a play for the lead with Dean and Hornbuckle flanking him, when a melee ensued on the frontstraight that saw Hornbuckle and Cagle tangling and colliding with the outside wall. The ensuing caution sent Cagle, Hornbuckle, and David Dean, Jr. to the pits when it was determined by a track official that Dean, Jr. was leaking a  significantamount of fluid from his number 21 car. Hornbuckle was able to have repairs made to his car that allowed him to continue, while Todd Cagle’s machine would not refire and he could not return to the race. David Dean, Jr. made a significant comeback, returning from the rear of the field after pitting to finish second behind Thornberry who picked up his first Super Stock win of

The 20 lap Mini Modified feature saw Jeremy Davis return to Victory Lane with Doug Emerson of Athens, Alabama once again hot on his heels. Charlie McKee returned to the driver’s seat of his Buster’s Bait and Pawn Shop number 121 Mustang along with Mark Sabin in the Plymouth Aero, but the night belonged to Davis, capturing the fast time qualifying award and the victory.

Brandon Thornton made his first visit to the Huntsville Speedway Winners Circle in five years in capturing the checkers in the 15 lap Pro Buzz feature. Thornton started on the pole in the number 92 Bama Parts/SteamMaster Carpet Cleaning Saturn and never looked back from the drop of the green flag. Austin Thornton, Brandon’s son would wage a fierce, but very clean battle with multiple time winner Floyd Brown of Birmingham, Alabama, holding off  Brown’s stout Acura to set up for the father/son 1-2 finish. Shane Jones and Courtney Gibbs rounded out the top five finishers.

Josh Mac was again victorious in the Hot Shot division, but not without some challenges. Tommy Rigsby made great gains as he attempted to challenge for the lead after racing side by side with Jeremy Price, returning to the Hot Shots in the number 13 car, and Jamie Bradford.
Rigsby would run out of time and laps putting Josh back in the Winners Circle to open the racing action for Saturday night’s festivities.

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. 71 – Johnny Brazier

2. 98 – Justin Ashburn

3. 99 – Gary Nix

4. 7 – John Bolen

5. 14 – Bobby Castleberry

6. 81 – Ty Roberts

7. 59 – Bill Melvin

8. 9 – Brian Bentley

Open Wheel Modified:

1. 47 – John Thomas

2. 74 – Troy Gray

3. 48 – Jeremy Williams

4. 41 – Rocky Rogers

5. 22 – Walter Cartledge

6. 37 – Garrett Finley

7. 07 – Blake Ferguson

8. 40 – Austin Odom (DNS)

Super Stock Division:

1. 14 – Caleb Thornberry

2. 21 – David Dean, Jr.

3. 29 – Junior Jordan

4. 27 – Guile Hornbuckle

5. 1 – Michael Neely

6. 72 – Butch Rogers

7. 98 – Todd Cagle

8. 24 – Zack Smith

Mini Modified Division:

1. 85 – Jeremy Davis

2. 5 – Doug Emerson

3. 121 – Charles McKee

4. 11 – Mark Sabin

Buzz Division:

1. 1 – Brandon Thornton

2. 16 – Austin Thornton

3. 84 – Floyd Brown

4. 192 – Shane Jones

5. 99 – Courtney Gibbs

Hot Shot Division:

1. 01 – Josh Mac

2. 45 – Tommy Rigsby

3. 13 – Jeremy Price

4. 46 – Jamie Bradford

5. 03 – Johnny Oates

6. 15 – Allen Gunter