Jeff Letson Returns in Style to Win Open Wheel Modifieds; Aaron “Wheelman” Ashcraft Victorious in I-65 Shootout

By Kevin Neal


A beautiful evening for racing unfolded over Huntsville Speedway Saturday night as the Open Wheel Modifieds and Late Models returned to action along with the Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville Frontrunners for the inaugural I-65 Shootout, a race conceived by Frontrunner competitor Chris Carter to allow the division to compete in a different venue for a “big time” purse.


Eighteen Frontrunner division machines descended on Huntsville Speedway Saturday night for the very first I-65 Shootout. Dillon Hoover captured the Fast Time Qualifying Award that was presented by Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville and received a special plaque crafted by Rickey Woods of Ardmore Athletics and More. Hoover rolled a three on the inversion die, placing the number 192 StainMaster Carpet Cleaning machine of Huntsville regular Shane Jones on the pole for the event alongside the number 3 of Aaron Ashcraft. Ashcraft lived up to his nickname of “Wheelman” as he captured the lead from the high groove at the drop of the green flag with Jones giving chase. The Frontrunners utilized every inch of the racing surface at Huntsville, racing two and three wide throughout the field. A special five minute competition caution flew at lap 25 to allow the Frontrunner drivers to perform limited service to their cars, which are not accustomed to running 50 lap features. Several drivers fell out of contention at the caution as their machines could not continue. The field was restaged on the frontstretch following the competition caution, in their running order at the time of the yellow, and Ashcraft was once again, off to the races at the drop of the green. Shane Jones made a spirited charge into second place and seemed to be closing the gap to Ashcraft, but time was running out, allowing Aaron “Wheelman” Ashcraft to capture the checkers and the $500 payout for the I-65 Shootout.


Justin Ashburn of Nashville, TN captured the Fast Time Qualifying Award for the Late Model division with a lap of 13.822 and would roll a 1 on the inversion starting the field straight up with Ashburn on the pole alongside Billy Melvin for the 50 lap feature. Rossville, Georgia driver Bobby Castleberry, the division point leader, also returned to action driving the number 72 car of Ron Evans while continuing to finish his new car after taking a wild ride through the turn 3 retaining wall at the last feature. Ashburn was quick on the trigger, taking the lead from the drop of the green flag, a lead he would not relinquish despite several stout challenges from Melvin in the closing stages of the race. Melvin, Austin Aker in another strong showing, Gary Nix of Warrior, and Eddie Taylor from Nashville rounded out the top five finishers. Also of note, JoLynn “JoJo” Wilkinson of Hueytown, AL, daughter of late model veteran John Boy Wilkinson III, made her stock car racing debut in the familiar number Riverchase KIA number 11 car. A standout in kart racing, this was JoJo’s first effort in a closed bodied stock car and if her efforts were any indication, the future looks bright!


Chase Oliver of Boaz, AL was the winner of the Fast Time Qualifying Award on Saturday night with a lap of 13.891, and rolled a two on the inversion putting the always dangerous number 47 of John Thomas on the pole. Thomas’s invincible streak was coming to an end however, as the multiple time track champion suffered a mechanical failure after hot laps, and was unable to start the feature. The lineup adjustment placed the Ron’s Insulation number 131 of the returning Jeff Letson on the pole alongside Oliver. Letson, a former division champion at Huntsville and Late Model champion at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, had not raced at Huntsville in several years, but you would not be able to tell it by his performance Saturday night. Letson shot to the point at the drop of the green and did not look back, leading all 50 laps for the win with Chase Oliver in hot pursuit, followed by Troy Gray, Phillip Price, and Austin Odom rounding out the top five finishers.


The Super Stock division 20 lap feature saw Todd Cagle capture his second victory of the  season. Cagle started from the outside pole alongside of Austin Evans, making his first appearance of the year at Huntsville. Cagle was able to secure the lead early and kept the melee in his rearview mirror. Brandon Walker, who made his debut in the Super Stocks last race, ran into trouble three laps in when contact on the frontstretch resulted in three flat tires. Bent wheel rims prevented his crew from being able to effect repairs and he was forced to retire. Bradley Malone also made his return to the Super Stock division in a new race vehicle, but would also be unable to complete the full distance. Caleb Thornberry, Junior Jordan, and David Dean, Jr. were a hornet’s nest of action as the three battled for the real estate in Cagle’s wake. David Dean, Jr. would finally emerge as the runner-up, but time had run out, leaving the Gentle Giant to hoist his second trophy in 2017.



Short track racing is a contact sport, and no better example of that could be made than the action in the 20 lap Mini Modified feature Saturday night. The race, which saw several new faces in the field, was marred by multiple cautions that saw several drivers visit the pits to render temporary repairs. Jeremy Davis was going for his seventh straight win of the season, and still made a strong showing despite contact which forced him to pit to remove a frame bar that was jutting from the rear of his car like a javelin. Jacob Hill started the race on the pole alongside the 05 machine of Jeremy Williams, and Hill was up to the task, holding off a hard charging Jimmy Rowe and Davis to capture the victory followed by Jerry Mills and Tommy Robinette rounding out the top five.


In the Pro Buzz 15 lap feature, Shane Jones, in a warm-up for the I-65 Shootout, started on the pole alongside Floyd Brown. At the drop of the green, Brown flexed his muscle, pulling to the lead with teammate Matthew Robbins in tow. Jones raced side by side with Courtney Gibbs for several laps, with Gibbs gaining the advantage at one point before being overtaken by Jones. Jones then set sights on runner up Robbins and closed the gap significantly. With two laps to go, Jones got a nose under Robbins entering turn 2, but was in danger of being blackflagged as he initiated the pass from the apron. Jones backed out of the pass, not advancing his position, and was able to take the spot on the backstraightaway, giving him the second place position. Floyd Brown had set sail, however, en route to picking up the win.


The Buzz division 10 lap feature saw Kassey Rogers, a regular competitor at Sayre Speedway emerge victorious, leading from the pole to capture the win over Brandon Bircheat, Josh Harrell, Matthew Tucker, and Johnny Neyman.


Josh McElhone had little trouble returning to victory lane Saturday night in the 15 lap Hot Shot division feature. McElhone took the lead early and was able to hold off cohort Jeremy Price for the win, followed by Allen Gunter.

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.


I-65 Shootout:

  1. 3 – Aaron Ashcraft
  2. 192 – Shane Jones
  3. 02 – Travis Owens
  4. 18 – Kassey Rogers
  5. 22 – Dillon Hoover
  6. 09 – Matt Hamlett
  7. 8 – Matthew Tucker
  8. 25 – Joshua Garvin
  9. 5 – Brandon Bircheat
  10. 424 – Shawn Garmon
  11. 13 – Ricky Calkins
  12. 107 – Michael Forsythe
  13. 411 – Josh Harrell
  14. 59 – Mark Collins
  15. 91 – Dalton Collins
  16. 69 – Derrick Bissinger
  17. 84 – Duane White
  18. 45 – Eddie Bousson

Late Model:

  1. 98 – Justin Ashburn
  2. 145 – Bill Melvin
  3. 07 – Austin Aker
  4. 99 – Gary Nix
  5. 66 – Eddie Taylor
  6. 9 – Brian Bentley
  7. 05 – Nathan Davis
  8. 72 – Bobby Castleberry
  9. 71 – Ray Clemens
  10. 11 – JoLynn Wilkinson
  11. 00 – Jeremy Price
  12. 27 – Edwin Gurley

Open Wheel Modified:

  1. 131 – Jeff Letson
  2. 5 – Chase Oliver
  3. 74 – Troy Gray
  4. 51 – Phillip Price
  5. 40 – Austin Odom
  6. 07 – Blake Ferguson
  7. 101 – Cameron Berry
  8. 181 – Stuart Dunn
  9. 23 – Bradley Carter
  10. 0 – Jordan Key
  11. 37 – Garrett Finley
  12. 47 – John Thomas

Super Stock Division:

  1. 98 – Todd Cagle
  2. 21 – David Dean, Jr.
  3. 14 – Caleb Thornberry
  4. 29 – Junior Jordan
  5. 19 – Austin Evans
  6. 15 – Bradley Malone
  7. 18 – Brandon Walker

Mini Modified:

  1. 19 – Jacob Hill
  2. 00 – Jimmy Rowe
  3. 85 – Jeremy Davis
  4. 61 – Jerry Mills
  5. 9 – Tommy Robinette
  6. 121 – Jason Loveday
  7. 05 – Jeremy Williams
  8. 11 – Mark Sabin
  9. 45 – Joe Griffitt
  10. 5 – Doug Emerson

Pro Buzz Division:

  1. 84 – Floyd Brown
  2. 192 – Shane Jones
  3. 48 – Matthew Robbins
  4. 99 – Courtney Gibbs

Buzz Division:

  1. 18 – Kassey Rogers
  2. 5 – Brandon Bircheat
  3. 411 – Josh Harrell
  4. 8 – Matthew Tucker
  5. J11 – Johnny Neyman (DQ)

Hot Shot Division:

  1. 01 – Josh McElhone
  2. 00 – Jeremy Price
  3. 15 – Allen Gunter