Autry rallies to capture Crown win

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Duane Goins

Lancaster Speedway finished the Carolina Crown event Saturday night in front of what most are saying was a record grandstands crowd at Lancaster Motor Speedway.

The race was rained out March 17 and fans and competitors returned to Lancaster Motor Speedway for the resumption of the event.

Fans were standing in awe, then franticly cheering an upset win by Scott Autry, the 2002 Carolina Clash champion, but winless in eight years up until last August.

Autry, of Autryville N.C., started last in the field, but raced his way through the pack to battle for the lead.

Autry took advantage of a leaking right rear tire on the car of Batesville, Arkansas’ Jared Landers and held off the Clint Bowyer-owned entry and its Roush-Yates horsepower.

Landers was in town after a big win in Kilgore, Texas last week. He had set a new track record of 18.422 seconds and 99 mph average on the 58-year old dirt half-mile two weeks ago.

The entire grandstand fans were on their feet and cheering wildly at the finish and stayed for the victory lane celebration.

The S.C. Highway Patrol was on hand to help the overflow crowd out of the parking lot.

Fans were asking, “When are they coming back? “Will there be one next year?”

A seasoned photographer with roots all the way to Indianapolis and Gasoline Alley responded with, “Folks, I have seen thousands of races, but Saturday night at Lancaster will rank right up there as one of the best I have ever seen.”

NASCAR star Clint Bowyer, on hand to watch his two teams cars lead, with Jonathan Davenport falling out of all and finishing second, remarked, “We lost, but I really like this place, it’s a classic half-mile, we’ll be back.”

The 75-lap event saw cautions every few laps until lap 41, but the yellow flags only gave the fans a chance to sit down, and catch their breath as Davenport fought off and swapped the lead with Casey Roberts, of Toccoa Ga., Dennis “Rambo” Franklin of Gaffney, Chris Ferguson of Mt. Holly N.C., Chris Madden of Gray Court in Laurens County, Donald Bradsher of Alamance N.C., and Ross Bailes of Blacksburg.

One caution flew for Mike Gault of Gaffney as he cleared and flew over the turn three wall and landed in the pines, unhurt, and little damage to his race car.

A restart on lap 41 saw a long run, with Davenport leading position changes all the way around, but the driver from Blairsville, Ga., fell out at the 60-lap mark.

A mandatory caution with 10 laps to go was part of the race format, and leader Landers realized he had a right rear tire going down under caution on lap 63. He was flagged in by teammate Davenport, giving the lead to Autry, and with help from Bowyer put two new tires on the rear for a bonzai run back to the front.

The green flag fell and Landers blasted through the cars still on the lead lap in front of him. He tried in vain to catch and pass Autry, the son of former longtime Fayetteville N.C., speedway track promoters Donald and Shirley, who took the biggest win of his career and the $20,000 first place. Second was Landers. The Carolina Crown was the largest purse ever for dirt racing in S.C.

Ron Parker won the companion event, the NDRA Road Show event for GM Performance Late Models after battling Dennis “Rambo” Franklin and Dan Bruer for 40 laps.

Parker prevailed over Bruer, Franklin, Donnie Austin, Big A Sanders and Timbo Mangum of Lancaster.

Steve Davis of Monroe won the Old School Vintage event in his 57 Ford.

u LMS action continues Saturday, with the Carolina Clash Late Model Series and their Blue Collar Tour of late models rolling into Lancaster. The 40-lap race has a $4,000-to-win purse.

Grandstand admission is $20 and pit admission is $30.

Other divisions running at Lancaster Speedway will be:

NDRA GM Performance Late Models – $1,200 to win, $100 to start

Lancaster Speedway Super Street – $600 to win

Lancaster Speedway Crate Sportsman – $600 to win

Lancaster Speedway Pure Street – $500 to win

Lancaster Speedway “Classic Vintage” – $150 to win

Jeff Smith and Luke Roffers will ride a wave of momentum into Lancaster as each driver has been victorious with the Carolina Clash so far in 2012.

Along with their wins, each has scored top six finishes to back up their wins, putting them just one point apart in the point standings.

Smith leads the standings by one over Roffers. Smith was able to take his second-ever Carolina Clash win at 311 Motor Speedway last weekend and is ready to add to his career win totals.

Smith last held a checkered flag at LMS in April 2010 in a Clash South race. Roffers has never won at Lancaster, but he has a Wolf Pack Rocket car capable of winning here.

Many teams in the top 10 in points with the Carolina Clash have already experienced Lancaster Speedway at least once in 2012.

Ricky Weeks, Jeff Smith, Dennis Franklin, Johnny Pursley, Donald Bradsher, Ross Bailes, Tim Allen, and Doug Sanders competed in the April 7 Carolina Crown event, but there are two drivers in particular who have mixed emotions about their return to Lancaster for another weekend of super late model racing.

Johnny Pursley, of Clover, is third in points. He is the most recent Carolina Clash winner at Lancaster Speedway. Since 2005, eight different drivers have captured Clash checkered flags here.

 Franklin and Weeks each have two wins. Along with Pursley, Randall Chupp, David Smith, Tim Allen, Petey Ivey, and Jeff Smith have one LMS win apiece.