• Travis Dockery

Freeman holds off 'The Coach' to win inaugural event

By Travis Docker

389 Country Editor

Tri-County Racetrack opened its gates for a special event on Thursday, Sept. 22. The main event for the evening was the inaugural Russell Thomas Memorial Super Late Model Race. Thomas was a local racing legend who passed away in Dec. of 2021. Four other divisions were also in action.

Georgia driver Kenny Collins set quick time in Super Late Model qualifying. A "quick six" dash for cash saw Collins and the other six fastest qualifiers battle it out for a $500 prize in a six lap shootout. Collins held off Jason Deal, who was sporting a Russel Thomas pain scheme, to claim the bonus provided by the Thomas family.

That win locked Collins into the pole position for the 57-lap main event with Deal lined up on the outside. When the green flag flew, Deal got a great jump and nosed ahead of Collins down the front stretch, but Collins' No. 1C was stout in the lower line and took sole possession of the top spot exiting turn two.

As the field logged laps, Deal's No. 57 shot towards the turn four wall thanks to a flat right-front tire. Deal kept the car from making contact and his crew changed the tire, but he was forced to restart at the rear of the field.

Jason Deal sported a throwback paint scheme to honor Russell Thomas.

When the race continued, Collins had a new challenger as he tried to work his way around slower cars. Track record holder Payton Freeman was slicing and dicing with Collins as the two friends battled for the lead. On lap 19, the caution flag again slowed the pace. While the track was cleared, Collins came to a stop in turn 1 and requested a push from track officials. Collins made the hard right turn into the pit area with shifter issues, ending his night.

Freeman inherited the lead, but it was by no means smooth sailing. Murphy driver David Payne reeled in Freeman and was able to maneuver his No. 8 high or low as he searched for the fastest way around the clay oval.

The pair swapped sliders and cross overs and as they came under the flag stand with two laps to go, Payne was even with Freeman. The driver known as "The Coach" gave it one more shot, but Freeman was too strong and held on for the win. Payne settled for second and Will Roland took third.

"I love racing here," Freeman said in victory lane. "It's a fun track and you can run wherever you need too." Freeman also thanked Payne for a clean race, the fans for their support and the Thomas family for the event.

Other winners:

602 Late Models: Bobby Eklins

602 Late Models Non-Qualifier: Mark Ledford

Street Stocks: Charles Devine Jr. (11 in a row)

Open Wheel Modifieds: Michael Barnett

Front Wheel Drive: Shannon Jones

Next up for Tri-County Racetrack will be the richest purse the track has ever seen. The FloRacing / Castrol Oil Late Model Night in America Series will invade Brasstown on Thursday, Oct. 6 and drivers will compete for a $22,022 first-place prize.

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