Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2022 Rebel 50 at Cherokee

The Headline(s)

Ringoes, N.J.’s Ryan Godown followed up his Short Track Super Series Cajun Swing crown last fall with a $25,000 win in the inaugural Halmar International Elite Series race, the Rebel 50 at Cherokee.

How it Happened

2022 Rebel 50 (Halmar International Elite Series)
Where: Cherokee Speedway – Gaffney, S.C. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $25,000

Ryan Godown ended the 2021 season arguably the hottest driver on the Short Track Super Series circuit, and he showed no signs of cooling in the offseason. Taking the lead with 11 laps to go, Godown kept Friday hard charger Larry Wight, as well as modified powerhouses Stewart Friesen and Matt Sheppard, at bay and weathered a rash of late-race yellows to win the Rebel 50.

The win, worth $25,000, ties Godown with super late model driver Mike Marlar for the richest single-day victory of 2022. More significantly, the win marked the first race of a newly-created mini-series promoted by the Short Track Super Series, a slate of six big-money races that are tops among paydays for center-drive modifieds. 

As expected, both Friesen and Sheppard were contenders, using the high side of a surprisingly racy Cherokee Speedway to climb from mid-pack to the top five in the closing laps. However, a caution with only two laps to go saw both lose good finishes, Friesen with broken suspension and Sheppard with a flat tire. The late-race struggles leave both buried in the mini-series points standings.

Success Stories

Cherokee Speedway is notorious for being hard to pass on, so a shoutout goes to Friday’s unofficial hard charger, Larry Wight, and the Rebel 50’s official hard charger, Ronnie Johnson. Johnson went from 29th to seventh by the end of the feature. Wight, meanwhile, climbed from 14th to win the first modified qualifier Friday night.

Considering Wight’s obvious speed, that Ryan Godown won the Rebel 50 by passing Wight under green, again, on a traditionally narrow track, was an emphatic exclamation point on the victory, the ninth of his STSS career.

Ellenville, N.Y.’s Brock Pinkerous won the third qualifier race for the 602 sportsman modifieds Friday night… on his 12th birthday.

Given Stewart Friesen’s prowess at Cherokee (he entered Saturday’s Rebel 50 feature undefeated between prelim and feature races at the track in STSS competition), it’s doubtful many expected veteran Jimmy Horton to carry the flag for sponsor Halmar International in the inaugural race of the Elite Series they’re title sponsoring. 

That’s exactly what happened Saturday night, and though that came because of Friesen’s late-race trouble, Horton’s fourth-place finish was worth noting, especially when considering he had to first win an LCQ race to make the feature.

Vexed, Villains & Victims

The final yellow flag of the Rebel 50 flew with just two laps to go, taking out Friesen, Matt Sheppard and Anthony Perrego with either suspension issues or flat tires. All three lost top-10 finishes as a result.

Considering the speed that he showed just a week ago at Volusia Speedway Park, a track of similar length and speed as Cherokee, to see Peter Britten fail to even crack the top 10 in his LCQ race Saturday was truly shocking.

Not only did Cowpens, SC’s Ricky Bogan blow an engine while leading the first thunder bomber heat Friday night, the trail of fluid that he left behind in turns 1 and 2 was Mario Kart-esque in the trouble it caused the cars behind him.

Laurel, Del.’s Adam White also found trouble at the front of a prelim race, breaking after leading the opening three laps of the first 602 sportsman modified qualifier on Friday.

Back to the thunder bombers. In the closing laps of Friday’s feature, eventual race winner Hunter Funderburke washed up the track in turn 4, opening the door for Rod Tucker to make a racing winning pass the ensuing lap. Instead, Tucker spun underneath Funderburke in turn 1, de facto deciding the feature.

NASCAR Regulars

Truck Series regular Friesen wired the second modified qualifier on Friday, then used the high side of the Cherokee Speedway to run third in the Rebel 50 with five laps to go. The rash of late-race yellows for flat tires cost Friesen a picture perfect restart that saw him primed to take second from Wight on lap 46, culminating with broken suspension that ended Friesen’s night two laps short of the finish.

Friesen also got to spend some time with the grand marshal for the Rebel 50, as appropriate a choice as could have been made. Though Friesen might want to hide this picture from Steve Phelps and Co. I can’t imagine they’d be excited to welcome the Dukes to a paved track anytime soon.

Fanning the Flames

Some of the first audio broadcast from the track on Friday night was a PA warning asking all those driving four-wheelers in the pit areas to slow down. I can’t imagine that’s why Cherokee Speedway chose to brand itself “the place your momma warned ya about.”

Credit to the flagman working the Rebel 50 weekend that on numerous occasions withheld the yellow flag until the field was done “taking the lap,” ensuring that cautions for cars that, while needing assistance, were out of the way of the field weren’t nullifying other on-track passes. Discretion is the better part of valor, even when it comes to safety on a racetrack.

There’s a reason that I wrote in last week’s Dirty Half Dozen that I wish the Yankee, err, Northeast center-drive, modifieds would start replacing the traditional IMCA/UMP-style modified cars across the country. Case in point, this weekend. 

These modifieds made Cherokee Speedway racy. That is a major accomplishment, Elite Series or not. The Southern All-Stars tour must be praying their March Madness race at Cherokee next week is even comparable to what the STSS cars did.

Now, having said that, there’s no doubt that the Cherokee crew worked hard on their race surface over the course of the weekend, making a documented effort to create a second groove for the racers. Billy Pauch Jr. was right to express gratitude for that in his post-race interview.

But, let’s be honest here. Was the surprisingly racy Rebel 50 feature a product of track work, or a surprise benefit of light rain that delayed the start of the modified feature by roughly an hour? I’m leaning towards the latter, because the fact that earlier Saturday a B-main race saw both DIRTcar Nationals standout Peter Britten and defending STSS South Region champion Mike Mahaney fail to even crack the top 10 does not speak to a surface ripe for passing.

On that same note, the Flo Racing broadcast of the Rebel 50 stressed on multiple occasions that the STSS utilizes pill draws as oppose to time trials to set the field for their heat races, creating situations where powerhouse cars are left with no choice but to storm through the field even in prelim events. There’s a lot of merit to this argument, especially given how good the on-track STSS product is. Still, if they’re going to race at Cherokee on the regular, I’d give time trials a good, hard think.

The Flo Racing booth Saturday provided the crowd with a welcome history lesson, noting that the “Delaware” double-file restart procedure utilized by the STSS is called that given that it originated at the Delaware International Speedway, a track that the series will even race at later this season. Look, I know that the Yankees were running the show this weekend… but come on, you’re in South Carolina. It’s a “Dixie” double-file restart.

Numbers Game

4 – number of attempts it took to score a lap in the third sportsman qualifier Friday night.

58 – total number of center-drive modifieds entered for Rebel 50 qualifying races Friday night at Cherokee.

$331 – winner’s share of Saturday’s 50/50 at Cherokee.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): In honor of grand marshal John Schneider, we’ll give the Rebel 50 four “Dukes of Hazzard” tonics with decent peach schnapps. Cherokee will always be Cherokee, and the rain delay robbed Saturday’s program of the relative crispness of Friday’s. 

This track wasn’t a showcase for the center-drive modifieds, but late-race shuffling of the running order (even it was because of flat tires) and passes for the lead under green made the inaugural Elite Series event one for the books.

Up Next: The Tennessee Tipoff at Smoky Mountain offers the largest single-day payday of the weekend at $12,000 to win, but Thinkin’ Dirty will be turning its attention to the World of Outlaws and the Texas Two-Step, a two-night sprint car feature paying $10,000 to win each night. Coverage can be found on DirtVision.

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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