Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2022 Peach State Classic at Senoia

The Headline(s)

Ricky Thornton Jr. did more damage than Hurricane Nicole to the Peach State Classic field at Senoia Saturday night (Nov. 12).

How it Happened

2022 Peach State Classic (Flo Racing Night in America)
Where: Senoia Raceway – Senoia, Ga. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $53,053 (Saturday)

Ricky Thornton Jr. lapped all but the top-five cars in a flag-to-flag annihilation of the Peach State Classic field at Senoia Raceway Saturday night, leading all 75 laps by a country mile to score the $53,053 season finale of the Flo Racing Night in America tour.

In sharp contrast to Friday night’s preliminary feature, which was a caution-filled affair on a heavily-saturated racetrack immediately following rains from Hurricane Nicole, Thornton’s triumph was never in doubt, as the Flo Racing crew noted he turned the opening laps into a “glorified hot laps session” that saw no one able to mount any sort of challenge to the polesitter.

Among those lapped during Saturday’s feature was Brandon Sheppard, who secured the $75,000 Flo Racing Night in America series championship simply by starting at Senoia this weekend. Sheppard raced this weekend in his family-owned No. B5 car despite contesting earlier Flo Racing events in his former Rocket Chassis house car ride.

Success Stories

As written above, Thornton was untouchable Saturday. The additional shout-out here is that his No. 20RT team now has scored a major-league win and the momentum associated with it in the weeks heading into the Gateway Dirt Nationals, a trophy Thornton contended for last year.

Friday night’s preliminary feature winner was Kyle Bronson and notable because it marked Bronson’s first victory of the 2022 season. There’s no debating that 2022 has been a major step back for last year’s Silver Dollar Nationals champion, in part owing to increased responsibilities off the track after Bronson bought the Golden Isles Speedway. If you’re going to win once a year, a $20,000 prize is a good way to do it.

The only driver to score top-five finishes in both Peach State Classic features this weekend was Hudson O’Neal, who returned to the Double Down Motorsports team after getting a soft debut with his new Rocket Chassis house car at last week’s World Finals. O’Neal’s strong performance Saturday was perhaps not surprising after he got dumped coming to the checkers Friday night (more on that later).

There were two command performances from Friday night’s prelim feature that were worth noting. One was Carson Ferguson’s last-lap pass to take the final transfer spot in the first B-main, which was all the more notable in that Ferguson did it the right way. A few laps prior to the checkers, Ferguson hit Rucker Orr hard in the door. Rather than forcing the pass, Ferguson backed off, regrouped, and made a clean pass for the transfer.

Dennis Erb Jr. has made a habit of strong runs in the South during the fall in recent years, and he backed that up with top-10 finishes both nights of the Peach State Classic. Most notable on Friday, Erb won hard charger with a 19th to fourth run after winning a B-main event. However, that charge would not have been necessary…

Vexed, Villains & Victims

Had Erb Jr. not pulled a Mark Martin during his heat race Friday night. When the caution flag flew with two laps to go in Friday’s first heat race, Erb Jr. pulled off the racetrack and went to the scales, thinking the heat race was over. 

Erb Jr. did dispute with race officials that he had been waved off the racetrack to no avail.

Sheppard did finish eighth on Saturday night, but had to run in B-mains both nights at the Peach State Classic and never contended for either win. Sheppard himself acknowledged the run was disappointing when interviewed by Flo Racing, but I’d caution on reading anything into it. Sheppard’s No. B5 team in recent seasons had confined their racing solely to the familiar dirt track of the Midwest rather than traveling South.

There were two on-track disputes Friday night that could carry the “villain” tag. The first came just short of 10 laps to go, when Mike Marlar drew the caution flag in turn 4 with a broken left front that, upon replay, appeared to come from contact with Ashton Winger. 

Marlar minced no words, referring to Winger as a driver that “does stupid shit” when interviewed after the incident.

The second one was a lot more black and white. Coming to the checkered flag, Tyler Milwood absolutely ran over O’Neal coming down the frontstretch, turning the No. 71X into oncoming traffic and forcing O’Neal to make a major-league save to get his car turned the right direction.

Fanning the Flames

Hats off to the Senoia Raceway crew, the absolute heroes of the weekend. Their efforts to preserve their racing surface facing hurricane rainfall went viral online and actually proved largely effective, as the corners that were under tarp cover during the rain held up through a full racing program Friday night without any major divots. 

Now, no one is going to convince me that having a helicopter fly at ground level over the dirt surface as a “dryer” was nothing more than a stunt to sell tickets, but the tarping strategy is something more tracks need to look into. Save the corners and pack trucks can work any straightaway into racing shape.

Now, having said that, let’s take one other lesson learned from Friday night, a race that ended up chock full of yellow flags and at one point saw a half dozen racecars lined up for the tech official begging for a helmet change because tear-offs couldn’t keep up with the mud coming off the track. I don’t fault Senoia for running the opening night of the Peach State Classic in this instance, but knowing now the track conditions that unfolded, the feature distance needs to be cut. The mid-race cautions Friday were borderline open red conditions that defeat the purpose of a 50-lap race.

Another shout out to the Senoia track crew for treating a fallen drone like any other piece of debris during Friday’s second heat race, simply chucking it over the infield catchfence. Drone shots are all the rage is race coverage these days, but all that’s needed is a wide-view camera on top of a press box. Throw the bells and whistles from the train.

And on that note, Saturday night’s Flo Racing Night in America broadcast broken the golden rule again. For the love of God, there is NO REASON for talking heads to be yakking amongst themselves while racecars are on the track in competition. 

Between caution flags, lineup time and track prep time, there is sooooo much downtime during a dirt racing program for personalities to speak. When the support classes are racing, cover the damn race.

On second thought, comparing Dennis Erb Jr. to Mark Martin wasn’t the most apt. Dennis Erb Jr. won a championship doing his day job.

I’m still not convinced that removing the droop rule is going to be a cure-all for dirt late model racing, but there can be no doubt that the sport is facing an aerodynamic issue that has to be tackled for 2023. The Peach State Classic contested 120 feature laps this weekend for super late models and polesitters led all 120 of them. And that was despite the gumbo surface at Senoia being in superb shape Saturday night (a feature that saw the hard charger gain only six spots over 75 laps).

I spent much of the third B-main Friday debating whether I’d ever wear a t-shirt with a racecar sponsored by Snatch Masters Auto Recovery on it. Regardless, thanks to the company for being involved in the sport and sponsoring Jamie Maurice. 

Numbers Game


Feature laps led by a non-polesitter in the Peach State Classic at Senoia.


Yellow flags that slowed Friday night’s Peach Bowl feature at Senoia.


Super late models entered in Saturday’s Peach State Classic at Senoia.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give the Peach State Classic a tepid three Tree Shaker Imperial Peach Ales from O’Dell Brewing. The supreme efforts of the Senoia Raceway crew aside, Friday’s feature was a caution-filled slog and Saturday’s a snoozer.

Up Next: The South keeps bringing the super late models, with the Southern Showcase at Deep South Speedway going off for $27,000-to-win Saturday night in Alabama. Coverage can be found on Flo Racing. 

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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