TIMMONSVILLE, S.C. — Another chapter was written in the history books of prestigious late model stock car events this past Saturday night (Nov. 18) with the 2023 edition of the South Carolina 400 at Florence Motor Speedway.
Serving the purpose of being the spiritual continuation of the Myrtle Beach 400 at the now extinct Myrtle Beach Speedway, the race continues to carry on the legacy of its famous predecessor.
It continually draws the biggest names in late model stock racing to South Carolina in late November every year. Because of that, it presents some of the toughest fields short track racing in America has to offer.
Every year, the winner of the prestigious event adds to what typically is an already impressive legacy or breaks through and creates a new one. This year, it was the latter.
Forty-one cars started the 250-lap main event at Florence Saturday night. And a little over three and a half hours later, 17-year-old Kade Brown crossed under the checkered flag first.
Kade Brown Got the Last Laugh
What a run Brown has been on. In his first season in the Matt Piercy Racing No. 23, Brown has ended his season on a tear. He won the Bobby Isaac Memorial and the track championship at Hickory Motor Speedway back in September, followed by the Orange Blossom Shootout at Orange County Speedway in October. Now he has won both the Fall Brawl at Hickory and the South Carolina 400 at Florence in the month of November.
As the 2022 Florence track champion, Brown is no stranger to success at the South Carolina 0.400-mile track. He came into Saturday night riding a hot streak that continued into qualifying for the main event. Brown laid down the fourth-fastest lap of the 41-car field, meaning he would roll off fifth due to Sam Yarbrough being guaranteed the pole position.
Brown hung around in fifth for the entirety of the first 62-lap green flag run. Then a frenzy of cautions began to shuffle the field a bit. Brown never fell out of the top 10, only falling as far down as ninth before the mid-race break at lap 100, which was moved up from lap 125 due to fuel concerns for the teams.
When the race went back green, Brown’s charge to the front began, and by lap 111, the No. 23 car was leading. From that point on, the tire conservation began, not just for Brown, but the entire field. In a true game of cat and mouse, some cars dropped all the way to the back, while others backed off only enough to save their equipment while maintaining track position.
The race ran green for over 100 laps, and Brown maintained the lead the entire time — until the yellow flew on lap 212, just 38 laps from the finish.
The field getting stacked back up completely changed the game, as Brown’s lead was gone, and it was go time in one of the biggest late model stock car races in the country. Sure enough, as soon as the green flag fell on the restart, the fight was on between Brown and second-place runner Carson Kvapil.
Kvapil snagged the lead on the outside of the racetrack and held it through multiple restarts. But Brown was able to wrestle the lead back away on lap 222 and began to drive away as the battles raged on behind the No. 23. The yellow flew once again with just seven laps to go, and this time it was Kaden Honeycutt who lined up beside Brown on the final restart.
Honeycutt ran Brown up the racetrack to grab the lead in turn 2, so Brown drove down into turn 3 and returned the favor, pushing the No. 10 of Honeycutt up the track and driving off to the win the South Carolina 400.
For Brown, the win on Saturday night acts as a message to all the doubters who questioned the legitimacy of the team’s success all year long. There was never any doubt about whether or not Brown had the driving ability, but many questioned the legitimacy of the inspection process at Hickory, where the team spent most of its season running this season.
After a season of controversy, the No. 23 was inspected well past 1 a.m. ET to ensure everything on the car met regulations, and ultimately, everything on the car did. After a season full of success and controversy, Brown and the Matt Piercy Racing team got the last laugh and pulled off the biggest win of his season away from the team’s home track. And it came against maybe the toughest field they faced all season long.
The Stars Were Out at Florence
Along with the typical cast of characters in late model racing, some of the sport’s biggest stars also came out to Florence for their chance at winning the crown jewel event. For the second week in a row, Josh Berry and Rodney Childers continued their new NASCAR partnership with another late model sidequest, as Berry drove the Kevin Harvick Inc., No. 62.
Berry’s old team, JR Motorsports, also showed up to Florence with a second car, with NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. once again behind the wheel of the Bass Pro Shops No. 3.
While Earnhardt may have stolen the spotlight, it was Berry who tried to steal the show. Berry is no stranger to success in a late model stock car. He sits atop the all-time wins list for the CARS Tour, to go along with a CARS Tour championship and a NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series national championship to his name.
Berry wasted no time in putting the No. 62 out front, as he laid down the fastest lap in qualifying earlier in the night. From that point on, everyone at Florence knew that if you wanted to win the race, you were going to have to go through the No. 62.
The future NASCAR Cup Series driver started on the outside front row and found his way around pole sitter Yarbrough on lap 6. From there, Berry began to put on a clinic, pacing the field through the entire first portion of the race, without any real challenge from the cars behind.
For Earnhardt, the beginning of the night was much more challenging after a 26th-place result in qualifying set the No. 3 team behind to start the night. Confidence remained high in the No. 3 camp however, as Earnhardt has struggled with qualifying in previous late model starts over the past few seasons while often showing better race pace.
This time however, Earnhardt chose not to charge to the front but rather just ride and save equipment for what was sure to be a challenge later in the race. Earnhardt ran outside the top 20 until lap 62, which is when the methodical march toward the front began for the No. 3.
Up front, Berry led until the lap 100 mid-race break, while Earnhardt found himself just outside the top 10 in 11th. When the race returned to green flag action, Earnhardt managed to crack the top 10, getting as high as eighth before falling back to 11th as the tire saving game began.
Meanwhile, Berry’s strategy became very clear, electing not to pace the field and immediately dropping down to sixth within the first 14 laps of the run. While others chose to charge to the front, Berry’s actions showed that he felt the car was good enough to drive back to the front when it was go time.
As the race began to play out, however, it got harder to pass at Florence, as many cars began to fall victim to a tight condition in their racecar, Berry included. Berry maintained the a spot in the middle of the top 10, while Earnhardt held his spot just outside the top 10 in 12th.
That was until the caution changed everything with 38 laps to go. With the field bunched back together, both Berry and Earnhardt made attempts to charge to the front, with Berry driving up to fourth while Earnhardt climbed as high as seventh.
In the end, that’s as close as either one of them would get to winning the South Carolina 400, as both of them ultimately had the same issue, it was too hard to pass. Berry showed speed, driving up to the back of Kvapil’s No. 8, but neither Berry nor Kvapil were able to make any progress in getting around the struggling No. 10 of Honeycutt for second.
Meanwhile, Earnhardt was bounced around in the hornet’s nest that was the middle of the top 10, falling down to 10th before climbing back to eighth at the checkered flag. For Earnhardt, Saturday marked something bigger than another top 10 in a late model race at this point in his already historic career.
Rather than just another stat line, another successful run for Earnhardt was coupled with a very successful car count and fan turnout at Florence, meaning the continued growth of grassroots late model racing, something Earnhardt has been at the forefront of for quite some time.
As for Berry, the fourth-place result comes as somewhat of a disappointment. With such a dominant car, the team has to wonder what could have been had they maintained the track position they held in the first 100 laps of the race.
After two straight top-five finishes for Berry and the KHI team, coming at the Fall Brawl and Florence, the team has one more shot to pull off a big win — Sunday, Nov. 26, at Southern National Motorsports park. This is the race where Berry won his 100th race with JRM and $50,000 one year ago.
The 2023 edition of the South Carolina 400 was another successful night in the world of late model stock car racing, one that continues to grow year after year. With one more race to go in the 2023 season for the LMSC world, this season has seen monumental growth for the sport and the increased involvement of not only the original LMSC teams, but super late model teams and drivers and even NASCAR teams and drivers.
Late model stock car racing is in a healthy spot with some of the sport’s biggest stars leading the way. And as we wait for what’s ahead in 2024, it’s hard to be mad with what we saw on Saturday night and throughout the entire 2023 season. The South Carolina 400 is a perfect way to carry on the tradition that was the Myrtle Beach 400 and the legacy of Myrtle Beach in general. It will continue to flourish and provide great racing for years to come.
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