Race Weekend Central

Counting CARS: 3 Takeaways from the CARS Tour Pro Late Model Season Opener

LUCAMA, N.C – The new era of the zMAX CARS Tour is officially underway, as the Pro Late Model division hit the track for the first time in 2024 this past Saturday (March 2) at Southern National Motorsports Park. The pro’s season opener saw a stacked field, and it was Kyle Campbell who picked up his first career win with the series at race’s end. 

The race marked the beginning of season three for the Pro Late Models, as the series came into existence ahead of the 2022 season replacing the former Super Late Model Series for the Tour. For the second year in a row, the season kicked off at Southern National, this time with a much larger car count than the 2023 season opener.

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With the third largest car count the series has ever seen, a first time winner, and some unfortunate circumstances out west, its now time to shift our focus to the Late Model Stock car division next Saturday (March 9). Here are three of the biggest takeaways from the Pro Late Model season opener.

A Win for the Underdogs

For any series, especially one that has struggled to find its footing at times, having some consistent front runners in every race, a group of drivers that you can count on to give the fans a show, is extremely important. However, it’s always nice to see someone new take one for the underdogs. 

That is exactly what Campbell did this past Saturday at Southern National. Not only did Campbell pick up his first career win in what was his twelfth start with the series, he did so in convincing fashion. 

Campbell started off the day strong, laying down a fast lap in qualifying that had the family owned No. 03 lined up outside the second row in fourth. At the drop of the green flag for the 100 lap feature, Campbell maintained his position inside the top five, all the while taking care of his equipment in order to have something left at the end. 

An early caution allowed him to line up outside the front row on the ensuing restart, and he made the most of the opportunity, jumping down to the bottom line in the second position. Campbell was able to maintain the second position on the second restart of the day at lap 35, as the field then settled in for a long green flag run. 

After multiple laps of hounding the rear bumper of then race leader Kris Wright, Campbell was able to get underneath the No. 20 entering turn three, and take the lead for the first time on lap 67. From there, Campbell set the pace for the rest of the way, fighting off Kaden Honeycutt on the final restart with 20 laps to go.

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Ultimately, Campbell brought the No. 03 home for his first career win with the series, nearly 1.8 seconds clear of second place finisher Jimmy Renfrew, and the feel good story ended with an emotional victory lane celebration on the front straightaway. 

Not only was this Campbell’s first career win, it was the first time he had even led a lap in the series, making it that much more meaningful for the family operation to find themselves in victory lane for the first time. It’s always nice to have a feel good story, especially when that team is never guaranteed to be at the racetrack.

“I’m with the CARS Tour full time this year, as long as our budget allows,” Campbell said. “I think we can make it out to all the races as long as the car stays in one piece.”

Well, he certainly kept the car clean, and put it in victory lane as an added bonus. He’ll leave Southern National with the points lead, setting the team up nicely for a title run should they be able to run the full season.

Shoutout to the Car Count

How about the turnout in the pits for the season opener?

After two seasons, the Pro Late Model division has had some high points along with some low ones, and many wondered how the series would progress in its third season, as the new era of the series begins to take form. 

The answer we got this past Saturday at Southern National was all positive. 28 cars were on the entry list for the event, and all 28 started the feature, making it the third highest car count the series has ever seen. 

The series record is a whopping 53, a record that was set at North Wilkesboro Speedway in 2023, followed by the 29 cars that showed up to the spring event at Hickory Motor Speedway also during the 2023 season. This weekend’s race comes up one car short of that, but still starts the series off on the right foot for what looks to be the most competitive season yet for the pro’s.

In fact, 10 of the 28 cars on the entry list made their first start ever, with multiple others making only their second or third start, further signifying the growth that the series has seen even over this past off season. 

What separates this race from last season’s race at Hickory is the lack of wrecks we saw at Southern National. While only 18 of 29 cars finished the race at Hickory in 2023, only one car left the opener at Southern National with significant damage: the No. 4 of Adam Murray.

For a series that tends to sort of fall off the rails sometimes when it comes to on-track incidents, its a positive sign to see a clean race with this many cars. Will this continue throughout the season? Time will tell, the same as it will tell whether or not higher car counts are here to stay.

However, one thing is for certain, and its that unlike 2023, the series has started off in the right direction for 2024.

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The West Will Have to Wait

On the other side of the country, the all-new zMAX CARS Tour Pro Late Model West Series was also scheduled to make its debut this past Saturday, but mother nature had other plans.

The series was supposed to take center stage Saturday night following the racing on the east coast, set for a 100-lap main event at Kevin Harvick’s Kern Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif. However, with inclement weather on the horizon, series officials elected to make the call well in advance to postpone the inaugural event to a later date. 

The series will still debut at Kern Raceway, with the event now scheduled to run Saturday night on March 16, so fans will only have to wait two more weeks for the highly anticipated debut of the Tour’s West expansion. 

The zMAX CARS Tour Late Model Stock Cars will be in action this Saturday, March 9, for its season opener at Southern National Motorsports Park. Meanwhile, the Pro Late Models are now off until it heads to Hickory Motor Speedway on Saturday, April 6, and the aforementioned Pro Late Models West will be in action at Kevin Harvick’s Kern Raceway on March 16. 

About the author

Chase began working with Frontstretch in the spring of 2023 as a news writer, while also helping fill in for other columns as needed. Chase is now the main writer and reporter for Frontstretch.com's CARS Tour coverage, a role which began late in 2023.  Aside from racing, some of Chase's other hobbies include time in the outdoors hunting and fishing, and keeping up with all things Philadelphia sports related.

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