Race Weekend Central

Short Track Weekly: Back to the CARS Tour’s Orange County Roots

The zMAX CARS Tour returns to familiar territory this Saturday, April 20, as the series heads to Orange County Speedway (OCS) for the Orange Blossom 250. However, those who are new to the series may be unfamiliar with Orange County and its prominence in the series history.

That’s because OCS hasn’t hosted a CARS Tour race since April 25, 2021 – essentially three years ago. This Saturday’s event marks the CARS Tour’s 12th visit to Orange County, second only to Hickory Motor Speedway. But a lot has changed in the series since Josh Berry led 154 of 200 laps en route to a $30,000 victory in the 2021 Old North State Nationals.

While it may seem somewhat cliché, the entire landscape of the series has changed in just three short years. So let’s take a look at some of the biggest changes during Orange County’s CARS Tour hiatus. 

Starting off with the biggest and most obvious, the series was once owned by Jack McNelly, who founded it back in the fall of 2014. McNelly organized the tour’s first season back in 2015 as a continuation of the former Pro Cup Series. Series ownership changed ahead of the 2023 season, when current owners Kevin Harvick, Justin Marks, Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (more on him in a sec) bought the series. 

As one would expect, with new ownership comes new sponsorship. Ahead of the 2024 season, the CARS Tour split with longtime sponsor Solid Rock Carriers to kick off a new era with zMAX. The new sponsorship in 2024 with zMAX means a partnership with zMAX subsidiary owners Speedway Motors, LLC, and leader Marcus Smith

The partnership with zMAX means a healthy relationship with North Wilkesboro Speedway. The track now has two dates on the CARS Tour schedule including the championship finale. If you had told someone back in 2021 that North Wilkesboro would sell out a CARS Tour race in 2022, host a 37-car field in 2023 and host two events in 2024, they might’ve called you insane.

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With the help of the aforementioned Earnhardt, Smith, and many others, the track came roaring back to life in August 2022. The CARS Tour capped off the month-long “Race Track Revival” series that saw Earnhardt return to the famed Sun Drop No. 3.

North Wilkesboro isn’t the only change on the schedule since 2021. Franklin County Speedway, Greenville-Pickens Speedway and Motor Mile Speedway have all fallen off the Tour, with Greenville-Pickens and Motor Mile currently sitting dormant in 2024.

Meanwhile, Caraway Speedway has since become a staple on the tour, making its debut in May 2021, along with 2022 newcomer New River All-American Speedway. 

As for the drivers, the Tour now has a solid mix of the old guard and up-and-coming stars. Bobby McCarty picked up his third tour championship in 2021, while regulars Brandon Pierce, Chad McCumbee, Mini Tyrrell and Deac McCaskill all remain with the series. In fact, McCaskill is set to make 100th series start this Saturday, making him the only driver to reach such a feat. 

On the flip side, the series has seen the emergence of new stars, most notably Carson Kvapil. The son of Craftsman Truck Series champion Travis Kvapil won the now-defunct Super Late Model championship in 2021, before joining JR Motorsports’ Late Model Stock program in 2022. Since then, Kvapil has won 10 races and the past two championships on the Tour.

Speaking of Super Late Model Series, the CARS Tour canned the tour ahead of the 2022 season, replacing it with the new Pro Late Model Series that now showcases the sport’s rising stars. 

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While a lot has changed in the CARS Tour world in the past three years, the favorites for this Saturday remain relatively the same.

March’s Orange Krush 200 event at the track served as a preview for what was to come. To the surprise of few, McCarty and McCaskill were right up front. McCarty previously won the Orange County CARS Tour event in 2019, while McCaskill scored victories in 2017 and 2018. 

For a true short track lover, it’s hard not to love Orange County Speedway – and those unfamiliar with the track are certainly in for a treat. A worn out surface with high-banked, multi-groove racing nestled in the North Carolina countryside, OCS truly is a grassroots racing utopia.

The CARS Tour heads back to its roots this weekend. Hopefully Orange County is here to stay. 

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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