Short track racing
Where: Lanier National Speedway, Braselton
Feature races: Pro Late Model 100-lap race at 2 p.m. Sunday, followed by Super Late Model "SpeedFest 200"
Tickets: $20 Saturday, $30 Sunday; Weekend Pass, $45 Saturday-Sunday; $55 three-day pass.
BRASELTON — Michael Pope is a young racer with big dreams.
This 19-year old driver for BDI racing has a chance to put a stamp on his career Sunday when he goes toe-to-toe, and hopes to win, against one of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ top drivers, Kyle Busch, in the 200-lap Super Late Model feature race at SpeedFest held at Lanier National Speedway.
"I’m really excited about this opportunity," Pope said. "It’s time to get to work and see what I can do."
Pope has promised he isn’t going to have stars in his eyes chasing the 23-year old Busch, who was an eight-time winner last season on the Sprint Cup Circuit, in this race on the 3/8-mile oval track.
Pope and BDI owner Bob Dillner have already decided that if he’s within striking distance of Busch coming into Turn 3 of the final lap, the young driver from Dublin isn’t going to take a backseat to the headliner. Instead he’s going for a pass for victory and the $8,000 that goes to the race winner.
"Once we get to the last lap, all bets are off," Pope added. "I’ll do what I can do to get past him."
"(Michael) said he’ll rub him and try to move him out of the way if he gets that chance on the last turn, but you don’t try and wreck him," said Dillner, who’s also known for his other job as a NASCAR pit reporter for FOX and the SPEED channel.
Many local racers will also be on hand this weekend. Competing in the Super Late Model race are Flowery Branch’s Rodney Benefield and Cleveland’s Jason Hogan. Pro Late Model entries include Gainesville’s James Nealis, Jimmy Moates, Greg Simpson, Kevin Stevens, and Flowery Branch’s Dalton Grindle, Benefield and Shane Sawyer. Nick Potts (Jefferson), Zach Rearden (Buford), Shawn Simpson (Talmo) and Hogan are also registered to race in the Pro Late Model event.
Busch isn’t the only marquee person on the ticket for SpeedFest. Dawsonville native and former Winston Cup champion Bill Elliott will serve as the Grand Marshall for SpeedFest’s two feature events. Elliott will also have a hand in the race with one of his driver development team members, Casey Roderick, looking to bring home the top prize. Mark Martin team driver Jeremy Colangelo will also be on the track.
"This is going to be the biggest race at Lanier National in quite a while," said Lanier National General Manager Terry Roberts, who spent the past eight seasons working at the New Smyrna Speedway (Fla.).
Racing in SpeedFest in its first season at Lanier National is a unique challenge for racers of all skill levels in the two main races for the Pro Late Model 100-lap event, followed by the main event. Lanier’s track puts a premium on finesse with its relatively small perimeter. If drivers are able to navigate the tight turns — and an expected field between 70-80 drivers in both races — the payoff is great for such an early season race.
Driver’s registered in both feature races have the possibility of leaving the South Hall track with a total purse of $23,000. A $10,000 bonus is captured if a driver is able to win both races. If that doesn’t occur, a $2,500 bonus is awarded to the driver with the highest average finish in the two races.
SpeedFest is in its ninth year after running the previous eight seasons at the former US International Speedway in Lakeland, Fla. Roberts says having the race closer to more teams located in the racing hub of North Carolina will attract even more drivers to SpeedFest than in the past.
"SpeedFest is a huge event," Roberts added. "It’s like the Super Bowl of short track racing."