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Schaeffer’s Oil Southern Nationals Preview: Roundtable Panel Looks at the 2020 Tour

(July 7, 2020) As the 16th edition of the Schaeffer’s Oil Southern Nationals Series presented by Sunoco Race Fuels kicks off Friday July 10th at Smoky Mountain Speedway, we asked some of the people covering the events to help preview the tour.

The panel included: Richard Allen of Inside Dirt Racing, Brady Cupp of Tazewell Speedway, Ryan Delph of Delph Communications, Series Announcer Michael Despain, Cole Perkins of Cole Perkins Media & Promotions, Series Publicist and Announcer Chris Tilley and Chad Wells of Wells Racing Photography.

The Schaeffer’s Oil Southern Nationals runs July 10-July 25. For more information on the Southern Nationals, please log in to www.SouthernNationalsSeries.com .

When you first saw the updated Southern Nationals Series schedule, what is an event that first caught your eye and why?

Allen: One thing that immediately caught my eye was the fact that there are twelve races on this year’s tour which is a little bit of an expansion over the past couple of seasons that have had eleven races. Also, I noticed right away that there are three brand new tracks on the tour (I-75 Raceway, Needmore Speedway & Cochran Motor Speedway). While many of these drivers and teams may have raced on these tracks in the past, it will be interesting to see how everyone adapts to the new surroundings within the context of the series. But to answer your question, the three most important races, in my opinion, are the first three. Smoky Mountain, Wythe and Volunteer are three big and super-fast tracks. Needless to say, getting off to a good start in a twelve race series is crucial. The drivers who like wide open racing should be able to establish themselves as title contenders early on.

Cupp: Of course I'm going to say Tazewell Speedway because we are proud to be hosting the series for the 16th year in a row. Was good to see Cochran Motor Speedway added to the schedule. That should be an interesting race.

Delph: The three new racetracks on the 2020 Southern Nationals schedule will no doubt provide some intrigue, but I'll pick the July 17 event at Needmore Speedway in Norman Park, Georgia. The Peach State facility hosted a successful 'Gene Maine Memorial' for Super Late Models back in May in front of an overflow crowd and they stepped up in a big way to hold their first Southern Nationals show paying $10,053 to win. Brandon Overton, who is expected to follow the entire tour, picked up the win back in May over a strong field, so it will be interesting to see if those laps pay off for the Evans, Ga. native and give him a leg up on the competition.

Despain: For me it really wasn’t any particular event but it is that half (6 of the 12) of the scheduled events pay $10,053 to win, giving the racers great purses to compete for on top of the points fund money that is up for grabs.

Perkins: Needmore Speedway's $10,053-to-win show on July 17th first caught my eye when the schedule was updated. The Norman Park, GA-oval hosted its first super race in five years on Memorial Day weekend this year and the place was absolutely packed! Watching live via PPV, I would bet that was the biggest crowd they've ever had and there's no doubt it will be larger when the Schaeffer's Southern Nationals Series rolls into town for the first time. I'm excited for my first visit to Needmore next week to see what it's all about.

Tilley: Needmore Speedway in Georgia caught my eye first and foremost. Kelly Walker and Chance Smith have worked hard down there and I’m glad to see them be able to get a date on the 2020 schedule. Every track on the 12-race schedule has its own unique flavor and you can throw all the stats out the window when we roll into Tazewell for the series finale. That’s a wildcard. Tazewell has been prepped great the last two races I’ve seen there this year I look for the finale to be something special. Ray Cook upped the ante in adding two races to the tour and half of the events paying $10,053-to-win.

Wells: I think initially it has to be I-75 Raceway, just due to the uniqueness of the track and the lack of laps that most of the series regulars are going to have there. I think the only one expected regulars to have any number of laps there might be McIntosh & Knowles and even then I don't think they have a ton of laps around the joint. I think all three of the new tracks on the series will present their own set of challenges to those on the tour.

Of the drivers list this year, who wins the most races and wins the title?

Allen: Brandon Overton has been among the top three or four drivers in the country all year long and it would seem likely that such will continue here in midsummer. However, something that could be of concern is that he and his Wells Motorsports team have shown some inconsistency so far in 2020. While the No. 76 car has wheeled into victory lane on nine occasions this year, there have also been nine DNF’s on the season. Those kinds of up-and-down performances could make winning a championship difficult. That said, I believe Overton will win the most races on the Southern Nationals tour, and as he seems to always do, he will particularly shine in the races that pay $10,000-to-win. However, I could see Ross Bailes making a serious run at the overall title when it’s all said and done.

Cupp: I think the most wins and the title chase will come down to Brandon Overton and Donald McIntosh. While it's great to have Chris Madden back on the tour I feel it's going to take him a few races to get used to the Rocket Chassis and the new team.

Delph: While Chris Madden is the all-time leader on the Southern Nationals tour win list with 24 and is a 5-time Champion with the series, it's hard to bet against Brandon Overton as well as his #76 Wells Motorsports team has performed so far this year. I think Madden gets a few wins along the way in his newly-announced ride, but Overton gets the nod for winning the most races and ultimately his third series title.

Despain: I think the answer to both parts of the question is Brandon Overton. Overton has had a great season up to this point and many of the tracks on the schedule seem to fit his style and he gets around them well. But I also think that Ross Bailes and Donald McIntosh will make some noise on the tour as well.

Perkins: This year's list of drivers is definitely the best field of drivers following the series that I can remember. I think it will be a hard fought battle nightly between Chris Madden and Brandon Overton the entire tour.

Tilley: That may be hard to answer! The last couple of years, especially, the Southern Nationals have produced a lot of different and first-time winners .I think we could see Brandon Overton and Chris Madden mix it up quite a bit. Overton is undoubtedly one of the most popular drivers in the country right now so it’ll definitely be interesting watching this group of drivers every night. I think Ross Bailes may slip in there and get a win or two. I’m picking Donald McIntosh to take the title this year. He’s really been consistent the last few years and I think it’s his turn at the crown.

Wells: I think the championship is going to come down to the last event of the series at Tazewell in all honesty. I could see Madden & Overton slugging it out for the entire tour and settling it on the high-banks. As for the most wins on the tour, I think it will be Overton with four. He is one of the hottest drivers in the nation but came struggled the last weekend he raced with getting caught up in a deal at 411 while running second and then a parts failure at Talladega. I think Kyle Strickler might grab a win or two as well, he's been running really well the last month or so and has been bitten by some bad luck.

Who is a local driver(s) you’ll have your eyes on at some of the events in East Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina?

Allen: The Senoia Raceway seems to be one that favors guys who race there most often. For that reason, I believe the contenders who will run the entire tour need to watch out for non-regulars such as Georgia natives Clint ‘Cat Daddy’ Smith and Michael Page should they decide to enter those races. And I’m going to stay with the theme of guys not listed among those planning to run the full schedule and I’m even going to take it a step further for my east Tennessee pick. North Carolinian David Payne may not be a Tennessee native but the ‘Coach’ has really found something at the Tazewell Speedway. He already has one win on that high-banked track this year, and coming into the Southern Nationals finale, I would count him as a favorite should he opt to jump into the fray.

Cupp: Cory Hedgecock has played spoiler to the National touring guys in East-Tennessee and will be a favorite at Smoky Mountain, 411 Motor and Volunteer Speedways. I've been very impressed with Jason Trammell at Tazewell this year. He won the Topless Outlaw event a few weeks ago and earned the biggest win of his storied career last Friday. Dakotah Knuckles and Ryan King were also impressive in the Schaeffer’s Iron Man event.

Delph: In Tennessee, I think you have to look at someone like Cory Hedgecock who is putting together a nice season and just picked up a $5,000 Iron-Man Series victory last weekend at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn., which is one of the Southern Nationals destinations. Cory also runs really well at 411 Motor Speedway in Seymour, Tennessee - the site of his lone career Southern Nationals triumph back in 2018 - so look for him to be a serious threat to possibly add another victory to that win total at a couple of east Tennessee venues. In Georgia, someone like Michael Page who runs very strong at Senoia Raceway in Senoia, Ga., but has never reached victory lane in Schaeffer's Oil Southern Nationals Series competition.

Despain: For the East Tennessee events, I think Cory Hedgecock could tough as he is good at many of those tracks. In Georgia, I also think Michael Page could play the spoiler at some of those events.

Perkins: Kenny Collins of Colbert, Ga. is a force to be reckoned with every time he goes head to head with the Southern Nationals regulars. Although he has never won with the tour, he came mighty close last year at Tri-County as he fell one spot short to Jake Knowles. Kenny told me he hopes to race the final week of the series which includes a variety of East-Tennessee tracks as well as Tri-County. Cory Hedgecock of Loudon, Tenn. is another driver to watch for on as the tour visits several of his home tracks where he has seen lots of success. Picking up Super Late Model wins in recent weeks at 411 and Volunteer, I predict Cory to pick up a win on this year's Schaeffer's Southern Nationals Series.

Tilley: Cory Hedgecock seems to be the driver that leads the pack in East Tennessee right now when it comes to good finishes and wins. He’s got two Iron-Man victories and solid finishes when the National tours have come to town. Michael Chilton of Kentucky will be good at several of the events especially Tri-County. When we go to South Georgia I look for Mark Whitener to be really good. There’s a lot of good cars in each of the areas we visit and you cannot count out the local contingent. Michael Page will also be another one to watch in Georgia. Dale McDowell has been super-fast at Wythe, 411 and Tazewell last year and he’s always a threat to win.

Wells: Easy answer for me is simply Cory Hedgecock for all of the East-Tennessee events. All of the east Tennessee tracks are very good tracks for him with 411 and I-75 being almost like his personal playgrounds & I look for him to be upfront at all of the events he enters. I also look for Pearson Lee Williams to have some good runs when he gets back around home down south, he's been having some good runs in the last couple of weeks and should be able to carry that momentum into the tour.

Something you’ll be watching these next two weeks with 12 races in 16 days.

Allen: Weather is always a factor on this tour. Rain seems to claim at least a race or two every year. In the heat of summer with the frequency of late day thunderstorms that so often occur in the South, which will probably hold true again. But more than the rain, the heat can play a role in all of this racing. Running twelve races over a sixteen day stretch would impose great physical demands on man and machine during any time of year, but in the sweltering heat of mid-summer, the exhaustion is sure to be amplified. The number of races on the schedule being reduced by rainouts can definitely play a role in the championship, but at the same time, not allowing the heat to cause mistakes could also make an impact.

Cupp: Chris Madden getting acclimated with the new team and chassis. I think Ross Bailes will be a driver to keep an eye on as well.

Delph: I think the obvious answer is Chris Madden. The driver most people would associate as the man to beat and the headliner of the Southern Nationals Series through much of its first 15 years in existence is fresh off a highly-publicized split with Scott Bloomquist Racing. It will be very interesting to see him behind the wheel of a XR1 Rocket racecar as a teammate to Tyler Millwood and how quickly that combination can reach full steam. The first three tracks on the schedule - Smoky Mountain, Wythe, and Bulls Gap - should be right in Madden's wheelhouse, as he has a combined six series victories at those racetracks during Southern Nationals action.

Despain: For me, it will be how quickly Chris Madden and the Millwood team can gel and how soon he will win a race on the tour because Madden is good on many of the tracks on the tour as well.

Perkins: The main thing I will be keeping my eye on the next two weeks is how Chris Madden does behind the wheel of a Rocket Chassis XR1 for the first time. It is no secret that Chris has driven several different chassis brands the last few years and he has seen success in all of them. With 12 races in 16 days, Chris should definitely be able to get accustomed to the car quickly and it is very possible for him to go on a winning streak just like last year. Another thing I will be keeping my eye on is the performance of the rookies on this year's tour. It is always very interesting to see which new drivers the Schaeffer's Southern Nationals Series attracts every year. This year, Tyler Millwood, Pearson Lee Williams, Ross Bailes, G.R. Smith and Kyle Strickler will all be battling for the series championship for the first time. It will be intriguing to see how they shape up against the veterans of the tour and if they have what it takes to survive all 12 races and contend for the championship.

Tilley: Several things, but Madden, crowds and weather. Chris Madden, a five time series champ can’t be counted out. I wonder how long it will take for him and the new Millwood team to get their first victory together? May come sooner than people think! With some areas still facing Covid-19 restrictions and mandates, I still think race fans want to see a great show and they’ll support these events when they can. Race fans have done a really good job of social distancing, wearing masks and taking precautions at these events. When it’s hot outside, the weather always plays a factor but tracks do a really good job at getting the shows in if all possible. I want to see all 12 races take the checkered flag!

Wells: I think the key to any series like this is to know the difference in taking a calculated risk and being careless with your equipment. If you have something major happen in the first couple of races it will definitely put you behind the proverbial eight ball and make it a long hill to climb. Hopefully all eyes will be able to stay glued to the racetrack and not to the sky as weather has always been a longtime nemesis of a couple of these races.



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