Southern Nationals Preview: Roundtable Panel Looks at the 2020
(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
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
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
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
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