The hillbillies had grown accustomed to a demolition derby.
Saturday night’s ValleyStar Credit Union 300 was a Josh Berry, JR Motorsports ass-kicking. In a stark contrast to last year, in which winner CE Falk technically failed to lead a single lap, the 2019 winner led them all.
And honestly, this was not only acceptable, but just the kind of race Martinsville Speedway and the Late Model Stock community needed.
This race had earned an embarrassing reputation over the past decade, replete with late race inverts and a competition caution with 10 laps to go in the name of entertainment, which virtually begged drivers to destroy their race cars in the pursuit of 25 grand and a grandfather clock.
It was a special race deserving of special rules, once argued track president Clay Campbell, when justifying a format that never failed to entertain but only in the same way that replacing a balanced dinner with Skittles could provide substance.
The 2018 race saw a record audience, thanks to a Motor Racing Network radio broadcast and FansChoice.TV web stream, but also a new fanbase to wonder what in the hell were doing.
The race director got into an argument with a well-known team owner for changing rules right in the middle of the event, causing him to pull his popular top prospect young son from the event. The drivers lost their minds in the closing laps of that race, dive bombing each other for perpetuity, eventually forcing race control to arbitrarily call the race and give the win to a driver that hadn’t even led a lap.
It was a new low for what should have been a showcase for the discipline in front of an expanded audience.
It was embarrassing. It had to stop.
And fortunately for everyone involved on Saturday night, a new format and the best short trackers in the Southeast delivered.
Sure, Berry led every single lap, but the results of the race were never a fait accompli. That’s to say the results always felt in doubt, especially due to a caution with 14 laps to go and a restart that lined-up Peyton Sellers directly behind Berry in a replay from one of last year’s signature dive-bombs.
But this time, the veterans drove like it, and despite two late cautions with 14 laps to go, no one got their stuff torn-up.
There were no inverts, no gimmicks, and no stupidity.
It was a straight-up race, and it needs to stay that way for a while.
And fortunately, when asked immediately after the race, Campbell said he loved the racing on Saturday night and offered a no changes, when asked about the possibility.
Hopefully that will encourage the likes of Philip Morris, Deac McCaskill, Tyler Hughes, Matt Bowling and anyone else who declined to make the trip last week to return.
After all, it made no sense for a race that paid $7,000 to the winner year-over-year and paid more throughout the field to see seven less cars enter the race. There was a lot of trepidation, born from exasperation over what had happened over the past half-decade, and some of that was understandable.
Saturday night’s race was a message that the motorsports world can take the ValleyStar 300 seriously again.
It was a hell of a race, highlighted by one hell of an ass-kicking, and everyone needed it, even if they don’t want to admit it.
Even the hillbillies.