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Southern National trying to give racers options for Thanksgiving Classic

CARS Tour veteran Brandon Pierce isn’t even participating in the Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park this weekend but an experiment in track preparation has his full attention as he watches from home.

The latest attempt from track owner Mike Diaz to create a second lane and more dynamic competition has come in the form of a sealer being applied against the wall in both corners, and an application of PJ1 in the lane directly below that.

The bottom, which hasn’t been paved in over 20 years, hasn’t been touched at all and remains the practical fastest way around. The goal is to create a top side that has more grip and speed compared to the bottom

Pierce isn’t sure it will produce the intended results but he appreciates the spirit of the effort.

“I think he doesn’t get enough credit for always trying to think outside of the box,” Pierce said.

To his point, Diaz has always been at the forefront of treating his aged surface with a variety of chemical treatments, not to mention trying a summer mid-week schedule this year or his spring speedweeks concept for next season.

“I see Mason (Diaz) all the time since we race on the tour together and he’s always telling me about their ideas,” Pierce added. “The old girl is starting to wear out. I love that track. It’s the site of my first Tour win but it’s getting older.

“They’re trying to get more side-by-side racing or at least a different look. It’s certainly an expensive effort and I’m just a big advocate of them trying it.”

Kaden Honeycutt zips to Thanksgiving Classic pole

For a variety of reasons, it’s just not likely to be a factor, for reasons best articulate by pole winner Kaden Honeycutt.

“The problem is all that stuff, like rubber (marbles) and trash gets stuck up there,” Honeycutt said. “It might clean-up for the race but there are a full set of features (on Saturday) to get the track worked in and credit to Mike and Mason for strong car counts across the board.

“I guarantee you, with five laps to go, if I’m running second, I’ll try something.”

… like a Ross Chastain hail melon?

“Somewhat,” Honeycutt said. “Someone is going to do it. It will probably be at the end of the race when tires get hot so we’ll all see together.”

You can count out Brenden Queen from trying it in the Lee Pulliam Performance No. 02.

“If I could afford it, maybe,” Queen said wit a laugh. “I respect Lee’s equipment like it were my own and I know how much damage it would do if I bounced off the wall wide open. So hopefully I can wrap the bottom and be driving away to the checkers come that point.”

Josh Berry, who has had no shortage of experience with TrackBite now that he’s a NASCAR regular, pointed out the potential flaws in the strategy.

“To be entirely honest, the issue is, and I’m not knocking anyone, but the track is dirty, it’s too dirty to do that,” Berry said. “NASCAR tracks have vacuums that clean up all the rubber and all that rubber is sticking to the sealer.

“If we can it cleaned up before the race, that might give us some options to run up there and activate it and that would be a good thing but right now, there are way too many marbles and stuff and you can see that.”

Jared Fryar, who starts third on Sunday, says he’s driven through the middle lane and says it’s probably not thick enough and that he couldn’t even tell there was PJ1 in it.

“And that third lane is just too far up the track,” he added. “You would be way too slow up there so I don’t see the gains to be made. It’s still going to be a bottom feeding race track. I wish they’d bring it down a groove. I think that would help out the racing.”

Andrew Grady, a second-generation track champion at Southern National who starts fifth on Sunday called it a ‘great concept’ but.

“This place is so abrasive that if the top does come in then it will just be a top dominated track, kind of like Bristol,” he said. “No one would then run the bottom and we would be right back where we started.

“It’s going to be tough to pass, no matter what.”

All told, watching from home, Pierce said regardless of what happens on Sunday, he says it’s worth giving it a couple of years before judging it.

Maybe warmer races or the sealer wearing out a little alongside the bottom going away even more could change the way we look at this experiment by 2026 or so.

“Absolutely,” he said. “No matter what, it’s worth trying for all the bottom dominant tracks we race on. I think it’s great that they’re willing to go out on a limb and trying something.”

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Matt Weaver is the owner and founder of Short Track Scene. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He also has extensive experience covering NASCAR, IndyCar and Dirt Sprint Cars.

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