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John Smith Prevails in Wild Franklin County Finish

James Civali tangles with Burt Myers and Bobby Labonte in closing laps paving way for Smith to score upset win

Andy Marquis | Short Track Scene

CALLAWAY, VA – John Smith led just one lap in the SMART Modified Tour portion of the Kenny Minter Classic at Franklin County Speedway on Saturday, but it was the one lap that mattered.

Smith was running inside the top-five in the final laps with a front-row view of the donnybrook that broke out in front of him – first between James Civali and Burt Myers, then between James Civali and Bobby Labonte.  Both Myers and Labonte had worked their way to the outside of the man who has earned the nickname “One Man Taliban,” but neither driver was able to complete the pass.

Civali drove up the track to run Myers wide, resulting in Myers making contact with the outside wall.  A few laps later, on the first white flag lap, Labonte had passed Civali entering turn one, but spun off Civali’s front bumper exiting turn two – which allowed Smith to move to second.  Smith, on the final lap of the race, raced his way to Civali’s inside in turn three to take the lead and the win.

“You’ve got to play your cards right and keep your tires on there at the end,” Smith told Short Track Scene in victory lane.  “I knew it was going to be hectic there at the end so I put myself in position and, you know, green-white-checkered, anything can happen.  I wanted the bottom in case they washed up and, hell, it played just like I hoped.  Coming to get the green at the last restart, I thought, they wash up and I’ve got a shot and it parted ways.  My car was good on the bottom.  I got under James, got wheel to wheel, and it was just a storybook ending.”

The win was emotional for Smith, who grew up watching Kenny Minter race.  Minter was a former Modified driver and a multi-time winner at Franklin County Speedway and was sponsored by the same sponsor who was on the side of Smith’s car.

“I watched him as a kid at 311 Speedway in the no. 10 R&W Siding car,” Smith said.  “They’re from Ridgeway, Virginia.  They sponsored Kenny back when he raced when I was a little boy, 10 years old sitting in the stands.”

Smith was not sure he would even be able to race this season when he got the car, a car that had been sitting in a trailer for seven years before he and his team got the car for a limited schedule.

“This deal wasn’t going to happen the first race at Caraway,” Smith explained.  “Two weeks before Caraway, I went and got this car and it’s been sitting in a trailer for seven years.  We’ve worked hard.  We worked our butts off to get to Caraway and finished third.  We just kept going.  We weren’t going to run but two or three races but who knows what’s going to happen now.”

Civali settled for a runner-up finish.

“We were scrambling there at the end bouncing off everything,” Civali said. “Got into the curb way too hard twice and got into [Myers] and [Labonte].  It’s just a product of this place, scrambling really hard, driving really hard at the end.  We had an okay car, not a great car, but it was good enough to be there.”

James Civali (79) and Bobby Labonte (25) battle for the lead at Franklin County Speedway. (Corey Latham photo)

Bobby Labonte was frustrated after the incident after leading the race on the initial white flag lap.

“I was on the outside of [Smith] and [Civali] and made a clear run off of turn four on them and got hit in the left rear going into turn one,” Labonte said.  “We had a top-three car.  It was pretty solid.  All that was good, just the way it turned out.”

He responded to Civali’s explanation of the incident, saying, “That happens when you drive like that.”

Jason Myers wound up finishing third while brothers Frank Fleming and Chris Fleming rounded out the top-five.

Robert Strimska won the Mini-Stock feature race, Chris Amos swept the Stock-4 twins, and Chad McDowell won the Any Car feature race.


SMART Modified Tour results

  1. John Smith
  2. James Civali
  3. Jason Myers
  4. Frank Fleming
  5. Chris Fleming
  6. Brian Loftin
  7. Bobby Labonte
  8. Burt Myers
  9. Daniel Yates
  10. Brian Weber
  11. Chuck Hossfeld
  12. Ryan Preece
  13. Dennis Holdren
  14. Jeremy Gerstner
  15. Gary Putnam
  16. Brandon Ward
  17. Daniel Beeson

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Marquis comes from St. Charles, Maryland and has a widespread background in journalism, having covered politics in Washington and Maryland as well as nearly every form of auto racing, including NASCAR, IndyCar, AMA Motocross and IHRA Drag Racing. Now living near Emerald Isle, North Carolina, Marquis covers Late Model Stock Cars and Super Late Models in the Carolinas and Virginia.

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