The first trip for the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour to Ace Speedway in Altamahaw, N.C. for the AcceleratedGFX.com 315 has a lot more on the line than just a race win.
With Friday’s race being the final event before the CARS Tour heads to North Wilkesboro Speedway, the drivers in the Late Model Stock Car division are set to battle it out for one of 26 guaranteed starting positions for the prestigious event, all of which are determined by owner points.
Currently occupying the final spots are the No. 57 and No. 28 owned by Justin Carroll and Ryan Glenski respectively, both of whom have only attempted one race during the 2023 season. Among those outside the cutoff line include the No. 22 owned by Nelson Motorsports as well as William Sawalich, who won six races in the Pro Late Model Tour last season.
While the LMSC Tour competitors sort out the North Wilkesboro starting grid amongst themselves, the drivers of the PLM Tour will look to disrupt the momentum of veteran Mike Hopkins, who has opened the season with two consecutive victories.
Ace has not featured a repeat winner since the CARS Tour ran their first race at the facility in 2018, so drivers in both divisions will look to capitalize on the opportunity in front of them before shifting their focus over to one of the most prestigious events on the calendar.
Track: Ace Speedway
Location: Altamahaw, North Carolina
Length: .400 mile
Laps: 125 (LMSC) / 100 (PLM)
CARS LMSC Tour races: 6
CARS PLM Tour races: 2
LMSC Ace winners: Bobby McCarty (1), Josh Berry (1), Ryan Millington (1), Layne Riggs (1), Jonathan Shafer (1), Kaden Honeycutt (1)
PLM Ace winners: William Sawalich (1), Caden Kvapil (1)
LMSC Entry List (35 cars): #03 Brenden Queen, #04 Ronnie Bassett Jr., #08 Deac McCaskill, #0 Landon Pembelton, #1 Andrew Grady, #2 Brandon Pierce, #2W Ryan Wilson, #4 Dylon Wilson, #5B Bryant Barnhill, #6 Bobby McCarty, #8 Carson Kvapil, #8B Chase Burrow, #8S Thomas Scott, #10 Kaden Honeycutt, #14 Dylan Ward, #15 Ryan Millington, #16 Chad McCumbee, #20 Josh Dickens, #22 Landon Huffman, #24 Mason Diaz, #28 Ryan Glenski, #32 Zack Miracle, #42 Carson Brown, #43 William Sawalich, #44 Conner Jones, #55 Trevor Ward, #57 Connor Zilisch, #67 Cameron Bolin, #77 Connor Hall, #81 Mini Tyrrell, #87 Tate Fogleman, #95 Jacob Heafner, #97A Dexter Canipe Jr., #98 Garrett Smithley, #99 Layne Riggs
PLM Entry List (24 cars): #03 Kyle Campbell, #07 Clint King, #5 Zac Fowler, #6 George Phillips, #7 Tristan McKee, #8 Rusty Skewes, #9 Ashton Higgins, #13 Austin MacDonald, #15 Brett Suggs, #15H Mike Hopkins, #15W Luke Baldwin, #25 Connor Zilisch, #26 Dawson Sutton, #27 Lee Tissot, #28 Brent Crews, #43 Nick Loden, #43H Joshua Horniman, #44 Justin Whitaker, #48 Jeff Batten, #49 Luke Morey, #77 Logan Jones, #81 Katie Hettinger, #88 T.J. DeCaire, #96 Caden Kvapil
Bryant Barnhill hopes to lock into most prestigious race of his career
Only a few inches prevented Bryant Barnhill from racing his way into the Tuff Shed 250 at Hickory Motor Speedway.
Making that race would have been crucial towards Barnhill’s chances of qualifying for North Wilkesboro, but the Conway, South Carolina native is determined to rebound from the disappointment at Hickory and put together a performance that will enable him to compete at one of the South’s most cherished tracks.
“It’s already a battle just getting to the track,” Barnhill said. “With the competition as tight as it is, I like to go into every race with the same mindset of focusing on the task at hand. We’re a small team, but I know I can do my job and for the first time in my career, I know I have the equipment to do my part.”
Barnhill considers the CARS Tour to be the premier short track series in the southeast, comparing it to the atmospheres he experienced with the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series while growing up at Myrtle Beach Speedway.
As the series grew in popularity, Barnhill wanted to test his small operation against top-tier programs like JR Motorsports and Chad Bryant Racing. While the 2023 season has featured plenty of obstacles for Barnhill, he feels his program is only going to make strides as he gains more experience at the different tracks on the schedule.
Like Hickory, the AcceleratedGFX.com 315 at Ace Speedway is uncharted territory for Barnhill. Despite this, Barnhill feels he can be more aggressive on tracks in North Carolina as opposed to those in his home state and plans to use that strategy to stay up front and clinch a starting position at North Wilkesboro.
“For us, we need to focus on the small things,” Barnhill said. “The biggest thing I preach to my guys is we’re not here to overthink. We know what we’re doing even though we’re at a different track against the best of the best. I have confidence in myself and my crew guys, but it all comes down to execution.”
William Sawalich eager for first Late Model Stock victory
A ninth-place finish in the Tuff Shed 250 at Hickory Motor Speedway was far from an ideal performance for William Sawalich, but it did get him on the cusp of locking into his second race at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Facing just a one-point deficit from 26th in owner points, Sawalich understands the task at hand entering Friday’s AcceleratedGFX.com 315 and believes Ace Speedway is a perfect track to not only clinch a starting spot for North Wilkesboro, but also earn his first CARS LMSC Tour victory.
“I like [Ace] and I think Brandon and Dennis [Setzer] will bring a good car as always,” Sawalich said. “We had a bad right rear tire to start off at Hickory, then we swapped the right sides only for the car to be plowing tight. We battled the car all weekend, but I’m sure we’ll do well at Ace and then back it up with another great run at North Wilkesboro.”
Just like in 2022, Sawalich has spent the opening months of the year gaining as much experience as possible in several different disciplines around the United States.
Along with earning two victories in the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing and winning in his first ARCA Menards Series East start at Five Flags Speedway, Sawalich also made his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut at Martinsville Speedway, where he earned an impressive ninth place finish driving for TRICON Garage.
With a win at Ace already on his resume in a Pro Late Model, Sawalich is confident he can parlay his experience from NASCAR, ARCA and short track racing into a Late Model Stock triumph but admitted Ace’s unique design will put heavy emphasis on track position and being aggressive in the closing laps.
“Ace has really tight corners,” Sawalich said. “In [Turns] 1 and 2, you have to get on the gas early and get a good exit, but in [Turns] 3 and 4, you can either run on or off the apron. It’s a cool racetrack with a bunch of characteristics. It can be pretty hard to pass there with the long straightaways and tight corners, but I have to get good track position in qualifying and not burn the tires off the car.”
Mike Hopkins going for third consecutive PLM Tour win
When Mike Hopkins arrived at Southern National Motorsports Park for the CARS PLM Tour opener, he had no intention of going for the championship.
Yet the seasoned veteran finds himself with a 14-point advantage in the standings after earning two straight victories. Hopkins is still taking his schedule on a race-by-race basis but expects to accumulate more victories after showcasing so much speed to start off 2023.
“We’ve been good everywhere we’ve gone the last two years but just hadn’t gotten the results,” Hopkins said. “This just reflects the hard work put in by everybody from the guys in Maine, North Carolina, and Port City Racecars. We’re getting things figured out slowly and it’s paying off.”
Having made three appearances in the now defunct CARS Super Late Model Tour, Hopkins wanted to test the strength of his car in the new PLM Tour before embarking on a hectic schedule in the northeast.
The young prospects that populate the PLM Tour have provided Hopkins a fun challenge during the first two races. He particularly praised the way Brent Crews and Connor Zilisch raced him for the win during the Tuff Shed 250 at Hickory Motor Speedway, along with their respective programs in Donnie Wilson Motorsports and Rackley W.A.R..
Hopkins believes fending off those two organizations will be more difficult at Ace Speedway since he has never turned a lap at the facility, but is determined to learn the track quickly so he can keep his perfect season in the PLM Tour alive for one more week.
As far as the PLM Tour championship goes, Hopkins admitted he would consider the idea with another victory, but added several outside factors would ultimately have the final say on that decision.
“It all depends on my schedule,” Hopkins said. “Both of my boys are heavy into baseball and I enjoy watching them play baseball more than I do racing. If everything works and we continue to run well, then we’ll keep doing it. I’d love to race the whole season and have a shot at the championship, but it is what it is.”
A full night of racing is ahead at Ace Speedway for the AcceleratedGFX.com 315, with the evening’s festivities also including features for Mini Stocks, Champ Karts and Modifieds. The CARS PLM Tour feature is the fourth race on the schedule, with the CARS LMSC Tour wrapping up the night with a 125-lap event.
On-track activity is set to begin at 8 p.m. ET with FloRacing providing the coverage.
For more information on the CARS Late Model Stock Tour and the CARS Pro Late Model Tour, visit www.carsracingtour.com. Be sure to stay active and social with the tour by liking “CARS Tour” on Facebook, following @CARSTour on Twitter and scrolling through photos on Instagram cars_tour.
Additional series information can be obtained by calling the CARS Tour series office, located in
Mooresville, NC, at 704.662.9212.