WEST PORTSMOUTH — Portsmouth Raceway Park kicked off its 2023 season on Saturday night with Salute The Troops and First Responders Night — presented by Jamie Stith at Pro Paint and The Huntington Drum Company.
Over 70 drivers were on hand to race in front of a big opening-night crowd, which included several veterans, active duty military and first responders — who were all provided free general admission over Memorial Day Weekend.
The evening saw some familiar and not-so familiar faces find the winner’s circle.
Four-time PRP track champion R.J. Conley took the checkers in the Late Models.
Former champ Ervin Vance grabbed the win in the Modifieds, Nicky Pennington prevailed in the Limited Lates, and Stevie D. Thornsberry became just the fourth female to ever win a PRP feature — as she claimed the victory in the Sport Mods.
Starting third in Heat 1, Conley would take the lead from Shannon Thornsberry on lap 4 — and would lead the rest of the race to earn the pole for the A-Main.
Conley would set the pace the entire 25-lap feature en route to the checkers, but he did have company at the front.
He and Ashland’s (Ky.) Kirk Phillips pulled away from the rest of the field, and Phillips got within a few car lengths late in the race — as the top two maneuvered their way through traffic.
In the end though, it was Wheelersburg’s Conley once again parking the 71C in victory lane.
Sunshine’s (Ky.) Avery Taylor moved up three spots to place third.
Wheelersburg’s Nick Bocook climbed six positions to finish fourth, and Wheelersburg native Kevin Wagner also moved up six spots as he finished fifth.
Rounding out the top-10 were defending track champion Brandon Fouts, Justin Cooper, Josh Bocook, Kenny Christy and Joe Brewer.
Thornsberry posted the quickest lap during time trials — with a time of 14.778 seconds.
He wound up 12th in the feature.
There were 21 Gampp’s Power Equipment Modifieds on the scene, as Vance was dominant driving Jody Pucket’s No. J3 Stealth Chassis.
Vance set fast time, led every lap of the first heat, and set the pace all 20 laps of the feature.
Defending track champion Anthony Slusher climbed from eighth to second, as Aaron Branham placed third.
Brian Sammons Jr. moved up nine spots, driving from 13th to fourth — as Brandon Smith completed the top five.
Making up the rest of the top-10 were Adam Colley, Josh Thomas, Derek Richmond, Caiden Yates and Craig Christian.
The track was very racy on Saturday night, and that was never any more apparent than in the Mods — where some cars were rim riding, while others were married to the bottom.
Seth Daniels was making the high side work early on in the race, but crashed on lap 9 while riding second.
Nicky Pennington from Morehead (Ky.) picked up the victory in The O’Reilly Auto Parts Limited Late Model Division, winning from the pole.
Mike Meyers, Jacob Curnutte, Robbie Lewis, Joe Brewer, Evyian Terry, Kevin Terry, Casey Rhodes, Kent Keyser and Xzavier McClaskey rounded out the top-10.
One of the best Limited Late Model races Saturday was the second heat, which saw Poca, W. Va. retired marine Casey Rhodes hold off former track champ Lewis to pick up a checkered flag on Memorial Day Weekend.
Twenty drivers were on hand in The BluePrint Event Tent & Inflatables Rentals Sport Mod Division.
Stout’s Stevie D. Thornsberry joined “Rockin” Rita Sammons, Brandy Hensley and Emily Jordan as the only females to ever win an A-Main at Portsmouth Raceway Park.
Thornsberry was strong all evening, and proved that early on in her heat race — when she started 10th and drove up to second.
She started the feature fourth, took the lead away from Dallas Pickelseimer on lap 2, and never looked back.
Many fans stuck around well after the checkered flag had fallen on the Sport Mod Feature, which was the final race of the night.
They waited patiently as Thornsberry went through tech — and they were standing along the fence to cheer her as she climbed out of her car.
Mikey Howard charged up a dozen spots to finish as the runner-up.
Darrell Dockery, Danny Hamilton Jr., Scott LeMaster, Ben McCann, Chris Howison, R.J. Perkins, Branden Colley and Blake Butcher made up the remainder of the top-10.
Portsmouth Raceway Park will be back in action on Saturday, June 3 — featuring Late Models, Modifieds, Limited Lates, and Sport Mods.
The highlighted event of the evening will be the Modified Feature, which will be the ninth annual Cletus Classic — presented by Whitley, Gahm, & Rayburn CPAs, Crabtree’s Carpet and Grooms Trucking.
Gates will open at 4 p.m., with racing at approximately 7:30 p.m.