Any person who knows dirt track racing knows that the Conley family will always prove to be a tough out in late model competition.
And sure enough, Saturday’s late model feature event at Portsmouth Raceway Park proved that Delmas Conley and R.J. Conley are showing no signs of slowing down.
The father-son tandem and Wheelersburg natives showed the horsepower that has made Conley Motorsports such a tough out over the years as R.J. led all 25 laps of the late model A-Main, while Delmas, the father of R.J. and Rod and a 2003 National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame inductee, finished second to make it a one-two finish for the Conley organization.
R.J., along with Stanley, N.C.’s Taylor Cook (the Mod Squad Spectacular winner) and Stout’s Derek Richmond (the sport mod feature winner) also represented their classes by taking home feature victories on a night that featured 102 race teams across three divisions.
Before the Conleys separated themselves from the rest of the field, it looked as if Shannon Thornsberry was going to have the car to beat initially, as the Martin, Ky. native collected quick time in late model time trials with a lap of 14.841. Delmas Conley, Josh Bocook, Eddie Carrier, Jr., R.J. Conley, and Kenny Howell rounded out the top six in qualifying.
While the top six in qualifying automatically made it to the A-Main, the field was inverted for the late model dash, which set the top six positions between the aforementioned drivers. Entering turn one, Thornsberry, who was inverted back to sixth, showed his strength right away as the No. 17 machine immediately shot to the high side entering turn one and looked poised to pick up four positions exciting the second corner.
However, as Thornsberry made his move to the outside in the middle of turns one and two, the Martin, Ky. driver collided with Bocook, and from then on, his car proved to never be the same.
From then on, the primary dueling proved to be between the Conleys and Carrier, Jr., who seemed to be the only driver that could keep pace with the Conley Motorsports duo.
Ultimately, R.J. Conley led all six laps en route to the victory in the late model dash, and was never seriously challenged as the 53-year old led all 25 laps en route to taking home the late model feature and the $2,000-to-win grand prize. Delmas followed just behind in second place while Carrier, Jr., Bocook, and Vanceburg, Ky’s Kenny Christy rounded out the top-five.
“The car was good all night long,” R.J. said. “I knew that the restarts were going to be pretty critical in the ultimate outcome of the race, because it was hard to pass, but this car was rocking and rolling. I’m just happy with it.”
Despite competing in one less feature than Christy, who is the late model points leader, Delmas Conley’s second place finish in Saturday’s feature means that the 75-year old sits just 55 points back of Christy. Bocook also sits 55 points back in points (but is third because of Conley’s two feature wins to Bocook’s none) while Thornsberry sits 65 points back of the top spot in fourth position.
In the main card of the evening, a pair of newcomers proved to be the class of the $3,000 to win Mod Squad Spectacular field as Cook and Surgoinsville, Tenn. native Shon Flannery started on the front row of the modified feature.
Flanary, who set fast time with a lap of 16.8 seconds around the three-eighths mile-oval, joined West Portsmouth’s Ben Atkins and Beaver, Ky.’s Ervin Vance — last weekend’s feature winner — in leading all eight laps in their respective heat races, while Cook grabbed the outside pole position after the heat two feature winner, Nathon Loney, failed technical inspection following the heat.
Once the green lap fell though, the A-Main proved to be Cook’s to lose. The Stanley, N.C. native immediately took the point exiting the second corner, and, when a hard-charging Vance fell out of the races after issues arose on his P20 modified, the No. 21 faced no trouble in taking home the victory in the modified division. Adkins, South Webster’s Adam Jordan, Flanary, and James Grigsby rounded out the top five.
“The car worked really well,” Cook said. “I was a little worried after we ran the heat race. I didn’t think that we were quite as good as we had to be, but we made some adjustments in between the heat race and the feature, and it was just about perfect after that. I can’t thank my family enough. My family is the reason that we’re racing, the reason that we get to the racetrack on time, and the reason that we get to the racetrack prepared, so I can’t thank them enough.”
With his seventh-place finish in the Mod Squad Spectacular, Lucasville’s Jeremy Rayburn will extend his point lead over second-place Eddie Harmon of Ironton, who finished 11th. Rayburn held a 200-point lead over Harmon before Saturday’s feature began.
Over the course of the 2017 season, the sport modified division has arguably been the most entertaining to watch week-in and week-out.
That narrative did not change one bit on Saturday as a competitive and fierce sport mod field duked it out over the course of the evening.
From the get-go, Richmond — in his familar No. 34 machine — and the 01JR of Flemingsburg, Ky. native Mitchel Fields proved to be the trendsetters as far as pace was concerned. Richmond led all eight laps of the first of four sport mod heats to start from the pole while Fields stormed from ninth place — dead last on the grid in the third heat — to make a last-lap pass on Alan Gulley to show off his tremendous navigation of traffic. Portsmouth’s Billy Baldridge and Olive Hill, Ky.’s Brian Sammons, Sr. won the second and fourth heats to set the first two rows.
The action reached its peak in the B-Main when Brandon Walker’s blue No. 19 stalled out as the green flag flew for a restart, which resulted in a spectacular eight-car pileup and red-flag enusing incident along the frontstraightaway that collected Walker, Jeremy Cassidy, Jason Spillman, Brandon Carver, Casey Jones, Jimmy Cox, Kristen Butler, and C.J. Branham. Fortunately, every driver, with the exception of Carver — who was communicating with track personnel after the crash and was transported by ambulance to a local hospital for further evaluation — walked away uninjured.
Following the wild events of the B-Main, Richmond and Fields got back to their trendsetting ways as the pair proceeded to depart from the rest of the field. Fields ultimately pulled within a car length of Richmond in the closing laps, but couldn’t muster enough of a run to get alongside the Nile Township native as Richmond took home his division-leading fourth win of 2017. Fields, Luke Jordan, Sammons, Sr., and BJ Branham rounded out the top-five finishing order.
With his third-place finish, Jordan — who has finished in the top-five in all seven of the features that he has run in 2017 — will open his points lead slightly on Sammons, Sr., who finished fourth. Alan Gulley, who sat 35 points back of the lead before the start of Sunday’s feature, will face heat from Richmond thanks to Richmond’s victory and Gulley’s 10th place finish. Fields, who sat 140 points out of the lead in seventh position, will likely leapfrog Spillman and Rick Neace into the top-five in points thanks to his runner up finish on Saturday.
Portsmouth Raceway Park is off next Saturday as activities at the Scioto County Fair kick into full swing starting Monday. PRP will be back in action on Saturday, Aug. 19 when the 23rd Annual Fred Dillow Memorial takes place. All four divisions — late model ($5,000 to win), modifieds ($1,500 to win), limited late models ($830 to win), and sport mods ($583 to win) — will be on the card.
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7