The GM Parts XPerts Super Late Model Series officially got their season under way this past Thursday night with a 125-lap feature event. After making just three laps in the season opener two weeks ago, connection issues forced the race to be postponed, making this past week’s race at New Smyrna the host of the first official race of the season.
With the sun starting to set, Ty Majeski set the pole speed of the night in Time Trials with a lap of 16.901 seconds. The top ten cars would then transfer into the Qualifying Dash to battle it out for some bonus points, and an 8-car invert would drop Majeski back while Camaron Hamilton would be inverted to the front. Hamilton got the early jump and then held on to pick up the Dash victory.
When the lights came on, Camaron Hamilton led the field to the green flag for the 125 lap feature, but the pace of the race was slowed early and often during the opening stages of the race. On lap two, a couple of cars within the top ten got together causing a pileup in turn two, and this was just the start of early troubles as the field had a rough time settling in for green flag runs.
Three more cautions on laps 11, 17, and 25 set the field up for a lap 30 restart with Hamilton continuing to control things out front. On the restart, Hamilton took off but Joe Schaffer was able to hang tough on the outside through turns one and two, and the leaders would continue to battle it out side-by-side for the next two laps. Schaffer carried the momentum on the high side through turns three and four, and came around to lead lap 31 by just two-hundredths of a second, and then was able to clear Hamilton for the lead coming out of turn two on the next lap.
This run continued until another caution on lap 45 as a pair of incidents occurred on separate ends of the track to bring out the next yellow. And as the common phrase says, cautions breed cautions, and that was the case as two more yellows flew on laps 53 and 61.
As the field crossed the halfway point, they would finally settle in for a long green flag run on the lap 67 restart. Brian Tedeschi, Austin Yarbrough, and Kyle Holzhausen each settled into the top five during the run, but the battle continued to be up front as Schaffer held onto the lead while Hamilton was looking to put the pressure on.
Schaffer pulled out to a near half second lead after the restart, but by lap 77 Hamilton had closed the gap down to less than two-tenths of a second. That gap would stay consistent for much of the run as the leaders were setting a torrid pace out front, while Hamilton just rode in Schaffer’s tire tracks as they approached lapped traffic. The two leaders continued to run nose-to-tail as they caught a pack of about six cars, and once the lapped cars were able to sort out their battles, the two leaders escaped through.
As the laps wound down though, Schaffer began to stretch out the gap slightly after lap 100, but Hamilton was still able to keep the gap down under a half-second. With less than 10 laps to go, lapped traffic would be a factor once more, as Schaffer was able to clear a lapped car out of turn two, but Hamilton wasn’t able to do the same as he would make contact which would send him up into the wall on lap 117.
This set up a three lap dash to the finish, but on the restart Schaffer would spin his tires, allowing the new second place driver of Tedeschi to hang tough on his outside. The two ran side-by-side for the next two laps but on the exit of turn four as they came to the white flag, the two drivers would bang doors causing Tedeschi to get loose near the inside wall, while Schaffer would continue on.
Schaffer was able to hold off the pack on the final lap, and would come around to pick up the checkered flag at New Smyrna, after leading 94 laps of the race. The win for Schaffer would be his first after a season-long drought in the Spring Season, and his 11th career SARA victory.
Despite the late issue with a lapped car, Hamilton was able to fight back to finish in the 2nd spot, partly due to the fact that he helped lap up to 5th place earlier in the race. Kyle Holzhausen was caught up in a couple of the early incidents of the race but was able to survive and ran inside the top five during the second half and would finish on the podium in 3rd. Darrell Hamlin was part of a caution of his own on lap 25 and had to start at the back of the field but slowly worked his way back into the picture late to finish in 4th. Tedeschi battled for the lead on the last restart, but after nearly spinning out, he was able to salvage a 5th place finish.
Just outside the top five were a number of cars that were caught up in incidents throughout the race but were able to survive to the finish to grab top tens. These drivers included Evan Sorensen with best career Super Late Model finish in 6th, Matt Rolfe in 7th after being caught up in the first two cautions, Cody Erdmann who had a rough night but was able to finish in 8th, Matt Eddy with a solid run in 9th, and Matt Bontempi who rounded out the top ten in his first official Super Late Model start.
With the first official race in the books for the Super Late Models, the division will head to Irwindale next week for a 125 lap feature event with Joe Schaffer and Camaron Hamilton leading them there as they sit tied atop the points standings.