Former NASCAR Cup driver Sterling Marlin has seen his share of tracks in his racing days.
Shady Bowl Speedway, though, left an impression on Marlin. And his No. 114 late model.
While local driver Josh Smith was holding off the field for his fourth late model feature win, Marlin was trying to hold his car together.
The two-time Daytona 500 champion smacked the wall during a Friday practice session. Then on Saturday, Marlin got together with two other cars 10 laps into the 72-lap Bobby Korn and Lil’ Bobby Korn Memorial.
“(Shady Bowl is) different from anywhere I’ve been at,” Marlin said of the Bowl’s unique 3/10-mile paved oval with a backstretch that dips coming out of turn two and rises into turn three. “You can’t use all the motor. The car skates and slides. We just missed on the (set up).”
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Marlin finished 19th in the 20-car feature. While his night was done early on the track in front of the packed Shady Bowl stands, he continued to pose with fans for photos and sign autographs at his hauler in the pits.
“I had a lot fans come out and I signed a lot of stuff,” said Marlin, who made the nearly seven-hour drive from Columbia, Tenn., to Shady Bowl. “It’s pretty neat to see people from 25 years ago. … I had a good time and I thank everybody for having us up here. I’ll come back sometime.”
Smith, meanwhile, stalked front-runners Mike Ward and Nic Burnside as they traded the lead in the early laps. Smith worked past Burnside following a restart after 21 laps. He caught and passed Ward coming out of turn four to lead lap 26. He never lost the lead, though Jim Lewis Jr. caught up to Smith’s bumper with 10 laps to go and even pulled up to Smith’s back quarter panel albeit briefly.
“I could hear him back there so I knew he was close,” Smith said. “We have some work to do. We’re always trying to get this car faster.”
Smith was fast enough Saturday to claim the $1,720 win. It didn’t hurt that Lewis scraped the wall coming out of turn two in a last-ditch effort to get alongside Smith. The win kept Smith in the late models points lead. He won the late model championships in both 2014 and 2015.
Smith, from nearby Quincy and sponsored by C&E Auto Reconditioning in Springfield, credited his father and crew chief, Jerry, for getting him to victory lane again.
“They’re never easy to win. It’s a testament to my crew,” the younger Smith said. “They work their tails off on this car day in and day out. It makes my job easier. … I’m grateful for every race we win.”
Smith said he and his crew offered to help Marlin get his car repaired after banging the wall Friday.
“He’s a super nice guy,” Smith said. “You can never underestimate those guys. They’ve got a lot of resources. They know a lot of smart people. He had some unfortunate events this weekend, but it’s always good. It draws in a big crowd.”
Marlin brought a special trophy to share with Saturday’s winner. Smith was awarded a small red paddle with the Confederate flag painted on it with the words, ‘I spanked their butts at Shady Bowl.’ Marlin’s major race sponsor Saturday was Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Lewis Jr. finished second, Ward third, Brian Reeser fourth and Scott Sullenberger fifth.
Gary Eaton Jr. won the 30-lap Vores BJ Body Shop Classic and Jason Purtee captured the Hobby Stocks feature.