Penton hosting 525 Super Late Model Series Friday night

The “Factory Backed and Factory Built” Chevrolet Performance NeSmith 525 Super Late Model Series will hold its first two events of the season with a pair of $3,000-to-win, $300-to-start races on August 2 at Penton Raceway and on August 3 at East Alabama Motor Speedway.

The country’s first super late model series to be branded by an American automobile manufacturer has been four years in the making, and three National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame Inductees have supported the project. All three will participate as either a competitor or a promoter in the 10-race Chevrolet Super Late Model Series that will pay a $30,000 point fund with $10,000 going to the champion and paying back ten spots.

It will all begin on Friday night at the 3/8-mile dirt oval in Penton.

The race will be the main event in a night that includes a full racing schedule with Sportsman, Bandit and Hobby divisions all taking the track. The Crate Late Model division will not race, but those drivers can run in the Super Late Model Series event. Pits and grandstands will open starting at 4 pm CST on Friday. Admission to the pits is $35 for those ages 13 and above and $15 for those under 12. Grandstand admission is free for kids five and under, $5 for those ages 6-12 and $15 for those 13 and above.

The Chevrolet Super Late Model Series is billed as America’s most affordable super late model series, as the engines that power the dirt late model racecars will be the $7,000 Chevrolet Performance all-aluminum CT 525 engine that is based on the production LS engine that is available in the Chevrolet Corvette, the Chevrolet Camaro and the Chevrolet SS.

While the series took four years to bare fruit, the seed was actually planted eight years ago by National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame driver Jeff Purvis of Clarksville, TN, who joined his car owner Mike Vaughn of Cartersville, GA in a meeting with Chevrolet Performance Special Projects Manager Bill Martens.

Vaughn was getting tired of having to buy $40,000 engines and getting them freshened up for $7,000 to $8,000 every 300 laps just to participate in super late model races. Another National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame Inductee and Promoter of Dixie Speedway in Woodstock, GA, the late Mike Swims, introduced him to the Crate Late Model concept featuring the $5,000 Chevrolet Performance 604 Engine in 2004.

Vaughn decided to form what has become the NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series for Crate Late Models in 2005. During that 2004 meeting, Purvis mentioned to Martens, “If Chevrolet Performance would build an all-aluminum 500 horsepower production engine, adapt it for dirt late model racing, and sell it to the racers for $10,000 or less, you could own the industry.”

The concept went from the words spoken by Purvis, to an idea on paper, and then in 2008 it became a reality. The engine was ready for competition in 2009. Martens asked Vaughn for ideas on a research and development driver, and it was an easy choice. Another National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame inductee, Ronnie Johnson of Chattanooga, TN was picked as the R&D driver for the Chevrolet Performance CT 525 Engine.

Johnson entered selected super late model events with the CT 525 Engine and the results were immediately there, as the “Chattanooga Flash” has been a regular visitor to victory lane, and has racked up an impressive list of top five finishes. Other racers began to take notice, looking at the engine and asking questions of Johnson about the power plant.

“The engines we’ve been running are 1950’s technology,” Johnson said.  “When people first see the CT 525 engine for the first time, they’re a little hesitant to embrace it because its 21st Century technology and the engine looks different. It has electronic ignition, and it has no distributor, but rather coil packs that sit on top of the valve covers.” Johnson likes to talk about the cost-effectiveness of the engine, its durability, and the lack of time-consuming maintenance.

“I’ve been running this engine for four years and I’ve won enough money during that time period to pay for the engine several times over,” Johnson says. “The only thing I’ve had to do to the engine in four years is change the oil, and I’ve put a couple of sets of spark plugs in it. It has not leaked that first drop of oil, and with the lack of maintenance this engine requires, it has given me more time to work on the chassis of the race car.”

So with the Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series set to begin, Johnson is all in to go for the championship, and Purvis believes in this new concept of super late model racing so much, he has chosen to be a co-promoter for the first time at one the series events, the September 14 race at Clarksville Speedway in Clarksville.

Now a third National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame inductee as both a driver and a promoter has gotten behind the Chevrolet Performance Dirt Late Model Series. Billy Thomas of Phenix City has announced that he is coming out of retirement to compete in the Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series. As a promoter, Thomas will host the second race of the season on August 3 at his family’s speed plant, East Alabama Motor Speedway as a part of its 40-year anniversary.

“As both a super late model competitor and promoter, I know both sides of the fence, and the costs to both compete in and promote a super late model race are out of hand,” Thomas said. “The Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series is a great concept and something that has been needed for a long time. I’m excited to support it as both a competitor and a promoter.”

Johnny Stokes of Columbus, MS is in the same boat as Thomas.  Stokes is the promoter of Magnolia Motor Speedway and will promote a Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series event at The Mag on September 8. “Dr. Dirt,” as Stokes is known, will also compete in the full 10-race series.

By competing in the Chevrolet Performance Super Series, Thomas will also have the opportunity to compete with his son, super late model standout William Thomas. Another father-son team planning to compete in the series will be Ross and Adam Martin of Talladega.

The Martins are the perfect example of what the Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series has to offer to competitors. It gives an affordable option for veteran super late model competitors to stay in the sport, and an opportunity for the next generation of drivers to move into the sport.

Ross was at a crossroads in his career two years ago, as Adam was looking to move into super late model racing after winning the NeSmith Chevrolet Weekly Racing Series Regional Championship with his crate late model. “There no way I could afford to run two super late models, so I was ready to retire and give Adam the opportunity to run super late models,” he said. “The only problem was, I wasn’t ready to retire, but it looked like finances were going to make me do it.  The CT 525 Engine made it possible for both me and Adam to both race super late models.” The Martin’s have made the best of their two-car team with CT 525 power, as both father and son have won several races.

The Martins’ home track, Talladega Short Track, will host the Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series finale on October 12 with the $6,000-to-win ‘Dega 100.

The list of drivers planning to compete in the Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series is full of super late model drivers looking for an economical way to stay in the sport, and younger drivers looking to move up into super late model competition.

Included in those is the 2011 NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt late Model Series Rookie of the Year and local driver Chase Edge. Edge will not only run at his home track, but the rest of the series schedule as well.

Also from the NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series are defending champion Matthew Turner of Dawsonville and two-time champion David Earl Gentry of Murfreesboro, MS, who are both looking to run the Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series.

Super late model veterans planning to run the Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series are Riley Hickman of Cleveland, TN, Tim Busha of Pell City, Mark Dowdy of Nashville, Ted Lackey of Munford, AL, David Jackson of Winchester, TN, and the 2010 UMP Late Model National Champion and two-time ALMS Champion Rusty Schlenk of McClure, OH.

Drivers looking to make their super late model racing debuts in the Chevrolet Super Late Model Series are Brad Smith of Winston Salem, NC, Chris Cheek of North Wilkesboro, NC, Marty Hardy of Biloxi, and Pierce McCarter of Sevierville, TN.

For more information about the Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series visit the series web site at www.525superseries.com, or visit the series on Facebook at Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series.

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