Cooley's Two Straight With Winona NeSmith Win

 

WINONA, Miss. – May 8. Eric Cooley of Fulton, Miss. drove his 78 Towing and Recovery Victory Circle to his second straight NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series National Touring victory on Friday in the "Mid-State Nationals 40" at Central Mississippi Speedway.

 

The 19-year-old defending NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series National Champion led all 40 laps and was never challenged in route to his third series career win in a race that was a survival of the fittest, as just eight of the 24 cars that started the race were around for the checkered flag. A hot and humid evening combined with a heavy clay surface that clogged radiators led to the majority of the field suffering overheating problems.

 

“That was a long, hot 40 laps of racing,” Cooley said.  “It was not only tough on the engines running hot, but on drivers too.  I couldn’t wait to get this one over with because I was really thirsty with cotton mouth.  Running up front was a real advantage to surviving the race because I think my car didn’t get as hot as a lot others did.”

 

Wesley Greene of Winona, MS started 14th and finished second, a full straightaway behind Cooley. He led Matthew Turner, Randall Beckwith, Johnny Stokes, Shannon Lee, Michael Blount, Brett Delk, Justin McRee, and Kyle Perry in the top ten.

 

Cooley made it a “clean sweep” as he also out-timed the 31 entrants during qualifications with a lap around the ¼-mile clay oval in 14.647 seconds to earn the pole position for the main event.  Cooley took the lead at the start of the race, followed by Chris Ragan and Beckwith.

 

The first of five caution flags came out on lap two when Doug Sanchagrin spun in turn two. At the restart, Cooley led Ragan, Harrod, Turner, Beckwith, and Chris McElhenney, who started a side-by-side battle for the fifth spot with Beckwith. McRee moved up to make it a three-car dance for the fifth spot by lap four, butMcElhenney drove by Beckwith for the fifth position on lap six.

 

Cooley, in the meantime began to open up a lead on Ragan, and began to lap the cars on the tail of the lead lap by the eighth lap. McElhenney continued his charge to the front of the pack, passing Turner for fourth with an outside move on lap nine. 

 

Marcus Minga stalled on lap 14 to bring out the second yellow flag of the race.  During the caution period, steam began to trail out the back of Ragan’s car as he lined up behind Cooley for the restart, and McRee pitted with a steaming radiator.  When the green came back out, Ragan slowed in turn one to bring out the caution flag and give up the second spot.

 

That brought Harrod up to second, where he raced behind behind Cooley for two more laps until the caution flag flew when Bobby Jordan stalled.  During the caution period, McElhenney overheated to a stop on the backstretch, and McRee, who had worked his way back up to the ninth spot, pitted again in an effort to cool off his radiator.

 

The attrition continued as Palasini, who had been making a charge to the front of the pack after starting 18th, pulled up on lap 18 from the sixth spot and parked his car in the infield with an overheated engine.

 

Lap 21 saw wholesale changes in the top five, as Greene passed Turner for the fourth spot.  That became the third position, as Harrod dropped out of second with a pegged water temperature gauge.  Further inspection found that Harrod’s radiator was clogged with helmet visor tear-offs.

 

That moved Berry up to the second spot, but he became the third driver running in that position to give it up, as steam began to billow from underneath his race car on lap 25, and Greene took over second-place.  The final caution flag came out on lap 28 when McRee’s car could go no more, and he stalled on the backstretch.

 

When the caution flag came out, Cooley gave up a half-lap lead over Greene.  The eight remaining cars on the race track when clean and green for the final 13 laps, as Cooley was able to maintain a full-straightaway lead over Greene to the checkered flag.

 

OFFICIAL FINISH:

1. Eric Cooley, 2. Wesley Greene, 3. Matthew Turner, 4. Randall Beckwith, 5. Johnny Stokes, 6. Shannon Lee, 7. Michael Blount, 8. Brett Delk, 9. Just McRee, 10. Kyle Berry, 11. Larry Harrod, 12. Charlie Henderson, 13. Evan Ellis, 14. Mike Palasini, Jr., 15. Chris McElhenney, 16. Chris Ragan, 17. Bobby Jordan, 18. Eric Carr, 19. Marcus Minga, 20. Doug Sanchagrin, 21. Chad McCool, 22. Jason Michau, 23. Ronny Hollingsworth, 24. Jerry Inmon (31 entries)

 

Top qualifier: Cooley;

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