With just two weeks remaining in the 2021 season, the Thunder competition continued to heat up at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway this past weekend.
The Beetle Bugs kicked off the Thunder program with a 25-lap feature. Coming into the night, Brandon Lizotte had a 10 point lead over Dustin Salley in the division.
Butch Keene took off with the early lead over Dustin Moreau in the feature. Dustin Salley was on fire in the opening laps of the race, advancing into the runner-up spot by lap 3 after starting at the tail end of the field.
Salley’s championship competitor, Brandon Lizotte, was also making moves early, stealing third away from Darryl Quinlan on lap 6.
Dustin Salley began riding the back bumper of his teammate, Butch Keene, on lap 7. While Salley trailed Keene for the top spot, Brandon Lizotte was able to close in on the two leaders, making it a 3-way battle for the top spot.
While the leaders battled it out, Corey Roussel and Ed Johnson ignited their own battle for fourth on lap 14.
Brandon Lizotte made his way to Dustin Salley’s outside door on lap 18, challenging for the runner-up spot. The two drivers battled it out for a handful of laps until Lizotte pulled ahead with the advantage on lap 23. Salley wasn’t giving up without a fight and was back to challenge for the position on the final lap.
The leaders were nearly 3-wide coming to the finish, but Butch Keene was able to hold off his competitors for his second feature victory of the season. Brandon Lizotte, Dustin Salley, Ed Johnson and Corey Roussel rounded out the top five.
With Brandon Lizotte’s second place finish, he was able to extend his points lead to 12 points over Dustin Salley going into next week’s championship night.
The Mad Bomber JV division was next on the agenda with another 25 lap feature. Coming into the evening, Brandon Williams held a 14 point advantage over Alex Smith in the point standings.
Seth Drown took off with the early lead in the feature. Drivers were 3-wide for the runner-up spot in the opening laps, with Spencer Barth taking over the spot. Trouble was brewing early as Taylor Graffam took a spin in turn 3 on the initial lap, resulting in a caution.
Seth Drown held strong on the restart, pulling away from his competitors. Joey Israelson was also coming through the field, advancing into the runner-up spot over Tyler Fitz.
Daniel Wescott’s #12 machine began to smoke heavily on lap 3 and he began to descend through the field. After a strong performance in the opening laps of the race, Spencer Barth came to a slow on lap 6, ultimately retiring to the pits.
Tyler Lerman was on the move on lap 8, advancing to third over Tyler Fitz as his younger brother, Josh Hodgdon, followed in succession. Fluid was dropped on the track on lap 9, nearly causing mayhem as all of the leaders entered turn 3. This resulted in another caution.
Alex Wilson’s troubles began as he limped around the track on the restart, only to retire to the pits shortly thereafter. Josh Hodgdon made a bold move on lap 12, igniting a 3-wide battle for the lead. The move backfired as Hodgdon lost a handful of spots.
Tyler Lerman was still digging, stealing the lead away from Seth Drown on lap 13. Josh Hodgdon was climbing back through the field, but went hard off-track on lap 16 in turn 3, nearly landing his #73 machine in the trees. The field remained green as Hodgdon successfully pulled off to the pits.
Alex Smith made his way to Tyler Lerman’s inside door on lap 18, challenging for the lead as Brandon Williams lingered closely behind.
Rookie Nate Barth was on the move in the closing laps, hungry for his first podium finish. Barth dove to the inside of Brandon Williams on the final lap, challenging for third as Lerman and Smith continued to battle it out for the top spot.
Tyler Lerman and Alex Smith battled it out tooth & nail to the line. It was nearly too close to call, but Lerman was awarded with the victory after the finish was reviewed by race control. The victory was Lerman’s first of his racing career and he thanked his friends and family for their support in his Victory Lane speech.
Alex Smith, Nate Barth (1st career podium finish!), Brandon Williams and Joey Israelson rounded out the top five.
Alex Smith was able to dig into Brandon Williams point lead slightly with his second place finish, but Williams still holds a double digit point lead over Smith going into championship night.
Following the completion of NASCAR Nite qualifying, the Mighty Trucks took to the track for their 25-lap feature. Coming into the night, Keith Petrin held a small 4 point lead over Matt Merrill for the championship.
John Curtis took off with the early lead in the feature. Matt Merrill was on the move early, advancing to third over Dave Lamson on lap 3. Derrick Drown made a bold move on lap 4, taking his competitors 4-wide for position. The move was bold, but it did not stick, resulting in Drown losing a handful of positions.
Matt Merrill made his way to Trace Ayers’ inside door on lap 9, promptly taking over the runner-up spot as Jeff Gillette Sr and Jr. followed in succession. He continued his pursuit on lap 13, challenging John Curtis for the top spot.
The battle lasted for a couple of laps, with Merrill finally taking over on lap 15. Jeff Gillette, Sr. pulled to Merrill’s inside on lap 18 and the two drivers battled it out for a handful of laps until Gillette, Sr. pulled ahead with the advantage with just two laps to go.
Merrill wasn’t giving up, pulling back to Gillette, Sr.’s inside door on the final lap. As the two drivers battled it out, Gillette, Sr. took a spin in turn 2, ultimately dropping him out of contention for the win.
Merrill sailed into the victory, tying Keith Petrin for the points lead going into championship night. Derrick Drown, Keith Petrin, Nate Zinck and Jeff Gillette, Jr. rounded out the top five.
The Mad Bomber Varisty division rounded out the Thunder program with a final 25-lap feature race. With multiple wins in the division in 2021, Brandon Johnson came into the night with a healthy 30 point lead over Mike Roe.
After winning the feature last week, Richard Bourgeois-Lang took a spin on the initial lap of the feature, resulting in an early race caution.
Mike Ramsey powered away with the lead on the restart. Justin Gailloux was also on the move early, advancing to third on lap 3. Drivers were 3-wide for fourth on lap 4, with Paul Lund coming out on top.
Mike Roe lost a rear wheel on lap 8, resulting in the driver making contact with the turn 4 tire barrier. The incident resulted in another caution.
Mike Ramsey and Justin Gailloux went head to head for the lead on the restart. The drivers battled it out for a handful of laps until Ramsey pulled ahead with the advantage on lap 14. Dean Hanscom took advantage of the situation, stealing the runner-up spot away from Gailloux shortly thereafter.
Paul Lund pulled to Justin Gailloux’s door on lap 17, challenging for third. Gailloux pulled away on lap 22 and began battling it out with Dean Hanscom for the runner-up spot in the closing laps.
Brandon Johnson was on the move on the final lap of the feature, advancing to fourth over Paul Lund as Mike DeKoning followed in succession.
Mike Ramsey was long gone in the closing laps, picking up his first feature victory of 2021 at Beech Ridge. Dean Hanscom, Justin Gailloux, Brandon Johnson and Mike DeKoning rounded out the top five.
With his third place finish, Brandon Johnson was able to further extend his point lead over Mike Roe, nearly finalizing the championship for the #55 team.
With just one week remaining in the 2021 season, how will these close championship battles play out? Join us next week at Beech Ridge to find out!
The Super Saturday racing action concludes this coming Saturday, September 11th. The season’s final Autograph Night and the 2021 championship presentation(s) will follow the racing action. It all kicks off at 4:00 pm!
Continue chasing the checkered and support your local short tracks. I hope to see you soon!
Cover Photo & Matt Merrill Photo Credit: Jamie Williams – Finish Line Photography