EASTABOGA, Ala. — The NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series will return to the site of one of its most memorable events last season — Talladega Short Track — for two races this weekend under the spotlight of NASCAR Talladega weekend.
There will be a 40-lap $2,000-to-win race on Friday night, and a 50-lap $2,500-to-win race on Saturday night.
Last year’s race featured a classic battle between a legendary National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame driver and a then, 13-year-old Sunoco Young Gun Challenge Series driver. With fans in the stands that may have not been that familiar with dirt late model racing, became fans at the end of the night.
Those fans that are students of the sport, needed no introduction to Ronnie Johnson, as the two-time NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series National Champion was focused for his unprecedented third title at the age of 59. A few fans may have heard of 13-year-old Tyler Clem, but most weren’t that familiar with him.
That all changed by the time the checkered flag fell. The crowd came to their feet because they knew they were witnessing something special. The youngster Clem took the dirt late model master Johnson to task, and raced with him, for the lead, side-by-side for 30 laps. Clem led laps four through 22, and Johnson edged out front to lead lap 23.
Clem brought the crowd to their feet by retaking the lead on lap 24, while Johnson reached deep into his helmet bag trying to find a way to not only pass Clem, but to win the race. Johnson found what he needed on lap 32, and he went on to lead the remaining 18 laps of the race. Clem faded in the closing laps and finished fourth.
In 40-plus years of winning races, Johnson has always been one to climb from his race car in victory lane, flash a big smile and receive the cheers of the crowd with a big wave of his hand. This scene was a little bit different at Talladega Short Track last year. Johnson got out, big smile, big wave, but no cheers, and no fans.
All of the fans were 50 feet down the fence where Clem parked his race car for the post-event interviews. When the eighth grader climbed out of his race car, the roar of the crowd rattled the garages across the street at the big track.
The fans saw not one, but two legends of the sport, because in addition to Johnson, 82-year-old Red Farmer was also in the NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series race. The fans saw the future of the sport, not only with Clem, but another 13-year-old, Cruz Skinner, who won six NeSmith Chevrolet Weekly Racing Series events last season at Talladega Short Track.