BATESVILLE, Ark. – Defending NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series National Champion Ronnie Johnson marked one off his bucket list on Friday night with his series leading 18th career win during night one of the Ozark Nationals at Batesville Motor Speedway driving a borrowed Hickman Manufacturing Special.
“I’ve run a lot of races here at Batesville Motor Speedway with the Hav-A-Tampa Series and in the Topless 100, but I’ve never won here, and that’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Johnson said. “I want to thank Riley Hickman for letting me bring his car out here this weekend. I was struggling to get my 5 car together, and Riley came by and said here is mine, it’s ready to go, so we loaded it up and we were ready to go.”
Montana Dudley led the first lap after the start the race, followed by Landers, Justin McRee, Johnson and Chandler Petty. Dudley’s reign at the point was short lived as he lost the right-rear tire going into turn one on lap two and parked against the wall to bring out the first of five caution flags.
That gave Landers the lead for the “Dixie Style” double-file restart. Landers set a fast pace when the field went back to green flag action. He began to lap the cars on the tail end of the lead lap by the tenth tour, and by lap 12 Landers had a half a straightaway lead on McRee.
While Landers pulled away from McRee, the second-place driver was busy trying to hold off a challenge from Johnson for the position. Johnson was able to make an inside move on McRee to take the second spot on lap 14, and then a lap 15 caution flag closed up the field after Roger Witt came to a stop.
Landers led the field back to green with Johnson, McRee, Mack McCarter, Brent Barrett, Petty, Ashley Newman, Walker Arthur, Johnny Stokes and Chase Washington doubled up behind him. Newman got by Petty on the restart to take the sixth spot, and then passed Barrett for fifth on lap 17. Lap 19 saw the Big Mac Attack, as McRee and McCarter battle side-by-side for the third spot.
McCarter worked hard to finally clear McRee for third on lap 24, but ahead of that battle, Landers and Johnson were fixing to have a battle of their own. On lap 25, Johnson got inside Landers, but couldn’t make the move for the lead stick. After a three lap side-by-side battle for the lead, Johnson did clear Landers in heavy lapped traffic on lap 27 to take the point.
The field got to bunch up on lap 31 after Michael Blount stalled the Lamar Auto Salvage Trak-Star to bring out the third caution flag of the race. Johnson had Landers, McCarter, Newman, McRee, Arthur, Stokes, Barrett, Petty, and Josh Adkins doubled up behind him for the restart.
On lap 32, Newman tagged the inside wall in turn two, and McRee sailed around on the outside to retake the fourth spot. Johnson began to encounter lapped traffic on lap 43, but the caution flag came out on lap 46 before Landers could close in after Caleb Myers stalled the Columbus Nissan GRT in turn one.
While Johnson now had clear race track in front of him, the field bunched up one last time after Myers spun in turn four to bring out the fifth and final caution flag of the race on lap 47. Johnson took off and pulled away to begin the four-lap dash to the finish, but the big drama was unfolding behind him on the last lap.
McCarter got a run on Landers going down the backstretch and both drivers drove hard into turn three aiming for the same piece of race track. The two cars made contact in turn four with McCarter on the inside and Landers on the outside. They banged off of each other coming off the fourth turn until Landers spun to the inside. McCarter finished second, 1.479 seconds behind Johnson, while Landers backed across the timing and scoring loop in fifth.
McRee was third, followed by Newman and Landers.