Matt Cooper Stars On Nashville Dirt

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Matt Cooper won the Pro Late Model feature Saturday night at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville. (Matt King photo)

NASHVILLE — Almost two weeks’ worth of track prep and 181 truckloads of dirt later, the inaugural Fairgrounds DIRTcar Clash is in the books.

And what a turnout it was on Saturday night at the track, in the grandstands and the pit area.

A total of 104 cars passed through the pit gates of Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, in four divisions of 17 DIRTcar Pro Late Models, 36 Quicksilver Performance Street Stocks, 18 Pure Mini Stocks and 33 Mod Lites.

Four Qualifying sessions set four new track records around the quarter-mile – Matt Cooper (Pro Late Models) [16.339]; T.J. Herndon (Street Stocks) [17.235]; Aaron Ashcraft (Pure Mini Stocks) [19.192]; Jon Padille (Mod Lites) [16.769]. Remarkably, three of these drivers went on to win their respective Feature race, displaying their piloting prowess over their opponents.

After 14 Heat Races and a bit of track preparation, the DIRTcar Pro Late Models took to the track one final time for their Feature, where fast qualifier, Heat Race No. 1 winner and polesitter Matt Cooper put on a dominant display of short track mastery, as he led all 20 laps en route to winning the very first Feature ever ran on dirt at the Nashville Fairgrounds.

“This is really special,” Cooper said with a big smile on his face. “We’re not asphalt racers, but everybody knows the history of this racetrack, so it’s real special.”

What a feat his performance was, considering Cooper was one driver who did not take a single lap of practice prior to Hot Laps on Saturday. He very quickly adapted to the expertly prepared racing surface, courtesy of Scott Woodhouse from Thunderbowl Raceway and William Scogin of Clarksville Speedway. With no prior track time, Cooper made the most of the uncharted territory, and was very pleased with the results.

“The track was actually better than I thought it was going to be,” Cooper said. “I thought it might’ve gotten rough, but it actually stayed together pretty good.”

Runner-up Brad Skinner also said it was a great race and a really fun track to drive on. But that enjoyment didn’t come without a good sense of competitiveness.

“Unfortunately, I had to bump a couple of people,” Skinner said. “We moved up a few positions and I’m pretty happy about that. And we made history [in the process].”

Skinner came from his fifth starting spot and battled his way up to third by lap four, then made the move for second on lap 16 and spent the remaining circuits putting pressure on Cooper. In the end, he was unable to catch the leader, but said he was glad to have the opportunity to be a part of an event as special as this.

“I had a ball,” Skinner said after the race. “I can’t complain a bit. Last night, I came here to practice and it was a little more hooked up, you could hammer it off in the corners. It dried out a bit tonight, but still a lot of fun.”

Steve Peeden came from the deepest in the field out of the podium finishers to cross the line in third. In 20 laps, Peeden made the charge from ninth and did his small crew of girlfriend and mother (who also drove 5.5 hours in the truck with him from their home town in Indiana) proud, after making repairs from his qualifying round.

“We knocked the wall down in qualifying and knocked the spoiler off of it,” Peeden said. “It got a little sketchy a couple of times, but it was a heck of a race for us.”

After the DIRTcar Pro Late Models had concluded, the Pure Mini Stocks took to the track in what ended up being a great battle between Heat Race winners Joseph McGhee and Aaron Ashcraft. After not receiving a Qualifying time due to a mechanical failure in the staging lane, McGhee came back to win his heat race convincingly, earning himself a third-place starting spot for the feature. With just four laps remaining, McGhee took the lead, and the first Pure Mini Stocks Feature win at Nashville.

The Quicksilver Street Stock Performance Series then came out for their Feature, won by fast qualifier T.J. Herndon. Herndon wrestled the lead away from Dale Nelson by lap 5 and didn’t look back, leading every lap from there on out to pick up the win, besting each of his 35 other competitors in the pit area.

Last, but certainly not least, was the Mod Lite division, which saw Jon Padille, from Illinois, pick up the victory after setting fast time earlier in the evening. The track size seemed to work well for the 32 cars in the division, as they were able to lay down, approximately, the second-best average lap times behind only the Pro Late Models.