PINE HALL, N.C. – Jonathan Davenport is arguably the hottest dirt-late-model driver in the Southeast over the past month, but is he hot enough to deal with some of the countrys best touring stars? He’s about to find out.
This Saturday night (April 20) Davenport will enter the 50-lap, $10,000-to-win World of Outlaws Late Model Series event at 311 Motor Speedway, kicking off three consecutive weekends in which the 29-year-old native of Blairsville, Ga., plans to compete with the national tour throughout his home region. For Davenport, its the most important stretch of action in his fledgling tenure as a driver for the AES Racing team.
“We’re definitely focusing on the next three weeks,” said Davenport, who owns two career WoO LMS A-Main victories, both at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C. (2010 and ’11 World Finals). ”Even though we’ve been running good we haven’t really run too much on the national level yet, so were ready to test ourselves. I feel like were hitting our stride so hopefully this is a really good time for the Outlaws to come into our area.”
Former racer Mike Fulp’s half-mile 311 Motor Speedway would seem a perfect place for Davenport to start his challenge of the World of Outlaws stars. The venerable track sits about 45 minutes northeast of his current residence in Clemmons, N.C., and just over an hours drive southeast of the AES Racing shop in Mt. Airy, N.C., so he’ll basically be racing in his backyard. He’s also coming off a victory in an April 6 Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series event at 311, demonstrating his ability to negotiate the oval after a long absence from competition there.
“That was the first time I’d run there in about three years,” Davenport said of his visit to 311 Motor Speedway two weeks ago. “But it was pretty much just like I remembered it. Its just a regular ’ol Carolina racetrack, pretty good sized and fast.
“We unloaded good that night and everything basically went well for us. It ended up being a pretty big night for us because it was my first Clash win in years (since 2008) and it was the first win for Hoosier (Tire) in the Clash deal in a while.”
Whether Davenport’s 311 tuneup provides him an edge versus the Outlaws on Saturday night remains to be seen, but he did learn some valuable lessons.
“As far as what I have to do to my car (at 311), running there a couple weeks ago will definitely help us out,” said Davenport, who drives machines constructed by veteran chassis builder Barry Wright. ”But tire wise, its put a big question mark in my head. Now I’m kind of confused about what to do on tires when I go back up there. The spec (Hoosier) tire that we had to run (in the Clash event) was actually a little better than I thought it would be versus our open-competition stuff, so we’re gonna have to decide which way to go.
Davenport will go to the post at 311 seeking his fifth win in the last six weeks. After starting slow as he got acquainted with the AES Racing operation (including a trip to February’s WoO LMS tripleheader at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla., that saw him follow finishes of 19th and 13th with a DNQ in the finale), the driver known as Superman caught fire come spring. He was triumphant four straight weekends, preceding his 311 score with wins in Southern All-Star events on March 16 at East Alabama Motor Speedway and March 23 at Smoky Mountain Speedway in Maryville, Tenn., and a $30,000 checkered flag in the Carolina Crown special on March 30 at Lancaster (S.C.) Motor Speedway.