Lessard and Smith earn qualifying race victories for Super Late Model at Saturday's Short Track U.S. Nationals
Raphael Lessard and Chandler Smith raced to victories in the two qualifying races that set the field for Sunday's 100-lap Super Late Model feature race scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Both drivers will be among the favorites to win the highly-anticipated inaugural event's main feature. Chad Poole (Modifieds), Bo Hoelscher (Compacts) and Chuck Barnes Jr. (Street Stock) also were winners of the event that is showcasing the world's best short track racers as they compete for the first time on the high-banks of The World's Fastest Half-Mile, one of the most famous short tracks in the world. Sunday's racing also will include 100-lap features in Pro Late Model and Late Model Stock.
Canadian Lessard, who claimed the No. 1 qualifying position for the race with a quick time of 14.550 seconds at 131.876 mph, led the entire way in his 35-lap qualifying race. He finished in front of second-generation racer Steve Wallace and Travis Braden, who was one of the quickest drivers in Friday's practice.
"It's a dream come true," Lessard said. "I just really can't believe it. My team gave me a really good car, but we have a 100-lap race tomorrow, and want to be a little better."
Smith, who qualified eighth, turned it on in the second 35-lap qualifying race and held off Jake Crum for the victory. NASCAR XFINITY Series regular Bubba Wallace, who qualified second, finished third overall in his black No. 6 Ford.
"The longer the run, the car kept tightening up," Smith said. "It kept coming to me and getting faster and faster. We worked our tails off at the shop to bring a good car here, and we did."
Former series champ Poole powered to the NSTA Top Speed Modified victory, holding off Travis Eddy and William Skaggs for the victory. The Springfield, Ohio driver qualified fifth in his 12p Finley Recycling machine, and survived a wreck-filled race that was called official after 42 laps due to the series' 45-minute time-limit rule.
"I really can't believe I'm sitting here in the media center at Bristol Motor Speedway," Poole said. "I really have to thank the folks at Bristol for letting us come out here and race.
Hoelscher, who was quick in practice but qualified sixth, found his groove in the feature race and pulled away from the pack to earn the 50-lap Vore's Welding Compact victory. He finished in front of Chris Jennings, Ron Masters and Matt Jackson.
"The motor felt like it was ready to let go with five to go, I kept looking in my mirror, because I just knew someone was going to catch me," Hoelscher said. "What a great feeling to win at Bristol Motor Speedway. I have to thank Steve Vore for making this happen."
Barnes Jr. used the classic Bristol bump-n-run to earn the victory in the 50-lap Street Stock feature. He put his Chevy fender on the rear of top qualifier and rival Brett Hudson's machine on the final lap and moved around him to take the checkered flag.
"We race really hard every week and he would do the same," Barnes said. "I have a lot of respect for him but I got one up on him and he owes me one back now. I just got into him a little bit, I didn't wreck him. We got the Bristol trophy. My dad won here back in 2010 and his trophy is in the office. We were joking about who was going to get the next one. I am glad we were able to get it."