Anthony White was victorious at Scenic (Tennessee) Raceway.
In addition to a fair purse, there was a point fund that offered cash for the Top-5 drivers. The champion would get $5,000 of the $11,800 offered. In addition, any driver who attended all series races and did not finish in the Top 5 was offered $500 at the end of the trail.
"Our format was racer-friendly," Cook continued. "We didn't run any heat races, so that means drivers didn't run as many laps on their equipment. We'd lock in the Top 12 to the feature and then have two or three consies. The cars qualified out of the consies and it gave everyone a chance to put on a show. The consies meant something, and it sped up the program because you don't want things to take all night."
The tracks often included a local division to fill out the program and give new fans a sample of the racing at the local track's weekly shows.
The pieces were all put into place to start the eight-race series on Thursday, July 21 at Lavonia Speedway in Georgia. Mother Nature had other ideas. The opener was cancelled by rain showers, and the tight schedule left no chance for a make-up. It was on to Modoc (South Carolina) Speedway for the Friday event. The Tri-County Race Track in North Carolina held the third show before an off-day on Sunday. The series heated up on Monday with an event at Winchester (Tennessee) Speedway, staying in Tennessee the following night at Baxter's Tennessee Motor Speedway. Another mid-week breather geared the teams for the stretch run, a Tennessee trio that encompassed Scenic Raceway, Crossville Raceway, and the $5,000-to-win finale at Tazewell Speedway.
Series announcer Ozzie Altman interviews Billy Ogle Jr., who won the $5,000 series finale
The Lavonia rainout proved to be the only weather-related bump in the road. The remaining races were contested, and nine drivers made all seven races. The results show a parity record that will likely never be equaled.
"We had seven races that had seven different winners using seven different chassis," said Cook at the conclusion of the series. "Jeff Cooke won the series championship. He did it with a different chassis, and he didn't win a race, so you could say we had eight winners with eight different chassis. After four races, Hoosier had won two races and American Racer had won two, so it was close there, too." Hoosier ended up winning that battle with five victories.
In assessing the series' inaugural foray, Cook was cautiously optimistic that this wasn't the last version. "I thought it was successful," he said. "Consider that we didn't start this until two months before. We didn't have a lot of time to seek out sponsorship, so we've kinda laid the groundwork.
"Most everybody liked the format," he continued. "It gave them a break in the middle of the week. We looked for tracks that are good on equipment, and we had a fair tire rule."
Second-generation racer Jake Knowles had a strong showing in the series and will be one to
Cook would like to change a few things for the next go-round, always mindful of maintaining the balance to benefit racer, promoter, and fan.
"I'd like to see half the shows pay $5,000 to win," he added. "I'd want them all to do that, but I know some tracks couldn't justify it. I'm hopeful that we'll get more cars next time. Some guys couldn't do it because they had planned vacations or couldn't get off work. It's hard to find a good time of year for it. This year, we were up against the Modified race at Batesville, and that may get moved next year. We've had a few tracks say they want to get involved next year. I believe all of the tracks this year made money. Tazewell has said it wants to be the last date every year, so that's set."
While he performed the task admirably, Cook doesn't want to become a full-time promoter. He jumped back into his race car shortly after the Southern Nationals, scoring a Top-5 at the North-South 100. A former Show Me 100 champion, Cook can still race and that's what he wants to do. Still, he's been willing to step up and help fellow racers with his promotional work, and the dirt Late Model world is better for it. The Southern Nationals are a prime example of that.
Series champion Jeff Cooke (99) battles with series runner-up Eddie Carrier Jr. (28).
Good crowds were on hand as the series rolled through the Southeast. At Tazewell, the crow
Kelly Hamrick is the championship car owner.