The Free State 500 was dedicated to Harry Davis who passed away just days before his son's
Bodine's gas issues handed the lead to second place Toni McCray. McCray, daughter of longtime racer Rick McCray, is no stranger to racing but was experiencing a track bigger than a mile for the first time. She looked to be in perfect position to win but the lone Brit in the field, John Mickel, had other plans. He drove the wheels of his car and reeled in McCray. As the pair entered Turn 3 on the final lap, Mickel slid under McCray to grab the lead, ultimately beating her to the line by less than a second.
"I thought Geoff (Bodine) had the best chance to win and then, when he pitted on lap 205, I thought it would be Toni's race," said Mickel. "But I pushed hard on the final lap and managed to get underneath her in Turn 3 and beat her to the checkered flag." The magnitude of the win was not lost on Mikel. "To be the first Englishman to take a checkered flag in American-style stock car racing gives me chills!"
Local South Africans proved to be dedicated race fans.
Despite not winning, McCray was all smiles, "I tried to hold John off but he was just too strong. Still, it was really exciting there at the end and I'm happy with our performance, it was a good, clean race."
The sentimental favorite in the field, Marc Davis, came home Third, 2.6 seconds behind Mickel. Davis had been one of the few cars during the race that seemed to be able to hang with Bodine, leading 24 laps, but had a problem midway through the race that would figure in the outcome.
"We had a flat tire during that long green flag run and dropped two laps down," explained Davis. In order to make up that deficit, Davis ran the car hard and stayed out when others pitted leaving the 19-year-old on worn tires in the waning laps of the race.
"We came up short at the end of the day, but we put on a great show and I had a blast here in South Africa," said Davis. "I definitely want to come back and win in the next South African race. When they announce the next race, I'll be the first in line to sign up!"
U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Donald Gips gives the command to fire engines as Ace Magas
Behind Davis, Rick McCray came home Fourth with Cape Town's own Johan Spies finishing Fifth. Spies' colorful personality and trademark "Aaa-oooo-gaaa" yell could easily make him a crowd favorite, but even more impressive is his driving ability. Spies' Free State 500 adventure started with a catastrophic motor failure during qualifying. With no backup he was in danger of not making the race, but American racer Dustin Dudley stepped up to the plate and an arrangement was made for Spies to buy Dudley's car and race in the event.
"I've dreamt since I was a little boy of competing in one of these cars. I'm over the moon. It was my first time on a super oval and my first race in a real ASA stock car," exclaimed Spies. And with his impressive Top 5 in hand, the likeable South African has a new goal. "Now my dream is to go and race one in the United States."
Spies may have led the South African drivers with his Fifth Place finish but also worth mentioning was Welkom's Danie Correia Jr. finishing 10th followed closely by Gugu Zulu of Johannesburg in 11th. Johan Cronje also of Welkom finished 15th while fellow Welkommer Johan Coetzer finished 18th after suffering engine failure. Of all the South Africans, Jaco Correia, had the worst luck sustaining heavy damage in a single-car incident on lap 29.
Geoff Bodine (No. 8) races side-by-side with Marc Davis. The "Bafana Bafana" on Davis' bum
In the end, the race featured 26 lead changes. That's impressive and competitive, especially for a first-year race on what amounts to a brand-new track that few of the competitors had ever seen before. And if you think the lead changes were impressive, well over 10,000 spectators jammed the grandstands to watch all the action unfold.
"The track got faster and faster today, all weekend long for that matter," said Marc Davis. "When we started the race it was really just a one-groove racetrack, but at the end of the race this place was amazing. We opened up to two- and three-wide racing in the end. I was trying to run the high side at the end and it was working. The more laps they run on this place it will be great. I look forward to coming back."