BARBERVILLE, Fla. — The first two editions of the DIRTcar Sunshine Nationals saw the pro late models with the highest car count of any division on the card. That trend looks to continue this weekend as the best crate-engine drivers in the nation gather at Volusia Speedway Park in search of one $10,000 grand prize.
A night of practice starts the on-track activity on Jan. 19, followed by two nights of preliminary racing action before the finale on Saturday night. The Pro (604) Late Models race for $1,500 on Thursday, $2,000 on Friday and the $10,000 check on Saturday, making this one of the most lucrative crate late model races on the winter racing calendar.
All three nights of racing will be broadcast live on DIRTVision.
Mark Whitener, of Middleburg, Fla., comes into the Sunshine Nationals as one of the most accomplished 604 Crate Late Model racers in the field. Last season, he won two Crate Racin’ USA Challenge Series events on his way to the series title plus a $10,000 marquee victory in the RUSH-sanctioned Bill Emig Memorial event last summer.
Whitner, known as the Magic Man, was a threat to win on both nights of Sunshine Nationals Pro Late Model competition last year, coming in third behind Michael Page and Mack McCarter in the Thursday night prelim before a sixth-place run in Saturday’s finale to cap off the weekend.
If there’s any driver coming to Volusia this weekend with a strong sense of vengeance, it’s super late model veteran Page.
Page, of Douglasville, Ga., is one of only two pro late model feature winners in event history, breaking inaugural champion Kyle Bronson’s win streak with a victory in the opening night last year. After a wash-out on Friday, Page took to the track for the Saturday finale and dominated to win the 30-lap event, or so it seemed. Upon a failed post-race engine inspection, Page was disqualified handing the win over to runner-up Bronson.
This weekend, Page is projected to be in the pro late model field once again, aiming to win the big show and avenge his lost championship from last year.
Mack McCarter, the reigning Sunshine Nationals Pro Late Model champion from Gatlinburg, Tenn., returns to Volusia this weekend to defend his title just one year after denying Bronson of a repeat.
McCarter had an impressive showing against a 64-car field last year, finishing runner-up on both nights of competition. Over 55 laps, McCarter advanced 35 spots of position, going from 19 to second on Thursday and 20 to second on Saturday. For his efforts, a shiny trophy for his cabinet after edging out Bronson for the title by five points.
Two-time Crate Racin’ USA champion Cory Hedgecock joins the pro late model field this weekend, looking for his first trip to Sunshine Nationals Victory Lane after winning big two weekends ago in Alabama.
Hedgecock, of Loudon, Tenn., has the early season momentum rolling with a win in the crate late model portion of the annual Ice Bowl event at Talladega Short Track, defeating several Crate touring regulars he’ll encounter again this weekend.
Hedgecock’s Sunshine Nationals track record has been strong as well, coming home eigth in the 2020 finale, followed by a third-place to McCarter and Bronson last year.
The cousin-trio of Jody, Jake and Dylan Knowles are all projected to be in attendance this weekend, chasing their first Sunshine Nationals victories.
Dylan was crowned champion of Crate Racin’ USA’s Winter Shootout Series in 2021. Jake finished third in Crate Racin’ points last year and ran second to Hedgecock at Talladega two weeks ago, while Jody ran two spots behind in fourth.
Jake and Jody have both made the Sunshine Nationals big show on Saturday night in both years they’ve competed. All three drivers made the finale last year as well; Jake topped the clan with a ninth-place finish.