Story By: JORDAN DELUCIA / DIRTCAR – LAVONIA, GA – He pulled the Grizzly Coolers, Rocket Chassis #97 into Lavonia Speedway Victory Lane, a grin already stretched from ear-to-ear.
Cody Overton climbed atop the car into a shower of confetti as his biggest career achievement began to sink-in – his first Feature win behind the wheel of a Super Late Model.
“This is awesome,” Overton told DIRTVision’s Hannah Newhouse in Victory Lane, nearly overcome with emotion. “I’ve dreamed of winning a Super race, especially at a place I’ve raced at a long time. Man, I love this place.”
It was a green-to-checkered victory for the 24-year-old from Evans, GA, who led all 40 laps for his first Drydene Xtreme DIRTcar Series triumph and a $5,000 check in the first of a two-day doubleheader at the venue.
A graduate of the Chevy Performance Crate-engine ranks, Overton competed regularly at Lavonia for several seasons in years past, sharpening his skills in preparation for his first big break in the Super Late Model division. That break finally came this past winter, when Florida racer and team owner Jeff Mathews tapped him to pilot his new full-time Super Late Model operation for 2022.
“I really just can’t thank Jeff enough,” Overton said. “That guy – he does everything for me. Anything I say I need – the man doesn’t hesitate; he gets it for me. He knows what it takes to win, and he’s given me the best opportunity he can.”
After a trying Georgia-Florida Speedweeks campaign, the duo didn’t have to wait long to eat from the fruits of their labor. Overton wrestled the lead away from polesitter Dalton Cook on the first lap and never looked back, having to defend the lead through lapped traffic from a hungry top-five behind him.
“They say the first one’s the hardest to win, and that’s true. One-hundred percent,” Overton said.
The win marks the start of what he hopes will be a Super Late Model career as lucrative and successful as the one lived by older brother Brandon Overton. Brandon, the 51st World 100 winner, has been a mentor throughout Cody’s career, and even had a hand in getting him to Victory Lane Friday night.
“I’ve talked to Brandon all day today,” Cody said. “He’s been helping me, and I think he’s gonna come tomorrow. He’s pumped-up about everything, and it’s a great feeling.”
At the drop of the green, Overton got the jump on Cook by hanging with him on the outside through the first two corners, then beating him through Turns 3-4 to secure the spot.
“A lot of the Crate races I’ve raced here was all about who can beat who to the corner,” Overton said. “I felt like the top was good enough to do it for two laps, but that was it.
“I had to get down, so if I didn’t get [Cook] in the first two laps, I knew I was in trouble.”
Under five laps to go, deep in lapped traffic, Cook got around the lone car separating he and Overton. He made a beeline for Overton’s rear bumper, and nearly reached it with a valiant effort to pass him, but came up just under one second short of the win.
“I wanted to keep the pressure on as best I could and not slide my tires,” said Cook, of Salem, AL. “At that point, I was hoping [Overton] might slip because of a lapped car or dirty air or something like that.”
After multiple delays and struggles in getting to the racetrack Friday evening, including getting stuck in his backyard, hold-ups in city traffic and a late arrival, Cook was glad to have an issue-free night in the car.
“It was just one of them days,” Cook said. “Just to run good like this and have this car do its thing, I can get down with that.”
Crossing the line in third was sixth-starting Ben Watkins. The Lancaster, SC-native got to third right off the bat and held his position through all 40 laps. This finish, one spot ahead of Carson Ferguson, puts both drivers in a tie for the Xtreme Series points lead with only four races remaining. He now has a great shot for the championship and is set on a strategy to capture it.
“The points deal, when we started this, we didn’t ever want to leave home without thinking we had a chance,” Watkins said. “That’s been our goal the whole time. We’re just taking it one race at a time; tomorrow’s a new day.”
He nearly had a shot toward the end of the race to catch the two leaders in front of him when the gap slowly began to shrink, but time ran out.
“I looked up, licking my chops and thought, ‘if Cody gets held up and [Cook] can get to him, if they start racing hard, I’m gonna just try to be right here to capitalize,’” Watkins said. “It didn’t quite pan-out, but at the end of the day, we’re still happy.”
The second race in the Drydene Xtreme DIRTcar Series doubleheader at Lavonia Speedway gets underway Saturday evening with Hot Laps beginning at 6pm ET. x
Feature (40 Laps): 1. 97-Cody Overton; 2. 44D-Dalton Cook; 3. 16-Ben Watkins; 4. 93F-Carson Ferguson; 5. F1-Payton Freeman; 6. 121-Pearson Lee Williams; 7. 18D-Daulton Wilson; 8. 79-Ross Bailes; 9. 2X-John Henderson; 10. 1C-Kenny Collins; 11. 1D-Brent Dixon; 12. 421-Anthony Sanders; 13. 18E-Ethan Wilson; 14. 42-Cla Knight; 15. 57-Adam Yarbrough; 16. 93-Cory Lawler; 17. 21-Will Harris; 18. 05-Corey Roulette; 19. 17V-Tim Vance; 20. 1N-Jordy Nipper; 21. 03-David Yandle; 22. 109-Eli Beets