July 26, 2013

Dirt doesn’t bother Ridley

Chatsworth driver wins in front of home crowd at Nationals

In a race with drivers from as far away as California, a local racer was ahead of the pack Tuesday at North Georgia Speedway.

Chatsworth’s Aaron Ridley grabbed the checkered flag in the Schaeffer Oil Southern Nationals Series race, which included 22 drivers speeding around the oval dirt track in Super Late Model cars.

Ridley competes regularly in the speedway’s Saturday night points series, and makes an annual entrance whenever the track hosts the traveling series, which holds 10 races through July in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia. The series started coming to Chatsworth in 2011, and Ridley is the first local to make the most of a home-track advantage.

“I wouldn’t say dominated, but we were pretty good,” Ridley said. “It felt good for the win, because a lot of our sponsors are from the area. It feels good to win close to home because people can watch it. When we go off and race elsewhere, a lot of people miss it.”

Jason Jones, the North Georgia Speedway promoter, said a local driver bringing home the win in a travel series was fun to watch.

“When you face up against professional drivers — and I consider Aaron a professional driver — it’s a big accomplishment,” Jones said. “He really accomplished something the other night.”

The hometown winner started on the front row and grabbed an early lead, holding on for all 35 laps. Billy Ogle Jr., of Knoxville, Tenn., won the pole position but finished second. Eric Jacobson, of Santa Cruz, Calif., finished third. Chris Madden, of Gray Court, S.C., and William Thomas, of Phenix City, Ala., rounded out the top five.

The win propelled Ridley to 202 points in the series and 27th place, although he didn’t run in any of the previous five races and doesn’t plan to race in future events. The only other local racer to finish in the top 10 was Chip Brindle in ninth. Gary McPhearson, also of Chatsworth, has the highest ranking of local drivers in the series standings, 25th, with 226 points after a 16th-place finish Tuesday.

The purse was $3,500 to the winner.

“We beat those guys on tires,” Ridley said. “A lot of people went with harder tires, and we went softer on tires and it worked in our advantage. It took harder tires a lot longer to get going. The top three cars all had softer tires, and we drove off from the rest of the field.”

Ridley said he doesn’t travel for races as much as he used to. He owns Ridley Racecars and Custom Fab, which makes and sells cars. He’s won two races at the speedway since the racing season started in April, and one race at the Talladega Superspeedway dirt track in Alabama.

Still, he believes this race is the biggest he has won in terms of the skill of the opposing drivers.

“The caliber of cars was a lot better,” Ridley said. “It was probably the best caliber that we’ve beaten. We’ve won some big races, but as far as the caliber of racing, that was probably the biggest one.”

Jones was pleased with fan turnout for the event. This was the first of two travel series events coming to the track in less than two weeks.

“We have another traveling circuit, the Ultimate Super Late Model Series, coming in Aug. 3,” Jones said.

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