A hometown driver gave local racing fans a treat last weekend, and he hopes the win will kickstart him into a hot summer on the dirt track.
Chatsworth’s Aaron Ridley took the checkered flag in the main event Saturday as the Southern Regional Racing Series visited North Georgia Speedway, picking up his first win at the Murray County track since 2005.
Ridley started his 2012 schedule later than usual — he’s only had five races this year after getting a new motor — but he’s focused on using the victory as momentum.
“We just haven’t been able to race much this year,” Ridley said. “We should’ve won a race the week before in Kentucky. We just got our program together and have been rolling pretty good. We set fast times and started on the pole but broke something with the car 15 laps into it. Here in the last two weekends we’ve been rolling pretty good.”
Ridley does not compete in any single series anymore, but he plans to stay busy each weekend from “now until November,” starting with a trip to Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn. The win at North Georgia Speedway makes him optimistic about what’s ahead.
“It builds the confidence level for the next race,” he said. “The first one of the year is the hardest one to get. I don’t know what it is. It just seems like the first one of the year is the hardest.”
Ridley led all 40 laps of the Super Late Model feature, which had 16 drivers vying for the $3,000 top prize. It was Ridley’s first win in the series, and he was joined by two other area drivers in the top five — Chatsworth’s Derek Ellis was third and Dalton’s Gary McPherson was fourth. Ellis’ finish earned him $900 while McPherson won $800, according to the series’ website.
Ridley’s No. 81 car set the fastest time in qualifying to earn the pole position with a lap of 13.32 on the one-third mile oval. He took a big lead in the race before current series points leader Riley Hickman made a late surge in the final laps.
“Me and Riley Hickman put on a good show for everybody. We got in each other’s lanes a couple of times,” said Ridley, who called it “one of the best races” at the speedway in quite some time. “Most of the last 20 laps we were side by side fighting for the lead. I was glad for it to be over with. I was driving my heart out. ... It was nerve-wracking.”
Ridley comes from a racing lineage. He is third cousin to Jody Ridley, who raced at North Georgia Speedway in the 1970s and went on to become the 1980 NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year. Aaron said he saw his cousin’s final win from the pit crew area.
“He was with me the first race I ever won, though,” Aaron Ridley said.
Aaron Ridley started his dirt track career in 2003 after spending much of his childhood racing go-karts. He won the National All-Star Racing Association championship in 2009 and 2010, along with a Rookie of the Year honor in the 2005 Tennessee Thunder Series.
This was the first race at North Georgia Speedway since late April. The track closed down for a month for upgrades and maintenance. A regular full race program is scheduled for Saturday at the speedway, and the Southern Regional Racing Series, which had not been to the speedway since 2010, will return July 2.
For more information, visit northgaspeedway.net.
• Super Late Model Feature: 1. Aaron Ridley, 2. Riley Hickman, 3. Derek Ellis, 4. Gary McPherson, 5. Rand Todd, 6. Johnny Chastain, 7. Ross White, 8. Josh Henry, 9. Skylar Mylar, 10. Brian Hickman, 11. Bo Eaton, 12. Jerry Bradley, 13. Kayne Hickman, 14. Shaun Chastain, 15. Josh Putnam.
• Hobby: 1. Mark Bishop, 2. Derek Chapman, 3. Brandon Stansfield, 4. Ralph Langston, 5. Delbert Haynes, 6. Travis Lawson, 7. Danny Kernea, 8. Jacob Rogers, 9. Devin Stuart.
• Crate/Limited: 1. Jeff Smith, 2. Trig Parris, 3. Aaron Wilson, 4. Chip Burke, 5. Brian Jackson, 6. Doug Kilgore, 7. Kaleb Boling, 8. Blake Roberson, 9. Lee Gray, 10. John Parker, 11. Boone Fullwood, 12. Kevin Burke, 13. Spencer Singleton, 14. Shannon Bearden, 15. Johnny Cloer Jr., 16. Dakota Boling.
• Pony: 1. Billy Callahan, 2. Caleb Howard, 3. Jason Lowe, 4. Bruce Kimber, 5. Matt Leonard, 6. Donald Stone, 7. Keith Hackney.