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From the Cushion: Carson Macedo wins as Williams Grove stays open

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Ed. note: Dan Beaver will be rounding up happenings in dirt racing around the country this season for Motorsports Talk in his weekly “From the Cushion.”

Last week’s endless wave of postponements and cancellations in response to the COVID-19 outbreak created a fluid situation. It also created an opportunity for Carson Macedo.

After more than a half dozen tries, Macedo finally mastered Williams Grove Speedway in the 410 sprints race March 15. Macedo set himself up to be one of the favorites when the World of Outlaws is scheduled to come to the famed track Oct. 2-3.

Macedo was supposed to be in Texas last weekend, racing at Cotton Bowl Speedway and Lone Star Speedway. But when the last-minute announcement was made that the series would postpone the start of their season, he made a phone call to car owner Kyle Larson and asked for permission to head 1,500 miles north to race.

Opening day at Williams Grove has been special throughout history. Dating back to 1939 when Tommy Hinershitz won the lid lifter, this race set a tone for a racer’s career. In the 1940s and 1950s, Ted Horn, Jimmy Bryan and Johnny Mackison Sr. won it.

A.J. Foyt took the win in 1964.

The original king of the Outlaws, Jan Opperman, won this race three times in the 1970s.

Williams Grove Speedway’s 2020 season opener also was historic. Amid the COVID-19 shutdown, it was practically the only race being run around the country last weekend.

And Macedo was the only Outlaw invader on Pennsylvania Posse turf this weekend. His persistence paid off. With nine laps to go in the season opener, Macedo passed pole-sitter Ryan Smith for good.

In Macedo’s Victory Lane speech he recognized the uniqueness that Williams Grove was able to race this weekend amid rapidly tightening social and government regulations concerning the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Thank you, Williams Grove, thanks to all you fans for coming out,” Macedo said on DirtVision.com after the race. “I know that a lot of other places aren’t racing, so to be able to come here and race is pretty special.”

The Grove has not historically been great for Macedo. In his last eight Outlaw starts the driver has an average finish of 17.5. A slew of mediocre finishes made this track a monkey on Macedo’s back.

“This is without a doubt one of the biggest wins, which seems crazy,” Macedo said. “It’s just a local show, but it’s one of the biggest wins of my career. I’ve left this place a few times thinking ‘Maybe I just don’t got it here. I just can’t figure it out.’ But to be that good today. It definitely made the trip from Texas worth it.”

Sixteen winners of the Williams Grove season opener have been inducted in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, along with five World of Outlaw champions.

“That’s pretty cool,” Macedo replied when track announcer Bruce Ellis informed him of the stat. “This place is very, very important on our schedule with the World Of Outlaws. We come here six times. If you want to have a shot at winning a championship or running in the top three, to be on the podium in the championship, you’re going to have to be good here”.

Williams Grove was open in no small part because Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf did not intervene to put pressure on the track to postpone their opener.

It was a decision that stood on Monday.

“No, I’m not going to force them to cancel, this is something that all of us, 12.8 million Pennsylvanians are in this together, and we owe it to each other not to expose them to any symptoms that we may have and not to expose ourselves or our family members,” Wolf said in an announcement broadcast on Twitter. “People will be making their decisions on what to do with their lives all across the commonwealth over the next few days and weeks and months.

“What we ought to do is think not what we should do in what the law is, but what we owe to our fellow citizens, and that’s what I would ask of the folks at the race course.”

Williams Grove currently is scheduled to run Friday, March 20 with a combination of 410 Sprints and Super Late Models

Four Southeastern Late Model shows got under way Friday at North Georgia Speedway in Chatsworth, Georgia.

Donald McIntosh won the Ultimate Southeast Series opener by sweeping around pole-sitter Cory Hedgecock early and controlling the remainder of the trace. Hedgecock held onto second for most of the race until he was forced to give way to Zack Mitchell with three laps remaining.

Saturday night, Joshua Bishop grabbed the checkers in a $5,000-to-win Crate Late Model race at Modoc (S.C.) Raceway. It was Bishop’s first Modoc 100 victory.

Cochran Motor Speedway in Georgia doubled down with races on Saturday and Sunday.

Kyle Bronson had to make his way into the A Main from the consolation race, which left him mired deep in the field. Starting 17th, Bronson picked his way through the field to pass Mark Whitener with five laps on the scoreboard. Whitener climbed from fifth but was slowed by lapped traffic with a handful of laps remaining before being relegated to second.

On Sunday, Bronson finished second behind Will Herrington in the $5,000-to-win Cochran Clash.

Victoria Beaver contributed to this story.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

April 9 in Motorsports History: Al Unser Jr. gets sixth Long Beach win

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The list of winners in the Grand Prix of Long Beach is a ‘who’s who’ of open-wheel racing.

Mario Andretti won at the famed street course four times. His son Michael won there twice.

Paul Tracy is also a four-time winner at the beach. Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi also have won at the famed course multiple times.

But there is only one “King of the Beach”: Al Unser Jr.

The winningest driver in the race’s history, Unser won at Long Beach four consecutive times from 1988-91. He won again in 1994 and entered the 1995 edition as the race’s defending champion and the defending CART champion as well.

Starting fourth, Unser made slight contact with Gil de Ferran when he passed the Brazilian on Lap 3. He then continued to move up to the front, taking the race lead from Teo Fabi on Lap 30.

Once he had the lead, Unser ran away from the field, winning by more than 23 seconds over Scott Pruett.

Unser’s victory was such a familiar scene that after the race, CART news manager John Procida began the winner’s news conference with the following statement: “Well, we have a very familiar face on the top rung of the podium. As we listed on the prerace press release, this seems to be the Al Unser Invitational.”

Indeed it was. Unser’s victory was his sixth at Long Beach, and the 28th of his career. overall. While it would be his last win there, Unser continued to race at Long Beach through 1998 before missing 1999 with a broken leg and moving to the Indy Racing Leauge in 2000.

In 2009, Unser was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, which honors significant contributors to the race and California motorsports community.

“It truly is just an honor to be mentioned with the names and the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk,” Unser said during the induction ceremony. “To have Brian (Redman, the inaugural winner of the race) and Parnelli (Jones) is really an honor and just to be in their company is very, very special.”

Also on this date:

1971: Jacques Villeneuve was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. The second-generation driver was one of the best in open-wheel racing during the 1990s, winning the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in ’95 and becoming a Formula One champion two years later.

1989: Rick Mears dominated CART’s Checker Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, leading every lap from the pole and lapping the field.

2011: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, their sixth consecutive victory in Grand Am competition. Their lengthy win streak, which started on Aug. 7, 2010 at Watkins Glen, prompted Grand Am to offer a $25,000 bounty for any Daytona Prototype team that could beat the dominant duo. The Action Express trio of Joao Barbosa, J.C. France, and Terry Borcheller finally unseated Pruett and Rojas in the series’ next round at Virginia International Raceway.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994