Tatum Win Turns Back Clock
BY JILL ERWIN
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Published Saturday, June 28, 2008
The last time Tommy Tatum was strapped into a race car, his now 5-year-old daughter was a bump in his wife's belly.
Time almost stood still Friday night at Southside Speedway, as Tatum returned to racing with a dominant performance in the Grand Stocks' 100-lap feature.
Tatum led 85 laps and was never seriously challenged once he passed Daniel Shelton for the lead going into Turn 3 on Lap 16. He had plenty of time with lapped cars, and said times have changed.
"It's a lot more competitive," Tatum said of the field. "I got into a couple guys and I hope they don't get upset with me. I've been out of it for a while, so I've got a little bit of apologizing to do. I hope they don't think I drove them too hard. It wasn't intentional."
Regardless of how dominant he was, Tatum said he never felt assured of a victory until the race was over. He hadn't taken a checkered flag since 2002. He left racing because the late nights at the racetrack left his wife with a tossing baby in her stomach who wouldn't sleep.
So he walked away. But he said he couldn't stay away any longer.
"I don't have an answer for that," Tatum said of why he came back now. "[It's a] 100-lapper. Never ran one. I just wanted to see if I still had it."
He's not back full time. He said he'll pick and choose his races, trying to get himself back in shape to compete on a regular basis.
Eddie Johnson is in fine shape, capturing the 150-lap Late Model race Friday night with his 13-week-old son, Chase Johnson, in the crowd for the first time. Eddie pulled into victory lane and his older son, Modified driver Chris Johnson, came up to the car with Chase in his arms.
It was the latest of many victories for Eddie Johnson, who has done a little bit of everything in his career, from building the cars and owning them to driving them.
"This is the first time I've really been able to just show up and drive it," Johnson said. "They just do what I ask 'em to do, and fortunately, what I've asked them to do has worked."
Johnson moved to the lead on Lap 24, but was passed by Chris Hopkins on Lap 53. It took him just 10 laps to get back to the lead.
"I knew Chris was behind me. I didn't know how good he was," Johnson said. "We came up on lapped cars and I went to the outside. The outside line didn't go, Chris went to the inside. I figured at that point in time, if Chris had the better car, it would show up.
"So I kind of was there trying to save my tires and Chris just wasn't quite as good as we were right in the middle and off. I was able to pressure him and get up alongside him. He raced me clean and gave me a groove, and I enjoyed racing with him."
Contact staff writer Jill Erwin at email@example.com or (804) 649-6490.
RESULTSLate Models (150 laps): 1. Eddie Johnson; 2. Chris Hopkins; 3. Chris Dodson; 4. Russ Ellis; 5. Greg Fernandez; 6. Rob Jenkins; 7. Shayne Lockhart; 8. Scott Turlington; 9. Shannon Marano; 10. Alan Purser; 11. Jeff Oakley; 12. Sonny Allen; 13. Brad Davis; 14. David Mooney; 15. Wayne Patterson; 16. Roy Hendrick; 17. Brandon Hendrick; 18. Andy Kemp.
Grand Stocks (100 laps): 1. Tommy Tatum; 2. Joey Bryant; 3. Chris Hott; 4. Richard Skeens; 5. Jamie Neely; 6. Matthew Ashworth; 7. Michael Moore; 8. Robert Lipford; 9. Justin Brown; 10. Todd Ruggles; 11. Mike Cole; 12. Cory Willoughby; 13. James Freeman; 14. Mark Simpson; 15. Bradley Vaught; 16. Daniel Shelton; 17. Brian Myslivy; 18. Shawn Hopkins; 19. Bill Nixon; 20. Fred Key; 21. Donnie Newman; 22. Donnie Johnson.