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October 9, 2019 - Two-time Cash Money 100 champ Ben Watkins seeking a third this weekend
Ben Watkins makes no bones about his feelings for Fayetteville Motor Speedway.

The racer from Rock Hill, South Carolina, said he hated the 4/10ths-mile dirt oval the first few times he came to the track, but now credits its difficulty with making him a stronger competitor everywhere.

“Fayetteville’s taught me as much as any track has about racing in general,” said Watkins, who will be seeking his third victory in the fifth running of the Cash Money 100 here this weekend. The 100-lap feature event will pay $15,000 to the winner, $8,000 to the runner-up and a whopping $1,500 for making the starting lineup.

“I feel like I came from one style of racing, and it was the complete opposite coming to Fayetteville,” Watkins added. “It made me better rounded as a driver, and it taught me a whole lot that I can carry to other places.”

Watkins has spent 2019 concentrating on Super Late Model action rather than Limited-division competition, and the Cash Money 100 falls under the latter umbrella. But that one Limited start came at Fayetteville last month in an I-95 Late Model Challenge Series show, where he drove the car to a runner-up showing to Roanoke Rapids’ Willie Milliken.

“We were just trying to get it dialed in,” Watkins said. “We’re really close on the set-up in that race, and we know what we need for this weekend, it’s just a matter of fine-tuning from here. We’ve run this car before in Limited and have run Limited a good bit in the past. We’ve got a big notebook on this car, so it’s not a big changeover for me or my team.”

Milliken, a former Hope Mills resident, leads all drivers in FUEL, I-95 and Cash Money 100 races at Fayetteville from 2015 to the present with nine wins, and he captured the I-95 shows at FMS on Aug. 30 and Sept. 21. Watkins is second with five victories, followed by Dustin Mitchell with three, Shaun Harrell of Gray’s Creek and Russell Erwin with two, and Ross Bailes, Robbie Emory and Michael Rouse with one each.

Erwin, from Beaver Dam, Virginia, won the inaugural running of the Cash Money 100 in 2015. Watkins pocketed the $10,000 prize in 2016, Milliken was victorious in 2017, and Watkins prevailed over Ross Bailes of Clover, South Carolina, last year by 1.2 seconds.

Watkins said the key to his performance turnaround at Fayetteville was first learning how to slow down and conserve his tires for a late-race charge.

“You can try to run Fayetteville wide open all night,” he said, “but most of the time it’s not going to work out for you. The track demands a lot out of the car and the driver, and looking at the track and deciding when to go as hard as you want and when to slow down and conserve, that’s what I learned to do. If you try to go wide open, it won’t take you long to figure out you’re going to wind up in a bad situation depending on the track surface. 

“Sometimes it’s better to let a guy go if he’s pressing you too hard, too early. Just let him go, and usually he’s going to be backing up to you later in the race,” Watkins said. “I know what it’s like to finish (with the tires) on cords there, and when it starts getting like that, you know, if you’ve raced long enough, that you’re just holding on at that point.”

Action gets underway Friday with qualifying and heat races that will help decide the lineup for the top portion of Saturday’s Cash Money 100. Also on the card will be features for the Mod Lite, Diet Mountain Dew Modified and Legends divisions. Grandstand gates open at 6 p.m., and hot laps will start at 7:30. Grandstand ticket prices are $25 for adults, children ages 11-15 get in for $15 and those 10-under are admitted free with a ticketed adult.

On Saturday, the grandstand gates open at 4 p.m. and hot laps will begin at 6. The Sportsman, Renegades, Super Stock 4 and SportModz classes will share the bill with the Late Model competitors, and there will be a $1,500-to-win bout for the Cash Money 100 non-qualifiers. Grandstand admission is $30 for adults and $15 for children ages 11-15.

Fayetteville Motor Speedway, now celebrating its 51st consecutive year of operation, is located off Doc Bennett Road near Fayetteville Regional Airport.