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story.lead_photo.caption Chandler Petty (47) is riding a hot streak, but he will be competing against the nation’s top late model drivers and teams tonight at the Topless 100 at Batesville Motor Speedway in Locust Grove.

Chandler Petty can see what he would like for his racing future to be.

In fact, he'll be racing alongside it this weekend.

Topless 100 glance

WHAT 23rd annual Topless 100 for dirt late models with the roofs removed

WHEN Tonight. Gates open at 3 p.m. and racing starts at 8 p.m.

WHERE Batesville Motor Speedway, Locust Grove

PURSE More than $170,000, including $40,000 to win and $2,000 to start in the main event

TONIGHT’S SCHEDULE Last-chance qualifiers and the 100-lap main event. There also will be a complete modified event.

TICKETS Reserved tickets are $30. Adult general admission tickets are $25 and children ages 6-11 get in for $5. Pit passes are $35.

Petty, 19, knows what he's up against when he faces dirt late model racing's top drivers and teams during the 23rd Topless 100 at Batesville Motor Speedway.

"Those guys are really kind of on a different planet, compared to me, with all the funding they have behind them," said Petty, who is from Cabot. "It's kind of routine for those guys to make these big shows, but it would mean the world to us."

The Topless 100 began Friday night with time trials and qualifying heat races. Tonight's racing will include last-chance qualifiers and the 100-lap main event, which will pay $40,000 to win and $2,000 to start.

When Petty pulls onto the track, his car looks like those driven by the sport's top drivers and maintained by the most well-funded teams. The similarities end there.

"They've definitely got an edge just from going and racing as much as they do, running anywhere from 80 to 100 nights a year," Petty said. "For someone like us, 30 nights is a lot of races. Their equipment ... I mean, they have new tires on it every time they hit the racetrack. That's something we can't do, not yet."

Engine problems earlier this year forced Petty to switch from a larger, purpose-built engine to what he could manage at the time.

"It's just a little Corvette motor is all it is, an LS 6.2 liter," he said. "It's about 300 horsepower less than our other motor.

"We've got our bigger motor back for the Topless, a 430 [cubic-inch], all-aluminum motor. It makes about 840 horsepower. It will be something to work with up there."

Handling such an engine juggle isn't on the radar for many of the massively sponsored and funded teams Petty's competing against this weekend.

"They'll carry two cars in the trailer, race-ready with motors in the cars, and have two spare motors," said Petty, adding that he has been racing with his current chassis for three years. "They're carrying four motors at $35,000 apiece. They've got two cars that, minus the motors, are pushing $45,000 apiece."

Petty isn't a newcomer to dirt racing. He began with karts at age 11 and has been in the late models since he was 15. He enjoyed a good deal of success in the crate late models, a division where the same size and type engine is used by everyone. His biggest victory was at a $2,000-to-win crate event at Poplar Bluff (Mo.) Speedway in 2013.

He has had varying degrees of success in regional series since adding super late-model events to his schedule last year. Things have picked up considerably in the past month with eight consecutive top-10 finishes. Topping those was a third-place finish in a Southern United Professional Racing event at I-30 Speedway in Little Rock on July 18 and a fourth in a Comp Cams Super Dirt Series race at I-30 on Aug. 1.

"It's been getting a lot better," said Petty, who graduated from Cabot High School last year. "We've been competitive, and we've been picking it up a little bit, making some gains and learning some stuff."

Petty failed to make the field for the main event in his first visit to the Topless last year. He struggled on qualifying night, but the next morning he and his team discovered a problem with the lift arm on the rear suspension. With the issue fixed, he cut through the field in his last-chance qualifier and finished seventh after starting 21st.

It wasn't enough to earn a spot in the starting field, but it did wonders for the team's confidence.

"We had a pretty good run," he said. "Just didn't have enough laps."

Chandler's father, Brian Petty, owns the team, but Chandler turns all the wrenches and makes preparations with the help of "one guy who helps me" and other friends and family. Chandler works for his father at K&G Wheel and Tire in Jacksonville, where he also builds racing car bodies and works on others' race cars for extra money.

His own race car is also kept at the same shop, so anytime there is extra time he's working on it.

"If I could ever get the funding, I'd do it full time," he said. "It's pretty much what I want to do. I've been around race cars forever.

"If I could ever make it to that level or get the funding to race for a living, I would do it in a heartbeat."

Sports on 08/15/2015

Print Headline: Cabot teen revs up to challenge big-money guys

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