It’s said where there’s thunder, there’s also lightning – and you can be assured there’s accompanying rain, too.
Kingsport Speedway was fortunate to have gotten the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing program in Friday night, because the final race just barely reached the halfway point to make it official when the skies suddenly opened with a torrential downpour of rain flooding “The Concrete Jungle.”
Nik Williams of Greeneville and Joey Trent had never visited victory lane for winning a Late Model Stock Car feature, and the duo put on a show up front battling for the win before Williams earned his first-ever victory.
“Oh man, you just don’t have a clue how awesome this is to finally get our first NASCAR Whelen All-American Series win,” a smiling Williams said in victory lane to cheers from the applauding grandstand crowd, and also from other race teams in the pits who appreciated the effort. “It’s not only special for me personally in getting the win, but it means a lot to my family. To have my father (Chuck), mother (Beth), and grandfather (Eddie) here as a part of this deal, it’s just a great feeling. We’re all in this together, and we’ve really had our struggles over the past year just getting me comfortable driving the car and also in being able to really hit on good (chassis) setups consistently.
“I come from a go-kart racing background and there’s just no comparing racing a go-kart to wheeling a NASCAR Late Model Stock Car. There’s a learning curve and we’ve been fast on occasions, but we’ve just never really put ourselves out front to contend for a win until tonight. We’ve been really closing in on how we needed to be running, though.”
Kres VanDyke was fastest in Late Model Stock Car qualifying at 15.065 seconds, with the 21-year-old Williams close behind at 15.978. But following roll of the dice the top six from time trials were inverted, putting Wayne Hale and Joey Trent on the front row, with Zeke Shell and Trey Bayne in the second row, followed by Williams and VanDyke in row three.
On the initial attempt to get the 60-lap feature under green, the caution waved before the opening lap could be completed, as VanDyke spun in the fourth turn following contact from behind by Robbie Ferguson. With VanDyke having to restart from rear of the field, this was just an omen of bad luck that would later strike the defending track champion.
Hale jumped out to the lead at the start over Trent, Shell, Williams and Bayne. Racing up off (turn) two on lap 6, Williams passed Shell to move into third. Williams began working on Trent for second place and in the same location as he earlier passed Shell for position, Williams got around Trent racing off the second corner on lap 11 to move into second behind leader Hale.
Trent lost the third spot to Shell on lap 12 as they raced off the fourth turn. Hale had a rearview mirror occupied by Williams as they battled for the lead. Williams drove to the inside of Hale on lap 22 racing down the backstretch into the third turn, and as they raced off the fourth turn Williams completed the pass to take the lead.
Just two circuits later, caution waved for an incident in the first turn involving Bryson Dennis, Dale Cline and Trey Lane.
Off the ensuing double-file restart, Williams and Shell raced side-by-side for three laps before Williams pulled ahead, with Trent, Hale and Bayne rounding out top five in the running order.
Both VanDyke and Ferguson passed Hale, dropping Hale back to eighth place. With Williams showing the way out front pacing the 16-car field, behind him Trent had gotten around Shell to move into second, while Shell, Bayne, VanDyke, Ferguson and Hale were running nose-to-tail.
VanDyke passed Bayne for the fourth spot on lap 32 and closed in behind Shell to challenge for third place. VanDyke looked underneath Shell on several occasions racing off the corners, but Shell maintained his advantage.
But on lap 40 racing off the fourth turn, contact between the two resulted in a frightening crash on the front straightaway. Both cars got hooked together and violently slammed down into the inside concrete retaining wall, with VanDyke hitting nose first and the rear of the car elevating up in the air and Shell sliding underneath VanDyke.
Fire broke out under Shell’s hood due to the weight of VanDyke’s car coming down and breaking the carburetor loose from mounted to the engine, producing a fuel fire which the track’s emergency crew quickly arrived on the scene to distinguish.
Following the red flag period for cleanup of the Shell and VanDyke wreck, on the double-file restart Williams and Trent put forth their respective best efforts in trying to take the lead. They raced side-by-side for lap-and-a-half before Trent looked like he might be able to nose ahead and take the lead, but Williams wasn’t about to roll over and allow that to happen.
Trent appeared to get a little loose between turns one and two on lap 44, and that was all Williams needed to power into the lead racing off the second corner down the backstretch. Ferguson was right behind Trent and he tried to mount a charge to overtake him for second.
All the while out front Williams, driving the Wheel Chill/Hy-Tec Specialty Coatings/MPI/Hedgecock Race Cars/Ahlsome Design Concepts/Nik Williams Racing/No. 32 Ford Fusion was in command and wasn’t about to look back, as he hit his marks lap-after-lap and never made a mistake en route to capturing his first-ever NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stock Car feature win. Williams was chased to the checkered flag by Trent (with his best finish ever), Ferguson, Bayne and Dennis.
Completing the top 10 finishers were Dillon Hodge, Hale, Cline, Rick Pannell (Kingsport Speedway’s “Iron Man,” making his 150th consecutive start) and Darin Silver.
“We were able to go out and lay down a fast lap in qualifying, just barely behind VanDyke on the (time) clock,” Williams stated. “I knew how good of a car we had and I knew I had to really be patient there on the start of the race, because the invert of the top six cars from qualifying put us starting in the third row.
”We quickly worked our way up to second behind leader (Wayne) Hale on lap 11. He’s a veteran racer and I knew he wasn’t going to just move over and let me have it easy getting around him for the lead. I just got a good run on him down the straightaway and when we got to the entrance of the third turn, I had the preferred line and as we raced off the fourth turn was able to take the lead. There late in the race I had a really good battle for the lead with Joey (Trent) off a double-file restart, but I knew once I was able to clear him all I had to do was run mistake-free laps to the finish. It’s just great to get our first win, and especially over such a strong field of cars. Nothing comes easy racing against these guys at Kingsport Speedway.”
LATE MODEL STOCK CAR (60 laps)
1. Nik Williams #32-Greeneville, TN
2. Joey Trent #26-Gray, TN
3. Robbie Ferguson #7-Jonesborough, TN
4. Trey Bayne #21-Knoxville, TN
5. Bryson Dennis #15-Greeneville, TN
6. Dillon Hodge #5-Kingsport, TN
7. Wayne Hale #19-Bluff City, TN
8. Dale Cline #99-Wytheville, VA
9. Rick Pannell #33-Kingsport, TN
10. Darin Silver #12-Spruce Pine, NC
11. Zeke Shell #1-Johnson City, TN
12. Kres VanDyke #15-Abingdon, VA
13. Derek Lane #28-Kingsport, TN
14. Austin Brooks #4-Kingsport, TN
15. Trey Lane #7-Kingsport, TN
16. Mardy Roberts #55-Kingsport, TN