Photo: Lori Lindley Neal

The 2020 602 Super Limiteds season has seen the emergence of 12 year-old Riley Neal as the clear-cut favorite for the championship, as he currently holds a comfortable lead in the standings after winning at Caraway Speedway on Aug. 1.

Riley, who also has a Street Stock victory in a Bowman-Gray Stadium Invasion race at Caraway, credits his father Kevin for helping him get comfortable behind the wheel, and is determined to finish out a strong 2020 campaign on a positive note.

“I’d say things have been pretty successful,” Riley said. “I went to my first race at Bowman-Gray when I was two months old, and my dad has been racing for 15 years. I’ve been in the shop my whole life just waiting for my turn.”

During his childhood, Riley frequently watched Kevin battle it out at Bowman-Gray with many of the best drivers in the track’s Sportsman division, and had the opportunity to celebrate alongside his father when Kevin claimed a championship at the facility back in 2018.

Kevin said that he was looking forward to the day that Riley would be able to drive a car himself, but he admitted that he has been impressed by his son’s commitment towards studying the cars and figuring out what he needs to do to improve his on-track performance after every race.

“Riley has a tremendous work ethic when it comes to working on the car,” Kevin said. “He works on the car every day, he knows where the springs are and how to maintain everything, which I think has helped him become more successful. He knows how the car works.”

When Kevin elected to have Riley run the full 602 Super Limiteds schedule in 2020, he anticipated his son to get tested by a diverse set of tracks that included Hickory Motor Speedway and Orange County Speedway, but the series has been confined to Caraway due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Although Riley had hoped to run at several more facilities on a regular basis in 2020, he said that his extended time at Caraway has helped him garner a better understanding of the track and how to properly get through both sets of turns to gain an advantage on his competition.

“Caraway is a fun track,” Riley said. “You kind of have to drive until you see Jesus in Turn 3 and arc the car as high as possible getting into Turn 1 because those first two turns are so tight. Turns 3 and 4 are sweeping corners more than anything else.”

Kevin shared Riley’s sentiments about accumulating laps and experience at Caraway over the past couple of months, adding that Riley’s triumphs and shortcomings during his time with the 602 Super Limiteds will better prepare him for tougher competition as he progresses through different divisions.

“Anytime you can log laps, especially at 12 years old, that helps you learn more about the car and racing in general,” Kevin said. “You understand how to race with other people and how to time your restarts. If you can take something away from your night at the race track, then you’re doing things right.”

Even though Riley holds a 48-point lead in the 602 Super Limiteds standings, he understands that a championship is not yet guaranteed and that he needs to maintain the consistency he has displayed throughout the year if he wants to stay in front of a small, but talented group of drivers.

“We need to win at least one of these remaining races,” Riley said. “Billy Gregg has been coming on strong and he’s led a lot of laps this year, so we’ll have to lead some laps ourselves and get some bonus points. I want to win both of these races, but I think we’ll be OK if we win just one.”

Following the 2020 season, Riley and Kevin plan to shift their focus over towards Hickory’s Limited Late Model division with a new car from the Performancenter Racing Warehouse, which they hope will be enough to battle drivers like Josh Kossek and Chase Janes for a title.

The penultimate race on the 602 Super Limiteds calendar will take place at Caraway on Saturday evening.