Kevin Neal gives the thumbs up before the 2018 ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway. (Andy Marquis photo)

With the 2018 Bowman Gray season just on the horizon, Kevin Neal was anticipating to win the Sportsman (Limited) track title for his first career championship. When the dust settled and the final checkered flag closed the season, it was a cap to a dream year.

Even though the younger Neal was confident on winning the title, it wasn’t an easy task to get the title, Neal had to fight a quintet of former track champions including his own uncle Tommy Neal who won the championship in 2016. While Neal had to deal with more than five drivers every night to win, Neal felt like there was only one driver that kept up with him and that was two-time division champion Derek Stoltz. Neal and Stoltz both had an amazing season-long battle that saw Walkertown native pick up a career-high five wins along with 15 top five’s and 24 top 10’s in 27 starts.

While Neal was making up the ground on the points leaders and Stoltz missed a few races, that didn’t stop the Walkertown duo from being like magnets and sticking together all season long. The 2018 season featured a record three 100 lap features for the division II Sportsman cars, they were filled with crashing, bashing, and even an overtime finish, but the common occurrence was Neal & Stoltz running and finishing first & second.

“There was no competition,” Neal told “Only one I felt could run neck and neck with me is my good buddy Primetime (Stoltz). My car is just as good as his. We got the same work ethic and we strive to be the best. We’re homeboys and as far as I’m concerned there’s no one that can match us in the Sportsman division.”

Speaking of the 100 lap features, Neal won the first one held on June 9th and just the following week he would capture two fourth-place finishes in the twin 20 lap races, while former top gun John Holleman IV (who was leading the points by five entering the night) had troubles and Neal took over the points lead. Neal led the points for the last two months and needed to finish ninth or better to pick up the championship.

Interestingly enough, Neal’s season had a bunch of top five’s and top 10’s, but he was sitting third in points with only one win heading into the June 2nd twin bill. That night Neal had some electrical gremlins with his car and he doubted his chances at the title, but Neal didn’t let that stop him from clicking off the consistent finishes as he had 10 top five’s and 15 top 10’s in the remaining 15 races and capturing four more wins along the way including the season finale.

“We had 1 race weekend where the battery shorted out on us and the car stopped running. I had to pull off the track that night. After that night it was hammer down no looking back! It was our worst race all season.”

Neal wasn’t too worried about his points lead in the closing weeks as it grew from eight points to 37 points.

“They (Holleman IV & Michael Adams) never gained any points on me,” continued Neal.  “I gained three or four points every Saturday night and kept building on it!”

Neal’s fifth win during the aforementioned season finale ended up tying him with Dylan Ward for the most wins in 2018, but because Neal’s came later, he was crowned the Top Gun Award winner, which is the driver who wins the most races during the season. During the day of the finale Neal also accepted the Lap Leader Award and back on July 14th he also accepted the Fast Start Winner which is given to the points leaders the week after the 4th of July break.

Neal would like to thank Lindley Plumbing Co., Blue Lagoon Custom Pools & Spas, Walkertown Mill, and Hedgecock Racing. Also a special thank you to his family “My wife and son really made get back into it and she put a lot of money into my racing this year and that’s what it takes to run in money.” Neal will once again return to Bowman Gray Stadium this year and he looks forward to returning to Martinsville in the fall for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300.

After making the main event and finishing a respectful 10th in his Martinsville debut, Neal is more than ready to get back to the paperclip. He’ll run the full season at the “madhouse” and one crucial decision is that he will not points race in 2019, he’s shooting for the modern day & all-time wins in a season.

“We’re going to win 10 races next year no matter who or how we piss them off, mark it down we’re gonna get 10 wins in 2019.”