Story by: Corey Latham ~ [email protected]

Hickory, NC(January 25, 2012) — Just looking back at the 2012 Season at Hickory Motor Speedway for the Late Model Stocks and it was a great one to say the least. Hickory had some of the best car counts around and, while other tracks seemed to lack “excitement” throughout the season, the track had resurgence and it was pretty wild at times. Even with all the drama and beating and banging, the smoothest, most quiet guy came out on top as he sped away from the field at the end of the year.

163 (1)While other tracks struggled for car count, Hickory was a breath of fresh air, with every week boasting around 20 cars and over 60 cars on the year starting in the various races. Out of the 23 races, it all came down to two guys, Jesse LeFevers and Austin McDaniel, to no one’s surprise. These two waged an epic battle that brought back flashes of old-school racing; they even turned each other around at times but still had the utmost respect for each other.

The season opener would start out for both these drivers finishing on different ends of the spectrum as McDaniel came home second to third place point finisher Josh Wimbish while LeFevers fell out before the race even started finishing dead last in 18th. It would take LeFevers just to the next race to redeem himself as he came back strong for a victory.  Only problem was McDaniel was right in his tire tracks taking home another consecutive second place finish.

As the season wore on another player came into the fold as veteran Keith Bumgarner would win five out of the next ten races. Unfortunately, Bumgarner didn’t run the entire season so we will never know what might have been. While he was winning, McDaniel and LeFevers kept their fight alive which became very evident in just the third race of the season.

On March 31st, we witnessed one of, if not the most epic battle of the year at Hickory Motor Speedway as LeFevers and McDaniel went side by side, lap after lap for the lead… for an astonishing 43 laps. That’s right folks, these guys ran side by side, or at least swapping the top spot once a lap for nearly the entire 50 lap distance. But, we could all see it coming, while it may have not been intentional, you can only run that way for so long without touching, so, with seven to go, LeFevers ever so slightly tagged the left rear of the McDaniel machine sending it around collecting the #51 of Wimbish. LeFevers was sent to the back for the incident and it turned out to be the beginning of Bumgarner’s summer run as he would go from fourth, with a few laps to go, to victory lane.
088Ultimately, it came down to whoever was in front each night as they were the cars to beat. McDaniel ended the year with seven victories out of 11 to bring his total to nine while LeFevers collected five triumphs on the year. The end of the season would spell ultimate doom for LeFevers as he was forced to miss the last two races. No sponsors on a car makes racing in today’s times almost impossible.Even though the contact had the crowd thinking, “rivalry”, it never turned into that. Even after that particular race, McDaniels, while not happy, knew it was a racing deal. So the season continued, every week, with the two big dogs throwing the best they had at each other but never getting into the “beating” battle everyone had hoped for. To tell you the truth, it was refreshing.  In a day and time where everyone wants controversy and intentional wrecking, these guys went out and did it like it was supposed to be done, racing hard and respectful, seeing who the better car and driver was.

After the smoke cleared, there was McDaniel standing at the top of the mountain in the premiere division at one of the most historic tracks on the planet. For a 20 year-old kid who just got his first full-size car victory in Limited Late Model at the end of 2010, this was a pretty impressive accomplishment. Yet it was one that wasn’t unexpected.  Anyone who has seen him drive or has even been around him to see how he carries himself can see the writing on the wall.  That writing spells, “Champion”.