To say that Zeke Shell earned his 2018 Kingsport Speedway championship would be the understatement of the year. From being parked in a race early in the season to destroying his car in a mid-season crash to crashing on lap 47 of 60 of the season finale, Shell had to overcome a season of adversity.
Shell and his team never gave up though. The perseverance of a long and tough season shined brightly in the final laps of the season finale at Kingsport Speedway. Shell had never won a track championship at Kingsport despite finding himself in the mix week in and week out during the last eight seasons since the track reopened.
The biggest difference for Shell this year was simple, he didn’t set out to win the points but rather set out to have a good time with family and friends and do the best he could.
“At the end of 2017, we were beaten down after a rough year,” Shell told RACE22.com. “We had to put the fire and determination back in each other as a team. It had to be fun and worth doing. We could stay home and go broke, we didn’t have to go to the race track to do it.”
Shell said he and the team lived by one mantra all season that helped carry them through along with the support of his fans, friends, family, and competitors.
“We decided it had to be a couple cool guys, doing cool stuff with a cool car in the garage,” commented Shell. “We had massive support from everyone this season. The fans bought body parts when we tore them up and the competitors supported us big time too.”
Shell says he and his team had to do it their way and work hard.
“We weren’t the track favorites for sure. We had to do it being us, not as the track favorite. We did it with our backs and minds. Many times our car shouldn’t have even been able to finish.”
Shell won three races at Kingsport this season but was upstaged by his arch-rival Kres VanDyke, who he had to battle down to the finish with to win the championship. VanDyke had four wins on the season but trailed Shell coming into the finale. Shell knew that he had finished in a certain position and made the decision for the last race not to even race for the win.
Despite not points racing in the finale, Shell found himself in a position that nearly ended his championship bid on lap 47 as he and 2002 track champion Robbie Ferguson collided and Shell hit the inside wall on the backstretch. Shell had just 13 laps to rebound from this wreck but as he came down pit road in a shower of sparks the damage his team found was enough to end anyone else’s race.
“We were points racing, not to win, we just had to finish in a particular spot and we’d win the championship. We built the car a little stronger which cost us some speed but we weren’t there to win the race. I got in a position and we got together and whether it was my fault or Robbie’s it doesn’t matter. It happened.”
Shell’s truck arm was twisted up and if he wasn’t points racing he would have parked the car and lived to race another day. That wasn’t an option in this race, Shell and his crew had to finish this race and had to drive to the front to do it.
“We came in and the truck arm was wrapped all around. We had just over ten laps and I don’t know how Danny Rollins (crew chief) and the crew got the car rolling’ish.”
Shell said the car was a handful to drive even down the front straightaway.
“It wasn’t even going down the straightaway without a fight,” laughed Shell as he recalled the final ten laps of the race. “I was going to either make it back to win the championship or the car was going to get loaded on a rollback. By all intents that car shouldn’t have been on the race track.”
Shell says it was the hardest he’d ever had to drive in his life and even needed oxygen after the race was over. Despite the challenges, Shell drove his way back to a fourth-place finish and sealed not only the Kingsport Speedway track championship but also got the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Tennessee State Championship with the final pass.
The Tennessee State Championship nearly slipped through his hands in the final laps despite being in a position to win the track title. Nik Williams had catapulted to second in the state championship battle despite missing two races during the season. Williams six wins put him just two points away from beating Shell for the state title.
Shell was proud of his performance and what he and his team had accomplished together. He also attributes his success to friends on and off the track.
“This season was about the crew and our team. I was very proud but it was hard fought and well earned. To win it with these guys doing it our way was special. Also to have the kind of support we had from the McCarty’s and the Lane’s who showed me what true friendship is made it special. Plus Danny (Rollins) intelligence knows no bounds. That’s what won this championship for us.”
Shell had a lot of support from sponsors this season as well including; Budweiser, Catch 22, Danny Wayne Racing, Super Transmissions, Auto Zone of Johnson City on N Roan St, Tennessee Hills Distillery, JC DTL, Moe’s Original BBQ, Miller’s Automotive of Erwin, E.A. Miller Trucking, Tri-Cities Restoration, Shell Swag, GearHeadz Customs, Davis Wood Co. and PRW Chassis.
Shell is working diligently this off-season to find sponsors to make another championship run in 2019. He says he’ll go for the championship again if he can obtain the sponsors to do so but will do it the same way as this year.
“If we can get the sponsors, we’ll run for it again,” concluded Shell. “Very few teams spend as little as we do to make it happen but if we get the money we will go for it again just like we did this year, doing it our way and just going to have fun.”
Cover Photo by Kimberly Austin/RACE22.com