REDEMPTION: Austin McCarl Holds Off Hafertepe to Top Night Two of Germfree Southern Sprint Car Shootout

McCarl beats Hafertepe by seven hundredths of a second in thrilling Volusia finish (Trent Gower Photo)

On Thursday night Austin McCarl watched victory slip from his grasp in the waning laps, and Friday looked as if it may produce a case of déjà vu. But “The Big Unit” refused to accept the same fate.

McCarl barely held off Sam Hafertepe Jr.’s late charge to secure victory on night two of Volusia Speedway Park’s Germfree Southern Sprint Car Shootout. The margin of victory was seven hundredths of a second as Hafertepe pulled alongside coming to the checkered flag but couldn’t quite nose ahead.

Before Thursday’s race, McCarl hadn’t visited Volusia since 2016. He’s quickly gotten reacquainted by leading 44 of 50 Feature laps over the last two nights and earning a runner-up and Friday’s victory.

“Those first couple laps I kind of moved around,” McCarl explained. “I felt like I got a really good start on Cameron. He did a really good job, and I feel like we kind of took off together. I kind of just wanted to take the air off him. And once I got to the lead I just wanted to move around early. I used to get mad at my dad (Terry) for moving around early, and he said, ‘I’ve got to know where I’m good when I get to traffic,” and I just kept thinking of that.

“A couple times I could roll down here (the bottom) really, really good and really, really hard. And I thought if I can run it that hard, you’ve got to take the shortest way around. I feel like Sam kind of taught me that last night, too. You get kind of complacent up there (the top) ringing around the rosie and feeling really comfortable like you’re making speed. But sometimes the shortest way is the fastest way.”

It was an all-Iowa front row with Cameron Martin leading the field to green with McCarl alongside. Martin managed to slip ahead in Turns 1 and 2, but McCarl powered into the lead in the next set of corners to lead the opening lap.

After securing the top spot, McCarl began to build a solid advantage. Behind him Christopher Thram moved by Martin to snag second. By the fifth lap McCarl’s lead had already climbed to nearly two seconds.

Similar to his drive from seventh to Victory Lane the night before, Hafertepe Jr. was on the move early. He started the main event eighth and was up to fourth on Lap 5. Five laps later he cracked the top three. And only one lap later the Sunnyvale, TX native snagged second.

Austin McCarl races ahead of Sam Hafertepe Jr.
Austin McCarl narrowly held off Sam Hafertepe Jr. on Friday night at Volusia (Trent Gower Photo)

Up ahead McCarl sliced through traffic with more than a two-second advantage. But a couple slip ups with lapped cars and a couple strong laps by Hafertepe brought the gap down to a second on Lap 15.

“I felt like I was really cruising through traffic, and a couple of times a guy would get squirrely down here and I’d have to move around,” McCarl noted. “It’s just so easy to get rolled up behind somebody. Air plays such a big part of these cars.”

A motivated McCarl maintained focus even with the troubles in traffic. He quickly reestablished his rhythm, passed a couple slower cars, and grew his lead back over two seconds.

A pivotal yellow flag for a crash on the front straightaway set up a restart with three laps to go and a finish that brought the crowd to its feet.

The green lights flashed, and McCarl committed to the bottom groove. Hafertepe opted for the top and put together some momentum. The gap between the two was only two tenths of a second when the white flag flew. Hafertepe nearly pulled next to McCarl down the back straightaway. The two exited Turn 4, and Hafertepe managed to draw his nose alongside McCarl’s right rear tire but couldn’t quite make the pass as McCarl held on.

With a win under his belt and a fast Country Builders Racing #88 to drive, McCarl is now completely focused on going back to Victory Lane on Saturday in the $10,000-to-win finale.

“Hopefully we can keep this speed up,” McCarl said. “Tomorrow is the big day. The big money. We’ve started on the front row two days in a row. Hopefully we can lay down another qualifying lap and put ourselves in position. That’s where it starts.”

Hafertepe Jr. came within less than a car length of sweeping the first two nights aboard the Hills Racing Team #15H. He again proved he’s one of the fastest cars in the Volusia pit area this week and will be a threat for the $10,000 on Saturday.

“I feel like we’re moving around about as good as anybody,” Hafertepe said. “Like I said, he got through traffic way better tonight and made me work for it. I thought, ‘Well, we’re going to get lucky and catch this caution.’ Clean air is pretty important, and he did exactly what he needed to do.”

A strong 10th to third drive led Justin Peck to the final spot on the podium behind the wheel of the Chris Dyson #20. The Monrovia, IN native made some moves on the last restart to climb into the third spot.

“I kind of just went around the bottom,” Peck said of the final restart. “That was the gameplan. I watched those two cars in front of me for a couple laps before that caution. They were kind of sweeping out a little bit, maybe trying to open their entry up a little bit more than I was. I knew if I could get a nose in there, I could kind of keep them up off the bottom. That was kind of the gameplan going into that and it worked.”

Cameron Martin and Danny Dietrich completed the top five.

Heat Races were won by Ryan Timms, Eric Riggins Jr., Tyler Clem, and Liam Martin.

Danny Sams III earned the Hard Charger by driving from 17th to ninth.

UP NEXT: Volusia Speedway Park welcomes the USCS Sprints again tomorrow for the $10,000-to-win finale of the Germfree Southern Sprint Car Shootout. For tickets, CLICK HERE.

If you can’t make it to the track, catch every lap live on DIRTVision.


Feature (25 Laps): 1. 88-Austin McCarl[2]; 2. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr[8]; 3. 20-Justin Peck[10]; 4. 4-Cameron Martin[1]; 5. 48-Danny Dietrich[12]; 6. 24T-Christopher Thram[4]; 7. 5T-Ryan Timms[7]; 8. 6-Tyler Clem[5]; 9. 24D-Danny Sams III[17]; 10. 2C-Wayne Johnson[16]; 11. 47-Eric Riggins Jr[3]; 12. 11M-Brendan Mullen[11]; 13. 9-Liam Martin[6]; 14. 44-Chris Martin[9]; 15. 7S-Landon Crawley[21]; 16. 63-Josh Weller[18]; 17. 15-Ryan Turner[19]; 18. 13-Elijah Gile[22]; 19. 10-Terry Gray[15]; 20. 34-Sterling Cling[14]; 21. 23-Lance Moss[24]; 22. 28-Jeff Willingham[25]; 23. (DNF) 28F-Davie Franek[20]; 24. (DNF) 24-Danny Martin Jr[13]; 25. (DNS) 17JR-Ricky Stenhouse Jr