Night one of the Southern Sprint Car Shootout belongs to Hafertepe Jr. after driving from row three (Trent Gower Photo)
Sam Hafertepe Jr’s Feature nearly ended before it started on Thursday night. He lined up sixth for Volusia Speedway Park’s Germfree Southern Sprint Car Shootout opener. And in the opening corner he hopped the tire of a competitor.
Hafertepe Jr’s Hills Racing #15H darted across the track. Miraculously, he avoided further contact and regained control. Once in control, there was no stopping one of the best drivers to ever pilot a 360 Sprint Car.
The Sunnyvale, TX native charged to the front of the United Sprint Car Series (USCS) main event with a car that could move anywhere he chose. He went high and low on his route to a pass for the lead around Austin McCarl in traffic on Lap 20 and holding on for a thrilling victory.
“You definitely need lapped cars, especially with Austin. He’s a good race car driver,” Hafertepe Jr. said. “I showed him a nose down there and he moved down. Honestly, I kind of wanted him to move down because I felt like I could get some momentum on the top. We actually kind of reeled him in there for a few laps, and then the bottom dirtied the top up, and then we would just keep getting over the cushion. Once we moved back down and the lapped cars kind of picked him for me, I was able to get right in the middle of them there, and we got to the lead and then just protected from there.”
McCarl and Justin Peck led the field to green for the 25-lap finale. The initial start saw McCarl leap out to a quick advantage. Ryan Timms, who was attempting to sweep the night after setting QuickTime and winning his Heat, blasted from eighth to fourth in a lap and a half.
Timms appeared destined for a drive to the lead as two circuits later the 17-year-old rolled by Sterling Cling to takeover third. He quickly began to cut into the gap between himself and second-running Peck.
But behind Timms Hafertepe’s machine began to come to life in a hurry. He moved into the fifth spot on Lap 3. Two more laps led him to fourth. On Lap 10 he slipped by Timms to climb into a podium spot.
Shortly after taking over third, the race’s only caution flew when a car slowed on the back straightaway.
The restart looked similar to the initial start as McCarl powered way ahead of Peck. Hafertepe took advantage of Peck’s misstep on the restart to swipe the second spot heading into Turns 1 and 2.
After stepping into the runner-up position, Hafertepe had McCarl in the crosshairs as “The Big Unit’s” lead started to dwindle. Hafertepe worked the low line while McCarl remained committed to the top. On the 15th lap Hafertepe had trimmed the advantage under a tenth of a second.
Hafertepe showed McCarl a nose causing him to move the Country Builders Racing #88 to the bottom to take Hafertepe’s line. But Hafertepe adjusted without issue as he veered to the top and continued the pursuit. McCarl was able to fend him off for a few more laps, but on the 20th circuit he moved back to the top to pass a lapped car and Hafertepe pounced. He slid in front of McCarl exiting Turn 4, and McCarl was unable to maintain enough momentum to counter with a crossover.
With the lead secured, Hafertepe began to drive away. He had to navigate a small swarm of lapped traffic but managed to get through unscathed on his way to a 1.5 second advantage as the took the checkered flag.
Hafertepe now has all the momentum courtesy of his victory, and his focus is squarely on the main goal. Thursday’s $2,500 prize was nice, but he’s ready to contend for $10,000 on Saturday.
“These first two nights are like test nights for us,” Hafertepe Jr. said. “I felt like we did a lot of good testing tonight, made a lot of good changes. I haven’t been used to making my own calls the last two years, and we hadn’t run as good. I know what I like, and it’s nothing against anybody that’s worked for me, but it’s just you know what kind of feel you want when I’ve done it for as long as I have. We’re just going back to the basics of what I know how to do and what works for me the best. We’ll see where this year takes us.”
Austin McCarl held on for the second spot. Leading the opening 19 laps and coming up short left the Altoona, IA native feeling a bit down, but the result was an encouraging one considering it was his first Volusia laps in eight years.
“That definitely stings,” McCarl admitted. “But at least if we’re going to get beat by somebody, it’s one of the best in a 360. We’re learn from it, and we’ll bring the Country Builders car back tomorrow.”
Rounding out the podium was Ryan Timms. The Oklahoman teenager came up a mere two spots short of sweeping the Germfree Southern Sprint Car Shootout opener. He showed he undoubtedly has the speed to challenge for the win in Saturday’s finale.
“I felt like we had one of the fastest cars here tonight if not the fastest,” Timms said. “Hopefully we can get a couple spots better comes Saturday.”
Justin Peck and Danny Sams completed the top five.
Heat Races were claimed by Justin Peck, Austin McCarl, Ryan Timms, and Christopher Thram.
An 18th to eighth drive netted Wayne Johnson the Hard Charger.
UP NEXT: Volusia Speedway Park welcomes the USCS Sprints again tomorrow for the second night of the Germfree Southern Sprint Car Shootout. Then Saturday will bring the $10,000-to-win finale. For tickets, CLICK HERE.
If you can’t make it to the track, catch every lap live on DIRTVision.