Series Veteran Mike Watts Tastes Victory at Hickory
Series Veteran Mike Watts Tastes Victory at Hickory
October 19, 2005
ORMOND BEACH, FL - Twenty-five years after his last visit to victory lane Davidson, North Carolina’s Mike Watts once again experienced the exhilaration of out dueling his competitors to claim his third career win. (Daytona 1979; Dover 1980)
Seventeen drivers were on hand for the season ending “Fall Brawl 150” at the famous Hickory Motor Speedway. One driver commented that the series used to have twenty-six cars with ten good drivers. But for this race the field was full of many of the name drivers that have become synonymous with this sport compact racing series. With that in mind, it only makes victory sweeter for Mike Watts, who has been with the series since the late 70’s.
Danny Bagwell started on the pole. But, it was Cam Strader who charged from the outside to lead the first lap. Strader led through lap nine when he decided to pit during the first caution to determine the cause of an oil leak. Strader, 2001 Series Champion, was making his first start in three years. “It is great to be out here racing with all of these guys,” Strader said. “This series has always been special, like a family, and it is so much fun racing these cars.”
On the restart, Bagwell showed strength as within a few laps he stretched his lead to several car lengths over Justin Hobgood, Wade Day, Jake Hobgood, and Eric Wilson. On lap 22, Perry Nantz hit the front stretch wall. Nantz, and experienced road racer was making his first career start in a car purchased from Mike Watts. Ironically, Watts spun as a result of the Nantz incident causing him to fall to the tail of the field. “I am not sure if I was hit from behind or if the car just came around on me,” said Watts. “But, it put me all the way to the back and I had to drive my heart out to get back into contention. I knew that I had a good car. When the series was headed to Shenandoah Speedway for our first race of the season, we tested at Hickory the day before. We finished second at Shenandoah, so we decided to put the same basic setup under the car for Hickory. We ran about five laps of practice on Saturday and I knew then we were in good shape.”
Bagwell dominated the event, fighting off several charges from Wade Day and then Eric Wilson as the race neared the halfway break. On lap 71, Scott Weaver looped his car in turn four bringing out the caution. ISCARS decided to use the caution period for the traditional halfway break, giving the teams an opportunity to make adjustments. The Fall Brawl included Hickory’s Late Models, Limited Division, Super Trucks, and Street Stocks making for a long day for the fans and competitors. With temperatures dropping ISCARS decided to shorten the break from ten minutes to five minutes. Hobgoods opted to change carburetors on both cars, but ran out of time and decided to withdrawal from the event. “I feel really bad about that,” said ISCARS President Randy Claypoole. “The halfway break is designed to help competitors not eliminate them. We made the decision to shorten the break in the interest of our fans.”
Bagwell appeared to be well on his way to his first victory of the season, when out of nowhere a charging Mike Watts placed his Mercury Cougar into contention. “As I was racing Cam Strader I realized that I had something for the leaders. I could stay even with him all the way around the track. I just waited for an opening and no matter where I drove, my car would stick. The pass gave me the determination I needed to go on to pass Johnny Chapman, Wade Day, and Eric Wilson,” added Watts. From lap 107 through 129 he followed Bagwell bumper with precision and confidence. It soon became apparent that Bagwell’s dominant car was now vulnerable. “My car would stick through the middle of the turns and that is where I was better,” concluded Watts. On lap 130 Watts made took the lead and never looked back. “Our car was really good tonight,” said Bagwell. “The last couple of races it just seemed to go away in the end.”
Watts later gave credit to one of his Late Model friends. “They told me that the track would really tighten up as the night wore on. And, they were right. The track really came to me.”
Watts was greeted in Victory Lane by a host of fellow competitors and members from most every team in the series. “It means a great deal to me. Perhaps I gained their respect in that I can still win after all of these years. It makes me feel really good,” commented Watts. “The first folks I saw were the Hobgoods. Then there seemed to be a line of congratulations. Those wins back in 79 and 80 were big. When I was young I expected many more to follow. It didn’t work out that way. Now I understand what guys like Dale Jarrett mean when they talk about their most recent win becoming the biggest for them.”
Rounding out the top ten were Danny Bagwell, Eric Wilson, Cam Strader, Wade Day, Johnny Chapman, Joey Miller, Scott Weaver, Joey Jones, and Robert Huffman.
Other Notes of Interest: Rookie Joey Jones scored his best finish of the season. Ned Combs fell out early with engine problems. 5-time Series Champion Robert Huffman subbed for Scott Krehling. Krehling missed the event due to an illness of a close friend of the family. Huffman fought handling problems the entire race and exited just five laps from the end when the right front suspension broke. Shane Hmiel, the 2001 Rookie of the Year, reunited with Moss Motorsports to enter the race. Hmiel, on suspension from NASCAR, is making consistent strides to rekindle his career by racing with ISCARS and the Silver Crown Series.
Wade Day, driving the Highland Motorsports Toyota Celica wins the inaugural ISCARS 2006 Championship.