September 4, 2017 10:42:32 PM
By DAVID MILLER
Special to The Dispatch
For Spencer Hughes, his Street Stock car is "home."
The 16-year-old racer moved up to NeSmith Late Models early this year and then Super Late Models just over a month ago, but Sunday, for the Fall 40 Street Stock Championship, he returned to the seat of the car that he piloted for 50 races and a NeSmith national points championship in 2016.
Hughes would navigate lap traffic at Magnolia Motor Speedway and pass Justin McRee with six laps to go to win his second straight Fall 40 and $5,000.
"I don't think we've lost but two or three times the 10 times we've run it this year," Hughes said. "It's good to get back in a personal car, a car we built ourselves and have success."
Hughes' best move came early in the race when, after a re-start on lap 9, Hughes would pass Mike Boland in turn 2, making the car stick through the middle while the rest of the field hugged the bottom. He'd eventually pass McRee was driving Doug Heavener's No. 22 car, for the lead on lap 13.
"Right before the caution came out, I just started running higher, higher and higher, not anywhere close to wall, but right through the middle," Hughes said. "And when the caution came out, Boland chose the inside, and I wasn't going to drive that line and fall in behind him, so I just started rolling the middle pretty good. I just kept making up ground slowly and slowly and just kind of running our own race."
McRee would briefly fall back to third behind Boland while running the top line that had started to disappear from the NeSmith Late Model race. But McRee made it work, especially around lap-traffic.
"Our car was a little bit free all night long, which was good in the mud, but when it slicked off, I knew we'd struggle a little bit," McRee said. "I was just trying to pace myself to see how the track felt, and if everyone fell in line and rode the bottom, we were going to keep it safe. But when Spencer drove around me, it was time to move around and see what we got. The car was really good when I could drive it in really deep, and that played into why we ran the outside and why the car was a lot better right there."
McRee passed Hughes on the back straightaway on lap 34. He said he was careful to not show Hughes the nose of his car, and he watched Spencer's father, Johnny, run signals for him.
"I was paying attention to make sure he didn't move him out in front of me, because if he did, the next corner, I could have tried a crossover pass on him," McRee said. "Once we caught him, his dad never moved him out, and stuck him on the bottom. I waited until we got up beside him, made a move to where he couldn't make a move back on me. It looked like he was kind of floating along, because once I got beside him, he kind of picked up the pace a little bit. I still think we were good enough to outrun him there at the end, because we had the momentum line."
Hughes said he'd settled into running a steady pace around the bottom and navigating lap-traffic before McRee passed him. Despite what was on the line -- $5,000 - he had to be patient in a 30-car field that started three-wide.
"There is a bit of added nerves, but to be honest, it doesn't matter if we're racing for bragging rights or for 10 grand, I'm still going to do whatever it takes to win," Hughes said. "In the longer races, though, you just have to bide your time and not get into any trouble, skid your tires or get tangled in lap-traffic."
Shaw finds form in NeSmith feature
Prior to Sunday, Jeremy Shaw hadn't finished in the top 5 of a NeSmith Late Models race at Magnolia since July 2. He hadn't won there since April 15.
Shaw had been looking for a winning formula that would see him start the night fast and sustain the speed through the feature. He didn't have it Saturday and finished 16th, but after returning home to Millport, Alabama and make changes to the 1s car, Shaw returned Sunday with a much faster and consistent car.
Shaw started on the pole Sunday, led every lap and held off a late challenge at the line by Scott Dedwylder to win the feature and $1,000.
"We were fastest on the board each time we went out," Shaw said.
Shaw said Joe Garrison or GRT Race Cars helped troubleshoot his car setup, and engine-builder Jay Dickens helped work on his carburetor at the track prior to Sunday's races.
"Earlier in the year, we felt like we were handicapped early, and we would get better as the night went on," Shaw said. "The few weeks we struggled, we struggled through trying new things, and sometimes it's trial and error."
Shaw was dominate on the top side of the track and held that line throughout the race. He extended from the field on both re-starts, but he said the car got tight late in the race. That left an opening for Dedwylder, who briefly passed Shaw on the last lap before Shaw regained the lead before they reached the checkered flag.
"You never really know when you pull up against Scott and Evan Ellis, Jamey Boland ... they've been running good here lately," Shaw said. "You go down there knowing you're going to have a tough field, and when it gets like that (traction around the top), it's my favorite kind of race track, and I felt like if we could get to the top and we could circle it, we'd be really good."
Dedwylder took second, while Monte Skinner, Jamey Boland and Randy Boyd rounded out the top 5.
In other race action:
n Jamie Pickard won the 602 Sportsman feature, his sixth at Magnolia this season. Zack Shelton, Tony Shelton, Ryan King and Chance Inman rounded out the top 5.
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