September 22, 2017 11:14:01 AM
It wasn't a win, but it was clear how much a top-three finish meant to David Breazeale.
The longtime Super Late Model racer fought back tears and struggled to find the words after exiting his car to a chorus of cheers following the 2016 Cotton Pickin' 100 at Magnolia Motor Speedway.
Ahead of this weekend's Magnolia State Cotton Pickin' 100, Breazeale's performance in the "crown jewel" event of the Golden Triangle area is still on his mind.
"I pretty much think about it all the time," Breazeale said. "I've raced for so long, and trying to get around Magnolia when it's slick has kind of been an Achilles heel for me."
Trying to make the race against dozens of national series competitors and having our best race of the season has been Breazeale's goal each year for the $20,000-to-win Cotton Pickin' 100 and for Magnolia's other annual cornerstone feature, the Clash at The Mag. Breazeale did both last year, and it started in the Thursday practice session, which he usually participates in but rarely learns much to apply to the feature.
"We found something one of the last sessions on Thursday night that made the car really, really good, and that's what we went to for the feature Saturday night," Breazeale said. "But mainly, it's just keeping up with the race track and trying to make the best judgment for those changes."
In a 50-lap race, the track will go through one major change in surface conditions. One groove can disappear while another emerges, or the track can slick off entirely. But in a 100-lap race, there can be as many as three changes in track conditions, Breazeale said.
Last year, Breazeale committed to run on the bottom for the entire race, a decision he said posed some risk because of how long the top might be the dominant line.
"I wasn't sure how much we'd fall back, but once the race started, I could tell we weren't losing much ground," Breazeale said. "We didn't slow down as much as everybody else. We found a rhythm being patient around the bottom.
"Sometimes, it'll start out up top and go to bottom, and when the bottom wears out, the middle will come in. Last year, it was on the bottom the last 50, but it's hard to say how it will be on any given night. It's just something you have to keep up with over the weekend and try to use your best judgment."
Breazeale is confident entering this year's Cotton Pickin'. His optimism is buoyed by seven feature wins driving for Billy Franklin, who outfitted the team with a new Rocket XR-1 chassis, the current "it" car in Late Model racing. This year's World 100 winner, Jonathan Davenport, recently left Barry Wright Race Cars for a Rocket, and Brian Rickman, of New Hope, has won two State Series races in a Rocket.
Breazeale joked he would feel more confident about his chances Saturday if many of the other drivers weren't in Rockets.
"There's probably above 90 percent that the top three or four cars will be in Rocket chassis, with the guys that are coming in, and with the local guys that are in them that are just as fast," Breazeale said. "It would surprise if the race was won by someone who wasn't in a Rocket."
Entries from more than 10 states are expected this weekend.
Magnolia announced this week the addition of a 20-lap, $1,000-to-win non-qualifier race sponsored by Franklin Enterprises and Franklin Fence/ Erosion Control.
Other race action will include NeSmith Late Models for a $3,000 top prize. MSSS Street Stocks will compete for $2,000-to-win. Factory Stocks will compete for $800-to-win, and Late Model Sportsman will compete for $1,000-to-win.
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