Neil Baggett (21) leads the State Series points table. Baggett will return to Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus on Saturday for the first of four State Series races this month. Photo by: David Miller/Special to The Dispatch
July 13, 2018 10:38:51 AM
Sometimes familiarity is the best remedy.
It's easy to stray from best practices, especially in the internet era, when information is abundant and readily available. The problem is exacerbated for racers looking for an edge when they compete each week.
But what works for one driver isn't necessarily the best for another. The same tangible variables exist -- cars, parts, and resources -- but one that often is overlooked is the driver, whose preferences and "feel" sometimes take a backseat to the latest technology.
Super Late Model racer Neil Baggett is a perfect example.
It took missing a race during a two-day World of Outlaws show at Whynot Motorsports Park in Meridian to abandon the tips from Rocket he'd been trying to implement and to return to a familiar setup he'd had success with in previous years.
"We kind of overhauled the car, and the next day, we set the track record," Baggett said. "Then we won our heat. After that, I don't think we've run worst than third, except at the Lucas Oil race (at Magnolia Motor Speedway).
Baggett said that once he got more comfortable with his Rocket car he'd drive it a "bit harder" and test the limits in "places he wouldn't normally."
"Every car is a little bit different," Baggett said. "You just have to go by the seat of your pants and just feel what it needs to make the best decisions to make it faster.
"Now we feel like we can win anywhere we go."
Baggett said the winning setup "just fits him," and recent results confirm it. Baggett has won four Super Late Model races this year, including one on the Mississippi State Championship Challenge Series and two the COMP Cams Series. Last weekend at Magnolia Motor Speedway, Baggett earned his first COMP Cams win. His second came July 7 in Greenville. Baggett will return to The Mag on Saturday for the first of four State Series races this month.
July marks the first month since March the State Series will run four or more races. But Baggett, who leads the series points table, stopped short of placing added emphasis on this slate, which features races on back-to-back nights in Hattiesburg and Jackson.
"The main thing is to be consistent, run top three to five and make sure you're there at the end," he said, "and not tear your stuff up."
Baggett said he and car owner Prate Montgomery are targeting races outside the State Series and Mississippi to see "where they stack up." He said Montgomery recently purchased a new enclosed trailer to make long trips more feasible.
"When you're running good, you want to test the waters, so to speak," Baggett said. "Brian (Rickman), Rick (Rickman), and Chad (Thrash), they're tough and fast every weekend. If you outrun those guys, you've done pretty good, so we're going to go off when the schedule allows, but I can't say for certainty where we're going to be at."
Hughes looking for breakout
Spencer Hughes is used to winning -- a lot.
The 2017 season has been challenging for the former NeSmith Street Stocks national champion, who signed on with Henderson Motorsports' Super Late Model team in the offseason.
Entering this weekend, he's still searching for his first Super Late Model win in 12 starts this season. He won the Governor's Cup while driving for Randy Thompson late last year. In all, he has less than 20 Super Late Model races under his belt.
Still, it has been a "fair year for Late Models," Hughes said. He makes the distinction because he's notched five wins in a Modified this year. When he races tonight at Hattiesburg, it'll mark 40 nights of competition in 2018.
"We've had high points and a few low points (in Super Late Models)," Hughes said. "We've learned a lot, and I feel like the car is a lot better now than at the beginning of the year. We're starting to figure things out."
Hughes said he's adjusted to the Longhorn car, which is "different than anything we've driven." He also has adjusted to having a team maintain the car. The most important factors are getting better and keeping active, Hughes said.
Maintaining perspective, particularly as it relates to experience and the levels of competition in the state, are vital, too.
"If you look back at stats, or even when Facebook memories come up from when we won a race, it makes you want to work harder," Hughes said. "To be doing as good as we are, I'm proud. ... I'm still new to the game. I don't look at it to be a bad first part of the year."
Hughes will return to Magnolia on Saturday to run the State Series race.
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