LAVENDER WINS WILD PRO CUP PHOTO FINISH AT ACE by Matthew Dillner
Lavender Beats Fogleman For First Win in Classic Short Track Duel
One of the most amazing things with any sport is when a game comes down to the final play to decide it. Sometimes it's the final pitch, or the waning seconds of overtime that determine a winner.
At the Pro Cup Series race at Ace Speedway (NC), a 250 lap contest came down to the final inches.
After so many hard fought laps, the race ended up coming down to being decided between two drivers with slightly different motivations but had one thing in common. They both wanted to win. They both wanted to win badly.
For race leader Jody Lavender, it had been nearly seven years since he had tasted the sweetness of victory in any type of racecar.
One lap, 4/10 of a mile and a winner would be declared.
Coming around the final turn Fogleman slipped slightly and Lavender wheeled it off the final corner and down the stretch to nip the veteran driver by a matter of inches at the line. The margin for Lavender's win was a mere .091 seconds.
“They were counting them down and telling me how many laps were left,” said Lavender of the nail-biting last few laps. “I finally glanced to see the white flag and I knew it was going to be close.
Lavender just beats Fogleman to the line in a truly classice Pro Cup finish. (Paul J. Robinson Photo)
For the challenger, Jay Fogleman, it had been over a year since he had won a Pro Cup race. The Series veteran had nine Pro Cup wins to his credit and several local wins at Ace which is his home track.
Who needed the win more? That is up for debate. Who wanted it more? Both drivers were hungry to make it happen.
The two drivers dueled side by side, in an ultra-clean display of sportsmanship to the end. Fogleman to the inside, and Lavender hanging on for dear life on the high-side. Every fan was on their feet when the white flag was displayed.
“I was thinking the lap before he barely beat me to the line and knew I was going to have to do something different because it was the same lap again I wasn't going to win the race. We went through one and two and I was able to get a pretty good jump off the corner. He was a little better of me getting into turn three and four. But in the center of the corner I just put it to the mat and held on. If I hit the wall or if I crashed, whatever. I was going for the win.”
Lavender held on for the win and then crashed into the inside wall just before turn one after the checkers flew.
Coming to the white flag the two cars were as close as they could be. But they still kept it clean.
(Paul J. Robinson Photo)
“We won the race and I was like 'man I'm about to hit the wall. I really didn't care at that point. I've seen the replays of when Joe Gaita won that race last year and I didn't hit as hard as he did.”
And what a sweet win it was for Lavender. A win made even more special by the means in which it was accomplished.
“It was balls to the wall. I was sliding' around. My tires were junk, his tires were junk. I was spinning the tires, pushing and sliding all over the race track. I was doing all I could just to hang on to the car and bring it home in one piece.”
PRO CUP SOUTHERN DIVISION UNOFFICIAL RESULTS
BF Goodrich Tires 250 at Ace Speedway (NC)
1. Jody Lavender
2. Jay Fogleman
3. Mark McFarland
4. Mike Garvey
5. Chase Pistone
6. Michael Faulk
7. Clay Rogers
8. Michael Ritch
9. George Brunnhoelzl III
10. Toby Porter
11. Steve Wallace
12. Matt Carter
13. Billy Bigley Jr.
14. Robert Turner
15. Bobby Gill
16. Wayne Willard
17. Ken Butler III
18. Bobby Joe Woodley
19. Shane Huffman
20. Jake Hobgood
21. Jason Sarvis
22. Kirk Leone
23. Shane Wallace
24. Mart Nesbitt
25. Daniel Johnson
26. Randy Gentry
27. Brad Rogers
28. Andrew Rogers
Fogleman was one of the first people to make it to victory lane to congratulate Jody Lavender on the win. (51 Photo)
A smiling Fogleman, who will have to wait for another day to return to victory lane, was not sore at all about the runner-up effort.
“I'm kind of tickled to death and frustrated at the same time. It's been a while since we've had a win and I really feel like we had one tonight and it slipped away from us a little bit. That's racing.
Often in racing, desperation for a win results in more aggressive driving tactics. But there were no last lap bumper tactics here... just good clean short track racing.
“Here at Ace, you're going to touch some,” added Fogleman. “But we have the same engine builder, Birdie (Lavender's crew chief Steve Bird) crew-chiefed for me last year and those guys have worked extremely hard to win a race. I just can't see taking someone out for a win. I will route and gauge and do whatever I can to win a race. I just won't wreck 'em to win a race.
“That is what it is all about. That is why this Series is growing like it is. That was a ball. Golly, I wish I could have won that race right there. I've run so much here on Friday nights, beating and banging with the Late Model cars. I just came up a little short.”
“Those last few laps man, they were exciting,” said the race winner. “I was hanging on and he was hanging on. I think we were both in the same boat. We were trying to win the race without wrecking each other or ourselves. Jay is a hell of a racecar driver and drove a heck of a clean race. When you race against guys like that, professionals like we have in this series, you can put on a show like that for the fans. That is fun racing.”
If you play Monday morning, or in this case weekend, quarterback, you can come up with so many scenarios that could have changed the outcome of this amazing finish. Should Jay Fogleman have been more aggressive?
Signs of a fierce finish could be seen on Fogleman's #4 car. (51 Photo)
Another “what if” situation almost ended Lavender's chances at even finishing the race. With only a handful of laps remaining, he narrowly escaped disaster making contact with Jake Hobgood. Hobgood was trying to stay on the lead lap and racing the leaders hard when the two hopped wheels. The contact sent Hobgood into the wall had and collected point leader Shane Huffman in the process. Lavender drove away with only a few more battle scars on his #84.
Lavender climbs from his car after the wild finish. (51 Photo)
With all of that behind him, Lavender was left to face his biggest challenge. He was up against a man with as many laps at Ace Speedway as anyone in the field. When Fogleman's Lucas Oil Ford got underneath Lavender's machine, most on-lookers thought the race was over. Even Lavender thought he was a sitting duck at that point.
I kind of thought I was,” admitted Lavender in victory lane. “He's one of the best here and has won a lot of races here over the years. They were hollering on the radio to keep her on the bottom. I was getting so loose getting into the corner that I almost had no front brake. It was all rear brake and the car was getting loose into the corner. When he got under me I thought I was done. I think our car though was actually better on the high groove. I was struggling on the bottom and when we went to the high groove it wasn't sliding as bad.”
“I knew he could get a good run off the corner,” said Fogleman about the last lap. “The outside here does have a lot of grip. It's just one of those deals. I knew it was going to come down to the last lap. I slipped in the middle of that last corner. I tried to jump the gas just a little bit early to get a good run off the corner and the car slipped just a little bit and I lost that forward bite. It's just the way it goes.”
Lavender has been through his share of hard times over the last handful of seasons. He and his family supported teams have struggled in the NASCAR Southeast Series and in the big leagues of the Craftsman Truck Series. After disappointments in both, the big win at Ace heals some of those wounds.
“It gave me a chance to prove to myself and everyone else that I can compete at this level, said Lavender. “We've had some good runs and some bad runs. This win removes a lot of doubts and hopefully now we can come back to victory lane.
“A lot of people had faith in me and knew that we could do it. I went through a lot of struggles. Up until now, I've been almost ready to quit. I kind of wondered 'is my heart still in it?' and if I should still be doing this? A night like tonight reminds you of why we do this. I wasn't sure if I'd ever feel this feeling again but now that I got it I am enjoying it. It's been about six or seven years since I've won a race. So now I will have to stick around at least six or seven more years if that's what it takes to get another win.”
Twenty five Pro Cup races, and seven or so years between wins is an awful long time. But for Lavender it was all worth it.
Lavender is now in the history books as a Pro Cup winner. The win came in one of the most classic races in Hooters Pro Cup Series history. But most importantly, the way it was decided will be what leaves a lasting impression on both of the drivers and anyone that was in attendance.
Lavender was very proud of his first Pro Cup win. (51 Photo)