CHOQUETTE WINS THE RACE BUT MECHALIDES WINS THE SLM WARby Jeremy Troiano & Matthew Dillner
Points Race Comes Down To The Very End…Literally
If you wanna talk about what it is like to run the gamut of emotions in one race, just ask Louis Mechalides.
After Ted Christopher fell out of the Super Late Model points championship on Thursday night, the race for the title was down to Louis Mechalides and Mike Fritts. Heading into the 100-lapper finale on Saturday night, the gap between the two was a mere 20 points.
At the end of the night, the gap was a mere four points.
The race played out like this…
Fritts, who had really turned on the juice in his #112 Super Late Model late in the week after a plethora of bad luck early on, jumped to the lead right at the start of the race and set his own pace. Mechalides fell in line and just rode around in the sixth and seventh positions for most of the first half of the event.
But just past the halfway point, Mechalides’ car began to spark and spark heavily. A couple of laps later, the
bright #47 was off the pace and headed to pit road and behind pit wall.
“At the beginning of the race the car was real good and I was trying to stay in line and pass a couple of cars,” said Mechalides. “I drove down in the corner and the sway bar broke right off of it. I thought I was getting a flat tire. I had no idea what was broken. We had been dragging all week but we were fast and we hadn't changed anything.
“I thought that was it and we were done.”
But not so fast. Enter a simple piece of chain.
“We came in the pits and Donny and Jason and the rest of the guys got it chained up. Jason Boyd went in and stole a chain out of a trailer next door that that team used to hold their pit carts down. The crew couldn't tell me what was wrong with the car at first because they were trying to work on the car. So I jumped out to see what was wrong with it.
“The guys fixed it by using the chain. The car was faster than before, but that might have just been me being mad.
“I had no idea where Fritts was at that point.”
Fritts was still in the lead and because of that, and Mechalides’ misfortune, it looked as if the championship race was over.
But not so fast. Enter hotshot young gun Jeff Choquette.
Following the halfway point, it looked like Choquette got shot out of a cannon. The youngster, who has been the dominating force at New Smyrna Speedway before Speedweeks (he won four races in a row at the half-mile dating back to last year), jumped from fourth to third to second and finally started placing pressure on Fritts for the race’s lead.
This was the beginning of the end for Mechalides... or was it? (51Photos)
Choquette finally got a big run and jumped to the inside Fritts coming out of two. The two cars bounced off of each other with smoke flying and both sideways. Choquette was able to make the pass and Fritts did a tremendous job to keep the car out of the inside wall, but ultimately lost several positions before falling back into the swing of things. Eventually, before the race’s end, Fritts would lose a few more positions in his ill-handling car and finish sixth.
“It seems like it takes us about 20-30 laps to get going at this place,” said Choquette. “They were trying to walk away from me in the beginning and I was like ‘man, what is going on here.’ Then they started coming back to me. I got into the 23 (Eddie Van Meter) a little bit. It wasn’t intentional or anything. I got by him. Then I got a lucky run off of four and the 101 (Jack Landis) went low and I passed him off of four. I got a good run then coming off of two and Mike pushed up a little bit. We rubbed a bit for the lead, but that is racing I guess.”
Jeff Choquette won his sixth-career race at New Smyrna Speedway on Saturday night.
Choquette wouldn’t be challenged again and would go on to win his second-straight Speedweeks event (Choquette was deemed Friday night’s winner after Jack Landis was disqualified in post-race tech… more on that in Leftovers later in the week on Speed51.com).
Mechalides would get his car fixed and back out on the track and would cross the line in 20th position.
So as Victory Lane celebrations were going on for Choquette, officials were busy calculating and recalculating the points.
Finally, after much anticipation, it was announced that Mechalides, despite his problems, had held on to capture the Speedweeks Super Late Model points championship.
“I didn't know how it was going to end up,” admitted Mechalides. “We've had such a good week compared to most years. We won a couple of races and set fast time with a new racecar.
“I was still pissed off, but the crew took care of it. They calmed me down and took care of the problem and did a real good job.”
And despite losing the points title and not being able to defend last year’s Super Late Model crown, Fritts took losing in good light, not placing blame on anyone and taking the good with the bad.
“We were just trying to hold them off, but it was just a matter I time,” said Fritts. “Something happened in the car. The panhard bar bracket bent, which was a homemade deal that we tried. The trailing arm ended up under the suspension and it was just like having a wood block for a right rear spring. That pretty much meant we were a sitting duck there. We tried to hold them off as long as we could, but we about took ourselves out in the process.
“At that point, I was in Jeff’s way. If I put myself in his car, I would have done the same thing,” said Fritts of the heavy contact the two made during the pass for the lead. “I was trying to guard the bottom and I was hoping he would try to go around on the outside. I knew it was just a matter of time before I got rooted up out of the way.”
But even being rooted out of the way, Fritts was still thinking the championship would be in hand.
“We thought we had the points deal all wrapped up but I guess we didn’t know how to figure up points. We were just kind of riding, thinking we had the points won, but I don’t think we could have finished any better anyway.
“Honestly, I’m disappointed, but it felt good that we were even in it here after what this team went through this week (including an accident early in the week that took them out on the first lap and heavily damaged their car). This was a first time deal for me and Frankie (Grill of Grand American Race Cars). We learned a lot about the car and worked on some stuff and changed some stuff. Things just really didn’t go our way. We’ll just have to get them next year.”
It was no surprise to see Choquette back in Victory Lane at New Smyrna. Counting his default win on Friday night, Choquette has now won six of the eight races he’s ever run at New Smyrna Speedway.
“I don’t know what it is about this place,” said Choquette, who just raced from Wednesday on during Speedweeks. “I came here and practiced the first time and I liked the track. When I first practiced, I liked the track. But when we first started racing, I didn’t like this place very well. It is an alright place. It isn’t one of my favorite tracks, but it should be since we do so well here.”
Louis Mechalides knew the key to his title was the right front tire.
And so after Choquette’s Victory Lane celebration, it was Mechalides’ turn to celebrate his championship with those that helped make it possible.
“The crew got it done and everybody is excited to run good. The championship is a bonus.
“I have won championships in all different types of cars and won a bunch of races. Peter’s (car owner Peter McLellan) really excited to have a championship with his car. There is so much good competition down here. Everyone is pretty excited.”
And the star of the night in Mechalides’ eyes… that simple piece of chain, which helped propel him to the title.
“I think we gave those guys a hundred dollars for that chain after the race.”
It was well worth it.
Everyone swarmed around Mechalides' car, including Louis himself (top, in suit) and a simple piece of chain saved them (bottom).
Jeff Choquetter (#70) puts the heat on Mike Fritts (#112) in a fierce battle.