SOUTHEAST SERIES ENDS FITTINGLY AT GREENVILLE by Jeremy Troiano
Wakefield Wins Race, Ridley Top Crew Chief, Norris The Champ
Everyone knew that the NASCAR Southeast Series was running its last race on Saturday night at Greenville-Pickens Speedway. No one could have imagined though that the series would end so fittingly.
With the final Southeast Series also being a combined show with the Midwest Series, it was fitting that there were 29 machines taking part in the final SES event. It was fitting that the series was running its last race at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, where the series has raced at more than 40 times over the years. It was fitting that the long-time NASCAR Southeast Series media coordinator Bill Desmond returned to the series out of retirement to announce the starting lineup for one more race.
“It means a lot to finally win a race,” said Wakefield, who will focus his efforts on the Hooters Pro Cup Series next year now that the Southeast Series is coming to an end. “As long as this series has been around means something to win in it; we’ve ran this series for the last four years. We’ve been so close so many times. We’ve had races won and blown motors or been caught up in accidents. It is just bad, bad luck. I was bound and determined that we were going to come out here and win the last one. I wanted to put my name in that history book.
Bill Desmond (left), Jody Ridley (center) and Justin Wakefield (right) all shared memories at Greenville and made some new ones as well in the final SES event.
“When you get your first win, you want the car to be that good. The last time we were here, the car was that good and we blew a motor. I knew it was going to be at least that good. It was actually a little better tonight.”
Making the win even better and even more sweet is the fact that Ridley, Wakefield’s crew chief, earned the Crew Chief of the Race honors too.
“He is a six-time champion. He has tons of wins and I’m just glad I can put my name in that book with him now.”
Wakefield has always been good at Greenville. In fact, earlier this year, he dominated the race much like he did on Saturday night. However, that night he blew a motor. This time though, it didn’t happen.
Justin Wakefield clmibs from his ride as the final winner in SES history. (51 Photos)
In the end, it was most fitting that the series crowned another first-time winner and recognized a legendary crew chief, then crowned a champion by just five points over his arch-rival, but also close friend.
“This series has done a lot of good things for me and a lot of these guys,” said six-time All Pro/All-American Challenge Series/Southeast Series (just a couple of the names the series has gone through) champion Jody Ridley. “All good things have to come to an end at some point though I guess. It’s a sad night for sure.”
Ridley might have been sad, but it sure was happy to finally see his driver, Justin Wakefield, finally score his first Southeast Series win. And Wakefield did it in style. Always good at Greenville, Wakefield started third, took the lead from Midwest Series regular Dan Fredrickson on lap 13 and never looked back.
In fact, had he looked back, he would have needed a telescope to see second-place.
“Every lap, I was thinking about something happening to the car. I guess my water gauge had broke and it said zero. Usually, that means the thing is out of water. I just kept thinking “Lord don’t let this happen to me. I guess the gauge has broke though. Those last couple of laps I just wanted to get the race done. I didn’t want to see those last couple of cautions. We had a pretty dominant car. It didn’t’ really matter how many cautions we had tonight.”
Behind Wakefield finished Jason Hogan.
JR Norris (left) and his father hold the 2006 NASCAR Southeast Series championship hardware.
Hogan was in the hunt for the championship and did everything he could to win. But in the end, he finished just five points short of the title.
Instead, the final NASCAR Southeast Series champion was JR Norris, another of the up-and-coming drivers that the series has produced year after year.
Making it even sweeter was the fact that Norris and Hogan are very good, close friends off of the track.
“That is the best thing to do to win the championship on the track and not by accidents or anything else,” said Norris, who finished fourth, good enough to clinch the
title. “We actually raced each other very hard. We actually rubbed a little bit. He didn’t give it to me and I wasn’t going to give it to him. I guess that is why there is so much respect between me and him. We know we can go out and race each other like that. It’s always good. You don’t’ get a lot of people that can be friends in racing. That is one thing that I like about me and Jason. We can be friends.
“Coming through traffic was something. The car wasn’t what it was in practice. I don’t know what happened. I guess I had enough to do what I needed to do. That is what we set out to do. I really wanted to come out here and win the last race and the championship. We won the championship though.”
Hogan did all he could other than winning the race. And Wakefield was going to make sure Hogan didn’t do that.
“We had an excellent car compared to what we normally have here,” said Hogan. “We came up here and tested for eight hours the other day and got no better. My uncle picked his brain for about two or three nights and then he came to me and said he thought he knew what we needed to try. So we went with a different shock and spring package and the car was as good as it’s ever been up here. I think this is probably the best racecar we’ve ever had up here. If we hadn’t gotten brake checked there on that last restart, we might have had a shot at winning the race and the points championship.
Jason Hogan (#92) did everything he could to overtake JR Norris for the title, but came up five points short.
“It all comes down to JR being really good here and at Nashville and that is 3/4th of the season. We went and dominated where we are supposed to dominate at. We ran second here twice and ran third at Nashville. That is all we can do.
“This is not one of my tracks. It is one of those deals. You win some and you lose some. I wouldn’t rather get beat by anyone else.”
Speed51.com will have much more of the championship race between Norris and Hogan and more on the final NASCAR Southeast Series champion, JR Norris. Speed51 will also be in California for the final running of the NASCAR Elite Division cars, when the tops from each series run in their final NASCAR Toyota All Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway.