NORRIS’ ELATION IS WAKEFIELD’S HEARTBREAK by Jeremy Troiano
Greenville Southeast Series Opener Has Many Story Lines
For every action, there is a equal and opposite reaction. Scholars will recognize that as Newton's Third Law of Motion.
It doesn’t seem like that would have much relativity to Saturday night’s NASCAR Southeast Series opener at Greenville Pickens Speedway, but to JR Norris and Justin Wakefield, it does.
“All I know is that we had the car to beat,” said an obviously disappointed Wakefield. “You just can’t control what the motor does though. It changed tunes going into three and started pouring smoke out of it. I tried to get off the track as quick as we could so I wouldn’t ruin the groove. It was disappointing for sure.”
After Wakefield fell out, it was smooth sailing for Norris, who lead 143 of the 150 laps and held off Jason Hogan to capture his second-straight Greenville win.
“No, that wasn’t nearly as easy as it looked,” said Norris of his dominating win. “The 98 car (Wakefield) was really strong. I don’t’ know how long I could have held him off honestly. He had just as good of car, if not better, than we did.
JR Norris found victory lane by leading 143 laps, but it wasn't as easy as it sounded.
“Bad luck struck him when he blew up. I guess it goes around. Bad luck struck him tonight. It hit me some last year too. I guess bad luck hits everyone. I feel really bad for him and his team because he’s been trying and trying and trying and hasn’t been able to win a race. He is a good driver and that is a good team. They will win a race soon enough. Hopefully this year they will though.”
For Wakefield, it was bittersweet. The former dirt racer has been trying to win races with the Southeast Series for years. He’s been close too; especially at Greenville. He’s finished third at the track. Last year, he finished second at the historic track… twice.
Justin Wakefield's #98 sits in the pits after blowing up while racing for the lead.
Both drivers were among the 16 that showed up for the SES opener. Both were looking for the win, hoping to start out the season on the right foot. But there was a difference. Norris was looking to get back on track after so many problems bit him late last year and an off season that was less than kind to him. Wakefield was looking to finally show the rest of the racing community that he is for real by grabbing his first Southeast Series victory and proving that he’s a solid threat for the SES championship.
At the end of the night though, Newton’s law kicked in to motion.
Norris found elation. Wakefield found heartbreak.
The cars of Norris and Wakefield were the class of the field. Norris qualified fifth, but wasted little time at getting to the front. By lap eight, the #5 Richie Wauters-owned machine was in the lead. Wakefield, who grabbed the pole, slowly started working his way towards the front after the 10-car invert.
By lap 49, he found himself second and chasing down Norris’ ride. On lap 73, Wakefield was right on Norris’ bumper and looking to make his move. On lap 77, Wakefield’s motor grenaded.
“There is something about this place I guess,” said Wakefield. “It just doesn’t seem like it wants me to win here. That is the way it seemed tonight. We had a good run. I can’t complain about anything though. It is disappointing, but there is another race here this year and we’ll be back.”
After Wakefield fell out, the challenge to beat Norris was left to Hogan. Hogan, who has never been very good at Greenville and who has openly talked about his dislike of the track, could hang with Norris, but never quite get to him.
“With a late caution, I think we could have got the brakes cooled off enough to make a charge at JR,” said Hogan. “There would have been some door banging and fender rubbing, but me and JR are good friends and we race hard like that all the time. It would have been close. He had a great car.”
The race, though, belonged to Norris.
And it was a group effort led by Norris, because Wauters wasn’t at the track. Instead, he was off with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Norris was overseeing the team, with help from legendary car builder Robert Hamke.
“When Richie isn’t here, I sorta lead the group,” said Norris. “The thing about that is that Richie has taught me a lot. He’s taught me a whole lot. Since I’ve been with Richie the last three years, I’ve learned more than I’ve ever learned my whole life. I communicate with Robert (Hamke) well and that helps. I know how Richie does a lot of stuff, so that helps when he isn’t here.
Norris' #5 was in a class of its own Saturday.
Although, it does help when he is here, because I don’t have to think about it.”
The win was also emotional for Norris because of the fact that he wasn’t even sure if he’d be running the race, or any races, until just a couple of weeks ago.
“I have to thank Richie Wauters for letting me drive this car this weekend. We weren’t sure what we were going to do just a few weeks ago. We were still trying to put something together up until late. All my guys came out and worked their tails off all weekend long. This was really a group effort.
“I have to thank my mom and dad for all of their support. Me and my dad have it a little rough right now because we are running low on money and, as they say, 'money races.'
“It makes you feel good to come out here and run the way we are. It makes you feel good because there are a lot of other guys out here spending more money than we are. Richie really puts his heart into these cars. A win is about the only way to repay him and my dad.”