Justin Wakefield Avoids Controversy To Take Caraway PASS South Victory by Jason Buckley
Wild Night Sees Fast Qualifier Kicked From Track & Points Leaders In The Wall
Some drivers like to fly under the radar, making very little noise on the way to the checkered flag. Others, like Justin Wakefield, doesn’t mind being in the middle of the excitement and controversy. He is a hard-nosed racer that uses his actions on the track and his words outside the car to show he is a determined driver in the PASS South Series.
Justin Wakefield celebrates his second PASS South victory in a row by doing a burnout. (51 Sports Photo)
After verbal jabs with some of the other drivers this season, Wakefield let his driving do the talking at Dillon Motor Speedway (SC) at the beginning of August, putting his blue #98 machine in victory lane for his first PASS South Series win. At the end of August it was a more quiet and conservative Wakefield racing his way into victory lane at Caraway Speedway (NC) as part of the excitement, but not the center of the controversy, to snag his second PASS South Series win in a row.
The beginning of the interesting evening started off with controversy surrounding the fast qualifier. Jeff Choquette set fast time, but due to practicing on Friday, which was within a week of the race and against PASS rules, his team was notified he was going to have to start in the back of the feature. After a verbal war occurred between PASS officials and members of Choquette’s team, officials told Choquette to pack it up and go home for the night (more on this below).
Who did that put in the fast qualifier position? None other than Wakefield.
After the redraw prior to the event, Wakefield would once again be second to another racer. This time it was Mark Gibson getting the pole draw with Wakefield starting to his outside. The two ran first and second through the first part of the race until Alex Haase worked his way around Wakefield for second.
“There at the beginning I was just biding my time trying not to get loose and spin the tires,” said Wakefield. “I was really riding on the right rear the whole race. Through these corners you have to be on the right rear to get it to turn.
What can racing at Caraway do to your car? Mark Gibson's door before the race (top) looked fine, but after the race (bottom) it was used up. (51 Sports Photos)
“Haase had an awesome car and the #62 (Gibson) had an awesome car. I think towards the end of the race we were all pretty even as we were running nose to tail. Whoever was in front was going to have the advantage.”
After surviving multiple restarts and retaining the top spot, Gibson appeared to spin the tires a bit more than Haase on the lap 99 restart, handing the lead over to Haase for the first time during the night. Meanwhile, Wakefield rode in third, watching and waiting.
With just a couple laps remaining in the event, the leaders were negotiating their way around a lapped car when Gibson’s front bumper made contact with Haase’s rear bumper, sending the #51 into the spin cycle. PASS officials deemed the contact a bit too much, sending Gibson to the rear of the field. Who did that put in the top spot? Justin Wakefield.
“I think the #62 and the #51 might have gotten together a little bit and basically handed us the lead there,” said Wakefield. “We just held onto it for the last few laps.
“I don’t know,” continued Wakefield, on if he would have been able to get the lead if the two ahead didn’t wreck. “It would have been tough. There probably have been a little pushing and shoving if that had been the case. Luckily it turned out good for us and we will take two in a row.”
So, while he wasn’t the one making headlines throughout the race, Wakefield found a new way to get to victory lane – by letting everyone else be the center of attention until the checkered flag dropped. Now, with another approach to work off of at the track as well as an early-season brake problem rectified, Wakefield is ready to get his third win in a row when the series heads to Newport Speedway (VA) in just under a week.
“It feels good to get this win,” said Wakefield. “This is a new car and we are getting it figured out. The whole year we have been struggling with getting rear brakes in the car. At Dillon we put calipers in it and it fixed the problem. I think that was the big problem for the first part of the year, trying to get the car to turn. We finally got that dialed in.
“I have never seen Newport. I hear it is high banked and fast. We like the flat tracks a little bit better, but that is because we haven’t raced the high backed tracks as much. Heath Hindman said it is real fast and a fun place to get around. I am just looking forward to going there and seeing what we can do.”
COMMUNICATION ISSUES COMPLICATE WEEKEND FOR CHOQUETTE
One of the major reasons for arguments between people is a lack of communication or understanding. That couldn’t have been made more evident Saturday at Caraway Speedway when communication started an issue between Jeff Choquette and the PASS Series that also ended with a verbal volley between officials and his team, which caused Choquette to go from the fastest qualifier to going home before the green flag flew.
Jeff Choquette discusses his situation with officials. (51 Sports Photo)
Choquette, along with a couple other racers, tested their cars at the Caraway Speedway the day before the event in a non-sanctioned practice session. According to PASS rules, unless a driver is given the ok to practice in a non-sanctioned session at the track within one week of the event, they must start the race at the rear of the field.
After Choquette set the fast time, his crew was told he would start at the rear of the field, which started a verbal confrontation between Choquette’s father and PASS tech official Scott Reed, which resulted in Choquette’s crew being told to pack up and go home and the driver left wondering what just happened.
Choquette attempted to explain that he was given permission to test without starting from the rear of the field by Alan Dietz, who announces and handles some marketing duties with the PASS South Series. Dietz on the other hand, claims that is not the case.
“We received the ok from the PASS officials,” said Choquette. “We had a conversation on Wednesday I believe it was. I called them and explained my situation. I put a new motor in and I had gear issues, this and that. I wanted to go and shake down my car since it was something clear out of the blue that I have never tried before. I didn’t want to tear everybody up in practice if something would happen. They said they had to call and check because the rule is if you are a rookie and haven’t run with PASS, you can go there and practice. But, if you run with PASS you can’t practice. He said he would call and double check.
“He (Dietz) called me back. This was after I had explained to him that it is not worth it for me to go down there and start in the rear to spend $5000.00 to put my car back together (after an incident). He called me back and said he got the ok from the head officials or whatever for me to go there and practice.
“We loaded up and tested with some other cars, like the #5 of Spencer Wauters and the #47 car (Trey Mitchell), but I guess he is a rookie. They are penalizing us for a misunderstanding on their end. I guess they are making us load up because of it.”
Dietz had a slightly different take on the situation.
Alan Dietz, seen here interviewing race winner Justin Wakefield, also helps PASS out with marketing in the South division. (51 Sports Photo)
“A lot of guys called me during the week. When they found out there wasn’t going to be a scheduled practice Friday, they were concerned. Heath Hindman called me, Jeff Sloan from Florida called me, but he didn’t come. A lot were concerned because they had not run here before and didn’t know what gear to run. Hal Goodson went to Dillon (SC). I think there was a couple guys that went to Hickory (NC).
“Jeff Choquette called me and asked if there was going to be a practice day and I said no. He then proceeded to tell me that this was the first time his crew chief wasn’t going to be with him. He asked me if he could come test. Tom (Tom Mayberry) and I had already talked since I had talked with Jeff Sloan and I had already asked about it. He said if they wanted to come and they want to practice on Thursday or Friday, they have to start in the back. There is a rule that a week out from a race you cannot practice at a track if there isn’t a sanctioned practice date. I told him (Choquette) that I would call Tom and ask him, but based on what he (Mayberry) told me earlier, he (Choquette) would have to start in the back. Jeff told me that was fine.
“I called Tom and he told me he had no problem with Choquette coming to practice, but if he practices he has to start at the back. I called Jeff back and told him he is good to go and he can go to practice. Based on the earlier discussion we had, he knew he was going to have to start at the rear of the field regardless where he qualified if he practiced. He said he was fine with that. Here today, he is saying now if he would have known that he wouldn’t have come. He said he never agreed to that and said in the last conversation I told him he was good to go. I did say that, but based on the previous communication we had I knew that he knew he would have to start at the rear if he practiced.”
Even though there was a dispute on the facts of the conversation between Choquette and Dietz, PASS officials were going to let Choquette race from the back, until the verbal dispute occurred.
After setting fast time, Choquette's crew loaded up his car before the feature started. (51 Sports Photo)
“The reason that they were parked and had to leave was because some members of the Choquette crew talked to some PASS officials and were getting way too aggressive and upset in their talk,” explained Dietz. “So, they were told to load it up. I think Jeff would have raced starting from the back, but the actions of his crew caused them to have to load up.”
Choquette indicated he would not have made the trip to Caraway if he would have known he would have to start in the rear.
“The only reason why I am here is because I called and got the ok,” explained Choquette. “The #5 team (Spencer Wauters), they didn’t even know he was here because he didn’t call to get the ok. I did the right thing and I got penalized for it.
“My dad spent a lot of money to come here in a tough economy, and of course people are going to get mad. They got mad and the guy (Scott Reed) was treating me like a big a-hole the whole time and I didn’t know what was going on. They didn’t even come tell me. I had to hear it on the P.A., so I guess they knew they were wrong.
“It was words exchanged. There wasn’t a fight. We just got mad. Would have I started in the rear? I don’t know. I can’t afford to have my stuff torn up because I have to go to Gateway next weekend. There is no reason to treat anyone like that. I called and got the all clear to practice and I got penalized for it.”
Dietz said it was nothing personal, and actually commended Choquette on the way he personally handled the situation.
“Jeff and I totally disagree with what was said, but we have no reason to tell someone they can practice, and then out of the blue tell them they have to start at the rear,” said Dietz. “We told him that. It hurts us to lose a guy that might not come back to race with PASS. We have no axe to grind with the guy and would like him to come back and race with us more.
“Jeff was very forceful in his speech, but he never swore or was disrespectful. I appreciate him coming up here and talking to me about it. He acted totally appropriate for what he was arguing, but what he was arguing was wrong.”
PASS officials did send Spencer Wauters to the rear of the field before the race for practicing Friday. Dietz also did explain that the #147 of Trey Mitchell didn’t get sent to the rear even though he practiced since he was new.
LATE-RACE WRECK BETWEEN CLATTENBURG AND WILLIAMS HURTS POINTS LEADER
Dean Clattenburg. (51 Sports Photo)
Corey Williams needed just two more laps under his belt to snag a top-five finish at Caraway Speedway and help keep a large points lead in the PASS South Series. Unfortunately a tangle with Dean Clattenburg in turn three caused both to wreck and put Williams’ car on the hook.
“I got in the corner hot and got loose off,” said Clattenburg. “Corey got a look on me and I tried to gather it up coming down the back stretch. I got loose and drove him down into the infield and wrecked us both.
“We generally get along pretty good, but I can understand if he is upset. I take responsibility for what happened.”
Williams was a bit subdued after the race. With a damaged car and a 12th-place finish that helped Alex Haase move closer to him in the points standings, he wasn’t too thrilled with Clattenburg, but was a little more accepting of the situation since responsibility of the incident was taken.
“We ended up on the outside on that restart and ended up having a racing incident out there,” said Williams. “It is unfortunate because it is going to hurt us in points. It is one of those racing deals.
“It is good when people can confess to whatever problems happen out on the track. It just sucks because Dean is a good guy and he normally doesn’t race like that. I don’t know if it got loose on him or what. It doesn’t matter anyway. We just have to get ready for the next race.”
BROWN TRIES TO KNOCK DOWN THE WALL EARLY ON AT CARAWAY
While points leader Corey Williams waited until the end of the race to suffer his bad luck, second in points Perry Brown barely waited for the race to start before his car was tore up. At the start of the race, Brown got loose coming off turn two, overcorrected and blasted the backstretch wall so hard the car got up on two wheels while another tire went rolling down the track.
Brown was able to get out of his car, but the repair bill and the points drop will hurt since he was credited with last place in the race.
OH, AND BY THE WAY, MCCASKILL WAS THIRD …
Bradley McCaskill at speed at Caraway. (51 Sports Photo)
With all the excitement and drama happening during the Caraway race, someone other than Justin Wakefield was all smiles.
Bradley McCaskill quietly made his way around the track for 125 laps, and when the checkered flag flew, he crossed the line third.
“The goal from the beginning was to just finish the race,” said McCaskill. “That has been the goal for the last couple races, but things happen. We had a pretty good car. It got a little tight there at the end. My main goal on that last restart was to just finish the race. The spotter said third is better than concrete, so that was the saying for the weekend there.”
Even though the race was well over and other racing divisions were on the track, the smile on McCaskill’s face was still just as wide as if he won the race himself.
“We just tried to save our stuff there until the end. When the second and third place cars wrecked, I took advantage of it.
“Just to finish the race feels like a win to us, but to finish third is unbelievable.”
SPEED51.COM'S TRACKSIDE NOW
To see what happened on race day at Caraway, visit Speed51.com's Trackside Now coverage of the event by clicking here.