Murphy Scores First Win After Epic Battle with Hoffman
Although 20-cars started the ASA Crate Late Model 100 during SpeedFest at Lakeland’s USA International Speedway, it was really a tale of two racers. One racer is an accomplished and grizzly veteran of the Short Track ranks. The other, a second-year ASA competitor, salivating at the chance to take his first win.  The young gun in this story, 22-year old Sean Murphy, fought back from adversity by coming from the rear of the field to the front. The man standing in the way of getting the lead and his first win, who had some adversities of his own, was the respected 47-year old Late Model ace Eddie Hoffman.
Eddie Hoffman didn't give Sean Murphy much room, but Murphy kept it clean. The battle had the fans on their feet.  (51/Jamie Williams photo)
“Eddie can figure out how to make his six-foot wide car about 12- foot wide and he’s good at it,” admitted Murphy at the end of the race.  “That’s the 25 years experience that I don’t have. You can only learn by racing from him, so I know the next time if I’m in front and a slower car, I know what to do.”

When Murphy caught Hoffman with about 25-laps to go, he had the challenge of not only getting around the crafty veteran, but not wearing out his equipment doing so. Murphy patiently picked away at Hoffman, even though he knew the laps were clicking away. The two racers hounded each other for several laps around the .75-mile Florida speedplant.  They were side-by-side on a few occasions, with smoke flying between their cars and paint swapping back and forth.

In the final hour, on a restart with four-laps-to-go, the pendulum finally swung the way of the youth. Muprhy threw his #32 underneath the veteran coming out of turn-two. Hoffman tried to pinch Murphy heading into turn-three. When the two cars made contact, it was game-over for Hoffman as his #8 spun handing the lead and the win to Murphy.

“His (Hoffman’s) tires slipped off of (turn) two, which I could get the bite down on the bottom, and he kind of washed up and I got to his door,” said Murphy about the pass for the lead.  “I knew Eddie would run me hard into the corner, I just would stay down there and he would only give you three quarters of a groove, especially if there is only five to go to win a race.  We’re both going for the win and he just gave us a little room and I went down the apron a little bit to give myself some more room because I hate getting into people. I just kind of ran out of real-estate and he didn’t see and he said don’t worry about, that he should have given me more room.”

Hoffman admitted that he tried with everything he had to keep Murphy at bay.
“That was all me, I came down on Shawn,” said Hoffman. “The spotter kept telling me a couple of times that he was down there quarter panel and stuff, but I would be able to dive down there in the corner and beat him. He was inside once and we got together and that was my fault too.  He was in there this time and it’s all me
“We raced in the qualifier side-by-side and never touched. This is what we came here for, to win the big one and I wasn’t going to give it up easily.  I would have done the same exact thing as he did so that’s why I certainly can’t say anything.”

For Hoffman, the go-for-broke, checker or wrecker aggressive approach isn’t a common approach. But the Speedfest Sunday double-header provided a unique challenge that lead to this approach. Hoffman hurt the engine in his Super Late Model during Friday night’s qualifying race. So the team decided to try and run both races with one car; their ASA crate-engine Late Model. But when that car was involved in the big 17-car crash during Sunday’s Super Late Model (CRA) portion of Speedfest, the team had even more of a challenge ahead of them. They not only had to get their car back to being ASA-legal, they had to fix the damage from the wreck. Like watching an NHRA team tear down a car and re-build it between runs, the Lisa Thomas #8 Team went to work and got the job done. That hard work was an inspiration to Hoffman, who wanted to reward the efforts with a trophy. 

Murphy in victory lane (51Photo)
“Yeah I can’t believe they pulled it together, but that’s Dave Dotter, Johnny and the guys, that why we brought the seven or eight guys down here. They all work until they get it done and I still can’t believe it. It was complete nose and brake ducts and fenders and quarter panels there was mostly body work but they did it all. Then they had to go in and move all the weight around and do the CRA vs. ASA thing.  It was a fairly simple switch. It was fifty pounds and we could do it in the right spot where all we had to do was turn a few screws.
“If it wasn’t for that then maybe I wouldn’t have tried to push so hard to try and win that race. He (Murphy) was passing me there at the end and I was trying too hard not wanting to give that spot up and after what happened in the CRA race with the guys and the phenomenal job they’ve been putting together I just didn’t want to give it up. I had an all or nothing mentality that I don’t usually do, but it’s not a points race. For the guys I was just going for it.”

“We came close to backing in the wall but that’s what I was doing and he was doing, going for broke. And he had the faster car so he better find a way around.”

While Hoffman was going for broke, Murphy had a voice in his ear, calming the excitable sophomore driver. Short Track Legend Butch Miller kept Murphy focused and patient, something that was very much needed after the beginning of his race went south.

“We cut a right rear tire somehow and just went flat on us, said Murphy of his early-race adventure.  “It started going bad on like lap twenty and started tightening up and
Friday part One
Friday Part Two
This was the way the #8 car left the Super Late Model race. The crew fixed the car during the rest of the SLM race and had it ready for the ASA race. (51/Jamie Williams photo)
tightening up and we had that one caution and we ran around slow for a while I guess the air pressure died down a lot  and then it went back green and was like this ain’t good. I thought my chances for the weekend were done, I was like ‘oh man this sucks.’ We rallied back and it was fun coming up through the field, just one of those short track events that make it fun.
“Butch and Deon (crew chief Deon Deneau) kept me from coming unglued because I was kind of mad at some points. It’s definitely hard, Butch is one of those old shoes with the 30 years experience, and at the other end of the radio he says ‘take it easy, nobody’s perfect and someone might slip up somewhere.”

Murphy was able to use that experience to beat experience and gain some knowledge for the racer’s memory bank. In the process, he was able to get the first major ASA Crate Late Model win of his career.

“Last year we could never win a race but this year we finally got the monkey off our back at the first race. And it’s sort of the home track so it’s definitely a really cool deal so just ecstatic between Butch helping and Deon, just hopefully it’ll start a good year for us. I had a bunch of close calls last year it all goes towards the goal of making cup racing. It’s awesome to win at Lakeland because there has been so many times I have came close here on my own Late Models when we used to run the FASCAR series.”

After the race, Hoffman and Murphy, who were both pitted next to each other, shared a laugh about their on-track battle.

“We were laughing about it, said Murphy. “It was just one of those deals where he said he just tried to keep the younger guy behind him and use his experience to win a race. He said to me that he forgot how dumb young guys can be that they will just haul it off in there until there is no end. He said ‘I thought you were gonna back out, we bumped and were up to my door and had the spot.”

“Eddie is one of the best guys I think to race in the series, he’ll race you hard and race you clean. He doesn’t dirty me in anyway.  Their crew is friendly with our crew and everybody kind of works together.  I was amazing how good they got their car back together from the Super Late Model wreck.

“Today was fun short track racing that is what it was.”

(TOP) Butch Miller, Sean Murphy and Deon Deneau share a moment in victory lane.  (BOTTOM) Murphy and Eddie Hoffman laugh about their battle after the race.