In between his high school senior prom last week and final exams next week, 18-year-old ARCA RE/MAX Series rookie Parker Kligerman mixed in a mighty big victory circle celebration.
Kligerman, in the Cunningham Motorsports Dodge, battled from one lap down, and then held off series rookie Austin Dillon during a last-lap shootout to win the Racing for Wildlife 200 Friday afternoon at Michigan Int'l Speedway, earning his second career series victory in his 10th series start. He also marched out the back gate as the series' new point leader headed to Mansfield Motorsports Park for the next event on tour.
"It was eventful, exciting," said Kligerman, who led 19 laps. "(Justin) Lofton was really fast in the beginning; we were too tight. Then, we had to pit for gas under green, which caught us a lap down. Got the Aaron's Lucky Dog, and came back through. Even after we adjusted on it, we were still really tight, but we were fast. My crew chief said 'go for it' so I did. The 15 got sideways in front of us on that restart and I shot through the middle."
The '15' that Kligerman was referring to belonged to Justin Marks, who was leading on a restart with 10 laps to go when he bounced off the turn two wall hard after his right-rear tire went down. That set the stage for the one-lap shootout during which Kligerman refused the final charge from Dillon. Marks, who finished 27th as a result, had an eight-second lead at one point inside of 20 laps from the finish. Marks, in the Venturini Motorsports Toyota, also led the most laps with 39 laps-led.
Dillon, the grandson of Richard Childress Racing team owner Richard Childress, started 36th and finished a career-best second about five lengths away from the winner.
"I think we got through the gears a little better than Parker because he had to pull low and when he came up he had to arc through the corners and he was able to get through the corners faster and that's what helped him," said Dillon. "He lifted and I didn't right there. That's what won him the race I think. It's live and learn and I think we learned a lot today."
Chase Miller, in a Cunningham Motorsports team car to Kligerman, finished third after being involved in an accident during an early-race restart.
"It was not an easy day," said Miller. "Those restarts were one giant accordion and I got caught up in it and tore the whole rear end of my car off. For a while it just felt like we were wrecking every lap there. We went to work on the car made some adjustments and it took off like a missile again. Just an unfortunate break but the Cunningham team is really good out there and took care of things to get the car running fast again."
James Buescher finished fourth in the Wolfpack Rentals Toyota in front of 18-year-old rookie Joey Coulter, who finished fifth in the Darrell Gwynn Foundation-Tempest Cycles Chevrolet, his third consecutive top-10 finish.
Justin Lofton, who led the points going in, led the first 39 laps before a loose fuel fitting caused him to make an unscheduled pit stop under green. Lofton lost 17 laps while the crew repaired his Valvoline Instant Oil Change Toyota. He eventually returned to finish 30th, and fell to second in the series standings.
Kligerman, who is already entered for next Saturday's race in Mansfield, is not sure the team has the resources to finish the year.
"Right now, it's race by race," added Kligerman. "We know we're going to Mansfield. Truthfully, we haven't even paid attention to the points. We just don't know if we can do the whole year, so we show up and race to win. I have no expectations. I just keep an open mind and try and build on our success."
Mikey Kile, Ryan Crane, Steve Arpin, Bryan Silas and Craig Goess completed the top-10 finishers respectively.
The next event for the ARCA RE/MAX Series will be the Tim Richmond Memorial ARCA RE/MAX 200 at Mansfield Motorsports Park Saturday, June 20.