Sloan Henderson celebrated her 18th birthday in historic style Saturday night. She became the first female to win a Late Model feature at Columbus Motor Speedway, the .333-mile asphalt oval in central Ohio which is in its 62nd season.
It still hasn’t set in for the Dayton Christian High School senior.
“It’s kind of hard to believe,” said Henderson. “For me to be able to win a race there is a huge honor. I’m just very grateful to be the first female to win.
“It was the best birthday ever.”
The win is a culmination of progress for the Franklin, Ohio, driver. She has a pair of seconds and sixth third-place finishes among her 12 top fives and 15 top 10s. She has made 17 starts between Columbus and Kil-Kare Speedway in Xenia, Ohio.
“My car owner, Gary Estes, kept telling me ‘keep it in one piece, stay in the top five, and it will come to you,” Henderson said of the win. “It was really weird. Usually I have a ton of butterflies. But I just felt really, really comfortable that night.”
Henderson currently leads the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Ohio state points standings by 26 over Donald Mahaffey Jr. She was the 2009 Rookie of the Year presented by Jostens for Ohio.
NASCAR will crown 25 U.S. state and Canadian provincial champions, continuing a tradition that dates back to the sport’s early years. The first NASCAR California state champion was Red Douglas in 1953.
Nebraska’s Craig Preble cut 21 points off Keith Rocco’s national lead with a three-win weekend. Preble, of Yutan, Neb., took home the checkered flag in the crate dirt Late Model feature Saturday at Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Neb., and then swept the double features at I-80 Speedway in Omaha, Neb., on Sunday.
Preble, who has 16 wins and 24 top fives in 24 starts, has 747 points.
Rocco, of Wallingford, Conn., has 16 wins, 24 top fives and 30 top 10s in 32 starts for 788 points.
A driver’s best 18 results are counted toward their state and national points totals, and the champions are decided on overall points total.
Under the points structure for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the race winner received two points for every car in the event up to 20. Second place received two fewer points, and so-on through the field. Race winners received an additional five bonus points. For example, if there are 20 cars, the winner received 45 points, second gets 38 and third 36. If there are 15 cars, the winner received 35 points, second gets 28 and third, 26.
Rocco did not improve his points total from last week, finishing 20th (Thompson International Speedway) and sixth (Waterford Speedbowl). The third Connecticut track where he runs his asphalt Modified, Stafford Motor Speedway, was rained out.
Justin Johnson of Durham, N.C., who races at Motor Mile in Radford, Va., and South Boston (Va.) Speedway, did not race this past weekend and remains third with 650 points. He has 10 wins, 14 top fives and 17 top 10s in 18 races.
Former national champion Ted Christopher won at Thompson Thursday to move up a spot to fourth with 628 points, followed by Bill Leighton Jr. (610 points), who races against Preble at the two Nebraska tracks.
CE Falk III, of Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va., is sixth, followed by Matt Buller of Junction Motor and I-80, Marty Ward of Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway, Woody Pitkat of Thompson and Stafford, and Duane Howard of Grandview Speedway in Bechtesville (Penn.).
For Henderson, her historic evening didn’t come without its tribulations.
They tested the car at the track Thursday night, but a starter issue prompted the need for a push truck to get her rolling. In the process, the panard bar bracket broke. Before they could get it fixed, though, she needed the car for some fan appearances and a radio remote.
The crew, however, thrashed and got it fixed in time for Saturday night.
“They work really, really hard and have a lot of dedication,” Henderson said of her team. “I have faith in them, and they were able to get it done. And they were able to get it fast. I’m very blessed for that.”
For the second straight week, Henderson set fast time. She went out and won the four-lap trophy dash among the fastest four qualifiers – after starting fourth – and following an inversion of the top qualifiers for the feature, started sixth.
She quickly gained three spots in the first six laps and ran down race leader Howard Muncy by the 10th lap. After a five-lap battle, Henderson used the outside lane to claim the lead and survived a late-race restart en route to the victory.
“I was just saying to myself, ‘hit your marks, stay calm, you can do it,’ ” said Henderson. “It was so awesome, I almost didn’t know what to do (when I got to Victory Lane). I was so happy.
“It was a perfect moment. Just to have all my guys out there. They work so hard and to see their faces – they were so proud.”
Track, state and provincial champions and the top three finishers in the national standings earn invitations to the 2010 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards Banquet. The winner of the national championship will also earn a secure spot in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown.
National Top 500 NASCAR Points Leaders
Pos Driver Track Starts Wins T-5 T-10 Points
1 Keith Rocco Waterford Speedbowl 32 16 24 30 788
2 Craig Preble I-80 Speedway 23 15 23 23 736
3 Justin T Johnson South Boston Speedway 18 10 14 17 650
4 Ted Christopher Thompson Intl Speedway 21 6 14 17 628
5 Bill Leighton, Jr I-80 Speedway 24 0 20 23 610
6 C E Falk, III Langley Speedway 19 6 12 17 608
7 Matt Buller Junction Motor Speedway 23 4 17 20 600
8 Marty Ward Greenville-Pickens Speedway 18 10 18 18 550
9 Woody Pitkat Stafford Motor Speedway 19 1 10 17 531
10 Duane Howard Grandview Speedway 14 3 13 14 527
11 Woody Howard Langley Speedway 17 1 12 15 521
12 Toby Porter Greenville-Pickens Speedway 18 5 16 17 499
13 Tommy Lemons, Jr Motor Mile Speedway 18 1 6 12 463
14 Greg Edwards Langley Speedway 14 4 12 13 462
15 Burt Myers Bowman Gray Stadium 13 4 8 12 436
16 Philip Morris Motor Mile Speedway 14 4 10 11 434
17 Travis Swaim Caraway Speedway 16 4 12 16 426
18 Wes Falk Langley Speedway 17 1 4 14 425
19 Jacob Brown I-80 Speedway 17 1 6 12 423
20 Shawn Pfaff Lacrosse Fairgrounds Speedway 12 3 9 12 421
21 Ron Yuhas, Jr Waterford Speedbowl 12 0 11 12 414
22 Craig Von Dohren Grandview Speedway 13 6 9 10 410
23 Jeremy Burns Greenville-Pickens Speedway 20 1 14 19 409
24 J Herbst Lacrosse Fairgrounds Speedway 12 2 7 12 406
25 Adam Royle Raceway Park 21 7 18 20 405