Shane Huffman, the quiet and shy 29-year-old, has been tearing up the Pro Cup Series this year and continued that domination last night with what may be the most important win of his career, by dominating the Galaxy Foods 250 at Hickory Motor Speedway and picking up his fifth win of the year.
Important to him because Huffman hails from Hickory and is a former late model track champion and a clear fan favorite at the historic track.
Soaking wet and overcome with exuberance and adrenaline, Huffman spent nearly an hour after the race on
Shane Huffman celebrates in the way every other driver would like in Hickory.
Saturday night meeting and greeting fans and family members and thanking each and every one of them for all their support, which is finally paying off.
"It certainly appears that I know everyone in Hickory," said Huffman, who led 245 of the race's 254 laps. "We have a lot of family and friends here and a lot of people who have supported my career. To sit here and thank them for all that they have given me, is the least I can do."
On paper, the race might have looked like a "walkway" victory for Huffman, but it was anything but.
Fellow North Carolina native Clay Rogers fought Huffman and fought him hard. Rogers was the only driver to pass Huffman under green flag conditions, albeit for only one lap while the two waged an epic battle in lapped traffic.
"I know I looked like an idiot a couple of times out there trying to make it three-wide in lapped traffic, but that was the only shot I had to get around him," said Rogers. "Shooting up there and surprising him was all I could do. I had to race him and race him clean, because that is how he treats you.
Huffman (#84) was able to hold off Clay Rogers' #16 in heavy lapped traffic.
"It's frustrating to be stuck there in lapped traffic. But that is part of the game we have to deal with. If we would have come out a half-foot ahead of (the #84 team) in the pits, the shoe would have been on the other foot. Our cars were pretty damn equal. I don't think he could have gotten by us then.
"If they can keep you pinched down, you can't use the whole racetrack up in the corner and you will just burn your stuff down. This is a hard place to pass cars that are half a second slower on the bottom. He never did give me the opportunity to get up on the outside of him very good.
Huffman used a higher line on a late restart to hold Rogers at bay. He added that maybe the best car might not have won on Saturday night, but the more determined car did.
"I think he was just a tick better than us there at the end of the race," added Huffman. "But it is so tough to pass here and lapped traffic played such a key, I knew it would be hard for him to get around me. Sometimes when you are second, you are better off though in traffic, because they let you go.
"It got real hairy there for a while when the two of us were side-by-side in heavy lapped traffic. It was a nip and tuck deal. He got underneath me in the lapped cars. I was fortunate enough then to use a lapped car to get back by him again. It worked out in our favor all night.
Huffman won the three-lap sprint to the checkered flag.
"I have wanted one here for a long time, so I was determined to not let anything stand in my way. I have just never been able to put one together. I've been junk here most of the time. I was starting to think it was me."
But as most racers know, Huffman said he never let the thoughts of where he was or how special this win would be enter his thoughts until he saw that checkered flag waving for him. Once the checkered flag was out, both drivers shared their ultimate respect for each other.
"That was a great race. Clay really raced me hard and clean, and I have to thank him for that. That is something that you are seeing less and less of.
"The thing about Clay is that he is good competition. If you beat him, he is not going to run behind your back and talk trash about you or anything. He and I have been around each other for a long time and always raced each other well."
"I have so much respect for him," added Rogers. "He races me so clean. I appreciate him and his entire team. They are good people. You know, finishing second here to Shane Huffman is like a win. I said, if you can outrun him in an R/C car here, you've really done something."
So with another win, Huffman admits it is time to start focusing on the unique Pro Cup "Four Challenge Championship Series," a five race "playoff" that will truly determine the 2003 Pro Cup Champion.
Or is that all he is focused on?
"We've won all these races, so we've got to start concentrating on those last five Championship races. We've got a new car going together right now for those races."
Clay Rogers was on "cloud nine" just to be able to come home second to Huffman in Hickory.
"I'll tell you what I really want is to be first in those power rankings," joked Huffman, referring to the 51SportRacing.com Short Track Power Rankings. "I know it is going to be pretty hard to beat JJ Yeley, because he is having a pretty good year. But I really want to be number one. I'm not going to stop until I get up there to that top spot. That would mean a lot, knowing so many journalists vote on it.