TOLEDO, Ohio – official release – ARCA photo — It was a race record that held for nearly 50 years, but it finally came tumbling down Saturday night at Salem Speedway.
Tom Hessert, who after earning his third victory at Salem in the Federated Car Care ARCA Fall Classic, also established a new race record at 95.746 mph, surpassing the old mark of 86.913 mph set by the late Les Snow back in 1968.
“Oh really?…1968? That’s cool,” Hessert said after learning he had set the new mark.
The 200-lap race was completed in one hour, nine minutes and 34 seconds. As surprising as the new record may have been to Hessert, one caution for only eight laps at Salem, well known for its ruckus nature, seemed to catch everyone off guard.
“I thought we’d get a lot of green flag laps the way it’s been trending in the series this year, but just one caution at Salem Speedway caught everyone off guard. It was awesome though; what an incredible race.”
In fact the 200 lap race reached all the way to lap 144 before the one and only caution (for eight laps) flew after Brian Finney made contact with the wall in turn three. By then, the majority of the front-runners had already pitted for tires and fuel under green, except Hessert, that is.
“We were the only car that didn’t pit. I kept calling in saying, ‘these guys are killing us’, but Kevin (Caldwell/crew chief) just kept saying to stay out. I was getting really concerned because we were coming up on 50 to go and there was not going to be time to get back to the front, because we had to pit sooner or later. It turned out to be the right strategy. Kevin stuck to his guns; he was on his game, and it paid off.
“But, wow, only one caution at Salem; that’s just something you can’t plan for. You had to keep up with it on the fly.”
No doubt Hessert had a lot of help from Mason Mitchell, who set a torrid pace for much of the race, leading 127 laps along the way. Mitchell was on a similar strategy as Hessert, electing to stay out while, one by one, front-runners peeled off and pitted under green. However, Mitchell finally gave it up and came down pit road for service, just before the caution flag flew.
“He (Mitchell) had just passed me to get back on the lead lap when the caution came out.”
Back under green, Mitchell and Hessert diced their way through traffic before Hessert made the winning pass on lap 188. However, Mitchell stayed right with Hessert for the remaining 12 laps, dogging the eventual winner to the very end.
“I thought we’d drive away but he kept dogging us pretty hard over the last part of race. When you’re running that close for the win at Salem, I figured we’d probably run into each other eventually.”
Hessert was mostly certainly right regarding the contact. As the leaders came to the white flag, Mitchell had already made his run inside of Hessert. The two raced side-by-side through turns one and two, rubbed all the way down the backstretch into three…then landed hard against each other in turn four. Hessert, with Mitchell helping from the inside, bounced hard off the wall in turn four, and then back against Mitchell whose machine spun around backwards. Hessert, with a badly damaged racecar, drove under the checkered flag while Mitchell went under backwards.
“You wanna win everywhere, but there’s something about Salem that makes drivers want it even more. I’ve always loved the place. I’ve always been fortunate to drive really good racecars there, and we’ve been able to win a few. I’m glad this one worked out.”