NEWTON, N.C. — Story and photo by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Audio by Jacob Seelman and Tom Baker —
Austin Thompson picked one heck of a way to go out on Saturday afternoon at Hickory Motor Speedway.
Thompson started third but charged to the lead on lap 21 of the PASS Pro Late Model Series’ 40-lap season finale and led the rest of the distance, weathering a caution with 10 laps to go and holding off Kenny Lawrence on the final restart to notch his fourth win in six series starts in 2015 by 0.958 seconds.
After saying before the race that — pending sponsorship — Saturday’s event would likely be his last-ever start as a driver, the teenager was understandably emotional in victory lane after the checkered flag had flown.
“We really worked hard for this one,” said Thompson of his fifth career and fourth-straight PASS Pro Late Model win. “We spent so much time at the shop working on getting things set to go that if we hadn’t have won this race I’d have been a little disappointed. To do what we do with the resources we have … we may not have the budget that some of these other teams have, but we put in the time and effort to make it happen.”
“Starting third was a little tough. I almost would have rather been up on the outside at the beginning because they pull you down so tight in the corners, but we made it work. I knew we would have to ride a little bit because the track is so abrasive and it eats up tires, but once we got to halfway and I saw we had a chance I knew we could go get him and that’s exactly what I was able to do.”
The No. 03 of Lawrence chased Thompson over the closing laps but had nothing down the stretch to contend for the win and was forced to settle for second. Jake Spillers, Zachary Dabbs and J.P. Josiasse rounded out the top five.
The only slowdown of the race came on lap 30, when Mason Diaz — who was running third at the time — spun exiting turn four to bring out the caution flag.
Kodie Conner, who struggled all afternoon with his ‘Tiger Stripes’ No. 45, finished ninth but was recognized for his first-career PASS Pro Late Model championship after a season that included four wins, six top fives and 10 top 10s in the 10 races that made up the 2015 calendar.
Conner had already clinched the title coming into the weekend, sewing up enough points to claim top honors on Oct. 24 at Greenville-Pickens Speedway.
“This is awesome,” Conner said during the championship celebration. “This was my third year in the Pro Late Models in 2015, and to cap it off with one of these eagle trophies [for winning the title] is really cool.”
“We didn’t have a good day — we struggled all day long and the car was just super loose. We tightened it up a little bit, but it ended up going way too far and when I would crank the wheel the car would barely respond. It’s not the day we wanted … because as a driver it’s never fun to have to basically ride around, but getting this championship makes that feel a little better here in the end.”
“Thanks to my entire crew for an awesome job all season long, and hopefully we can carry this momentum forward into next year and get our super [late model] program rolling pretty solidly.”
The 2016 PASS Pro Late Model Series schedule will be released in the near future, but is widely expected to begin on Feb. 6 at Greenville-Pickens during the Winter Meltdown.
For more information on the Pro All Stars Series, visit www.proallstarsseries.com.
Audio with race winner Austin Thompson:
Audio with 2015 series champion Kodie Conner:
RESULTS: PASS Pro Late Model Series; Mason-Dixon 40; Hickory Motor Speedway; Nov. 21, 2015
- #2 – Austin Thompson
- #03 – Kenny Lawrence
- #55 – Jake Spillers
- #23 – Zachary Dabbs
- #24J – J.P. Josiasse
- #82 – Cameron Burke
- #24D – Mason Diaz
- #21C – Monty Cox
- #45 – Kodie Conner
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 21-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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