CONCORD, N.C. — If you’d told Hudson O’Neal at the start of the season that he’d finish ninth in points and take home Rookie of the Year honors for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, he’d have smiled, told you it’s a great dream and went right back to turning wrenches on his race car.
Ten months later, he smiled and remarked what a journey it was to get there.
O’Neal, the 17-year-old son of former series champion and Hall of Famer Don O’Neal, completed a dream first season on the nation’s preeminent dirt late model tour with a ninth-place finish in the championship standings, enough to clinch the rookie title over
On his way to the crown and a $10,000 prize, O’Neal scored seven top-fives and 17 top-10s, including a best finish with the series of second at Muskingum County Speedway in Zanesville, Ohio on July 3.
But it was the memories along the way that made the ride sweet, said O’Neal.
“This has been such an amazing year, and it just keeps getting better and better,” said O’Neal. “I’ve had so many amazing moments already … moments I would never have dreamed of being able to have. I think we’re continuing to get more consistent as a team, and me as a race car driver, and our results have just been getting better and better. We struggled for about half the season … but I think we’re coming (to the track) now with better race cars and that gives me so much more confidence as a driver each night.”
“Our main goal all year was (to go from) point A to point B. (Winning) rookie of the year was the main deal for us (as a team). To be able to accomplish all the goals we set for ourselves is an amazing accomplishment for myself as a driver and Todd Burns as a car owner.”
Admittedly, there was one extra check box on his personal checklist that the Martinsville, Indiana teenager was somewhat disappointed he couldn’t cross off.
“I was upset a little bit that we didn’t win a Lucas (Oil Late Model Dirt Series) race this year, but we came close a few times, so that made me feel better knowing that we definitely had the speed (to win),” O’Neal said. “I think for next year, we’ve got a notebook from all the race tracks we’ve been to and I think we’ll be a ton better going out on tour than we were this year.”
Despite not cracking victory lane with the Lucas Oil tour, O’Neal did still pick up four crate late model victories and a pair of regional super late model wins during his year this season, giving him confidence for the future to come.
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