WHEATLAND, MO– As he closes in on the Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series championship, Sam Hafertepe Jr. is taking time to appreciate and enjoy the ride.
Hafertepe rolls into Lucas Oil Speedway for the three-day Jesse Hockett/Daniel McMillin Memorial starting on Thursday with a 253-point lead over Johnny Herrera. With seven wins and 22 top-five finishes in 27 features, it’s been a banner season for the 30-year-old Texan.
And one that he fully appreciates. Just 16 months ago, Hafertepe broke his right arm in a violent crash at the Salina Highbanks Speedway in Okalhoma. The break was so severe that surgeons had to insert screws and a plate into the arm. He couldn’t race for three months.
There were nagging questions that lingered in Hafertepe’s mind when he returned to the cockpit his Winged Sprint Car.
“I didn’t think it would bother me physically, but mentally when you get hurt like that it sometimes puts some doubt in the back of your mind,” he said. “I didn’t know if it would affect my ability to drive and didn’t know if I’d still be as aggressive.
“But to be honest, I feel like it’s made me a better race-car driver because it made me appreciate the time that I do have in the car and how important every race is and not take any of them for granted.”
The Hockett/McMillin Memorial – paying tribute to two of the best to drive open-wheel cars in this part of the country – is an opportunity Hafertepe relishes.
“To be able to win a race with those two guys’ names on it would be really special,” Hafertepe said.
For the first time, the Hockett/McMillin Memorial is a three-night show with full programs Thursday and Friday helping set the starting grid for Saturday’s $10,000-to-win feature for the Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series Tour presented by MAVTV Motorsports Network.
The Boss Chassis Wingless Auto Racing Series also will be in action with full programs all three nights to make it the best of both the Winged and Wingless open-wheel sprint cars.
Hafertepe, of Sunnyvale, Texas, prevailed in his last appearance at Lucas Oil Speedway back in June, the ASCS Sizzlin’ Summer Speedweek Finale. That gives him some additional swagger in the return to the Show-me State.
“We feel like we have that place figured out a little bit and can come in there and do some good,” he said. “At that time of the year (June) we had been working on a few things and getting a lot better at some different places, just hitting on some things that made the car faster. That night (at Lucas) it all came together.”
Hafertepe said his big 2016 season really began over the final months of 2015. He made a triumphant return from the broken arm with six wins in 13 races as he paired with car owner Keith Dobbs.
“After I broke my arm, I decided to sell all my equipment and stop being the car owner,” Hafertepe said. “Keith called me about that time and … I started driving his stuff. We won six of 13 races that we ran in his car and finished the year off with a national win at Devil’s Bowl. That kind of set us up for this year.
“Keith gave me an opportunity at a time we needed it and I’m grateful for that.”
Despite the sizable lead in the points chase, Haftertepe said he’s keeping his focus on the next step of the process which is Thursday’s Hockett/McMillin opener.
“We’re quite a ways from clinching, but we do have a pretty good lead,” he said. “As long as we keep our runs consistent and do what we’ve done all year, we should be OK.”
CREDIT: ASCS Racing