But at Bristol Dragway, his home track, Hill found himself in the final round.
“Right before the finals I realized that this wasn’t another bracket race,” Hill said. “This was a national event. I just thought it was my day.”
In the end, however, it was not to be. Cody Knott of Indianapolis edged Hill out by six-hundredths of a second to claim the Wally trophy in the 15-year-old division.
“It popped off the starting line,” Hill said. “We just didn’t make it, but we’ve had fun all week — 595 cars didn’t make it this far.”
After Hill blitzed his opponents off the starting line all day, Knott turned the tables him by getting off the line first with a reaction time of .062 seconds. Hill posted a respectable .089 R.T. and wasn’t about to let the runner-up finish get him down.
“Even though the other guy got the win light, I’m still confident knowing that my car ran real good this weekend,” he said.
It was a good day for the local contingent as Joseph Denton of Bristol, Va., made it to the semifinals of the 8- and 9-year-old division before falling to Samuel Hickey III of Ponchatoula, La.
Denton, a 9-year-old, is in his second year of drag racing. Like Hill, Denton used his quick reflexes all day in order to go rounds.
The freewheeling Denton was quick to point out that his quick starts probably led to his opponent tripping the red light in the quarterfinals.
“When I saw the red light come on, I was like, ‘Oh yeah!’” Denton explained. “I was making that happen.”
Denton comes from a long line of drag racers, including his dad Darin and his brothers Avery and Ben.
With his mom Amy busy selling tickets to the upcoming Sharpie 500 in the Bristol Motor Speedway ticket office, it’s safe to say that racing is a way of life in the Denton household.
Joseph said he’s already learned a lot about racing during his two years behind the wheel.
“I’ve learned that if you start on the second yellow, then you’ll have a better reaction time,” he said. “Some of the time I’ve been good about that.”
Outside the car, Denton is a bundle of energy, bouncing from one place to the next at warp speed. But once he’s behind the wheel, Denton is all business.
He bounded off his trailer and grabbed his helmet to give a quick demonstration.
“Once the windshield goes down,” Denton said while snapping the visor into place, “it’s all business.”
Although Denton and Hill came up short this year, both of them are already looking forward to bringing home a Wally next year.
“It feels pretty good because I haven’t made it this far in the Eastern Conference,” Denton said. “It’s something new to me.”
In Hill’s case, he said he plans to take a little time to savor his performance.
“Every year I’ve thought about making it this far, but I’ve never done it,” he said. “I’m going to remember this forever.”