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Ferguson breaks through with Kingsport Speedway win

Jeff Birchfield • Jun 24, 2018 at 1:14 AM

KINGSPORT — Robbie Ferguson has been promising for weeks that he had something for the fast cars at Kingsport Speedway.

Boy, did he ever.

The Jonesborough veteran passed Hayden Woods for the lead on lap 11 and led the rest of Friday night’s 60-lap Late Model Stock feature for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. Ferguson joked with track officials during an hour and a half delay for lighting problems they could stop the race at that point. Actually, he was glad it ran to the end.

That way, he had the satisfaction of his No. 7 Ford beating the No. 15 Chevrolet of defending track champion Kres VanDyke for the win.

“The No. 15, he’s been the man here the last couple of years,” Ferguson said. “I’ve said I’ve got to outrun him to win races here. I used a lot of race track on him the last four or five laps, but I wasn’t going to give him any opportunity. You’ve got to go for the win, and I’m glad to get it.”

The win was special for the 57-year-old driving as his wife, Kim, was there to celebrate with him on her birthday. So were his daughters Tiffany and Niki and his grandson Roman for Ferguson’s first win of the season. It’s been a special few weeks for Ferguson, who received news recently that he will be inducted into the Daniel Boone High School Athletic Hall of Fame for his days as an all-state wrestler.

One thing about it, no one was going to wrestle the win away from Ferguson, who had the extra motivation of beating VanDyke.

“We won last year, but we never did outrun the 15 car,” Ferguson said. “That’s been my goal to outrun the 15 car on the race track. We outran the 15 car on the track and accomplished my goal.”

VanDyke, who set the fast time in qualifying at 15.029 seconds around the 3/8-mile concrete oval for an average speed of 89.826 mph, was the first to congratulate Ferguson. In turn, Ferguson was wearing a racing T-shirt with VanDyke’s likeness and car on it later.

The racing between the two was intense, with the hood pin off VanDyke’s car stuck in the rear bumper of Ferguson’s machine after the race ended. While Ferguson didn’t give VanDyke a lane to pass the final few laps, the Abingdon driver said there was no way he was going to wreck Ferguson.

“Robbie blocked me the last five laps as hard as he could,” VanDyke said. “He was running the bottom, running the high side, and I got some of his car’s paint on the nose of my car. But if there is anyone I would want to finish second to, it’s Robbie Ferguson. He’s a great veteran, and we battled when I was a rookie in 1999. I lost the points championship to him by one point in 2002, but we’ve always been great friends and congratulations to him.”

RIVALRY RENEWED

It wasn’t so friendly between third-place finisher Hayden Woods of Piney Flats and Johnson City driver Zeke Shell, who came into the night with the track’s points lead.

Woods started up front due to an inversion of top qualifiers, and he and Shell made contact battling for the lead on lap 6. Woods maintained he was just holding his line out front, while Shell claimed Woods wrecked him and went down to Woods’ pit crew to voice his displeasure.

“I’ve watched a lot of racing, been to a lot of races and been in a lot of races,” Woods said. “I’ve yet to see somebody spin somebody out by being in front of them. If he thinks I spun him out when I had a full car on him, that’s his opinion and he’s entitled to it. If he wants to act like that, it’s fine with me.”

Johnson City racer Shell countered, “I went for the pass and he didn’t want me to pass him. I tried to do it clean and he ran me dirty.”

Woods was all smiles after his third-place finish, while Shell’s troubles were just beginning.

FROM BAD TO WORSE

Shell got into Trey Bayne, triggering a three-car pileup that also included Wayne Hale on lap 16.

But it looked like all three drivers caught a huge break when the lights went out moments later. With the speedway officials allowing their crews to make repairs under the red-flag condition, all three drivers were set to go back on the track once racing resumed.

Shell, however, was stopped by track officials after starting his car and disqualified. He was credited with a last-place finish. Shell had refused to speak with track general manager Karen Tunnel during the delay and the decision was made to park him for the night.

“Karen wanted to speak to me, and I had just gotten involved in a pretty big ordeal,” Shell said. “The worse thing that can happen is somebody trying to get sensible things out of a race car driver in that moment. This is an emotional sport, and everybody has every ounce of family time they have in this. There are a lot of sacrifices that go into this for some spoiled kid to take it from you.”

Shell didn’t know he wouldn’t be allowed back on the track until the race was about to restart.

“The tech officials even shined lights on the car to help us fix it,” he said after falling to second, six points behind VanDyke in the championship standings. “It was strictly upon the powers to be decisions to park it.”

TOP 10 AND OTHER CLASSES

Kingsport drivers Trey Lane, Dillon Hodge and Derek Lane finished fourth through sixth. Hale recovered to finish seventh, while Bryson Dennis, Dale Cline and Bayne rounded out the top 10. It was the first-ever top-five finish for Hodge, who will be a sophomore at Sullivan South High School in the fall.

“We passed a few cars and the car was handling well,” Hodge said. “We finally got our first top-five, which was great considering all that was going on through the race. It was awesome to overcome adversity we’ve had the past couple of weeks with the (car’s) transmission and rear end.”

Kirby Gobble of Abingdon scored his first win of the year in Mod Street after a hotly contested battle with Royce Peters. He later crossed the line second in the Mod 4 race, but he was disqualified in post-race inspection after refusing to remove his clutch and flywheel.

Kevin Canter passed both Gobble and his son, Joshua Gobble, for the Mod 4 win. Keith Helton of Kingsport scored his third win of the season in Pure 4, while David Strong of Weber City recorded a second straight win in Pure Street.

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