WHEATLAND, Mo. — In an absolute classic on the Lucas Oil Speedway dirt, Sam Hafertepe Jr. emerged from a three-way battle to win the 10th annual Jesse Hockett/Daniel McMillin Memorial on Saturday night.
Hafertepe grabbed the lead from Derek Hagar with two laps remaining and held on to earn his third victory in the Hockett-McMillin Memorial with the Lucas Oil ASCS National Tour. He took home $10,000 in a race that he also won in 2017 and ’18.
Hafertepe looked like he would have to settle for a minor award on the podium, running third with five laps remaining after jumping the cushion in turn two, nearly hitting the wall. But Hafertepe didn’t give up and it paid off with a dramatic drive to the finish.
The four-time ASCS national series champion worked past Mark Smith for second and then wiped out what had been a 1.3-second deficit and closed in on Hagar going into turn three on lap 38. Hagar pushed high, into the cushion, and Hafertepe capitalized with the winning pass.
“I didn’t give up. I just kept pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing,” Hafertepe said. “I’ve won this race two other time and I wanted to make it three.”
Hafertepe went on to beat Hagar by an even one second with Smith finishing third.
“It was really exciting. There ain’t no better race than that,” Hafertepe said. “These three guys that finished 1-2-3, they drove their hearts out. I think all three of us should have won the race. It was a badass race. Everybody drove each other clean. We were throwing sliders.
“The cushion was just really tough and treacherous. Our car wasn’t any good. Them two guys had us covered.”
Smith, who won the preliminary features on both Thursday and Friday, rocketed from the pole position and set a blistering pace, with Hafertepe in pursuit. Just nine laps in, Smith already had caught lapped traffic and led Hafertepe by 2.8 seconds.
The race ground to a halt at that point as Harli White took a wild ride on the front straightaway, rolling her car after jumping the turn-four cushion while running 12th.
Hafertepe’s car seemed to come to life after the restart. He was battling for the lead with Smith, as the two traded crossover moves, when another red flag flew on lap 14 as Chase Randall flipped his car in turn four.
As the race resumed, Hagar passed Hafertepe for second with Smith nearly a second in front as the race’s fourth stoppage occurred on lap 20 – the mid-point – for a three car accident in turn two.
Once again, Smith was able to pull away a bit after the restart as he built a 1.2-second lead over Hagar when another caution flew on lap 27. Hafertepe was third with Scott Borgucki fourth and Dylan Westbrook in fifth.
This time, the restart didn’t go Smith’s way. Hagar got a big run down the back stretch and completed a pass for the lead to complete lap 28.
Hagar appeared to be in command, but with the challenging track conditions no lead was safe.
“With about seven to go it started sputtering,” Hagar said. “This engine, we’re building a lot of power out of and it sucked the fuel dry. I had to start backing my (corner) entry up and it got me tight in the center.
“I kept jumping the cushion. I could run like heck down the straightaway but in the corners it would flood and I was having to roll off and back the entry up and it was just killing me.”
Smith came up a bit short in his bid to sweep the weekend after leading the first 28 laps. He said six stoppages in the action for red or yellow flags might have been the difference for him.
“I think if we wouldn’t have had the cautions we probably would have been OK because I’d have kept my rhythm going,” Smith said. “But a hell of a job by those guys. It was a pretty good race.”
Feature (40 Laps): 1. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr; 2. 9JR-Derek Hagar; 3. M1-Mark Smith; 4. 88X-Shane Stewart; 5. 47X-Dylan Westbrook; 6. 16A-Justin Sanders; 7. 14-Jordon Mallett; 8. 3-Ayrton Gennetten; 9. 1X-Tim Crawley; 10. 11-Roger Crockett; 11. 8-Devon Borden; 12. 14E-Kyle Bellm; 13. 28C-Jonathan Cornell; 14. 55B-Brandon Anderson; 15. 24-Garet Williamson; 16. 28-Scott Bogucki; 17. 52-Blake Hahn; 18. 9M-Cody Baker; 19. 23-Seth Bergman; 20. 1-Sean McClelland; 21. 9-Chase Randall; 22. 94-Jeff Swindell; 23. 17W-Harli White; 24. 21-Miles Paulus; 25. 95-Matt Covington