TULSA, Okla. — Despite taking the Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series point lead after the recent Jesse Hockett/Daniel McMillin Memorial at Lucas Oil Speedway, Blake Hahn is keeping his focus on what’s ahead.
Hahn, who won both a preliminary feature and the Saturday finale at the three-eighths-mile dirt oval, edged ahead of three-time defending ASCS champion Sam Hafertepe Jr. thanks to his stellar marks during the three-day weekend.
Two wins and a seventh-place finish — combined with a pair of DNFs and missing the finale feature on Hafertepe’s end — pushed Hahn atop the national standings by 20 points.
Going into the weekend, the Oklahoma young gun was 148 points out of the championship lead. It was a stark turnaround for the No. 52 Smiley’s Racing Products team and one that Hahn doesn’t take lightly.
“It’s a big deal, for sure,” he noted. “But even still, that can’t be our main focus right now. We just have to double down and stay focused on the basics. There are still six races left and just as quickly as Sam dropped back at the Hockett, that could be us the next time we get on track. You can never rest.
“Leading the points, it’s important to the overall picture, but we’re just focused on winning races and finishing well the rest of the season,” Hahn added. “The points will take care of themselves as long as we do our job.”
That job, however, resulted in a dream weekend Sept. 19-21 at “The Diamond of Dirt Tracks.”
Coming into the ninth edition of the Hockett/McMillin Memorial, Hahn had never won with the ASCS National Tour at the three-eighths-mile dirt oval, but on this weekend everything clicked.
As soon as he hit the track Thursday for hot laps, Hahn knew he had a bullet of a race car to work with.
“Sometimes you just kind of know, as a driver, and this was one of those times,” Hahn noted. “I felt like we would be really strong as long as I did my job, and we definitely were throughout the weekend.”
Hahn has made strides with his team’s consistency, boasting five wins, 16 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes in 27 starts. Hahn’s top-five and top-10 counts this year mirror Hafertepe’s.
All it’s taken, Hahn tipped, was a change in power plant in his cars.
“We had really good speed last year; we had a really bad finish to the year and just couldn’t really stay consistent toward the end of the year,” Hahn reflected. “A bad run at the Hockett (in 2018) really hurt us in the points. But we haven’t really changed anything over the last couple of years. We’ve been on GR1 Race Cars for five years now and we haven’t changed anything on the car. We’ve been using the same stuff and had very, very good luck with it.
“The one thing we did do was that we changed our engine program about halfway through last year and went to some Rider engines out of Pennsylvania, and they really kind of picked us up a little bit,” Hahn explained. “I think that’s what kind of brought us life, you know, was being able to have a good heat race. That’s where we were lacking; we couldn’t put a great heat race together early on. But now, we’ve stepped that up … and that really sets you up for the future.
“When you can have a good heat race run that gets you in the first three or four rows (of the feature lineup), that’s important when you’re running with stiff competition like we are because if you’re not starting in the first couple of rows then it’s pretty hard to get up there,” Hahn added. “I think that’s really what you’re seeing is that we’ve been getting better throughout the night and having better speed across the whole night instead of during just one small part of it.”
With only three weekends left in the ASCS National Tour season, Hahn has shifted positions from being the attacker to being the defender as he pursues his maiden national 360 sprint car championship.
However, just because he’s in a unique position doesn’t mean that Hahn is feeling extra nerves. He’s taking the opportunity in stride.
“Like I said before, we’ve only got six races left, so we’ve got to definitely be on top of our game. Fortunate enough for us, though, is that we’re going to three of my best tracks to close out the year,” said Hahn. “Creek County Speedway is in my backyard, and then we get to go to Devil’s Bowl (Speedway in Texas), which I kind of grew up racing at in the sprint car too, so I’ve got some really good laps around there. And then we get to close everything out at Texas Motor Speedway, a place I really enjoy. I’m just really looking forward to this stretch run to the end. I feel like we can get some good runs.
“I really don’t feel a lot more pressure. I’m not taking any different of an approach to what I normally would,” he added. “I’m just going out there to try to win and if we can’t win, we want to (finish in the) top three, you know? That’s our goal every night. It doesn’t really, really matter what (race) it is or where we are. I think the less you worry about it, the better off you are.
“I think you have better results when you’re not stressing about points, so we’re trying not to worry.”
Hahn will resume his pursuit of the ASCS title during the Fall Fling at Oklahoma’s Creek County Speedway, Oct. 11-12.