LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The final chapter in the storied history of I-30 Speedway clay oval was punctuated on Saturday night as Sam Hafertepe Jr., took the $15,041 winner’s share in the 35th annual COMP Cams Short Track Nationals presented by Hoosier Tires.
And the final race at I-30 Speedway concluded in true form with a spirited battle between Hafertepe and Aaron Reutzel before Hafertepe ultimately prevailed.
But after slipping past pole starter Reutzel for the point on the 18th round, Hafertepe’s work wasn’t done as Reutzel battled back and offered up challenges to reclaim the lead including contact at the flagstand with a half-dozen laps remaining to take his second Short Track Nationals title aboard the Hills Racing Cigar Port/Truenorth.bet No. 15h sprint car.
“I’m just glad the 8r didn’t win the race after driving people the way he drives people,” a heated Hafertepe exclaimed in victory lane. “But guess what, we came out on top and he’s sitting over there.”
After winning the Pack’s Dash for Cash to earn the pole position for the main event, Reutzel gunned into the lead at the outset after picking off both Thursday and Friday night wins as third-starting Hafertepe immediately made his way past outside front row starter Dylan Westbrook for second.
Slowed by a pair of cautions in the opening eight rounds for Cody Gardner’s cut left rear tire after five circuits and then Ryan Timms coming to a stop at the top of turn four with race-ending front end damage three laps later, Hafertepe stayed in contact with Reutzel in the ensuing laps as the duo broke away from the field.
Lapped traffic came into play after 17 circuits and Hafertepe pounced on the lead a lap later in turns three and four to take command.
“I was just waiting for him to mess up, I knew he probably would eventually,” Hafertepe explained. “We hit the hole when it got there and just protected the rest of the way.”
He protected effectively enough, denying a Reutzel slider in turns one two on the 32nd lap and then escaping frontstretch contact upon the completion of the 35th lap that resulted in nosewing damage on Reutzel’s RSR Mobil 1 No. 8 machine.
With Reutzel slowed by the incident, Hafertepe, Jr., raced on to the stripe in the final handful of laps to run his weekend earnings to $18,691 with Reutzel settling for runner-up honors.
“I was just a little too conservative early, that hole almost bit me on the first lap so I didn’t really want to go through it,” Reutzel explained. “I knew you could make some speed if you could get through that hole clean, I couldn’t do that and that was what he was executing.”
Even with the runner-up finish, Reutzel still pocketed $15,146 for the three-day weekend.
“It just wasn’t meant to be, but we had a great weekend,” Reutzel wrapped up. “We came down and supported the Clays for the last race, all in all it was a great weekend.”
Little more than a lap away from earning the pole position for the feature before the right front tire came off the bead, California’s Justin Sanders moved from fifth to third by the ninth round and held the show position the rest of the way aboard the Swindell Speedlab Bubbly Brands No. 39 entry.
“It’s awesome to at least get on the podium, I’ll take this third place,” Sanders commented. “I felt really good for a while, I felt like I got in a rhythm until I got to a couple of lapped cars and got my rhythm broken.”
Feature (41 Laps): 1. 15h-Sam Hafertepe, Jr. (3) [$15,041], 2. 8r-Aaron Reutzel (1) [$7,500], 3. 39-Justin Sanders (5) [$5,000], 4. 23-Seth Bergman (4) [$2,500], 5. 52-Blake Hahn (10) [$2,000], 6. 47x-Dylan Westbrook (2) [$1,700], 7. 2c-Wayne Johnson (8) [$1,600], 8. 36-Jason Martin (6) [$1,500], 9. 9jr-Derek Hagar (16) [$1,450], 10. 24w-Garet Williamson (9) [$1,400], 11. 87-Tim Crawley (13) [$1,350], 12. 95-Matt Covington (20) [$1,300], 13. 47-Dale Howard (15) [$1,200], 14. 14-Jordan Mallet (18) [$1,150], 15. 51b-Joe B. Miller (14) [$1,100], 16. 3-Howard Moore (12) [$1,100], 17. 1jr-Steven Russell (19) [$1,100], 18. G6-Cody Gardner (17) [$1,100], 19. 15J-Jeremy Middleton (11) [$1,100], 20. 5T-Ryan Timms (7) [$1,100].