Just when he needed it most, Jason Hughes was able to blend together experience and hard work with a dash of good fortune Thursday night, and cooked up a nearly flawless effort in winning the opening night of the 17th Annual Featherlite Fall Jamboree and also claiming his second USMTS national championship.
While the event at the Deer Creek Speedway kicked off the three-day mega-event for dirt modifieds, it also served as the 15th and final points race in the Hunt for the USMTS Casey’s Cup powered by S&S Fishing & Rental.
Hughes entered the night with a delicate four-point lead over two-time defending USMTS national champion Rodney Sanders. Whichever driver finished in front of the other Thursday was almost certain to secure the title.
Both drivers drew daunting tasks for their 15-lap, 15-car heat race with Hughes starting in the 12th position while Sanders took the green flag from 15th. Hughes won while Sanders finished sixth.
That put Hughes in the redraw for the 40-lap feature race while Sanders was relegated to one of five “B” Mains. Hughes redrew the outside of the front row for the start of the race while Sanders won his last-chance contest to earn the 20th starting spot.
As he was in his heat race, there was little doubt throughout the “A” Main that Hughes brought a rocket to ‘The Creek.’ With 40 green flag laps following the race’s only caution for a two-car tangle at the start of the race, Hughes was uncontested as he led every lap to secure the win and the USMTS crown.
“It’s a great night,” Hughes said as he celebrated with family and crew members in victory lane. “We knew coming up here that we were prepared, but luck plays a lot of it in this deal. We had good luck tonight.”
Hughes began the Hunt tied for 15th in the standings and 82 points behind the leader. Winning three main events along the way, he slowly chipped away at the deficit and notched his fourth win of The Hunt in dominating fashion Thursday night.
“It took a lot of luck to get there, but we had good racecar and a lot of hard work,” he added.
It claiming the $5,000 winner’s paycheck Thursday, the USMTS national championship carries with it a $20,000 prize. It’s his second USMTS title after winning the same race in 2010 with the same crew chief, Steve Karver, in 2010.
He now owns two titles along with Sanders and Ryan Gustin. Kelly Shryock, who won the first eight championships in the United States Modified Touring Series, has nine overall. Hughes was runner-up to Shryock in many of those seasons.
“It took a long time to get that first one,” Hughes said. “The second one’s getting even harder. It means a lot.
“This car right here has been great to us. It’s won the Fall Jamboree on the last night, now it’s won this one. It won the World race here… it’s been a really good racecar for us.”
The win was the 129th of Hughes’ USMTS career and 12th at the Deer Creek Speedway.
2007 USMTS national champion Jason Krohn, who won here 19 days ago during the Baudoin Oil USMTS Labor Day Duel, clawed his way from seventh to finish second. He was able to get within a couple car lengths of Hughes on a few occasions but was never able to mount a serious threat for the lead.
Polesitter Brandon Davis bested Shryock for the third spot after a salty battle that lasted for most of the last half of the race.
Another former USMTS national champ, Tim Donlinger, returned to the cockpit behind the wheel of a second LG2 Chassis out of the Ramirez Motorsports stable and recorded a fifth-place finish. It was the first USMTS start in nearly two years for the 2008 titlist.
Casey Arneson, Joe Duvall, Zack VanderBeek, Tommy Weder Jr. and Sanders rounded out the top 10.
Despite coming up short of a $100,000 payday and settling for the runner-up spot in the final standings, it was an impressive run for Sanders from 20th to 10th in the feature race, but there were no cautions to help the 25-year-old from Happy, Texas, make a run at this 20th win of the season.
In the final points standings, Hughes edged Sanders by 35 points (1335 to 1300) while Stormy Scott nipped Jesse Sobbing for third by just five markers (1194 to 1189). VanderBeek finished fifth with 1118 points, followed by Dereck Ramirez (1101), Duvall (963), Brent Larson (959), Arneson (942) and Cade Dillard (921).
The 17th Annual Featherlite Fall Jamboree continues on Friday and Saturday with two more complete shows and event more money up for grabs. The Holley Iron Man Series featuring USRA B-Mods will share the spotlight both nights.
Tickets are available both nights at the front gate. For fans unable to attend, the entire event will be broadcast live via pay-per-view. Visit www.racindirt.com for ordering information.
The Deer Creek Speedway is a high-banked 3/8-mile clay oval which sits on 60 acres with one of America’s most popular state-of-the-art racing complexes and an adjoining campground. For track or campground info, call 507-346-2342 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the United States Modified Touring Series, visit www.usmts.com online or call 515-832-7944. You can also like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/usmts, follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/usmts or subscribe to our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/usmtstv.