Capping off perhaps the most star-studded, action-packed Featherlite Fall Jamboree ever, Jason Hughes stood alone at the top of the mountain after winning his third feature race of the weekend Saturday to become the first driver to sweep the weekend in the event’s 17-year history.
Hughes admitted Thursday after notching his second USMTS national championship in six years that it takes an equal combination of a good driver, good equipment and good luck to win at the Deer Creek Speedway.
He had heaps of all three qualities this week.
And the 41-year-old from Watts, Okla., should know. Nobody has shined as brightly as Hughes at the Deer Creek Speedway. Now a five-time Fall Jamboree champ, he’s the only one to win it more than once and Saturday’s triumph was the 14th of his career at the high-banked 3/8-mile oval.
After making his first-ever USMTS start on Thursday, Kyle Strickler led the field to the green flag from the pole but it was Rodney Sanders jumping out to take control in the first turn at the start of Saturday’s 50-lap finale.
For most of the race, nobody had anything for Sanders-not even close. But a couple of ill-timed cautions and man named Hughes made life difficult for Sanders.
Sanders, who came up short in defending his USMTS national title on Thursday, was long gone when a lap-11 yellow flag brought the field pack to his bumper. By this time Hughes was seventh-up eight spots from his starting position-but had five tough-to-tame racers between himself and the leader.
The restart saw Sanders pull away and extend his advantage over teammates Tim Donlinger and Dereck Ramirez, with Bobby Malchus, Jason Cummins and Brandon Davis also sandwiched between Sanders and Hughes.
Hughes worked his way up to fourth by lap 30 and had a wild battle with Donlinger, Malchus and Ramirez for a spot in the top five. Meanwhile, Cummins was rim-riding the high line with Cade Dillard and Strickler following him around the top side of the track.
Then on lap 36, Donlinger and Malchus made contact in the third turn which allowed Hughes to scoot by on the low side and claim the second spot. Moments later, a large piece of debris littered the end of the back-stretch and the caution waved for the final time to set up yet another Sanders-Hughes battle to the finish.
After working the high side for three laps after the restart, Hughes was able to power around Sanders, and just like the night before he took the lead for the first time on lap 40.
This time, however, he had to fend off Sanders for an additional ten laps. Hughes was flawless, and he crossed the finish line two car lengths ahead of Sanders to claim the $10,000 winner’s check.
“I don’t know if I can retire this thing,” Hughes said, referring to his familiar No. 12 Hughes Chassis in victory lane. “We might have to keep this one around.
“I knew when we first got out on the track and hit the gas that the car was good. It wasn’t slipping or anything, it just took off. I just had to bide my time and I found something up on the cushion.”
Combined with his $5,000 victories on Thursday and Friday, plus his USMTS national championship, Hughes padded his bank account by $40,000 over the course of three days of work.
“We’ve talked about wanting to do this,” Hughes said of sweeping the Fall Jamboree. “Everything fell our way this year. We had a great time every time we hit the track.”
Hughes undoubtedly had the best car and team this weekend, and he also cashed in on some good fortune. In his heat race Saturday, Hughes was involved in a multi-car crash that sidelined several cars. Luckily, he was able to continue and pulled out a fourth-place finish.
The top 15 drivers in heat race passing points were locked into the main event. Hughes was 15th-the last driver fortunate enough to avoid racing in a “B” Main.
For his efforts, Sanders took home $5,000 for second runner-up finish behind Hughes.
“I didn’t know if I had a big lead or what (when the caution came out late),” Sanders said. “It looked like Jason just had a better car tonight. I just have to keep working.”
Despite being behind the wheel for the first time in two years, 2008 USMTS national champion and former Fall Jamboree winner Tim Donlinger looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. He finished third and recorded two top-five finishes on the weekend.
Brad Waits, who started 14th, claimed the fourth spot as he held off Malchus on the final lap. Cummins, Dillard, Tommy Weder Jr., Strickler and Stormy Scott rounded out the top ten.
In the annual Non-Qualifiers Race, Steve Wetzstein came from the 11th starting spot to win the 30-car, 25-lap affair. He became the first driver to win the $2,000 contest twice, winning previously in 2009.
Fourteen-year-old Dustin Sorensen was second, followed by Grant Junghans, Chris Oertel and 17th-starting Josh Angst.
One more event remains on the 2015 for the USMTS Modifieds. The 9th Annual USMTS Winter Nationals will take place Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 5-7, at the Ark-La-Tex Speedway in Vivian, La.