Three drivers held slim leads entering Saturday's final night of racing at Old Dominion Speedway. Any miscue--a blown tire or not-so-friendly tap on the bumper--could have sent their championship dreams into a tailspin.
But Dale DeLozier, Tom Dyson and Doug Freeman each managed to avoid disaster and ended the night with a title--and a sigh of relief.
"I'm glad it's all over," said Freeman, who entered Saturday with a 10-point lead in the Mini-Stock division.
Dyson's Grand Stock lead to start the night was also 10, and DeLozier had a 16-point lead heading into his Late Model race. DeLozier and Dyson also won their respective divisions last year.
Jim Todd Jr., the Speedway Sportsman champion, entered Saturday night with a title secured. He finished the season with a 44-point victory over Scott Lunceford.
DeLozier finished Saturday's race where he has finished most of the time this season--in the top five. The Alexandria resident placed in the top five 15 times this season yet won only one race. Last year DeLozier won the title without a single victory.
"I was a little nervous there Saturday," DeLozier said. "If a car got close to me, I let it go. I knew where I had to finish [in the top eight], and there was no sense in beating and banging everything up and not winning the championship."
Dion Ciccarelli won the Late Model race, his third victory of the season, to secure second place, his best finish ever.
Dyson, meanwhile, left nothing to chance winning his seventh race of the season. But just a week ago, it appeared that the title might be slipping away from Dyson.
Stan Owens crept back into the hunt after Dyson placed 15th on Sept. 25 because of a freak mechanical failure. The front brakes of the Manassas resident's car locked up, causing the car to catch on fire and the rotators to melt.
"I was afraid I might give it away there in the last race," Dyson said. "I was telling my wife that there is more pressure now because people expect me to win."
After being at the top of his division the past two years, Dyson plans to try his luck next year with the Late Models. He expects it to be a humbling experience at first.
"I'm anxious to do something new," Dyson said. "It'll be just like starting out again. . . . Once you get to the top of your level, [you realize] it's not as fun as the climb getting there."
Doug Freeman expected racing would take a backseat to family this year. With four children, three boys and a girl, all playing a variety of sports, the Fredericksburg resident planned to be on the sideline cheering them on more often than in the driver's seat.
"The last couple of months it has been tough with all those fall sports kicking in," said Freeman, who missed the first race of the season because one of his sons was returning from a trip. "It's been a juggling act. I haven't been at home a lot."
Freeman and his family agreed at the start of the season he would race as long as his car held up. He would not spend the summer under the hood of the car.
Surprisingly, Freeman had no major mechanical breakdowns, and as the season continued he slowly moved his way up the standings. Not until he moved up to third place in the final month of the season did he begin to believe he had a shot at the title.
Though proud of his achievement, Freeman plans on taking it easy next season and not compete on a regular schedule.
"There's not enough money involved to make all this pressure worthwhile," he said.
Late Model: 1, Dion Ciccarelli, Severn, Md.; 2, Dustin Storm, Prince Frederick; 3, Mark McFarland, Winchester; 4, Mike Southard, Manassas; 5, Dale DeLozier, Alexandria. Grand Stock: 1, Tom Dyson, Manassas; 2, Jeff Callihan, Fredericksburg; 3, Mike Darne, Manassas; 4, Mark Cropp, Fredericksburg; 5, Mark Winstead, Stafford. Mini-Stock: 1, Steve Coleman, Fredericksburg; 2, Doug Freeman, Fredericksburg; 3, Jason Lineweaver, Stephens City; 4, Adam Flis, Annandale; 5, Garry Klaus, Alexandria. Speedway Sportsman: 1, Ray Miller, Manassas; 2, Jim Todd Jr., Casanova; 3, Jeff Sisak, Linden; 4, Scott Lunceford, Burke; 5, Tim Neuman, Fredericksburg.
Late Model: 1, DeLozier, 902; 2, Ciccarelli, 894; Danny Fair, Manassas, 858. Grand Stock: 1, Dyson, 872; 2, Stan Owens, Haymarket, 862; 3, Darne, 834. Mini-Stock: 1, Freeman, 806; 2, Lineweaver, 794; 3, Klaus, 734. Speedway Sportsman: 1, Todd, 880; 2, Lunceford, 822; 3, Sisak, 818.
CAPTION: In Mini-Stock race, Fredericksburg's Doug Freeman (60) zooms past Steve Coleman en route to second-place finish and division title. At left, Jim Todd Jr. straps on helmet before taking second in Speedway Sportsman race. Todd had little to worry about after already securing title before Saturday's final race.
CAPTION: Dale DeLozier focuses before start of Saturday's Late Model race, in which he finished in fifth place, good enough to capture title in division.
CAPTION: Tom Dyson exits car, is helped out by brother-in-law and crew member Joey Sharon after team captured Grand Stock class with victory in season's final race.