Good wasn’t good enough for Zeke Shell.
Heading into this week’s racing action, he had started on the pole twice this season at Kingsport Speedway, but was still frustrated despite nine top-10 finishes in 10 starts.
That all changed Friday night.
The 24-year-old Johnson City driver led flag-to-flag to win his first ever NASCAR-sanctioned race at the 3â„8-mile concrete track.
“I’ve been trying to figure out when I’m going to wake up,” said Shell, driver of the No. 97 Ford. “It’s like, ‘We finally pulled one off.’ This feeling of winning is truly incredible.”
Shell, whose background includes nearly 300 wins in go-karts, had been winless in nearly six years of racing stock cars.
In the weeks leading up to Friday’s victory, Shell would start out strong and often fade as the race wore on. During this past week, Shell along with his father, Pat Shell, and longtime friend, Scott Clark, made a commitment to keep working on the car to keep it the fastest one on the track.
“We decided we didn’t want a third-place car and we weren’t going to stop until we got to first,” Shell said. “We changed every bolt on the car.”
Shell’s win came in the second of twin 30-lap Late Model features. In the first race for the NASCAR Weekly All-American Series, Shell started fifth and finished third, behind winner Nate Monteith and on runner-up Daniel Pope’s bumper at the end of the race.
In the second race, Shell started on the outside of Lee Tissot on the front row, but quickly moved into the lead. Running a strong pace, Shell built up a full straightaway advantage over the ensuing laps.
Brian Rose’s late-race spin, brought out the caution and set up a five-lap sprint to the finish. With Pope moving past Tissot into second-place, Shell quickly pulled away from both drivers and the rest of the field.
“Every week, I’ve been racing with them and they’re really competitive,” Shell said. “I really didn’t see much of them at all in that race. I was kind of out there by myself.”
His fellow competitors reaction to the win was most surprising to Shell. It showed the respect he has gained throughout the pit area.
“They wasn’t one of them who didn’t come up and congratulate me,” Shell said. “Even though we’re competitors, every single one of them was happy. That makes me feel good. They’re all great racers and great competitors.”
His fellow racers knew what a tough time Shell and his team had gone through over the past year.
This past fall, a vicious crash at Motor Mile (Va.) Speedway left him knocked out and his only race car destroyed.
With the car beyond repair, Shell was forced to watch from the sidelines the first part of this season. His luck changed when Kingsport racer John King II made the current car available.
“None of this would be possible if not for John King,” Shell said. “John is a giver. He’s a person who gives more than he expects to receive.
“He had a lot of faith in us that we could do this. He wanted to see the car go to somebody who had his heart into it like he does. He didn’t want to see us not able to keep racing.”
The new race car turned out to be even better than Shell imagined. Equipped with the latest technology, the machine has more forward bite than anything Shell has driven.
That included his old car, which he raced both in the UARA Touring Series and in weekly competition at Motor Mile.
Shell couldn’t explain it, but even in the trying times, there was a feeling his luck about to change. He knew the key was to stay strong even when it looked like a lost cause.
“We’ve had our struggles -- our ups and downs in racing,” he said. “But nonetheless we’ve persevered, and we’ve been rewarded for our perseverance by getting to celebrate a
The celebration was even better with Shell’s biggest supporter, his father who also serves as the team’s crew chief, standing by his side.
“I love to race, and my father (Pat Shell) also loves racing,” he said. “What we accomplished tonight, winning our first race together as father-and-son, it’s something neither of us will ever forget. Besides my father, I also want to thank
the guys who help work on the car and all the sponsors that help us to be able to race.
“Hopefully now that we’ve gotten our first win under our belt, this is just going to be the beginning of winning many more.”
Besides Shell and Monteith, other winners at Kingsport Speedway on Friday night included: Chuck Crigger of Surgoinsville in the Street Stock division, John Ketron of Kingsport in Pure 4, William Hale of Bluff City in Rookie Pure 4 and Hayden Woods of Piney Flats in Legends cars.