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South student holds his own against adults at Kingsport Speedway

Jeff Birchfield • Jul 5, 2018 at 7:20 PM

Dillon Hodge is constantly reminded by his spotter to look at what is ahead of him more than what's behind him.

The 15-year-old race car driver, who will be a sophomore at Sullivan South this fall, appears to have plenty to look ahead to. He's already competing in the Late Model Stock division, the top class at Kingsport Speedway, and he recently drove the No. 5 Chevrolet to his first ever top-five finish.

"It was awesome to get a top five," Hodge said about the best run. "We're at a little disadvantage with the motor we have. It's tough to compete with the Ford crate motors and the guys who have more resources with their cars. You look at everyone who finished ahead of me and they've all been track champions and they are guys (ranked) in the national points as well."

Hodge was brought back down to earth the next week, getting caught up in his first crash of the season. Still, he's battling for a top-10 spot in the season point standings and is doing what he can to earn the respect of the veteran racers.

GETTING THE CAR RIGHT

He's always been fast, winning races in go-karts and moving to Legends cars, where he held his own racing against adults. However, the Late Models have been a challenge at times with his father Johnny and crew chief David Roope giving him a fast car and Hodge learning to give the needed feedback for the proper adjustments.

After gaining the experience, the communication is better than ever.

"We've had a loose race car for much of the season," Hodge said. "We've made some adjustments and we've got it turning better in the center (of the corner) now. It's getting more stable coming off the corner. Around lap 10, I'm starting to feel the car come in. We need to qualify better and that's on me. If we could qualify in the top five and be able to be with them instead of trying to pass so many cars, we might have a shot at something big."

BATTLING WITH BAYNE

With his age, there is a natural comparison with 14-year-old Trey Bayne, the younger brother of NASCAR Cup Series driver Trevor Bayne. Both youngsters have shined at different times over the season.

Instead of trying to compare his performance against the Knoxville driver, Hodge is most proud of the way the teenagers have raced each other.

"It's pretty cool that we're the youngsters over there and he's already won a race," Hodge said. "I'm getting to a point where I feel like I can win one as well. But, it's been good battling with him. We've had some hard racing, but we've not had any problems and we're acting like two veterans out there."

IN THE CLASSROOM

Hodge calls the mental part of the sport the toughest. It's particularly tough when the car isn't running like the driver wants or if there's contact like last Friday night. But, Hodge isn't the typical young driver with his only goal of driving to a Daytona 500 victory.

He's hands-on learning the different aspects of the car, and with a 4.0 grade point average, he sees himself finding success outside the driver's seat.

"I see myself getting a mechanical engineering degree," he said. "I really hope to be the lead engineer or crew chief for a Cup team one day."

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