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Friends help Shell get back on track

Jeff Birchfield • Jul 30, 2018 at 5:30 PM

Zeke Shell got by with more than a little help from his friends last week.

Thanks to those friends, Shell was not only back at Kingsport Speedway last Friday, but the Johnson City driver had taken over the NASCAR Late Model Stock points lead by the end of the night.

A week earlier, Shell's No. 1 Ford suffered severe damage in a wreck with rival Kres VanDyke. The two points leaders got together in turn four and they both slammed hard into the inside retaining wall on the frontstretch.

VanDyke's No. 15 Chevrolet was totaled, and it looked like Shell's car might have the same fate. In the crash, VanDyke's car landed on Shell's hood, breaking the carburetor from the engine and causing a fire.

While their crews and the Kingsport Speedway workers quickly attended to the drivers and their cars, there was still massive damage. VanDyke brought a backup car from the race shop where he works to the track last Friday night, but Shell's only option was to get the No. 1 repaired.

"We don't have the financial backing to just go in and get a new car," Shell said. "Everybody on my crew works an 8-to-5 job and we had to fix what we had. It's not 100 percent, but it will be."

Still, the results were more than Shell could have hoped for. With the track running two 35-lap Late Model Stock features, he finished fifth in the first race, just one position behind VanDyke. But, in the second race, VanDyke had the track bar mount fracture on his car and he finished 16th.

Meanwhile, Shell raced to a fifth-place finish and took over the lead in the championship standings for the first time in two months.

"With the amount of time we had to dedicate to the car, we basically put lipstick on a pig," Shell said. "We got the body on it, checked everything and got to the track. I'm very pleased with the performance, considering all things. I have a family and I have to work another job (with L&H Fixtures) which often takes me out of state. But everybody came together, pitched in and we're back."

EVERYBODY PITCHING IN

Some of those who helped Shell were other Late Model competitors like two-time track champion Ronnie McCarty, Robbie Ferguson and Joey Trent.

Before last Friday's race, Shell's wife, Amber, put out the following social media post to announce Zeke would be racing the car which they have affectionately nicknamed "Black Betty."

"We are happy to announce that Black Betty will live & Zeke will be back Friday to race. This wouldn't be possible without our fellow competitors, fans, & sponsors who have pitched in to make this happen. Thanks to Marvin Turnmire for offering us a new chassis, Ronnie McCarty Racing for the body panels, Jamie Harrison for the greenhouse, chassis builder Bobby Creech for offering us his house car, competitor Joey Trent for a new carburetor & offering us his car as well & Preacher Man (Dennis Deese) for all your help this week.

"Big thanks to our team who has been at the shop all week thrashing to put together this new car. Catch22 & Tri-Cities Restorations we also thank you both for helping out this week with everything and lending a hand. Last but not least BIG SHOUT OUT to Roger Clendenin with RCR, Performance Automotive, & Bob Myers!"

Shell explained some of his crew members worked as late as 3 o'clock some mornings to get the car ready. Sponsor Catch 22 gave the team a bonus beyond their sponsorship agreement. Other sponsors helped out and race fans bought parts from the wrecked car which were auctioned off.

"They put their hearts, souls, wallets, everything they had into it and it's back on the track," Shell said. "We didn't have a perfect car, but we had a piece that could stay up front."

NO BLAME, HARD RACING

Looking back to the previous week, some of Shell's fans blamed VanDyke for the wreck and vice versa. Most of those interviewed simply saw it as hard racing with neither driver willing to back off. Shell said there was certainly no intent on his part and he didn't want to see VanDyke crash.

"Rivalries make for good racing, but you don't want to see anybody go horizontal," he said. "You never want to see anyone get hurt, let alone die. He definitely took the brunt of the force. The one thing I don't like is the finger pointing. Don't get me wrong. I love my fans and I love the people who boo me offstage because they've got their heart into racing, and you need everybody to keep this sport alive, not just the drivers."

Still, it was the well-being of his fellow competitor which first crossed Shell's mind when fire shot up all the way past his window net up to VanDyke's car.

"The first thing I thought was VanDyke, is he OK?," Shell said. "I saw all my body parts were still attached and I could move. The first thing that came to my mind is he safe. The car's broke, but these things can burn to the ground, they are metal and we can weld and we can grind and get them fixed. But, somebody not being able to go home to their family, that's serious."

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