With an 11-point lead heading into Friday's 60-lap feature, Shell, driver of the No. 1 Budweiser Ford, appeared to be well on his way to the track title. However, in a battle with Robbie Ferguson for third place on lap 47, Shell spun out and hit the inside wall on the backstretch.
With his damaged car sporting a bent truck arm, Shell restarted at the back of the field. A determined Shell charged his way back to a fourth-place finish and the season title.
“I absolutely thought my heart was going to stop beating when I spun while trying to get around Ferguson. I thought I’d blown the opportunity to win the championship,” Shell said. “To be racing for a championship and a deal like that happen, it was devastating knowing the two guys closest to me in the points chase, (Kres) VanDyke and (Nik) Williams, were running in the first two positions, and I was at the back of the field with only 13 laps left in the race.
“We came into the pits and my crew guys got to checking the car over to assess the damage, and it was bad. The truck arm under the rear of the car was badly bent. They got me calmed down and just said go out and drive the car and get all I could out of it. Once we got back under green, the car bottomed out bad in the corners, and it was all I could do to hang on to it without spinning out. But I was determined, giving it my best effort.”
With his best effort, the 31-year-old Shell became the first Johnson City driver in 44 years to win a NASCAR-sanctioned Late Model track championship. The last was Brad Teague, who won the 1974 track title at Lonesome Pine (Va.) Raceway.
Two-time champion VanDyke of Abingdon, Va., won the race, his fourth of the season, and he finished runner-up to Shell in the standings. Williams, of Chuckey, pressured VanDyke for the race win but came up short. He also finished runner-up to Shell in the Tennessee state championship standings.
Ferguson, the 2002 track champion, finished third after announcing this would be his final full season behind the wheel. The Jonesborough driver plans to take off the 2019 season entirely, although he hasn't ruled out a limited schedule in the future.
Shell finished fourth after edging Hayden Woods of Piney Flats at the finish line. The rest of the top 10 were Joey Trent, Wayne Hale, Dillon Hodge, Bryson Dennis and Derek Lane.
The night, however, belonged to Shell, who was overcome with emotion.
“Just as soon as we got the checkered flag and my guys were yelling over the radio that we’d won the championship, it was all I could do to just be able and drive the car around the track on the cool-down lap,” Shell said. “I was mentally exhausted from how the race had played out for us, going from a good feeling running in fourth place to spinning out and having to battle our way back inside the top five at the finish.
“Winning this championship, it’s special for our race team — me and my dad (Pat Shell) especially. We started out racing go-karts when I was a boy, and we've been in Late Model Stock Cars for the past 12 years. I can't thank my crew chief Danny Rollins enough for all he's done for me this year, both in the race shop and at the track. Then there’s the support from my wife, Amber, and our daughter, Bristol, and all the guys on the crew, plus our friends and the fans. Thanks to our sponsors, because we wouldn't be able to race without their backing. It's a great accomplishment for our team.”
PURE STREET CRAZINESS
The Pure Street division saw second-row starter Dave Strong not even attempt to slow down entering turn one on the opening lap, running over the cars of Joey Sykes and Rob Austin.
After the spectacular crash on the track, law enforcement officers and track officials had to intervene between the drivers and their crew members in the pits as Strong and Sykes were eliminated from the race.
Austin recovered to win the race, but Jay Swecker of Kingsport drove away with his second straight track championship.
Chase Dixon, the 15-year-old driver from Abingdon, battled with Kevin Wolfe and Royce Peters for the win. With last-lap contact, Wolfe hit the wall while Dixon captured his third win of the season. Peters, the veteran from Kingsport, wrapped up a second track championship.
Kingsport's Keith Helton passed Brandon Sutherland with four laps to go for his division-best eighth win of the season in a Pure 4 feature that had a field of 27 cars. Bruce Crumbley, of Kingsport, won the Pure 4 track championship.
Kevin Canter, of Abingdon, won a track-best 12th time this year in Mod 4, having already tied up his third straight season title.
Jamie Meadows, of Castlewood, Va., grabbed a feature win for the Vintage class. Second-place finisher Jeremy Mullins, of Clintwood, Va., captured the track championship.