Article and photo by Jacob Hord, @HordRaceWatcher
What better way to celebrate America’s Independence than by going to the race track? That’s what 24 410’s did Sunday evening at Wayne County Speedway for a King of the County event. As the neighbors’ fireworks lit up the sky throughout the night, the racing ended up being worthy of its own celebration. Unfortunately for 23 drivers, they wouldn’t be celebrating like Cale Thomas did at the end of the night.
Thomas, after a solid sixth-place run at Waynesfield Saturday night, started his night off on a good note, setting quicktime in qualifying, despite being one of the last cars out. This was his second quicktime in as many nights, and it let Thomas know that he and his car had what it takes to win. The three heat races went by quickly and without issue, with Nick Patterson, Ricky Peterson, and Andrew Palker coming out on top.
After the redraw, the feature lineup saw Trey Jacobs and Patterson on the front row of the 25 lap, $3,500 to win feature. The feature got off to a rough start. The initial green flag was negated due to a wreck involving Danny Mumaw, Jason Dolick, and Brad Howard. This was a tough break for seventh-starting Cale Thomas, who was battling for third after the first two corners. After that mess was cleaned up, the field was reset and the green flag flew again, but the yellow came right back out for a bad start. Luckily, the third time was the charm.
“It gives you confidence when you go into the first corner of a race and do really good,” said the Indiana native Thomas. “I had that going in my head, and I was disappointed to see the caution come out. Honestly, it made my job a little bit harder after that.”
On the third start, Trey Jacobs rocketed out to about a one second lead over Patterson and Andrew Palker. On lap four, Palker had moved into second, while Jacobs had a half-straightaway lead over Palker and Patterson, until the yellow came out for Broc Martin, and a small fire for Tyler Street. This incident bred another incident on the restart, which saw last week’s winner Chris Myers go for a ride down the backstretch after contact with Thomas. Another restart came, and another caution came back out, but this time it was for Ricky Peterson, who was running fourth at the time.
After the contact between Myers and Thomas, Myers wasn’t happy with Thomas and he went over to let Thomas know. Thomas let Myers say his peace, and didn’t have anything to say back to Myers.
After the race, Thomas gave his side of the story: “It’s really unfortunate with what happened between me and Chris. This is a long, fast place, and he wasn’t running the top like me. I got a run, and he tried to catch the stagger because he was so free. I had a run and got underneath him on the backstretch and we just collided.”
Thomas continued: “He was frustrated with me and he came over, but I didn’t say a word. I know how it is. I feel bad about it. I respect local guys like him, I’m part of a family team, too. I want to race clean so I don’t tear up my stuff as well.”
The ensuing restart saw Jacobs hold his lead over Palker, with Thomas passing Patterson for third on lap eight. While Jacobs enjoyed about a second-and-a-half lead, Thomas started to reel in Palker for second, as Jacobs got into lapped traffic on lap 13. At the same time, Thomas had caught up to Palker, and slid him in turns one and two, only to have Palker hang on to second. Jacobs was holding a steady lead in traffic until about lap 16, when he bobbled and let Palker and Thomas close in. The next lap saw another red flag, this time for RJ Jacobs in turn two. He exchanged pleasantries with Jason Dolick, and things got back underway.
Jacobs, once again, held serve on the lap 17 restart over Palker, Thomas, Dean Jacobs, and Henry Malcuit. Things were spicing up between Palker and Thomas once again, with Thomas sliding Palker for second. Palker again was able to hold on to second as the red flag came out for a third time. Ricky Peterson, after charging through the field following his earlier spin, took a tumble in turn two, necessitating an Open Red situation with five laps left.
After adjustments were made and cars were fueled back up, it was time for a five lap shootout for the win. Andrew Palker, who had followed Jacobs for so many restarts in this race, took his shot at him in turns one and two with a slider, and it stuck. New leader: Andrew Palker. Thomas would also get around Jacobs as Palker ran away on lap 21. Thomas was starting to catch Palker with just three circuits remaining when the final yellow flag flew. It was for Jacobs, who after leading most of the race, fell victim to a flat tire. This would put Thomas right on Palker’s tail with a shot at the win.
The green flew on the restart, and Thomas had himself a doozy of one. He threw a slider in one and two, but like all the other sliders, Palker fended him off. Thomas wasn’t going to be denied. He came right back with a slider in three and four, and this time it stuck. Thomas rocketed away from Palker, who also ended up getting passed by Dean Jacobs.
Thomas described his winning move with three to go: “I got a good start, and Andrew tried to go around before the cone and was just up and out of the track. I think he saw me, and I lifted for him and it messed with him. I got a good run and slid him in one and two, I bounced it off the wall trying to throw the hardest slide job all night to take a chance. I think I ended up on the good end of it because I ended up closer to Andrew.”
Thomas continued: “So when I threw the next one, off of four was starting to get not as good on the top, and when he crossed back under me, he was just spinning his tires. I saw him and I did the old ‘Wayne County’ and caught my stagger to block him down the front stretch and come back up to mess up the air.
For Thomas, it was one heck of a way to celebrate his father’s birthday; a gift the two of them won’t forget anytime soon. It was Thomas’ first career win at Wayne County, and first Ohio win of the year. Dean Jacobs and Andrew Palker rounded out the podium.
“It’s unfortunate what happened to Trey losing that tire. I think I had, at least, the second best car because I threw about a billion slide jobs on Andrew. He raced me clean, and I raced him clean and sometimes when you throw clean slide jobs, it’s easy for guys to cross back under you. Running the top on the wall in both corners is tricky, especially when you have to run in behind people. Once I got to Andrew I was worried that I would get tight and balled up and not be able to make a move. Honestly, the car was just so good, and when you’re that comfortable, you don’t make mistakes. Any time Andrew made a mistake, I jumped on him. The car was just so good tonight. I have to thank my family, my team, Ohio Heating, Engler Machine, Chic-Fil-A, Indy Race Parts, and SFE Services.”