Sam Hafertepe Jr
Heart Break for Hafertepe, Redemtion at the Royal
[b Heart Break for Hafertepe at “The Doty”, Redemption at The Kings Royal]
[i Daryl Turford]
Sunnyvale, Texas-Brad Doty was one of the greatest sprint car drivers during the decade of the 1980’s until his career was cut short by a vicious crash at Eldora Speedway in 1988. Sam Hafertepe Jr and the Plumbfast Racing Team headed to Limaland Speedway in Lima, OH to participate in the Brad Doty Classic this past Wednesday night. The night ended in heartbreak but the Plumbfast Racing Team was able to redeem themselves at the 26th Annual Kings Royal that weekend at Eldora Speedway with an impressive 3rd place finish.
At Lima Sam was one of the fastest drivers in his warm-up session and carried the momentum through qualifying as the 3rd year World of Outlaw racer timed in an impressive 5th quick overall in a very stout field.
Sam took off at the start of his heat getting around Steve Kinser for 2nd in turns 1 and 2 on the bottom and had begun to put a slide job on Neil Shepard for the lead when the start was called back. The following restart saw Sam dive to the bottom again in turns 1 and 2 but he couldn’t quite work his way past Shepard for 2nd. During the later stages of the heat Hafertepe was able to use the top side of the speedway to track down Shepard and with 2 laps remaining was able to make the slide job stick in turns 3 and 4 to take 2nd and move Sam into a Dash position. Hafertepe was able to close in on leader Steve Kinser during the final 2 laps but could not get close enough to mount a serious challenge for the win.
Sam had the hot hand when it came time to draw for the Crane Cams Dash as he pulled the #1 pill to put himself on the pole alongside of Daryn Pittman. The duo raced side by side at the drop of the green flag. Pittman and Sam battled for a complete lap side by side which allowed Jason Meyers to blast past both of them. Sam settled into 3rd and set his sights on Pittman. Hafertepe dove under Pittman in turn 3 and executed a perfect slide job to take 2nd late in the race. Hafertepe hammered the cushion in an attempt to run down Meyers but the two cars stayed even and Sam crossed the line in 2nd.
The main event was a slugfest and at the drop of the green flag Sam let everyone know that he was looking to earn his first career victory as he blasted into the lead. Hafertepe headed to the cushion and immediately put some real estate between himself and Meyers as he ran the fastest lap of the race on lap 3. Hafertepe continued to stretch his lead as he and Meyers began to enter lapped traffic.
The lapped traffic forced Sam to switch from the top of the track to the bottom and Sam soon found himself struggling to get past the lapped cars. On several occasions Meyers was able to apply pressure on Sam and sometimes he could even slide past Sam but each time the Sunnyvale, Texas youngster was able to turn back underneath of Meyers and drive away. Eventually Sam was able to get 2 lapped cars between himself and Meyers when the caution flew on lap 23. The caution flag removed the lapped cars from between Sam and Meyers and set the stage for another dog-fight. Hafertepe got a great restart and pulled several car lengths on Meyers through turns 1 and 2 but another caution flag flew before the lap was completed.
The restart saw Sam continue to work the bottom but Meyers was able to get a nice run on the top of turns 1 and 2 and pass Sam for the lead. Hafertepe chased after Meyers desperately as Steve Kinser entered the battle. Sam and Steve swapped positions lap after lap and together they began to reel in Meyers.
On lap 29 Meyers and Hafertepe switched lines but as Sam was heading down the back straightaway disaster struck as he hit the wall and began a vicious series of flips which resulted in a destroyed race car.
“I came out of turn 2 and thought I might be able to pass Meyers on the top in turns 3 and 4”, explained the sore racer. “Unfortunately I got the right front into some loose dirt and it sucked us up into the wall. I hit it and was able to pull it off the wall but when I got to the opening on the backstretch the dirt sucked me back into the wall again but this time it snapped the right front tire right off the axle which resulted in the front of the car digging into the ground and it sent me into a series of end over end flips. I just hate it so much because we had a really good car, I don’t know if we had the race won but it was going to be a heck of a race between the 3 of us during those last 10 laps”.
Two nights later The Plumbfast Racing Team found themselves at Eldora with a new car looking to take the $50,000 to win Kings Royal.
The Friday night show started off well enough as Sam was one of the fastest cars in warm-ups but a mechanical problem related to the steering of the car caused Sam to time in a disappointing 19th quick in the field of 40+ cars.
The steering problem persisted in the heat as Sam dropped from 5th to 7th.
“Every time I entered the corner the steering would lock up”, explained Sam. “I would have to shake the car loose entering the turn to keep it from happening and you just can’t do that and be fast here”.
The problem wouldn’t go away in the B Main and Sam pulled in early. The team spent the night and then changed steering boxes for the next day when the big money would be on the line.
In warm-ups Sam was once again very happy with the car but the steering problem persisted.
“We had the guys from KSE come down and see if they could think of anything”, said Sam. “We later were able to figure out what the problem was and fortunately it wasn’t the box. We made the changes that were necessary and from there on out we were fast all night”.
Sam laid down the 14th fastest lap in time trials which placed him on the outside of the front row for his heat.
Ageless veteran Danny Smith and Sam led their heat to the green with Sam able to take the lead. Jason Sides attempted a slide job in turns 1 and 2 on the opening lap but Sam kept his foot on the gas, kept his momentum up and held on to the lead. Sam would stretch his lead each and every lap as he laid down the fastest lap of any driver in any of the heat races. Hafertepe had nearly a full straightaway lead when he took the checkers to lock himself into the 5th starting position for the Dash.
“If you wanted a realistic shot at that $50,000 you had to win the heat race”, said Sam. “Fortunately the guys had the car on a rail and the car was really easy to drive”.
Sam would move up a row in the Dash following a Lee Jacobs mechanical failure but the Texas racer got a relatively bad start and fought a loose race car before eventually dropping to 5th which was where he would start the 26th Annual Kings Royal.
The opening lap was an eventful one for Sam as Steve Kinser cut down on him and nearly ended his night before he even turned a corner. As a result of an evasive manoeuvre Sam lost several spots but was bailed out when Joey Saldana crashed necessitating a complete restart and moving Sam up a row.
The restart of the Kings Royal saw Sam settle into the 4th position behind Danny Lasoski. Following a lap 6 yellow flag Sam began to apply pressure on Lasoski before he eventually drove by and into the 3rd position.
As the race wore on it became a battle between 3-time World of Outlaws Champion Donny Schatz, All Star Circuit of Champions kingpin Dale Blaney and Sam. Schatz and Blaney swapped the lead as Sam began to slowly reel the duo in.
“Around lap 15 of the race my car was working absolutely beautiful”, recalled Sam. “I was barely steering all of the way around and I could put the car wherever I wanted”.
Just before the halfway point Sam was able to work his way past Blaney and began setting his sights on Schatz. Soon enough Sam was gaining noticeably on Donny and looked poised to make the pass for the lead.
“At that point I really believed that we were going to win the Kings Royal”, said Sam. “My car was absolutely perfect, we were rolling and we could get through traffic better than those guys could because I could run lines they couldn’t. I was sure Schatz was trying to save his tires but I was also sure that we had something for him because I was conserving mine too and trying to take care of them as best as I could”.
The complexion of the race changed on lap 23 with a yellow. Sam now got to line up on Schatz’s bumper and the #15 was all that stood between himself, his first WoO feature win and $50,000.
On the restart however Schatz began to steadily pull away from Sam.
“Following the restart we just weren’t as good as we had been”, said Sam. “The car was starting to get tighter and tighter. I was moving the wing and trying to adapt to it and eventually found where it was good but we just weren’t as strong as we had been. I really think that had the race gone caution free we just might have won it but after that yellow Schatz really put the hammer down and showed his true hand and to be honest we just didn’t have anything for him any more”.
The lead that Schatz had built up began to evaporate in lapped traffic.
“He got to Lee Jacobs and at that point the track began taking rubber”, explained the for ASCS regional champion. “We closed down on him but he cleared him before I could get to him. Once I got to Jacobs it was just really tough to get around him because I had to leave the rubber to try to make it happen”.
Sam’s struggles would continue as the motor began to run dry on fuel and began sputtering.
“This motor just eats up fuel”, explained Sam. “All week it was using more fuel than what we are used to going through here. We knew going into the feature that there would probably be an open red and that it would probably be beneficial to us”.
The red flag finally appeared on lap 36 but unfortunately for Sam that was 1 lap too late as Blaney had already completed the pass of the sputtering G-H Plumbing #15H.
“If we hadn’t started sputtering there was no way Blaney was going to get us”, said Sam. “We weren’t going to track down Schatz but I’m pretty sure 2nd was ours”.
The 4 lap dash to the finish was relatively uneventful as Schatz, Blaney and Hafertepe slowly distanced themselves from each other and the rest of the field as Hafertepe crossed the line in 3rd.
Crew members Kory Miller and Daryl Turford greeted Sam at the scales and together had nearly as jubilant of a celebration as the winning team.
“My mom is originally from the Ohio area so I had my parents and a bunch of my family down to see this”, said the smiling racer. “Daryl is also relatively close to this area and his grandpa, father and brother were down to see this race along with a bunch of his fellow racers from back home and it was just so awesome to have a run like this in front of so many people who care about this team and how it does”.
The Plumbfast Team had originally planned to race with the All Star Circuit of Champions on Sunday at Tri-City but that was called off.
“We decided to celebrate and not worry about going to that race”, said Sam. “We thought we’d stay and celebrate this run. It’s about to be a really busy time in our schedule and I thought it would be nice to let the guys relax and enjoy a run like that because you never know how often you’ll do well in those big races and it’s always nice to enjoy when you do succeed at them”.
The team has now headed to Tiffin, Ohio and the Kear’s Speed Shop where the team will prepare for the Don Martin Memorial race at Lernerville Speedway in Pennsylvannia on Tuesday night.
“I really like running at Lernerville”, said Hafertepe. “It’s one of my favourite tracks and I always seem to do pretty well there. I can’t think of a better place to try to pick up my first World of Outlaws feature win”.
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