NICK SCHWIEN • Hays Daily News Jeff Taylor won the $5,000 modified payout Saturday night at Fall Nationals VI at RPM Speedway in Hays.
By NICK SCHWIEN
Jeff Taylor knew there were some fast drivers starting ahead of him.
He might not have given himself the credit he deserved Saturday night, though. Taylor, from Cave City, Ark., was fast all weekend long at Fall Nationals VI at RPM Speedway in Hays.
Heck, he's been fast all year, even winning the coveted crown at the 30th annual IMCA Super Nationals in Boone, Iowa, in September.
So Taylor himself was one driver many people had eyes on. And when the dust settled on the annual event, Taylor walked away from the field to claim his first Fall Nationals crown -- and a hefty $5,000 payout.
"I'll be honest: I knew the top three guys and the guys behind me were going to be tough," Taylor said. "(Scott) Drake has this new car, and he's running really good. Years ago, me and Drake raced against each other a lot. I had him picked as the sleeper. I just didn't know because we didn't keep times on those guys (Friday) night. When they threw the green flag, I knew right off the bat. My biggest worry was we were so good early that I thought I was going to be terrible at the end. But it stayed pretty consistent and actually got better the last few laps."
Taylor, who used a late pass of Brandon Blochlinger in Boone to win Super Nationals, needed no such heroics Saturday night. He dominated the 24-car field in the 40-lap event.
"I've never had a year like this," Taylor said. "I think we've won 75 percent of the races now. We won the Super Nationals deal, and we were on top of the world. Then we drove to California, and we didn't make the show. Then we were on the bottom of the world. It's just the way it goes. You just have to throw that weekend out, come back, start over and regroup."
Taylor locked himself into Saturday's feature with a solid performance Friday night. He drew the third-place starting spot, behind pole-sitter John Hansen and Scott Drake, who started outside the front row. David Murray Jr., this year's track champion at RPM, started alongside Taylor.
"It's been stellar," Taylor said. "I've got a good crew, and we've just got a good program right now. ... And my confidence is up. That's half of the deal on this thing, I'm telling you. It just felt kind of slippy-slidy, but as it went on I got more comfortable. I don't know, maybe we'll come back next year and be just a shade better. I had a good starting spot, and there was good competition. Murray is exceptional here. I knew any time he was going to go by me. At one point in the race, he was a little quicker than me. Then I got to searching."
Drake took the lead and led the first six laps, with Taylor settling into the runner-up spot.
But on lap seven, Taylor got around Drake into the lead. The lone caution flew after lap 10, bunching the field up behind Taylor.
Drake's car stopped on the backstretch during the caution, and he eventually pulled it back to the pits, ending his night.
That moved Murray into second behind Taylor, followed by Terry Phillips, Dominic Ursetta and Dylan Sherfick.
Phillips, driving a car of Jordan Grabouski, passed Murray on the restart and chased Taylor the rest of the way. But Taylor would keep a comfortable distance during the final 30 laps.
"He's a good racer, and I've raced with him for years -- since he started," Phillips said about Taylor. "He actually used to have my late models, and we're still good friends. But he's got his IMCA program going good. He's going to be hard to beat just slipping in every once in a while."
Taylor pushed his lead to four car lengths at the midway point and led Phillips by at least 2 seconds on lap 36.
"I knew at one point I could hear Phillips or Murray or somebody above me," Taylor said. "I know Murray runs that one line where he goes in high and turns and goes across, and I just felt so slow over there. But that's where they said we were the fastest. You never know when you're leading, and I couldn't really see my guy. On the caution, he said we were kind of OK, to just hold my line. He told me where I needed to run, and actually I moved down a little bit and the car got a little better. After the race, I went to the top and we were a couple tenths faster. I was wondering why I wasn't up there. But we did the right thing, made the right call and drove the car good."
While Taylor and Phillips held down the top two spots, Murray and Ursetta battled for the third-place spot. With three laps remaining, Ursetta passed Murray for third. Murray, a past winner of Fall Nationals, finished fourth, and Jeremy Frenier rounded out the top five after starting 12th.
"The track was in good shape," Phillips said. "It's one of those tracks that gets so slick you have to work in feet, not car lengths. Even passing a lap car, it's tough. You have to be on your toes and get what you can get. Jeff was just a little better than us tonight."
Approximately 200 cars competed in the three-day event, which began Thursday when Monte Honas won the sport compact crown. On Friday, hobby stocks, Northern sport mods, stocks and modifieds began heat races and qualifiers for Saturday's big show.
Fuller takes hobby title
Tescott's G.W. Fuller had a good finish at Fall Nationals in 2011, only to be disqualified after finishing second.
This year, Fuller worked his way to the front during the 20-lap event and grabbed one of the biggest wins in his racing career.
"This is the ultimate," Fuller said. "This meant a lot to me -- a whole bunch.
"I really wanted this win. And I'm glad I got it."
Fuller started sixth, while Ron Wehling and Brian Stich started on the front row. Those two held down the top spots through the first 12 laps, with Wehling leading the way.
That's when Fuller worked his way into third, then passed Stich on the next lap. The second caution flag flew on lap 14, and Fuller knew he had a chance to strike.
"I was being real patient. That's the key," Fuller said. "Sometimes you have to be patient to get there."
Wehling led the next three laps as Fuller continued to show the nose of his car in the corners. On lap 18, Wehling entered turn three too high and slid off the track -- allowing Fuller to take the lead.
"That's the name of the game -- kind of play with them a little bit," Fuller said. "You pray they kind of mess up so it makes your job easier."
Fuller then pulled away during the final laps to win his first Fall Nationals crown.
Stich was second, with Jason Fusselman in third, Garrett Hager in fourth and Cody Graham in fifth.
Frye the guy
Belleville's Tyler Frye had a long road ahead of him, especially with 2012 IMCA Northern sport mod national champion Jesse Sobbing starting on the pole.
But when Sobbing, who comfortably was on his way to his first Fall Nationals crown, blew a right rear tire on lap 15, the race took on a new flavor.
"You kind of just hope there's a caution in the middle," said Frye, who became the first three-time winner at Fall Nationals. "The first 10 or 15 laps, I wasn't driving it as hard as I possible could. After Sobbing wrecked, I knew everybody was going to find that extra little bit in their cars. After that yellow, we picked up the lead on the next lap, tried to stay out there and got it done."
Frye started fifth and was in third when Sobbing brought out the caution. That moved Trenton Kleweno into the top spot, followed by Frye, Dylan Book and Jeremy Chambers, last year's winner.
Frye passed Kleweno in turns one and two on the restart and dominated the rest of the 25-lap feature.
"It's the best paying show and the best field of cars around," Frye said. "If you win this show, you know you're winning a big show. It's a dream to win it again. When you have Jesse Sobbing starting on the pole and the regulars of Blaine Walt and Kleweno and Jeremy Chambers, when you can beat those guys, it's a good win."
Kleweno finished second, followed by Book, Austin Walker -- who started 12th -- and Dustin Daniels.
Nichols battles to win
Some of the top drivers in the nation battled up front in the 30-lap stock car feature Saturday night.
Jason Rogers started on the pole, alongside Nick Tubbs, and led the first 11 laps until Tubbs took over the top spot.
Tubbs, Rogers and Mike Nichols battled three wide for several laps, with Rogers down low, Nichols in the middle and Tubbs up top.
"I was concentrating on those two guys, and not anyone else," Nichols said. "And believe me, it was white-knuckle driving. The awesome thing was those two guys are really clean racing. The three-wide racing, we raced like that the better part of 30 laps and none of us every touched. That's great racing."
On lap 22, Nichols made a move to get by Tubbs on the backstretch. The two crossed the line side-by-side the next two laps, and on lap 25, Nichols inched his way by Tubbs to take the lead.
"About a third of the way into the race, I thought if I could get out front it would be hard for me to get passed," Nichols said. "But Nick drove a fantastic race. And Jason Rogers and I and Nick Tubbs were three-wide for a great deal of the race. Usually the guy in the middle never wins those kinds of deals because you never can get anyone cleared. Luckily the cautions came out at the right time for me, and he wasn't as good on the restarts. We were able to get away from (Rogers) a little bit and we were able to concentrate on Nick. It was absolutely perfect for me."
Nichols, who won Fall Nationals in 2008, led the rest of the way to win $3,000.
"We've had an awesome year," said Nichols of Harlan, Iowa. "This is our 33rd win of the year, and this one's worth $3,000. It's a long way down here, and we've got sponsors and friends who are like family down here -- the Sherficks, Terry and Angie, Dylan and Travis and their whole family. So it's awesome to come down here and win for them. They take such good care of us when we come down. Sometimes you forget about the racing when you come down so far and see friends and try to get caught up on old times. I'm just glad the racing worked out. I had a feeling it was going to be with Mr. Tubbs. We had our A-qualifier together, and Nick and I have gotten along and given each other crap for two, three, four or five years now. He's a good kid, a very clean driver. We had that awesome race with him and Jason Rogers. I'm still on cloud nine."
Tubbs finished second, with Rogers in third. Kyle Vanover, who started 13th, was fourth, and Terry Cunningham -- last year's winner -- was fifth.
Nichols, Tubbs, Vanover and Jeff Tubbs -- who was sixth -- all finished in the top six in the national standings this year.