Hickory win gives Taylor Stricklin first-ever championship on a shoestring budget

Taylor Stricklin’s 2014 racing season was full of uncertainty when the year began, but by September the 25-year-old Mount Ulla resident had a limited late-model track championship at Hickory Motor Speedway.

“We were definitely ecstatic about it,” Stricklin said of his first title.

“It’s a weight off our shoulders to be done points racing for the year and get through the headache of it and the nights without sleep.”

For Stricklin, it was a year in which he matured as a driver, competing with rookie Trent Barnes of Whiteford, Md., throughout the season before taking the title by 14 points.

Stricklin worked on his car at night with his father, former NASCAR driver Hut Stricklin, after finishing his full-time day job at his father’s automotive business in Cleveland, N.C. He had friends and fellow competitors help him rebuild his destroyed race car, tightened his finances to pay for his racing and constantly sought advice from his father and his grandfather, former NASCAR driver and Indianapolis 500 rookie Donnie Allison.

“To me, he became a good race car driver this year,” Allison said. “For him to win the championship was extremely rewarding to me because he got paid back for all the hard work and the effort he put in to get there.”

Allison said he was skeptical about his grandson racing when Stricklin entered Hickory’s street stock division just shy of his 19th birthday.

That changed this year, when Stricklin learned patience is an essential part of successful racing. Allison defined it as going from being a “race car rider” to a “race car driver.”

“A race car driver knows how to race his car against the competition,” Allison said. “I explained to Taylor for a long time (that) you want to drive your own car. You don’t want to let the competition drive your car for you.

“I watched him struggle at the first of the year. I watched him really turn the thing around maybe past midway of the season. The last half of this year, instead of watching my grandson running over the guy or into the guy, it was under the guy and around the guy. That breeds confidence and a race car driver races with confidence.”

Headed into the 2014 season, Stricklin knew he wanted to race as much as possible in NASCAR’s Whelen All-American Series and said he hoped to find someone who would want to move up to NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series.

Prior to this year he’d been in only one points battle: when he finished second in Hickory’s street stock division. Running for a championship simply wasn’t in the season’s financial plan.

And in Hickory’s third event of the season, it didn’t appear racing was on Stricklin’s agenda, either.

“We destroyed the car,” Stricklin said. “We hit the opening and crossover gate going into Turn One at Hickory. It’s a blunt wall with some tires stacked around it. It was one of those unfortunate racing accidents where I was on the outside and the guy underneath me was turned. Both of us got together and went into the thing head first. We came to an abrupt stop and another guy hit us in the right rear of the car. About the only (car) body parts that weren’t torn up after the wreck were the rear half of the roof and the back glass.”

After looking at the car, Hut Stricklin told his wife, Pam, “Our season is over. Neither he nor I had the money it was going to take to put it back together.”

However, after they started taking apart the wreckage, they decided it might be salvageable. They took the chassis to Performance Center Racing Warehouse in Statesville to be repaired. Within three days it was back at Stricklin’s shop.

“We built it back over the course of two weeks and made it back for the next race,” Stricklin said. “Everybody chipped in, from my uncles, to neighbors, fellow racers (from Hickory), friends who work at (Michael) Waltrip’s, anybody and everybody that could help.”

Stricklin’s only other hiccups during the season came in two of the final four races. Two weekends before the season finale he became involved in a spin.

The next race night there were twin features. Stricklin finished third in the first, but an electrical problem in the second kept him on pit road for the first 11 laps, reducing a comfortable lead to just 16 points.

“The whole week leading up to the last race, I’m laying in bed and, I’m sure my dad was the same say, just laying in bed thinking of anything and everything on the car that needed to be gone over or could cause problems so we didn’t beat ourselves,” Stricklin said.

Headed into the final race, Stricklin had to finish eighth or better to win the title. He placed third behind winner Travis Byrd of Sherrills Ford and runner-up Barnes.

“It all fell in order the way it was supposed to for us,” Taylor Stricklin said. “Any time we had a bad night, (Barnes) also had a bad night.”

A week after Stricklin won his championship, he finished 23rd in his PASS South Super Late Model debut at the 0.363-mile Hickory oval in a car provided by a family friend living in Alabama.

“We would definitely like to expand and take the next step to move up, but right now that’s not in the cards for us,” Stricklin said. “We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing and hope for the best.”

Fittipaldi brothers win titles

Davidson’s Pietro and Enzo Fittipaldi each captured a championship on the same weekend, but on different continents.

Pietro, who was competing in Croft, England, clinched the 2014 Protyre Formula Renault title by winning one of two races at Croft and finishing second in the other.

One race weekend remains in the series, but a dominating 10 wins in 13 races by Pietro this season allowed him to claim the title before the finale at Silverstone.

In Mooresville, Enzo claimed the 2014 East Coast Karting title by winning from the pole at GoPro Motorplex. It was his fifth victory in seven races this year.

Action Express leads points

Denver-based Action Express Racing takes a 22-point lead into the Oct. 2-4 Petit Le Mans season finale at Road Atlanta. The team solidified its position atop the standings with a podium finish Sept. 20 in the Lone Star Le Mans at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Snider 2nd in track points

Myatt Snider won the season finale at Southern National Motorsports Park in Lucama to finish second in the track’s late-model stock car points battle.

In only his second full season driving late--models, the Belmont resident recorded 16 top-five and 20 top-10 finishes in 22 events on the four-tenths-mile oval.

The 19-year-old Belmont-Abbey College sophomore, who works at Joe Gibbs Racing, failed to finish only 60 laps this season at Southern National, for a 95.8 percent completion rate.

Snider’s next race is the Oct. 5 Martinsville DuPont Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway. More than 80 cars are expected to compete for one of 42 starting positions. The winner receives $25,000 and a grandfather clock.

Peltier wins at Hickory

Concord’s Preston Peltier defeated Hickory’s Tyler Church to win the Sept. 20 PASS South Super Late-Model race at Hickory Motor Speedway.

Rounding out the top five, respectively, were Tyler Dippel of Wallkill, N.Y.; Kannapolis’ Kodie Conner; and Mooresville’s Cole Timm.

Hemric wins race, loses title

Kannapolis’ Daniel Hemric emerged victorious in a three-wide race with Augie Grill and Jeff Choquette on the final lap of the Sept. 21 Southern Super Series season finale at Alabama’s Mobile International Raceway. The margin of victory was 0.008 second.

However, it was Georgia’s Bubba Pollard who kept Hemric from successfully defending the series title. Pollard finished fourth in the race to defeat Hemric for the championship by seven points.

Concord’s Kyle Grissom finished sixth in the standings, while Huntersville’s Harrison Burton placed 12th. Mooresville’s John Hunter Nemechek took 15th in the points.

Venturini Motorsports wins

Concord-based Venturini Motorsports drivers led 72 of 100 laps in the Sept. 19 ARCA race at Kentucky before Brennan Poole emerged with his sixth career ARCA victory, the most ever for a VMS development driver.

Cody Coughlin finished fourth and Daniel Suarez fifth to give VMS three of the top-five finishers. The ARCA season finale is Oct. 3 at Kansas Speedway.