Last season, Zack Mitchell was involved in a battle for the ULTIMATE Super Late Model Series Southeast Region that couldn’t have been any closer. With that title under his belt, Mitchell enters this weekend’s ULTIMATE Southeast season opener at North Georgia Speedway ready to defend that title.
Mitchell battled rookie Kyle Hardy for the 2018 series championship, with the points battle going down to the wire. When the final checkered flag of the season dropped, Mitchell and Hardy had both accumulated the same number of points. Mitchell was crowned champion based on his number of wins.
The points standings mirrored how closely Mitchell and Hardy performed against each other throughout the 2018 season. Five times over the course of the 14-race season, Mitchell and Hardy finished next to each other. That includes a May 5 race at Laurens County Speedway (SC) where Mitchell took the checkered flag while Hardy finished second.
With the two drivers constantly racing each other, it made for an intense points battle. With some time to reflect, champion Zack Mitchell can truly appreciate how close that battle was.
“It was wild. Me and Kyle, if I run fifth one week, he’d run sixth or he’d run fourth,” Mitchell told Speed51. “We were always up there together. Those are just some great guys, Kyle and all them. It come down to the wire. Luckily, we were the ones that came out on top.”
In each of the last 11 races of the season, both Mitchell and Hardy finished in the top-ten. The duo was constantly putting together strong runs in their pursuit of the championship, pushing each other to the limit.
“We both knew that the points were so close, it was going to come down to the wire,” Mitchell said. “We didn’t know it would come down that close, but we knew that we had to finish in front of him because every point mattered.
“It came down to a tie,” Mitchell added. “If he had finished in front of me one race, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Now with the championship to his credit, Mitchell is appreciative of the honor after a hard-fought title chase.
“It means the world to me and my family,” Mitchell said. We work really hard at this stuff, like I’m sure everybody else does. We really work hard at this. It’s a family-operated deal. Some of my friends help. We do it because we love it. We were just fortunate enough to pick up that championship.”
Mitchell is also appreciative of the platform and groundwork for the ULTIMATE Super Late Model Series, which gives him opportunities to both compete at a regional touring level and compete with national-caliber drivers at select events throughout the season.
“It means a lot. Kelley [Carlton, race director] and Stan [Lester, founder] and all those guys have really put together a good series for people like us who either can’t afford to run a national tour or don’t have the time to run a national tour,” Mitchell explained. “We get the best of both worlds, with the regional and national aspects. We race against those national guys, not every week, but we race with them quite a few times every year. It gives us the experience and exposure of racing against guys like that.”
Now, Mitchell turns his focus to the 2019 season, which begins this weekend at North Georgia Speedway.
“We ended on a high note last year,” he stated. “Hopefully that momentum will carry through the winter. We just have to make sure we’re prepared and our cars are in tip-top shape and everything’s 100 percent before we go back racing.”
While Mitchell hopes to defend his ULTIMATE title, he is also looking to try some new challenges this year.
“We’ll probably run the ULTIMATE Series in 2019 again, try to run for the championship again. Win as many races as we can. We plan on hitting some of the bigger races this year, maybe try to go to Eldora, places like that we’ve never been to and get that exposure. Just win as many races as we can, that’s the goal right now.”
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-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51.com