In a long race on a tough and unpredictable bullring, it’s hard to count any driver out of a race early. Time and again, from Harry Gant to Jeff Gordon, some of stock car racing’s greats have managed to overcome torn up racecars and laps lost to win entertaining short track races. In the longest race ever – 304 laps – held in the 51-year history of Highland Rim Speedway (TN) Saturday evening, Davey Coble was able to pull off his own unbelievable comeback and lay claim to the most prestigious Pro Late Model victory of his career.
He pulled into Victory Lane with more than half of the sheet metal he started the race with laying in a pile in his pit box. His entire right side roll cage stuck out of the car like a Modified nerf bar. His hood had been dispensed with by lap 100. And in place of all the missing fenders were haphazard streaks of duct tape.
After being caught up in four wrecks in the first hundred laps, no one at the facility believed Coble could win until the very last corner of the race. Least of all Coble, who couldn’t stop smiling as he stared at his junked winner, an Enduro that had just won a Pro Late Model race.
“We spent six days working non-stop on this race car,” Coble told Speed51.com Powered by JEGS. “And here we don’t have a door, don’t even have a hood on it. No bumper bar. All we had was the will to win. And God. He pulled us through because we didn’t have a prayer to win halfway through. I thought we were done. I just have to thank anyone who has laid a hand on this racecar. This just doesn’t happen.”
Coble’s wild rise to the top began with just fifty laps to go, after rain delays and multiple single car spins had slowed down the race to a snail’s pace. Highland Rim Speedway officials had been working to get the race started since 4 PM despite persistent showers, but the slowdowns had led the race into its fifth hour.
To that point, however, the hindrances had been of no concern to Michael House. The four-time winner at The Rim during the season had led every green flag lap of the race up until that point after setting fast time Friday evening by two-tenths of a second. His #84 would routinely pull away to a straightaway lead length during the handful of green flag runs the race saw.
But chief contenders Mark Day and Augie Grill had charged back through the field after a mid-race spin sent both to the rear. And by lap 250, they were ready to give House all he could handle. Grill and House ran side by side for six thrilling laps before a caution back in the pack gave Grill the lead for the subsequent restart.
The restart on lap 253 would see Day eliminated as he tried to take Grill and House three-wide before contact would cut a tire and have him slammed into by Dylan Fetcho. Then House be the next to go as he was turned by Jack Smith entering turn one on the next go-round.
House, visibly angry with Smith, appeared to have calmed himself down as he walked back to his pit stall after a few tense moments waiting for Smith on the track. However, House was not done expressing his displeasure. Picking up one of the spare tires in his pit stall, House would chuck it square at Smith’s car as it went by the frontstretch wall under yellow. House would then be removed from the premises and race officials were at press time debating if he should be DQed from the race finish.
Grill then seemed to be in the catbird’s seat with the only other two cars that had shown any muscle during the race out of contention. But second place starter Mike Barrett tucked in behind Grill and then simply drove through him entering turn one just moments into the next restart. Grill quickly settled the score, ramming his car into Barrett’s as the field awkward stopped behind the incident waiting to see what would happen.
As the leaders continued to take themselves out, Coble still wasn’t in the picture. He had snuck into the top-ten in the ordeal, but with his damaged racer only seemed to be able to move up if others crashed ahead of him.
That scenario would keep happening.
Waylon Jenkins would be taken out a lap into the next run and ended Jack Smith and Mark Day’s comeback efforts. Dylan Fetcho had the entire driver’s side door ripped off like a can opener. Wade Day got skittered out of line twice.
Suddenly, it was down to a green-white-checkered with fan favorite Walt Garrison and Bobby Terry leading Coble and Wade Day into the final eight turns. Garrison and Terry raced cleanly for the first lap and half, but after Garrison cleared Terry down the backstretch during the white, Terry drove all over Garrison in turn three coming to the checkered. As Garrison spun, Terry could not hold onto his race car and went spinning to the inside. Coble was able to duck down below Terry just in the nick of time and came across the start-finish line with the unlikeliest of victories.
Coble did not hesitate to answer if he’s ever been a competitor in a rougher race.
“No. This was definitely was a knockout dragfest. Everyone was having fun but man it was rough. We took a couple shots early to the nose and we knew we couldn’t survive many more, so we started riding a lot. [On the last lap] I knew them two guys would probably get together and then we would have to go for it. Lift early and make sure that when they make contact we can slide in there. That’s what ripped the door off. But hey, that got us the big check and we’ll go bank money.”
Coble, in addition to being the only survivor of the wild race, was also the only happy driver by night’s end. House was escorted out of the track after his tire javelin act. Garrison and Terry declined comment as their crews quibbled at each other. Augie Grill stood and shook his head as he looked at the front valence knotted up by the toolbox.
“That was just a lot of ridiculousness,” said Grill. “For one thing, taking six or seven hours to run a race. Us getting in and out of the racecars all night long. It’s just frustrating. I ran the whole race and didn’t have much of a mark on the car. Then fifteen laps to go, one guy causes two big wrecks that took the leaders out. It just don’t make a lot of sense. I guess this is why I don’t quarter mile race.”
Despite being sent to the rear for his contact with Grill, Mike Barrett was able to drive through the last lap accident scene and come home second. That was just enough to eke out Mark Day for the 2015 Pro-8 Late Model Series championship.
Highland Rim Speedway’s 2015 finale will come on October 31st with “Trunk or Treat”. Sportsman, Open Wheel, Super Stock, Pro-4 Mods, Tuner, Pure Stock, Rim Runner, Legends all will be in action starting at 4 PM.
— Story and Photos by Tim Quievryn // Speed51.com Southeast Editor // @thethirdturn(powered by 51's Third Turn)
| 1||11||27C||Davey Coble|
| 2||5||22||Mike Barrett|
| 3||2||89||Dylan Fetcho|
| 4||7||96||Wade Day|
| 5||19||22X||Hunter Byrd|
| 6||21||98||Matt Spurlock|
| 7||20||05C||Allan Carter|
| 8||4||8D||Mark Day|
| 9||17||99||Walt Garrison|
| 10||14||5||Bobby Terry|
| 11||12||21||Waylon Jenkins|
| 12||18||55C||Jonathan Wilhite|
| 13||8||28||Jack Smith|
| 14||9||112||Augie Grill|
| 15||1||16||Billy Sisco|
| 16||15||05D||Nathan Davis|
| 17||10||4W||Chris Whorton|
| 18||23||19||Larry Ardry|
| 19||22||62||William Hale|
| 20||13||114||Sterling Marlin|
| 21||16||2P||Michael Pruitt|
| DQ||3||84||Michael House|