For the first time in more than one month, John Hunter Nemechek will be back behind the wheel of his No. 8 Chevrolet Pro Late Model and Super Late Model this weekend at South Alabama Speedway. Riding a streak of momentum from strong Late Model finishes dating back to late 2014, the 17-year-old rising NASCAR star will be competing in the Southern Super Series season-opening Rattler 250 on Sunday, March 15, as well as the “Baby Rattler” Pro Late Model preliminary feature on Saturday.
“Getting back to the Rattler, I’m excited,” said Nemechek. “We should have won the Pro Late Model race last year and we had a good Super (Late Model) but ended up getting involved in a wreck.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back in the Pro Late Model and Super Late Model this weekend. We’ve been working very hard on them trying to get them better than they already were at SpeedFest and at the (Snowball) Derby. We’re just trying to stay ahead.”
Nemechek captured the checkered flag in two of short track racing’s most prestigious races, the Pro Late Model All-American 400 at Nashville (TN) in November and the Snowball Derby Super Late Model 300-lap race at Florida’s Five Flags Speedway in December. He followed those victories up with a win in the Pro Late Model portion of SpeedFest at Watermelon Capital Speedway (GA) in January and a strong run battling for the win in the SpeedFest Super Late Model feature before being involved in an incident late.
Needless to say, the Mooresville, North Carolina driver has quite a bit of momentum and confidence on his side as he looks to add another prestigious Late Model win to his already impressive resume.
“I think that we will be up front,” Nemechek said confidently. “I feel like we will be in contention to be able to win both races. I have only run at South Alabama Speedway once and I feel like we have a good group of guys behind me.
“There’s definitely a little bit of confidence going in, but you can’t take anything for granted. You have to keep looking at it as, ‘Okay, this is our next race and we’re going to work on it harder to get better.’ That’s kind of how we look at it week in and week out.”
Throughout the weekend at South Alabama Speedway, which begins on Thursday with an optional practice session, Nemechek will be working with the team’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series crew chief Gere Kennon to dial in his machines at a track that he’s only visited on one occasion.
Nemechek’s only start at South Alabama Speedway came just one year ago at The Rattler. He finished third in the Baby Rattler (Pro Late Model) after leading 47 laps, but was then caught up in an accident while running up front during the Rattler 250. Despite the tough luck last year, Nemechek believes he learned enough about the track and the race itself to compete for wins once again this time around.
“You just have to be there at the end. You have to save your tires and save your equipment to the best of your ability so that you can be up front when it counts,” he said. “Last year was a huge survival game just trying to survive so you could be there at the end. This year I think it’s going to be the same way, but there are a lot of heavy hitters going down there. Whoever can save their equipment to the best of their ability and be there at the end is going to be the one winning the race.”
During his time stacking up wins on the Late Model scene, Nemechek has been able to experience some of the most unique traditions in short track racing. He has strummed the guitar at the All-American 400 and he has held the coveted Tom Dawson trophy at the Snowball Derby. But the tradition at the Rattler 250 is like no other. If he gets to victory lane, Nemechek will be greeted by an Alabama rattlesnake that will be put around his neck during post-race ceremonies.
“We’ll handle it,” Nemechek said with a laugh. “I’m not a huge fan of snakes, but to win the Rattler and have a rattlesnake wrapped around you is an amazing accomplishment. But most of my guys will be running the other way screaming like little girls.
“We’ll definitely stand there and deal with a rattlesnake for winning that race.”
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com