It was a performance that had to be seen in person to be believed. In fact, there are those who left Trenton, New Jersey on Saturday believing that the impossible had happened. But against all odds, it had been done, as Repaupo, NJ driver Jon Keller started tail of an E-Main and fought all night long to not only make the A-Main, but win the whole weekend.
A veteran of Bridgeport Speedway’s quarter-mile just an hour south of Trenton, Keller entered the weekend Friday feeling as good as many of the other 81 drivers throwing their names into the fight. After spinning three times in his heat race led to being parked, and not even making the cut for the four qualifier races, Keller almost threw in the towel after Friday.
“I left here dejected, I didn’t even stick around for the qualifiers, I boogied out of here, and went to the hotel. I was just trying to think about it, not sure what we wanted to do. Kind of thought that we were so far buried that I thought, ‘If we leave now, I could get home get the car stripped down, and sandblasted’. But we woke up this morning and thought we were here now, we’re loaded into the building; why would we go home now,” Keller told Speed51.
At first, Keller’s troubles seemed to follow into Saturday, as he rolled his car early in afternoon practice, but rebounded and was back on track before the session had ended. He soon shook it off, competing in the second bracket of the alphabet soup. With finishes of second in the E-Main and D-Main, third in the C-Main, and getting the last spot of sixth in the B-Main, Keller lined up 24th in the 50-lap A-Main.
“We went out, transferred, transferred again, and transferred again. I thought, ‘Geez, this is kind of going’. Next thing we know, we’re in the A-Main, I was completely content with that, but I wasn’t going to quit digging. If I didn’t finish, what have I got to lose? Then, we ended up knocking a win off, unbelievable.”
Keller was one of the beneficiaries of a big wreck on Lap 11, that started when Billy Pauch Jr. got out of shape from contact with Brenden Bright while racing for the lead. But, he just missed becoming a statistic in the pileup.
“I narrowly missed it getting down on the bottom. I saw them piling up and I saw somebody rolling down the hill, thought they were going to get me in the right-rear. But, cleared it. Somehow ended up third and all of the sudden I got a shot at this.”
For a while, it seemed that Keller would share the title of comeback of the night with Erick Rudolph, who was towed to the pits on Lap 1 after sustaining some front-end damage. Rudolph would get the lead after Brenden Bright had a flat tire with less then 10 laps to go, which would put Keller on the front row for restarts. Multiple restarts ensued in the final laps, with Rudolph choosing the inside line each time, and holding Keller at bay. It would be the final restart with two laps to go that ultimately did Rudolph in and gave Keller his moment of glory as the crowd jumped to its feet, roaring over the sound of the cars.
“I rolled down there, I had been shifting from second to third all race long. I was actually surprised that he picked the top. A few times he kept smoking off the bottom. But, the last one I thought if I just stay in third (gear), and if I don’t shift, maybe I’m less likely to blow the tires off, and it didn’t. I stayed on his right-rear coming down the frontstretch, I just smashed the throttle going into one and two, and it stuck. I came around him and was kind of panicking that it had actually worked.”
In the end, not surprisingly, Keller does not see this performance being topped by much else in his career.
“Probably not, this is the best win of my life. Maybe Tulsa, if we can get out there one year, and win. But, Tulsa don’t pay as much as this one does.”
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51