All Junior Niedecken needed to do was start the 100-lap Pro Late Model race in order to clinch his 11th Mobile International Speedway (AL) track championship Saturday night. But as the day developed, that proved to be a much tougher task than expected for the 58-year-old driver.
Niedecken, of Pensacola, Florida, left his race shop on Saturday afternoon expecting to make his normal journey over to Irvington, Alabama. As he pulled out of the driveway to begin his trip, the Ford F350 hauling his race car shut down.
What seemed like an easy task to claim another championship had just taken a turn for the worst. But like any true racer, Niedecken was determined to find a way to get to the race track, and with a little bit of help from a friend he did so.
“I happened to have a good friend with me that helps me and he’s a head mechanic at Life Guard Ambulance,” Niedecken told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “He was able to diagnose the situation and it turned out to be a little electronic fuel pump. He was able to give it the ol’ beat on it test and it came alive and we made it to the race track.”
After getting the truck to fire, Niedecken arrived at the track planning to race the same No. 99 car that led him to one of the most successful seasons of his racing career. That seemed like a good plan until the car developed a vibration in the motor during practice.
Luckily, knowing a championship was on the line, Niedecken had loaded up his backup car just in case. The backup car wasn’t a normal backup car, however. It was a car nearly 20 years old that has been run as a Super Late Model, Pro Late Model and even a Super Stock in recent years.
“I just didn’t want to take a chance with it so we broke out the backup car, which I had done a whole lot of work on it,” Niedecken explained. “I bet that car was 20 years old and it wasn’t a name brand car. Somebody had copied a Lefthander and built this car and then it had a Dave Mader clip put on it by Bubba Gale. That was probably 10 years ago.”
Niedecken was forced to start the 100-lap feature shotgun on the field and quickly began to work his way up through the field. With 10 laps to go, he passed Hunter Robbins for the race lead and pulled way to win the race and the championship in style.
“We were able to pass Hunter Robbins for the win. He drives for Ronnie Saunders and that’s a GARC (chassis) car, so I mean it was a really good piece that we passed,” said Niedecken. “They would have died if they knew that they got outrun by a dinosaur fossil.”
Although Niedecken didn’t need to win the race, or even finish it for that matter, he said he wouldn’t have wanted to end the season any other way.
“That’s the way you want to win a championship,” the veteran racer said. “Even if you’re point leading you want to win the race. You want to do it in style.
“It had been a long time since we had won a championship. We had finished second in championship battles over the years. To have 40 years of racing, and you know we didn’t really start out going for a title. Things just started to fall into place and I said, ‘Well we haven’t run for a title in a long time, here we are leading the points chase, let go ahead and go for it.’”
In a sport that now sees young kids racing Late Models at 15, 14 or even younger, Niedecken was happy to be able to win one for the old guys. But even though on paper it says that he’s 58 years old, he said that he feels just as good as he did 30 years ago.
“I’m feeling healthy and am able to get up on the wheel,” Niedecken said. “Physically, I feel as good as I did when I was 20 or 30. Yeah, I’m older. The heat bothers me a little more and I’m a little slower with everything because that’s just part of old age. My reflexes are still great and mental sharpness I’m still there.
“I look at Red Farmer and he’s sitting there probably 80 years old and he’s still racing and will occasionally have a top finish. As long as you’re physically fit and mentally sharp, I don’t see any problem with age. When you start to be a hindrance, that’s when you need to stop.”
Another thing that Niedecken has not lost is his competitive desire. That is what keeps him coming back to the race track each and every week hoping to carry the checkered flag.
“I just enjoy being competitive. Anytime I pull up to that gate, number-one you go through that gate expecting to win,” said the 11-time Mobile champion. “Everybody that is a strong competitor, that’s how they go through that gate. We come to win, we don’t come to run second.”
Now that the 2015 season has concluded at Mobile, Niedecken plans to compete in a few of the bigger Pro Late Model shows in the Southeast region. He is hoping to make his way to Fairground Speedway Nashville (TN) for the All American 400 before making another attempt at the Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway (FL) in December.
“Unless you can win in your back yard, you stay home. When you can win in your back yard and win consistently, then you can go play. Now we’re winning consistently and running well, let’s go play.”
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com