In one of the most talked-about stories of the season in northeastern Super Late Model racing, 15-year-old (at the time) Gabe Brown managed to claim the 2018 points championship at historic Oxford Plains Speedway in his first year of full-time competition.
In 15 starts, the Granite State native earned nine top-five and 13 top-10 finishes en route to becoming the youngest driver ever to win a premier-class crown at Oxford since George Damon first opened the gates in 1950. It's a feat worth noting, and one that may never be challenged again in our lifetimes.
“It feels absolutely amazing,” Brown said. “We went into this year hoping for a win or two. We didn't get them, but we were very consistent all year. About halfway through the season, we realized we had a legitimate shot at the championship. It ended up working out in our favor.”
The fact that Brown never held the checkered flag during his title run was frustrating for the newly-crowned champion. His four second-place finishes (May 6, May 26, July 6, and Aug. 18) made it a bitter pill to swallow.
“It was definitely frustrating to not get at least one win,” Brown admitted. “We know we had a car capable of winning, it just never quite panned out. The two-tire rule played with us every two to three weeks. It messed us up some for a while, but we switched that up and got the car to where it was consistent.”
Most folks inside the sport and fans who follow Brown closely already know the big factors in his quick road to success are his ties to Dale Shaw Race Cars. The company’s namesake —1994 NASCAR Busch North Series champion and respected chassis builder Dale Shaw — took Gabe under his wing and has guided him to success.
Dale and son DJ have been hands-on with Gabe's program since Day 1, working to ease his learning curve and help him not only get the most out of his equipment but to make smart decisions on race day. The elder Shaw says Brown worked hard for all he accomplished in 2018.
“Gabe works here at my shop every day, just like he was an employee,” Shaw said. “Some days I let him work on his own car, because he needs to. He worked a lot of nights, as well. When you're racing for a championship, it takes a little more effort. He doesn't mind working, so we make him work.”
To earn a points title at a highly-competitive place like Oxford, it takes serious skills behind the wheel. Shaw says Brown certainly has no shortage of them once the green flag waves on Saturday night.
“Gabe has a lot of natural talent in a Super Late Model,” Shaw added. “I didn't want him to win a title without winning a race like I did, but I guess that's the way it worked out. A lot of people complained about the lineup system week-to-week, and how we played that to our advantage.
“During the summer, we played that up like we were out there sandbagging. I never went to the track in my driving career to run second, and neither does Gabe. We wanted to win every time we unloaded.”
Shaw never bagged a win driving the Skoal Pontiac for Quint Boisvert during his title run in 1994, yet did win the Fall Classic 150 at Beech Ridge on Sept. 16, 1995, wheeling Boisvert's famed No. 7 entry.
Two-time PASS North champion DJ Shaw has also been hands-on with Brown's program throughout his championship run. In fact, his level of commitment to Gabe's title efforts saw DJ decline an invitation to the since-canceled Speed51 Super Select in Indianapolis to be there for his friend on Championship Night.
“I had been there for him all season long and didn't feel right about bailing on him to go race out there when it was such a big night for him at Oxford,” Shaw told Speed51.com. “I would have loved to compete at Lucas Oil Raceway Park, but my priorities were with helping Gabe at Oxford.”
The heavy influence and guidance given to Brown all season played a big role in his title run, for sure. Yet the elder Shaw says despite all he and DJ did to ensure the No. 47 ride was fast, it wasn't just them.
“It was a combination effort that produced these results,” he explained. “DJ and I both did whatever we needed to help him, but Gabe did 99 percent of the work. DJ did most of the chassis setups for him, and we never really changed a lot at the track. Gabe doesn't have the feedback that DJ would have.
“He just drove the thing like it was set up and did a great job. I'm proud of the consistency we had. It says a lot about Gabe's talent, our race cars and DJ's setup skills. I'm thrilled for Gabe and his family, and proud DJ and I could play a role in his championship season. Now, we're off to White Mountain.”
With the championship in his pocket, Brown will enjoy a little post-season PASS racing for fun. He says that incredible title run would not have been possible without a lot of key people and sponsors.
“I could never have pulled it off without Dale and DJ's guidance,” Brown added. “I owe so much to them for this opportunity, and to my father for all he's done to make this possible. My family has been behind me all the way, and I want them to know how much I appreciate their support.
“I also have to thank our partners North Conway Incinerator Service, E&R Excavation, R&B Drywall, North Conway Disposal, Firm Foundations, Forrest Locke Drywall, Explorations for the Young Child, Hill's RV, R.W.R. and Little Hands, Big Dreams Child Care Center. That kind of support really helps.”
Story By: Phil Whipple, Speed51.com Northeast SLM Correspondent
Photo credit: Speed51.com / Phil Whipple