The Pro All Stars Series (PASS) South is just one race away from naming their champion for the 2015 season. A championship picture that at one point during the season looked like a runaway has transformed into one of the most intense touring series battles in the entire country.
A massive penalty just two races ago at Greenville Pickens Speedway (SC) dropped championship favorite Zane Smith behind second-generation driver Tate Fogleman in the standings. Now, after a strong run by Fogleman at Concord Speedway (NC), he leads Smith by 18 markers heading into the Mason Dixon Meltdown at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC) on Saturday, November 21.
Fogleman said he feels confident heading into Saturday's showdown, but he's still feeling some butterflies too.
"We definitely have a second life (after Smith's penalty)," Fogleman told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. "But there is a little bit of pressure. The gap isn't big enough to not feel it. But there's not too much pressure because I know that the guys will give me a great car and we'll be good."
Smith dominated most of the season before he was hit with a 150-point penalty following the October 24 race at Greenville Pickens. Smith and race winner Joey Doiron made contact after the checkered flag that resulted in a crashed race car for Doiron. Smith had 100 points taken away as a result of the contact, and another 50 points taken away for not stopping on the frontstretch for post-race festivities.
Because of how strong he's been most of the season, Smith said he's feeling no pressure at all heading into Saturday's finale and thinks winning after the penalty would make for an even better story.
"I think it would be even cooler," Smith said. "I had like a 125-point lead and then they took it all away from me so to still win it would be pretty awesome."
Smith said he's feeling very confident heading into Hickory because he's normally a big fan of the historic 3/8-mile oval.
"You can either love that place or hate that place," Smith said. "Usually I end up loving it. But when you get tight there, you're really tight. We can't have that happen this time."
The Huntington Beach, California native said he was extremely tight at a race there a few weeks ago, and that night taught him a lot about how to race at Hickory.
"I moved up the track like Josh Berry was doing," Smith said. "I learned a lot in that race after Josh Berry got by me. I never knew that you could just move up more there the longer you go into the race. All that knowledge I got from that I'll definitely use this weekend."
Fogleman said he believes that Hickory is a great place for him to be headed to as he chases down his first Super Late Model championship. While he's never been all that strong at Hickory in the past, he believes his team has turned a corner in performance this year.
"I think Hickory is going to be a good place for us to get the championship," said Fogleman. "We started off the year struggling a little bit. We found some speed at the end of the year. This championship would just be really big for me and all of the guys that put so much work into the car."
The Durham, North Carolina native said he plans to run up front most of the day, but to be cautiously aggressive in pursuit of the championship.
"We're going in leading by 18 points but we can't play it safe the whole race," he said. "We have to run up front, but stay cautious while we're up there too."
A championship means a lot to any and every driver that wins one, but right now the PASS South championship may not mean any more to a driver than what it would mean to Fogleman.
"I've had some good finishes in a Super Late Model, but I just haven't had a win yet due to many things," he said. "This championship would definitely be the top highlight of my career so far. (Winning the race) would be great too, but I think just having that huge title of being the South champion would be amazing."
Speed51.com will have occasional updates from the race on their AP Racing Brakes Twitter Feed on Saturday, while highlights from the race will be available next week on the Speed51 Network.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Regional Editor - Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: LWPictures.com