Jim Jones scripted a perfect ending to the Lube Tech/Great Canadian Oil Change UMP Late Model championship race on Saturday night.
Borrowing a page from ‘The Little Engine That Could,’ Jones drove away with the 2013 championship race victory, his first since 2004 and first feature win in over two years.
“Amazing!” Jones said in the Winner’s Circle interview.
“It’s my only one all year, but it’s the big one!” he exclaimed.
The Chatham driver, affectionately known as Gentleman Jim for his class and sportsmanship over his long career, had pretty well resigned himself to a second-place finish as the laps were winding down in the 25-lap championship race.
But as the leader Dale Glassford was coming out of turn four to take the two-to-go signal from flagman Jim Van Dyk, his car slowed dramatically and came to a stop at the start-finish line.
“When I seen him slow up, I’m thinking, ‘this can’t be?’ ” Jones said about taking the lead from Glassford.
“I thought, ‘okay here’s my chance, come on little engine, let’s go.’ ”
Jones held off Chatham’s Kirk Hooker on the green-white-checkered finish to win his first championship race in nine years in dramatic fashion.
Photos by James MacDonald ApexOne; click on photos for larger views)
“When they said ‘green-white-checkered,’ I had to settle down, keep it to the mat, make the car was wide as possible and don’t let anyone get by,” Jones said.
Hooker got a run on the inside coming out of turn two on the final lap but Jones closed the door going through the final turns.
“Jimmy had a good car tonight, I want to congratulate him, he really deserved it,” said Hooker, who ran behind Jones from lap four to the checkered.
Jones was able to hang with Glassford for most of the race, which was slowed by three cautions in the first four laps and five in total.
“I didn’t know what he was up to,” Jones said when asked about Glassford going from the bottom to the top and back to the bottom on restarts.
“I didn’t care, I just kept charging and I was able to give him a whirl at times.”
Jones said he prefers the bottom, “but you have to do what you have to do no matter where you’re at.
“Actually, it was best mid-track all over, but you had to hang on,” he continued.
“There was one lap, I don’t think it stopped bouncing all the way down the front stretch on the high side.
“I said, ‘I’m getting away from there,’ … this old body can’t take that!” he said laughing.
Jones’ win was one of the most popular in years, as the good-sized crowd saluted the new champion with a standing ovation as he emerged from his car in The Winner’s Circle.
“It’s been a couple years since I’ve won (a feature), and what better time than on championship night,” said Jones, whose last feature win came on June 19, 2010.
His fellow Late Model drivers were ecstatic in Jones’ victory.
“I’m so happy for Jim, he’s tried so long for this … I think I’m more happy for him than I am for myself,” said Chatham’s Gregg Haskell, who was celebrating his own back-to-back Late Model points championship.
“That was big for Jimmy and a very popular win … he deserves it,” said Glassford, whose trip to the Winner’s Circle was foiled by the belt coming off the fuel pump.
“It shows anyone in this class can win, they just have to be in the right place,” added Glassford, who earlier in the season had the roles reversed when he passed Jones late in a feature and went on to win.
The 53-year-old Jones, who started racing as a 15-year-old in 1976 when South Buxton was still known as Raleigh Raceway, swept the Late Model points title and championship race in 2004 and also won the Great Lakes Late Model series 50-lap championship race.
“I’m not going to say it’s better than 2004, it’s pretty hard to top winning the points, the championship race and the 50-lapper,” said Jones, comparing his championship seasons.
“But to do what I did with that little guy (engine) in there, to more or less be the underdog and do this … it’s awesome!”
Jones does not have the same power as many of his Late Model competitors, which made his victory even sweeter.
“It’s a little 358, still the original Chevy four-bolt main block … nothing special,” he explained.
“Well its special,” he corrected himself, “but not compared to what she’s running against.
“I’ve been close, I’ve had a few seconds this year … I guess I was due,” Jones said, with a smile.
Charing Cross’s Chris Ross, Chatham’s Erick Walker and Blenheim’s Reid Gill rounded out the top five.
Ross, whose car was knocked out of commission in a crash Eldora earlier this month, drove Don Gordon’s No. 33 machine.
One top contender’s bid for a championship ended early as Wallaceburg’s Mike Lewis, who won the heat race for his 10th checkered of the season earlier in the night, said he got into the back of Jones on a restart on lap two when the No. 34 car didn’t go.
Lewis had 10 top-five finishes in 12 features after missing the first month of the season.
Haskell, who wrapped up his second straight Late Model points championship two weeks ago, had motor issues before the race night. He was scheduled to start on the pole but dropped to the back of the field for the green flag and went to the pits, finishing 13th.
“I would have liked to finish it off better,” Haskell said.
“But it’s par for the course. It looks Dale broke another motor, I’ve been through two, (Brad) Authier’s been through a few.
“I think a lot of us are glad to see this season over with,” Haskell said.
The 2014 season for the Late Models starts Oct. 1 when the class track officials will hold a meeting at Lube Tech, on Richmond St. in Chatham, to discuss plans for the future with the drivers and car owners.