For Michael VanWingerden, a third-place finish in Round 9 of the Cabarrus Brewing Co. Masters was like riding a bike. The last time that VanWingerden competed in the BoJangles Summer Shootout was in 2010, seven years ago.
Despite having to knock off the years of rust, VanWingerden ran up front all night long. He fell behind eventual race winner Todd Midas and second-place Robby Faggart, but still had the skills to hold the rest of the field back in the caution-free race. However, the rust was apparent as VanWingerden finished just over 1.5 seconds behind Midas.
“I feel pretty happy about it (finishing third),” VanWingerden admitted. “I haven’t been in a racecar in seven year. I decided late Saturday night to come out here and race. I got 24 laps of practice to knock off seven years of rust. I definitely made a lot of mistakes out there today, but I’ll be back out tomorrow night to race, and hopefully we’ll get a better result tomorrow night.”
The reason for VanWingerden’s return is both history and honoring family,
“Tomorrow night (Tuesday night), we’ll be giving out the ‘Tom VanWingerden Spirit of a Legend Award’, and I called Ryan Farbo up and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to be out there Tuesday, so I might as well race while I’m out there.’ I turned 40 this year, so I today I’m running the Masters divisions, so the extra 30 pounds I put on since I used to race didn’t hurt me too much.”
“It’s an honor,” VanWingerden continued, talking about the award named after his father. “The Speedway called me on Friday and told me who the recipient is going to be. I had plans on Tuesday, but I cancelled what I had to be here. I’m really happy for the person who’s going to win it tomorrow night, and the fact that I get to present it to him is really special.”
In the time that VanWingerden has been gone, much has changed. He moved from the Pro division to the Masters division. VanWingerden’s firesuit shrunk in the closet and he had to borrow one from Jimmie Johnson’s former Jackman who now works at Joe Gibbs Racing, and he also commented that the age of those competing has also changed:
“I would say that the biggest difference now is the age of the competitors. When I ran Pro division here, there were maybe four of the 24 people who made the A-Main that were under the age of 16. Now I think there might be four over the age of 18 not counting the Masters. I think that would be the biggest change, the age discrepancies.”
VanWingerden clearly had fun competing once again, grinning from ear to ear when he stepped out of his car. The spark for competition and racing clearly still alive and strong inside him, he admitted that he might be back next year.
“I would say possibly. I would never run the whole eight weeks again. I have a 14-year-old, 11-year-old, so I won’t be making that much of a commitment. But, after coming out here, being competitive after being away for seven years, I will definitely come back next year.”
Now VanWingerden will not only prepare for just his second race in seven years, but will also prepare to honor a fellow competitor with the honor of the ‘Tom VanWingerden Spirit of a Legend Award.’