Saturday at Myrtle Beach Speedway was exactly what Molly Helmuth envisioned when she decided to race in the Carolinas and Virginias with the CARS Tour this season.
Everything but the outcome, at least.
The 22-year-old from Washington State ran inside the top-5 for much of the afternoon in the BakerDist.com 200 Super Late Model season opener. It was no small feat considering that she at one point only trailed leaders Jeff Fultz and Chandler Smith — a three-time All-Pro Super Series champion and one of the most talked-about top prospects in the country.
She was right there with them on a restart with 15 laps to go.
Ultimately, she spun entering Turn 3 while fighting Jeff Batten and Anthony Cataldi to stay inside the top-5. The damage wasn’t enough to park her for the final five laps but she had to limp around the track and finished 15th.
The result did not match the accomplishment.
Helmuth was emotional upon walking back to her pit area after the race, and she said it was because she was on the verge of accomplishing a significant goal in just her first CARS Tour appearance.
“We started to get three-wide, there was some contact, and I got a little loose out of Turn 2,” Helmuth said. “I tried to stay in it and obviously, that didn’t work out in my favor.
“You know, this is a tough one, because this was my first time on the East Coast. We’re right there racing against the guys you read about or watch on Speed51 and we were about to get a top-5. That was our goal.”
Even without the top-5, Helmuth turned heads on Saturday. A product of Evergreen Speedway in Washington, Helmuth is something akin to an unknown. Driving Kelly Tanner built cars in the Northwest, some expected the results to come sooner. However, others have sung her praises as an astute learner and a serious racer.
Based on Saturday, she clearly cares about her craft, and was emotional at missing the chance to prove something to both her critics and supporters in the J&J Racing No. 16.
So did she feel like she made a statement on Saturday?
“Yes and no because I know I made a big mistake at the end,” Helmuth said. “I mean, I’m going to learn from this. I made a mistake in qualifying too. Those happen, right? But I guess you’ve got to ask those who watch if that was a statement. The mistake I made there was a heartbreaker.
“A lot of people doubt me. I don’t have a lot of wins. I don’t have the podiums. So coming here, no one thought I could contend. I had people tell me that if we’re running 15th in practice, to be happy with that. We rolled out sixth-eight in practice. We were fourth in the race.
“So with five laps to go, we were right there, I’m a little upset that I didn’t close out. Overall, I’m going to learn from this, and it did feel good to know that I can race with those guys up front.”
Helmuth will return to CARS Tour competition on April 7 when the series co-sanctions a race at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville with the Southern Super Series and the CRA Super Series.
Read more Short Track Scene:
- South Boston Preview and Fan Guide
- Jeff Fultz wins CARS Tour SLM Myrtle Beach
- Lee Pulliam educates the CARS Tour field at Myrtle Beach