Jacob Goede returned home seeking local glory.
He wound up earning one of short-track racing’s highest honors.
Six years after he gave up traveling across the country chasing checkered flags, the 34-year-old from Carver, Minnesota, earned his sixth straight Late Model Division champion and sixth consecutive NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Minnesota title.
In the process, Goede earned the 2019 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship.
“Through hard work and perseverance, Jacob Goede achieved his ultimate racing goal,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer. “Jacob has compiled an impressive résumé at his home track, Elko Speedway, and NASCAR is honored to have him as our 2019 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion.”
Goede had 10 wins, 30 top-5s and 37 top-10s racing primarily at Elko. He also picked up Late Model wins this year in features at LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway and Madison International Speedway in Wisconsin.
“It’s kind of been a goal, but I didn’t think we’d ever be in the position we’re in,” said Goede.
A mechanical engineer, Goede got the official notification call from O’Donnell while he was sitting in his cubicle in the middle of his workday.
“To have someone of his caliber get on the phone with just a normal guy from Minnesota, it’s a huge deal. I’ve won some pretty big races, but for a whole season, this is by far the biggest achievement I’ve ever accomplished.”
Goede’s team consists mainly of his two brothers working with him, with occasional help from his dad and father-in-law.
“We’re a pretty small team,” said Goede. “It’s a huge deal for everyone involved. Now we can actually celebrate!”
He finished eight points ahead of Virginia’s Mike Looney (582-574). Minnesota’s Nick Panitzke, who entered the final weekend tied with Goede, finished third in the standings with 570 points.
Five-time national champion Philip Morris of Virginia was fourth with 566, while 2010 national champion Keith Rocco of Connecticut finished fifth with 564. Since 2006, Morris has only finished worse than seventh once in the eight seasons he ran a full schedule, while Rocco recorded a top-five finish for the 12th time in the last 13 seasons.
To win his first national championship, Goede had two sweep the twin Late Model features on the final Saturday night at Elko. The track had 13 different winners in its Division I, and nobody had won both on the same night. Part of the reason is that the winner of the first feature automatically drops back in the lineup for the second feature.
Keeping one eye on Looney’s simultaneous performance Saturday in twin Late Model features at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, Goede won the first first feature after starting fifth and was set up to start ninth in the second. Looney finished 10th in his first race of the night.
“I was really pumped because I knew we had a shot. At that point, I thought we were racing for a national championship, so it was game on,” said Goede. “Right before we went out, we found out he didn’t win the second one, I was like, ‘wow, here we go.’ ”
Looney finished 12th in Langley’s second race, opening the door for Goede.
Goede is just the fourth driver since 2003 outside of the Virginia/North Carolina/South Carolina region to take home the championship. He is the first driver from Minnesota to win an NASCAR national series, regional series or local series national title.
The best he had finished previously was a fifth in 2017 and a sixth in 2015. He was 11th last year. When he returned to his home track, a 0.375-mile semi-banked oval in Elko, Minnesota, his goal was maybe someday match Donny Reuvers record of nine track titles.
Goede credited rule changes that allowed the same Late Model he raced at Elko to run at at LaCrosse and Madison to allow him to even consider a run at the national title. He has a pair of runner-up finishes at LaCrosse before Elko’s season kicked off, and then took advantage of Friday night features at Madison to pick up some additional key finishes. It wasn’t until August, though, that he started thinking of the bigger picture.
“I know we had a lot of good finishes, but we hadn’t won as much as we needed,” said Goede, who took comfort in the fact that he typically runs stronger toward the end of the season. Starting August 17, Goede had five wins, two seconds, two thirds and scored top fives in all but one of 13 starts.
Goede’s late-season surge overshadowed a remarkable season by Looney.
The 41-year-old from Catawba, Virginia, never placed higher than 67th (2010) in the national standings. Last year, he had no wins in nine starts and finished 355th. But Looney knew he could run with the best of the Late Model Stock Car drivers in the southeast. He won the 2016 Martinsville Speedway 300 Late Model race.
This year, Looney truly found his groove at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Virginia. He had 12 of his 13 victories there, adding a win at Langley in June, and clinched his first track title with a sweep in the season finale last weekend. Looney finished with 23 top fives and 29 top 10s in 34 starts that also included races at Dominion Raceway and South Boston Speedway in Virginia, winning his first Virginia crown.
“To put together a season like we did, it’s really huge for us,” said Looney, who races out of a one-bay garage behind his dad’s house. “I think it’s going to take a little while for it to sink in on what we accomplished.”
Similar to Goede, Panitzke has been able to run multiple tracks in the upper midwest and move up in the national standings year by year. After finishing eighth in 2017, he was fifth in 2015 and briefly led the national rankings this year. He finished with nine wins, 21 top fives and 26 top 10s in 31 starts at LaCrosse, Madison and Elko, and won the Wisconsin championship for the second time in three years.
NASCAR uses a driver’s best 18 finishes from any sanctioned track within the state to determine the State Champion and the best 18 finishes from any sanctioned track in North America to determine the National Champion. Drivers receive two points for every NASCAR-licensed competitor they finish ahead of, up to 16 cars; and can receive two bonus points for winning from a starting position five through eight, and four points for winning from ninth or further back.
The crowning of U.S. state and Canadian province champions is a tradition that dates back to the earliest days of NASCAR and carried on until the advent of the weekly series in 1982; It was resumed in 2007. Past champions include Ned Jarrett, Glen Wood, Ralph Earnhardt, Wendell Scott and Richie Evans.
Morris, who matched NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Larry Phillips, with a fifth national championship last year, earned 14 wins, 26 top fives and 34 top 10s in 41 starts at Dominion, South Boston, Motor Mile and Langley. Rocco, who is tied for second all-time with 15 tracks titles, had eight wins, 23 top fives and 27 top 10s in 29 starts at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway and Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. Rocco leads the championship race at Thompson and is third at Stafford with a race remaining. He also won his 11th Connecticut championship.
Peyton Sellers, who is closing in on his sixth Late Model title at South Boston, finished sixth in the national standings — just four points behind Rocco. Ronnie Williams, the points leader at Stafford, finished seventh, followed by Grandview Speedway champion Duane Howard of Pennsylvania, Todd Owen (Thompson & Stafford) and Langley points leader Greg Edwards.
The Division II-V national champions as well as the UNOH Youth Achievement Award national champion will be named on Thursday.
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champions will be joined by the U.S. state and Canadian province champions, track champions and other special award winners on Saturday, Nov. 23, as part of NASCAR Awards Charlotte.