Entering the season finale last Saturday night at Berlin Raceway, 14-year-old rookie Carson Hocevar had a one-in-four chance of earning his first track championship in ZFS Super Late Model division.
By the time the night was over, Hocevar had plenty of reasons to celebrate.
Hocevar was the highest finishing driver of four eligible contenders during Saturday’s Battle at Berlin 251, allowing him to claim the track championship in the first year of Berlin Raceway’s new playoff system. He beat Joe Bush, Terry VanHaitsma and Jordan Dahlke to the checkered flag to claim the championship in his first full season of racing at the .438-mile asphalt oval.
“It feels great, especially knowing the history of Berlin, especially with my mentor being Johnny Benson,” said Hocevar. “He told me when I first started at like 12 or 13 that it would take me at least three years to win a race at Berlin and then I won a race last year. So we knew I could compete up front.
“Going into this year we thought we could win a handful of races and ultimately, hopefully, get the championship. We were really confident.”
With the championship, Hocevar became the youngest driver to win a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track Division I championship. Kaleb Allison was 15 when he won the top division at Missouri’s Lebanon I-44 in 2014.
The top-eight drivers in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I super late model standings on Aug. 12 qualified for Berlin’s playoff program. From there there were only two ways to advance, win one of two feature races that night or be in the top-six in points.
The Aug. 19 races served as round two. If a qualified driver won one of the two features on Aug. 19, they automatically advanced to the championship round. In addition, the points leader and any driver within 20 points of the leader also advanced.
Hocevar didn’t win races on Aug. 12 or Aug. 19, but he left Berlin as the points leader on Aug. 19, earning himself a spot in the championship finale on Aug. 26. Hocevar ran near the front of the field during the Battle at Berlin 251, but found himself having to hold off Bush late in the race in order to claim the track championship.
When the checkered flag waved Brian Campbell won the race, but Hocevar was able to beat Bush to the finish line by two car lengths to finish fourth and secure his first track championship in a super late model.
“We knew we either had to win or at least beat the guys,” Hocevar said of his championship rivals Bush, VanHaitsma and Dahlke. “We felt really confident going into the week that we had some good speed going into the 251 weekend. We ended up finishing fourth and ultimately won the championship.
“We’ve been really happy, I’ve been really happy. So now we just start moving forward and see what next year brings,” Hocevar said.
Hocevear wasn’t the only driver to claim a track championship last weekend in the state of Michigan. Mark Shook, who last year earned his first track championship at Kalamazoo Speedway, easily claimed his second-straight track championship in the outlaw super late model division at Kalamazoo.
He put the finishing touches on the track championship on Friday night by scoring his fifth victory of the season in the outlaw super late model division, allowing him to win the track championship by a comfortable 155-point margin over Tom Thomas.
“To be honest with you, this was definitely the smoothest year I’ve ever had. I think all but one time we finished in the top-five. We had five wins,” Shook said. “We were qualifying in the top-three every week. I don’t know, I don’t think anything could have gone any better than it did this year. We obviously want more wins, but besides the more wins part, it just couldn’t have gone any smoother.”
For Shook, his second-straight championship proves that not only was his first championship last year not a fluke, but also that he is here to stay.
“It’s kind of a long shot, but the ultimate goal is to beat the guy that has the 12 championships at Kalamazoo, Andy (Bozell),” Shook said. “Obviously that is a long way down the road, but we’re obviously starting off pretty good. I don’t see why we’re going to slow down anytime soon.”
Despite falling short in the battle for the track championship at Kalamazoo, Shook’s rival Thomas was able to earn an accolade for himself by winning the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Michigan state championship.
He did so by competing at both Berlin and Kalamazoo, scoring one win, 15 top-five and 25 top-10 finishes in 28 starts. He easily won the state championship, beating out Division I rookie Chris Koslek for the honor.
And Larry Richardson made history at Kalamazoo. Richardson won the track’s Division IV Outlaw Cyber Stock division and became the first African-American driver to win a division title in the track’s history.
Elsewhere in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, several other track champions have been decided in recent weeks.
• Burt Myers secured his eighth track championship at historic Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He did so thanks to five victories in 21 starts at the legendary quarter-mile oval.
• Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wisconsin, crowned a first-time track champion in the late model division. John Kaanta won his first NASCAR track championship thanks to three victories in six points paying races.
• Chris Oertel was crowned the track championship in the modified division at Wisconsin’s Spring Lake Speedway. He won the title thanks to three victories at the dirt oval.
• Lastly, Jimmy Zacharias locked up his sixth track championship in the modified class at Chemung Speedrome in New York. He scored seven wins at the three-eighths-mile asphalt oval this season.