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Super Late Models

Regarding Jeremy Pate, Jeff Choquette and Musical Chairs

It’s the Super Late Model version of musical chairs and the song started with Stephen Nasse.

When Nasse took his Super Late Model in-house and formed his own race team, while also parting ways with Jett Motorsports over the spring, the resulting domino effect reached Larry Blount Motorsports, Jeremy Pate and an unsuspecting Jeff Choquette.

In short, Jett Motorsports needed another Super Late Model team to share data and split resources with and found an obvious partner in Larry Blount Motorsports.

Even before Nasse departed, Blount and Jett had already begun working together with Pate and Nasse serving as de facto teammates under that unified umbrella. Blount is based in Orange Park Florida and Jett is based in Jacksonville — 30 minutes apart in Northeast Florida.

When Nasse left, Larry Blount Motorsports occupied the space in the hierarchy once reserved for the No. 51 team, with Pate remaining the driver for two races last month at Nashville Fairgrounds and New Smyrna Speedway. Everyone was excited for what the partnership could mean for their competitive future.

They ran eighth and fifth, and then came the phone call on Monday.

“He said the things they were having issues with is my driving style and the way we were going about it and that he was making a change with the No. 21.

“He said he was putting Choquette in the car. I explained my side of things and felt like I was getting a raw deal because it was only two races since we put the new deal together and we had made the most of what we had before.

“But I also understand that when you start to spend more money, expectations start to rise, and this is a business.”

Blount wasn’t intending to fire Pate on Monday and even offered to keep the 43-year-old veteran in the program driving a second Jett Motorsports car, but Pate wanted to pursue other options after losing the LBM No. 21 seat.

“I felt that I didn’t need to stay if I wasn’t getting 110 percent or if they didn’t believe in me,” Pate said. “It would just feel like another lame duck situation. I saw the writing on the wall, so I didn’t take him up on it and needed to make some phone calls.

“If the decision was made that the driver was the issue, there wasn’t a reason for me to stick around and either help or hurt whatever direction they were going. That feeling wasn’t fun, and at 43, I need to be having fun because we spend too much money to not have fun.

“That’s part of what I was looking for this week. I was actually surprised at the amount of interest we got, especially this late in the season about various cars that were still available, but this one allowed me to finish the season and that’s a blessing.”

This One refers to Matt Drake and the FAB Specialties No. 22 that Pate will drive for the remainder of the season and through the Snowball Derby in December.

Pate has spent over the past two decades building relationships in short track racing, either driving for or working as a crew member across numerous teams and manufacturers throughout the country, and that goodwill was returned.

He had just five days to put a deal together and was able to make something happen.

“We’re not going to be the fastest thing here today, but we’re an 8th to 10th place car,” Pate said. “Considering it wasn’t supposed to be here two days ago, we’re going to be alright.

“I still have a lot of phone calls to return from people with ideas and that’s a blessing. This sport is so hard when you’re not a funded driver. I’m very grateful for the opportunities I had with Larry. That was one of the only paid for rides out there and I treated it with respect. We just took what I though, on paper, was going to be a good deal … and not so much.”

The phone call to Pate was the second in as many weeks Blount made in the pursuit of improving his No. 21 team.

Choquette wasn’t retired per se, but 18 months removed from his last Super Late Model start and with a growing family, it would have to be the right fit to entice him to compete on a more regular basis.

Choquette had previously driven for Jett Motorsports, but that wasn’t the reason Blount called him.

“Nobody knew I was doing it,” Blount said. “Not Pat Jett. No one knew and no one influenced me. I just called Jeff and told him I was thinking about making a change and he said he needed to talk to his wife first. He called me back and agreed to all the Pensacola races and a couple of other races in Florida and that’s when I called Jeremy.

“I told him where we were at. I said no one made me do this. No one influenced me. I’m the car owner and it was my call.”

Choquette has over two dozen Super Late Model victories and 12 alone while driving for Jett Motorsports from 2016-2019. Driving the No. 9, Choquette won the 2018 Winchester 400, Florida Governor’s Cup. Clyde Hart Memorial, Red Eye 100 and two Southern Super Series races.

He has been a contender in the Snowball Derby on numerous occasions with two top-10s and 118 laps led in six starts.

That is what Blount hopes he is adding to his No. 21, especially when combined with the familiarity of their combined Jett tenure.

Choquette wouldn’t agree that he has unfinished business in the Derby, because that race doesn’t owe anyone anything, but he recognizes a great chance to win.

“We’ve had some really good runs here,” Choquette said. “We’ve been right there in the Derby, some podiums, and that’s all you can ask for after 300 laps. From there, it’s not luck, but it’s not totally in your control either.

“I’m looking for wins, but just being in contention is the goal. I don’t want to say unfinished business but winning would mean a lot.”

Choquette hasn’t competed a lot since his last pavement race, but did race a Dirt Modified last year at Volusia Raceway Park. Blount doesn’t expect winning right from the start, conceding that Choquette might not be in race shape yet, but that’s the intent.

In addition to all four races at Pensacola for the Derby, they’re also going to enter events in Florida at New Smyrna and Showtime Speedway just to establish chemistry in advance of the Snowball Derby. That’s what all of this is about.

Blount wants to win, and he wants to win the Derby, and just felt like Choquette would make the difference in his No. 21.

Pate and Blount had several inspiring runs together over the past two years, but just couldn’t break into that consistent podium territory, be it equipment, resources or circumstance.

“You could say it was luck, but you make your own luck, right,” Pate said. “I feel very proud that we were the best of that second tier behind those funded cars who had a budget. We went toe to toe with them on a smaller budget.

“We spent our money smart, I think, and we were right there on the edge. I just felt like all we needed to complete the puzzle piece was that deal with the Jetts and we got it. It made all the sense in the world. I had never had a chance to work with a dedicated crew chief, where they want you to drive a certain way, and that was going to be a different deal.

“I don’t want to bash anyone, because I believe we all believed it was going to work out and it just didn’t. Money doesn’t always fix everything in racing. Chemistry still matters too, and that just didn’t come quick enough.”

Blount had a in-person conversation with Pate and his traveling crew on Friday afternoon and they collectively hashed it out. He says everyone is still friends, and there’s some things they’ll agree and disagree on, but it was purely a business decision.

“This is my car and I want to win,” Blount said. “I run this car like I run my business, and when it comes time to make business decisions, you have to look past friendships and make the best decision, with the best people available, and that’s why we’re going this direction with the Jetts and Jeff.”

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Matt Weaver is the owner and founder of Short Track Scene. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He is also the associate motorsports editor of Autoweek Magazine and its website, which allows him to cover the highest levels of the sport.

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