Five Wilson County racers who expected to be championship contenders this season at Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway all got off to bumpy starts last Saturday night.
Mt. Juliet’s Bennie Hamlett, 51, the veteran of the group, probably put it best:
“Sometimes things don’t go your way in this sport,” said Hamlett, whose career spans three decades. “You are going to have a bad race now and then, and when you do, you have to put it behind you and move on.”
Hamlett finished 13th in the big 28-car field – not too bad, considering he was driving his old car from last season because his highly-anticipated new car was not ready.
Lebanon’s Dylan Fetcho, the defending champion in the premier Pro Late Model division, finished 19th after having mechanical problems.
Hunter Wright of Gladeville came in 8th after losing positions on a couple of restarts.
Chase Johnson, son of former track champion Andy Johnson, finished 9th after qualifying second and just missing the pole.
Willian Hale ended up 21st after getting caught up in a big crash.
The race was won by Michael House, son-in-law of three-time track champion Sterling Marlin.
Hamlett, who has won 32 features at three different tracks over the decades – Nashville, Highland Rim and Riverview in Carthage – had high hopes going into the season. He was building a new car, had landed a top sponsor in Town & County Ford, and added two more sponsors in 95 FM and Fast Track Mortgage.
Everything seemed in place to make a serious run for his first championship.
Then his new car wasn’t ready in time. Despite working frantically during the off-season, Hamlett wasn’t able to have his Ford wasn’t prepared for the season opener.
“We had trouble getting parts, and that put us about a week behind,” he said. “But we’ll have the car ready for the next race (May 8) and I’m excited about getting it on the track.”
Hamlett admitted the start “was not what I expected,” and the finish was “hard to swallow,” but he insisted he is not discouraged.
“It makes me more determined,” he said. “That was just was just one race. We have seven left, so there’s plenty of time to get back in it (the championship hunt.) We’ll be in good shape.”
Hamlett’s son Dalton, 25, with brother Peyton, 19, serving as crew chief, finished 9th in the Limited Late Model division.
Dalton has a new-born son, Bennie, and a stepson, J.R., who at age two is already interested in racing. That means the family legacy may continue into a third generation.
Meanwhile, the father and grandfather have lots of races left to run, starting with getting their seasons back on track in a couple of weeks.
“I’ve been involved in this sport long enough to know the ups and downs,” Hamlett said. “I’m still optimistic about this season.”