DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – At just 20 years old, Colton Nelson did something this year that no other driver has ever done at Meridian Speedway in Idaho.
Nelson, a native of Meridian, Idaho, become the first NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I track champion in the history of the quarter-mile asphalt oval this year.
The track, which has been in operation since 1951 and was paved in 1963, joined the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series prior to this season. Nelson’s father, Adam, is also the general manager of Meridian Speedway.
“It feels pretty good. It’s cool to be a part of something as big as NASCAR is,” said Nelson, who also owns two track championships in lower divisions at Meridian. “The way it trickles down into the smaller home tracks is a really cool deal. It’s cool to have my name in there as the inaugural Division I NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion.”
Racing in Meridian’s open-wheel modified division, Nelson scored nine victories en route to comfortably capturing the track championship by 188 points over runner-up Res Ward.
“We had a really good year. We have a couple crew chiefs that came on board and helped us all year,” Nelson explained. “We were fast, we broke the track record two or three times. We won nine of the 22 events, so almost half.”
In 22 NASCAR sanctioned starts between Meridian and another Idaho track, Magic Valley Speedway in Twin Falls, Idaho, Nelson had 19 top-five and 20 top-10 finishes. But those numbers don’t tell the entire story.
Nelson said he had to overcome several bad crashes that forced himself and his crew to rebuild his race car four times.
“I totaled the car four times throughout the year. I kept my boys busy throughout the year fixing that,” Nelson said. “Every time we’d get start to get the car dialed in to where we were just about to destroy our own track record or something like that, something would happen. I’d mess up or there would be a typical racing accident and I’d put the thing in the wall.
“We’d have to change the front clip and we had to re-do the rear clip at one point during the year. It was a really busy and trying summer. But we pulled through.”
He said that were it not for those incidents, he might have had a shot at winning the Idaho state championship. Nelson came up 47 points of the Idaho state championship behind Kris McKean, who raced at Magic Valley Speedway this year.
“That was our main goal, to beat Kris McKean,” Nelson said. “He proved otherwise and ended up beating us there at the end. It would have been cool to see how it would have worked out if I hadn’t wrecked so many times.”
Nelson, who in the last two years has competed in select NASCAR K&N Pro Series West events, said he is unsure if he’ll return to defend his track championship at Meridian next year.
He is expecting to run a full schedule of winged sprint car races, something he has only dabbled in the last few seasons. He also may transition from a modified to a late model, but nothing is set in stone at this point.
“We just don’t know the direction we’re heading,” Nelson said. “Next year my car owner in the sprint car stuff said we need to run every race. That’s going to be one of our priorities, to make sure we run every race in the Pacific Northwest and Canada next year.
“We’ve been bouncing back and forth between maybe running a late model in our local Big 5 series or running the modified again. We just really don’t know where we want to go yet.”