WOODFORD, Va. — Jonathan Shafer may not have won Saturday’s CARS Late Model Stock Tour race at Dominion Raceway, but the 15-year-old from Ashland, Ohio, was the star of the show.
Driving for Nelson Motorsports, Shafer put on a clinic in controlling the pace of the first 58 laps of the Radley Automotive 125, driving away from his pursuers with ease.
However, once caution flags began to develop and restarts ensued, the teenager was caught out by a gearbox issue that caused him to stack up the field on three separate restarts — eventually leading to a pit stop with 49 laps remaining to correct the issue and give him a fighting chance at victory.
Once Shafer had a bullet he could go back to battle with, he took full advantage, climbing from the tail of the lead lap to finish fourth.
He still had a shot at the victory on the final restart — lining up outside the second row — but ended up in a three-wide sandwich for the runner-up spot coming to the checkered flag that didn’t go his way.
However, it was still a valiant comeback for Shafer when considering the mechanical gremlins he battled could have ended his race.
“On the first restart we had, I shifted up into fourth and it didn’t go all the way into fourth,” Shafer explained. “I thought at first that I missed a shift, but when it happened again on the next restart, I had to come into the pits in third gear. From there, my guys worked underneath the car and push-started me off.
“Once I got back on track, they asked me to try and go back to fourth under caution and it did work,” he added. “After that it was just about putting my head down and believing we could make something out of it.”
Shafer admitted that a few weeks earlier, he may have given up had such an issue happened during a CARS Tour race.
This time, however, he had confidence in his car after qualifying on the pole earlier in the day. That speed, combined with his efforts in leading nearly the entire first half of the race, left Shafer believing he could rally for a solid finish.
“I usually would act like that (frustrated), but this time I just had a mentality of ‘OK, I’m gonna get back to the front,’” Shafer noted. “I never thought I was going to be (stuck) in the back or anything. I just had it in my head that I was going back to the front the entire time.
“I was really confident in how fast the car was. That’s why I knew I could get back up through the field,” he continued. “We definitely had a comfy lead and a pace that we could control what everyone was running … I feel like, because I’d been listening to my spotter and he was telling me what second place was running, so we’d slow down, wait for them to catch up a little and then pick back up again.
“We knew it was a game of making sure we didn’t ruin our stuff early on and saving it for the end.”
Shafer took his shot coming to turn three on the white-flag lap, ending up between Brandon Pierce and Mini Tyrrell in the battle for second.
Sparks flew, sheet metal was wrinkled and Shafer ended up fourth by a matter of inches.
“That last lap, Mini washed up the track and there was a lane right there,” Shafer noted. “Pierce wanted to come up and there was nowhere I could go. I was sandwiched between two cars. I wasn’t forcing my way in there because my bumper was past his driver’s door. We didn’t want to have anything torn up.”
While it wasn’t the finish he wanted, or believed his team deserved, Shafer left Dominion with renewed belief in his chances for the remainder of the season.
“To finish fourth with the car we had was a bit of a bummer, only because I really believe we could have won the race had things gone our way,” Shafer noted. “But we’re not going to let that stop us. This run has definitely given me a lot of confidence and understanding that the late model stocks are starting to click for me now.
“I’m looking to go into every single CARS Tour race with a different vision for the rest of the year,” he continued. “We’re looking at it now as we can qualify up front, save our stuff and be there every race. That’s our goal and, hopefully, we can keep this going and get a win like this team deserves really soon.”