Hafertepe Finally Breaks Through At Volusia

Hafertepe USCS

Sam Hafertepe Jr. (center) topped Thursday night's United Sprint Car Series event at Volusia Speedway Park. (World Racing Group photo)

BARBERVILLE, Fla. – With as many accomplishments as Sam Hafertepe Jr. has in 360 sprint car racing, it’s difficult to find something that he hasn’t done in the discipline.

Thursday night during the first act of the Germfree Southern Sprint Car Shootout at Volusia Speedway Park, however, Hafertepe got to check off two different bullets from his “to-do” list in thrilling fashion.

Coming to five laps to go, Hafertepe dove through the middle lane of turns three and four to split the lap car of Glenn Styres and race-long leader Austin McCarl, taking the top spot with a daring pass.

He then drove away to both his first United Sprint Car Series victory and his first-ever win at the half-mile Volusia dirt oval, earning $2,500 at the wheel of his Hill’s Racing Team-prepared No. 15h.

It marked a long-awaited breakthrough for the Sunnyvale, Texas, native after more than 40 appearances at Volusia through the years without a trophy to show for his efforts.

“Honestly, this dirt has thrown me for a loop here for a while,” Hafertepe admitted in victory lane. “They changed it a couple of years ago, and I think it’s better, but for what we normally do with our race car we have to make a lot of changes when we come here. We were OK to start … and I honestly just did some stuff that we’d done at East Bay in the past, and it made this thing come to life.

“I couldn’t have had a better race car than I did in the feature,” he added. “It’s good that we know what we did, now, because I feel like we’ll be able to maintain this for the rest of the weekend. Austin’s a good driver and once I showed him the bottom, he moved down, and I felt like I could get some momentum on the top.

“Once we moved down and the lap cars somewhat picked him for me, I was able to get in the middle, get the lead, and then protected from there to the finish.”

While Hafertepe was the star of the show late, it was McCarl who got the jump off the initial start and controlled most of the 25-lap feature. “The Big Unit” pulled away from Justin Peck by more than a second off the pole in just two laps, appearing to be the odds-on favorite working the outside lane.

After starting seventh, Hafertepe found himself passing Ryan Timms for third place just before the feature’s only caution flag waved with 10 laps complete – a slowing Lance Moss on the backstretch being the culprit.

McCarl held serve during the lap-11 restart, but behind him, Hafertepe was ready to put on a charge.

The five-time ASCS national champion surged into second after a stumble by Peck on the restart, quickly closing in on McCarl’s rear nerf bar as the duo chose their lanes around Volusia’s half-mile dirt surface.

McCarl remained committed to the top side, while Hafertepe kept chipping away at the deficit on the inside of the track until the 10 to go mark, when the pair swapped lanes and McCarl seemed to pull away as Hafertepe momentarily stumbled atop the turn-two cushion.

Hafertepe faded by six car lengths by the time the duo entered slower traffic on lap 17, seemingly out of the mix, before regaining his rhythm and rocketing back into contention over the ensuing two rotations.

Finally, working lap 20, Hafertepe shot to the middle of the track and deftly slipped past Styres before cutting up across the nose of McCarl’s No. 88 Country Builders Racing machine to take the lead for good.

Over the final six laps, McCarl could do nothing but watch as Hafertepe pulled away to a 1.472-second victory.

“The way the top was getting, I can see why the bottom got as good as it did, and then when Sam showed it to me, I went down there and was rolling it wide open,” a dejected McCarl noted. “I probably didn’t have enough gear to do that, honestly. I don’t run 360s very often, so I always have to tell myself to leave the car a bit freer than I would in a 410.

“It definitely stings, but at least if we’re going to get beat, it was by one of the best ever in a 360 sprint car,” he added. “We’ll learn from this one and come back stronger.”

Seventeen-year-old Timms completed the podium ahead of Indiana traveler Justin Peck, making a rare 360ci appearance at the wheel of the Sean Michael Motorsports No. 20, and Florida’s Danny Sams III.

Cameron Martin, Pennsylvania veteran Mark Smith, Wayne Johnson, Davie Franek, and Eric Riggins Jr. were the remainder of the top-10 finishers.

Johnson was the night’s hard charger, rolling from 18th on the grid to an eighth-place finish.

NASCAR Cup Series star and reigning Daytona 500 champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had a miserable night after having to take a provisional to start the feature. He was 19th at the finish, two laps down.

The Germfree Southern Sprint Car Shootout continues Friday at Volusia Speedway Park with another $2,500-to-win feature before Saturday’s big-money finale, which will award a $10,000 prize.

For those unable to be at the racetrack, every lap of the event can be streamed live through DIRTVision.

The finish:

Germfree A-Feature (25 Laps): 1. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr. [7]; 2. 88-Austin McCarl [1]; 3. 5T-Ryan Timms [8]; 4. 20-Justin Peck [2]; 5. 24D-Danny Sams III [6]; 6. 4-Cameron Martin [3]; 7. 43M-Mark Smith [9]; 8. 2C-Wayne Johnson [18]; 9. 28F-Davie Franek [16]; 10. 47-Eric Riggins Jr. [12]; 11. 24T-Christopher Thram [5]; 12. 44-Chris Martin [14]; 13. 23R-Ryan Roberts [13]; 14. 63-Josh Weller [17]; 15. 24-Danny Martin Jr. [10]; 16. 9-Liam Martin [20]; 17. 10-Terry Gray [11]; 18. 0-Glenn Styres [15]; 19. 17JR-Ricky Stenhouse Jr. [23]; 20. 11M-Brendan Mullen [19]; 21. 82-Garrett Green [21]; 22. 23-Lance Moss [24]; 23. 34-Sterling Cling [4]; 24. 28-Jeff Willingham [25]; 25. 15K-Creed Kemenah [22][DNS].

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.