YAKIMA, Wash. -- For all his NASCAR Northwest Tour championships and regional big-money victories, Jeff Jefferson has one title that has eluded him — Fall Classic champion.
But Sunday night the racing veteran from Naches did the next best thing. He built the car and was crew chief for the driver who did win the Yakima Speedway’s 26th annual season-ending event and the $10,000 winner’s check that goes with it.
Cameron Hayley, a 17-year-old high school senior from Canada, dominated the middle of the 200-lap Super Late Model race, lost the lead late and slipped to fourth but then rallied to overtake Wenatchee’s Garrett Evans with five laps left — a cool-headed charge that belied his age and made him the youngest winner in Fall Classic history.
Jefferson is Hayley’s crew chief on the K&N Pro Series West circuit and last weekend they were in Albuquerque, N.M., where they placed third for a ninth top-five finish in 12 starts.
“I never won a Fall Classic, but as crew chief this actually feels better,” said Jefferson, who had planned to race against his protege this weekend but suffered engine problems during a testing session last week. “Cameron kept his patience and never gave up. He’s just 17, but he doesn’t get flustered and he keeps his cool.”
That’s exactly what Hayley credits Jefferson for during their season together on the Gene Price Motorsports team, which also includes Jeff’s younger brother Jason.
“Tonight was just amazing for us, and extra special for Jeff and Jason on their track,” Hayley said. “Toward the end we got shuffled back in lapped traffic and Jeff told me, ‘You can still win this race.’ I used to get upset by things like that, when something didn’t go my way, but he has taught me to keep my cool. I have learned so much this year, and hopefully this is a way of saying thanks.”
Thanks also go to the three restarts over the final 25 laps that eventually wore Evans down and gave Hayley a shot along with two-time reigning Apple Cup winner Owen Riddle, who ended up third.
Evans was the buzz of Saturday’s qualifying session, posting a near-record lap of 18.599 seconds and winning his 25-lap heat race to earn the inside pole. But a tire violation forced him to the back of the 31-car starting grid, a mighty big deficit even in a 200-lap race.
Except this was the same Garrett Evans who 13 years ago earned the Speedway’s biggest paycheck ever of $50,000 for doing just that — qualifying first, earning the pole, taking the bonus gamble of going to the back and then charging to the victory in the 2000 Fall Classic. And he looked poised to do it again on Sunday, climbing to seventh by the 100-lap break for new tires and then pulling up on Hayley’s bumper with 50 laps left.
Even then, though, Hayley’s machine appeared too good. Until some unfortunate positioning in lapped traffic not only allowed Evans to slip into the lead on lap 168 but also saw Riddle and Mike Longton dart around the teenager.
While Riddle, Longton and Hayley were still tussling with congestion, Evans found open track and raced comfortably ahead. Until the red and yellow flags started waving and the two-row restarts began. With Longton on his outside, Evans handled restarts on lap 177 (which included a 15-minute stoppage for fluid on the track) and lap 190 just fine. But the third restart on lap 194, leaving a six-lap sprint to the finish, was his undoing.
This time Riddle was on Evans’ outside and while he looked for a line to hold on the high side, Hayley repeatedly went as low as possible to find a sustainable inside groove. Riddle, finding no grip on the outside, slipped back. But Hayley would not be denied and with four laps left, after dueling Evans side-by-side, the youngster seized the lead for good.
“All the reds and yellows caught up with us,” Evans said. “I was fighting lower air pressure in the tires, and that made us a sitting duck. But it was a great race. I had to be aggressive to get by the 37 (Longton) and 10 (Riddle) and that got us behind the 24 (Hayley). Everybody was running well and it looked like anybody’s race.”
Riddle, who was dominating last year’s Fall Classic when a spun-out driver returned to the track directly in his line, settled for third but still made the trophy circle. Directly behind him in fourth was his younger brother, Tayler, for his best Fall Classic finish. Longton, the 2008 Fall Classic winner, finished fifth.
“We had a look at it,” Riddle said of the victory. “We were just missing a little something at the end, plus there just wasn’t enough grip on the outside to make that work against Garrett.”
Even at such a young age, this wasn’t Hayley’s first Fall Classic. Two years ago, as a 15-year-old from Calgary, Alberta, he finished a highly respectable sixth. Now he’s a part of NASCAR’s Next9 program — nine drivers age 21 or younger running the K&N Pro Series who are expected to be among the next wave of young talent on the national scene.
Last year Jefferson was crew chief for another Next9 driver, Dylan Kwasniewski, who won the K&N Pro Series West title and has moved on to the East circuit. This year Jefferson’s grooming skills were teamed with Hayley and they started out big, winning the K&N Pro Series portion of the inaugural Battle At The Beach at Daytona International Speedway in February.
“Cameron has a great feel for racing,” Jefferson said. “You’d think he’s been doing it for 25 years.”
In Sunday’s earlier races, Yakima’s Rich Peters won the 75-lap season finale for the West Coast Street Stocks Series. Andy Stibal of Orondo placed third and clinched his second straight season title.
Jason Huffines of Naches captured the 50-lap Hobby Stocks race, taking the lead with 15 laps left and surviving three late restarts. Buck Noel Jr. of Selah was second. Noel had a chance of catching Stibal in the WCSSS points race but finished 12th. He still won the circuit’s rookie of the year title.
SUNDAY’S MAIN EVENTS
Super Late Model (200 laps): 1, Cameron Hayley; 2, Garrett Evans; 3, Owen Riddle; 4, Tayler Riddle; 5, Mike Longton; 6, Tyler Tanner; 7, Dave Garber; 8, Wade Bland; 9, Agni Howell; 10, Dan Obrist; 11, Christopher Kalsch; 12, Brian Levant; 13, Chris Cunningham; 14, Peter Link; 15, Naima Lang; 16, Tim Sawyer; 17, John Zaretzke; 18, Garrett Sisk; 19, Donny Wanat; 20, Shane Mitchell; 21, Mitch Kleyn; 22, Chad Hinkle; 23, Randy Marshall Jr.; 24, Dave Hemrich; 25, Erick Hargraves; 26, Andy Sole; 27, Molly Helmuth; 28, Austin Hoye; 29, Lucas Valdez; 30, Kelly Mann; 31, Mel Patnode.
West Coast Street Stocks (75 laps): 1, Rich Peters; 2, Bryson Goetz; 3, Andy Stibal; 4, Robbie Miller; 5, Josh Ingram; 6, Trucker Moore; 7, Kim Wennerberg; 8, Andy Beaman; 9, Roger Drake; 10, Bill Rutherford; 11, Todd Connell; 12, Buck Noel Jr.; 13, Eric Lee; 14, Jeff Estabrook; 15, Richard Kerr; 16, Chris Schlaht; 17, Cody Denton; 18, Randy Pugh; 19, Ron Stewart; 20, Dan Nelson; 21, Robert Mears; 22, Chad Ayers; 23, Carol Davidson; 24, Doug Poirer; 25, Casey Merrill; 26, Zach Beaman.
Hobby Stocks (50 laps): 1, Jason Huffines; 2, Buck Noel Jr.; 3, Brian Pepper; 4, Zack Washington; 5, Kyle Wade; 6, Terry Cook; 7, Reesen Tarr; 8, Morgan Morrison; 9, Chris Marang; 10, Terry Taylor; 11, Cody Denton; 12, Chris Richter Jr.; 13, Mike Denton; 14, Tony Huffines; 15, Jeff Sisk; 16, Terry Osborn; 17, Chris Morrison; 18, Randy Hitchcock; 19, Trever Flora.