In the media center following the conclusion of the 75-lap UARA-Stars portion of the American 200 at Rockingham Speedway (NC) on Saturday afternoon, Corey Lajoie let out a sigh of relief after finally having taken the checkered flag in a stock car event in 2011.
LaJoie took the top spot from Paddy Rodenbeck, who led 67 of the 78 laps on the day, with just four laps to go and held on through a green-white-checkered finish to take the win.
“He (Rodenbeck) was a lot better than I was in three and four,” said LaJoie. “I couldn’t really figure it out, but my car wouldn’t turn to the bottom or roll the center as good as his would through three and four. But through (turns) one and two I was really good all day long – that’s where I could maintain with him. He was about a tenth better than us the whole race and with about 15 to go, I was maintaining about 10 or 15 car lengths back, trying to save my stuff and he was really going.
“I thought it was going to go green the rest of the race so I was like, ‘man, I’ve got to go.’ So I pressed the gas down a little bit harder and actually ended up sticking the right-front (tire) right there on the white line and it hooked up. Then, just little bit by little bit, we ended up catching him in 15 laps or so and I was able to get to him. Then I got excited, I think, and missed the corner and started to fall back and next thing I know he’s like 10 or 15 car lengths ahead and I’m like ‘oh crap.’ So I had to get up on the wheel and had to hit my marks every lap trying to out-mark him because I could see he was getting really loose and really inconsistent out front.”
To get to victory lane for a second time in his UARA career at Rockingham, LaJoie used some pointers from his dad.
“Ever since I’ve been coming here my dad (two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, Randy LaJoie) has been telling me to hook that left front on that white line and it’ll hook up. Once I ran Paddy down I just put that left front on the white line.”
Second-place finisher Paddy Rodenbeck also acknowledged his strength in turns three and four as well as LaJoie’s expertise in turns one and two.
“With two laps to go I thought I could get underneath him and he just got above me,” said Rodenbeck. “I got underneath him and he just had a little bit better line on the outside with worn out tires so he was able to hold on out on the outside and just drove around me. When he got by me, I screwed up in three and four, where I’d been beating him all day. I felt the front tires go and then I washed up the track and he took off from there.”
And although it was LaJoie’s first win of the year, he is no rookie in UARA competition, at Rockingham, or with second-place finisher Paddy Rodenbeck for that matter. The two have battled it out for the win at Rockingham Speedway in the past with LaJoie taking the checkers after a late-race pass in that meeting as well.
“That’s twice he’s beat us late here,” said Rodenbeck. “I’m starting to feel like this place owes us one now.”
With his past successes at the historic North Carolina speedway boosting his confidence, LaJoie made it clear to his crew they were going to do it again Saturday.
“On the radio with about 10 laps to go they were like, ‘do you think you can get this thing, are you going to get up on the wheel and win this thing?’ And I said, ‘Different car, same butt whippin.’”
LaJoie, who comes from a family accustomed to successes in the racing world from his father’s numerous NASCAR championships and position at the forefront of driver safety innovations in his racing seat business. He competed in the K&N Pro Series East throughout the year and, although he came close several times, he was never able to seal the deal and get a win in series competition in 2011. So when the opportunity arose for LaJoie to get in the seat of Randy Sears’ #34 machine, there was no hesitation from the 19-year-old racer.
“He just called me up one day and said he was at CV Products and said he was looking for a driver and they told him, ‘Call Corey, he won the last race there he was in,’” explained LaJoie. “So he called me up and asked if I could bring some money and I said I couldn’t bring a whole lot of money. He said we could work something out and here I am and I didn’t have to do anything – I just showed up to drive. You don’t see those deals very often where you get to jump into a really good car and go. I was lucky enough to get to go up there to their shop to help them out for a couple of days to get them ready for this track.
“I have never not won a race in a year since I was like six years old,” said LaJoie. “And I didn’t win any in the K&N Pro Series this year so I had to win something whether I had to go down to Victory Lane Karting or whatever. Luckily, I got this deal here - I got the “W” so I don’t have to say that when I was 19-years-old I didn’t win a race.”
By finishing third in the event and second in the points standings, George Miedecke captured both the 2011 series Rookie of the Year title as well as the Rookie of the Race award.
“That was one of the big goals I had from the start of the season,” said Miedecke. “I wanted to get a couple wins and to get in the top-three in the championship and we did that finishing second in the points so overall it’s been a successful year. If I look at it objectively then I can’t be unhappy with it but man I really wanted that win. It’s been a great year to come into a series as hard as UARA and run up front with all of these guys.”
Although series champion Brennan Poole clinched the title just a few short weeks ago at Concord Speedway, he was officially crowned during this weekend’s season finale festivities at Rockingham Speedway. Unfortunately Poole lost an engine just 10 laps into the event, but that didn’t dampen his spirits during his championship celebration.
“I wish we could have run all 75 laps today,” said Poole. “We started this team at the beginning of the year as our own deal and everyone that was supporting us this year was just awesome. To be able to get David King’s first championship in UARA is pretty special and my family supporting me all year is just a really great deal. It’s a neat experience and, you know, a championship stays with you forever so I just feel really blessed to have had such a good year, such an awesome season. I’m a little upset though because I really wanted to do a championship burn out.”
In a season that crowned several different young winners, UARA-Stars has certainly lived up to its mission of “providing an affordable touring series to help drivers compete at tracks to fine tune their driving skills to make the leap to the next level.” Series champion Brennan Poole will move the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards full time in 2012 behind the wheel of the Venturini Motorsports #25 car. American 200 winner Corey LaJoie will return to the seat of his family-owned NASCAR K&N Pro Series East ride in 2012 to chase after the series title. Rookie of the Year George Miedecke is planning to return to his native Australia and return to his roots and pursue opportunities within the V8 Supercar realm.