The flagman showed the one-to-go signal. Coming back to a green-white-checkered finish, leading one of the biggest DIRTcar UMP Modified races of the year, Taylor Cook was worried.
Worried about the pack of drivers still behind him. Worried about getting the jump on the restart. But mostly worried about the unknown with his tires as his competition had issues in the laps before.
“I was worried I was gonna be the next one,” he said.
But his rubber still had some tread to spare – enough for him to hold off the field behind him two more times around The Dirt Track at Charlotte and bring the Scott Rod Fabricators, Elite Chassis #21 to the checkers and collect his second-straight World Short Track Championship title in the Summit Racing Equipment UMP Modified division.
“It’s awesome because all of our family is here,” Cook said. “It’s always more special when you work for it, and it’s always more special when there’s family and friends around to enjoy it with you.”
Cook, of Stanley, NC, started fifth on the grid and kept it within the top five through the opening laps while Pennsylvania racer Evan Taylor jumped to the early lead from the front row.
Taylor looked strong throughout most of the 30-lap main event, opening a multi-second gap and driving away from the field in the first 20 laps. That lasted until the race hit its closing stages, when tire issues arose for several drivers in the field, forcing him to survive several restarts.
“On the last few restarts, I did not accelerate at the same pace I had the first one or two [restarts],” Taylor said. “I picked up on the right-rears being a problem after the second [caution].”
After a trio of restarts inside of five-to-go, 17th-starting Mike McKinney has ascended all the way up to second and was right on Taylor’s bumper for a restart with two laps left. They took the green, and Taylor immediately fended-off McKinney’s challenge through Turns 1-2. But as he rounded Turn 4, a loud “pop” could be heard from the grandstands as Taylor’s right-rear blew, as did his chances for a big-time win.
“When you’re leading, you just don’t know how hard you can or can’t run to try and save your tires,” Taylor said. “Yes, that would’ve been the biggest win of my career. I’m very deflated right now, but that’s racing.”
When McKinney’s right-rear suffered the same fate on the next restart and brought out the race’s final caution, Cook assumed the lead and knew it was his chance to repeat on the big stage in Charlotte.
“When I gassed-up and saw [McKinney] kinda faulter, I figured that was his problem,” Cook said. “I just focused on not hitting him. I knew I had clean air, and it was my race to give away.”
In Victory Lane, a small bit of tread was left on Cook’s right-rear tire. So, what made the difference for him?
“I tend to be really easy on tires,” Cook said. “I probably give up a little bit down the straightaways just soft-pedaling it, and I tend not to overdrive the entry and slide the right-rear. I knew I wasn’t doing that trying to get around people like other cars were.”
Curt Spalding, of Watervilet, MI, posted a best career finish in the event in second, while Pro Modified Feature winner Austin Holcombe drove all the way up from 23rd to finish third.
ABBREVIATED RESULTS (view full results)
Feature (30 Laps): 1. 21-Taylor Cook; 2. 5CS-Curt Spalding; 3. 8-Austin Holcombe; 4. 2T-Ty Norder; 5. 5K-Tyler Kaeter; 6. 5E-Glenn Elliott; 7. 09-Michael Leach; 8. 12L-Lucas Lee; 9. 11L-Troy Loomis; 10. 5T-Drake Troutman; 11. 49-Billy Green; 12. 60-Jim Manka; 13. 7-Evan Taylor; 14. 45-Chase Holland; 15. 00-Mike McKinney; 16. 99W-Chris Arnold; 17. 04-Kaleb Toole; 18. 97-Mitch Thomas; 19. 07-Curtis King; 20. 35-David Stremme; 21. 99H-Justin Haley; 22. 13-Charlie Mefford; 23. 5Z-Mason Zeigler; 24. 8S-Kyle Strickler; 25. 52-Colin Green; 26. 90-Ray Kable