In 2009, Navarino’s A.J. Diemel won the FASTRAK National Weekly Championship and the $10,000 winnings that went with it. He then finished third in the FASTRAK Grand Nationals and won another $10,000. So what did Diemel do as an encore in 2010? Winning the FASTRAK Grand Nationals championship and the $30,000 top prize, that’s what.
Diemel raced most of the 2009 season in both the WISSOTA Late Model and FASTRAK Late Model divisions. Diemel said because he only had one car available to race at the beginning of the 2010 season, racing in the FASTRAK Late Model division became his number one priority.
Since a driver’s 15 top finishes are used to determine the FASTRAK National Weekly Championship, Diemel said his first goal was to race in 15 FASTRAK shows. Racing weekly at Shawano Speedway and Langlade County Speedway in Antigo, Diemel wound up racing in 23 weekly FASTRAK shows during the year.
Depsite winning numerous features Diemel said he would rank his seasons at Shawano Speedway and Langlade County Speedway as “fair.”
“We had a good car. I don’t think we ever finished out of the top three when we did finish so it wasn’t bad,” Diemel said. “It took me a little bit of time once I got my new car out to get that going. Once we got going we were pretty decent.”
After coming up short in 2009, Diemel admitted that his focus from the beginning of the 2010 season was to win the FASTRAK Grand Nationals and the $30,000 that goes with it.
“We only had the one car so we figured we could make more money doing the FASTRAK thing so we focused on that to start with and once we got the other car done, then we had the opportunity to do more stuff with that too. That’s kind of how it worked out.”
Diemel wound up finishing third in the 2010 FASTRAK National Weekly Championship standings. He admits that the two drivers who finished ahead of him raced twice as many shows as he did which put him as a slight disadvantage.
“Basically, they had 23 wins so we would have had to have won every show to even compete with those guys this year because they had so many more shows to race,” Diemel said.
But as October approached, Diemel was still concentrating on his goal of winning the FASTRAK Grand Nationals, which is a three race series. The first two races are held in different regions around the United States, with the final race taking place at Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, Va., Oct. 23. The two races held in the Great Lakes Region were held the first weekend in October at Langlade County Speedway in Antigo.
In the two races at Antigo, Diemel won one of the features, and finished third in the other. Entering the final night of racing at Wythe Raceway, Diemel was tied for second place in the point standings, one point behind the father and son duo of Robbie and Max Blair of Centerville, Pa.
Taking part in the 2009 FASTRAK Grand Nationals meant Diemel had raced at Wythe Speedway before, which he said was beneficial.
“It’s kind of a unique track so it’s nothing like we experience up here at all,” Diemel said. “Any laps you get on that track helps. The more you race, it seems the better you get and the more comfortable you get with the track. The length is probably in between Shawano and Antigo but it has more bank to it, more like Cedar Lake Speedway. That’s the best that I can explain it. You turn some good laps. It’s a big half-mile and they are turning low 18 [second laps] around there.”
Diemel said his car was pretty good during practice on Friday night, Oct. 22. His lap times were consistently in the top five throughout practice. He said he was also in the top 10 in lap times during hot laps on Saturday so he was comfortable with the car. But his qualifying lap times were about a half-second off his practice times. This meant he started toward the back of his heat race.
“We ended up starting seventh in the heat and finished third,” Diemel said. “They took the top four so that put us sixth row outside for the feature.”
Entering the feature Diemel said he knew he just had to finish ahead of Robbie and Max Blair and the championship would be his.
“We started together right in a group. Max started on the inside of me and Rob, his dad, those two were tied for first, was one row back so I knew if I could stay ahead of them and move towards the front which we ended up doing, I knew everything would work itself out which it ended up doing.”
Diemel said the 50-lap feature went well. He worked his way up to sixth or seventh, and then on a restart he moved up to third. He admits he didn’t have anything for the first and second cars in the race, but that didn’t matter as long as he stayed ahead of the Blairs.
Diemel said he looked at the scoreboard around lap 35 and didn’t see either car number of the Blairs.
Diemel finished third in the race, while Max Blair finished seventh and Robbie Blair finished 14th. This gave Diemel the championship by three points over Max Blair.
When the FASTRAK tech officials were giving him the thumbs up after Diemel crossed the scale after the race, Diemel figured he had won the championship. But he still had to pass a post-race tech inspection.
“They tech normal stuff like tires and body stuff after the race too,” Diemel said. “Then we actually had to pull the motor completely out of the car and they tore it completely down to the crankshaft. I have a whole bunch of boxes of parts in my trailer right now. It’s a thorough deal which is good because it keeps everybody on the same playing field.”
Even a few days after winning the championship, Diemel admitted it hasn’t set in yet.
“Probably when I get the check it will be a little bit better,” Diemel said. “It’s a good accomplishment. Those guys are pretty much the best in the business in the crate stuff down there. It’s a good accomplishment to know you can run with those guys. To be able to run for that amount of money, it’s a good deal.
“I have to thank all my sponsors, my family and my wife and little daughter for letting me go. We were gone for about a week again. That makes it a little tough around home when you have to do that.”