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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – One senses driver Ronnie Hults has a reverence for some of his childhood heroes and the drivers who have won Colorado National Speedway’s Speedy’s Auto Sales Late Model championship. It is a title he wants to win, but he’s mindful of those who have set the standard for competition at the .375-mile paved oval in Dacono, Colo., north of Denver.
Hults, 31, of Centennial Colo., leads in track and state NASCAR Whelen All-American Series points standings entering this weekend’s competition.
One of his first childhood racing heroes was Rick Carelli, known as “The High Plains Drifter.” Carelli, of Arvada, Colo., was a traveling ‘bounty hunter,’ showing up for big-paying pavement Late Model races throughout the west. He was also a frequent racer at Colorado National Speedway, where he could race close to home. Carelli won championships in the former NASCAR Southwest Late Model series in 1991, and in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West in 1993, and in between had an eight Late Model win season at Colorado National in 1992. He was also a founding driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series where he had four wins. Carelli is now general manager of Kevin Harvick Inc.
So back in the 1980s when drifter Carelli would race close to home at the old Lakeside Speedway near Denver, he didn’t make many laps there without being under young Hults’ watchful eye.
“I grew up around racing because my uncles raced and I’d go with them,” Hults said.
“Rick Carelli was my favorite driver. I idolized him. One night he gave me a trophy he won at Lakeside in 1986, and I still have it.”
In 2009, Carelli was inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame.
Colorado National Speedway’s modern era began in 1989 when the track hosted its first season as a paved track and Ronnie’s uncles started competing in the Figure Eight division there.
Hults knew he wanted to race, too.
“I worked hard, saved my money and got a Figure Eight car when I was 16,” Hults said. “I sold my street car to be able to buy the race car.”
Hults won the division’s Rookie of the Year Award in 1996 and finished seventh in points. In 1997, he started winning races.
In 1998, Hults broke with the family tradition of Figure Eight racing, and moved to the Grand American Modified division. He became a top-five driver in points, then decided to move to the Late Model division in 2004 and was the division’s top rookie. He’s been consistent in being a top-five points contender and race winner.
“Getting a championship has been hard to come by,” Hults said. “I’d really like to win this championship this year.”
Entering the weekend, Hults has three wins, six top fives and seven top 10s in eight starts.
Hults has a little pressure behind him in track points. Six-time track champion Bruce Yackey is right behind, with five-time champion Roger Avants in the hunt as well. In addition, he races on track with Darren Robertson, son of three-time track champion Jerry Robertson of Robertson Racing. The senior Robertson is a friend and technical consultant to Hults.
“It took hard work and encouragement to get here, and Bruce and Roger encouraged me as competitors. I think it’s an honor to be able to race with them. Jerry is great in sharing knowledge and we went through my car at his shop last winter. I know I’m improving. I was 157th in NASCAR national standings in 2007, 97th in 2008 and 82nd last year. I want to keep going in the right direction, and I want to be able to beat the best.”
Hults drives a Cadillac CTS-bodied Late Model based on a LeftHander Chassis and powered by a DC Racing Engine built by Dave Capriatti. The CTS graphics were discovered by crewman Chris Shlughan doing an Internet search.
Primary sponsorship comes from crew chief Vince Rowe through his Corbett’s Auction House. Other sponsors come from Speedy’s Auto Sales which Hults operates, DC Racing Engines, Robertson Race Cars, and AAA Jetting Service. Crew members include Chris Garton, Rick Willmerton of DC Engines, Beau Kellogg, Byron Vaughn and his wife and co-car owner, Elizabeth. The Hults will celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary on Sept. 8. He proposed to her in Victory Lane at Colorado National. They have four daughters: Ang, 10; Jen, 9; Vanessa, 3, and Domnique, 2.
Two of Hults’ cousins also race at CNS. Joe Martinez is the Two Doors Down Bar & Grill Figure Eight points leader, and Nick Martinez competes in the Pair-A-Dice Sportsman division.
Reminiscent of his childhood hero Carelli, Hults likes to venture out to other tracks to add variety to his knowledge.
In this year’s Montana 200 at Montana Raceway Park, he qualified seventh among 44 qualifiers and was running third when he retired from the event due to an incident and finished 17th. At the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last November, he won the pole for an open competition 200-lap event for Super Late Models and finished ninth in the 26-car event. In October, he traveled to Sandia Motor Speedway in Albuquerque, N.M., for a 100-lap event. He qualified fourth and finished second.
Looking ahead, Hults is eyeing entry to the NASCAR Super Late Model portion of next January’s NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.).
“I’ve never been to Irwindale, but I’d sure like to race in that event,” Hults said.
Ronnie Hults takes the checkered flag at Colorado National. Joe Starr