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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Mason Diaz had high expectations entering the 2017 season at Southern National Motorsports Park, but even his own expectations couldn’t meet up to the strong season he has had thus far.
The 17-year-old from Manassas, Virginia, has had a stunningly strong rookie season thus far in the late model stock division at the Kenly, North Carolina, track. He's already collected five victories at Southern National in his No. 24 late model prepared by Mike Darne, including a sweep of twin features on May 27.
Those five victories have him atop the Southern National Motorsports Park late model stock division championship standings as of July 17. On top of that, he’s currently inside the top-20 in the overall NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National standings.
Not too bad for a rookie.
“Mike Darne Racing, they give me a fast car week in and week out. They’ve been working year after year on the setup. In 2015 they won the track championship (at Southern National) with Jonathan Findley,” Diaz said. “They work really hard on my cars every week and give me a fast car everywhere we go, not just Southern National.”
Diaz hasn’t limited himself to just racing at Southern National. He’s traveled around the region and has competed at Motor Mile Speedway in Virginia, North Carolina’s Caraway Speedway and Hickory Motor Speedway and Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway.
In total Diaz has made 24 starts in NASCAR sanctioned events this year, scoring six wins with 15 top-five and 22 top-10 finishes to his credit thus far. In addition to his five victories at Southern National, he also collected a victory at Caraway during the annual Rusty Harpe Memorial race on June 30.
“We went to Caraway against a pretty stout field for their big race of the year and we won against a pretty stout field like Myatt Snider, Ryan Wilson, R.D. Smith, Mike Darne, a really stout field. It was a great race,” Diaz said. “We were the leader with about 20 to go and just never looked back. I can’t thank Mike Darne Racing enough for that one.”
It’s a big jump from where Diaz was last year. He only made eight starts in NASCAR sanctioned events, which left him ranked 433rd in the nation. Now as a full-time rookie, his performance has improved tremendously.
“We’ve just been really lucky this year and really fortunate to get the finishes like we are,” Diaz said. “I’m very blessed to even be in the top-50 (in the Whelen All-American Series standings). Last year we only ran a couple of races and we were in the top 500. This year with us running the full season and we still have half a season to go, we have six wins and every single start this season except maybe two or three being a top-10 finish, that is amazing.
“We go everywhere this year to win, not to come in second and we’ve done a pretty good job with that.”
Obviously the goal for Diaz is to win the track championship at Southern National this year, but he’d like to pick up a few extra awards along the way. He’s currently the top rookie in North Carolina and Florida and he’s fifth in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series North Carolina standings.
He's third in the Josten's Rookie of the Year national standings, and third in the UNOH Achievement Award national standings -- which recognizes the top drivers 17-and-under in the Whelen All-American Series, regardless of division.
STANDINGS: UNOH ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
So if all goes well, Diaz could end up collecting collecting a pretty significant amount of hardware during the annual NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards held every December in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“This year we were going more for National Rookie of the Year, but we knew early on when the points came out we wouldn’t be able to reach that,” Diaz said. “We want to seal the deal at Southern National and get a couple rookie titles in different states and hopefully a state championship.
“We’ve been really fortunate to get good finishes and really lucky enough to not have any bad races so far this year. I just want to finish the season off strong just like the season has been so far.”
Mason Diaz has had a standout first full season in his No. 24 late model, running primarily at North Carolina's Southern National Motorsports Park. Andy Marquis