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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Mack Little III summited a new peak in his long and successful NASCAR Whelen All-American Series career in 2012. He won his first NASCAR Late Model track championship.
Over the past 16 years, Little, 37, of Kernersville, N.C., won support division championships and dozens of races, but the 2012 title is his first in the premier late model division at Caraway Speedway, a .455-mile paved oval in Sophia, N.C. His 2012 Caraway racing record in 17 starts included five poles, four wins, 15 top fives and 17 top 10s.
Little started putting his championship pieced together late in the 2011 season.
“We started putting things together at the end of the season,” Little said. “We installed a new LTO Performance Center Warehouse front clip and tested with the car. We put in a lot of hard work over the winter and won the first race out in 2012. Things kept clicking and we took the track point lead about half way through the season.
“This was the hardest championship I ever won,” Little said. “We have a great weekly field plus some of the guys chasing state and national points were stopping in.”
Visiting competitors to Caraway this season included national champion Lee Pulliam, South Boston (Va.) Speedway champion Matt Bowling, and C.E. Falk III, who placed third in the national point race.
“We were all going for every point we could get, but I had to be careful, too. I was racing as hard as I could but one wreck could have lost us a bunch of ground. I had Lee beat one night and broke a right front ball joint on the last lap. I didn’t win, but I didn’t wreck either.
“We’re just a family team with a small budget working out of a 30 by 40 foot garage. That makes the success we had feel really good.”
Little grew up watching races and working on Modifieds at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. He sat in the grandstands with his mom, Gracie, while his dad Mack Jr. before moving down to the pits. Drivers of the car that he worked on over the years included Jay Hedgecock, Gerald Compton and Melvin “Puddin” Swisher.
He began his racing career in 1996 and was the Street Stock division rookie of the year at the Stadium. He won the division championship in 1999 and 2000. He moved to racing in the Late Model Super Truck division at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway in 2002 and again won a divisional rookie-of-the-year award before winning the track championship in 2003-04. He then graduated to the Late Model division at Hickory in 2005 and won a third rookie-of-the-year award in the third different division. He migrated to Caraway Speedway and began racing there full time in 2007 and scored a Limited Sportsman championship in 2010.
He considers his single-biggest win, to date, to be at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway late in the 2010 season when he won 50-lap Limited Late Model feature that re-opened the track. Little became the first driver to stand in the fabled track’s elevated victory lane since 1996 when Jeff Gordon won the last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at the fabled track.
Little recalls the emotional win as if it were last week.
“I remember seeing the white flag, and by the time I came around to take the checkered flag I had tears in my eyes,” Little said. “It is a historic NASCAR track. My dad crewed for Modifieds that Gerald and Jay won races with there and that made winning at North Wilkesboro more special.”
Little’s father serves as the crew chief for the Caraway Late Model. Little Jr. and engine builder Larry Pinnix of LP Race Engines field the car. Team members include Matthew Arnold, Craig West, Geoff Young, Branden Carlson and Gracie Little. Sponsors include Little’s employer North Carolina One Call Center, Buddy’s Cable Inc., and Cheerwine. Little is a utility line locator for the City of High Point.
Little and his team are preparing a back-up car for 2013 and will compete full time at Caraway and frequently at Hickory.
Little was honored in December for his track championship during the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards event at the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center’s Crown Ballroom at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
A driver’s best 18 results through Sept. 16 counted toward their states and national point totals, and the champions are decided on overall point total. Once a driver reaches 18 starts, their total would increase incrementally as they replace some poorer runs with better results.
Under the point structure for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the race winner receives two points for every car in the event up to 20 cars. Second place receives two fewer points and so on through the field. Race winners receive an additional five points. For example, if 20 cars are in the field, the winner receives 45 points, second place 38 and third 36. If there are 15 cars, the winner receives 35 points, second 28 and third, 26.