DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ryan Millington didn’t start out the 2017 season intending to chase a championship at North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway.
Originally the plan was to go chase a championship at another NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track, Virginia’s Motor Mile Speedway. However, a strong start to the 2017 season quickly changed his mind.
“We just started off the season not really knowing what we were going to do,” 16-year-old Millington recalled. “We were probably going to end up running Motor Mile, but we started off good at Hickory and got a few wins right off the bat. So we just committed to running for the championship there.”
That strong start included three victories at Hickory Motor Speedway before the end of March, putting him in a strong position to contend for his first track championship at the historic North Carolina track where legends like Ned Jarrett, Harry Gant and Jack Ingram have all collected track titles.
It wouldn’t be easy for Millington, who finished second in the championship chase at Hickory in 2017. He found himself in a season-long battle with veteran Charlie Watson, a battle that would go all the way to the final race day of the season on Sept. 16.
“Me and Charlie literally every week battled back and forth,” said Millington, who was driving a car owned by his father Scott Millington. “It was a fun points battle. Near the end of the year we fell off quite a bit and we really had to work the last three or four races and get fast again and pick up those last few points we needed.”
Entering the penultimate weekend of the season Millington and Watson were tied for the championship lead in the Bojangles Late Model Stock class, but Millington got the upper hand on Watson that night with a victory and a third-place finish in twin 40-lap features. Watson, on the other hand, only managed finishes of eighth and fourth, giving Millington a slim 16-point edge heading into the Sept. 16 championship night.
Millington believes were it not for some mechanical problems earlier in the season, the championship battle wouldn’t have been nearly as close as it was.
“It all basically all boiled down to mechanical failures we had,” Millington said. “We had five or six weekends where rear ends went bad and had a motor go bad one week. He (Watson) didn’t have as many problems as we did. That was the difference.
“Every week we didn’t have a problem we were always first, second or third and we were right there with him.”
Watson gave it everything he had on Sept. 16, dominating the late model main event to easily capture what would be his ninth victory of the season. However that wasn’t enough to steal the championship from Millington, who finished fourth and scored enough points to capture his first Hickory Motor Speedway track championship by just 10 points.
“It’s definitely really neat,” Millington said about becoming a track champion at Hickory. “Last year we finished runner-up and probably would have won the championship then too if we didn’t miss a race. We finished second last year and got first this year.
“Winning the championship definitely shows a lot of the commitment from the team and everybody involved. It’s 30 races. You’ve got to go to the track every week and you really can’t screw up much. You’ve got to put together 30 good races and to be able to do that is definitely really neat.”
Millington ended the season with nine victories at Hickory Motor Speedway. Between Hickory and another North Carolina NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track, Caraway Speedway, Millington collected 27 top-five and 29 top-10 finishes in 31 starts.
He also finished the year ranked 110th in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National standings and ninth in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series North Carolina State standings.
So now that he has a championship from a legendary track like Hickory on his resume, what does the future hold for the young Millington? That’s a good question.
He noted he’ll likely go on the road a bit more this year, doing some traveling while also running weekly races from time to time. His exact schedule, however, hasn’t been determined.
“We’re positively going to run full-time late models. Hopefully we can pick up a K&N race or two or a Truck race near the end of the year,” Millington said. “I’m not sure what we’re going to do this year, but if we end up back at Hickory then maybe we can make it two in a row.”