Won Track And Iowa Titles By Just Two Points Apiece
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The battle for supremacy at Iowa’s Adams County Speedway in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model class came down to the final laps of the 2017 season.
When the checkered flag waved on Sept. 2 at the half-mile dirt oval, it was Corey Zeitner who emerged with his first track championship after a season long battle with Bill Leighton Jr. and Jason O’Brien.
“It was a points battle between the top three and it could have been any one of us,” said Zeitner, a third generation racer who has several family members who also race.
It was a nerve-racking night for Zeitner, who entered the evening as the points leader over O’Brien and Leighton, with just eight points separating the trio. He knew he had to be on his game if he was going to secure his first Adams County and NASCAR championships.
“I just knew I had to finish in front of the guy who was second in points (O’Brien), but it was going to be hard to do because they line up everybody up on point average,” Zeitner explained. “I had a higher point average so I had to line up behind him.
“That was my number one goal, to beat him. The guy who was third in points, he had to win the race and I had to finish fourth for him to win.”
Zeitner started seventh and was flanked by O’Brien in sixth and Leighton in eighth for the start of feature. Early on Zeitner was able to get ahead of his closest rival O’Brien, but his attention quickly turned to Leighton, who had managed to race his way into the lead. Zeitner knew Leighton had to win just to have a shot at beating him for the championship, with Zeitner needing to finish at least third to prevent him from capturing the title.
With only a handful of laps left it looked like things were going Leighton’s way as Zeitner could only manage to get up to fourth in the running order. Luckily for Zeitner his uncle Al Zeitner, who was running just ahead of him in third, slowed when a shock broke in his car.
His uncle’s bad luck allowed Corey Zeitner to move up to third in the running order. Leighton went on to win the race with Zeitner coming home third, allowing Zeitner to capture his first Adams County Speedway O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model track championship by just two points over Leighton, with O’Brien just four points behind in third.
“The points championship came down to the last night. Pretty much just the last five laps of the race,” said Zeitner, whose car carried major sponsorship from Alexander Lawns Landscape and Think Waygu. “The way it was playing out I was probably going to be second place and the guy that won (Leighton) was going to win (the title), but I was able to get by one more car, which put me back ahead.
“It was pretty nerve wracking.”
The 33-year-old racer, who has been racing since he was 16 years old, also picked up his first NASCAR state championship. Zeitner was declared the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Iowa State champion, also by two points over Leighton and four over O’Brien.
U.S. state and province champions are determined by the best 18 finishes at tracks within the respective state or province.
The third generation driver and native of Omaha, Neb., was able to get off to a fast start last year at Adams County. He won the first super late model feature of the year on April 15, which gave him his first taste of the point lead.
He would loose the point lead following a seventh-place result during the Ray Houck Memorial on June 24, but two weeks later he rebounded by winning his second race of the season on July 8. That put him in position to battle for the championship with O’Brien and Leighton the rest of the year.
“We won the opening night at Adams County and that kind of just put us ahead all year,” said Zeitner, who finished inside the top-five in eight of his nine starts last year at Adams County. “We won two features and we only lost the lead one weekend and then we got it back the following weekend with a win.”
Zeitner got to enjoy the spoils of victory when he joined other NASCAR state and track champions for the NASCAR Home Tracks Awards at the Charlotte Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Dec. 8. It was his first visit to Charlotte, N.C., for the banquet.
Adams County Speedway in Corning, Iowa, will open the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season on March 31 with the inaugural Hawkeye Classic. The O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Models scheduled to hit the track for the first time this year on April 21.