Having only six K&N Pro Series East starts coming into the 2019 season, Sam Mayer wasn’t the first name you thought of in terms of championship contenders.
With GMS Racing making their foray into the series for their first full-time season ever, the challenge was steep. Going up against the already established teams like Rev Racing with its two veteran drivers, reigning champions DGR-Crosley, as well as the likes of Rette Jones Racing and Visconti Motorsports, it wasn’t going to be easy.
But once the ball got rolling, it was hard to slow down.
Mayer and GMS for a statistically historical season. Completing all but eight laps and garnering 10 top-five finishes, it’s been a dream season for the pairing. His average finsh of 3.4 in the No. 21 Chevy Accessories Chevrolet would tie him for second in series history with Justin Haley (2016) and put him behind only Harrison Burton (3.2 in 2017).
And that dream will be culminated with the celebration of a championship this weekend at Dover International Speedway, where Mayer will become the youngest NASCAR regional series champion at 16 years, 3 months and 8 days.
Getting A Fast Start
Their season kicked off at New Smyrna Speedway, bringing home a fourth-place result. In their first K&N East race together, they finished where they started and completed all the laps. A successful night.
With nearly two months to prepare, GMS Racing brought a rocketship to Bristol Motor Speedway. The then 15-year-old was quickest in practice, won the pole and led all 150 laps en route to his first series victory.
"I was walking in looking to win, but I didn’t expect to win like this," he said with a smile.
And that was just the beginning.
The third and fourth races of the year took place at South Boston Speedway. In the first twin 100-lapper, Mayer led 24 laps before being booted out of the way on the final lap by Tanner Gray, ultimately finishing second. Rain forced the postponement of the second event, but Mayer started the event on Saturday and was credited with an 11th-place finish (Kyle Benjamin filled in for him on Sunday).
That result was the only one outside the top 10 for the Franklin, Wisconsin native — and he didn’t even race in 80 percent of the event.
Onto Memphis, where he led 17 laps before finishing fourth. It was a race that saw Chase Cabre win for the first time in his K&N Pro Series career, but will be remembered as the start of what would become the hottest rivalry in the series due to contact on a restart between the two.
— #MyTrackMyRoots (@NASCARHomeTrack) June 2, 2019
From that point, Mayer was on a mission. Crew Chief Mardy Lindley saw that, and rode the wave of momentum and confidence the teenager was exuding.
The first trip to New Hampshire Motor Speedway yielded a second-place result, as he nipped then championship points leader Derek Kraus at the line for the runner-up spot. Cabre won that event, too, meaning Mayer would have to make a statement to fend off his fierce competition.
He did just that at Iowa Speedway, leading 142 of 150 laps on his way to Victory Lane for the second time in 2019. As Kraus had some trouble, Mayer took over the points lead for the first time since the first Twin 100 at SoBo.
And he never relinquished it.
Next up was a third-place run at Watkins Glen, which he admittedly called "a good points day" considering his inexperience on road courses.
Then came another trip to Thunder Valley, where Mayer would once again be the overwhelming favorite. Despite Spencer Davis dominating, Mayer used the ‘ole bump-and-run on the No. 30 All Pro Ford with 13 laps to go and earned the trophy, sweeping the season at BMS.
However, his rivalry with Cabre came to a head on the first lap of the 150-lap event.
#KNEAST And we are GREEN ?
And just like that, we have ?
— #MyTrackMyRoots (@NASCARHomeTrack) August 15, 2019
"I mean, he kind of deserves it for how he’s been racing me this year," Mayer said of the incident post-race. "But I didn’t want to do it like that. I never try to race like that. But I mean it happened, I’ll take it. Like I said, I didn’t want to do it like that at all."
After much back and forth, Mayer and Cabre set aside their differences ahead of the East/West combination clash at Worldwide Technology Raceway, vowing to leave the past in the past.
— #MyTrackMyRoots (@NASCARHomeTrack) August 24, 2019
Cabre seemed to have the car to beat, but an electrical failure left him 30 points back of Mayer for the championship lead, almost insurmountbale given Mayer and GMS’ ultra consistent results.
This past weekend, a bit of an uncharacteristic fifth-place finish was the best the team could do, keeping their 30-point lead over Cabre stagnant. But when a top five is deemed uncharacteristic, that means you’ve set a pretty high standard.
With one race remaining, Mayer has all but mathematically clinched the championship. As long as he starts the race at Dover International Speedway, the title will belong to Mayer and GMS Racing.
The team have come a long way from the season opener in Florida, to the controversy in Memphis and Bristol to the domination at Iowa.
Mayer has to finish 27th or better to clinch the title. As soon as he takes the green flag, the championship will be his. But the celebrating on the radio and atop the pit box will be minimal.
They still have business to take care of.
Friday can?t come soon enough! I WANNA BEAT MILES! #TheMonsterMile
— Sam Mayer (@sam_mayer_) September 30, 2019
The General Tire 125 is scheduled to go green at 5 p.m. EDT from Dover. FansChoice.TV will have live coverage of the event.