Hickory Motor Speedway has been a favorite track for Mason Diaz since the beginning of his Late Model Stock career.
The historic facility reciprocated some of that love in the Fall Brawl on Saturday evening, as Diaz withstood the chaos that occurred in the second half of the 200-lap feature to score his second and most prestigious victory at Hickory.
Diaz' other win at Hickory took place in a doubleheader back on June 6, 2020 but he admitted that it took a strenuous amount of work from his crew and logging several more laps at Hickory to get him more prepared for a grueling race like the Fall Brawl.
"I can't thank everyone at Mike Darne Racing enough," Diaz said. "We've been running the CARS Tour all year and haven't been able to make a local show. We got a second here in the CARS Tour earlier this year so we knew what we had to do this weekend and I'm glad we finally got one."
With one of the largest Late Model Stock fields entered at Hickory this year, Diaz knew that he had to be patient during the opening laps if he wanted an opportunity to contend for the win.
Diaz bided his time at the front of the field while local favorites in Mitch Walker and Jacob Heafner battled Dominion Raceway veteran Doug Barnes Jr. for the lead up until the Lap 100 competition caution.
Diaz saw the opportunity he was looking for shortly after the halfway break when Barnes and Heafner crashed in Turns 1 and 2 while battling for the lead, which prompted a heated but orderly discussion between the drivers who had the two fastest cars in the Fall Brawl.
"Honestly, I would say that was a racing deal," Diaz said. "They were both a little sideways, maybe Doug was just a bit more and when he went into the corner, his car wheel hopped. It sucks because both [him and Heafner] were fast and I wanted to race them both."
With Barnes and Heafner done for the evening, Walker was the closest challenger to Diaz' lead but ultimately had to settle for a second place finish.
Walker was confident that the speed his car showed earlier in the day would be enough for him to take home a win in the Fall Brawl but said that he needed circumstances to fall his way a little bit more in order to make a run for the lead in the closing stages.
"At the beginning of that last green flag run, I thought I had something for [Diaz]," Walker said. "I wasn't riding but wasn't going as hard as I could either and I couldn't close the gap but this car was awesome all night."
Walker and his crew have worked tirelessly to make his Late Model Stock program one of the best at Hickory alongside track champions like Heafner and Ryan Millington. He added that a few more improvements will be imperative for him to be that consistent threat on Saturdays.
Walker does not know what his 2022 schedule will look like yet but he plans to visit Hickory frequently so he can continue to build off the momentum from his second place run in the Fall Brawl.
"I had a lot of fun out there," Walker said. "I like these long races but now we have to get ready for the offseason and come back next year so we can get some trophies."
For Diaz, he joins an elite list of drivers that have claimed a checkered flag in the Fall Brawl. Among the most recent winners are current NASCAR Cup Series full-time driver Anthony Alfredo and Late Model Stock veteran Josh Berry, whose accomplishments include a CARS Tour title and ValleyStar Credit Union 300 victory back in 2019.
Diaz said that the Fall Brawl win eased some of the frustrations from an inconsistent CARS Tour campaign and hopes that outrunning a talented field of drivers on Saturday is a positive sign heading into the offseason.
"We've been having a rough year," Diaz said. "To end my last race of the season like this is great. All of these guys raced me clean today but this win is really exciting for us and I can't wait for next year."
Diaz intends to put Hickory on his busy schedule in 2022 with the goal of adding more wins at a facility that has played a key role in the development of his career.
-Story by: Brandon White - Twitter: @BrandonWhite95
-Photo credit: Andrew Fuller
1. Mason Diaz
2. Mitch Walker
3. Carson Kvapil
4. Ryan Millington
5. Taylor Satterfield
6. Mike Darne
7. Justin Johnson
8. Bryson Dennis
9. Jason Miles
10. Chase Janes
11. Ryan Glenski
12. Jacob Heafner
13. Doug Barnes Jr.
14. Trent Barnes
15. Jeff Sparks
16. Isabella Robusto
17. Whitney Meggs
18. Annabeth Barnes-Crum
19. J.P. Dyar
20. Logan Jones
Photo Credit: Andrew Fuller