Carteret County Speedway's 2021 season closed with its biggest event of the year, the Solid Rock Carriers Race of Champions. The event also provided arguably one of the most emotional victory lane celebrations of the year, with Stacy Puryear snapping a long winless drought and honoring the memory of a dear friend.
A teary-eyed Puryear spoke at length about the trials and tribulations he has faced since his last win, perhaps no challenge greater than the one he faced less than a month ago. Daniel Williamson, Puryear's spotter, passed away in late November following a battle with COVID.
"First and foremost, I'd like to thank the Lord, Jesus Christ," said Puryear. "Without the Lord, none of this would be possible, and I'm not just saying that because we won the race.
"This one is for my spotter, Daniel. He passed away three weeks ago with COVID. Six weeks ago, he was at Ace spotting for me. He was my tire guy. He was my spotter. He was my crew chief."
In recent years, Puryear has been a mainstay on the CARS Tour, with seven top-10 finishes and a best finish of second at South Boston in 2016 over 17 starts. Puryear also qualified on the pole for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway in 2018.
Even when he's not racing, he's often seen helping competitors through his business, Puryear Race Parts. The hunger to race and win has always been there.
"A lot of people think I'm just the guy that does the CARS Tour parts, all these young kids. They don't know that I've won a bunch of races. I've been through a lot. I've been through two marriages because I wanted to race and my first two wives didn't understand. I've laid it all on the line."
Rain on Friday shuffled the weekend schedule at Carteret County, with three rounds of practice for Late Model Stock teams on Saturday morning before the race. Puryear paced the first round of practice, but knew his car wasn't where it needed to be to win the $10,000 first-place payday.
He and his team immediately went to work to dial in his machine.
"We were the fastest car in the first practice, but then we went to work. We changed a gear, we changed springs, we changed bump stops."
That work paid off in the form of a dominating performance. After qualifying second, Puryear took the lead on lap four and led the rest of the way in the 125-lap feature.
It was not without a late challenge, however. In the closing laps, Connor Hall, driving for the Chad Bryant Racing No. 77 team that has won the last two South Carolina 400s at Florence Motor Speedway with Ty Majeski, closed the gap, drawing to Puryear's bumper before the veteran pulled away to win by nearly a second.
"I knew that Connor and Chad Bryant, the Triple R guys, they were tough. We had to dig deep and dig hard."
At the end, Puryear celebrated an emotional win, one that he wasn't sure would ever happen.
"I am so thankful, it is unbelievable. I am 51 years old. I've laid awake at night wondering if I'd ever win another Late Model Stock Car race. I wanted it. I did everything I could do to get this race car and get this motor.
"I tried to give it up. I tried to get my stepson to run Limited, and he did for a little while, but just figured out he wasn't going to do it. I saw an opportunity to get back in a race car and I love it as much as I did when I was 16 years old."
-Photo credit: Carteret County Speedway
SOLID ROCK CARRIERS RACE OF CHAMPIONS AT CARTERET COUNTY SPEEDWAY
1. Stacy Puryear
2. Connor Hall
3. Conner Jones
4. Brenden Queen
5. Justin Carroll
6. Trevor Ward
7. Justin Johnson
8. Boo Boo Dalton
9. Daniel VunCannon
10. Tommy Neal
11. Adam Resnick
12. Doug Barnes
13. Kenneth Mercer
14. Eddie Johnson
15. Donnie Apple
16. Tristan McKee
17. Jody Measamer
18. Tyler Matthews