By DAVID MILLER
Special to The Dispatch
Hunter Carroll remembers well the anticipation of pulling into Columbus Speedway to cheer for his favorite driver, Mark Stokes.
Most area racers reminisce more than 20 years to tell stories of their childhood experiences at the tracks. For CRATE late model driver Carroll, rooting for his favorite driver and itching to get behind the wheel was less then eight years ago.
The 20-year-old New Hope High School graduate has shared the track with drivers like Stokes for the last six years, turning laps throughout the state and Alabama in late models, super late models and CRATE late model races.
Still, he’s a young driver in a sport where experience often yields better finishes and more money for travel and equipment.
That’s fine to Carroll, who said he’s happy running races primarily in-state. That doesn’t make each race any less intimidating, though.
“Sometimes it’s nerve-wracking,” Carroll said. “It’ll make you nervous every weekend (racing) with someone who has been doing it 40 years. But I try to out-run them. If I don’t out-run them, I don’t do good. If I do, I’m doing pretty good.
“That’s how I’ve always looked at it.”
Carroll came close to out-running some of the elder statesmen he’s battled each weekend during a weekly event last weekend at Columbus Speedway. Carroll nearly captured his second career feature win before finishing second behind friend Shay Knight.
Carroll, currently second in track points at Columbus, just 16 behind Eric Carr. Still, he opted not to press the action during the final laps, a decision he said was influenced by the condition of the race surface.
“This last weekend, it was real slick,” Carroll said. “It was a great track, but for our cars, with small motors, you gotta keep RPMs low … the track really became a one lane track. I could have thrown the car deep in there, but I’m not a dirty driver. There was no need, though everyone told me I had the faster car.”
Carroll is much closer to picking up his first win in two years than when he began the race season. His start included a blown motor, but after acquiring a new car and experimenting with different setups, he’s notched a string of top 10 finishes. Prior to last week’s runner-up finish at Columbus, Carroll finished third at Columbus.
“There are a lot of things I’m still trying to figure out,” Carroll said. “But as long as I’m not moving backwards, I’m OK. So far, we’ve been moving up.”
Carroll credits family members, like father, Jeff, brother, Dustin, girlfriend, Magen Marshal, and uncle, Joe Ables, with helping him improve as a driver. Ables gave Carroll his first opportunity to drive at the age of 14.
Few drivers in the area can empathize with Carroll — at least not in real-time — as he navigates a learning curve against more experienced drivers. Trey Rickman, of New Hope-based Rickman Racing can, however. Carroll said he and Rickman, 17, talk often, some about car setups, but mostly about topics other than racing.
“He got a new car this year, and I tell him all the time ‘I like that new car,'” Carroll joked. “I can tell when we qualify — he always goes out after me — he’ll run it off in there about four car lengths further than everybody else. I fool with him about that, give him a hard time. That’s how we are.”
Carroll plans to practice tonight at Magnolia Motor Speedway, though he’s unsure of where he’ll race on Saturday.
Magnolia to host Governor’s Cup
Magnolia Motor Speedway will host the 11th annual Governor’s Cup, highlighted by the Southern All-Stars Super Late Model series in a $4,000-to-win main event on Saturday night.
NeSmith Late Models, street stocks and mini-stocks are also on slated to run. Racing begins at 7:30 p.m.
General admission is $20; children 10 and younger are admitted free. Pit passes are $35.