Dalton qualified cautiously and wound up 11th for the first race. For comparison purposes as to the level of competition, the top five cars that run here week to week are only separated by 20 points for the championship. On top of that, two cars from the Swaim racing family with Travis and Mike Jr. showed up. They are always very competitive, having won many races in and around North Carolina. Tim told me that they had a different winner every week, so we had lots of serious competition to deal with.

In the first 50-lapper, we noticed that the engine was off and Dalton finally came in to have it checked. After going a few laps down, we found a plug wire that had burned through the insulation on a header pipe and was shorting out. We replaced it and went back out to resume running. The car had much better acceleration and we closed out that first race to prepare for the final 50-lapper.

Dalton started 10th in the final race and quickly began to move up. The car was very competitive and we were able to catch cars ahead of us and make passes, although several took a few laps of running side by side. Dalton worked the car as though he had been running this track for years, and we made it all the way to sixth place by the end. The car was untouched and we all felt a huge measure of success. In the end we could run the same lap times as the leader and the setup stayed exactly the same throughout the race.

Tri-County is a somewhat difficult track to learn, so we had to watch how the regulars ran the line through the turns and consult with Dalton to perfect our racing line. He was a trooper and adjusted very well. In the end, he looked like he had been running there for years. I know the other drivers not only respected how he ran them clean, but also how darn fast he was as a rookie in a brand-new car.

I have to say that in that moment after the race was over, I was so proud of Dalton. He showed veteran patience, skill, and determination and in the end looked like he had been racing these cars for years. The NASCAR Late Model stock division was where I started my racing career, and I have seen hundreds of these same cars and drivers run thousands of laps. None looked any better than Dalton and this car. We were all stoked. With that effort having been a great success, it was now off to Hickory.

Sherry runs a tight program at Hickory and those who come to compete can be sure that they will be treated like everyone else. She welcomed us for sure, but we were expected to adhere to the track's rules and we knew the competitors were made to follow those very same rules. This was refreshing after what we've seen at some tracks down south (you know who you are).

Willy was very excited to be here with us and to compete in this car. Many teams greeted us and made comments about what a nice car we had. We again want to thank Billy Hess for offering us his chassis. We couldn't be happier with that choice.

We ran practice to shake the car down and everything felt great. We had to live with the tires we were given and the rear stagger was a little short of what we needed here. But the car handled perfectly and we were ready to race. Willy's own Late Model stock car had suffered an unfortunate incident a month earlier and was still under repair. After sitting out for a while, he was understandably very anxious to get going.

We started 10th in the race, again after a cautious qualifying effort. Willy wasn't about to risk damage to this car before he had a chance to race it, and we all thought that was a very good plan. We didn't come up to North Carolina to necessarily win these races. We wanted to race the car to see what it would do and to get a good feel for how the setup was for both speed and consistency. Getting mixed up with the top 10 cars that were hotly contesting for points wouldn't be a good idea and would probably get us punted into the wall early.