When the pressure turned up, the heroes emerged Saturday night at I-44 Riverside Speedway.
It was a nail-biting conclusion to the inaugural season for the Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series presented by Toyota, where the first-ever repeat winner was found and the first-ever champion was crowned by the end of the night.
Jade Avedisian all 35 laps of the 18th annual Charlene Meents Memorial to become the first-ever two-time winner of the Series and the first-ever two-time female Feature winner of a national Midget tour, while Zach Daum piloted one of Avedisian’s backup cars from the CB Industries stable to a ninth-place finish, earning him enough points to clinch the inaugural Series championship.
“The first one was awesome, but I think this one’s just a little more special that I could do it twice,” Avedisian said after the Feature, reflecting on the significance of her trailblazing accomplishment.
Starting from the pole after setting quick time in Group 4 Qualifying and a third-place Heat finish, Avedisian jumped out to the lead at the drop of the green and began setting a torrid pace. She stretched her lead as large as two seconds on more than one occasion and was able to hold the lead through even the toughest restarts.
But after the final restart just before the halfway point, Avedisian found herself riding on another two-second gap with lots of traffic ahead and a hungry pack of drivers behind her. The hungriest of which was Bryant Wiedeman, who was in the midst of a points battle with Daum that was coming right down to the wire.
If Wiedeman won the race, a 15th-or-worse finish for Daum would have been enough to earn Weideman the title. Both were dangerously close to those exact positions in the final laps, and every position mattered. With five laps-to-go and a two second gap to Avedisian, Wiedeman pinned the throttle.
A smooth line, a few smart moves in traffic and some help from the slower cars allowed Wiedeman to reel-in Avedisian in only three laps.
“I didn’t know exactly [how far back], but I knew [someone] was right there because I kinda felt my pace slow down in lapped traffic,” Avedisian said. “I wasn’t sure where to go, and this lapper changed lanes on the straightaway, and I was on the outside. I knew someone was close, but just wasn’t sure who.”
The two stayed relatively close as they took the white flag until Wiedeman attempted a last-ditch slide job in Turn 3. But Avedisian held strong on the top and denied the Keith Kunz Motorsports driver out of Turn 4 to collect the win and the $5,000 paycheck.
“Thanks to [Wiedeman] for driving me clean because we all want to win, and I know what he could’ve done to win,” she said.
Wiedeman crossed the stripe in second to record his best Series finish since the win at Davenport in August. But in the end, it was not enough to make up the points he needed to win the title. Daum had climbed all the way from a provisional starting spot in 23rd to finish 9th and clinch the inaugural season championship.
“I needed the bottom to get slicker so them guys couldn’t run the bottom,” Daum said. “Once that happened, then I got better and could just start picking them off.
“I just tried not to do anything dumb, put myself in a bad position to get crashed that late in the race. Just had to play it smart, play it like a veteran should.”
In his words, this was the hardest he’s ever worked to clinch a national Midget title. As fate would have it, Daum broke an engine after Friday’s event, forcing him to swipe the engine out of teammate Ethan Mitchell’s car to compete Saturday. Then, while leading coming to the white flag in his Heat Race, engine issues snakebit Daum once more, sending him to the pits with limited time to ready another car for the Feature.
In Daum’s hour of need, CB Industries leader Chad Boat offered up a spare car, primarily fitted for Avedisian, to Daum to finish out the night. With crew members from several different teams furiously wrenching and drilling on it, the car was readied just in time for Daum to take his provisional starting spot in the Feature.
“There were other people offering cars, and I appreciate every last one of them,” Daum said. “There were more people in the hot pit and in Chad’s pit tonight than I could even begin to think about. And I thank every one of them, because without them, we wouldn’t have made it in time.”
The thrash effort proved fruitful, giving Daum the avenue to collect the $10,000 title for he and Bundy Built Motorsports. Though they may not have all the shiniest, new equipment in the pit area, Daum and his team let their resiliency power through and proved how far determination can really go.
“Everybody on this team – I can’t explain the shoestring that they race on,” Daum said. “It’s rinky-dink stuff, and we somehow make it work every night. We have nice stuff; we just don’t have any extra stuff.
“Hopefully, 30 years from now, this [series] has exploded and we’re [remembered as] the inaugural champion.”
ABBREVIATED RESULTS (view full results)
Feature (35 Laps): 1. 84-Jade Avedisian; 2. 01-Bryant Wiedeman; 3. 55-Jonathan Beason; 4. 71-Daison Pursley; 5. 08-Cannon McIntosh; 6. 97-Brenham Crouch; 7. 71M-Gavin Miller; 8. 26-Chance Crum; 9. 9M-Zach Daum; 10. 25K-Taylor Reimer; 11. 71K-Dominic Gorden; 12. 19M-Ethan Mitchell; 13. 72J-Sam Johnson; 14. 11A-Andrew Felker; 15. 14X-Chelby Hinton; 16. 19AZ-Hayden Reinbold; 17. 57-Daniel Whitley; 18. 71E-Mariah Ede; 19. 32T-Trey Marcham; 20. 80-Josh Hawkins; 21. 40-Chase McDermand; 22. 50-Daniel Adler; 23. 81G-Greyson Springer; 24. 00-Talin Turner