It may not go down in the same part of sports history as Tom Brady for Drew Bledsoe, nor will it be as permanent, but Grays Harbor Raceway was the site of a fill-in for the ages story Saturday.
Wayne Lemmon of Elma stepped away from auto racing eight years ago. But on Saturday, he filled in for Jack Parshall of Hoquiam and, after a few rusty hot laps, he was back to his old form and came away with a win in the street stocks feature at the Grays Harbor Fair races in front of a packed crowd in his hometown.
“I was excited to get out here and I’m still excited,” Lemmon said. “I got in the main and it was like I never left. It was great.”
Parshall has been dominating the points in the street stocks with six wins in the first eight races, but wasn’t able to race Saturday because of a conflict with a national softball tournament his daughter was playing in the same weekend.
With Parshall needing someone who knew his way around the car to fill in, Lemmon got a call to take over in the No. 9 car for the race during the Grays Harbor County Fair.
The 57-year-old Lemmon started racing at Grays Harbor Raceway almost three decades ago when he built a hobby stock. Then, he moved on to the modifieds, but soon the number of crashes took a larger toll on his wallet than his body and he became frustrated enough to hang up the fire suit and helmet.
Since Lemmon quit, there have been plenty of people trying to get him to start racing again. There was even something inside of him that longed to get back in the car. So, when the opportunity to drive the best street stock car for a week came up, he jumped at the chance.
“I said, ‘Heck yeah, I’ll drive it any day you want,’” Lemmon said. “It was very exhilarating. My car was identical to this car, so it was like second nature.”
Lemmon started the race well behind Brenton Schnitzer of Shelton, who took the lead on the first lap, but the Elma native was patient and waited to get his shot at the lead. He started making his move to the front just five laps into the 20-lap feature race when he shot into third on a restart and began fighting his way toward first.
On Lap 7, Lemmon started to get Schnitzer into his sights and over the next two laps he would slip to the high side of the track and pass Schnitzer, but a red flag would put Lemmon back in second. With just five laps to go after the restart, Lemmon shot to the high side of the track again and raced side by side with Schnitzer for two laps before he pulled away to take the checkered.
“The reason I even got in the car was so Jack could keep his points,” Lemmon said. “All I had to do was make the main and do one lap but, you know, to get in and win for him was pretty awesome. Everybody and their dog has been nagging me to get back in a car. When I quit racing it was like I lost part of my life. I never have been quite the same.”
Even a week before he took to the track again, Lemmon had responded to the nagging of friends and the small voice inside himself by purchasing a modified from one of the other drivers. While he was glad to have a chance to fill in for Parshall, Lemmon has plans to be racing as a part of his own team next season in the modifieds.
“I’m a pretty competitive guy and I don’t mind sticking it to the floor,” Lemmon said. “I just go as hard as I can until I either lose it or I win. My arms are pretty tired and I’m sweating pretty crazy, but I had a great time.”
Mark Carrell started on the outside of row 1 in the modified feature, but it wouldn’t take long for the Redmond, Ore., driver to take control of the race. Carrell got to the line first when a yellow flag flew on the first lap and he would pull away from the rest of the field over the next 10 laps before the second caution came out. While the battles behind Carrell for second through fifth position made for some exciting racing, Carrell held off the field on four restarts in the final eight laps to take the checkered flag.
Craig Moore of Seabeck finished second and Carl Larson of Kelso took third.
The Outlaw Tuners provided the final excitement to close out the races, with Jeff Daniel of Ocean Shores coming from behind for the victory.
Bo Jones of Portland took an early lead, but Daniel and Chad Norton of Tenino would be on Jones’ tail for most of the race.
Jones got some help from lapped traffic to put space between him and the second- and third-place drivers, but after a few laps he would get trapped behind some slower cars, which allowed Daniel and Norton to catch up and challenge Jones.
With just a few laps to go in the race, Jones had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a car with a blown tire that was making its way into the pits and Daniel and Norton took advantage of the opportunity, both going to the low side of the track and past Jones.
Although Jones would speed back toward the front, it would be Daniel leading the final laps in his silver No. 14 car.
Daniel would almost have the checkered flag ripped from his grasp when he and Norton raced into turn four of the final lap and there was a lapped car driving slowly in front of the two cars, but Daniel was able to shoot inside of the car and beat Norton to the finish line.