Delaware battle down to wire

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Branden Verhoeven is in another gas-pedal pressure cooker.

He’s starting to get used to all these racing nail-biters.

Last year, he stormed back to win a hotly contested super stock weekly series title on Champions Night at Delaware Speedway. Now, he’s trying to protect a slim seven-point edge over Brady Smith heading into Friday’s season decider (7:30 p.m.).

“It’s been a good battle,” the driver of the No. 7 late model said, “once we got racing in (after a bunch of rain-outs early in the schedule). Seven points, that’s pretty tight yet, and we’ve got three 25-lap features, so there’s a lot of chances for Brady to win the championship.”

Smith will try to do what Verhoeven did to David McCullough in the super stock class a year ago. He had to catch and overtake his rival, which he did by two points in the finale.

“I think even though it’s a different division, being involved in that keeps you calm,” said Verhoeven, the Kerwood native and former Ridgetown District high schooler. “You’re not going to win every race, but you know that every point during the season helps.”

That hasn’t been easy lately.

A week ago in the opening feature, Verhoeven’s pal Jo Lawrence ran in front, but blew up and a handful of cars ended up in the wall.

One of those was the series leader. Smith, meanwhile, ended up the race winner as the last one standing.

“But we didn’t get it too bad,” Verhoeven said. “It was minor for us, just front and rear bumper. We’ve been working on it and basically got it altogether now, so we’ll see what we can do Friday.”

Verhoeven has been encouraged by his foray into late models this season. He is starting to rack up titles the way his dad Dion did at the same track.

“I didn’t think I’d be doing this well,” he said. “It’s a bunch different. I tried one late model race at the end of last year, just to get the hang of it. The car helps a lot and the experience my dad has . . . knowing how to get a good setup, he’s really helped.

“I raced four full seasons in super stocks, so I know how to go around Delaware with the other racers and every little bit helps. It’s turned out pretty good.”

Branden wants to become a regular on the APC United Late Model Series next year. That’s a big step.

“We already tried Sauble and it didn’t work,” Verhoeven said. “The rear end broke, so we couldn’t see what the car could do with those guys. We went to Cayuga (now Jukasa Motor Speedway) a couple of weeks ago and had a rivet in our right front tire. Second race, there was a big bundle in the front stretch and someone clipped me. I went into the wall and we screwed up the back of the car pretty good.

“We had to bring it to Mike McColl’s,” in London.

The NASCAR Pinty’s series will take its season-ending spin around Jukasa Sept. 23.

“We’re still thinking about it,” Verhoeven said.

But the immediate goal is to hold off Smith.

“I used to watch him in the trucks. He never bumps you and if he does it by accident, he’ll come by and apologize. He’s a real, clean and smooth racer,” Verhoeven said.

And of course, he’s keeping an eye on the super stocks. McCullough is trying to chase down Jake Sheridan, another youngster thriving under his dad Ron’s guidance.

It won’t be long before there is a full-blown Verhoeven-Sheridan late-model rivalry to look forward to at Delaware.

“He’ll be interesting to race against,” Branden said. “I’m very impressed with how he’s done this year.”

King Mini: Komoka’s Chris Pallister recently captured his third feature in the Tommy’s Motor Mini Trucks at Grand Bend Speedway, clinching the division’s season title in the process. He also was named rookie of the year. Pallister used to race at dirt tracks with the Western Ontario Outlaws, so this was his first summer on an asphalt oval. Clearly, it won’t be his last.

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