It seemed inevitable after the strong performances Kate Dallenbach had at the end of the 2015 season and, on Saturday night, the inevitable happened.
Dallenbach, 19, scored her first career Late Model Stock Car victory on Saturday night at the famed Hickory Motor Speedway in Newton, North Carolina. Dallenbach started fourth in the race and battled with Dexter Canipe and Matt Piercy, until Canipe and Piercy got together in the closing laps, handing the lead, and the win, to Dallenbach.
“Five laps to go, starting first, into the first corner, like two people hit me and I got a little sideways,” Dallenbach said. “But I managed to save it and drove away for the last five laps and finally got to the checkered.”
Scoring a first career win is exciting for any driver. Winning in the first race of the year is even more exciting since it sets a tone for the rest of the season. Dallenbach hopes her victory sets a tone for the rest of the season.
“It’s really exciting especially for the first race of the year to get my first win,” Dallenbach remarked. “It just sets a really good pace for the whole year really. I’ve been waiting for so long to finally get a win. Meant a lot to me, especially at Hickory and my luck there in the past hasn’t been that great. If there’s any track I wanted to win at, it was Hickory. Glad I finally got that.”
Along with excitement, Dallenbach felt a sense of relief having finally scored the victory after all the hard work she and her team, led by veteran crew chief Michael Faulk, put in.
“I’ve just been waiting for so long and to finally have that, I’m really excited and ready for the rest of the year,” Dallenbach explained. “There’s so much hard work put into this over the last two years, last year and coming up on this year. The crew and Lee Faulk and Michael Faulk, I couldn’t have done it without Johnny Morris, SHE Outdoors and Bass Pro Shops as well as Richard Childress for signing me again for the development program this year. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Michael Faulk prepared the car and guided her to victory from the spotter’s stand.
“Kate did an awesome job,” Faulk remarked. “She had a fast car all weekend. We qualified fourth, had some oil on the track, could have contended for the pole. She got to third pretty quick. Her, Canipe and Piercy broke away. She got up to second. They battled for the lead, shuffled around. Five to go, Canipe and Piercy wrecked each other so Kate started in the lead on the restart and held them off, put a few car-lengths coming to the flag. She withstood the pressure to win.”
Faulk has worked with Dallenbach since the beginning of her Late Model Stock Car career and said the Dallenbachs have become like a family to him. When he watched her score the victory, it was as if he was in the cockpit himself.
“We’ve had Kate a long time and she’s come so far from where we started,” Faulk explained. “She’s part of my family. It’s as if I was driving. To see how happy she, Robin and Wally were. We’re together all the time. We argue, fight. It’s like seeing one of your family members win. We enjoy the good times and bad times together.”
Dallenbach had strong runs last season at Southern National Motorsports Park, Hickory Motor Speedway and at Myrtle Beach Speedway. After her performances last season, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before she broke through and got a victory. Her father, former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver and NBC/TNT color commentator Wally Dallenbach, Jr., was relieved to finally see his daughter pick up that elusive first career win.
“We’re excited,” Wally said after the race. “It’s just a huge relief. So much hard work has gone into this. Mike and Lee have worked with Kate. They’ve been incredible to work with over the years. This is kind of our deal right now. We got cut back on sponsors and we wanted to make the best of it. I was proud of how she drove tonight and hopefully this will lead to bigger and better things down the road.
“Regardless, I’m just proud, she’s been doing great.”
Her mother, Robin, who once competed in stock car racing, and even made a couple starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series herself, echoed those thoughts.
“Everybody always says, ‘if you can win at Hickory, you can win anywhere’. I’m really proud of her. She did a great job. She held them off at the end, it got exciting.”
It came down to white knuckle racing in the closing laps at Hickory, which is considered one of the toughest tracks in Late Model Stock Car racing due to its rough surface. But, Kate Dallenbach emphasized that it was a total team effort.
“It wasn’t just me, was a whole team and I’m really thankful for all them and excited for this win,” Kate reiterated. “We’ll see what happens for the rest of this year, especially only having 10 races, to start out with a win, it’s awesome.”
As for Michael Faulk, Dallenbach’s win was the proverbial ice cream but it wasn’t the only win of the night for his team. 126 miles away, at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Easley, South Carolina, the proverbial cherry on top came when Anthony Alfredo inherited the win in the Southeast Limited Late Model Series race after Dylan Hall was disqualified.
“Two tracks, two drivers, two wins,” Faulk commented. “One of the best nights we’ve had in a long time.”