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With hard work, dedication and perseverance, Chris Hawkins is living his dream of being a top race car driver.
531
9/6/2016

9/6/2016

Salina Highbanks Speedway


With hard work, dedication and perseverance, Chris Hawkins is living his dream of being a top race car driver.

With hard work, dedication and perseverance, Chris Hawkins is living his dream of being a top race car driver.

Already reaching the pinnacle of "Champion," the Neosho businessman now has his sites set on a national championship.

The Pro Lube Maintenance owner moonlights on weekends in a 360 USRA B Mod at Salina Highbanks Speedway in Salina, Oklahoma competing in the NASCAR Home Track Series.

"The same NASCAR that you see on TV on Sundays, they actually put it together," Hawkins said. "It's been going since the '80s. Larry Phillips from Springfield, Missouri was a 7-time Division-1 champion.

"I don't compete in Division-1, I compete in Division-2. In those ranks, Division-1 is looked at like the Sprint Cup Series as compared to the Nationwide Series, that's where the Division-2 would be," he said. "And we've sat on top of those standings all season long."

Hawkins ran second in the season's first race, then a mechanical failure dropped him to 18th in race-2, but he has had at least a top-3 car the rest of the way except for a couple of recent fifth place finishes. Because he is focused on racing for national championship points this season, he has mostly only raced at Salina, taking on a few races at other tracks for money and for fun.

Last year he was able to capture points in the national hunt also at West Siloam Speedway near Pryor, Oklahoma. That brought the challenge of changing engines for each race, racing at West Siloam on Friday nights and then using a different engine for Salina on Saturday night, and changing it again during the week to prepare for the next Friday night.

"We had 33 races last year and we had 29 top 10s," he said. "We had a really, really good season, but we had low car counts. We led the standings several times throughout the year but ultimately when the dust settled we ended up fifth.

"This year is a little different story. We have a lot less races, currently at 16 races and 460 points. They take our best 14 races," Hawkins said. "So last year I was at twice this amount and the same amount of points. Last year I scored 460 points out of 33 races. So I guess sometimes quality trumps quantity."

Hawkins captured the 2015 track championship at West Siloam with ease last year where he won nine races, but winning the track championship at Salina took a storybook ending to accomplish winning on the last lap of the last race.

"You couldn't have wrote a Hollywood blockbuster with better drama," he challenged. "From getting wrecked early in the race and having to go tail back to the guy I needed to finish at least in the worst-case scenario was one place behind him. He was leading and I was in 24th with only 17 laps to go and I managed to make it all the way up to second to win the championship by one point. One of the most fulfilling, awesome, exciting, crazy, nerve-wracking hours of my life!"

National Championship Chase:

Hawkins still faces twin 25-lap races on Sept. 10 with the opportunity to win or lose two races that night, and the season finale is on Sept. 17.

He has a firm grip on winning the track championship, but his goals are higher this year. He could have his nerves much more at ease but has struggled in recent weeks to get another win that would place him in some comfort.

"One more win would advance us 13 points; we have a 14 point cushion right now, 13 more would put it out of reach of everybody," Hawkins said. "And I would be sitting here saying we are the champion. At this point it would take some guys to have some amazing success to catch us, but it's possible. Nothing is guaranteed at this point."

More than 1,000 racers are competing for the national championship on 59 tracks across the country, but all is not equal, which he said makes things even more interesting. The aforementioned Larry Phillips had much success at the NASCAR track in Lebanon, one of those 59 tracks.

"There are drivers in Lebanon that compete against me, and that's the neat thing about the way the NASCAR Whelen All-American Home Track Series is done," Hawkins said. "We all accumulate our points under the same format but none of our cars match.

"I couldn't take my car to Lebanon and race. They couldn't bring their car to race with me," he said. "But we're competing in points. And there are some Lebanon drivers that are in the top 100."

The high-speed, high-banked track at Salina is perfectly suited to Hawkins.

"It's my kind of racing," he said. "I typically struggled in situations where you have to slow down and speed back up. The high-speed, high momentum track fits my driving style. It just works out better for me. It's super smooth, it's just an awesome, great facility, a lot of great people, a lot of good racing family over there."

Secrets To Success:

Perseverance, commitment, dedication, doing it right and never growing up from a childhood dream are keys to Hawkins' racing success.

"You just never give up," he said. "I'm not the most gifted, talented driver in the world but I guarantee no one works harder than me on my car in the shop than I do."

He said races are won and lost in the shop.

"I go with a prepared car, I don't ever hardly have DNFs (did not finish) that are of a parts failure or a lack of preparation," Hawkins said."We won a lot of races, but we worked really hard to do it."

One of the largest aspects to his success has been helping other people.

"I help a lot of guys, try to get their racing deal better, and it's amazing sometimes how I'm slow to take by own advice," Hawkins said. "I'll tell a guy how to make his car better and all of a sudden a light bulb goes off, 'Maybe I ought to try that on my own.' And that's probably the one thing that helps me more than anything; I'm always there to help my fellow competitors."

Hawkins ran late models for years, which he said was very expensive and he would run out of talent and budget. This series doesn't cost so much to continue, and he hasn't run out of talent as easy.

Frank Branstetter has been a part of the crew since Hawkins began racing in 1994, along with Keith Weiss of Four State Erectors, who is also a sponsor.

Living The Dream:

Still racing after all these years, Hawkins attributes that to not being smart enough to figure out something else to do.

"If you'd have met when I was eight years old I would have told you I was going to be a race car driver and a mechanic," he said. "And that's exactly what I've done. It's just my thing. I wish it wasn't."

Hawkins does the same household chores after the work day as a typical family man, but then works late in the car shop, sometimes until midnight.

"I have to build it, fix it, prep it, prepare it, tweak it, to make it faster than everybody else every time I go," he said. "I'm living the dream, absolutely."

If fortunate enough to win this national championship, Hawkins will have achieved the level of Champion for the fifth time, as he is now a four-time track champion.

"And I can't imagine how you could expect any more, I mean, that is living the dream," he said. "I tell my son a lot of times that even though he's seen me be a champion, that even though I could be a five-time champion, I also lost 15 years; 15 times I wasn't the champion, and I didn't give up. I just kept on digging.

"I've never been the guy that wanted to go to the tech official and complain about somebody else's things that I may see that's not legal or right on their car," Hawkins said.

"I want to go home, roll my sleeves up in my shop and figure out how to beat them next week, and take a legal race car to do it," he said. "I get a lot of satisfaction from winning the right way. And I've been able to do that throughout my whole career."

If you can't make it to the race track, you can find the action live online at fanschoice.tv.


Article Credit: Dave Horvath

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