According to fictional race car driver Ricky Bobby, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” Well, Grant Enfinger found out that coming in third could be enough to secure a championship.
The Fairhope native started the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) Racing Series by winning three straight races. Along the way, he took the checkered flag two more times while finishing among the top 10 drivers in 20 races. This helped him compile enough points to almost secure his driver’s title entering the Full Throttle S’loonshine 98.9 at Kansas Speedway.
“It’s been somewhat of a roller-coaster year,” Enfinger said. “We started the season with three straight wins and followed that up with three wrecks. That’s just how the season has gone.
“The biggest thing is this year we’ve been able to pick ourselves up. We had the ability to deal with most of the issues that came up. Sometimes there were little things that turned into big problems. But we were able to recover.”
He becomes not only the 33rd driver to win the ARCA national championship in its 63 seasons, but he is also the first from Alabama. He added the car owner championship for GMS Racing plus the Valvoline Lap Leader Award for having his No. 23 car top the field 792 times.
“It means a lot to me to be able to have Maury [Gallagher, team owner] up on stage with me and the trophies,” Enfinger said. “We worked a lot of really, really dumb hours at the beginning of the year to try and get caught up. Those guys didn’t have to do that. Everybody has a life outside the shop and all. The hours they worked were ridiculous. We kind of got where we needed to be about halfway through the season.”
Included in his early-season winning streak was the ARCA Mobile 200. It marked the third straight year Enfinger won the jukebox trophy in Irvington.
“Everyone that has ever turned a lap at Mobile International Speedway is extremely proud of what Grant has accomplished and how he represents the Gulf Coast,” ARCA Mobile 200 promoter Tommy Praytor said.
Praytor pointed out the 30-year-old Enfinger got his start racing go-karts throughout Alabama. His first ARCA start came in 2008, and he now has 14 ARCA wins.
“The biggest thing this year has been speed,” Enfinger said. “I feel we’ve been competitive everywhere we’ve gone this season. We’ve had a chance to win or lead laps every race, it seems.”
Local fans honored Enfinger Tuesday with a celebration at the USS Alabama’s aircraft pavilion. He will officially be crowned 2015 Champion at the ARCA Racing Series annual championship awards banquet in Indianapolis Dec. 12.
Thomas “Moose” Praytor of Mobile also turned in his best season on the ARCA circuit. He finished 14th at Kansas in his No. 9 DK-LOK Ford, the last car on the lead lap. This was good enough to earn him 8th place in championship standings, his third consecutive finish inside the top-10 year-end points.
It was a bittersweet ending for Praytor and the Mobile-based team. DK-LOK USA/Nudraulix founder Charles Slaughter had passed away just before the race. The car featured a special “NAH” sticker in his honor, as that was the nickname his grandchildren had given him.
“Our DK-LOK team had a solid night. It was a great way to end the season,” the younger Praytor said. “[Spotter] Tab [Boyd] did an awesome job on the roof and all our UNOH pit crew got the job done on pit road. Our mile and a half program has a come a long way in 2015.”
Praytor has already returned home, having read to a second-grade class at E.R. Dickson Elementary. It was part of the international Jumpstart “Read for the Record” initiative.
“I really had a good time with the kids in Mrs. Earnest’s class. I’m glad they gave me a picture book,” Praytor said. “My grandmother instilled in all of us how important it is to give back. With our schedule it’s hard to do, but when we can I’m happy to take part.”
Rugby returns to the Causeway
The 36th annual Battleship Invitational Rugby Tournament will take place Saturday and Sunday on five regulation-sized pitches (rugby fields) adjacent to the USS Alabama. The hosting Battleship Rugby Football Club is expecting up to 40 teams to compete in multiple brackets.
The games will feature 15 players to a side, with contests split into two 20-minute halves. Games start at 9 a.m. and are played until 4 p.m. on Saturday. The playoffs will conclude action on Sunday. A tournament social is set for Saturday night at O’Daly’s Irish Pub in downtown Mobile.
The Battleship RFC has a long and successful history. Formed in 1975, it brought home national championships in 1992 and 2001. For more information on the club or the tournament, visit www.BattleshipRugby.com.
Lady Jags secure conference title
With a recent home win over Arkansas State, the University of South Alabama (USA) completed a perfect run toward the Sun Belt Conference’s regular season soccer title. The Lady Jags stand at 9-0 in league play to go with a 15-2-1 overall mark.
“It’s always difficult to play on Senior Day because there’s so much emotion going on,” USA head coach Graham Winkworth said. “Performance-wise, we know we can play a lot better than that, but we got the result and I‘m really proud of how the team got through the game. I’m pleased for the seniors that got to have Senior Day on a winning day.”
The last SBC club to go undefeated in conference play was the University of Denver in 2010. “I couldn’t be happier,” Winkworth said. “We’ve swept the league now and we did it for the seniors today. Fantastic stuff.”
The SBC tournament takes place this weekend in Atlanta. The final is set for Sunday at noon, and can be seen on ESPN3. The Lady Jags, who scored 44 goals in 18 matches, are the defending tourney champion.