Stovall focused on repeating banner year
By Lyndal ScrantonLucas Oil Speedway
Jesse Stovall knows stock-car racing is a what-have-you-done-lately sport, where past accomplishment does not always predict future performance.
So after the best season of his Late Model career, when Stovall won 19 features and earned a top-25 ranking in the prestigious DirtonDirt.com final 2015 power rankings poll, he knew the question was coming.
"To me, if you can have half the season that I had a year ago, it's a very, very good year," Stovall said this week from his race shop in Billings, Mo.
That's not to say Stovall, who narrowly finished behind Terry Phillips of Springfield, Mo., in the Lucas Oil MLRA Series standings last fall — despite missing a couple of races — is conceding anything.
Stovall laughed about the year — he guessed about a decade ago — when he won 23 races in his Modified. Stovall said his car owner at the time declared, "That's a fluke year. You'll never do that again."
"Well, the next year I went out and won 31. The next year I went out and won 28. So after about the third year of that, I said to him, 'Now what?'
"I'm not cocky and I hate cocky people," Stovall continued. "If it happens again, great. If it doesn't? We'll see how it goes."
Stovall and crew chief Tony Rogers have spent the winter putting the finishing touches on a new Black Diamond Race Car. He is itching to get the season started.
There was temptation to hit the road and enter events during Georgia-Florida Speedweeks. But instead, he's pointing to a March debut at either the Toilet Bowl Classic in Clarksville, Tenn., or the Pelican 100 at Vivian, La.
The MLRA schedule fires up April 1-2 with the Spring Meltdown at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb., with $2,000 and $5,000-to-win shows. The third annual Spring Nationals follows April 8-9 at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo.
It was at I-80 a year ago when Stovall's season had an ominous start. Motor problems after a handful of laps on opening night had him fearing the worst.
"It was heartbreaking," Stovall said. "It was like, 'Here we go again, another year of hell.'
"I didn't know how much longer I could do it, financially or just period. But after the year got rolling, we got our motor problem figured out. Then the wheels kept on turning and turning."
The addition of Rogers, who parted as chief mechanic for Billy Moyer Jr. last spring when Moyer took a brief sabbatical, proved key.
Rogers gave Stovall a full-time crew chief for the first time in his career. The two hit it off and proved to be a winning combination. Wins began to pile up and Stovall dominated the regional Dirt Late Model scene.
Stovall was a bonafide contender as well with the big boys, earning a front-row starting position for the Lucas Oil Series Show-Me 100 — though he had to wait seven weeks to race after a rainout. He briefly passed eventual winner Jonathan Davenport for the lead during the July make-up and wound up fifth.
"I put Tony in charge of the car, from washing it to maintenance," Stovall said. "He tightened every nut and bolt. I just had to worry about the shocks and things like that. When I pull onto the track, I don't worry if I tightened this bolt or that wheel or whatever."
Stovall is eager to pull onto a track and start the journey for 2016. His sponsor list includes Malvern Trust & Savings Bank, Swafford's Service, Rushin Towing, Scott Bailey Racing Engines, JSR Suspensions, Black Diamond Race Cars, Midwest Sheet Metal, Bobcat of Springfield, Chix Gear, Dynamic Drivelines, M&M Painting and Construction, Performance Bodies, APAC and Smokin' Wheels BBQ.
As the season begins, Stovall said he carries an appreciation for what happened a year ago along with the confidence that it still provides.
Phillips, the three-time MLRA champ and a friendly rival, said Stovall has the right mind-set.
"You can have a stellar year like that and not win a damn race the next year," Phillips said. "You have to keep an even-keel about yourself. He's learned that through the years. He's pretty good about keeping a level head."