Jonathan Davenport's season was simply amazing in 2015. It may very well be the best one in dirt late model history. And it was earned countless hours of preparation and the help of crew chief Kevin Rumley. And though we'll be talking about it for years to come, it may have overshadowed a great story of perseverance that played out in the same year.
Shane Clanton's 2015 doesn't have anywhere near the same gaudy stats as Davenport's has. But this is not a comparison between the two. This simply serves as a reminder, lest we forget (most of us won't anytime soon), that Clanton won a championship too this season, and it wasn't half as easy as it may have seemed it would be in February.
|Pat Miller Photo|
From the drop of the green flag in Georgia/Florida speed weeks, Clanton seemed destined for a great year winning four of the first seven World of Outlaw points events at Screven Motor Speedway, Bubba Raceway Park and Volusia. But afterwards, there was still a matter of 35+ races in which to give his early season lead back to the closest pursuer. And for any driver, it could have been fairly easy to give back that lead bit by bit over the course of the season. Remember that Earl Pearson Jr. had a solid February and a Lucas series points lead only to be overtaken by Davenport. A mistake in time trials here and there, a dnf or two, or another driver who might find their stride in mid season and rattle off seven or eight wins in a couple of months, any of these could have spelled disaster for Clanton....If he weren't on top of his game.
And that's why Clanton's 2015 should not be overlooked in the volumes of championship seasons. The length of the season is just enough time for mistakes to derail a title run, and at the same time, not quite enough races to throwaway a couple of bad finishes. It mattered not if perennial favorite Josh Richards was coming off a year he barely raced in 2014. Nor that Darrell Lanigan suffered car issues that at one point made him come off the road and re-evaluate. They both had great chances in the beginning when everyone started with 0 points. But neither could seize the early season momentum. Clanton did.
|Pat Miller Photo|
But it would take more than just a nice early season point lead to make his first championship season a reality. It took commitment, preparation, and a driving style that saw him be patient when he had to be, not running so off the cuff that mistakes happened, and more aggressive when he needed to keep his pursuers behind him. That's not an easy thing to do night in and night out, and series winners in any car or series would be the first ones to tell you that from Donny Schatz, to Dale Blaney, to Scott Bloomquist and Matt Sheppard. Clanton's car could be dominant at times, in the same vein as Davenport's on occasion. But what earned Clanton the 2015 championship, was the way in which he simply wore down his closest pursuer, Josh Richards by continuing to pick up wins later on in the season, and his 34 top fives in 41 events. When Richards picked up a win, he seemingly gained little to no ground, and that had to be frustrating and disheartening for him. And for Clanton, it was his fortification, his lead that he protected by not only riding around finishing races, but putting himself on the podium stride for stride with Richards.
But more than the performance on the track for Clanton in 2015, his perseverance in years of toil in the series, through difficult seasons that other series champions have not always had to endure. He'd been close in some years finishing in the top three at the end of the year on several other occasions. And he'd had years when he'd finished in the middle of the pack and suffered long gaps between wins that stretched over two seasons. And in some of those types of years, he had to be wondering if it made sense to continue running a national tour given the cost and sacrifice with sometimes very little in reward.
His hard work was rewarded in 2015 and although his season wasn't quite what Davenport's was, it is still more than worthy of a "season to be remembered". It may just mark the beginning of Clanton being mentioned more often in the same conversation with Bloomquist, Lanigan, Richards, Davenport, Owens and so on.