By Tim Bertrand, photos by Tiffany Payne
A storybook ending was the scene for thirteen year old Ryan Locke, as he captured his first ever NEMA Lite win, becoming the youngest driver to ever win in NEMA’s sixty three year history. Locke bested a strong field of twenty two competitors, ranging from Indiana to North Carolina, to Pennsylvania at New England’s premier 3/8 mile oval, the New London Waterford Speedbowl.
Although Locke may be unfamiliar with victory lane as a driver, the thirteen year old’s family is not. His father, Jeff, operator at Locke Crane Services, a fierce ISMA Super Modified competitor, and grandfather, Ken, a long time, winning Oswego Super Modified car owner, are no strangers to the podium.
The evening started strong for the young Locke as he jumped out into the lead from the front of the pack. The win would not come easy, however, as the likes of 2015 Lites Champion, Anthony Payne, and up & comer Meg Cugini were running some lightning fast times as they worked their way through the pack. Further behind them, multi-feature winner, Danny Cugini was also working his way to the front as was Modified standout, Joey Cipriano, who started in eighteenth position.
As the laps wound down, the Locke, Payne, and Meg Cugini trio staged an epic battle, with the three exchanging the lead four times in the last three laps of the event. Locke would cement his spot in victory lane with a pass for the lead, and he went on to take down and exciting victory by a narrow margin. Payne and Cugini would follow him, followed by Danny Cugini, Joey Cipriano, Ben Mikitarian, PJ Stergios, Paul Scally, Randy Cabral and Nikki Carroll.
“I started racing in the tiger sprint go carts 3 just years ago. I raced tiger sprints for 2 years before getting the NEMA lite last year. I practiced at Star last year because I was too young to race, but all the practice paid off,” said the young Locke. I think the key to winning the race was having a good race car and starting with good track position.
I never could have imagined winning this early. I still can’t believe it. The first thing I said when I saw my dad in victory lane was, “did that just happen?”, said an elated Locke.
NEMA and the NEMA Lites pick back up their schedule at Star Speedway this coming weekend.