HERMON, Maine — It was Saturday, May 26.
It was a night that will always be cherished by Orrington’s John Kalel II.
That was the day he captured his first-ever Late Model victory at Hermon’s Speedway 95.
The victory snapped a drought he figured lasted five years.
“It was pretty cool,” said the 25-year-old Kalel. “I was wondering if I’d ever get another win. It seemed like it was getting harder and harder every week. It was a long time coming.”
The win and his fifth-place finish the previous week have helped him stay within striking distance of the Late Model points championship.
He is currently fifth in points but is only 32 points behind leader Phil Richardson of Carmel.
“I’m happy with the way things are going right now. I’d like to try to finish in the top five every week. If I do, that will open things up for me to win more,” said Kalel.
This is Kalel’s third year in Late Models and eighth year in racing.
A third-place finish was the highlight of his 2011 season and he and his father, former Pro Stock driver John Kalel, sat down with the crew during the winter and evaluated their performance.
“We saw what we were doing wrong and decided to make more of an effort and do a better job all the way around this season. And we have,” said Kalel II. “I’ve been doing a better job driving the car and we’ve done a better job setting the car up and maintaining it. The car has been very consistent. We’ve had only one or two off-nights.”
Kalel has put together a solid resume since he hopped into a Ford Escort and ran in the Little Enduro Class during a Wacky Wednesday race card eight years ago.
He won races at Speedway 95 and at Unity Raceway that season and finished “sixth or seventh in points” at Speedway 95.
He also had a good first season in the Mini-Truck Class at Speedway 95, finishing second in points.
He eventually moved up to the Super Streets on Saturday nights and won the points championship in 2006.
“I almost won it again in 2007,” he said.
He then tried his hand in the Sportsman Class on the Pro All-Stars Series tour and although he didn’t fare well — a fourth-place finish at Speedway 95 was his best showing — he said it was a valuable experience.
“I got a chance to race with guys like [Shane] Tatro, [Dan] McKeage and [Mike] Landry,” said Kalel who learned a lot from racing with them and watching them.
“I felt when I came back to [Speedway 95], I was a better driver,” said Kalel.
Kalel used to go to the races and watch his dad but his dad retired “when I was 5 or 6 years old.”
He maintained his interest in racing and would go to the races with a friend of his, Kevin Twitchell.
His parents eventually bought him the Ford Escort so he could begin his racing career.
Kalel, who is a welder by trade, said he enjoys the “competition” in the sport and noted that the Late Model Class is a challenging one.
“We have 15-20 cars every week and 10-15 are capable of winning,” he said. “And you’ve got guys who been at it quite a while. Andy Saunders has been racing 20-25 years.”
Kalel will return to racing on Saturday beginning at 7 p.m.
There will be a 35-lap Late Model feature at Speedway 95 to go with a 50-lap Sportsman series race, a 25-lap Street feature, a 20-lapper for the Sports Fours and a 20-lapper for the Bombers. The Bombers will have a 20-minute time limit so the race may not go the full 20 laps.
The Sportsman race is the second in the three-race series.