Coming out of Turn 4 on the final lap of Saturday night's second Mini Stock feature race, Don Faunce looked up at the checkered flag that awaited his arrival.
The moment he had wanted for so long finally came. This race was his.
It took three years for Faunce to earn the victory.
It had been three seasons of busted knuckles and aching backs. Three seasons of being spun out and run into. Three years of seeing his best efforts not be enough to put him first over the finish line.
"It was a relief," Faunce said of his accomplishment at Citrus County Speedway. "The only thing I can say is I wished it had happened much, much sooner."
It probably should have, considering the driver's dedication.
Since the opening night of his rookie season in 1999, Faunce has yet to miss a start. Even when he has been forced to tow his car home in crumpled pieces, he always has managed to be back behind the wheel the following Saturday.
"My goal has always been to win a championship," said the 56-year-old from Spring Hill. "Any week I'm not racing is a week I'm not earning points. It doesn't take long to fall behind."
Not surprising, Faunce _ fifth in division points this year _ has been an outspoken critic of a speedway rule that allows drivers to make deals to have other drivers run for their points when they are absent. Such allowances, Faunce says, go against his idea of good racing ethics.
"I probably put four nights a week into working on my car," he said. "To me, if you're really serious about racing, you should be out there running and not having someone earn your championship for you."
Faunce's involvement in 1999 earned him the track's rookie of the year honors.
Last season, he finished sixth in points with eight top-five performances. Not bad considering Faunce and his brother, Scott, do their own engine work.
But while improvement has been steady this year, it's taken longer than Faunce hoped.
"We were doing really well early on, then all of a sudden, we had three DNFs" he said. "This class is very competitive right now, and it's probably going to stay that way the whole season."
With the top five drivers separated by a little more than 40 points, Faunce thinks he has as good a shot as anyone at the championship.
"That's why," he said, "I make sure I'm out there every week."