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Nichols enjoys track championship, finally

Travis Nichols climbed out of his Street Stock car near the finish line Saturday night at Citrus County Speedway to a deafening roar of cheers from the crowd and a warm round of hugs from family and friends.

Finishing 13th doesn't normally earn a driver this kind of adulation. But on this night, even a lackluster finish was more than enough to make a dream of winning a championship come true.

"It feels absolutely great," Nichols said.

"We went through a lot of adversity, a lot of highs and lows to reach this goal."

For Nichols, who led the division the entire season, the final race of the year wasn't without its nerve-wracking moments. With just a 24-point lead over Ernie Reed, Nichols suspected he might be in for a tough battle, the kind that often occurs when rival sympathies cause drivers to take sides in determining the outcome.

Nichols managed to survive a spin caused by Fred Tuski on a second-lap restart.

Tuski was black-flagged for the incident.

Later, Nichols became a spinout victim himself, however, officials ruled the contact incidental and sent both cars to the rear.

"I just raced conservatively and tried to concentrate on finishing well," said Nichols, who ended up one position ahead of Reed.

But for Reed, a 14th-place finish wasn't good enough to secure the division's runner-up spot, which went to winner Mike Bell.

In the 10 years he has been racing at the speedway, Nichols has seen his share of frustration in his hunt for a championship. Twice in recent years he was within striking distance in the closing weeks, only to come up short due to breakdowns.

He hadn't even intended to run a full season until car owner John Wylie approached him with an offer to drive his U.S. Wholesale Foods/Citrus Liquors-sponsored No. 2.

"All John wanted me to do was get him one win, and I did that on opening night," Nichols said. "From that point he just told me to go for it and see if I could win a championship."

FINAL STANDINGS

FEATURE WINNERS

LATE MODEL: Billy Bechtelheimer

SPORTSMAN: Chris Hooker

STREET STOCK: Mike Bell

MINI STOCK: Rob Wheatley

HOBBY STOCK: Richie Smith

THUNDER STOCK: Josh Teague

POWDER PUFF: Tressa Joyner

TOP 5 POINTS STANDINGS

LATE MODEL

Herb Neumann, Jr. 868

Billy Bechtelheimer 788

Dale Sanders 783

Dan Johnson 774

Perry Lovelady 675

TOP ROOKIE: Jim Smith

SPORTSMAN

Mike Veltman 1,125

Rex Struble 972

Chris Hooker 961

Johnny Sanders 867

Mark Dominique 848

TOP ROOKIE: Chris Hooker

MINI STOCK

Frank Coleman 921

Mark Sowell 859

Don Faunce 810

Mike Moore 803

Rob Wheatley 797

TOP ROOKIE: Harry Futch, Jr.

STREET STOCK

Travis Nichols 947

Mike Bell 927

Ernie Reed 925

Dean Lawyer 899

Victor Stanley 888

TOP ROOKIE: Kathy Ray

HOBBY STOCK

Richie Smith 1,113

J.D. Goff 998

Roy Perkins 951

Brandon Johnson 938

Art Brueningsen 854

TOP ROOKIE: Nick Fiorentino

FIGURE 8

Bob Hage 418

Robert Aaron 395

Robbie Hage 393

Darryl Hage 347

Jeff Kramer 345

TOP ROOKIE: Jeff Kramer

THUNDER STOCK

Stuart Madison 936

Allen Turner 814

Rick Bedessa 798

John Donahue 702

Gary Johnson 700

TOP ROOKIE: Melvin Farmer

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