DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 14:  Tony Stewart...

This story originally ran on January 8, 2010.  As NASCAR season begins once again, I’ve opted to re-run it.  Enjoy.

The radio crackled to life as her spotter’s voice filled the car. “Debris on the track. Stay high and prepare for caution.”

A moment later, the crew chief’s voice came over the radio. “Yellow is out. Come in to the pits.”

“Two and fuel?” asked Sarah.

“You got it. Left sides and a splash of fuel.”

A moment later, caution was out on the racetrack and Sarah Churchill eased the #14 car into her stall on pit road. The tire changers quickly replaced the worn left side tires while the the fuel was topped off. Sarah charged out of her stall seconds later and found herself jockeying for position as she raced off pit road.

The pit strategy had paid off in the short term. Most of the field had opted to change all four tires, allowing Sarah to improve her position from fifteenth to fifth. Two of the cars ahead of her had made a quick splash and dash – just fuel, no new rubber. James Jackson had chosen a pit strategy identical to Sarah’s and had simply beaten her off pit road.

The other car ahead of her had chosen to stay on the track during the caution and had inherited the lead. It was no surprise that this driver was Ron Barth. The legendary driver was the last of a dying breed who threw caution to the wind and raced for wins rather than racing for championship points. Sarah thought that Barth was probably a lap or two short on fuel, but wasn’t taking this for granted. Many times in the course of his career, Barth had picked up wins while his opponents patiently waited for his tank to run dry. Barth was the king of fuel conservation.

Behind Sarah was a mixed bag – most of the drivers had changed all four tires, but a handful had chosen to change two. This was the classic choice between track position and tire wear. Sarah was confident that her fresh left tires would allow her to run down the drivers who had taken fuel only, but she had to hold off the drivers in her rear view mirror who were sporting four new tires on their cars.

The green flag waved, and Ron Barth timed it perfectly, jumping out to sizable lead over the second place car. The car in front of Sarah missed a gear during the restart, and Sarah flew past him and into fourth place.

James Jackson was riding the bumper of Gordon Jeffries, trying to find a way around the #24 car. Jeffries was having none of it, blocking Jackson’s every move. Gordon Jeffires could run three wide when he was the only car on the track. Their cat and mouse game slowed their racing speed and allow Sarah to creep on them. They were intently focused on their duel and seemed oblivious to her presence.

Jackson made another move for the lead, trying to get past Jeffries at the top of the track. As Jeffries went high to block, Sarah drove her Chevy down to the bottom of the track. By the time Jeffries noticed, it was too late to block her – Sarah was into the lead. Jeffries took out his frustration on Jackson, banging fenders with the defending champ. Jackson made a great save to avoid making contact with the wall.

Sarah’s car kissed the bottom of the track as she tried to put distance between her car and those of Jeffries and Jackson. All that stood between her and her first big win was the legendary Ron Barth – the man who taught her everything she knew about racing. Her mentor – and more importantly, her father.

Sarah knew that she couldn’t yet out-race her father on the track. She needed to force him to run out of fuel. First, she needed to catch him. Sarah set her mind to catching him, and began driving an aggressive style that bordered on dangerous. She drove deep into the corners before easing up on the throttle. This allowed her to maintain a lot of speed through the corner, but also greatly increased the risk of a crash.

The strategy paid off, and six laps later, Sarah was on the bumper of Ron Barth. Sarah’s aggressive driving had put significant distance between herself and the rest of the pack. It was a two driver race at this point.

The safe route for Ron Barth would have been to ease off, hand over the lead, and go home in second place. He was running dangerously low on fuel and his worn tires were inferior to Sarah’s. The riverboat gambler refused to yield, however. He aggressively blocked Sarah as she tried to maneuver past him.

As the white flag waved for the final lap, Ron had a one car length lead over Sarah. As he rounded the final turn, his engine hiccuped as his car’s fuel pressure dropped precipitously. Sarah raced past him to pick up her first win at the highest level of auto racing.

Sarah smiled at the irony of beating her father on this, Father’s Day. He would be so proud.

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