Rafe Slate returned to the track last Saturday night and posted a top-five finish.
The 19-year-old Eatonton-based driver steered his late model race car to a third-place result during a race at the Watermelon Capital Speedway inside Crisp Motorsports Park in Cordele.
Slate, who drives the No. 8 car for his family’s Solid Rock Performance Racing team, had what he considered a poor qualifying effort. The result of the qualifying period had Slate starting the race eighth.
He said he and his family missed the mark a bit with his car’s tire pressures before the qualifying run.
“I think we just missed the air pressures in the setup a little bit,” Slate said. “You don’t really get much time to practice and work on it because it’s expensive to go through, like, five sets of tires just to work on qualifying trends. We raced really, really well. That made up for it.”
As Slate said, he began working his way through the field as soon as the green flag dropped.
He advanced a couple of positions soon after the race began. By the 20th lap, Slate had his car inside the top five.
“I passed a few cars right away, right on the initial start,” Slate said. “So, we were already up to sixth. I just kind of picked off three more over the course of 20 laps. I just kind of ran there for the rest of the race.”
At a competitive short track like WCS, it takes patience for drivers to advance through the pack. Slate said that’s what helped him get his car to the front of the field so quickly.
“It was just patience,” Slate said. “I was figuring out where other people were weaker and figuring out where I was really strong. I was spotting little weak spots I could take advantage of.”
The qualifying effort was not what Slate and his family wanted, but Slate said the strong run during the race was an encouraging experience.
“I felt really good about the finish,” he said. “When I went into the race, I knew we had a top-five car, but I didn’t think we were going to be in third by lap 20. I was able to work up that fast.”
Slate said he intends to compete in the remaining races at WCS this year. Outside of the races in Cordele, Slate is weighing his options.
He is considering competing in an upcoming event at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida. Slate may also enter races in Nashville and Montgomery in the near future.
No matter what actually comes next, Slate has his sights set on a return to victory lane. His primary goal, regardless of track, is picking up more wins.
In the meantime, Slate said he’s pleased with his results from the last few races. Slate, like race car drivers everywhere, had his schedule interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He competed in a series of virtual races before returning to real-life competition several weeks ago. Though he has not made a trip to the winner’s circle yet, Slate said he is happy he and his family were able to return to racing so smoothly.
“I think we’ve done really well,” he said. “Really, not much has changed. We were out of it for a minute and we jumped right back in with a full head of steam. We were able to get right back at it.”