It may be nearly two weeks later, but after the season he’s had, it’s completely understandable if Elijah Morton is still smiling from ear to ear.
The ADRL’s Extreme Pro Stock driver won the recent Ohio Drags VI at Summit Motorsports Park, going 4.075 at 178.31 mph to beat Doug Kirk and emerge victorious in an otherwise wild day in Extreme Pro Stock.
But wild wouldn’t aptly describe Morton’s season up to that point. Instead, frustrating and disappointing would be more appropriate, as Morton had just one round win in eight prior events before finally turning around his season in Norwalk.
“You hate coming home disappointed and you're always looking back at things you could have done differently. To win a race after such a disappointing season is very rewarding. It gives you that feeling that you can't wait until the next race, and that you've still got what it takes to race and to win,” Morton said.
“Every race we go to with the anticipation of winning and coming back a first-round loser makes you want to park it in the barn for a little while. But we had determination and when you win a race like this, it wipes all that away.”
By at least some stretch, the season had felt like a seven-month nightmare for Morton, who finished sixth in the XPS points standings in 2011 and ahead of top names like Richie Stevens Jr., Brian Gahm and Doug Kirk.
After dropping a sizeable amount of weight before the 2012 season and debuting a new Mustang, Morton appeared more focused than ever to compete for a championship.
Nothing, though, went right and Morton got his only round win in Bristol in April, even losing in the first round at Virginia when he qualified No. 1 with a 4.078.
In fact, he had dropped all the way to 14th in the points standings. But right before eliminations in Norwalk, everything changed.
After qualifying at No. 14, Morton and his team went “an entirely different direction” before eliminations. Whatever was changed, the car liked it, finding a sweet spot that had been missing for nearly the entire season. The car went nearly 179 mph, showing the potential Morton knew was there all along.
“My team works as hard as any team out there and now we’ve got our mojo back,” Morton said.
“I didn't know I had so many people pulling for me. The fans have been great. I've been getting so many e-mails and texts, it's just been amazing.”
There was a mass of e-mails and texts following the win, but the Saturday in eliminations also summed up how wild this season has been in Extreme Pro Stock.
The class had its quickest qualifying field in Norwalk (4.091), and the top eight qualifiers all lost in the first round. That included points leader Cary Goforth and Stevens, who has sputtered in his chase to catch Goforth, losing in the first round the past two races.
In a class where anything and everything has happened in 2012, there have been seven different winners in eight races, and Morton was the latest to come through.
“Pro Stock is one of the most challenging races there is. The wins are within thousandths of a second sometimes, and it's always very tight. You have to be on your game,” Morton said.
“It requires a lot of consistency, that's for sure. That's what it takes to win these races. A lot of the top contenders in Norwalk shook in the first round, and you load the car up after that. There's no buy-backs; it's win or go home.”
Morton won’t factor into the championship chase with one race remaining, but he’s simply happy to be driving a happy race car again.
With one more performance like Norwalk at next week’s World Finals at the Texas Motorplex, that ear-to-ear grin will also stay throughout the winter.
“We hope to carry this momentum into the next race and be a contender there as well,” Morton said.
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