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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s hard to imagine any driver can win a championship in their first full season of racing, but for 26-year-old Iowa resident Dustin Thompson, that’s exactly what happened.
Thompson, who calls Villisca, Iowa, home, got to celebrate not just one, but two championships in his first full season of racing. His first championship came on dirt at Adams County Speedway in Corning, Iowa, where he captured the TriState Ford Compacts championship.
He followed that up with a championship on a much bigger scale when he was officially crowned the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division V National champion. It’s all a little overwhelming for Thompson, who started out the year just hoping to visit victory lane.
“I pretty much just started the year out trying to win a feature. That was my main goal. I won the second night out,” Thompson.
With the primary goal accomplished, Thompson now had a new mission: become a champion.
He did just that thanks to an impressive season at Adams County and another dirt track, I-80 Speedway in Omaha, Neb. Between the two tracks he made 21 starts, scoring five victories as well as 18 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes. When all the points were tallied, Thompson had defeated Stafford Motor Speedway’s Johnny Walker by 21 points for the Division V National crown.
“I never expected to do that well. It’s very surreal,” Thompson said.
Thompson gave particular thanks to three people - his father, Ron Thompson, his father-in-law Mark Herzberg and his cousin, Eric Marsh - for helping him attain the success he enjoyed this year. Without them, he said none of this would have been possible.
“Those three guys are in the pits with me every single week helping me out and all throughout the week helping me get the car ready. They’re definitely to thank for the success this season,” Thompson said.
NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division II-V drivers are ranked by their best 14 NASCAR points finishes in series-sanctioned events. Drivers receive two points for every car they finish ahead of – up to 18 cars – and two points for a win, with an additional three points available if the driver starts 10th or lower.
The dream of going racing started, as it often does, when Thompson was a child. He went to the race track with his father and first got bit by the bug, but it wasn’t until his father bought a race car of his own that Thompson got his first real taste of racing.
“I grew up going to the races with my dad as a kid and always wanted to do it,” Thompson recalled. “He started racing like five or six years ago. He raced one season and I kind of helped him in the pits. That really started it there. I knew it was something I wanted to do.”
After graduating college Thompson got his feet wet last year by driving his father’s old race car in five Division III Keystone Light Kombact events at Adams County Speedway. That class proved to be a bit more expensive than Thompson would have liked, so he made the decision to do something else in 2017.
“I got into my dad’s old car and raced it for five nights and it was just too expensive, so I had to sell that car and go down to the Division V class,” Thompson said.
That decision obviously paid off in spades, but the 2017 season wasn’t all roses for Thompson, who had sponsorship from Thompson Trucking, Herzberg Seed, Southwest Iowa Dirt Work, Green Giant Lawn Care and Preferred Properties. He nearly lost his shot at both the Adams County track championship and the Division V National championship when a big crash at I-80 Speedway destroyed his race car.
“I was in a heat race and there was a wreck in front of me and I just kind of got tangled up into it. I totaled the car,” Thompson recalled. “I was in the (fight) for the track points at Adams County Speedway on Saturday night and the wreck happened on a Friday night. I knew if I wanted to stay in the points out there I had to get a car ready.
“I had a car that was going to be built at home, but I hadn’t even started on it yet. So I just got a group of five or six guys and we just went to work through the night and all the next day and got it put together. We got to the track in time and we ended up winning the heat race and feature that night.”
Thompson would go on to win two more features in that same race car, catapulting him to both the track and Division V championships. Now Thompson’s focus is on the trip he gets to make to Charlotte, North Carolina, to take part in the NASCAR Home Tracks Awards at the Charlotte Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Dec. 8.
“I just honestly can’t believe it. I’m in shock. I can’t believe I did that well. It’ll be pretty awesome to go out there and experience that,” Thompson said.
Dustin Thompson collected five victories as well as 18 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes in 21 starts between Iowa's Adams County Speedway and Nebraska's I-80 Speedway. Linda Freeman