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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - When it came to the Sunoco Modified division at New York’s Chemung Speedrome, Jimmy Zacharias was once again the man to beat in 2017.
Zacharias, who began the season as a five-time track champion in the premier division at the three-eighths-mile asphalt oval, collected his sixth track championship in seven years in convinc-ing fashion aboard his No. 71 modified.
After a few rainouts prevented the season from getting started, racing finally began at Chemung on May 20. Zacharias started off the year with a fifth-place finish, followed by a sixth-place finish the following week.
When he finally found victory lane on June 3, it turned out to be the start of a streak. He would go on to win three-straight races, eventually collecting a a division best seven victories by the time the season concluded on Aug. 26.
That was more than enough for Zacharias to claim his sixth track championship by 77 points over Connor Sellars.
“It went pretty good at Chemung,” Zacharias said. “It started out a little rough. We had a few prob-lems at the beginning of the year. Once we got the first win they kept rolling and we got six more. It kind of just worked out. That’s pretty much how every year starts out for me at Chemung. Motors blowing, wrecks taking me out and finishing fifth or sixth.
“It started out a little rougher this year and it came to us.”
So why is Zacharias so successful at Chemung? It certainly didn’t hurt that he started racing there at the young age of 11.
“Chemung is a real tough track. I started there when I was 11 years old in a four-cylinder and I went to the modifieds when I was 14,” said Zacharias, who is now 26. “It’s a real drivers track. I take the worst car to the race track and I make the best out of it and that’s how it’s got to be there.
“Every week a different person comes up to me and asks me for help. I practice their car that is four seconds slower than my car and I can make it just as fast as my car just by the driver. It’s a lot of adapting to how the track is. It’s a lot different than most tracks in how you drive the place. It’s a lot of psychological stuff. Everything you think you know and what you need to do, it’s actual-ly the complete opposite. That’s what helped me because I started out so young.
“I just adapted so well to the track and it just carries along with me.”
The championship at Chemung isn’t the only championship the driver from Candor, New York, gets to celebrate this year. His success at Chemung, combined with his performances Holland Interna-tional Speedway in Holland, New York, and Spencer Speedway in Williamson, New York, was enough for him to capture the New York State championship for the fourth time in his young career.
In 18 starts between the three New York tracks Zacharias had seven victories, 14 top fives and 18 top 10s. He secured the New York State championship by 58 points, also beating out Sellars for the honor.
U.S. state and province champions are determined by the best 18 finishes at tracks within the re-spective state or province.
Zacharias comes from a racing family. His younger brother T.J. also competes in the Sunoco Modified division at Chemung and several members of his family have had success in racing. His grandfather, Jim Zacharias Sr., was a NASCAR New York State champion in 1974 while his uncles Billy Zacharias and Jim Zacharias Jr. are former NASCAR track champions at Tioga Speedway.
He credits his extended family for helping him become the driver - and champion - that he is today.
“I got really lucky being born into the family I was,” Zacharias said. “I’ve got my dad and six uncles that all raced. My grandfather raced, my grandmother raced. I was just lucky enough to be in the race shop when I was born and that’s kind of all I’ve known. Race cars are my life. School wasn’t important to me.
“I’ve gotten very fortunate to do something I really love. My family loved it. To have the support I do from my grandfather and my parents and some of my uncles, it means a lot. They’ve backed me a lot. My brother is a big help. He sacrificed a lot of his own racing just to go with me and help me. I don’t think anybody could have it better than having a family that supports you and was into racing as much as mine was.”
Zacharias joined other NASCAR state and track champions for the NASCAR Home Tracks Awards at the Charlotte Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Dec. 8, something Zacharias always looks forward to every year.
“That’s one thing that I always look forward to every year. That banquet and the NASCAR stuff never gets old,” Zacharias said. “The NASCAR stuff makes it worthwhile and gives you something to look forward to. You just can’t beat the support that NASCAR gives back into short-track racing and the grassroots of their sport.”
Zacharias is scheduled to make his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East start for Marsh Racing on Feb. 11 at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida. He also hopes to bring his modified with him to compete during the annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway.
“I’m trying to take my modified to do Speedweeks with that,” Zacharias said. “I’ve been racing there since I was 14 years old with the SK modifieds and the tour-type modifieds. I want to keep that streak going, but we’re going to focus on the K&N deal.”
Jimmy Zacharias had seven victories, 14 top fives and 18 top 10s in 18 starts in his No. 71 Modified at three New York tracks. Hope Miller/Takin' the Checkered Photography