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Chopper Stagner of Chunchula is the 2013 Gulf Coast Championship Series pro trucks division winner. (Courtesy of Mobile International Speedway)
When Chopper Stagner heard and Five Flags Speedway were creating a Gulf Coast Championship Series for the pro trucks division, he figured he was halfway to the title. But he was only half right, because he was thinking about the wrong half.
Stagner had won the Mobile International Speedway driving a truck. With the trucks getting a division of their own this season and half the races at the Irvington oval, the Chunchula driver thought he could count on a strong showing at MIS to balance his learning curve at Five Flags. It didn't turn out that way.
"We didn't even win a race at Mobile," Stagner said in recounting the 2013 season. "Before we started the season, I would have said, 'Man, we really got Mobile figured out.' And we didn't win a race. Yet we had a clean sweep and won all the races at Pensacola this year.
"I would say that was the highlight of the year -- being able to win every race at Pensacola. That's just almost unheard of. In your mind before a race, you're telling yourself that statistically this just can't continue. This is not supposed to happen. There were a couple of times at Pensacola where we'd get over there and struggle in a heat race or struggle in qualifying, but (the team) never gave up and they kept on and on, and they would finally fine-tune until we had a good truck for the feature race."
Stagner needed every one of those victories to win the Gulf Coast title. He edged Jay Jay Day of Theodore by three points - 1,129 to 1,126 - in the standings. Stagner won the Five Flags track championship by 12 points over Day. Day won the Mobile International track championship by nine points over Stagner.
Stagner said the Gulf Coast championship is a tribute to his crew.
"They didn't have to prove it to me, but this shows that I've got a championship crew," Stagner said. "I've really got some dedicated guys that went into this deal with a team mentality. We either won together or we lost together.
"We've really created a bond. We think alike. We do this deal as a team. I'm just the driver. That's my part of the team. These guys have spent some long hours and late nights. If we got into any kind of trouble at the racetrack as far as having a wreck or anything, they would really have to work overtime to get it back together to get the thing back right. Man, they are just phenomenal."
In the past, the Gulf Coast championship was reserved for the best super late model driver at Mobile International and Five Flags. This year, the tracks expanded that lone title into a championship series for all seven racing classes. Stagner said it prompted him to run at the Pensacola track full-time in 2013.
"I thought it was really good for the sport," Stagner said. "It gives a lot back to the guy racing that he can go to two tracks and compete and be recognized for the combination of both of those tracks. It kind of gives the fans something to look forward to, too. They're looking to see how their guy is in the standings.
"Before, I had raced my sportsman car over at Pensacola some, but not on a regular basis. But when they created a class for the pro trucks this year, they included Pensacola, so we decided to promote the sport, we'd run both tracks. We've also traveled to Montgomery and up to Gresham. We've also run up at South Alabama Speedway in Opp. We've traveled around trying to promote this deal."
Stagner said he thought the pro trucks division, while new this year, would turn into a fan favorite on the Gulf Coast.
"I'll tell you what, I feel like it's growing into a really good class," Stagner said. "Really competitive. Very affordable. It's got a really good set of rules that are easy to adhere to. I think in the next few years, it's going to give the fans a real competitive class to follow and look forward to watching. I think all the guys that are moving to the trucks, they're some really good guys, like Okie Mason and Jessie Reid. They're track champions and track record-holders and guys who have been around a long time that have actually got trucks now. There's kind of a migration from some of the other classes that have kind of -- I'm not going to say have dwindled down -- but for economic reasons and different reasons had kind of dwindled down. With the way the economy is, a guy just can't really, really afford to spend a lot on racing. He's got to kind of stay within his budget.
"I had actually wanted a truck for a while. There used to be a really big class called the Southern All-Star Trucks. They traveled around to about eight different racetracks, and at one time I think it was a NASCAR-sanctioned deal. They're really cool to look at, and the metric chassis you can find parts for and kind of play around with the geometry. I had wanted a truck because I had went and raced up in Georgia, and they ran trucks up there. I just got the fever for it. A couple of us guys brought a couple of them down here, and it kind of snowballed from there."
Stagner isn't sure what his racing future holds because of a personal setback. His truck carried a pink-and-black paint scheme this season to promote breast cancer awareness. The mother of Stagner's 6-year-old son had a two-year fight with cancer before her death at 31 years old.
"Sadly, she passed about a month ago," Stagner said. "So I'm full-time mom and dad now. Like I told the other guys: If the time permits, we'll go race, but my son is the most important thing. As of now, the truck is sitting there ready to go, but you have to prioritize. Right now, what's important is not only his physical well-being but his emotional well-being. Right now, we're kind of on hold."
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