“Great moments are born, from great opportunity…that’s what you’ve earned here.”- Herb Brooks
It started with an observation and an innocent question from Alex Ferree as the season wound down in 2015. And it ended with two performances that found some serious dirt late model fans scratching their heads with an open mouth in awe. Not many could have expected it. Not that the car he was driving wasn’t up to par, it was as good as almost any other drivers at this years World 100 or Dirt Track World Championships. And not that Ferree, six time late model champion at Lernerville Speedway, wasn’t a capable driver.
But the fact he’d either never or seldom raced at either of the season ending crown jewels of the sport, and had acquitted himself as a serious contender to either make the show or take home serious money stood out. Ferree took a chance and put his name in a hat, and it led him to the possibility of great opportunities, deservedly so. He wound up in the legendary umber 47 Buck Johnson car by virtue of his curiosity and the prospect of a chance at the opportunity to go places and compete like he’d never done before.
|photo courtesy of Patrick Davis|
“I had seen Tim Shaffer driving it and then they put Jason Rider and John Flinner both tried it and I happened to look at the schedule to see what was going on at the end of the year and I saw the World 100 was going up against an All Star Sprint show,” Ferree said. “And of course that’s how Shaffer makes his living, driving a sprint car. So I walked over to Jay Morgan and the guys and I asked them if they were just going to pull a name out of a hat to see who drives that car at Eldora, I’ll throw my name in it because I’d always wanted to drive there. I was kind of joking but kind of serious at the same time just to see. A couple of weeks went by and they came back over and asked if I was serious about that and I say yeah. I’d never tried Eldora and I told them not to expect too much and Buck said let’s go.”
And the results were impressive to say the least. At the World 100, Ferree managed to make the first preliminary feature after completely falling flat earlier in the night.
“The car wouldn’t run right in hot laps, it just didn’t want to run. It would fall on it’s face in the middle of a corner. We were so bad in hot laps. Then we qualified not great, we were in the middle to the back of the pack. And by that happening, not that there was a lot of pressure because nobody was putting any pressure on me, but you want to do good because it’s your first time you’re ever there, that place is just so awesome and there’s so much history there. But to go out there and suck in hot laps and suck in qualifying, it just took all the pressure off me and we just got better and better and we made the show.”
|Courtesy of Patrick Davis|
Ferree then held the lead in his heat race during the second preliminary event on Saturday afternoon, but perhaps started feeling the pressure mount and suffered a tangle with the wall. On the final portion of the weekend, Ferree made a furious charge to the front of the final bmain where he went from 18th to seventh, just a couple of positions away from making the World 100 in his first race there. A feat that very rarely happens for rookies at the famed Eldora Speedway. The performance earned him another start in the Dirt Track World Championships at Portsmouth Speedway weeks later. It was there that Ferree trumped his impressive Eldora run, making the show after winning his first heat race outright and finishing third in his second behind hall of famers Scott Bloomquist and Steve Francis. Ferree started ninth and finished 15th in the $50,000 to win, 100 lap main event with a driver roster that could have filled a complete crown jewel show with driver that either finished behind Ferree or failed to qualify altogether.
“I can’t say enough about Buck Johnson’s car, it’s tip top equipment. I talked to Ronnie Stuckey, he’s the guy who got us rolling at Eldora. After qualifying on night one he happened to come down and talked to me and I was picking his brain about what to do. He definitely got us rolling there. And so when we came out of the box at Portsmouth and our car was just on point and I went out there and won the first heat race. That car was exactly where it needed to be. I never thought switching from a Rocket to a different chassis manufacturer would be comfortable for me right off the bat, but I was comfortable immediately, it was just like being in my rocket.”
The performances were certainly eye opening for those who’d never seen him race before. But for those who have seen him in his own territory since the late 1990’s, his results resonated with fans who’d been watching him win multiple track championships at PPMS and Lernerville. His career to this point has been fairly amazing to watch. He’s been a study in consistency and has managed many local and regional victories including two UFO late model championships, but managed to achieve that consistency by listening to advice from others and has made changes to what works for him when he’s needed to, including learning how to not rely on pounding the cushion so hard, and learning to be opportunistic.
|Pat Miller Photo|
” When I was younger, I wanted to beat that cushion every lap, but there’s times where you have to give up a little bit to gain a little bit. Dave Hoffman worked for my dad and I raced against Dave and we talked and every Monday. I’d look forward to getting to work and talking with him and would ask him what I was doing wrong. The funny thing is, I know my dad was probably telling me the same stuff that Dave was, but that was when I was “too smart” to listen to my old man. I got to a point where I thought I knew everything, but Dave held that respect for me still and I would listen to him. Looking back at it I can say this now, but if I would have listened to my dad I’d have been just as good. If I screwed up , Dave and my dad would have told me, they didn’t pull any punches and it made me a lot better. Dave’s favorite line to me was “slow is fast.
One of the greatest aspects of watching weekly racing, is to watch talent develop before our very eyes, and when it ripens and is ready, to see what it can do against the best of the best. To see if the notion of a particular driver that you may have judged to be ready for prime time, is as you’d expected it would be. That moment could have been earlier for Ferree, but it might not have worked out in the same way or with as much success. Things happen for a reason. Sometimes drivers are blessed to have the right opportunity presented to them, at the right time, when they’ve not only shown glimpses of being very good, but when they’ve proven they can handle the challenge. Ferree proved he was ready with years of feature wins and championships at Lernerville.
“Lernerville is seven miles from my house. To have a track of that caliber, seven miles from home, it’s hard to pass up. I mean sure, you can do a little bit of travelling here and there, but the competition on a normal night.with everyone there with Russ King, Jared Miley, Mike Pegher Jr., Mike Norris and Matt Lux, it’s really great and I look forward to it. “You have to have crew and consistency to win a championship there. The crew isn’t always same, some people come and go, but the consistent work that my crew puts in helped win all of those championships.”
|Pat Miller Photo|
So what does the future hold for Ferree? More weekly action of course, but there could very well be more special events in the number 47 on the horizon.
“We’re talking about 2016. We’re talking about maybe going to Florida. I’ll definitely be in the #10 car at Lernerville for sure and maybe some other local stuff with that. I’m not planning on going ten hours away, but if it’s something within three or four hours and the 10 car doesn’t have anything going on it’s doable.” But even given all of the challenges to more touring, if the right situation presented itself, Ferree has already adopted the mindset that it takes to keep working through the doldrums.
“The high points are so great and the low points are awful. There’s some nights when things don’t go right and stuff is torn up where you don’t want to work on the thing the next day.When you get on one of those unlucky stretches, it sucks all the fun out of it sometimes. But you can’t stop, because if you stop and take a year off or whatever, you’re still in the same spot you left it in. You need to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. If I could travel and could be good on a regular basis all the time I’d do it in a heartbeat.”
Regardless of what happens for him in the coming years, the door opened for Alex Ferree in 2015, and he was ready to walk right through it, and into potentially great things. He’d earned that, and if he continues down that path, be on the lookout for even greater things in the future.