When he was in high school, Derek Torkelson was pretty quick at running the mile - so much so, he said that he earned the nickname "Torkel Time" from his peers and physical education teacher.
Now Torkelson is running on a different kind of track - the 1/6-mile clay bullring at Deming Speedway - and he's still running pretty fast. The mini sprint racer currently stands second in the 600 point standings, only 11 markers behind leader Dustin O'Brien.
He's done it despite the fact that he is still seeking his first victory of the season.
"Basically, I run really consistent," Torkelson said in a phone interview. "I've qualified really well. I think I've won the pole seven times, so I get a lot of points from that, and I usually finish in the top five. But consistency has really been the key for me this year."
Despite that impressive consistency, Torkelson believes it is Torkel Time for a victory, and there is no better time to put his first notch in the win column than at the 28th Clay Cup Nationals - the annual three-night showcase event at Deming Speedway that begins with the first of two nights of qualifying on Thursday, July 19, and will crown its newest 1,200 and 600 champions on Saturday, July 21.
Brock Lemley has won three straight 1,200 Clay Cup titles, while Michael Faccinto is the defending champion in the 600s.
"I think it's about time," Torkelson said. "We go out there and race to win every night, but it hasn't happened for us yet this year. It would be great to break out during Clay Cup. A win this weekend would mean a lot, because there are a lot of top mini sprint drivers coming here from the East Coast and California. A Clay Cup win would be outstanding."
And pretty impressive, considering Torkelson is just in his third year of racing anywhere.
Torkelson said he never even turned a lap on a race track until late in the 2009 season at Deming Speedway.
"I've always liked racing, but I'd never raced," the Marysville resident said. "I had been working at Joe's Racing Products (in Everett) for 10 years, and I always found it interesting, but I never had the opportunity to race and prove myself in a race. Then my boss bought a mini sprint and he let me race it once (in 2009)."
Torkelson was hooked.
He said he immediately started saving his money, and before the start of the 2010 season, he was able to buy the car from his boss and took it racing at Deming.
"I did all right," Torkelson said of his rookie season. "I had my struggles, of course. We wrecked some stuff. I think I ended up finishing 16th (in the points), so that wasn't all that bad."
His sophomore season was even better, as he grabbed a pair of feature wins and said he finished seventh in the season points.
He also turned in the fast time in Thursday night qualifying at Clay Cup.
"It felt really good," Torkelson said of the accomplishment. "Going out there, I didn't expect it. After I came to the pits, I saw we were on the board, but there were still quite a few cars left to go. But the track was getting slower, and we were able to hang on. It was amazing, because it put a big smile on the face of everyone on my team."
That's something Torkelson said he certainly would like to do again this year.
As his qualifying record this year would suggest, he has a pretty good shot at doing that again, despite the highly competitive field expected all three nights.
So what is the key to turning a good qualifying lap at Deming?
"It's all in the setup," Torkelson said. "You have to run a smooth lap, too, but it's most important to set the car up right. It took us a few years to find what was right, and my crew knows how to set it up to help us in the race, but we know how to dial it in to go fast. When we find it, we don't want to change it."
Though he enjoys qualifying as the fastest, he'd really like to finish the night with the fastest car, too, especially this weekend.
"I think the key is being consistent," Torkelson said. "They do a full invert of the field, so you're going to have to work your way up through the field. We've got to find the right setup, but I've got a good crew. We all need to be on top of our game. There are a bunch of really good drivers, so we have got to nail everything. We've got to be on top of our game, but I think we're capable of doing that, and I hope we can win the whole thing."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
28TH ANNUAL CLAY CUP NATIONALS
Preliminaries: Thursday and Friday, July 19-20
Championship: Saturday, July 21
Site: Deming Speedway
Gates open: 5 p.m.
Racing starts: 7 p.m.
Tickets: Preliminaries - Adult $14, juniors (8-17) and seniors (65 and older) $12, children (7 and younger) $5. Championship - Adults $17, juniors $14, seniors $12, children $7.
PREVIOUS CLAY CUP CHAMPIONS
2011: Brock Lemley
2010: Brock Lemley
2009: Brock Lemley
2008: Derek Holmwood
2007: Aaron Fell
2006: Brock Lemley
2005: Eric Fisher
2004: Brock Lemley
2003: Kiel Vaillant
2002: Ron Cox
2001: Danny Bullock
2000: Stan Yockey
1999: Danny Bullock
1998: Greg Bragg
1997: Reg Vaillant
1996: Reg Vaillant
1995: Harold Holz
1994: Harold Holz
1993: Jim Carter
1992: Fred Holz
1991: Eric Rossi
1990: Reg Vaillant
1989: Darren Massie
1988: Mark Holz
1987: Reg Vaillant
1986: Darcy Vaillant
1985: Harry Styker
1984: Ray Campbell
2011: Michael Faccinto
2010: Reece Goetz
2009: Colton Heath
2008: Logan Forler
2007: Jared Peterson
2006: Cory Eliason
2005: Ben Hogarth
2004: Kyle Johnson
2003: Stan Yockey
2002: Brian Gard
2001: Rob Grice
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.