TALLADEGA, Ala. — It had been nearly 30 years and more than 10,000 days since Dave Mader III finished in the top five in an ARCA Menards Series race.
The last time Mader, 65, earned a top-five finish in ARCA competition was during the 1991 event at Talladega Superspeedway. He finished second to the late Charlie Glotzbach after leading a race-high 68 laps.
Fast-forward to Saturday at the 2.66-mile superspeedway and Mader made headlines by coming home second in the General Tire 200, .086 seconds behind race winner Corey Heim.
Exiting turn four on the final lap, Mader was racing alongside Bret Holmes in a battle for fourth. He got a push from Thad Moffitt, which allowed him to get a run on the cars in front of him.
Coming to the checkered flag, second-place Nick Sanchez tried to pass Heim for the lead. That opened the bottom for Mader, who squeezed below Sanchez to finish second.
“You never know about these places,” Mader said. “All I could do is do my job. Whoever was behind me gave me a great push through (turns) three and four. I mean all the way through the corner. Then they moved up the bottom, I guess to throw a block, which opened it up for me.
“It was a great day.”
The runner-up finish was a landmark moment for Mader, who returned to ARCA competition in 2018 after last racing in the series in 1994. The team is owned by Paris Wixon with the cars prepared by Jeff Spraker and Spraker Racing.
“It’s beyond words,” Mader said when asked what the finish meant to him. “Circumstances hadn’t been kind to us and it was finally kind to us today. It shows that if we weren’t the victim of others in the last several years, we probably could have had another top-three finish along the way.
“This is huge. I’m 65 years old. This is for all the old people,” Mader continued. “I’m tickled I’m able to do it still. It’s a thrill.”
Mader, a lifelong racer who enjoyed great success on short tracks that included a victory in the 1978 Snowball Derby, had a handful of opportunities to race in NASCAR. He made starts in each of NASCAR’s three national divisions, including 10 in the NASCAR Cup Series in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Those opportunities, which included five starts for Melling Racing in 1992, never led to anything long term in NASCAR. He explained that he lacked the financial backing of many of his peers, which prevented him from landing a full-time opportunity.
“I had no money. My family had no money. I got it (his opportunities) off merit,” Mader said. “That is so rewarding, but I got bought out of the seat every time by someone. That’s just the way things worked out for me. I ran into this situation that I’m in now and it has kind of led us here. I still love it. I still enjoy it and I’m so glad I can be a part of it.”
All that is in the past. For now, Mader is soaking in his runner-up result at Talladega and looking forward to what comes next.
“We just ended up having a great day,” Mader said. “I can’t say enough about it. I want to cry. It’s so exciting. I’ve been doing this for 50 years this year and to still be able to do it at any capacity is great.”