NEW OXFORD, Pa. — Before last Friday’s 30-lap feature at Williams Grove Speedway, Matt Campbell strolled over to the communication board and examined the lineup.
It didn’t take him long to comprehend the situation: He was on the pole sharing the front row with the track’s winningest driver Lance Dewease, with Danny Dietrich and Anthony Macri behind.
“Oh, this isn’t going to be easy,” Campbell thought.
Three weeks before, Campbell started on the pole at Williams Grove, alongside Dewease. He finished on the wrecker, the result of a broken wing post.
“Now, given the second opportunity, you learn from that mistake,” Campbell said. “I didn’t let that get in my way this time. When you get to (the back of the field), you have to go. You can’t hesitate.”
Campbell, forced to adapt swiftly in the ride Brian Montieth produced so many fond memories in, seamlessly flipped the script on Friday.
The 23-year-old raced to his first victory with the Premier Racing Team No. 21.
For much of the race, he counteracted Dietrich in traffic. Once a pair of cautions set up two restarts with less than five laps to go, he beat Dewease in his own game: unrelenting the bottom groove.
Campbell’s turnaround drive lifted him from a 74-race winless stretch that dated back to Aug. 10, 2019, at Lincoln Speedway.
“Yeah, we needed that one,” Campbell said. “Hopefully that means the monkey is off my back now. We’ve had good runs this year. We’ve come close. Every time we get some speed, bad luck strikes again, or luck ain’t going the right way. We just keep working harder and harder at it. That’s all you can do. It finally paid off on Friday.”
Campbell will admit, the transition from running his family operation of four years to the Jerry Parrish-owned team with two decades of history hasn’t been the smoothest.
The program’s longtime crew chief, Scott Zellers, left the team midway through the year to spend more time with his family and help his son at the karting level.
After missing all three shows with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Sprint Car Series in Central Pennsylvania in May, Campbell took two weeks off to regather himself and the team.
Only 12 top 10s in 34 races prior to this past weekend also left Campbell feeling if things were trending in the right direction.
“We were like a lot of teams: a lot of struggles,” Campbell said.
But, behind new crew chief, Kirk Dewease, and a reworked team starting to gel, Campbell’s 38th and 39th races under the Premier Racing Team name gave all the indications of a team pointed north.
Campbell led all 25 laps at Williams Grove and then had another strong run on Saturday at Lincoln Speedway, finishing ninth despite a broken right-rear w-link.
“You take every race as they come,” Campbell said. “You go into it with the best attitude as you can. That’s what we did on Friday. It worked out. The biggest thing is everyone on the team has the confidence going.”
The two-week break in May has all but taken Campbell out of the Lincoln Speedway title hunt — 1,235 points behind leader Freddie Rahmer — but that’s bearable because a plethora of big races await across Central PA.
Campbell is most comfortable at Lincoln, where he has raced the most over his five-year 410 career. Winning the Dirt Classic, Lincoln’s Crown Jewel $20,000-to-win event on Sept. 18, is atop Campbell’s list of goals.
He likes his package at Williams Grove, the obvious host of the Williams Grove National Open in October and a place he’s now led twice over the past three features.
Campbell has yet to race Port Royal this year, home of the Tuscarora 50, but he hopes his Selinsgrove speed translates. Campbell finished 10th in the Pennsylvania Speedweek finale on July 4 at Selinsgrove, which is set to hold its 39th annual Jim Nace Memorial paying $20,000-to-win Sept. 25.
“Coming up on these big shows, I like to think we’re starting to figure it out now,” Campbell said.