Deac McCaskill's return to Victory Lane at Southern National carries extra significance after trying period

LUCAMA, N.C. — Southern National Motorsports Park has long been a special place for veteran racer Deac McCaskill.

From his winning four championships at the facility to his having a section of grandstand named after him, the brief history of Southern National has been intertwined with McCaskill‘s growth from a track regular into one of the best Late Model Stock competitors in the southeast.

Now 45, McCaskill put together one of his familiar driving performances at Southern National on Saturday by dominating the CARS Late Model Stock Car Tour opener for his 10th career victory and his third with the series at the track.

The triumph carried extra significance for McCaskill, who knew he was still capable of winning at the track that shaped him as a driver despite a prolonged drought.

“Everybody calls [Southern National] my house, but we hadn‘t won a race here since [they named the grandstand after me] in 2016,” McCaskill said. “There was a lot of pressure on me to come here and perform well, but we really showed them [on Saturday].”

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McCaskill‘s efficiency at Southern National has remained a constant while Late Model Stock racing has evolved around him.

When he turned his first laps at Southern National as a 16-year-old in 1994, McCaskill immediately fell in love with what was then a brand-new facility. It would take time for the track to reciprocate those feelings, but McCaskill methodically perfected his craft over the ensuing years to become the hands-on favorite in every Southern National event.

The relentless dedication McCaskill showed rewarded him with a checkered flag in Southern National‘s most prestigious race in the Thanksgiving All-Star Classic back in 2006, which McCaskill considers his own version of the Daytona 500.

While McCaskill enjoys every accomplishment he has accumulated at Southern National, he said the best aspects of the track come down to the moments shared with his family and the atmosphere created by track promoter Michael Diaz.

“It‘s the memories [I enjoy the most],” McCaskill said. “My kids grew up watching me race here, and they used to play with Mason [Diaz] when he was little. It‘s close to home, as well, so we can stay at the house and not buy any hotel rooms. All that makes it special.”

With the wins piling up for McCaskill at Southern National, it was only a matter of time before an opportunity arose that would allow him to take his talents elsewhere.

A one-race deal with Evernham Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series back in 2007 ultimately did not materialize into anything further, but McCaskill would get a chance to showcase his experience in Late Model Stocks with the formation of the CARS Tour in 2015.

It only took McCaskill four races before he earned his first CARS Tour win, which fittingly occurred at Southern National. Since then, McCaskill has tallied nine more victories in the Late Model Stock division and managed to win a series championship at the end of the 2016 season.

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Maintaining success in the CARS Tour has been a far from an easy process for McCaskill. He has acted as a caretaker for his wife Sandy through a series of strokes dating back to 2018, all while simultaneously trying to keep his small operation competitive against big-budget teams like JR Motorsports.

Through every single obstacle, which included briefly shutting down his team in 2020 to re-evaluate the speed of his cars, McCaskill has remained steadfast both on and off the track. He also takes more time to enjoy the victories with Sandy and the rest of his family.

Saturday carried mixed emotions for McCaskill. He was elated to finally celebrate another win at Southern National, but he also was in disbelief reflecting on everything he endured to reach that moment.

“When I crossed the start-finish line [on Saturday], I didn‘t get excited, because I couldn‘t believe what had happened,” McCaskill said. “We‘ve been through a lot with shutting the team down and Sandy going through her strokes, but we‘re still digging and bringing fast cars to the track. Hopefully we can keep the momentum going.”

McCaskill firmly believes his car is strong enough to not only earn more victories in 2023, but also claim his second CARS Tour title. Despite the confidence, McCaskill expects the logistics of a 16-race schedule are going to place a tremendous amount of physical, mental and financial strain on him and his crew.

One component different from McCaskill‘s title run in 2016 is a technical alliance with R&S Race Cars led by former NASCAR crew chief Marcus Richmond. He credits Richmond‘s input for his team‘s resurgence, but he still has some reservations about staying competitive through a whole year given the size of his team.

McCaskill has refused to let adversity hinder him at any point during his career and intends to keep that mindset moving forward as he pursues another championship.

“A second championship would be really crazy, but this is a tough deal,” McCaskill said. “By going to all these different racetracks, you have to stay on top of your game, but we‘ll see what happens. Another title would be really cool, but it‘s going to take a lot of hard work.”

McCaskill added Sandy‘s constant reminders to never give up were the main reason why he was in Victory Lane at Southern National on Saturday.

There were many times over the past several years where McCaskill could have voluntarily ended his career, but the motivation allowed him to create another positive memory at the track that defined him as a driver.

With plenty of confidence and determination on his side, McCaskill plans to create many more Southern National memories before his storied career concludes.