BY SOUZA MEDIA
On a night where his late father would have celebrated a birthday, AJ Manuel rolled to the start/finish line at the end of the 30 lap feature with the checkered flag in his hand in the Sport 4 division. Manuel, who picked up the victory in the opener a week earlier, ran a similar race — taking the lead late en route to the win. In week one, he chased the back bumper of Mikey Lefort’s No. 13, until a bump and run gave him the edge.
This time, he drove to the inside of race dominator Sam Mesick and took the top spot with three laps to go, never looking back. It was an emotional Victory Lane for the racing veteran, who wasn’t planning on running the full season in 2020. With two races in the books, and two wins, he might have to change his mind.
The race was the first of three in the Everett’s Auto Parts Diamond Dash, a three-race series for each of Seekonk’s Fast Friday divisions. Week two of the Fast Friday season took place with the same restrictions as the season opener, following guidance from an Executive Order from the state of Massachusetts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was held with no spectators and all social distancing protocols were followed by track staff and competitors alike. Face coverings were required when social distancing wasn’t possible.
Henry Lavalle and Dave Simpson Jr. led the field to green, with Simpson leading the first circuit. A group of early cautions, four in the first six laps, slowed the field, with names like Sabrina Beaulieu, Jake Dumas and others collected. Once the green flag dropped at lap seven, the race never went back under yellow.
Manuel, who started ninth, would slowly work his way to the top five by the time the field crossed at lap nine, then set chase for the others. He would pass Simpson, Levesque, and eventually Mesick en route to the front. While Mesick jumped out to the lead and led laps eight through 27, he was fighting lapped traffic. Manuel would close to the bumper, and make the move off turn two when Mesick slipped up, putting the Murray’s garage No. 88 down low and taking the lead.
Mesick would settle to finish second, while Lefort would charge from his seventh-place starting spot to finish third. Levesque and Tyler Duhancik finished the top-five. Lavalle was sixth, followed by Tyler Almeida, Taylor Bowser, Simpson and Matt Smith.
The Sport 4 division returns to the track next Friday, July 31, with the first feature event on the track at 7 p.m.