It was a long time coming, with a lot of stumbles, setbacks and sacrifices along the way.
But Mt. Juliet racer Josh Weston said the wait was worth it after he won the biggest race of his career last Saturday night at Fairgrounds Speedway.
"It's something I've been working for, for a long, long time," said Weston after beating former track champion Mark Day in a dramatic fight to the finish in a 100-lap Pro Late Model feature.
Also in the field -- and behind Weston -- was two-time Daytona 500 champ Sterling Marlin, and Willie Allen who was considered one of the sport's brightest young talents during his stint in the NASCAR truck series.
"I've won before, at numerous tracks, but I'd never won a race this big," Weston says. "And to win it the way I did -- racing against some of the Fairgrounds' best drivers -- made it even better. I had to race hard for it, I won it fair and square, and that made it sweeter."
Weston is a 2001 graduate of Mt. Juliet High who earned a degree in business administration at Tennessee State University. He launched a career in the heavy-equipment industry, but during all that time he never lost his passion for racing.
"I started racing go-karts at the Fairgrounds when I was eight, and I've been racing something or other ever since," he says.
Weston won Rookie of Year in 1999 in the Fairgrounds' Late Model series, and captured the track's 2011 Limited Late Model championship. He also raced and won at Highland Rim Speedway and Riverview Raceway in Carthage. He competed in the ARCA Series in 2003 and 2004 and drove some All-Pro and Tenn-Ken Series races.
Despite logging all those laps, last season Weston's career almost sputtered to a halt. A stale economy dried up many racing sponsorships, and Weston was among scores of drivers who found themselves struggling to make ends meet.
"Racing has become so expensive that it's hard for the average person to run out of their own pocket," explains Weston, who operates out of his racing shop in Mt. Juliet. "If you don't have some sponsorship help, it's really difficult. That's where I found myself last season. I didn't know how long I'd be able to keep going."
Weston's recent big victory was doubly-sweet. Not only did it represent a personal high-water triumph, the first-place finish paid $5,000 -- desperately-needed funds he will use to keep racing while searching for a sponsor.
"That'll buy tires and keep me going for a few more races," he says. "Also, winning a big race like that might catch the attention of a sponsor, and that would be major. As they say, winning can solve a lot of problems."
The track's next race is June 14, which gives Weston time to search for a sponsor as well as savor his victory and enjoy his lead atop the championship standings. If he can hang onto the points lead, Weston will etch his name in the record book alongside such past Fairgrounds champions as Coo Coo and Sterling Marlin, Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Hamilton.
"It would great if it happens," Weston says, "but that's a long way down the road. Right now I'm just enjoying the moment. It's been a long, hard climb to get to this point, and it's still soaking in."