ROCKINGHAM — Justin Bauer literally flipped when he placed first in MB Drift’s fourth and final competition of the 2022 season at Rockingham Speedway.
When the points were tabulated and he discovered he won the season, he was speechless.
The final run of Last Man Sliding on Sept. 18 was almost a repeat of the end of the Round 2 competition, but this time with Bauer getting the win over ‘21 season champ Joe Busam.
“I don’t think I’m usually one for feeling emotional at anything, so maybe I just worked a little harder for this round than I thought I did,” Bauer said after the event. “After hearing it on paper … I still don’t believe it … I’m literally at a loss for words.”
The 32-year-old self-employed mechanic from Durham qualified the highest prior to the start of the competition. Bauer was the points leader heading into August’s “Battle of Little Rock,” but fell to fifth following that round. He also previously placed second in Round 2 in July.
“I told my wife and my spotter, ‘I need to come out here and we need to get the number one qualifier spot and I need to finish first if I want to think about being on the podium for this series,” Bauer said. “And whether I believed that was going to happen or not … we got it done.”
To get to the top of the bracket, Bauer slid past Brett Dysart, Andy Wright, Dustin Walker and Nick Abbott before the showdown against Busam.
Bauer first got interested when his uncle, who is only three years older, had a ‘95 Nissan 240SX SE — “To this day, that’s still my favorite car” — and took him to watch events like Streetwise and HyperFest.
After someone hit his car and caused a little damage, he took the $1,300 settlement check and bought a 240SX with a blown shock for $700.
Bauer has been drifting for about 11 years — and has been through more than 20 — when the grassroots series was based at Myrtle Beach Speedway.
“I remember my first lap, hittin’ wipers, going on all over the place,” he recalled. “I think my third or fourth lap is when I started getting it … (and I’ve) been sticking with it since then.”
Bauer decided to start seriously competing in 2017, but hasn’t competed since.
During that time, he started building one Ford Mustang, then found his current one “for a deal” and made that his seat-time car.
This was his first year with MB Drift since the series moved to Rockingham.
Bauer said he’s learned a lot working in the pits for Formula Drift Driver Jonathan Nerren, including getting plenty of rest the night before and eating better.
“It keeps you on your toes, it keeps your mind right,” he said.
Even though he made it to the podium on two of the three road course layouts, Bauer said he preferred the Little Rock.
“I think the Little Rock layout is fun, even though I did worse at that,” he said. “For me, it was a lot of work … and apparently I didn’t put in enough work …It told me I need to work at my driving better.”
Bauer said he was working on sponsorship proposals for next season, as well as revamping his car — including matching panels and a new wrap — and hopes to get into the ProAm series.
Bauer said his favorite battle all season was with Abbott in the final four of the last competition.
“I know he gave me his 100 percent, I gave him my 105 percent. That was everything I had,” Bauer said about the tandem runs. “I felt like he made me work for it.”
He also complimented Busam on the previous season winner’s consistency — but didn’t think Busam gave it his all.
The battle for third place came down to Abbott and Corey “Shake” Mendenhall — both in borrowed cars.
Abbot blew his transmission following his final four run with Bauer borrowed Cameron Griffin’s car. Mendenhall had engine trouble after his bout with Busam and had to drive OK Drift teammate Kyle Vanderpool’s ride.
Judges gave Abbott the W, landing him in third behind Busam and Bauer. This was his first time at the podium all season. Busam placed first in Round 2 and second in Round 3.
Second place for the season went to Brandon Goodman, who won Round 3, and Busam snagged third. Abbott received an honorable mention since he tied for third, but Busam finished higher.
“We fought hard for it all season,” Goodman said.
Finishing out the top 10 are: Wade Smith (5); Dustin Walker (6); Drake Carter (7); Vanderpool (8); Andy Wright (9); and Dan Stoneburner (10).
Although the competitive season is over, MB Drift still has one more event: this month’s Halloween Havoc.
Scheduled for Oct. 23-24, the two day event will feature drifting on both the road course and Little Rock with free ride-alongs, a trunk-or-treat for the community and a costume contest.