NORWAY - Amanda Ferguson experienced the "longest 100-lap race" of her young life in the BOSS Snowplow "Race To A Cure" at Norway Speedway.
The 19-year-old college student from Monteverde, Fla., led all 100 laps in the charity event for Dickinson County Healthcare System's cancer program.
Three cautions affected the late model feature, with the last one with 10 laps to go.
"That was the most nerve-racking because I had led the entire race and didn't want to mess it up," Ferguson said. "I finally realized we were going to win it when the white flag came out and (spotter Frank Kreyer) told me 'white flag is out. You've got five car lengths back. Just run a good smooth lap and you've got it."
Ferguson's goal was to qualify in the top 16 and lock up a starting spot in the race. Qualifying placed her 11th in the lineup, but a 12-car invert saw Ferguson on the outside pole.
"When I first saw this I was pretty nervous about starting up front," she said. "But in the heat race I quickly learned the outside line was the preferred groove.
"When the green flag fell for the feature I was able to get a great start and took the lead going into turn one."
With the first 49 laps green, she made her way through lapped traffic.
"I was happy to see a caution come out because I would have a clear track in front of me," said Ferguson, adding she was also nervous because the field would be bunched up behind her.
Ferguson credited Kreyer for staying on the radio and "telling me to keep calm, get back into my rhythm and I would be fine."
Norway Speedway President John Ostermann and a veteran racer called Ferguson "an outstanding driver."
"She is also skilled with racecar set up," Ostermann said.
Ferguson, the first female to win a late model feature race at Norway Speedway, appreciated the other drivers, crews, track workers and fans.
"They were all extremely welcoming and helpful," she said. "They made me feel welcome and part of their racing family.
"After the racing was over for the night, a lot of the fans came over for autographs and to talk to me. They were all so friendly. It was a great experience getting to interact with all the fans afterwards."
Eagle Jet International, Swick Home Services-Water Furnace and Passageways Travel of Escanaba sponsored Ferguson's appearance. She donated all of her winnings to the DCHS cancer program.
"It was great to be able to give the top payout back to a truly worthy cause," Ferguson said. "My grandfather passed away several years ago from cancer and I witnessed first hand the devastating effects this horrific disease has on its victims and families.
"Giving back the money just seemed like the right thing to do. Hopefully, I'll be back year for their next "Race To A Cure" event."
She capped her weekend with another feature win at Sands Speedway in Marquette. Ferguson raced at Sands last year and was excited about returning to the U.P.
"I really liked racing up here last year," Ferguson said before the feature race at Norway Speedway. "It (Norway) seems to be a fun little track and it reminds me of a track we have down home (in Florida)."
In her second year of super late model racing, she has managed to combine school - mechanical and aerospace engineering major at University of South Florida - and the race schedule.
"It can be a little tricky but I always find time to get everything done," she said.
Adding with a laugh, "I'm busy."
For the future, she would like to wind up at NASCAR's premier racing or engineering level.
"The main goal is the racing part," said Ferguson, who started racing quarter midget cars age 7. "If that doesn't work out, I have an engineering degree that I could use.
"We'll see what happens. I'm open to anything. I have a back-up plan if that doesn't work out."
She plans to race super late models for at least another year.
"After this year, I want to be consistent and ready to move to the next level," Ferguson said of possibly heading to the K&N or ARCA series. "I just want to make sure I'm ready before we make that jump. That's a big investment."