Race announcer Jeff Moran waited for the official results to reach him, but everyone at the Teton County Fairgrounds already knew who had claimed the 2019 Figure 8 championship.
It was Tim Hoff, a 12-year veteran of the race. When the horn sounded over the finals, where three cars sat dead on the track, Hoff had exited his window and was on the roof of his No. 1 1992 Acura Integra, playing to the crowd in the east stands that loved him most.
“I can’t believe it,” he said afterward, celebrating with his team. “I’ve been third, third, second and second, and I haven’t been able to sleep for four years.”
Last year’s second-place finish felt especially gut-wrenching. Hoff led that race before being taken out by Kobe Piatak. Piatak was back at the finals starting line this year in his No. 67 1993 Honda Accord, alongside Hoff, Joel Tate, Josef Nava, Tyler Wallace and Eric Hiltbrunner.
In the finals, Nava took an early lead but lost it and never regained it after Piatak spun him out. Tate had the lead from there, while Hoff crept up on the No. 151 2000 Ford Pinto. Hoff spent a number of laps riding the No. 151 closely, to the agony of his legion of fans in the east bleachers, before finally making a move and assuming the lead to what was the loudest crowd reaction of the night.
“I was just pulling him and pulling him,” Hoff said of his battle with Tate. “I just tucked around him, I tried not to take him out at all. I just nudged him. … We all try to race fair, but I was pulling him, I needed to go around.”
Piatak, meanwhile, suffered probably the gnarliest rollover of the night. His flip on the west loop of the course caused a logjam. It also caused the roof of his car to almost entirely cave in.
Hiltbrunner, who finished second, has competed in every Figure 8 race since the event’s inception. His No. 00 1996 Nissan Sentra was mostly on an island for much of the finals race. That was by design.
“It’s not the track, it’s the other drivers,” he said. “You know you’re going against big-timers here in the finals. You’ve really got to watch what you’re doing.”
Hoff had watched what Hiltbrunner was doing, and in the midst of the chaos in which no one really knows for sure who has the most laps down, he had eyed up the veteran racer well before he made it to 20.
“I just saw him and we were opposite lapping,” Hoff said. “And I was like, as long as he doesn’t hit me, or I don’t get spun out, I’m good. Because he was coming for me, I could see it.”
Hoff won his opening race before placing second in the first semifinal behind Piatak. Though his car showed wear in the form of a crumpled passenger door, he said the only major fix he needed to make between races was replacing a radiator. Hiltbrunner, meanwhile, said his team was hard at work getting the No. 00 back in order for the final, including bending the car back to some sort of form after his radiator smashed into his motor.
For his troubles, and for finally claiming the elusive first-place trophy, Hoff earned $1,850. He was quick out of the arena, huddled with his pit crew and toasting beers as the remnants of the dead cars were hauled from the fairgrounds and onto trucks to be taken away.