FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (May 12) — While so many entrants in Saturday night’s First in Flight 100 presented by Hoker Trucking at Fayetteville Motor Speedway were overcome with worries about tire wear, Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., expressed barely the slightest hint of anxiety as he churned toward a $25,001 victory in the inaugural World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series-sanctioned event.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m cocky,” Owens said, “but it would’ve surprised me if I blew a tire out.”
Indeed, the 4/10-mile oval’s typically abrasive surface was seemingly no sweat for Owens. His Ramirez Motorsports XR1 Rocket was simply so “flawless all weekend” that he didn’t envision how he could drive it in a manner that could abuse his tire to the point it would give up.
Once Owens, 46, hustled around the outside of race-long pacesetter Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., to grab the lead on lap 16 he held firm control for the remainder of the distance. Sheppard did draw close on a few occasions, but Owens calmly kept the Rocket Chassis house car driver at arm’s length and beat the defending WoO champion by 1.128 seconds in a race that was slowed by 14 caution flags, including five from lap 66 on for cars stricken by flat tires.
WoO rookie David Breazeale of Four Corners, Miss., who started fourth, recorded a career-best series finish of third in his Billy Franklin-owned XR1 Rocket. Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., advanced from the 14th starting spot to place fourth in his father-in-law Ron Davies’s Capital Race Car and WoO points leader Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., rebounded from using a provisional and starting 23rd by steadily battling forward to complete the top five in his Barry Wright Race Cars house car.
Owens failed to lead the race’s first lap despite starting from the pole position because his front-row mate Sheppard jump ahead after three aborted attempts to green-flag the feature, but the three-time Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion didn’t stay in second very long. He soon turned up the wick and powered by Sheppard for the top spot on lap 16.
“I didn’t know how long that high side would be there, but once I got up there and run about a lap I knew it wasn’t gonna be there long,” Owens said. “We were able to pass for the lead there early and maintain it the rest of the race.”
The track took rubber on the bottom around the halfway point, making passing extremely difficult and raising tire-wear fears. That prompted Owens’s crew to try getting him to cool his jets when he would pull out to a considerable edge over Sheppard following restarts, but Owens didn’t feel like he was pushing his machine too hard.
“I know I got on the high side and let it eat to get around Sheppard,” Owens commented. “Once I dropped back to the bottom and were, like, pulling away, my crew was signaling me and telling me to slow down. I was like, ‘Hey, dude, I’m pretty confident I’m good.’ They’re like, ‘Take it easy, take it easy.’ I’m thinking, Well, the car’s working good. I am taking it easy.
“The car was just balanced. I didn’t have to hustle it. It would rotate good. There was no tapping the break in the middle. I could just coast through the corners. It was just great. The car was just phenomenal tonight and that makes it easy.”
Owens didn’t even stress when he saw a rash of flat right-rear tires slow the feature over the final 20 laps, including one on lap 81 for Jason Covert of York Haven, Pa., who had climbed to sixth place after spinning in turn two on the second attempt at an initial start, and another on lap 92 for Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., who relinquished third place but rallied to salvage a ninth-place finish.
Yes, Owens’s D70-compound right-rear tire was significantly worn come the end of the race, but it still had some tread left on it so his confidence in its longevity was warranted.
“One restart there it was a little shaky and it wouldn’t fire back off as good,” Owens said when asked if he ever felt any change in his tire’s performance. “But other than that it was great the rest of the time. I’m guessing that one fire-off there, if it had sipes on it, we might just have been right there at the edge of them sipes … but I don’t know if we had ‘em cut or not.
“I could take off good on all the other restarts,” he added. “Once I got to the lead I wasn’t really worried. I was a little worried once we’d catch lapped traffic because I’m thinking, Now (Sheppard is) gonna step to the outside. I seen him up there a couple of times, but I had too good of a run off (to allow B-Shepp to challenge). And I thought, I’m not jumping up there (to the run the outside). I’m just gonna stay right here because he can’t pass me. So we just stayed where we was at and the cautions fell our way.”
Owens registered not only his first-ever win at Fayetteville — a track at which his best previous finish in his three Lucas Oil Series starts there was an eighth (twice) — but his first triumph of the 2018 season. It was his 11th career WoO victory but first since Nov. 8, 2014, at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C.
“The crew’s worked their butt off all year and things haven’t went our way,” said Owens, whose last win came in a National 100 preliminary feature on Nov. 11, 2017, at East Alabama Motor Speedway in Phenix City. “We’ve been running good, things break … we lose a motor last week at Tazewell. It’s a real uplifting win for us this weekend.
“It works out great because we were kind of up in arms about even coming (to Fayetteville on an off weekend from Lucas Oil action). Then (track promoter) Jim (Long Jr.) called and said, ‘You coming?’ I was like, ‘OK.’ I don’t even think I told him we were coming (after deciding earlier in the week).”
Sheppard, 25, led laps 1-15 but ultimately wasn’t a match for Owens.
“I was pretty good on the long runs,” Sheppard said. “I think (Owens) was definitely slowing down on the long runs just to conserve tires and everything. I was too.
There at the beginning I got out in front and was slowing the pace up, and then off a restart (Owens) just got up on the wheel and did what he had to do and got back by me and that was the end of it for me. Then we went single-file (due to the track taking rubber) … I’m glad they did go single-file though because I know me and Fergy (Chris Ferguson) had the elbows up coming off of four. We were rubbing paint.”
The 42-year-old Breazeale, meanwhile, ran smoothly in the top five throughout the race to surpass his previous best WoO finish of fourth on May 3 at Lavonia (Ga.) Raceway. His only previous visit to Fayetteville came for a 2009 Lucas Oil Series event.
“It was hard to pass, but the car was still good enough to be up there,” said Breazeale, who estimated he had about 10 laps left in his right-rear tire. “Anytime you can stay on the same straightaway with Owens and that 1 car (of Sheppard), I’m pleased.
“From the drop of the green flag it was all about conserving, not slipping, not skating. I could tell early everybody was just gonna ride because they backed the pace down after every restart, so we never tried to push the issue and just kept the car straight to make it to the end.
“I knew when I was behind Overton on one of the cautions that his tire was pretty well gone and he’d be lucky to finish. When I got behind the 1 (of Sheppard) I seen he had a little tread left so I knew it was gonna be hard for me to get any more spots. Those guys (Owens and Sheppard) ain’t gonna mess up, so I was content just to ride in third.”
Notes: Owens dedicated the win to his brother, whom he said was sick and in the hospital on Saturday. … Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., recorded an eventful sixth-place finish. He had to restart at the rear of the field after spinning in turns one and two on the original start and then pitted to replace his D70 right-rear tire with a 1350-compound shoe because he only had one 70 and didn’t think it would go the distance. Later he pitted again to put the D70 tire back on and then he inched forward over the remaining circuits. … Brent Larson of Lake Elmo, Minn., was involved in two cautions: on the third attempt to start the race when he spun in turns three and four amid a chain-reaction scramble and on lap 69 due to nose damage as he ran in 12th. … G.R. Smith of Cornelius, N.C., showed outside speed moving from outside the top 10 to eighth before making a planned pit stop for a new right-rear tire on lap 39. He strategy to use fresh rubber to charge back into contention was thwarted by a broken rearend that forced him to stop on the track on lap 45 as he had climbed to 13th. … Brent Robinson of Smithfield, Va., slipped off the top of turns one and two on lap 13 to bring out a caution and pulled off eight circuits later. … Jeff Smith of Dallas, N.C., slowed on lap 39 and Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., did the same on lap 47 to draw caution flags. … Chris Ferguson of Mount Holly, N.C., ran solidly in third place until a broken rear axle caused him to retire the lap-47 caution period. … Late-race cautions flew for Ben Watkins of Lancaster, S.C. (flat right-rear tire on lap 66); Morgan Bagley of Longview, Texas (flat right-rear on lap 94); Ross Bailes of Clover, S.C. (flat right-rear on lap 96 while running eighth); and Dennis Franklin of Gaffney, S.C., who was punted into the inside wall in turn four on lap 99 after a busted fuel pump caused him to slow while running eighth. … Franklin’s problem led to a green-white-checkered finish.
Saturday notes and results:
The 10-minute horn to line up the feature was blown at 9:50 p.m. ... Teams throughout the pit area are in deep thought about their tire choice for the 100-lap feature; the consensus opinion seems to be that tire wear will be a factor on the typically abrasive Fayetteville surface. The tire rule for the night permits teams to choose between 1350, 1450 and d70 compound rubber, with the 70s being the hardest tire. … WoO points leader Chris Madden will start 23rd after being forced to use a provisional because a broken fan blade prevented him from competing in the second B-main, which he was slated to start from the pole position. … Chase Junghans, who currently sits sixth in the WoO points standings, also fell back on a provisional to start 24th after deciding to pull out of his B-main. … Jeff Smith, who has won both WoO and Lucas Oil Series events at Fayetteville, won the 12-lap non-qualifiers’ race and opted to take the 25th starting spot in the A-main rather than accept the $2,001 first-place prize. “I had to check with the car owner and engine builder first,” Smith said when he informed WoO officials that he would run the 100-lapper, which pays $2,000 for last place. … Floridian Blake Spencer, who has entered every WoO event this season, was towed off the track after his car’s nose was heavily damaged in a tangle early in the non-qualifiers’ race. ... Willie Milliken failed to make the First in Flight 100 starting field after sliding off the backstretch during his B-main and experiencing problems during the non-qualifiers' race, but he won the 20-lap Limited Late Model feature.
Row 1: Jimmy Owens, Brandon Sheppard
Row 2: Chris Ferguson, David Breazeale
Row 3: Brandon Overton, Devin Moran
Row 4: Morgan Bagley, Rick Eckert
Row 5: Ben Watkins, G.R. Smith
Row 6: Tyler Erb, Brent Robinson
Row 7: Bobby Pierce, Shane Clanton
Row 8: Ross Bailes, Dennis Franklin
Row 9: Dustin Mitchell, Brent Larson
Row 10: Jason Covert, Mike Marlar
Row 11: Timothy Culp, Anthony Sanders
Row 12: Chris Madden, Chase Junghans
Row 13: Jeff Smith
Finish: Jeff Smith, Justin Williams, Zach Cox, Mike Parker, Willie Milliken, Kyle Pierce, Blake Spencer, Dale Arnold (DNS) Donald Bradsher, Roger Lucas.
Non-qualifiers’ race lineup
(12 laps; winner gets $2,001 or feature starting spot)
Row 1: Kyle Pierce, Jeff Smith
Row 2: Blake Spencer, Dale Arnold
Row 3: Justin Williams, Mike Parker
Row 4: Zach Cox, Willie Milliken
Row 5: Donald Bradsher, Roger Lucas
First B-main finish (10 laps; top 3 transfer): Dustin Mitchell, Jason Covert, Timothy Culp, Kyle Pierce, Blake Spencer, Justin Williams, Zach Cox, Chase Junghans, Donald Bradsher.
Second B-main finish (10 laps; top 3 transfer): Brent Larson, Mike Marlar, Anthony Sanders, Jeff Smith, Dale Arnold, Mike Parker, Willie Milliken, Roger Lucas (DNS) Chris Madden.
Saturday pre-race notes
The weather for the finale of the First in Flight 100 weekend are hot (temperatures have topped 90 degrees), but the skies are clear and the air dry so promoter Jim Long Jr. certainly can’t complain. … Polesitter Jimmy Owens has made three career starts at Fayetteville in Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series competition but never cracked the top five, finishing eighth in 2009 and ’15 and 10th in ’17. … Outside polesitter Brandon Sheppard won last year’s WoO event at Fayetteville while third-starter Chris Ferguson has captured both WoO (’15) and Lucas Oil (’17) features at the 4/10-mile oval. … Jeff Smith also has victories with both national tours at Fayetteville, earning a Lucas Oil checkered flag in 2007 and a WoO score in ’09. He struggled in Friday’s heat action — he’s still trying to get a handle on his new XR1 Rocket after switching over from his battle-tested 2013-vintage Rocket — and thus starts fourth in the second B-main. … Willie Milliken, whose 2016 WoO victory at Fayetteville was overturned due to a failed tire test, timed fourth-fastest in his qualifying group on Friday but didn’t transfer through a heat after he fell back because an opening-lap scrape with Brent Robinson broke his car’s right-front shock. … WoO points leader Chris Madden, who registered a $10,000 Carolina Clash triumph at Fayetteville on March 31, experienced a rare off night on Friday. He finished fifth in his heat, pushing him to a B-main this evening. Madden’s chassis builder, Barry Wright, offered a to-the-point quip when asked on Friday about Madden’s performance: “How many cars were here tonight? Thirty-four? Well, there were 33 cars better than us tonight.” … Mike Marlar, who sits second in WoO points, also failed to qualify on Friday. He slipped high in turn four on the final lap of his heat to cost him a transfer spot. … Dennis Franklin took advantage of Marlar’s miscue to grab the fourth and final transfer spot in Friday’s fourth heat. It capped a solid rally for the South Carolina veteran, who time-trialed poorly because his self-owned Swartz car was felled by a loss of power steering during hot laps and his crew didn’t have enough time to correct it before hitting the track for qualifying. … Making his second career start at Fayetteville, Pennsylvanian Jason Covert said he missed the setup on his Cameron-Mann Motorsports machine on Friday night and thus must run a B-main this evening. “These southern tracks can be tough,” Covert said. “We’re taking our lumps down here, but that’s part of it.”
(10 laps; top 3 transfer)
Row 1: Dustin Mitchell, Donald Bradsher
Row 2: Timothy Culp, Chase Junghans
Row 3: Jason Covert, Justin Williams
Row 4: Zach Cox, Blake Spencer
Row 5: Kyle Pierce
Row 1: Chris Madden, Mike Marlar
Row 2: Brent Larson, Jeff Smith
Row 3: Anthony Sanders, Willie Milliken
Row 4: Roger Lucas, Dale Arnold
Row 5: Mike Parker
Saturday’s schedule of events
6:30 p.m.: Drivers’ meeting
7 p.m.: Opening ceremonies
- Super stocks (hot laps/qualifying)
- Modifieds (hot laps/qualifying)
- Late Models (hot laps/qualifying)
- WoO B-main cars hot laps
- Super stock feature (15 laps)
- WoO B-mains (10 laps)
- WoO heat qualifiers hot laps
- Modified feature (15 laps)
- WoO non-qualifiers’ race (12 laps)
- Late Model feature (20 laps)
- Intermission/track prep
- WoO First in Flight 100
Friday's qualifying night results and notes:
Big C Dash results
Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., inherited the lead when Rick Eckert of York, Pa., slowed with mechanical trouble on lap three and marched on to capture the 10-lap Big C Dash, earning the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series regular a cool $2,001 check and the pole position for Saturday night’s First in Flight 100.
Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., chased Owens for the final seven circuits but finished 0.696 of a second behind the victor. He will start from the outside pole in the century grind.
Eckert was felled by a broken fan blade that knocked the water pump off his car’s engine. His Paul Crowl-owned mount dumped fluid on the track to bring out a caution flag and he retired from the race, leaving him with the eighth starting spot for the A-main.
Morgan Bagley of Tyler, Texas, brought out a second caution flag on lap seven when a broken steering gear caused him to tag the inside wall in turn four.
Finish: Jimmy Owens, Brandon Sheppard, Chris Ferguson, David Breazeale, Brandon Overton, Devin Moran, Morgan Bagley, Rick Eckert.
Big C Dash lineup
Row 1: Jimmy Owens, Rick Eckert
Row 2: Devin Moran, Brandon Sheppard
Row 3: Morgan Bagley, Chris Ferguson
Row 4: David Breazeale, Brandon Overton
Rick Eckert overtook Brent Robinson for the lead on lap two and then ran away with the final prelim. He flashed under the checkered flag with a commanding edge of 5.713 seconds over Morgan Bagley, who snuck by Robinson on the final lap for the runner-up spot. Robinson settled for third and Dennis Franklin finished fourth after sliding by Mike Marlar, who slipped high in turn four on the last circuit and will have to run a B-main on Saturday night.
Finish: Rick Eckert, Morgan Bagley, Brent Robinson, Dennis Franklin, Mike Marlar, Jeff Smith, Willie Milliken, Dale Arnold.
Jimmy Owens dominated the action from start to finish, beating Chris Ferguson by a comfortable 2.132 seconds. Tyler Erb came on during the race’s second half to finish third, first overtaking Chris Madden for fourth on lap 91 and then slipping past Ross Bailes on the final circuit. Bailes settled for fourth while Madden, who leads the WoO points standings, placed fifth and will have to run a B-main. A caution flag flew on lap three for Mike Parker, who slowed off turn two and limped to a stop at the end of the backstretch.
Finish: Jimmy Owens, Chris Ferguson, Tyler Erb, Ross Bailes, Chris Madden, Brent Larson, Anthony Sanders, Roger Lucas, Mike Parker.
Brandon Sheppard emerged victorious in dramatic fashion, shooting to the outside of Brandon Overton rounding turns three and four on the final lap to nip the Georgia driver at the checkered flag by a mere 0.057 of a second. Sheppard actually led the first lap by inches over Overton, but Overton gained command on the second circuit and continually fought off Sheppard’s inside thrusts — until the last lap when Sheppard switched to the top of the 4/10-mile oval entering turn three and found enough grip to beat Overton back to the finish line. G.R. Smith finished third and Shane Clanton turned back a late threat from Chase Junghans to place fourth.
Finish: Brandon Sheppard, Brandon Overton, G.R. Smith, Shane Clanton, Donald Bradsher, Chase Junghans, Justin Williams, Blake Spencer.
Devin Moran survived an inside challenge from David Breazeale en route to a flag-to-flag victory. Breazeale got inside Moran off turn four on lap six but slipped high off the fourth corner the following circuit and lost ground; he finished 0.652 of a second behind Moran. Ben Watkins placed third after overtaking Bobby Pierce on lap seven.
Finish: Devin Moran, David Breazeale, Ben Watkins, Bobby Pierce, Dustin Mitchell, Timothy Culp, Jason Covert, Zach Cox, Kyle Pierce.
Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., was the overall fastest qualifier in time trials, setting a new track record of 15.839 seconds during the second group. He nipped Group 1 quick-timer Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, whose circuit of 15.946 seconds made him the first driver to surpass the existing track record of 16.005 seconds held by Chris Ferguson of Mount Holly, N.C.
Other drivers who turned laps under Ferguson’s old record were Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., David Breazeale of Four Corners, Miss., Brent Robinson of Smithfield, Va., and Brent Larson of Lake Elmo, Minn.
The inaugural First in Flight 100 presented by Hoker Trucking kicks off on Friday night with a qualifying program that includes time trials, heat races and the 10-lap Big C Dash for top heat performers that now pays $2,001 to win and will set the lineup for the front rows of Saturday evening’s 100-lap finale. Saturday’s card will be comprised of B-mains, a $2,001-to-win non-qualifiers’ race and the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series-sanctioned century grind.
The 4/10-mile Fayetteville oval is hosting the WoO tour for the fifth straight year and eighth time overall since 2008. Previous race winners are Josh Richards (2008 and ’10), Jeff Smith (’09), Darrell Lanigan (’14), Chris Ferguson (’15), Brian Shirley (’16) and Brandon Sheppard (’17); New Berlin, Ill.’s Sheppard, Mount Holly, N.C.’s Ferguson and Dallas, N.C.’s Smith are entrants in the First in Flight 100.
Heat race lineups
(10 laps; top 4 transfer)
Row 1: Devin Moran, David Breazeale
Row 2: Bobby Pierce, Ben Watkins
Row 3: Dustin Mitchell, Timothy Culp
Row 4: Kyle Pierce, Jason Covert
Row 5: Zach Cox
Row 1: Brandon Sheppard, Brandon Overton
Row 2: G.R. Smith, Chase Junghans
Row 3: Shane Clanton, Donald Bradsher
Row 4: Justin Williams, Blake Spencer
Row 1: Jimmy Owens, Brent Larson
Row 2: Chris Ferguson, Ross Bailes
Row 3: Tyler Erb, Chris Madden
Row 4: Anthony Sanders, Roger Lucas
Row 5: Mike Parker
Row 1: Brent Robinson, Willie Milliken
Row 2: Rick Eckert, Morgan Bagley
Row 3: Mike Marlar, Jeff Smith
Row 4: Dennis Franklin, Dale Arnold
Devin Moran (9), Dresden, Ohio, 15.946
Brandon Sheppard (1), New Berlin, Ill., 15.976
David Breazeale (54), Four Corners, Miss., 15.996
Brandon Overton (116), Evans, Ga., 16.015
Bobby Pierce (1P), Oakwood, Ill., 16.043
G.R. Smith (22*), Cornelius, N.C., 16.112
Ben Watkins (16), Lancaster, S.C., 16.146
Chase Junghans (18c), Manhattan, Kan., 16.165
Dustin Mitchell (d8), Pine Level, N.C., 16.202
Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., 16.211
Timothy Culp (c8), Prattsville, Ark., 16.322
Donald Bradsher (93), Burlington, N.C., 16.362
Kyle Pierce (281), Statesville, N.C., 16.421
Justin Williams (89), Concord, Va., 16.434
Jason Covert (72), York Haven, Pa., 16.448
Blake Spencer (6), St. Augustine, Fla., 16.619
Zach Cox (12), Lumberton, N.C., 16.797
Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 15.839
Brent Robinson (44R), Smithfield, Va., 16.000
Brent Larson (B1), Lake Elmo, Minn., 16.003
Willie Milliken (1m), Roanoke Rapids, N.C., 16.021
Chris Ferguson (22), Mount Holly, N.C., 16.075
Rick Eckert (7), York, Pa., 16.155
Ross Bailes (79), Clover, S.C., 16.194
Morgan Bagley (14M), Tyler, Texas, 16.216
Tyler Erb (91), New Waverly, Texas, 16.223
Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., 16.316
Jeff Smith (00), Dallas, N.C., 16.558
Anthony Sanders (421), Spartanburg, S.C., 16.823
Chris Madden (44), Gray Court, S.C., 16.872
Roger Lucas (79r), Benson, N.C., 17.192
Dennis Franklin (2), Gaffney, S.C., 17.240
Dale Arnold (22a), Fayetteville, N.C., 17.811
Mike Parker (72m), Eastover, N.C., 18.101
Friday’s schedule of events
7 p.m.: Drivers’ meeting
7:30 p.m.: Start of on-track action
- Legends (hot laps/qualifying)
- Super streets (hot laps/qualifying)
- Pure stocks (hot laps/qualifying)
- WoO hot laps
- U-cars (hot laps/qualifying)
- WoO qualifying
- Opening ceremonies
- Legends feature (12 laps or 12 minutes)
- U-cars feature (12 laps or 15 minutes)
- WoO heat races (10 laps)
- Super street feature (15 laps or 20 minutes)
- WoO redraw for Big C Dash
- Pure stock feature (15 laps or 20 minutes)
- WoO Big C Dash (10 laps)