BULLS GAP, Tenn. — Dale McDowell’s race schedule is hardly overloaded this season. But what the veteran driver from Chickamauga, Ga., is lacking in quantity, he’s making up in quality. In fact, if McDowell was a Major League Baseball player, his quality at-bats total — known in the long boxscore by the abbreviation QAB — would be the envy of the league.
In nine appearances before Saturday’s Scott Sexton Memorial at Volunteer Speedway, McDowell had a pair of $10,000 victories among his seven top-10 finishes.
Now make that three. McDowell continued his solid start to the 2018 season with a triumph in the 52-lap Schaeffer's Spring Nationals-sanctioned event. Overtaking race-long leader Donald McIntosh of Dawsonville, Ga., with seven laps remaining, McDowell went on to collect his second-straight five-figure payday. He earned $10,052 for the victory, his second on the tour this season.
McIntosh, making his third start for Augie Burttram’s Ocala, Fla.-based Big Frog Motorsports, settled for second, while Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., finished third. Polesitter Casey Roberts of Toccoa, Ga., finished fourth, while Cory Hedgecock charged from 18th to complete the top five.
“It just wouldn’t be fitting without dedicating this race to Scott Sexton,” McDowell said. “He and I raced a lot here. Most of the time he kicked my tail.You know I thought about him tonight when the groove was around the top qualifying because that’s where he always liked to run. We miss him.”
The win gives McDowell five top-fives in eight starts with no finish worse than eighth in any race he’s qualified for. The only blemishes on his slate this season are a pair of did not starts, which came in mid-February during Georgia-Florida Speedweeks competition.
If anything, perhaps McDowell could work on his qualifying effort, a point the down-to-earth driver has alluded to more than once this year. In his eight features, he’s started better than 10th only one time and his average starting position is a paltry 11.6. He’s improved a whopping 63 positions so far, good for an average of 7.9 spots in each feature event.
Among his most notable rallies this season: 17th-to-first at Volusia on Feb. 15; 13th-to-third at Volusia on Feb. 16; and 18th-to-fourth at East Alabama Motor Speedway on March 24. Add Saturday’s Scott Sexton Memorial to the list as well. After qualifying fifth in his group, McDowell marched forward from 10th.
By lap 20, McDowell was in the top five, trailing McIntosh, Roberts, Owens and Vic Hill. He was fourth at the halfway mark and was up to second by lap 36. He finally grabbed the lead just a few laps after the race’s first caution flew. Once he managed to slip by McIntosh as they exited turn four, he needed only to survive a two-lap shootout following a late spin to complete yet another rally.
“I think (the caution) kinda bit (McIntosh) a little bit,” said McDowell. “My car was better when it was slick earlier. And it got a little streak to it there and Donald got tight, so that allowed me to get under him down the back straightaway and kinda go in there and slide in front of him. I’m not real good at those slide jobs, but anyway, it worked for us tonight.”
McIntosh was tantalizingly close to getting his second win of the weekend with the Big Frog Motorsports team. The runner-up finish capped a great first weekend in which he won at Tri-County Racetrack in Brasstown, N.C., before registering back-to-back second-place finishes with the Spring Nationals tour.
“This is pretty cool, to come into this weekend … a week and a half ago, I hadn’t even talked to these guys and they gave me a call to see if I wanted to drive this thing and man it’s such a blessing and honor to be able to do it for them,” McIntosh said. “I wish that caution hadn’t come out. Our right front gave up. (McDowell) did a good job. He’s hard to beat anywhere.
“What a weekend. It’s a really cool deal. Really we hadn’t had a whole lot of time to talk this weekend, other than race. I make this change, y’all make that change … just kinda gel and it seemed to work pretty good, so we’ll see how everything goes.”
Owens was equally pleased with his finish, especially considering he decided to shake down his backup car after making the trip from Alma, Ohio — where he competed on Friday night — to Bulls Gap following Saturday’s cancellation of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Icebreaker at Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway.
“We unloaded our backup car when we got here to give it a try. It was rollin’ pretty good,” Owens said. “We couldn’t get it to run there at the first of the day. It seemed to be running fine right then, so I think we got all the bugs worked out of it. We didn’t have time to free the car up like we needed to and just kinda misread the track little bit, but I’m really happy with a third-place finish. Congrats to McIntosh and Dale. It was a good race.”
Notes: The win was McDowell’s series-leading eighth career Spring Nationals victory and second of the season. He won at Senoia (Ga.) Raceway on March 31. … McDowell previously won a Spring Nationals race at Volunteer Speedway in 2013. … The race went caution-free for 44 laps until Chicky Barton brought out the yelllow. Caution flew again on lap 49 for Carder Miller, setting up a two-lap shootout. … The race is held in the memory of the late East Tennessee driver and former Volunteer Speedway track champion who passed away in January 2013. … Before heading to the track Saturday, Dale McDowell’s sister-in-law and team co-owner Sara McDowell happily tweeted, “It’s Race Day...and we’re leaving the shop at 4pm cuz we’re only 25 miles away!” in reference to the team’s relocation from North Carolina to Mooresburg, Tenn., where they’ve leased shop space from Scott Bloomquist.