World of Outlaws Notebook
Notes: Babb hopes I-55 victory will spur success
By Kevin KovacWorld of Outlaws Late Model Series
For fans at I-55 Raceway, it was one of the most memorable races of the 2010 World of Outlaws Late Model Series campaign. For the driver who was at the center of the excitement and crossed the finish line first, it was an emotional slump-buster.
After the frenetic 55 laps of last Saturday’s 28th annual Pepsi Nationals at Pevely, Mo., had virtually every witness wondering if they had ever seen a more thrilling race, Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., stood in victory lane wearing a smile that couldn’t have been brighter. He outdueled the red-hot Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., to provide himself a rare magical moment in what has been one of the most frustrating seasons of his standout career.
The $10,000 victory also ended Babb’s string of near-misses in WoO action at I-55 — a fifth-place finish in 2005 (after Moyer passed him for the lead late in the distance), a runner-up in 2007 (his cushion-hammering bid to overtake Clint Smith following a late restart fell just short) and a fifth-place run in 2008. But the 36-year-old was thinking more about his present-day struggles than his past losses at I-55 after finally hitting paydirt.
“We just need a win in general,” said Babb, who moved into contention in Saturday’s headliner with a rousing explosion from eighth to second in the span of one circuit following a lap-29 restart. “We have really good stuff, but we just don’t know how to use it. I’ve been making real bad decisions, so hopefully now we’re taking the right steps.”
A WoO regular in 2008 when he finished sixth in the points standings driving for NASCAR star Clint Bowyer, Babb has maintained a more Midwest-concentrated schedule for the past two years with a self-owned effort backed by such sponsors as Petroff Towing and Donley Trucking. His overall 2010 performance has been lackluster, although in limited WoO action he’s recorded five top-five finishes in seven starts.
Babb is hopeful that after flashing his vintage form at I-55 with a 1-month-old Rocket car, better days just might be ahead.
“I knew the ‘ol girl had it in her,” said Babb, who experienced a scare earlier in Saturday’s program when his car lost power coming to the checkered flag in his heat due to a battery malfunction (he hung on to finish third). “This is a new car we brought out at the Topless (100 in Batesville, Ark., last month). (Rocket's) Mark (Richards) built it and did a few new things to it for us that he thought we needed to do, and it’s really been working well."
The battle for the $100,000 WoO championship remained razor-close after Saturday’s event, setting up a dramatic final three races at the Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C.
Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., used a fourth-place finish in the Pepsi Nationals to grab the points lead by a mere two markers — one finishing position — over sixth-place finisher Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va. It was the third time in the last four WoO events that the two drivers have exchanged the top spot.
Lanigan was in the mix for the win for much of the distance, leading laps 15-25 and 27-41. But he settled for fourth after being unable to match the speed Babb, runner-up Moyer and third-place finisher Brady Smith of Solon Springs, Wis., showed on the bottom of the track and slapping the wall between turns one and two twice in the final laps.
“I was trying to pick up the pace up there a little bit,” Lanigan said of his dangerously high slides. “I knew those guys were coming on the bottom, so I was trying harder and harder on the top. I just got in there a little hard and got in the cushion.”
Lanigan, 40, knew he was in trouble after the halfway point. That’s why he had one thought on his mind while setting the pace during the lap-29 caution period: “I was praying for rain.”
The approaching storms that prompted track and WoO officials to move the feature up in the evening’s schedule of events held off until about a half-hour after the checkered flag — too late to keep Lanigan in front. But he still was able to grab the points lead from Richards, 22, who climbed as high as fourth but finished sixth, the same position he started.
So now everything will be decided at the 4/10-mile Charlotte oval, which hosts the World of Outlaws Late Model Showdown on Oct. 13 and the season-ending World Finals on Nov. 4-6. The Showdown has offered only WoO showup points in the past, but this year it will follow the normal series format and carry full points.
While Lanigan has never won a WoO race at Charlotte and Richards has been victorious once in each of the last two years, neither driver expects to have an advantage there.
“Our program works good on big tracks so we should be comfortable there,” Lanigan said of Charlotte. “Me and Josh have both been running well, so whoever wins (the title), wins it.”
“I feel good about our chances,” said Richards, who entered last year’s World Finals trailing Steve Francis by four points in the standings but rallied to capture the title by a 14-point margin. “We want to win (the championship) real bad, but we’re gonna try to relax and go in there to Charlotte and win the races. Darrell’s been really strong all year and we just gotta try to beat him now at Charlotte.”
McCreadie's missed opportunity
Sitting 92 points behind Lanigan in third in the WoO points standings, Tim McCreadie isn’t mathematically eliminated from championship contention. But he knows it will take an unlikely turn of events for him to erase the deficit, so all he can do is swing for the fences for the remainder of the season.
McCreadie nearly hit a home run at I-55. Coming off a UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned victory the previous night at Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon Beach, Ill., the 2006 WoO champion raced off the outside pole to lead laps 1-14 of the Pepsi Nationals. He fell back to third on lap 24 but regained second from Moyer on a lap-29 restart and appeared ready to mount a rally.
Then McCreadie’s Sweeteners Plus car slid sideways in turn four on lap 29 and came to rest with its nose against the inside wall. He had to restart at the rear of the field and was never a factor again, finishing eighth.
“I just missed the traction (on the inside of turn four),” said a sullen McCreadie, who received the $100 Chizmark Larson Hard Luck Award for his disappointing evening. “I screwed up.”
Smith's lending hand
Clint Smith and Tim Fuller, good friends and WoO� traveling partners, were teammates at I-55 Raceway.
With Fuller looking for a way to avoid hauling his Gypsum Express equipment 17 hours one-way from his shop in Edwards, N.Y., to Pevely, Mo., for a single race, Smith agreed to put Fuller in his backup car for the event. Fuller flew from Syracuse, N.Y., to St. Louis on Saturday morning and met up with Smith, whose trip to I-55 from Senoia, Ga., was just under 10 hours.
Fuller, who previously drove Smith’s second car in an October 2008 WoO event at Fayetteville (N.C.) Motor Speedway, forgot to pack one important piece of clothing in his overnight bag: his racing uniform. He had to borrow a uniform from Josh Richards.
It appeared that Clint Smith Racing was in line for a very good night when Fuller earned the seventh starting spot and Smith the 11th starting position for the main event. But while Smith moved forward to finish a solid fifth — the fourth top-five run in the last five WoO events — Fuller struggled with an incorrect tire choice and finished 13th.
Fans who visited I-55 Raceway’s pit area last Saturday night couldn’t help but notice the unusually high number of drivers sporting closely-cropped haircuts.
This wasn’t a style craze sweeping the Dirt Late Model pits. It was the result of the Brave The Shave initiative organized by Michigan racer Jeep Van Wormer, who persuaded nearly two dozen racers to shave their heads as a fund-raiser for cancer research during the Sept. 10-11 World 100 weekend at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.
Six drivers who had their hair cut off as part of the Brave The Shave competed at I-55, including Shannon Babb; Brady Smith; Tim McCreadie, who said he’s had to get used to his head being “cold” since his long, flowing locks were shorn; Steve Francis; Rick Eckert (finished 12th); and Shane Clanton (finished 15th driving the red-and-black, Georgia Bulldogs-themed car he debuted at the World 100).
Teenage sensation Austin Hubbard, meanwhile, also walked the pits with a shaved head. The 2010 WoO Rookie of the Year wasn’t an official Brave The Shave participant, but he decided to join in the fun by having his hair clipped off at Eldora as well.