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Dirt Track at Charlotte

4 drivers hurt at Lowe's; conditions postpone race

November 4, 2009, 9:29 pm
By Joshua Joiner
DirtonDirt.com correspondent
Josh Richards sets fast time at Lowe's. (thesportswire.net)
Josh Richards sets fast time at Lowe's. (thesportswire.net)

CONCORD, N.C. (Nov. 4) — After two injured drivers were sent to a local hospital and two more drivers suffered lesser injuries amid difficult track conditions, officials at the Dirt Track at Lowe’s postponed Wednesday night’s World of Outlaws Late Model Series Topless Showdown feature race until Thursday. | Complete Lowe's coverage | Slideshow

Officials cited the track surface and the late hour for the postponement. Preliminary events were completed Wednesday and the 50-lap Topless Showdown by Hungry Man feature will be held following Thursday's regularly scheduled time trials for the Nov. 5-7 World Finals, the season's lone event featuring WoO-sanctioned Late Models and sprint cars.

Jeff Cooke of Spartanburg, S.C., and Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa., were both struck in the helmet by either dirt clods or rocks during the night’s first heat race. The track was reworked to cut down the inside berm but the problem persisted as Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga., and Tim Fuller of Watertown, N.Y., were also struck during consolation races races and treated by ambulance personnel. Fuller suffered serious facial bruising and Smith was briefly knocked unconscious.

Frank, whose face was discolored and swollen around his right eye, returned to the track after a visit to a nearby hospital, where Cooke was still being treated when the postponement was announced.

“We battled the track conditions all night, and with curfew being an issue we just didn't have enough time to get the surface right," said Seamus Curley, the short-track racing manager at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Many of the drivers who qualified for the 28-car starting field agreed with the decision to postpone the race, including York Pa., driver Rick Eckert, who was scheduled to start from the 16th position.

“It’s definitely the right call. I mean, when you’ve got guys being sent to the hospital, it’s time to do something. It was just a weird night,” Eckert said. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. I’m sure they’ll get this thing reworked and we’ll have a lot better night tomorrow night.”

Frank said that running the topless event — the roofs that typically cover the cockpit were removed — contributed to the rash of injuries.

"I've never been hit this many times on a racetrack with clods that big before," said Frank, who said he fractured bones around his right eye. "It's more than them just not having the track ready, we shouldn't have been out there with no roofs on tonight. There's not much else for me to say. ... I mean, we had four guys in the ambulance tonight."

Chris Ferguson of Mount Holly, N.C., who won a consolation race, was among those glad the track will get 24 hours to prepare the surface before the 50-lapper.

“I think they definitely made the right decision. The track was better after they reworked it. It wasn’t near as rough as it had been, but I guess they couldn’t do anything about the rocks,” said Ferguson. “I got lucky. A rock hit my wind deflector and broke it, but luckily it didn’t hit me."

Not everyone was happy with the decision to postpone the feature. Fifth-heat winner Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., was planning to travel to East Alabama Motor Speedway in Phenix City, Ala., to participate in prelims for the National 100 (that feature is Sunday), but will instead return to Lowe's to start eighth Thursday night.

Cooke was perhaps the most seriously injured driver as he was knocked unconscious when the shield of his helmet was pierced in the first heat. Cooke's car hit the wall and came to rest on the backstretch. Safety crews had to cut the halo frame away to remove Cooke from the car.

Officials initially planned to take Cooke to the hospital via a medical helicopter, but after Cooke regained consciousness, he was taken by ambulance. Cooke was awake and alert before the ambulance left for the hospital.

After the incident, track crews used a road grader to cut down the berm around the bottom of the racing surface, a buildup of dirt that was wide with many loose dirt clods. “Guys are getting into and it’s throwing rocks and stuff up onto the track,” WoO points leader Steve Francis said before Cooke's accident. “I think it’s hurting the race surface a bit, and it’s not safe.”

Title chasers tune up

Josh Richards and Steve Francis have been neck-and-neck in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series point standings throughout much of the 2009 season. With just four points separating the series-leading Francis and Richards heading into the final two points races at Nov. 5-7 World Finals, the two drivers looked to use Wednesday's rescheduled Topless Showdown by Hungry Man as a tuneup at the Dirt Track at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Although the night's feature was postponed until Thursday because of the late hour and rough track conditions, it was clear Richards and Francis were making most of the non-points event.

Richards, of Shinnston, W.Va., and Francis, of Ashland, Ky., topped the rest of the 82-car field in qualifying for the race that pays each driver equal showup points towards the series standings. Richards beat Francis by just .002 to earn the fast qualifier award. Richards then won the first heat race, while Francis matched him by winning the second heat race. Richards wasn't surprised that Francis virtually matched his efforts.

“I kind of figured things might go this way. We’re both racing as hard as we can and we’re both right there again just like we have been all year,” Richards said following his heat race. “That’s what we came down here for. To not only race the rest of the field, but to race Steve Francis. It’s not going to be easy, but hopefully we’ll get ahead of him in tonight’s race and do it again Friday and Saturday night when it counts.”

Francis drew the pole position for the feature event and — who else? — Richards will start alongside in Thursday's race. The second row is made up of Scott Bloomquist and Brady Smith with Chris Madden and Jeep Van Wormer in row three. Jeremy Miller and Jonathan Davenport will line up in the fourth row.

Impressive car count

While some special events around the country have struggled to meet expected car counts this season, Lowe's drew a field of 82 cars on Wednesday for the first of four straight nights of WoO action. Series points leader Steve Francis acknowledged that the large car count could come into play the championship battle.

“I’m really surprised at how many cars are here tonight," Francis said. "I’m not sure if they’re all planning on staying and running the whole weekend, but it definitely makes things a little harder as far as the point battle is concerned.

“We’re still going to go out and try to win each night, but with as many good cars as there are here, we’ve got to really concentrate on running well in qualifying and our heat races because if something happens and you have to take a provisional, it’s going to be really tough to come from the back. There’s just too many cars, and good cars, here to do that.”

Pedregon hits the dirt

After competing in the 2007 Prelude to The Dream at Eldora Speedway, two-time and reigning NHRA funny car champion Cruz Pedregon enjoyed Dirt Late Model racing so much that he purchased his own race car to race in the Prelude and other races when his schedule allows.

When he visited zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., for the NHRA Carolinas Nationals in September, he took a look next door at Lowe's dirt track and decided he wanted to make laps there.

“I just don’t want to stay out of these cars for very long. If you’re going to be competitive in these cars, you have to get a lot of seat time,” said Pedregon, who has competed in two more Preludes and one Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series race since purchasing his own car. “I saw the track when I was here for the NHRA race and noticed the World Finals on the schedule, so I decided to give it a try.

“I really wish I could run more races in this car, and next year we might try to as my schedule allows. I really love Dirt Late Model racing and, to tell you the truth, I would love to be able to do this full time.”

Pedregon admits he’s still adjusting to making left turns instead of driving straight. He qualified 62nd of the 82 cars, but his time was disallowed after his car didn’t meet minimum weight at the scales.

“I didn’t even think about adding weight to compensate for the roof not being on. I think that’s why we were light,” said Pedregon with a laugh. “I’m just out here trying to enjoy myself. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I’m getting there.”

Odds and ends

During opening ceremonies, a moment of silence was observed for Raye Vest, who died Wednesday afternoon at age 76. The long-time car owner of Rick Eckert's racing team died after an extended illness. ... Shane Clanton battled with Chris Madden for the lead in the sixth heat but pulled his smoking car out of action on the eighth lap. ... Former WoO champion Billy Moyer was among drivers who pulled out of the event; he plans on running the Nov. 6-7 Cotton Pickin' 100 at Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus, Miss.

Topless Showdown by Hungry Man results

Preliminary race finishes
First heat: Richards, J. Miller, Satterlee, Knight, Lanigan, Friese, Rine, Rice, Martin, L. Blankenship, Cooke, Frank, Harper. Scratched: Wells.
Second heat: Francis, McDowell, Van Wormer, Hubbard, Neat, Franklin, Moran, Pedregon, Yoder, Roberts, Babb, Shaver. Scratched: Landers, Weeks.
Third heat: B. Smith, Dillon, Eckert, Reddick, Owens, Birkhofer, King, Coffey, Bare, Ruhlman, Hollenbeck, Winge, Mitchell. Scratched: Moyer.
Fourth heat: Bloomquist, Erb, Cook, Ivey, Horton, Korte, Feathers, Briggs, Burns, Labonte, McCreadie, J. Faircloth, Feger, Dohm.
Fifth heat: Davenport, Chupp, Carrier, Ferguson, Stone, Hensel, Arthur, Kerr, B. Faircloth, J. Blankenship, Robinson. Scratched: Meadows, Schlieper.
Sixth heat: Madden, Pearson, Jacobsen, C. Smith, Bland, Gilliland, B. Miller, Gault, Hapka, R. Smith, Clanton, Schrader, Fuller.
First consolation: Franklin, Lanigan, Friese, Rine, Moran, Rice, Pedregon, Harper, L. Blankenship, Knight, Martin. Scratched: Neat, Yoder, Roberts, Babb, Cooke, Shaver, Frank, Landers, Weeks, Wells, McDowell.
Second consolation: Reddick, Owens, Birkhofer, Horton, Ivey, Ruhlman, Hollenbeck, King, Winge. Scratched: Korte, Feathers, Coffey, Briggs, Bare, Burns, Labonte, McCreadie, J. Faircloth, Mitchell, Feger, Moyer, Dohm.
Third consolation: Ferguson, Schlieper, Hensel, Gilliland, Gault, B. Miller, Robinson, Bland, C. Smith, Stone, Arthur. Scratched: Kerr, B. Faircloth, Hapka, Blankenship, R. Smith, Clanton, Meadows, Schrader, Fuller.
Time trials
Pos.. Driver (car no.), hometown, time
1. Josh Richards (1), Shinnston, W.Va., 14.674
2. Steve Francis (19), Ashland, Ky., 14.676
3. Brady Smith (2), Solon Springs, Wis., 14.694
4. Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., 14.712
5. Eddie Carrier Jr. (28), Salt Rock, W.Va., 14.725
6. Chris Madden (44), Gaffney, S.C., 14.742
7. Gregg Satterlee (22), Rochester Mills, Pa., 14.771
8. Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 14.772
9. Austin Dillon (3), Welcome, N.C., 14.776
10. Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 14.812
11. Randle Chupp (6), Troutman, N.C., 14.873
12. Shane Clanton (25), Locust Grove, Ga., 14.874
13. Jeremy Miller (24), Gettysburg, Pa., 14.912
14. Dale McDowell (17m), Rossville, Ga., 14.922
15. Rick Eckert (24), York, Pa., 14.925
16. Ray Cook (53), Brasstown, N.C., 14.933
17. Chris Ferguson (22), Mount Holly, N.C., 14.934
18. Earl Pearson Jr. (44), Jacksonville, Fla., 14.945
19. Mike Knight (9k), Ripley, N.Y., 14.984
20. Jeep Van Wormer (55), Pinconning, Mich., 15.011
21. Tyler Reddick (11), Corning, Calif., 15.025
22. Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 15.025
23. Tommy Kerr (4T), Maryville, Tenn., 15.059
24. Tim Fuller (19), Watertown, N.Y., 15.083
25. Larry Blankenship (32), Mooresville, N.C., 15.090
26. Brad Neat (41), Dunnville, Ky., 15.144
27. Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 15.152
28. Petey Ivey (75), Shelby, N.C., 15.153
29. Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., 15.156
30. Eric Jacobsen (5), Sea Cliff Beach, Calif., 15.169
31. Devin Friese (12), St. Thomas, Pa., 15.177
32. Casey Roberts (101), Toccoa, Ga., 15.182
33. Vic Coffey (32c), Caledonia, N.Y., 15.194
34. Jeremy Faircloth (4), Swainsboro, Ga., 15.231
35. Chris Meadows (33), Crab Orchard, W.Va., 15.236
36. Ken Schrader (9), Concord, N.C., 15.248
37. Chub Frank (1*), Bear Lake, Pa., 15.287
38. Steve Shaver (30), Vienna, W.Va., 15.290
39. Brian Birkhofer (15B), Muscatine, Iowa, 15.294
40. Doug Horton (1g), Bruceton Mills, W.Va., 15.327
41. Ben Faircloth (27), Swainsboro, Ga., 15.329
42. Clint Smith (44), Senoia, Ga., 15.351
43. Jeff Rine (2j), Danville, Pa., 15.374
44. Donnie Moran (99), Dresden, Ohio, 15.377
45. Russ King (56), Bristolville, Ohio, 15.394
46. Randy Korte (00), Highland, Ill., 15.459
47. Walker Arthur (87), Forest, Va., 15.504
48. Dustin Hapka (18D), Grand Forks, N.D., 15.517
49. Jerry Rice (11), Verona, Ky., 15.544
50. Dennis Franklin (2), Gaffney, S.C., 15.556
51. Booper Bare (00B), Rock Bridge Baths, Va., 15.601
52. Boom Briggs (99B), Bear Lake, Pa., 15.623
53. Adam Hensel (44), Barron, Wis., 15.624
54. Jordan Bland (12), Campbellsville, Ky., 15.641
55. Darrell Lanigan (29), Union, Ky., 15.643
56. Jim Yoder (27), Selinsgrove, Pa., 15.668
57. Brian Ruhlman (49), Clarklake, Mich., 15.692
58. Bo Feathers (00), Winchester, Va., 15.759
59. Dan Stone (21D), Thompson, Pa., 15.837
60. David Gilliland (98), Mooresville, N.C., 15.921
61. Eric Wells (18), Hazard, Ky., 16.024
62. Austin Hubbard (45), Seaford, Del., 16.053
63. Dustin Mitchell (D8), Princeton, N.C., 16.313
64. Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 16.357
65. Brent Robinson (3), Smithfield, Va., 16.403
66. Mike Gault (17), Gaffney, S.C., 16.429
67. Chuck Harper (00H), Beverly, W.Va., 16.568
68. Jared Landers (777), Batesville, AR 16.575
69. John Winge (17), Ringgold, Ga., 16.734
70. Justin Labonte (44), Trinity, N.C., 17.060
71. John Blankenship (23), Williamson, W.Va., 18.205
72. Randy Smith (84), Fort Mill, S.C., 18.438
73. Jeff Cooke (99), Spartanburg, S.C., no time
74. Ricky Weeks (1), Rutherfordton, N.C., no time
75. Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., no time
76. Tim Dohm (17T), Cross Lanes, W.Va., no time
77. Dan Schlieper (9), Sullivan, Wis., no time
78. Brett Miller (25), Greenville, Tenn., 15.733 (disqualified)
79. Trey Martin (1m), Charleston, W.Va., 16.199 (disqualified)
80. Cruz Pedregon (75), Brownsburg, Ind., 16.297 (disqualified)
81. Chad Hollenbeck (4), Kingsley, Pa., no time, (disqualified)

Topless Showdown feature lineup

Row 1: Francis, Richards
Row 2: Bloomquist, B. Smith
Row 3: Madden, Van Wormer
Row 4: Miller, Davenport
Row 5: Dillon, Erb
Row 6: Pearson, Chupp
Row 7: Satterlee, Hubbard
Row 8: Cook, Eckert
Row 9: Jacobsen, Carrier
Row 10: Franklin, Reddick
Row 11: Ferguson, Lanigan
Row 12: Owens, Schlieper
Row 13: Fuller, Clanton
Row 14: C. Smith, King

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