East Bay Raceway Park
Tire-gambling Pearson overcomes Bloomquist
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com chief writer
GIBSONTON, Fla. (Feb. 4) — Outside front-row starter Scott Bloomquist's start in Thursday's 40-lap Dart Winternationals feature at East Bay Raceway Park couldn't have been much better as he pulled away from the field. Fifth-starting Earl Pearson Jr.'s start couldn't have been much worse as he nearly dropped out of the top 10. | Profile of Labonte Motorsports team manager | Slideshow | Complete East Bay coverage
But in a reversal of fortune among Lucas Oil Series champions that no one could've predicted in the early laps, Pearson won a side-by-side duel over the last 10 laps for a $10,000 victory in the fourth round of East Bay's week of elite Super Late Model racing.
Pearson's dramatic inside move to finally overtake the high-running Bloomquist just ahead of the white flag drew cheers that could be heard over the roar of the engines at the third-mile oval near Tampa.
"How about these fans here in Florida?" the Jacksonville, Fla., driver said when he reached victory lane for just the second time in his Winternationals career. "I just love it."
Bloomquist appeared all but unbeatable for the first 30 laps, but Pearson was up to second when a critical caution flag set up a showdown among long-time rivals. With the track picking up a blackish streak of rubber, Bloomquist was vulnerable with his softer tires giving up while Pearson's harder tires were coming alive.
"I got by (polesitter Don) O'Neal there and my car was getting better and better every lap," Pearson said. "I could see Scott way out there in front of me, but I don't believe I ever could've caught him. But that caution came out, and I knew I had a shot. I knew the tires he had on, and I was hard as you could put on there.
"We stayed right in our groove where we needed to be. My car got a little bit better every lap. I kind of slide-jobbed him a little bit there. I give him credit ... he gave me room."
Tuesday's winner Bloomquist, who needed 17 years to get his first two victories at East Bay and was trying to double that total in three days, led by more than a straightaway most of the race, but it wasn't enough.
"Once that rubber came in, I knew we were going to be in trouble if we had too much of a green spell," Bloomquist said, adding that the lap-30 caution sealed his fate. "I just stayed with what my original plan was, stay on the top, try to chase the brown (surface) as much as possible and hope it didn't rubber up. And it rubbered up earlier than I thought it would."
Pearson's charge to the front was joined by new Bobby Labonte Motorsports teammate Brad Neat of Dunnville, Ky., who rallied from 14th to finish third. O'Neal, who ran second the first 29 laps, ended up fourth and Dan Schlieper of Sullivan, Wis., rounded out the top five.
Pearson remembers his earliest trips to East Bay when veteran drivers either chose soft rubber or hard rubber on the unique racing surface, and rarely anything in between. He and Neat both gambled with harder tire combinations, but Neat wasn't so sure it was going to work out when he saw Pearson losing positions early in the feature.
"Whenever he came back to me, I thought, 'Oh no, this is going to be bad,' " said Neat, who started four rows behind his teammate. "It turned out those things fired up about halfway through the race and we started coming up through there."
Pearson was equally worried.
"On the start I was dead in the water. I was like 'Oh my God, I hope we don't get in a wreck.' But after that, during that long green-flag run, it just got a little better and a little bit better," Pearson said. "I knew all those guys had soft tires on, and when you run in the black like that, those tires start to give up, and ours got better and we could get on around 'em."
Pearson's victory lane celebration was just the third one for a Sunshine State driver in the last 15 years in the Late Model portion of the Winternationals, and fans from Florida and elsewhere cheered during the exciting final laps.
"When the caution came out, that was definitely an advantage for me," the 38-year-old Pearson said. "We raced side-by-side I guess for the last nine laps. It was a heckuva race for all the fans. I really appreciate all these people coming out here, and we'll be back tomorrow to see if we can do it again."
Thursday's feature was slowed by three cautions, the most serious for a wreck on a lap-three restart as Jimmy Mars made contact trying to slip under fellow Wisconsin driver Tim Isenberg in turn three. The sixth-running Isenberg's car shot toward the outside wall and collected Eric Jacobsen while seventh-running Matt Miller spun inside turn four. Ten more drivers were involved trying to avoid the mess.
The first caution appeared on the third lap when Ricky Weiss and Tim Dohm banged together on the frontstretch, triggering a scramble that left Austin Hubbard up in the frontstretch berm and ended with Weiss spinning in turn one. The final caution appeared on the 30th lap when Dillan White's disabled car rolled to a stop in turn two.
The Winternationals continue Friday with a 50-lap feature paying $10,000 to the winner and on Saturday with a 75-lapper with a $12,000 winner's purse.
Notes: Pearson's MasterSbilt Race Car has a Larry Wallace engine and sponsorship from Lucas Oil Products, SlickMist and Red Buck Tobacco. ... Pearson's previous Winternationals victory came Feb. 6, 2007, in Lucas Oil competition. ... Scott Bloomquist's Tuesday victory made him the all-time winningest Lucas Oil driver, but Pearson's triumph retied the drivers at 18 victories apiece. ... Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., was running third at the race's midpoint but ended up eighth after taking an infield foray in the final laps; he took the lead in week-long Dart Winternationals points over Matt Miller, who raced back to finish ninth after getting tangled up in a lap-three caution. ... Ray Cook of Brasstown, N.C., rallied from 20th to seventh. ... Fourteen drivers were on the lead lap. ... Nineteen drivers were running at the finish.
Lucas Oil @ East Bay: (1) Earl Pearson Jr., (2) Scott Bloomquist, (3) Brad Neat, (4) Don O'Neal, (5) Dan Schlieper, (6) Shannon Babb, (7) Ray Cook, (8) Dennis Erb Jr., (9) Matt Miller, (10) Jimmy Mars, (11) Kyle Berck, (12) Tim Dohm, (13) Steve Casebolt, (14) Billy Moyer, (15) Chris Wall, (16) Austin Hubbard, (17) Eric Wells, (18) Dale McDowell, (19) Ricky Weiss, (20) Mike Marlar, (21) Tim Isenberg, (22) Dillan White, (23) Jimmy Owens, (24) Steve Francis, (25) Jordan Bland, (26) Eric Jacobsen. Fast qualifier (among 57 cars): Wall, 14.189 seconds. Heat race winners: O'Neal, Berck, Pearson, Bloomquist, Erb, Schlieper. Consolation winners: Francis, Cook. Provisional starters: Owens, Casebolt, Wall. Non-qualifiers' race winner: Hubbard.
Polesitter Ray Cook cruised to an easy victory while Dale McDowell and Steve Casebolt waged a side-by-side battle for the second and final transfer spot. McDowell edged away to get the spot while Casebolt was third in the caution-free affair. Casebolt is in line for a series provisional.
Finish (cars on track at finish): Ray Cook, Dale McDowell, Steve Casebolt, Ross Camponovo, Tim Fuller, Mark Andersen, Travis Varnadore, Michael Walker, Tommy Kerr, Jim O'Hara, Lee Thomason.
Polesitter Steve Francis pulled off a turn-four slide job on the first lap to blow past front-row starter Brady Smith, then fought off third-starting Tim Dohm the rest of the way. Smith ended up third, failing to transfer to the main event. Two cautions slowed the action. The first appeared on the fifth lap when Danny Mitchell spun in front of the leaders between turns one and two, then Shan Smith got into the wall at the end of the backstretch after tangling with Brandon Thirlby.
Finish (cars on track at finish): Steve Francis, Tim Dohm, Brady Smith, Rick Eckert, Austin Hubbard, Justin Rattliff, Tyler Reddick, John Blankenship, Jason Feger, Chris Wall, Russ King, Danny Mitchell, Jason McBride, Leon Henderson.
Despite finishing on a blown right rear tire, outside front-row starter Dan Schlieper cruised to an easy victory in the final heat while polesitter Eric Wells kept the second spot all the way. The battle for the third spot was a wild one. Sixth-starting Chad Stapleton got up to third for the final restart after a fifth-to-third move on the high side, but he had his hands full with Mark Andersen, Jordan Bland and Dan Stone heading to the white flag. Stapleton ended up getting into the wall between turns three and four while Bland got the final transfer spot when he slid under Andersen in turn three on the final lap. Three yellows slowed the action. Dan Stone spun in turn four on the second lap while battling tightly with Chad Stapleton; Lee Thomason spun in turn four on the seventh lap and drew another yellow a lap later.
Finish: Dan Schlieper, Eric Wells, Jordan Bland, Mark Andersen, Chad Hollenbeck, Dan Stone, Chad Stapleton, Lee Thomason. Scratched: Brent Robinson.
Dart Winternationals points frontrunners Dennis Erb Jr. (the polesitter) and Matt Miller (outside front-row starter) cruised well ahead of the field with Erb winning over Miller. Behind them, there was plenty of contact all race long from fifth-starting Ross Camponovo's ill-advised but successful first-lap slide job that gave him the third spot, and then between Dale McDowell and Ricky Weiss on the frontstretch as they banged together battling for third just before Mike Collins got into the turn-three wall. Weiss restarted in third and held off McDowell's last-lap charge for his first-ever East Bay feature start. Camponovo fell from contention when he got too high exiting turn two while running third and fourth-starting Steve Casebolt never recovered after being among the victims of Camponovo's aggressive move in turns three and four.
Finish: Dennis Erb Jr., Matt Miller, Ricky Weiss, Dale McDowell, Ross Camponovo, Steve Casebolt, Tommy Kerr, Mike Collins. Scratched: Steve Shaver.
Outside front-row starter and Tuesday's winner Scott Bloomquist edged polesitter Tim Isenberg at the outset and raced to a victory in the 10-lapper. Isenberg held on for second (and his fourth straight feature start) while Ray Cook lost the third spot to Brad Neat on an early restart. Four cautions slowed the action, first for Bob Geiger's turn-two spin (lap three), second for Travis Varnadore's turn-four spin (on the lap-three restart), third for Michael Walker's flat tire (lap six) and finally for a slowing Tim Fuller (lap seven).
Finish: Scott Bloomquist, Tim Isenberg, Brad Neat, Ray Cook, Travis Varnadore, Bob Geiger, Jim O'Hara, Tim Fuller, Michael Walker.. Scratched: Wade Davis.
Surviving an early challenge from polesitter Billy Moyer, who jumped the cushion in turn four on the third lap, front-row starter Earl Pearson Jr. raced to victory in the 10-lapper. Third-starting Eric Jacobsen also got past Moyer after his miscue and rallied within a car length of Pearson at the finish. Moyer settled for the third and final transfer spot while Tim Dohm was further back in fourth.
Finish: Earl Pearson Jr., Eric Jacobsen, Billy Moyer, Tim Dohm, Austin Hubbard, Justin Rattliff, Tim McCreadie, Jason McBride, Danny Mitchell.
Outside front-row starter Kyle Berck beat polesitter Mike Marlar out of turn two on the first lap and raced to his first heat race victory of the week. Berck's No. 14 showed smoke all the way in the 10-lapper, but that didn't stop him from finishing a half-straightaway ahead of Marlar, who tangled with Berck the previous night in a consolation race. Teenager Dillan White held off Brady Smith all the way for the third and final transfer spot.
Finish: Kyle Berck, Mike Marlar, Dillan White, Brady Smith, Rick Eckert, John Blankenship, Tyler Reddick, Russ King, Brandon Thirlby, Doug Blashe.
Rebounding from a wall-banging wreck in hot laps, polesitter Don O'Neal cruised to a 10-lap victory in the first heat to earn the pole for the feature. O'Neal finished a straightaway ahead of fourth-starting Jimmy Mars, who drove the No. 25 previously driven by Josh Richards (he's in Daytona for ARCA action). Polesitter Chris Wall ran third most of the way, but lost ground heading for the white flag, allowing Shannon Babb and Steve Francis past. The top three transferred to the feature in the caution-free prelim.
Finish: Don O'Neal, Jimmy Mars, Shannon Babb, Steve Francis, Chris Wall, Jason Feger, Jimmy Owens, Bub McCool, Shan Smith, Leon Henderson.
Chris Wall of Holden, La., posted his second fast qualifying time of the week, topping 57 entrants on Thursday in the fourth round of the 34th Dart Winternationals. Wall, who was also fastest Monday, zipped to a lap of 14.189 seconds at the third-mile oval near Tampa. | Complete East Bay coverage
When the 2010 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Rookie of the Year candidate was told he was just a half-second off the track qualifying record, Wall hated to hear he missed it. "Oh, man! Can I try again?" he asked announcer James Essex.
Wall broke an engine on Monday night, sent that engine back to Louisiana for repairs, and got it back Thursday in time to install to set fast time with it once again. "This has been a long week," said the alligator farmer, adding the team is "still very blessed and very fast."
Wall spun a "2" on the inversion wheel, meaning he'll start outside the front row in the first heat race. Unofficially, heat race polesitters will be Don O'Neal of Martinsville, Ind.; Monday's winner Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn.; Wednesday's winner Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark.; Lucas Oil rookie candidate Tim Isenberg of Marshfield, Wis.; former Winternationals champion Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill.; and series rookie Eric Wells of Hazard, Ky.
The top three finishers from each of six heat races will transfer to the main event. Two drivers apiece from each of two consolations will transfer along with two series provisionals. The 25th and 26th starters are with the winner of the Strawberry Dash (a race for non-qualifiers) and the fastest qualifier not already in the race for the Dart Fast Pass. The night's feature pays $10,000 to the winner.
The 57 entries was the most of 2010 and 15 more than the week's opener. ... Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., will be back in his own No. 15 tonight. Engine problems last night forced him into Chad Stapleton's No. 32 for Wednesday's feature. Francis had planned on driving Tennessean Tommy Kerr's backup car, but that plan fell through (Kerr is entered on Thursday). Stapleton, however, said Francis may drive his car in Saturday's race. "You can tell the guy's intelligent," said Stapleton, who is good friends with Kyle Ault, a crew member helping Francis during Speedweeks. "He's one of the best in the business. ... Besides Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., who is driving the No. 25 previously driven by Josh Richards, there are nine other newcomers for Thursday's event: Russ King of Bristolville, Ohio; Jordan Bland of Charlotte, N.C. (formerly of Campellsville, Ky.); Lee Thomason, Marion, Ill.; Brent Robinson of Smithfield, Va.; Wade Davis of Bethel, Ohio; Rick Eckert of York, Pa., Tim Fuller of Watertown, N.Y.; and Tommy Kerr of Maryville, Tenn.; and Michael Walker of Franklin, Pa. ... Don O'Neal of Martinsville, Ind., got into the turn-four wall during hot laps. ... Austin Hubbard is back in his family-owned No. 11 after a valve spring replacement in one of the team's three damaged engines. Hubbard drove a Dale Beitler car Wednesday night, but the Beitler-Hubbard combination wasn't supposed to debut until Monday at Volusia. ... Steve Shaver of Vienna, W.Va., scratched before qualifying with engine problems.
Time trials (unofficial)
- Chris Wall (71), Holden, La., 14.189
- Kyle Berck (14), Marquette, Neb., 14.309
- Earl Pearson Jr. (44), Jacksonville, Fla., 14.332
- Don O’Neal (71), Martinsville, Ind., 14.354
- Mike Marlar (34), Winfield, Tenn., 14.396
- Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 14.467
- Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 14.486
- Dillan White (54), Crofton, Ky., 14.491
- Eric Jacobsen (5), Seacliff Beach, Calif., 14.501
- Jimmy Mars (25), Menomonie, Wis., 14.528
- Brady Smith (2), Solon Spring, Wis., 14.535
- Austin Hubbard (11), Seaford, Del., 14.541
- Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 14.573
- John Blankenship (23), Williamson, W.Va., 14.585
- Tim Dohm (17T), Cross Lanes, W.Va., 14.586
- Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 14.639
- Rick Eckert (24), York, Pa., 14.653
- Justin Rattliff (16), Campellsville, Ky., 14.685
- Steve Francis (15), Ashland, Ky., 14.706
- Tyler Reddick (11), Corning, Calif., 14.722
- Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 14.779
- Bub McCool (57j), Vicksburg, Miss., 14.852
- Russ King (56), Bristolville, Ohio, 14.896
- Jason McBride (77), Carbondale, Ill., 15.011
- Shan Smith (17ss), Dade City, Fla., 15.0130
- Brandon Thirlby (14m), Traverse City, Mich., 15.049
- Danny Mitchell (18D), Clarksburg, W.Va., 15.379
- Leon Henderson (10), Laurel, Miss., 15.542
- Doug Blashe (1), Marion, Wis., 16.150
- Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., 14.329
- Matt Miller (7), Waterville, Ohio, 14.429
- Dan Schlieper (9), Sullivan, Wis., 14.458
- Tim Isenberg (9T), Marshfield, Wis., 14.523
- Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 14.545
- Eric Wells (18), Hazard, Ky., 14.586
- Ray Cook (53), Brasstown, N.C., 14.594
- Ricky Weiss (7), Winnipeg, Manitoba, 14.597
- Jordan Bland (12), Charlotte, N.C., 14.659
- Tim Fuller (19), Watertown, N.Y., 14.662
- Steve Casebolt (c9), Richmond, Ind., 14.711
- Mark Andersen (85), Blanchard, Mich., 14.741
- Brad Neat (41), Dunnville, Ky., 14.746
- Ross Camponovo (18), Clarksdale, Miss., 14.766
- Dan Stone (18D), Thompson, Pa., 14.769
- Travis Varnadore (41), Dover, Fla., 14.788
- Dale McDowell (17m), Rossville, Ga., 14.826
- Chad Stapleton (32), Edinburg, Ind., 15.013
- Michael Walker (64), Franklin, Tenn., 15.15
- Tommy Kerr (4T), Maryville, Tenn., 15.178
- Chad Hollenbeck (4DS), Kingsley, Pa., 15.268
- Jim O’Hara (44), Moscow, Pa., 15.429
- Mike Collins (3), Council Bluffs, Iowa, 15.529
- Lee Thomason (53), Marion, Ill., 15.543
- Bob Geiger (38), Laurel, Del., 16.786
- Steve Shaver (30), Vienna, W.Va., no time
- Brent Robinson (3), Smithfield, Va., no time
- Wade Davis (3D), Bethel, Ohio, no time