Bubba Raceway Park
Eckert fights off Marlar to capture Ocala finale
By Kevin KovacWorld of Outlaws Late Model Series
OCALA, Fla. (Feb. 18) – Rick Eckert figured out Bubba Raceway Park just in time to score a stirring victory in Saturday night’s 60-lap Bubba Army Late Model Winter Nationals main event.
The defending World of Outlaws Late Model Series champion from York, Pa., found his rhythm in the finale of the national tour’s inaugural three-race meet at the central Florida oval. He surged into the lead on lap 44 and held on for the remainder of the distance, reaching the checkered flag first after Mike Marlar’s last-lap bid ended with the Winfield, Tenn., driver smacking the turn-three wall. | Complete Speedweeks coverage
Eckert, 46, earned $12,250 for his first WoO win of 2012 and the 25th of his career. It also marked his first top-five finish in five career starts at BRP, including two (10th and 11th-place runs) in the preceding days.
“I was saying it would take a month of me racing here before I’d win a race,” said Eckert, who ranks fourth on the WoO career win list since 2004. “We struggled here for the last couple days, but we kept working and making changes and we did finally get it done.”
Eckert brought an end to the first-place stranglehold on the Winter Nationals held by Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., and Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., who settled for finishes of second and third, respectively. Lanigan won Thursday night’s 40-lap opener over Richards and Richards beat Lanigan to the checkered flag in Friday evening’s 50-lap headliner.
Eighth-starter Shane Clanton of Fayetteville, Ga., finished fourth for his second top-five finish of the tripleheader, and 2011 WoO Rookie of the Year Pat Doar of New Richmond, Wis., registered a career-best tour finish of fifth after starting from the pole position.
Eckert started sixth in the 25-car event, but he slipped to eighth almost immediately and was still running in that position when the race’s second caution flag flew on lap 20 for the slowing Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark. His Team Zero by Bloomquist machine came alive soon after, reaching fourth place when the next caution was needed, on lap 42 for a turn-one spin by WoO rookie Greg Johnson of Bedford, Ind.
Then the race heated up. Lanigan grabbed second from Richards on the restart and nosed ahead of Marlar, who started second and had led from the initial green flag, to assume command on lap 43. Moments later, however, Lanigan’s car slid sideways in turn two and lost significant momentum, dropping him to fifth and allowing Eckert to vault into the lead at lap 44.
“They were wrestling pretty hard for the lead there, Darrell and the five car (Marlar),” said Eckert. “I think they might’ve touched (on lap 43) and they slid up the racetrack. I just stuck that bottom and got by ‘em.”
After rookie Jared Hawkins of Fairmont, W.Va., spun in turn four to bring out the race’s fourth and final caution flag on lap 47, Eckert built an edge of over one second on second-place Marlar. But over the final five circuits Eckert noticeably slowed his pace and Marlar drew his Bryson Motorsports Rocket car to Eckert’s rear bumper.
On the final lap, Marlar attempted to squeeze between Eckert and the outside wall entering turn three. The space closed up, however, and contact with Eckert sent Marlar into the guardrail.
As Marlar sat against the wall, Eckert went on to win the race under a yellow-checkered condition by 2.044 seconds over Richards. Marlar was able to drive his damaged car across the finish line in 18th place.
“I was like everybody — I was running out of tires,” Eckert said. “I was getting loose off (turn) two, so I’d just let my car drift out there. I drifted out there the last lap like I did every lap, and apparently Mike had a run and I got him in the wall.
“I know they’re all mad, and I’d be mad too,” he continued, speaking of Marlar and his crew. “But I surely didn’t try that. I didn’t try to crash the guy.”
Marlar, 33, was disappointed to come so close to his first-ever WoO victory but gracefully accepted his fate.
“(Eckert) didn’t give me room, but it is hard to see out of these cars,” said Marlar, who hopes to follow the WoO tour for the first time in 2012. “I’m not gonna say he wrecked me or, ‘He did this,’ or, ‘He did that.’ I definitely knew the chances (of trying an outside pass), and I took them. Our team’s strong and we got good equipment, so I just went for it — and unfortunately, I got bit.
“But we come to win. We have that win hunger, and when it comes to situations like that I guess we’re just gonna tear up some stuff because we’re not backing off.”
Marlar looked wistfully at the lap-42 restart when he lost the lead.
“It’s my fault I got passed,” said Marlar. “I kept pulling the front wheels of the ground scooting through the corner on those restarts. I had done it two or three times, and I was trying my best for that not to happen (on lap 42) so I went in and stood on it with all I could so it wouldn’t. But that made it even worse, and when I pushed it cost us the lead.”
Richards, 23, was in the middle of all the late-race action.
“It got crazy fast with everybody running so close together,” said Richards, who started third. “Everybody was going for the win.
“We had a great all night, but we weren’t quite set up for that (track) condition when it slowed down. I was pretty much holding on at the end.”
Lanigan, 41, saw an opportunity for his third win in four WoO events this season slip through his fingers.
“We got the lead there for a second, but I don’t know if we got loosened up or just got too loose getting in there and somebody got in the back of me,” said Lanigan. “We got it corrected and come back out in fifth, so to get third – I guess that’s not too bad.”
Finishing in positions 6-10 was DIRTcar UMP Late Model star Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., who started fourth and ran as high as second early in the event; Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa.; Vic Coffey of Caledonia, N.Y.; top WoO rookie Bub McCool of Vicksburg, Miss.; and Gregg Satterlee of Rochester Mills, Pa.
Lanigan was quickest in Ohlins Shocks Time Trials, topping the 49-car field with a lap of 13.998 seconds. It was his third fast-time honor of the young season.
Heat winners were Lanigan, McCool, Eckert and Richards. Dillon Wood of Daytona Beach, Fla., and Jason McBride of Carbondale, Ill., captured the B-Mains.
All of the main event starters posed for a photo during the pre-race introductions with professional wrestling legend Hulk Hogan, who served as the Grand Marshall of the event. He is a close friend of BRP owner Bubba The Love Sponge Clem, a nationally-syndicated radio show host.
The WoO tour will conclude its season-opening southern swing during the 41st UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit Racing Equipment at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., contesting 50-lap, $10,000-to-win events on Feb. 23, and Feb. 25.
Bubba Army Winter Nationals (Feb. 18): (1) Rick Eckert, (2) Josh Richards, (3) Darrell Lanigan, (4) Shane Clanton, (5) Pat Doar, (6) Jason Feger, (7) Chub Frank, (8) Vic Coffey, (9) Bub McCool, (10) Gregg Satterlee, (11) Dan Stone, (12) Tim Fuller, (13) Brandon Sheppard, (14) Jason McBride, (15) Billy Moyer Jr., (16) Kent Robinson, (17) John Lobb, (18) Mike Marlar, (19) Dillon Wood, (20) Clint Smith, (21) Jared Hawkins, (22) Greg Johnson, (23) Ron Davies, (24) Billy Moyer, (25) Tim McCreadie. Fast qualifier (among 49 cars): Lanigan, 13.998 seconds. Heat race winners: Lanigan, McCool, Eckert, Richards. Consolation winners: Wood, McBride. Provisional starters: Davies, Robinson, Lobb.