Dirt Track at Charlotte
Colossal: Foes can't stop Francis in 100-lapper
From staff and series reports
CONCORD, N.C. (April 19) — There was simply no stopping Steve Francis in Saturday night’s Circle K Colossal 100 at the Dirt Track at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. With a flawless performance behind the wheel of Dale Beitler’s Reliable Painting/Valvoline Rocket No. 19, Francis dominated the entire distance to score his first career win in the $200,000 World of Outlaws Late Model Series event.
“The car was just absolutely phenomenal tonight,” said Francis, who earned $50,000 for breaking Scott Bloomquist’s two-year ownership of victory lane in the blockbuster race. “We never even had to run a lap hard. We had a lot left if we needed to go. That’s just unbelievable to get a car that good against this level of competition.”
Francis, 40, of Ashland, Ky., picked the pole position in the pre-race draw among heat qualifiers and used it to his advantage, leading from flag-to-flag virtually without a challenge. He pulled away at will from such pursuers as Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., and Chris Madden of Gaffney, S.C., holding firm control of a marathon race that was slowed by 16 caution flags and one red flag.
“I was so impressed when I drove my car in the corner the first lap, I just thought, ‘Well, if we can just keep from breaking something, we can win this,’” said Francis, who beat Madden to the finish line by a comfortable 3 seconds. “Actually, it’s probably the best car I’ve ever had in a 100-lap race. It just never changed a characteristic the whole race.
“I could run right around the bottom, I could go around the top, and we got to running the best when I’d just run through the middle, let the car kinda float up and not bind it up any. The only time I’d run into (turn) one as hard as I could was on a restart. By the time I got to (turn) three I’d just start letting it float in. When you get a car that good, it just makes your job a lot easier.”
Madden, 32, settled for a $20,000 runner-up finish in the Colossal 100 for the second straight year in his Bloomquist Team Zero car. He started 25th and finally gained possession of second place on lap 90, when Lanigan, who started third and never ran worse than fifth, relinquished the spot because of his car's rear-end problems in a race with an excessive number of caution circuits.
Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., marched forward from the 13th starting spot to finish third in his father Mark’s Seubert Calf Ranches Rocket No. 1. It was a career-best finish in the Colossal 100 for Richards, who was sixth when the race restarted for the final time on lap 82.
Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., ended an up-and-down run with a fourth-place finish in the Reece Monuments Bloomquist car. He climbed up to fourth from the 16th starting spot early in the race, fell out of the top 10 and then rallied late to register his second consecutive top-five in the event.
Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., completed the top five, finishing in the same position that he started after a steady drive in the Hamrick Racing Bloomquist Chassis No. 97.
The only anxious moments for Francis came as the race neared its conclusion. With the event’s seemingly endless series of caution periods creating dozens of extra laps around the four-tenths-mile oval, he became very concerned about his car’s fuel situation.
“It was the race that didn’t want to end,” said Francis, who scored his first career win at The Dirt Track. “I’ve led a lot of these (caution-plagued) things and usually something happens to me right at the end, so when I seen Darrell (Lanigan) coasting down through there I figured he was out of fuel and I was worried I might be next.”
Francis had his car’s fuel-pressure light blinking on down the straightaways with the checkered flag in sight. “The last five laps were probably the scariest of the race for me because I was watching the fuel-pressure gauge rather than what I should’ve been watching at that point,” said Francis, who nearly got into some scrapes with lapped traffic during the feature's longest stretch of consecutive green-flag action (laps 82-100). “The motor was running lean at the end of the straightaway. It would start to slow down, so as soon as I felt that I’d let off the gas and let it coast into the corner.”
How much gas did Francis think was left in his car’s cell? Not a whole lot. “It would surprise me if it makes it back over to the truck (in the pits),” Francis said with a smile after donning the Colossal 100’s traditional Medieval knight's helmet and waving a 50-inch Macleod Medieval sword during the Victory Lane ceremonies.
The defending WoO champion recorded his first win of 2008 on the tour and the 15th of his career, tying him for second on the tour’s modern-era (2004-present) win list with Rick Eckert of York, Pa., who dropped out while running fourth on lap 84 due to a broken oil line.
“We have probably five marquee (dirt Late Model) events a year and this is one of them,” said Francis, who used American Racer tires on his Cornett-powered machine. “There’s about three more (races) that are a little below these, and in order to have a very successful season, you gotta win at least one of these races, a combination of ‘em, or the Outlaw championship that pays $100,000. We got one, and it’s just an awesome feeling. As a driver, you just want to keep winning these big ones.”
Francis’s triumph topped a program that had its start delayed more than two hours by rain that swept across the Charlotte area early in the evening. The precipitation caused the track surface to remain wet around the inside and stack up a thick cushion, which contributed to the outbreak of caution flags for flat tires and damaged race cars.
“A lot of the cautions,” analyzed Francis, “came from guys hitting the slime (along the inside), sliding across into someone and knocking the guy’s tire off, or from guys sliding up across the cushion and knocking their own left-rear tire off.
“If they had the time to run in that last six foot of (wet inside lane) before the race, we would’ve probably had a third of the cautions we had. You gotta give Roger (Slack, who oversees The Dirt Track) and Randy (Grove, who directs surface prep) a lot of credit,” added Francis. “It did build a cushion out high that was a little hairy, but it wasn’t rough and the middle of the racetrack was still shiny. Had we not got that rain today, the cushion would’ve blown out more and they would’ve had more time to work with things.”
Finishing in positions 6-10 were Babb, who grabbed second from Lanigan on the lap-82 restart but then slid high in turn two the following circuit to begin a late-race fall out of the top five; Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., who made several pit stops with Steve Francis’s Valvoline No. 15; John Blankenship of Williamson, W.Va., the last driver on the lead lap at the finish; outside polesitter Eddie Carrier Jr. of Salt Rock, W.Va., who went to the rear of the field after executing a 360-degree spin in turn four on the first lap; and Ricky Weeks of Rutherfordton, N.C.
Bloomquist’s status as the only Colossal 100 winner in history ended quietly. After nearly being knocked out of action in the first-lap scramble caused by Carrier’s spin, the race’s 17th starter failed to crack the top 10 before pitting on lap 38 to fix right-front damage on his No. 0. He pitted several more times before his hopes ended for good when he was involved in a lap-82 tangle off turn four with Doug Horton of Bruceton Mills, W.Va., Ray Cook of Brasstown, N.C., and Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla.
Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., who entered the event with four wins in his last five WoO starts, finally had his luck run out. He was running sixth on lap 64 when he stopped on the track to draw a caution flag because his car’s hood began to flap up. The 50-year-old Moyer did not continue, but he retained the WoO points lead because the event, which was not run using the regular tour format, offered only show-up points towards the championship.
The event’s most serious crash, on lap 45, involved WoO LMS star Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa. He was running in 11th place when he slid into turns three and four too hard and bicycled onto his car’s right side, sending him into a wild, gyrating series of flips that he escaped without injury. — Kevin Kovac
Feature: (1) Steve Francis, (2) Chris Madden, (3) Josh Richards, (4) Jimmy Owens, (5) Dale McDowell, (6) Shannon Babb, (7) Tim McCreadie, (8) John Blankenship, (9) Eddie Carrier Jr., (10) RIcky Weeks, (11) Jeep Van Wormer, (12) Bob Gordon, (13) Darrell Lanigan, (14) Rick Eckert, (15) Doug Horton, (16) Scott Bloomquist, (17) Earl Pearson Jr., (18) Ray Cook, (19) Brady Smith, (20) Dennis Franklin, (21) Billy Moyer, (22) Vic Coffey, (23) Mike Marlar, (24) Donnie Moran, (25) Jackie Boggs, (26) Randle Chupp, (27) Jeremy Miller, (28) Chub Frank, (29) Jeff Smith, (30) Dan Schlieper, (31) Clint Smith, (32) Jimmy Mars, (33) John Gill, (34) Steve Shaver, (35) Brian Birkhofer, (26) G.R. Smith.
Francis drove a Beitler Enterprises-owned Rocket Chassis powered by a Cornett engine and riding on American Racer tires. ... Chris Madden finished second in the Colossal for the second consecutive year. ... Rain showers that moved through the area in the late afternoon and early evening delayed the start of Saturday's action, but consolation races began about 9:20 p.m., two hours behind schedule. ... Eddie Carrier Jr., who started outside the front row, did a 360-degree spin in turn four on the first lap, bottling up much of the field as the 36 cars completed the first lap. The caution didn't appear until the third lap when Carrier and Bob Gordon stopped on the backstretch. Gordon got the worst of the damage, flattening a left-rear tire. Carrier, Gordon and 15th-starting Dan Schlieper, who dropped all the way to the tail, were among drivers pitting. ... On the fifth lap, a caution appeared for a slowing G.R. Smith and Steve Shaver. ... On the sixth lap, a turn-two scramble left the cars of fifth-running Ricky Weeks and Brian Birkhofer knotted up for another caution. ... Shaver stopped on the 14th lap to draw a caution. ... Jimmy Mars pulled off on the 16th lap; John Gill did the same a lap later. ... Clint Smith pulled off on lap 19. ... Scott Bloomquist pulled up on lap 23 to bring out a caution. ... Mike Marlar's smoking car rolled to a stop for a lap-30 caution. ... Vic Coffey spun into the turn-four infield on the 36th lap. ... Ray Cook slipped into the infield in turn two to bring out a lap-37 yellow. ... Randle Chupp slowed to bring out a lap-40 caution. ... A lap-42 caution appeared for Jeremy Miller, who stopped in turn four. ... Frank's flip brought out a lap-45 red flag. ... Chupp pulled off on lap 48, just before a caution appeared for a turn-four scramble that left Vic Coffey turned around. Bob Gordon and Jackie Boggs were able to pull away. ... Moran and Boggs slowed to bring out a lap-53 caution. ... Mike Marlar pulled to the infield on the 55th lap. He had just returned from the pits and turn-four officials allowed him back on the track just as the race was restarting. ... Coffey stopped at the turn-three track exit to bring out a lap-58 caution. ... Billy Moyer, who ran as high as fourth, stopped on lap 64 to draw a caution after the left-front corner of his hood starting peeling up, hampering his aerodynamics. ... Dennis Franklin pulled out on the 72nd lap. ... Brady Smith stopped to bring out a lap-80 caution ... A lap-82 yellow came out when Doug Horton spun exiting turn four, collecting Ray Cook, Scott Bloomquist and Earl Pearson Jr. ... Rick Eckert was running fourth when he pulled to the pits with a smoking car on lap 84. ... The event drew the smallest car count in the Colossal's three-year history. The 2006 version, sanctioned by the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, drew 119 cars, while the WoO-sanctioned 2007 version drew 92 cars. This year's race drew 69 entries. ... The next WoO events are scheduled for May 3-4 at I-44 Speedway in Lebanon, Mo., and Monett (Mo.) Speedway. — Todd Turner
Polesitter Rick Eckert led all the way to win the second consolation, finishing a few lengths ahead of Mike Marlar for a 25-lap victory. Vic Coffey, who started 17th, rallied to finish third and Jeff Smith survived a near spin on the 17th lap to get the fourth and final transfer spot. Only eight of 19 starters were running the conclusion of the attrition-filled race. Front-row starter Shanon Buckingham ran second most of the way, but got tangled up in lapped traffic on the 15th lap and pulled out. Contenders for a transfer spot banged together on a lap-seven restart as Jonathan Davenport got crossed up on the frontstretch and Damon Eller slid into the infield. The scramble bottled up several drivers trying to pick their way through the mess, and Jill George's car appeared to get the worst of it. A few early scrapes slowed the early laps, including when Eric Jacobsen, Mike Marlar and Shanon Buckingham scuffled on the third lap. Jacobsen ended up broadsliding into the infield, slamming a turn-three infield tire barrier.
Finish: Rick Eckert, Mike Marlar, Vic Coffey, Jeff Smith, B.J. McCammon, Damon Eller, Jordan Bland, Mark Pettyjohn, Shanon Buckingham, Chris Knight, Rob McLaughlin, Ed Gibbons, Jill George, Jonathan Davenport, Tim Allen, G.R. Smith, Eric Jacobsen, Brian Shirley, Donnie Moran. Scratched: Mike Duvall
Third-starting Brady Smith took the lead from polesitter Steve Lucas to lead the third lap and fought off mid-race challenges from John Blankenship for a 25-lap victory. Blankenship settled for second while Doug Horton and Dennis Franklin grabbed the final transfer spots. Lucas finished fifth. Several cautions slowed the feature as mud covered nosepieces and side panels of many competitors. April Farmer spun in turn two on the ninth lap. Dean Bowen slowed on the seventh lap with a flat tire and on the restart, Cody Sommer and Clint Smith made contact in turn three. Luke Roffers also pulled off under the lap-seven caution. The race began on a greasy surface and fourth-starting Tim Fuller nearly got into the turn-one wall at the outset. On the other end of the track, Chuck Harper did get out of the groove, slapping the wall between turns three and four.
Finish: Brady Smith, John Blankenship, Doug Horton, Dennis Franklin, Steve Lucas, Dean Bowen, Al Shawver Jr., Brent Robinson, Stacy Holmes, Norman Short Jr., Luke Roffers, Tim Fuller, April Farmer, Cody Sommer, Ricky Elliott, Shane Clanton, Shannon Babb, Chuck Harper, Sean Beardsley, Scratched: Joe Isabell, Brad Neat, Ronny Lee Hollingsworth, Jason Dupont.
Four drivers have provisionals for the feature: Shannon Babb (by virtue of his Oct. 10 victory at Lowe's) starting 11th and Donnie Moran (the fastest qualifier who didn't make the feature through the heat race) starting 26th. Provisional starters on the last row will be the earliest pre-entry not in the race (G.R. Smith) and a WoO series provisional (Clint Smith). ... Rick Eckert is first in line for the WoO provisional followed by Clint Smith. ... While drivers in consolation races will log 25 laps in their prelims, drivers who are locked into the feature event won't get any practice on the track before the 100-lapper. ... Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., scheduled to start outside the second row in the second consolation race, swapped an engine in the afternoon. He was excused from the mandatory autograph session by promoter Roger Slack. ... Scott Bloomquist entered the event as the winningest Super Late Model driver in the eight-year history of the Lowe's dirt oval. The only other driver with more than one victory is Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., who has three victories. ... WoO announcer Rick Eshelman, who took Friday night off after after spending the night in a hospital because of chest pains, was back in action for the series Saturday, announcing with Ozzie Altman.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Darrell Lanigan was listed as dropping out of the Colossal 100 feature after running out of fuel. His car had rear-end problems.