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Cedar Lake Speedway

Notes: Babb gets CLS lift despite demise

August 4, 2013, 1:00 am
By Todd Turner
DirtonDirt.com managing editor
Shannon Babb (18) goes by fellow Illinois driver Bobby Pierce. (chrisburback.com)
Shannon Babb (18) goes by fellow Illinois driver Bobby Pierce. (chrisburback.com)

NEW RICHMOND, Wis. (Aug. 3) — It’s not often a drive loses his brakes, burns a piston, falls out of a race running in the top five, and is still excited about talking about how good his car was running.

But that was Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., on Saturday night at Cedar Lake Speedway’s 26th annual USA Nationals, where he charged from 17th to fourth before departing with 20 laps remaining in the 100-lap World of Outlaws Late Model Series feature won by Tim McCreadie.

“That’s the best race car I’ve ever had here — ever,” Babb said emphatically, happy with another strong run just a week after his $20,000 victory in Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway’s Prairie Dirt Classic.

“My rear master cylinder went bad (and) I lost my rear brakes. So after that (lap-42) restart, we were just kind of driving around there, and hell, I was still just as fast as they were if not faster,” Babb said. “So I’m thinking, 'My God this thing is good,' you know? I couldn’t be very aggressive because I couldn’t haul off into the corner like I wanted to with no brakes.”

Babb was trying to overtake third-finishing Darrell Lanigan high and low for many laps before he slowed exiting turn two on lap 80, dropping to the infield.

“The car was really, really good, but burning the piston ... it smoked for about two laps and it just let go,” Babb said. “I guess you gotta finish 'em, but man, these days are clicking by, and man, it’s a miracle that car was extremely, extremely good. I was impressed.”

Although he ended up 20th in the 28-car field, Babb was excited about his mid-season resurgence.

“I’m telling you, I was driving around there, I’m thinking 'Man, this is what a good car is like.' Usually I’m out there having to hit the brakes and stab the gas and turn the wheel .. and this thing was just going in there, and I was just steering and giving it gas. That’s all I was doing. I was amazing myself that I actually did something right for once.”

Broken hand hampers Birky

Two-time USA Nationals winner Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa, had a frustrating weekend at Cedar Lake trying to steer his familiar No. 15B wearing a hard cast on his right hand and forearm. A miscue on the first lap of his Friday night heat race, then a spinout later the prelim, were uncharacteristic for the two-time World 100 winner, who failed to make Saturday's main event.

“I knew coming here was probably a bad choice,” said the 41-year-old Birkhofer, who missed the feature lineup for the first time since 2000.

Birkhofer, who broke a bone in his right in a racing accident two weeks earlier at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb., said he races right-hand dominant, using his left hand mostly complementarily — and to remove tearoffs from his helmet.

Learning how to drive left-hand dominant didn’t go well at a high-speed, high-banked track that requires drivers to get up on the wheel.

“I’m not 100 percent to be able to drive ... not with my condition,” he said, disappointed in being unable to compete effectively. “I might as well not race. I’m wasting everybody’s time.”

The cast is supposed to be on for three weeks, but he's schedule to get another X-ray on Wednesday to see how the bone — below his ring finger — is healing. If it’s feeling better and progress, Birkhofer said he may go ahead and remove the cast early.

11th-hour T-shirt

It wasn’t until late Friday afternoon that Cedar Lake officials discovered a key component of a major event was missing: There was no event T-shirt for the 26th annual USA Nationals.

After an apparent misunderstanding between a T-shirt provider and track officials, Gerald Newton of Arizona Sports Shirts came to the rescue, scrambling to prepare a design in two hours, sending it back to his Indianapolis, Ind., for printing, and getting an assist from a race fan who drove 500 T-shirts to Cedar Lake to make delivery.

“They literally were still hot when they got here,” Newton said while folding and organizing shirts in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series vending trailer.

Newton first began the design at 4 p.m. Friday, printing started at 1 a.m., and T-shirts were at the racetrack — nearly 600 miles from Indianapolis — by 2 p.m. Saturday. Because the late printing missed the deadline for Southwest air freight, Newton made an appeal on Facebook for someone to help out, and Ryan Spear of Franklin, Ind., volunteered to cram his Honda CRV full of shirts and head north.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been in that predicament,” said Newton, who printed USA Nationals event shirts from 1990-2000. “The moment I first heard about it, I had no doubt I could do it.”

But Newton added that preparing event shirts definitely go smoother when there’s more advance planning.

“That was just a freak deal where it needed to happen ... and by the grace of God, it happened,” he said.

Eckert crew member ailing

Long-time Rick Eckert crew member Bob Miller missed Friday’s preliminaries at Cedar Lake after spending most of the day at a hospital in New Richmond. Miller, 48, had a gallbladder infection in June before the team’s race at Brighton (Ontario) Speedway, and another attack struck after the team grilled cheeseburgers Friday in the Cedar Lake pits.

A sharp pain developed in his chest area and worked its way around his back, unpleasant enough to make Miller seek attention at the hospital, where he got a CT scan and stayed several hours before the pain eased.

Not one to see a doctor unless absolutely necessary, “for me to go to the hospital, it had to be pretty unbearable,” said Miller, who has crewed for Eckert for 24 years, including the past four seasons on the WoO circuit.

Miller was feeling better before Saturday’s action, but the second attack was enough for him to call back home to begin plans to get his gallbladder removed.

The team’s tire specialist, Miller had most of his work done for Friday’s action, but Eckert had to groove a few tires himself.� “I came back and said, 'Hey, you didn’t even need me,' ” Miller said with laugh.

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