NEW RICHMOND, Wis. (Aug. 1) — Jonathan Davenport was smiling after winning Thursday night’s 30-lap World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series feature at Cedar Lake Speedway, but he also was letting out a giant sigh of relief.
After all, the 35-year-old driver from Blairsville, Ga., experienced a big-time scare late in his flag-to-flag triumph that opened the third-mile oval’s 32nd annual USA Nationals weekend.
“I almost gave it away,” Davenport bottom-lined.
Indeed, rounding turn four as he headed toward the two-to-go signal, Davenport bobbled on the track’s thick, unruly cushion, allowing Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa — the semi-retired racer making one of his here-and-there starts in fellow Iowan Jason Rauen’s Black Diamond car — to draw close. But while Birkhofer was able to nose underneath the leader in the corners over the final two circuits, Davenport hung tough to reach the finish line first in his Lance Landers-owned Longhorn machine.
Davenport claimed the $6,000 winner’s prize by 0.805 of a second over the 47-year-old Birkhofer, a two-time USA Nationals champion who hasn’t started the crown jewel event since 2014, the year he announced his retirement from full-time competition. It was Davenport’s seventh career WoO victory but first Nov. 8, 2015, at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C.
Tyler Bruening of Decorah, Iowa, finished a WoO career-best third in his father Greg’s Skyline Motorsports Capital Race Car after starting from the pole position and running second until losing the position to Birkhofer on a lap-18 restart. Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., placed fourth in the K&L Rumley Longhorn No. 6 while Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., completed the top five after overtaking Tyler Erb of New Waverly, Texas, for fifth on lap 26.
WoO points leader Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., who passed Davenport on the final lap to win last year's opening-night USA Nationals feature, absorbed his first DNF of the 2019 WoO campaign after stopping on the homestretch with terminal engine trouble on lap 18 while running sixth.
Davenport, who started second but immediately outgunned the polesitting Bruening to assume command at the initial green flag, appeared to be sailing to victory after fighting off a mid-race challenge from Bruening in lapped traffic and building a short-but-steady edge of about 1 second over Birkhofer following a lap-23 restart. But his march nearly ended on the 28th lap.
“The cushion was really oddly shaped going through (turns) three and four,” Davenport said. “It had a huge lip right next to the wall, and then there was a big hole. It kind of went out and in, so I quit running it and was just trying to float to it, and I just hit it a little too straight (that circuit). I got my right-front in it before I got my right-rear to it and it just made me push and I got into all the fluff, the crumbs.
“Then I couldn’t get going down the straightaway, so I was trying to look at the Jumbotron (video screen between turns one and two that was showing a live feed of the race). I went ahead and committed to the middle, and once I got to the middle I could look up there and I seen I had a couple cars (on Birkhofer) so I thought I’d be OK as long as I got off turn two OK.”
Birkhofer threatened Davenport but couldn’t quite pull off a pass to record what would have been his first WoO win in over a decade.
“I was trying different lines and I was like, ‘Man, I’m getting tight,’” said Birkhofer, whose last WoO triumph came on July 29, 2008, in the Firecracker 100 at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa. “Things played out … I got a run on Tyler on that (lap-18) restart and I was like, ‘I gotta go now and just take my chance at maybe giving something to Jonathan.’
“I couldn’t steer in like I wanted to. I’m like, ‘Why am I wasting my time trying to steer in and back the car in on hard tires?’ I just said, ‘I’m gonna try to run an uphill line.’ I watched (Billy) Moyer do it and Rick Eckert, some guys that I respect, different lines that they’ve raced throughout the races. I tried it and I kind of ran up on (Davenport) and got to pressuring him a little bit.
“He jumped the cushion a little bit, but I think we were all struggling at about the same time,” he added. “I knew ‘ol JD’s not gonna give it up. He’s gonna drive his tail off.”
Birkhofer was satisfied with his runner-up performance considering he’s made only a handful competitive appearances this season.
“I’m happy we finished well,” Birkhofer said. “I’m happy for Jason (Rauen) giving me the opportunity.
“I’m a little rusty, but I’m definitely out of shape,” he continued. “I’m glad they had them cautions there a couple times just to get me refocused a little bit. Honestly, I don’t think I’m in race shape to be able to win a 100 (lap race). I hate to say that, especially for Jason giving me the opportunity, but when you get put in a position in life you gotta persevere. Hopefully if we’re in the race (on Saturday night) cautions fall at the right time to help me get my head back on, get a breath and start winging it again.”
Rustiness certainly wasn’t a problem for Davenport — he’s on top of his game with 13 overall feature wins on his ledger this season plus a healthy points lead on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series — but he noted that he still had room for improvement with his car.
“I didn’t think it felt really good in the heat race, but our times were really, really good,” Davenport said. “And we had the video of it and it looked good, but I just ain’t 100 percent comfortable yet. We’re trying some new things and that’s maybe what I’m feeling and I don’t really like it, but it’s fast, so I just gotta get used to it. It just drives a little bit different. I can’t really go around the cushion exactly the way I want to, but we’ll just have to tweak on it a little.”
For Davenport, just being back in his familiar car and team surroundings at Cedar Lake provided him a boost. His team’s trailer was left stuck in Kentucky last Thursday night due to a busted inside bearing on its rear axle, preventing it from reaching Fairbury (Ill.) Speedway where Davenport was waiting to run the No. 49 in last weekend’s Prairie Dirt Classic after flying to the Land of Lincoln. Davenport picked up a ride in his Pennsylvania buddy Mason Zeigler’s second car for the PDC and spent the days leading up to the USA Nationals — and his reconnection with his team — traveling to WoO events in Plymouth, Wis., and Shawano, Wis., with his pal Boom Briggs of Bear Lake, Pa.
“It felt really good just sleeping in my bed (in the Landers hauler),” Davenport said. “All these guys were great and accommodating. Mason let me stay in his truck. I stayed in Boom’s truck.
“But when I drove Mason’s car … everybody’s so close now even just the sound of the motors are different, so you can just imagine how it was when I was wearing somebody else’s ear buds and helmet and suit and shoes (because his own safety equipment was in the No. 49 rig). It was just completely different. When I got in my car tonight it actually felt a little weird for the first couple laps because I almost got used to Mason’s.”
Bruening, meanwhile, had no reason to complain about his third-place finish. The 33-year-old registered his first career WoO podium finish on the same night that he earned his first-ever fast-time award with the national tour.
“Super thrilled,” Bruening said. “The car’s just been phenomenal everywhere we go.”
Continuing a head-turning week that saw him run well in the WoO events at Plymouth and Shawano, Bruening nearly drove by Davenport for the lead while racing through lapped traffic just before a caution flag flew on lap 18.
“On that longer green-flag run my tires come in real nice,” Bruening said. “I got real tight running the cushion in one and two, so I moved up off of it and kind of ran a lane below that and picked up some speed there.”
Bruening ultimately lost second when Birkhofer turned up the wick on the lap-18 restart to slide past him in turns one and two.
“Those restarts get a little hairy,” Bruening commented. “Those guys get up on the wheel and get after it. I think personally I just need to get a little better be hind the wheel and I think we’ll be right there.”
Sheppard triggered one of the race's four caution flags. Others came on lap one when Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., spun into the infield in turn two; lap 21 when Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., stopped on the inside of the backstretch; and lap 23 when Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., spun in turn two.
Notes: Davenport’s seventh career WoO victory actually tied him with Birkhofer on the tour’s all-time win list. … Davenport previously won Cedar Lake's Thursday-night USA Nationals opener in 2015 and then went on to capture the 100-lap finale two days later. ... Sheppard’s DNF ended his streak of 16 consecutive starts without finishing worse than fourth since his June 8 Dream XXV triumph at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. He maintained a commanding WoO standings lead of 230 points over Ricky Weiss of Headingley, Manitoba, whose ninth-place finish moved him out of a tie for second with Clanton. … Boom Briggs finished a WoO season-best seventh but felt he let a top-five finish slip through his fingers. “I just got too tight,” said Briggs, who ran as high as fourth. … The competitive 45-car field produced a long list of high-profile non-qualifiers that included Billy Moyer, Bobby Pierce, Brian Shirley, Chris Madden, Brandon Overton, Chris Ferguson, Jason Feger and Mason Zeigler. … Friday night’s USA Nationals action includes two rounds of heat races in which drivers will accumulate passing points to determine who locks into Saturday evening’s 100-lap, $50,000-to-win finale.
Preliminary results and notes:
After Dan Gullikson won the 20-lap USRA Limited Late Model feature by 2.591 seconds over Lance Hofer (with Jimmy Mars’s 15-year-old son, Sam, finishing eighth), the 30-lap WoO A-main’s starting field began rolling onto the track at 9:23 p.m.
Row 1: Tyler Bruening, Jonathan Davenport
Row 2: Tim McCreadie, Brian Birkhofer
Row 3: Chris Simpson, Boom Briggs
Row 4: Darrell Lanigan, Brandon Sheppard
Row 5: Dale McDowell, Ricky Weiss
Row 6: Scott Bloomquist, Tyler Erb
Row 7: Shannon Babb, Kyle Bronson
Row 8: Frank Heckenast Jr., Cade Dillard
Row 9: Earl Pearson Jr., Chase Junghans
Row 10: Jimmy Owens, Shane Clanton
Row 11: Jimmy Mars, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 12: Brent Larson, Blake Spencer
First B-main finish (10 laps; top 3 transfer): Earl Pearson Jr., Jimmy Owens, Jimmy Mars, Billy Moyer, Brian Shirley, Chris Madden, A.J. Diemel, Brent Larson, Pat Doar, Chris Ferguson, Jason Feger, Mason Zeigler, Rece Vaught, Jeremy Grady, Blake Spencer.
Second B-main finish (10 laps; top 3 transfer): Chase Junghans, Shane Clanton, Dennis Erb Jr., Brandon Overton, Kolby Vandenbergh, Mitch McGrath, Bobby Pierce, Terry Casey, Jake Timm, Nick Anvelink, Don Shaw, Lance Matthees, Paul Parker (DNS) Steven Roberts.
Tim McCreadie ran away with the final prelim, beating Darrell Lanigan by a commanding margin of 4.036 seconds. Tyler Erb drew close to Lanigan in the final laps but settled for third and Cade Dillard came out on top of the battle for the fourth and final transfer spot.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Tim McCreadie, Darrell Lanigan, Tyler Erb, Cade Dillard, Kolby Vandenbergh, Shane Clanton, Mitch McGrath, Terry Casey, Brandon Overton, Nick Anvelink, Steve Roberts.
Brian Birkhofer outgunned Chris Simpson for the lead at the initial green flag and never looked back en route to beating his fellow Iowa driver by 0.905 of a second. Ricky Weiss and Kyle Bronson finished third and fourth, respectively, after running in the positions throughout the distance. Bobby Pierce, meanwhile, was unable to get rolling in the difficult outside lane as he struggled to an eighth-place finish.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Brian Birkhofer, Chris Simpson, Ricky Weiss, Kyle Bronson, Chase Junghans, Dennis Erb Jr., Don Shaw, Bobby Pierce, Jake Timm, Lance Matthees, Paul Parker.
Jonathan Davenport drove away from the pack to score a flag-to-flag win by ??? seconds over Boom Briggs. Scott Bloomquist ran a steady third throughout the race and Frank Heckenast Jr. turned back challenges from Earl Pearson Jr. to finish fourth.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Jonathan Davenport, Boom Briggs, Scott Bloomquist, Frank Heckenast Jr., Earl Pearson Jr., Jimmy Mars, Jimmy Owens, Pat Doar, Rece Vaught, Jeremy Grady, Blake Spencer.
Tyler Bruening kept Brandon Sheppard at arm’s length throughout the 10-lap distance to beat the WoO points leader by 0.636 of a second. Dale McDowell. Dale McDowell finished third while Shannon Babb overtook A.J. Diemel placed fourth.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Tyler Bruening, Brandon Sheppard, Dale McDowell, Shannon Babb, A.J. Diemel, Billy Moyer, Mason Zeigler, Brian Shirley, Chris Ferguson, Chris Madden, Brent Larson, Jason Feger.
Continuing a strong week of World of Outlaws action during which he’s flashed some solid speed, Tyler Bruening of Decorah, Iowa, was the fastest overall qualifier in time trials with a lap of 13.441 seconds. The effort earned him a pole position start in the evening’s first heat race.
Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa, was quickest in the second qualifying group, putting him on the pole of the third heat.
Other polesitters are Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., and Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y.
Six drivers were penalized for failing to follow directions to pull off the track on the inside of turn two immediately after taking the checkered flag on their qualifying. Shannon Babb, Brent Larson, Chris Madden, Jason Feger, Cade Dillard and Tyler Erb had to use their worst of two qualifying times, dropping them down in the time-trial results.
As the USA Nationals weekend kicks off Thursday with a stand-alone, $6,000-to-win World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series program, weather conditions are absolutely perfect with sunny skies and a high temperature in the low 80s. … For the first time during the USA Nationals fans can park across the street from the speedway. Cedar Lake management obtained a large tract of land opposite the main entrance and are using a portion of it to increase spectator parking capacity. … Kyle Bronson of Brandon, Fla., has a new XR1 Rocket car ready to roll after traveling to Rocket Chassis in Shinnston, W.Va., following last Saturday night’s Prairie Dirt Classic at Fairbury (Ill.) Speedway. He left his car that was damaged in a July 25 flip at Lincoln (Ill.) Speedway at the Rocket shop and assembled a new one for USA Nationals action. …. Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., is making his first start of the season in Larry Moring’s car, which has been driven in selected events this season by Chad Simpson of Mt. Vernon, Iowa. … Former USA Nationals champion Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., is set to pilot the K&L Rumley Longhorn No. 6 after spending Tuesday testing at Farmer City (Ill.) Raceway. … WoO rookie Cade Dillard of Robeline, La., is making his first Dirt Late Model appearance at Cedar Lake but he has visited the track to run an open-wheel modified in the past. … Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill., was unsure if he would make the trip to Cedar Lake after experiencing apparent engine trouble during hot laps for last Friday’s Prairie Dirt Classic qualifying program that forced him to run his battle-weary DIRT Summer Nationals machine for the remainder of the weekend. But further inspection of his powerplant determined that there was no serious damage, prompting him to enter the USA Nationals competition. … Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., is making his second appearance in three weeks with Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., entered alongside him in a second team car. ... Semi-retired Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa, is making one of his rare 2019 starts driving a Jason Rauen-owned car carrying his familiar No. 15b.
The 32nd annual USA Nationals weekend at Cedar Lake Speedway begins on Thursday night with a 30-lap, $6,000-to-win World of Outlaws-sanctioned show. It marks the sixth consecutive year that Thursday’s lead-in to the USA Nationals carries WoO sanctioning.
Thursday’s action features the customary series format of time trials, heat races and B-mains to set the field for the headline event, which offers full points toward the national tour’s championship battle.
The USA Nationals competition continues on Friday night with a double-heat format in place for the second straight year. No time trials will be run; drivers will draw for starting positions and transfers to Saturday’s 100-lap, $50,000-to-win headliner will be determined by accumulated passing points.
Current WoO points leader Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., was the winner of last year’s WoO preliminary feature. He captured the race in dramatic fashion, passing Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., for the lead off turn four on the final lap.
(10 laps; top 4 transfer)
Row 1: Tyler Bruening, Brandon Sheppard
Row 2: A.J. Diemel, Dale McDowell
Row 3: Shannon Babb, Mason Zeigler
Row 4: Billy Moyer, Chris Ferguson
Row 5: Brian Shirley, Brent Larson
Row 6: Chris Madden, Jason Feger
Row 1: Jonathan Davenport, Boom Briggs
Row 2: Frank Heckenast Jr., Scott Bloomquist
Row 3: Earl Pearson Jr., Jimmy Owens
Row 4: Pat Doar, Jimmy Mars
Row 5: Reve Vaught, Jeremy Grady
Row 6: Blake Spencer
Row 1: Chris Simpson, Brian Birkhofer
Row 2: Ricky Weiss, Kyle Bronson
Row 3: Dennis Erb Jr., Chase Junghans
Row 4: Don Shaw, Bobby Pierce
Row 5: Jake Timm, Lance Matthees
Row 6: Paul Parker
Row 1: Tim McCreadie, Cade Dillard
Row 2: Tyler Erb, Darrell Lanigan
Row 3: Brandon Overton, Kolby Vandenbergh
Row 4: Shane Clanton, Mitch McGrath
Row 5: Terry Casey, Steven Roberts
Row 6: Nick Anvelink
Tyler Bruening (16), Decorah, Iowa, 13.441
Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., 13.455
Brandon Sheppard (1), New Berlin, Ill., 13.462
Boom Briggs (99b), Bear Lake, Pa., 13.529
A.J. Diemel (58), Elk Mound, Wis., 13.594
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99Jr), Frankfort, Ill., 13.623
Dale McDowell (17M), Chickamauga, Ga., 13.655
Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., 13.720
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 13.731
Earl Pearson Jr. (1P), Jacksonville, Fla., 13.755
Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 13.770
Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 13.857
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 14.009
Pat Doar (11), New Richmond, Wis., 14.017
Chris Ferguson (22), Mt. Holly, N.C., 14.03
Jimmy Mars (28m), Menomonie, Wis., 14.06
Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., 14.094
Rece Vaught (20v), Aurora, Neb., 14.111
Brent Larson (B1), Lake Elmo, Minn., 14.170
Jeremy Grady (43), Story City, Iowa, 14.227
Chris Madden (0m), Gray Court, S.C., 14.292
Blake Spencer (6), St. Augustine, Fla., 14.304
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 14.541
Chris Simpson (32s), Oxford, Iowa, 13.612
Tim McCreadie (6M), Watertown, N.Y., 13.625
Brian Birkhofer (15b), Muscatine, Iowa, 13.644
Cade Dillard (97), Robeline, La., 13.667
Ricky Weiss (7w), Headingly, Manitoba, 13.684
Tyler Erb (1), New Waverly, Texas, 13.690
Kyle Bronson (40b), Brandon, Fla., 13.700
Darrell Lanigan (29), Union, Ky., 13.733
Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 13.748
Brandon Overton (2), Evans, Ga., 13.792
Chase Junghans (18c), Manhattan, Kan., 13.844
Kolby Vandenbergh (15v), Ashland, Ill., 13.865
Don Shaw (42s), Ham Lake, Minn., 13.886
Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., 13.909
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 13.920
Mitch McGrath (74), Waukesha, Wis., 13.931
Jake Timm (49), Winona, Neb., 13.999
Terry Casey (942), New London, Wis., 14.065
Lance Matthees (90), Winona, Minn., 14.069
Steven Roberts (111), Jesup, Ga., 14.205
Paul Parker (10), Kaukauna, Wis., 14.339
Nick Anvelink (15n), Navarino, Wis., 14.513
2 p.m. - Pit gates open
5 p.m. - Grandstand gates open
6:30 p.m. - Hot laps
7 p.m. - Competition begins
- Late Model time trials
- Late Model heats
- Late Model consolations
- Late Model feature
- Complete show for USRA Limited Late Models
- After-party in the Cedar Lake Arena