OCALA, Fla. — Ricky Thornton Jr. ended a frustrating streak of near-misses Sunday on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. The Chandler, Ariz., driver dominated the final 26 laps at Bubba Raceway Park for a $10,000 victory, his fifth of his career on the national tour.
Thornton, previously winless in 2023 despite leading 55 laps in the previous two series events at Golden Isles Speedway near Brunswick, Ga. — including Saturday's last-lap defeat by five-hundredths to a charging Brandon Overton — broke through in taking the checkers 1.4 seconds ahead of Max Blair.
Thornton, whose left-front tire started deflating during a lengthy midrace red flag, couldn't help but be concerned his snakebitten ways might continue.
"My crew guy was telling me Max was right on me, and I was like 'Oh, great. Here we go again.' And then on the last lap, I screwed up off (turn) two and four and about felt like I was gonna put it in the fence and give it away," Thornton said. "But overall, we did it. I'm happy. We've had a really good Speedweeks so far."
Blair posted his best-ever Lucas Oil finish while Ashton Winger of Hampton, Ga., 12th-starting Hudson O'Neal of Martinsville, Ind., and Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., rounded out the top five in high-speed conditions.
Pole-starting Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, slipped under Thornton in turn two on the third lap and led 11 circuits, but he fell from contention when he got too high entering turn one on a lap-14 restart, ducking into the pits a lap later with a deflating right-front tire. He pitted for new rubber and finished 10th.
Thornton, who also won on the Lucas Oil circuit at Ocala two years ago, was glad to get back to the oddly-shaped track that provided a stiff test for Georgia-Florida Speedweeks competitors.
"It's pretty awesome," Thornton said. "That's why I love come to this place. It's so technical and different compared to all the places we go to."
Thornton led the first two laps from outside the front row, but Moran blew underneath him between turns one and two to take command.
"I got the jump there on the start on Devin, and I felt like I was running as hard as I need to. And then he slid me (in turns one and two) and he was on the way harder than I wanted to go," Thornton said. "So I was like, 'You know what, go ahead and go,' and I'll just try to keep pace with him. I don't know if he broke right there on that restart or what, but he went down into (turn) one and he didn't even turn. Luckily I was able to get the lead and then just kind of hang on."
Blair, whose trials in the weekend's racing at Golden Isles including a pileup with his teammate Boom Briggs, was pleased to post his best 2023 finish.
"I had nothing for (Thornton). Heck, he had had a flat left-front and still drove off," Blair said. "We've got to get a little bit better. I really faded the last 10, 12 laps, so we'll see if we can't get a little bit better tomorrow. But it feels really good to get a good run. As a team as a whole we needed it, and hopefully we can carry the momentum on."
The third-finishing Winger, who captured Crate Late Model the previous two nights at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla., complimented Thornton's victory as well.
"We were pretty good, but obviously Ricky was pretty good to win on three tires, so congrats to them guys," Winger said. "I felt like we were better the longer we went. You know, the cautions kind of killed us."
Besides the lap-15 caution for Moran, the race had four other slowdowns, including a turn-two melee on a lap-20 restart that ended with the left wheels of Dennis Erb Jr.'s car perched atop Tim McCreadie's car and Tyler Bruening also part of the pileup. The wreck, triggered when O'Neal made contact with the left-rear corner of Bruening's car, required a 25-minute red-flag cleanup but no one was injured. Erb and McCreadie, the tour's two-time and reigning series champion, retired.
The other cautions came when second-running Earl Pearson Jr. had a flat right-rear tire on the 27th lap, for Ross Robinson's lap-20 spin and when Daulton Wilson slowed with apparent rear-end issues on lap 14.
Lucas Oil Series competitors chase another $10,000-to-win feature Monday at Bubba Raceway Park, then take a three-day break before continuing Speedweeks action Friday at All-Tech Raceway in Ellisville, Fla.
Notes: Thornton's five Lucas Oil Series victories have come at three tracks, including two victories apiece at Ocala (the first in 2021) and Portsmouth (Ohio) Raceway Park. ... In six Super Late Model starts in 2023, Thornton hasn't finished worse than fifth. ... The feature started about 8:25 and ended about 9:10. ... Several drivers swapped helmets or added vision-assisting tearoffs during the lap-20 red flag.
Row 1: Devin Moran, Ricky Thornton Jr.
Row 2: Tyler Bruening, Earl Pearson Jr.
Row 3: Tanner English, Max Blair
Row 4: Brandon Overton, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 5: Ashton Winger, Tim McCreadie
Row 6: Mike Benedum, Hudson O'Neal
Row 7: Garrett Smith, G.R. Smith
Row 8: Boom Briggs, Jimmy Owens
Row 9: Daulton Wilson, Brandon Sheppard
Row 10: Jonathan Davenport, Blair Nothdurft
Row 11: Tyler Erb, Wil Herrington
Row 12: Garrett Alberson, Spender Hughes
Row 13: Ross Robinson, Kyle Bronson
Row 14: Logan Roberson
Consolation race results
(10 laps, top three transfer)
First consolation: Daulton Wilson, Jonathan Davenport, Tyler Erb, Shane Clanton, Dustin Walker, Blake Spencer, Mark Whitener, Brian Shirley. Scratched: Jack Riggs, Danny Snyder, Payton Freeman, Chad Walter.
Second consolation: Brandon Sheppard, Blair Nothdurft, Wil Herrington, Garrett Alberson, Matt Cosner, Spencer Hughes, Logan Roberson, Brenden Smith, Ross Robinson, Chase Junghans, Kyle Bronson.
Heat race recap
A winner last year at Bubba Raceway Park and two-time victor already this season, Dresden, Ohio’s Devin Moran rolled to the opening heat race win to put himself on the pole of the 40-lap, $10,000-to-win feature. … Martinsville, Ind.’s Ricky Thornton Jr. starts to Moran’s outside by virtue of the second heat victory, looking to turn his early speed (three podiums at Golden Isles) into his first win of 2023. … Decorah, Iowa’s Tyler Bruening will start third in the main event, on the cusp of what would be his first national touring victory. … Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., starts fourth in the Sunday night feature on his 51st birthday. … After his fast lap of 13.919 seconds was disallowed for being 23 pounds light at the scales, Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., could only advance from 10th to sixth in the eight-lap heat. He’ll have to start fourth in the first B-main, his second consolation start in four races in the new Lucas Oil Series season. … Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., and Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., start from the poles in the consolation races.
Heat race results
(Eight laps, top four transfer)
First heat: Devin Moran, Tanner English, Ashton Winger, Garrett Smith, Brian Shirley, Tyler Erb, Jack Riggs, Mark Whitener. Scratched: Payton Freeman, Danny Snyder.
Second heat: Tyler Bruening, Brandon Overton, Mike Benedum, Boom Briggs, Daulton Wilson, Jonathan Davenport, Shane Clanton, Dustin Walker, Blake Spencer. DNS: Chad Walter.
Third heat: Ricky Thornton Jr., Max Blair, Tim McCreadie, G.R. Smith, Brandon Sheppard, Garrett Alberson, Logan Roberson, Spencer Hughes, Brenden Smith, Chase Junghans.
Fourth heat: Earl Pearson Jr., Dennis Erb Jr., Hudson O’Neal, Jimmy Owens, Blair Nothdurft, Wil Herrington, Matt Cosner, Kyle Bronson. Scratched: Ross Robinson.
With Golden Isles Speedway's Super Bowl of Racing in the books, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series visits Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla., for race No. 4 of the 2023 season. … Jonathan Davenport's fastest overall lap of 13.919 seconds went for naught after going 23 pounds light at the scales. Davenport had been the only driver to crack the 13-second bracket. … Dresden, Ohio’s Devin Moran was awarded quick time with his lap of 14.083 seconds. … Moran, Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga.; Max Blair of Centerville, Pa.; and Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., start on the poles of their respective heats. … After racing a Chris Ferguson-backed Team Zero Race Car in five events at Florida’s Volusia Speedway Park and Golden Isles, Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., is back in Bob Cullen's familiar No. 3s Rocket Chassis. ... Payton Freeman of Commerce, Ga., is a scratch for the evening after mechanical issues kept his G.R. Smith-owned entry from logging a qualifying lap.
Driver (car no.), hometown, time
- Devin Moran (99), Dresden, Ohio, 14.083
- Brandon Overton (76), Evans, Ga., 14.307
- Ashton Winger (12), Hampton, Ga., 14.308
- Tyler Bruening (16), Decorah, Iowa, 14.477
- Tanner English (96v), Benton, Ky., 14.506
- Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., 14.561
- Jack Riggs (81J), Nolensville, Tenn., 14.566
- Mike Benedum (25), Salem, W.Va., 14.738
- Garrett Smith (10), Eatonton, Ga., 14.739
- Daulton Wilson (18D), Fayetteville, N.C., 14.743
- Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., 14.767
- Boom Briggs (99B), Bear Lake, Pa., 14.916
- Tyler Erb (1), New Waverly, Texas, 14.921
- Dustin Walker (14W), Polk, Mo., 15.013
- Mark Whitener (5), Middleburg, Fla., 15.025
- Chad Walter (23), Jacksonville, Mo., 15.773
- Danny Snyder (4), Green Lane, Pa., 16.314
- Blake Spencer (6s), St. Augustine, Fla., 16.461
- Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., 13.919 (light at scales)
- Payton Freeman (22), Commerce, Ga., no time
- Max Blair (111B), Centerville, Pa., 14.101
- Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 14.169
- Ricky Thornton Jr. (20rt), Chandler, Ariz., 14.181
- Earl Pearson Jr. (46), Jacksonville, Fla., 14.188
- Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 14.199
- Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 14.219
- Garrett Alberson (58), Las Cruces, N.M., 14.225
- Hudson O’Neal (1), Martinsville, Ind., 14.255
- Brandon Sheppard (B5), New Berlin, Ill., 14.333
- Blair Nothdurft (76), Renner, S.D., 14.334
- G.R. Smith (2), Cornelius, N.C., 14.343
- Wil Herrington (19m), Cochran, Ga., 14.408
- Logan Roberson (89), Waynesboro, Va., 14.424
- Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., 14.456
- Spencer Hughes (11), Meridian, Miss., 14.617
- Ross Robinson (7), Georgetown, Del., 14.800
- Chase Junghans (18), Manhattan, Kan., 14.843
- Matt Cosner (66), Ridgeley, W.Va., 14.906
- Brenden Smith (17SS), Dade City, Fla., 15.407
(All times local)
2 p.m.: Pits open
3 p.m.: Grandstands open
5 p.m.: Drivers’ meeting
5:30 p.m.: Hot laps
- Super Late Models
- Super Late Models
- Super Late Models (8 laps)
- Super Late Models (10 laps)
- Super Late Models (40 laps)