GIBSONTON, Fla. (Feb. 6) — Tyler Erb’s not ready to call his latest win a comeback.
“I never left,” said Erb with a wry smile while standing in victory lane Monday night at East Bay Raceway Park.
Maybe not, but the New Waverly, Texas, driver has been no where near a win since closing out the 2022 season with a $30,000 triumph in the Gateway Dirt Nationals finale inside the Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, Mo., on Dec. 3. After a less-than-stellar start to the 2023 season — before Monday Erb had just two top-five finishes in 12 starts, a stretch that included eight consecutive finishes outside the top 10 — he may have finally turned things around.
Erb took the lead from polesitter Kyle Bronson of Brandon, Fla., on lap three of Monday’s 30-lap Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series main event at East Bay and led the final 28 laps for a $5,000 victory in the Wieland Winternationals opener, his first triumph of the season and the 19th Lucas Oil Series win of this career. He finished 2.604 seconds ahead of Hudson O’Neal of the Martinsville, Ind., who started third in the Rocket Chassis house car and managed to finish just ahead of a charging Tyler Millwood of Kingston, Ga., who rallied from 20th to finish third.
“We ended on such a crazy note there at the Dome and unloaded at (New Mexico’s) Vado (Speedway Park in January) with really high expectations and just have struggled really,” said the winner. “Just can't say enough about everybody who helps me. You know (team owner) Eric (Brock), we bitched and complained and said we needed a new car and Mark (Richards at Rocket Chassis) then built us a car in two days. (We) just have worked really really hard.”
Evans, Ga.’s Brandon Overton, moonlighting in John Henderson’s new Warrior Race Car, started fifth and finished fourth, while reigning World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series champion Dennis Erb Jr. (no relation to the winner) of Carpentersville, Ill., completed the top five after starting fourth.
It was a great pick-me-up for Tyler Erb, who insists that East Bay Raceway Park is one of his favorite tracks. Perhaps all Erb needed was a trip to the Sunshine State. He’d already shown signs of improvement with a fourth-place finish at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla., on Jan. 30 and his fifth-place effort at All-Tech Raceway in Ellisville, Fla., on Feb. 5.
“(Golden Isles Speedway in Brunswick, Ga.) wasn't good and Bubba's wasn't good until the second night and then we just got things turned around,” Erb said. “It feels awesome because in the middle of Vado everybody told us we should have went home. It was terrible, it really was. I knew at All Tech we were really close and I just made a mistake qualifying. (I) just can't thank everybody enough. It's fun to drive a really good race car.”
It was obvious from the onset that Erb was fast. While Bronson, racing at his home track, immediately jumped out front, it didn’t take Erb long to began applying pressure. He looked to Bronson’s inside exiting turn two. The two frontrunners — good friends who vacationed in Key West, Fla., together in the offseason — made contact as they battled for the lead on lap two. A lap later Erb squirted by and pulled away.
As Bronson slipped backwards, sixth-starting Ashton Winger of Hampton, Ga., moved forward and challenged Erb for the lead. Winger, who won a pair of Crate Racin’ USA Winter Shootout features at East Bay Jan. 27-28, pulled alongside Erb following a lap-11 restart, but Erb managed to close the door exiting turn four to maintain the lead.
That was just one of five harrowing restarts Erb had to endure.
“It's just East Bay man. You got to know when to start it by the fence and when to get low,” said Erb. “The first start, it was still a little greasy out there on the initial start. Me and Kyle raced hard and then he kind of messed up on the bottom. I think everybody from that point forward just kind of gave up on the top. I guess it was like (lap) 15 or so I guess somebody hit it. I think it was Winger.
“Then (the groove) kind of moved all around. I was just comfortable enough and ran a really smart race and I think we had enough tire left so it was awesome. I love East Bay. I didn't think it was going to be too good. I knew (the track) was rubbered. I could tell someone was close and I left Winger about as much room ... there was literally the wall, Winger, me. It was close. I'm just happy to win man, it's awesome.”
Despite not leading a lap, O’Neal was pleased to record his best Georgia-Florida Speedweeks finish if the season and his fourth top-five overall of 2023. He felt had he been better on the restarts, he possibly could have gotten a little closer to Erb.
“I felt pretty good there. It was just on those restarts I was getting caught in that slime sometimes around that top where they watered (the track),” O’Neal said. “They said that Millwood was coming around the top so maybe it finally cleaned up there at the end. On that last restart I got cleared of Overton and then got cleared to the bottom because I knew it was trying to take a little bit of rubber and I knew it was safe down there.
“I knew our tires were cutting it close and I just didn't know if I could get up there and make any hay. So we'll take a second. It's our first podium (finish) of Speedweeks, though it doesn't really seem that way. We've been knocking on the door and just can't quite completely seal the deal. We're pretty close tonight, just a little bit here and a little bit there and I think we'll be competing with them.”
While O’Neal recorded his first podium finish of the season, Millwood’s high-side charge late in the race netted the Georgian his first career podium finish with the Lucas Oil Series while electrifying the East Bay fans.
“(I) just got tired of following everybody on the bottom there,” said Millwood. “I seen a couple people moving up top, so I just laid her on the floorboard and give her all I could give her. It's awesome to come from 20th and run on the podium with these guys in front of me and this guy (Brandon Overton) behind me here. It's awesome for us.”
Notes: Tyler Erb posted his seventh career Georgia-Florida Speedweeks victory and his fifth career East Bay Winternationals triumph. His last Speedweeks victory was Jan. 30, 2021 at East Bay. … Monday’s 30-lapper was slowed by five cautions. … Ross Robinson slowed with a left rear flat tire to draw the first caution on lap three. … On lap 11 Ross Bailes and Logan Roberson got together on the front stretch to bring out the second caution. … On lap 12 Jensen Ford spun after contact from Mark Whitener, collecting Ross Bailes and Daulton Wilson. … G.R. Smith slowed to a stop on the back straightaway on lap 18. … Ashton Winger’s flat tire drew the final yellow on lap 24. … Kyle Bronson faded to 13th after leading the first two laps. … Eddie Carrier Jr., driving fellow West Virginian Matt Cosner’s car, finished 10th. … Garrett Smith of Eatonton, Ga., was pushed to the infield during the first caution as the first retiree.
Weather conditions are absolutely perfect for the first round of East Bay’s Winternationals with sunny skies and afternoon highs that reached the upper 70s. … Monday’s 58-car field is down from last year’s 70 entries on opening night and the week-long average of 71.6 cars, but it should be noted that the first three nights of this year’s Winternationals do not offer Lucas Oil Series points. In 2022 drivers could include the first three programs among the five Speedweeks races that were counted for points if they maintained perfect attendance in all events. … Drivers opting to sit out Monday’s action are Ricky Thornton Jr., Jonathan Davenport, Tim McCreadie, Jimmy Owens, Shane Clanton, Max Blair, Boom Briggs and Payton Freeman. … Brandon Overton doesn’t have his familiar No. 76 in the pit area — it’s parked at his car owner David Wells’s home near Sarasota, Fla. — but the Evans, Ga., star will compete in John Henderson’s Warrior No. 2. Aiken, S.C.’s Henderson, whose shop is just a mile from Overton’s in Thomson, Ga., and also sponsors the 31-year-old driver, asked Overton to pilot his car to offer some technical suggestions until both drivers return to their regular machines on Thursday. … Twenty-six cars are scheduled to start Monday’s 30-lap feature, including two provisional spots earmarked for the fastest driver in each qualifying group who doesn’t transfer. … Eddie Carrier Jr. of Salt Rock, W.Va., who won a Winternational A-main in 2014 and ’15, is making his first East Bay appearance since 2016. He’s driving as a teammate to fellow West Virginian Matt Cosner, who isn’t entered in the opener but might race later in the week. … Mark Whitener of Middleburg, Fla., is piloting fellow Floridian Jeff Choquette’s No. 89J. … Sheppard Riggs Racing is fielding a three-car effort Monday with Jason Riggs of College Grove, Tenn., joining his younger brother, Jack Riggs of Nolensville, Tenn., and lead driver Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill. Jason’s first start of Speedweeks 2023 marks the initial competitive run of his career in a Longhorn Chassis. … Drivers making first-ever Super Late Model stars on Monday include Seth Daniels of Jackson, Ohio, whose brother-in-law, Jason Montgomery, is a former track record-holder at East Bay, and Daniel Adam of Wade, N.C., who is moving into the Super Late Model ranks from the Crate and Limited Late Model divisions.
Row 1: Kyle Bronson, Tyler Erb
Row 2: Hudson O'Neal, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 3: Brandon Overton, Ashton Winger
Row 4: Ross Robinson, Garrett Smith
Row 5: Jensen Ford, Ross Bailes
Row 6: Spencer Hughes, Brian Shirley
Row 7: Mark Whitener, Eddie Carrier Jr.
Row 8: G.R. Smith, Kenny Collins
Row 9: Mason Zeigler, Earl Pearson Jr.
Row 10: Tanner English, Tyler Millwood
Row 11: Ryan Gustin, Tyler Bruening
Row 12: Logan Roberson, Benji Hicks
Row 13: David McCoy, Daulton Wilson
Consolation race results
(10 laps, top two transfer)
First consolation: Tanner English, Tyler Bruening, Garrett Alberson, Brenden Smith, Todd Brennan, Rusty Schlenk, Seth Daniels, Devin Moran, Doug Drown, Dustin Walker, Mike Benedum, Perry Brown, David McCoy. Scratched: Tyler Riggs.
Second consolation: Tyler Millwood, Logan Roberson, Daulton Wilson, Brandon Sheppard, Kyle Beard, Mike Spatola, Daniel Adam, Kenneth Howell, Larry Grube. Scratched: Wil Herrington, Blair Nothdurft, Chase Junghans and Allen Murray.
Third consolation: Ryan Gustin, Benji Hicks, Jason Riggs, Dustin Mitchell, Josh Putnam, Freddie Carpenter, Billy Moyer Jr., Danny Snyder, Logan Zarin, John Tweed, Kerry King, Blake Spencer. Scratched: Jack Riggs.
Heat race recap
Overall fast qualifier Tanner English spun while battling Devin Moran for second place during the first heat race, recovering to finish fourth. Moran slowed with a flat right-rear tire on the ensuing restart and finished eighth. Both drivers will need to transfer through a consolation race. … Mark Whitener advanced four positions to transfer out of the first heat. … Blair Nothdurft spun while running fourth in the third heat race, collecting Chase Junghans, Wil Herrington, Kyle Beard and Tyler Millwood. … Junghans was the only driver unable to continue, but all will need to transfer through a consolation race. … Brandon Overton led every lap of heat three aboard John Henderson’s Warrior Chassis and will start fifth in the feature … Kenny Collins gained three positions to transfer out of heat five.
Heat race results
(Eight laps, top three transfer)
First heat: Kyle Bronson, Ross Robinson, Mark Whitener, Tanner English, Tyler Bruening, Brenden Smith, Seth Daniels, Devin Moran, Perry Brown, Tyler Riggs.
Second heat: Hudson O'Neal, Jensen Ford, G.R. Smith, Garrett Alberson, Todd Brennan, David McCoy, Rusty Schlenk, Dustin Walker, Doug Drown, Mike Benedum.
Third heat: Brandon Overton, Spencer Hughes, Mason Zeigler, Tyler Millwood, Kyle Beard, Kenneth Howell, Wil Herrington, Blair Nothdurft, Chase Junghans.
Fourth heat: Tyler Erb, Garrett Smith, Eddie Carrier Jr., Logan Roberson, Daulton Wilson, Brandon Sheppard, Larry Grube, Mike Spatola, Daniel Adam. Scratched: Allen Murray.
Fifth heat: Dennis Erb Jr., Ross Bailes, Kenny Collins, Blake Spencer, Benji Hicks, Jason Riggs, Billy Moyer Jr., Kerry King, Jack Riggs, John Tweed.
Sixth heat: Ashton Winger, Brian Shirley, Earl Pearson Jr., Josh Putnam, Ryan Gustin, Dustin Mitchell, Freddie Carpenter, Logan Zarin, Danny Snyder.
1. Tanner English (96V), Benton, Ky., 14.871
2. Jensen Ford (83), Johnson City, Tenn., 14.885
3. Brandon Overton (2x), Evans, Ga., 14.916
4. Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., 15.108
5. Hudson O’Neal (71), Martinsville, Ind., 15.234
6. Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 15.241
7. Ross Robinson (7R), Georgetown, Del., 15.295
8. David McCoy (187), Franklin, N.C., 15.327
9. Chase Junghans (18), Manhattan, Kan., 15.333
10. Devin Moran (99), Dresden, Ohio, 15.336
11. G.R. Smith (2), Cornelius, N.C., 15.367
12. Spencer Hughes (11H), Meridian, Miss., 15.402
13. Tyler Riggs (47W), New Matamoras, Ohio, 15.435
14. Rusty Schlenk (91), McClure, Ohio, 15.437
15. Blair Nothdurft (76), Sioux Falls, S.D., 15.460
16. Tyler Bruening (16), Decorah, Iowa, 15.500
17. Garrett Alberson (58), Las Cruces, N.M., 15.545
18. Tyler Millwood (31), Kingston, Ga., 15.551
19. Mark Whitener (89J), Middleburg, Fla., 15.663
20. Dustin Walker (14W), Peculiar, Mo., 15.765
21. Kyle Beard (86), Trumann, Ark., 15.841
22. Brenden Smith (17SS), Dade City, Fla., 15.896
23. Todd Brennan (20B), Zanesville, Ohio, 15.918
24. Wil Herrington (19M), Hawkinsville, Ga., 15.967
25. Seth Daniels (S21), Jackson, Ohio, 15.983
26. Mike Benedum (25), Salem, W.Va., 16.029
27. Kenneth Howell (21K), Inez, Ky., 16.187
28. Perry Brown (22B), Riverview, Fla., 16.242
29. Doug Drown (12d), Wooster, Ohio, 39.267
1. Tyler Erb (1), New Waverly, Texas, 14.909
2. Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 14.980
3. Ashton Winger (12), Hampton, Ga., 15.097
4. Eddie Carrier Jr. (66Jr), Salt Rock, W.Va., 15.145
5. Blake Spencer (6S), St. Augustine, Fla., 15.146
6. Earl Pearson Jr. (46), Jacksonville, Fla., 15.173
7. Garrett Smith (10), Eatonton, Ga., 15.183
8. Ross Bailes (79), Clover, S.C., 15.197
9. Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., 15.221
10. Daulton Wilson (18D), Fayetteville, N.C., 15.323
11. Billy Moyer Jr. (21M), Batesville, Ark., 15.374
12. Dustin Mitchell (D8), Pine Level, N.C., 15.394
13. Logan Roberson (89), Waynesboro, Va., 15.395
14. Jack Riggs (81J), Nolensville, Tenn., 15.408
15. Ryan Gustin (19R), Marshalltown, Iowa, 15.422
16. Brandon Sheppard (b5), New Berlin, Ill., 15.461
17. Kenny Collins (1C), Colbert, Ga., 15.508
18. Josh Putnam (212), Florence, Ala., 15.583
19. Allen Murray (2M), San Antonio, Texas, 15.648
20. Benji Hicks (55), Mount Airy, N.C., 15.651
21. Logan Zarin (1z), Moon Township, Pa., 15.821
22. Larry Grube (29), Maulten, S.C., 15.831
23. Jason Riggs (81), College Grove, Tenn., 15.847
24. Freddie Carpenter (C4), Parkersburg, W.Va., 15.870
25. Daniel Adam (75), Wade, N.C., 15.892
26. John Tweed (5T), Greeneville, Tenn., 15.962
27. Danny Snyder (4S), Green Lane, Pa., 15.977
28. Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Ill., 16.402
29. Kerry King (KB), Delmar, Del., 16.823
(All times local)
2 p.m.: Pits and 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 (30 laps)
Correction: Fixes Jensen Ford hometown.