LAKE CITY, Fla. (Feb. 8) — Putting two years of runner-up futility behind him, polesitter Mark Whitener of Middleburg, Fla., led all 30 laps Sunday for a UMP Nationals victory at North Florida Speedway.
Whitener, who knows every characteristic of the 3/8-mile oval, earned $5,000 for his first career open-competition engine Late Model victory after finishing second to three-time World of Outlaws champion Darrell Lanigan each of the last two seasons at Lake City.
“It’s the greatest thing ever, to pull a victory off for these guys. Just great,” said Whitener, who drives for Big Frog Motorsports and is among Florida’s winningest Limited Late Model racers in recent seasons. “There’s nothing better than this moment here. … I’m just proud to be here right now.”
Lanigan didn’t enter this year’s event, but other national touring drivers on hand were no match for the 34-year-old driver and three-time United Dirt Late Model Challenge Series champion.
“I wish (Lanigan) was here. I didn’t want to run second again, but I wish he was here,” said Whitener, who led by a half-straightaway margin much of the race. “I think we got a little better program now. We was a little better than we was last year, for sure … I wish he was here so I could see where I stack up with him.
“But you’ve got Brandon Sheppard, Tim McCreadie, (Steve) Casebolt, all these guys here, to beat them guys is just great.”
Despite losing a right-rear shock in the final laps, outside front-row starter Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill., survived to finish second with his car bucking badly on the final lap while sixth-starting Morgan Bagley of Longview, Texas, was right on him in third.
Kyle Bronson of Brandon, Fla., and 10th-starting Kyle Beard of Trumann, Ark., who drove a backup car after having engine problems in his primary machine, rounded out the top five finishers.
Fast qualifier Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., was running third when he slowed atop turn two on the 23rd lap with a broken shock, ending his race.
Besides the caution for McCreadie, the feature was slowed one other time by a yellow on the 14th lap when Brandon Cameron ended up nose-first against the outside wall between turns one and two.
Notes: Whitener has three victories in his last four starts; driving his own car, he won two of three Limited Late Model features in the Georgia Boot Super Bowl of Racing at Golden Isles Speedway near Brunswick, Ga. ... Third-starting Rodney Sanders pulled to the infield on the third lap. … Twelve of 16 starters were running at the finish.
Mark Whitener of Middleburg, Fla., twice a runner-up in Super Late Model action at North Florida the past two Februarys, starts on the pole in Sunday’s main. … Third-starting Rodney Sanders and his crew members are mystified by a “stumbling” problem in the powerplant when he picks up the throttle, which makes restarts difficult. “Picking up the gas it’s stumbling,” Sanders said, adding the team has swapped carburetors, fuel pumps and taken other measures to solve the issue. “It’s frustrating.” … Kyle Beard of Trumann, Ark., broke a motor in hot laps and switched to a backup car for time trials; it was unexpected with just 195 laps on the engine. His team plans on heading home after the race. … Two modifieds cleared the outside wall in prelims, one with a slow rollover in turn one and another in turn two during a consolation race. ... Fast qualifier Tim McCreadie said he's been plagued by a headache all day. ... Kenny Wallace took the checkers in the modified feature at 7:25 p.m. ... In the pure stock feature, driver Justin Wilson's throttle hung down the frontstretch and he hit the wall and flipped out of the track on the sixth lap.. He was quickly out of the car at 7:45 p.m. His family planned to have him checked out at the hospital.
Outside front-row starter Frank Heckenast from a three-wide, side-by-side-by-side battle down the backstretch and through turns three and four to take command and the victory in the second eight-lap prelim. With Heckenast running high into turn one on the first lap, third-starting Morgan Bagley slipped underneath polesitter Rodney Sanders. The three drivers stacked up evenly down the backstretch with Sanders tightly packed between Bagley and Heckenast. Bagley slipped ahead ever so briefly in turn four, but Heckenast's momentum carried him into the lead and he cruised the rest of the way, winning by a half-straightaway.
Finish (all transfer): Frank Heckenast Jr., Rodney Sanders, Morgan Bagley, Brandon Sheppard, Kyle Beard, Steve Casebolt, Devin Walker, Mike Hammerle.
A pair of home-state drivers got the best of fast qualifier and polesitter Tim McCreadie as Mark Whitener won the first heat easily, finishing a half-straightaway ahead of Kyle Bronson. McCreadie beat Whitener into turn one, but Whitener took control with a backstretch move and pulled away. Bronson dropped McCreadie to third and held the spot the rest of the way. McCreadie finished third followed by Ivedent Lloyd Jr. in the caution-free prelim.
Finish (all transfer): Mark Whitener, Kyle Bronson, Tim McCreadie, Ivedent Lloyd Jr., Dan Stone, Austin Kirkpatrick, Larry Anderson, Brandon Cameron.
Heat race lineups
Row 1: Tim McCreadie, Mark Whitener
Row 2: Ivedent Lloyd Jr., Kyle Bronson
Row 3: Dan Stone, Austin Kirkpatrick
Row 4: Brandon Cameron, Larry Anderson
Row 1: Rodney Sanders, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 2: Morgan Bagley, Kyle Beard
Row 3: Brandon Sheppard, Steve Casebolt
Row 4: Devin Walker, Mike Hammerle
Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., whose previous visits to North Florida were marked by a flipping accident over turn one and a heat-race tussle with a home-state driver, topped 16 qualifiers Sunday to set fast time for the UMP Nationals.
McCreadie tripped the clock at 18.23 seconds in the 3/8-mile oval to earn the pole position for the 30-lap main event. Rodney Sanders of Happy, Texas, will start on the pole of the second eight-lap heat race.
North Florida is hosting a Super Late Model Speedweeks event for the third year. … The 16 entries match 2013’s car count (13 cars entered last year). … Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., won the previous two years, but he’s not entered. … Last year’s fast qualifier Brandon Cameron of Lake City is back, but the engine he used last season in finishing third broke this week and he’s got to a less powerful backup motor. … Steve Casebolt of Richmond, Ind., who has won the most money of any Georgia-Florida Speedweeks driver after six total events, is making his North Florida debut. … Among other entries are a pair of Texas, Morgan Bagley of Longview and Rodney Sanders of Happy. … Mark Whitener of Middleburg, Fla., runner-up each of the last two years, is also entered. ... Floridian Kyle Bronson is competing in the Late Model and modified divisions. ... Tim McCreadie was disappointed the track was running behind schedule, hoping the event would wrap up soon enough to enjoy a sit-down dinner at a restaurant.
Time trials (unofficial)
Driver (car no.), hometown, time
Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 18.23
Rodney Sanders (20), Happy, Texas, 18.25
Mark Whitener (58), Middleburg, Fla., 18.40
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill., 18.45
Ivedent Lloyd Jr. (21), Ocala, Fla., 18.53
Morgan Bagley (14m), Longview, Texas, 18.53
Kyle Bronson (40b), Brandon, Fla., 18.53
Kyle Beard (86), Trumann, Ark., 18.58
Dan Stone (21D), Thompson, Pa., 18.65
Brandon Sheppard (B5), New Berlin, Ill., 18.66
Austin Kirkpatrick (11), Ocala, Fla., 18.80
Steve Casebolt (c9), Richmond, Ind., 18.82
Brandon Cameron (22), Lake City, Fla., 18.96
Devin Walker (55jr), Mayo, Fla., 19.31
Larry Anderson (51), Jacksonville, Fla., 19.31
Mike Hammerle (16H), St. Charles, Mo., 20.15
Modified hot laps
Pure stock hot laps
Box stock hot laps
Late Model hot laps
Late Model qualifying
Modified heats (eight laps)
Pure stock heats (six laps)
Late Model heats (eight laps)
Modified consolation (10 laps)
Modified feature (25 laps)
Pure stock feature (15 laps)
Late Model feature (30 laps)
Box stock feature (12 laps)