MARNE, Mich. (Sept. 19) — Rick Eckert brought an end to Darrell Lanigan’s ownership of the annual World of Outlaws Late Model Series action at Berlin Raceway in the most satisfying manner possible — by passing the king of the asphalt-turned-dirt track for the lead and then pulling away.
There was simply no stopping York, Pa.’s Eckert, who grabbed the top spot from Union, Ky.’s Lanigan on lap 30 and proceeded to dominate the remainder of Saturday night’s caution-free 60-lap Keyser Manufacturing Down ’n Dirty event for a $12,000 first-place prize.
Eckert’s final margin of victory? A healthy 9.219 seconds — about a half-lap — over Lanigan, who had won all three previous WoO affairs held annually at Berlin since 2012.
The 49-year-old Eckert credited his unmatched speed to a savvy tire-compound decision.
“We were a little different tire than most of them,” said Eckert, whose fourth WoO checkered flag of 2015 was his third score in eight starts since debuting a new Longhorn Race Car with car owner Paul Crowl of Upperco, Md., last month. “(Crewman) Bob (Miller) made a heck of a tire choice and got us the right tires on.”
Eckert had some doubts about the rubber bolted on his machine early in the 60-lapper, which became the lone race of the weekend after Friday night’s scheduled 40-lap event was rained out. But his uncertainty cleared up when his car began to take off on the 7/16-mile oval, which for the fourth consecutive year had its usual pavement surface covered with clay for special season-ending competition.
“We struggled a little bit at the beginning when I saw them guys were all softer (on tires) than us,” said Eckert, who chased Lanigan throughout the race’s first half. “Then, later in the race, they would get skating across the middle of the corner … there’s no traction — the racetrack’s awesome, it’s icy-slippery all the way across it so you can race all over it — and they would just get loose across the middle where I could keep my car tucked under me and carry that little bit of speed.”
Eckert glided away from the field once in command, racing unchallenged to the finish. Lanigan was a distant runner-up, while Jeep VanWormer of Pinconning, Mich., placed third and WoO points leader Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., was fourth after pulling off a late-race pass of Shinnston, W.Va.’s Josh Richards, who settled for fifth.
“This is good — and this is a (track) condition where we hadn’t been very good,” ” Eckert said in victory lane after his 34th career WoO win. “I got to thank (fellow Longhorn-campaigning WoO regulars) Chub Frank and Boom Briggs … they’ve helped me some. The first night here in qualifying (before the rain) I was terrible and I talked with them, and they gave me some clues on what I should try to help me get in through the middle and all that stuff helped me.”
The victory came two weeks after Eckert captured the $30,000 Firecracker 100 presented by GottaRace.com at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa., further raising his already soaring spirits.
“I don’t have no trophy room but I keep them all at the shop,” Eckert said, “and every time I walked in the shop this week and seen that Firecracker (hardware) I smiled. I’m sure I’ll have a big smile this week.”
Lanigan, 44, fell short in the tire game to Eckert.
“We went with a little bit different tire for some reason — I don’t know why,” said Lanigan, who entered the weekend coming off a WoO win on Sept. 6 at Selinsgrove (Pa.) Speedway. “I just kept getting looser and looser. We were a little bit softer on tires … it’s kind of my own fault. We just came up a little short at the end.”
The 40-year-old VanWormer, meanwhile, wore a big smile after recording a podium finish in his first WoO start of 2015 — and in his home state, no less.
“It’s fun to get up there and race with those guys,” said VanWormer, who owns two career WoO wins. “We’re not racing as much this year as we have in the past, so to come out of here with a top-three really is huge. It just says how hard we work when we’re at the shop.”
Notes: Clanton’s fourth-place finish left him leading the WoO points standings by 172 points over Richards with just the two features during the Nov. 5-7 World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C., remaining on the schedule. He will effectively clinch his first-ever WoO title by starting one of the 50-lappers. … Friday night’s rainout didn’t mean Richards and his Rocket Chassis house car enjoyed an evening of rest and relaxation. After Richards smacked the turn-three wall during his qualifying run — he was one of the last two drivers to hit the track, which turned slick due to the arrival of rain that ultimately ended the program — he had to spend several hours patching the machine back together for Saturday’s action.