GIBSONTON, Fla. (Feb. 13) — Mason Zeigler of Chalk Hill, Pa., crashed the big boys’ party Saturday night at East Bay Raceway Park.
Pulling off a monumental upset for the biggest win of his young career, the 23-year-old driver passed Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., for the lead on lap 23 and turned back a final-circuit challenge from the Hall of Fame driver to capture Saturday night’s 60-lap finale of the 40th annual Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Winternationals.
“Honestly, I feel incredible,” Zeigler said after recording his first-ever win on the Lucas Oil Series and during Georgia-Florida Speedweeks. “It’s such a long week, so to come out and win the biggest race of the week is just like … we were hoping for a top-five, so to come out and win is awesome.”
Zeigler celebrated a $12,000 victory in a race that most observers thought would be yet another showdown between Bloomquist and Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., who shared the front row for the start of the A-Main. But Bloomquist ceded the top spot to the high-riding Zeigler on the 23rd circuit and saw his bid to regain command fall a mere 0.176 of a second short at the checkered flag, and Davenport wasn’t around at the finish after stopping in turn two on lap 21 with an expired engine while running third.
The feature’s fourth starter after winning a heat race, Zeigler spent the early laps battling for second with Davenport and Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y. He finally secured second place from McCreadie on lap 21 and immediately stepped up the pressure on Bloomquist, whose inside groove wasn’t a match for Zeigler’s fleet outside line.
Zeigler drove his Longhorn Race Car off to an edge of over two seconds by the race’s three-quarter mark, but Bloomquist slowly inched closer in the closing stages. Bloomquist nearly charged underneath Zeigler on the backstretch on lap 52 when the leader briefly lost his momentum behind the slowing lapped car driven by Chad Hollenbeck of Kingsley, Pa., but Zeigler kept his composure and didn’t make a critical mistake over the remaining circuits.
Bloomquist, 52, drew his Sweet-Bloomquist car to Zeigler’s rear bumper on lap 58 and stuck his nose inside the pacesetter’s left-rear corner exiting four on the final lap, but Zeigler had enough traction to beat Bloomquist to the finish line by a half car length.
Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., advanced from the 10th starting spot to finish third in his Black Diamond machine. He overtook Gregg Satterlee of Indiana, Pa., for the spot on the last lap, leaving the seventh-starting Satterlee to settle for a fourth-place result in his Rocket XR1 mount. Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., who started 13th, completed the top five in NASCAR standout Clint Bowyer’s Club 29 Race Car to end the Winternationals with four consecutive top-five finishes.
Zeigler’s Winternationals results entering Saturday night’s finale — 10th, DNQ, 22nd and 20th — didn’t signal he was on the cusp of a breakthrough on the week’s biggest stage. But he felt confident that he was strong enough to at least contend.
“We’ve been fast all week,” said Zeigler, who sat out Monday night’s opener to let Davenport drive his car. “We qualified up front all week — even at Golden Isles (Speedway near Brunswick, Ga., last weekend), we qualified up front all week — but I just can’t race (as well). We had issues, but honestly, I talked to (Davenport’s crew chief) Kevin (Rumley) about some shock settings and my buddy Mark Smith back home about some things he thinks I should try … just a bunch of little things, really, and just making the right decisions before we put it on the racetrack made the biggest difference.”
Zeigler realized as soon as the race began that he had a stout car. He nearly vaulted from fourth to first on the opening lap, surging to the outside of Bloomquist off turn two but failing to beat the polesitter back to the start-finish line.
“I almost took the lead on the first lap and I was like, ‘I got this shit,’” said Zeigler, whose equipment is owned by his father Fred. “But then the next thing everyone was passing me back and I thought, We better settle down.”
When Zeigler found himself sitting second for the lap-21 restart following Davenport’s departure, he set his mind on blasting the outside of the third-mile oval in a bid to overtake Bloomquist. His machine responded.
“I just pulled my seatbelts tight under that caution and I thought, I know I can get around that top,” Zeigler said. “I was just so tight getting in the corner, I just had to really throttle-spin through it … and this Pro Power (engine) I just got back from Bill (Schlieper), and my god, what a difference. They just made a few small changes to the new wide-bores and I think I’m 20 points less on gear than everyone here and my straightaway speed is just so huge. It’s helped a lot … even on restarts, I can be real smooth. So just with that stuff, and everything, we were really clicking.”
Once in command, though, Zeigler was far from home free. The track soon took rubber and passing was at a premium, but he couldn’t afford to make the slightest miscue when Bloomquist pulled within striking distance in the closing circuits.
“I knew he was gonna be coming hard racing in that rubber,” said Zeigler, who has been driving a Dirt Late Model since 2010. “Up north we don’t race in rubber too much, and I know he’s real good in rubber. And I was real tight, so I was having to shear it loose and drive straight in the rubber. I knew it was killing my right-rear (tire) but I couldn’t steer through it, and Scott Bloomquist could always steer so I knew he was gonna be hard.
“I just figured, ‘Stay in the rubber, don’t slide out of the rubber.’ The lapped traffic was tough, though … I’d get up near them and they’d wash out, and then they’d drive back down into the rubber and across the nose and I’m just trying to avoid wrecking the car. It was tough just trying to keep (Bloomquist) at bay and stay up front without working my stuff too hard. I had to work that high line the first 10 or 12 laps so I really abused my right-rear for those laps … I know it was screaming hot, so I was just trying to keep pace and once it took rubber I was just like, ‘Please, don’t blow out.’”
Zeigler’s scariest moment came when he bore down the slowing Hollenbeck with eight laps remaining. Bloomquist made a daring thrust inside Hollenbeck and drew abreast of Zeigler entering turn three, but the former Lucas Oil Series champion couldn’t complete the move.
“I just hoped that he slowed Scott up,” Zeigler said of Hollenbeck. “I was hoping that Scott saw my rear bumper and didn’t see his, but I don’t think it slowed him up at all. I think he blew right by him.
“Actually, I think it was bad for me. It’s not Hollenbeck’s fault … I was just hoping (after that), that as long as I keep (Bloomquist) at bay and did not slip out of the rubber, I knew Scott wouldn’t do me dirty. I just tried to hang in there as long as I could.”
Zeigler did just that, staying in front to record by far the richest triumph of his career. His previous best payoff for a win was the back-to-back $5,000 UMP DIRTcar Summernationals scores he bagged in July 2014 at Brushcreek Motorsports Complex in Peebles, Ohio, and Attica (Ohio) Raceway Park.
Bloomquist gave Zeigler props for running the outside groove by him to assume command.
“The bottom actually where I’d been running just hadn’t quite come in enough yet and there was still just enough brown in the middle out there,” Bloomquist said of the conditions that allowed Zeigler’s winning pass to materialize. “I knew that it was gonna be any lap that (the inside) was gonna come in, and I hadn’t seen anybody out there just yet. Until I saw one or felt one (challenging on the outside), I was staying on the bottom.
“He just got a good run (to take the lead). Once I moved up behind him we gained some back at him running through the middle, but inevitably he got to the bottom, we got back to the bottom … we even got lower than we’d been on the bottom and made a little bit of a run at him. He made a good move, made a good choice.”
Though Bloomquist mounted a last-ditch charge at Zeigler, it amounted to a Hail Mary. He accepted his runner-up finish.
“There wasn’t a lot of racetrack left out there,” said Bloomquist, whose crew changed his car’s transmission between the heats and the feature. “Obviously we burned the tires off, but the last three nights we got a first and two seconds and believe we’ve got the (Lucas Oil Series) point lead — again, one hell of a lot better (start) than last year.”
Erb, 43, was a quiet but solid third-place finish. It was a much-needed outing for the perennial Winternationals winner whose lone top-10 finish over the first five nights of competition was a seventh on Tuesday.
“We kind of struggled all week long but we started getting going here the last couple nights,” Erb said. “To finish top three, we’re really happy with that. It was hard to pass there at the end. Once we got around the 22 car anything could’ve happened (if there had been more time), but we’re just happy to come home third.”
Three caution flags slowed the event. The lapped David Breazeale of Four Corners, Miss., brought out the first on lap 18 when he spun in turn four following contact from Zeigler. Davenport stopped on lap 21 to trigger a second caution period and Jared Landers of Batesville, Ark., caused the final slowdown when he dropped off the pace on lap 28.
Notes: Zeigler became just the fifth driver from Pennsylvania to win a Lucas Oil Series event, joining Rick Eckert of York (two wins) and single victors Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Jason Covert of York Haven and Davey Johnson of Latrobe, whose daughter, Amber, is Zeigler’s fiancee. … The victory was Zeigler’s sixth over the past three years, including three in 2014 and two in ’15. He won less than a dozen local features — none paying more than $2,000 — during the previous three years of his Dirt Late Model career. … McCreadie appeared to be a contender early when he moved up to second place, but after losing the spot to Zeigler on lap 21 he began sliding backward to a seventh-place finish. He fought a tight handling condition and said afterward that he lost several positions because he didn’t find the line of rubber fast enough. … Tim Dohm of Cross Lanes, W.Va., was scheduled to start 17th after winning the first B-Main but never made a lap in the feature because his car’s driveshaft broke during the pace laps.
Preliminary results and notes:
DirtonDirt.com Strawberry Dash results
Finish (8 laps): James Rice, Sonny Conley, Bob Gardner, Devin Moran, Mark Whitener, Alex Ferree, Colton Flinner, John Gardner Jr. (DNS) Chuck Julien.
DirtonDirt.com Strawberry Dash lineup
Row 1: Chuck Julien, Sonny Conley
Row 2: Bob Gardner, Devin Moran
Row 3: James Rice, Colton Flinner
Row 4: Alex Ferree, Mark Whitener
Row 5: John Gardner Jr.
Kyle Bronson turned back repeated challenges from Eddie Carrier Jr. to take the victory, beating Carrier by 0.547 of a second. Steve Francis finished third to secure the final transfer spot.
Finish (top three transfer): Kyle Bronson, Eddie Carrier Jr., Steve Francis, Alex Ferree, Mark Whitener, John Gardner Jr., Bob Gardner, Sonny Conley, Chuck Julien (DNS) Allen Murray.
Tim Dohm nearly lost the lead on lap two when he slid sideways in turn two and traded paint with Bobby Pierce, but a caution flag for James Rice's slowed car allowed Dohm to remain in front. The West Virginia led the rest of the way, beating Pierce to the finish line. Jimmy Owens placed third after passing Devin Moran for the final transfer spot rounding turn four on the final lap.
Finish (top three transfer): Tim Dohm, Bobby Pierce, Jimmy Owens, Devin Moran, Nick Davis, David Breazeale, James Rice, Colton Flinner (DNS) Chad Hollenbeck.
(12 laps; top 3 transfer)
Row 1: Tim Dohm, David Breazeale
Row 2: Bobby Pierce, James Rice
Row 3: Colton Flinner, Nick Davis
Row 4: Jimmy Owens, Chad Hollenbeck
Row 5: Devin Moran
Row 1: Kyle Bronson, Eddie Carrier Jr.
Row 2: Steve Francis, Alex Ferree
Row 3: Mark Whitener, John Gardner Jr.
Row 4: Bob Gardner, Chuck Julien
Row 5: Sonny Conley, Allen Murray
Mason Zeigler cruised to a flag-to-flag victory, beating Don O'Neal to the finish line by 0.792 of a second. Freddie Carpenter placed third and Justin Rattliff finished fourth after outdueling Eddie Carrier Jr. for the position.
Finish (top four transfer): Mason Zeigler, Don O'Neal, Freddie Carpenter, Justin Rattliff, Eddie Carrier Jr., Alex Ferree, Chuck Julien, Allen Murray.
Jonathan Davenport was outgunned for the lead at the initial green flag by Randy Weaver, but Davenport charged in front on the second lap and pulled away to beat Weaver by a commanding margin of 2.544 seconds. Dennis Erb Jr. and Earl Pearson Jr. completed the transfers.
Finish (top four transfer): Jonathan Davenport, Randy Weaver, Dennis Erb Jr., Earl Pearson Jr., Kyle Bronson, Mark Whitener, Bob Gardner, Sonny Conley.
Tim McCreadie led from start-to-finish, turning back pressure from Gregg Satterlee throughout to beat the Pennsylvania by 0.885 of a second. Ricky Weiss was a distant third and Josh Rice placed fourth after overtaking David Breazeale heading to the white flag. Chad Hollenbeck drew a caution flag on the first lap when some pushing-and-shoving sent him into the turn-three wall.
Finish (top four transfer): Tim McCreadie, Gregg Satterlee, Ricky Weiss, Josh Rice, David Breazeale, James Rice, Nick Davis, Chad Hollenbeck.
Scott Bloomquist led all the way, beating Brandon Sheppard to the checkered flag by 0.987 of a second. Jared Landers finished and Darrell Lanigan was fourth; Lanigan grabbed the position on the final lap when Tim Dohm and Bobby Pierce tangled in front of him, sending Pierce into a spin in turn two. Jimmy Owens, meanwhile, had his frustrating week continue with a 360-degree spin in turn two while running outside of a transfer spot on lap four; he continued without drawing a caution flag but immediately pulled into the infield.
Finish (top four transfer): Scott Bloomquist, Brandon Sheppard, Jared Landers, Darrell Lanigan, Tim Dohm, Bobby Pierce, Colton Flinner, Jimmy Owens (DNS) Devin Moran.
Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., continued to tear around the East Bay clay, ripping off a lap of 15.012 seconds during time trials to earn overall fast-time honors for the third consecutive night.
Davenport's prime competition the last two nights, Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., was the fastest qualifier in the first group with a lap of 15.152 second. Both drivers earned pole starting spots in heat races with their efforts.
Other heat-race polesitters will be Gregg Satterlee of Indiana, Pa., and Mason Zeigler of Chalk Hill, Pa.
Another spectacular day in the Sunshine State prevails with bright, clear skies and temperatures in the 70s. … The finale’s field numbers 35 cars. The only driver who competed on Friday night but has not returned is Austin Kirkpatrick of Ocala, Fla., who is likely gearing up for Sunday evening’s Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event at his hometown’s Bubba Raceway Park. Josh Rice of Verona, Ky., meanwhile, is back on the entry list after sitting out Friday's action… After breaking out of a struggle-filled week with a third-place finish in Thursday night’s feature, Greg Satterlee of Indiana, Pa., experienced more frustration in Friday night’s A-Main when he slapped the wall between turns one and two while running in seventh place. “It was either follow the guy in front of you or get out wide and try to make something happen,” Satterlee said. “I tried to make something happen, but I wanted to turn in earlier and ended up catching the wall with my right-front. The car was good — I think I could’ve gotten in the top five.” The right-front suspension and assorted body parts had to be fixed on Satterlee’s Rocket XR1 car, but there didn’t appear to be frame damage and he’s ready for action. … Jared Landers of Batesville, Ark., felt he could have finished better than the seventh-place spot he took in Friday night’s 50-lapper. He ran as high as second early in the distance but had his rhythm hampered by a mechanical problem that he shouldn’t have let bother him. “It felt like I had an ignition issue or something so I was switching (ignition) boxes and stuff and got away from what I was doing,” he said. “Something wasn’t right and it was messing with my head so much, but we found out it was just a (fouled) spark plug. I shouldn’t have worried about it.” … Alex Ferree of Saxonburg, Pa., pulled out a brand-new Bucky Johnson-owned Black Diamond-Club 29 machine for Saturday night’s finale. He said the car he’s been running all week “just isn’t right” since it was bent up in a Thursday-night heat-race scrape. … An enclosed trailer that hasn’t been seen all week rolled into the East Bay pit area today, but it didn’t carry a Dirt Late Model. A DIRTcar Northeast big-block modified was rolled out of the rig — the machine that Tim McCreadie’s Sweeteners Plus Racing teammate, Vic Coffey of Caledonia, N.Y., will run in the big-block division’s Feb. 17-20 events at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla. Coffey, who has competed in East Bay’s Dirt Late Model Winternationals several times in the past, stopped in to restock McCreadie with parts brought down from the Sweeteners Plus shop in Avon, N.Y. … The talk in the pit area on Saturday was about the annual Winternationals pit-area bike race featuring the Moran brothers — Devin, Wylie and Tristan — Bobby Pierce, Don O’Neal’s teenage son Hudson and Indiana Crate Late Model racer Adam Bowman. The dramatic 10-lap race was won by Tristan Moran, who grabbed the lead on the final lap when Devin was knocked from the lead by a hard hit from his younger brother Wylie. The youngest Moran brother’s slam was so vicious it thoroughly bent the front wheel of Devin’s bike.
The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series runs the sixth and final round of the 40th annual Winternationals on Saturday night with a 60-lap feature paying $12,000-to-win topping the card. After four non-points events, the Friday and Saturday shows offer full points toward the Lucas Oil Series championship.
Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., was victorious in Friday night’s 50-lap A-Main, registering his second win of the week. The triumph moved the defending Lucas Oil Series champion to the top of the points standings.
Saturday’s program is made up of hot laps, time trials, heat races, consolations, the DirtonDirt.com Strawberry Dash and the 50-lap main event.
Heat race lineups
(10 laps; top 4 transfer)
Row 1: Scott Bloomquist, Tim Dohm
Row 2: Brandon Sheppard, Bobby Pierce
Row 3: Jared Landers, Darrell Lanigan
Row 4: Jimmy Owens, Devin Moran
Row 5: Colton Flinner
Row 1: Gregg Satterlee, Tim McCreadie
Row 2: Josh Rice, Chad Hollenbeck
Row 3: Ricky Weiss, David Breazeale
Row 4: Nick Davis, James Rice
Row 1: Jonathan Davenport, Randy Weaver
Row 2: Dennis Erb Jr., Earl Pearson Jr.
Row 3: Mark Whitener, Kyle Bronson
Row 4: Sonny Conley, Steve Francis
Row 5: Bob Gardner
Row 1: Mason Zeigler, Don O’Neal
Row 2: Freddie Carpenter, Justin Rattliff
Row 3: Eddie Carrier Jr., John Gardner Jr.
Row 4: Alex Ferree, Allen Murray
Row 5: Chuck Julien
Time trials results
Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., 15.152
Gregg Satterlee (22), Indiana, Pa., 15.365
Tim Dohm (6T), Cross Lanes, W.Va., 15.416
Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 15.524
Brandon Sheppard (B5), New Berlin, Ill., 15.556
Josh Rice (11), Verona, Ky., 15.568
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 15.633
Chad Hollenbeck (4Ds), Kingsley, Pa., 15.661
Jared Landers (777), Batesville, Ark., 15.764
Ricky Weiss (7w), Headingly, Manitoba, 15.779
Darrell Lanigan (15L), Union, Ky., 15.791
David Breazeale (10), Four Corners, Miss., 15.868
Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 15.887
Nick Davis (92), Delmar, Del., 15.891
Devin Moran (99m), Dresden, Ohio, 15.916
James Rice (11R), Verona, Ky., 16.328
Colton Flinner (75), Allison Park, Pa., 16.484
Jonathan Davenport (6), Blairsville, Ga., 15.012
Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 15.207
Randy Weaver (116), Crossville, Tenn., 15.632
Don O'Neal (5), Martinsville, Ind., 15.725
Dennis Erb Jr. (28e), Carpentersville, Ill., 15.837
Freddie Carpenter (K), Parkersburg, W.Va., 15.838
Earl Pearson Jr. (1), Jacksonville, Fla., 15.907
Justin Rattliff (16), Campbellsville, Ky., 16.022
Mark Whitener (5W), Middleburg, Fla., 16.059
Eddie Carrier Jr. (28), Salt Rock, W.Va., 16.07
Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., 16.156
John Gardner Jr. (38C), Germantown Hills, Ill., 16.208
Sonny Conley (1x1), New Martinsville, W.Va., 16.219
Alex Ferree (47), Saxonburg, Pa., 16.269
Steve Francis (15), Ashland, Ky., 16.323
Allen Murray (2M), San Antonio, Texas, 16.502
Bob Gardner (4G), Washington, Ill., 16.508
Chuck Julien (57), Apopka, Fla., 17.743