ROSSBURG, Ohio — Matt Miller must’ve felt like all of Illinois was chasing him in the closing laps of Friday’s first 25-lap World 100 prelim at Eldora Speedway.
It was just two Prairie State drivers — Shannon Babb and Dennis Erb Jr. — in hot pursuit, but they threw everything they had and then some at Miller, who escaped the last-lap jamup for a $10,000 victory in the first preliminary before Dirt Late Model racing’s most prestigious event.
The Whitehouse, Ohio, driver’s victory was in doubt heading into turn three on the final lap as the lower-running Erb was held up by the slower car of Brian Ruhlman, while Babb tried to thread his way between Miller and Erb for his first victory of 2016.
Miller held on to win by the slimmest of margins, 0.151 seconds over Babb and 0.170 seconds over Erb, as his flag-to-flag victory builds momentum toward Saturday’s $49,000-to-win crown jewel.
“We were a little off in that feature,” Miller said on the winner’s stage of the Tony Stewart-owned oval. “We were tight from the get-go and kind of got comfortable all by ourselves there. But it started to slick off and the tires, they kind of gave up a little bit, so it was a struggle there.
“You get behind all this traffic here, this car’s just so aero-dependent anymore, you start to push. I know they’re closing in, so you don’t want to slide job because those guys are up on the cushion. So you’ve just got to make yourself wide.”
Babb took a mid-race shot at Miller to nearly pull alongside, but Miller edged back away and kept his pursuers in check until the final laps when a slight checkup in turn three on the 24th lap allowed Babb and Erb to make it a three-car battle on the last lap.
“Matt’s really hard to beat here at Eldora,” said the Moweaqua, Ill., driver, who rallied from sixth-to-first in his heat race, outrunning Erb, a fellow former UMP DIRTcar Summernationals champion. “It felt really good to run second. Probably the best we’ve had here in a long time. To be right here to mingle with Dennis and Matt, it feels really good.
“We’ve got a good first night in the bag, so we’ll take it from there,” said Babb, who improved four positions.
Erb, of Carpentersville, Ill., started on the pole and lost touch with the frontrunners through the middle stages before moving back into contention late in the race.
“We started off a little slow and that cushion was pretty fast up there,” said Erb, June’s $100,000 Dream winner at Eldora. “There about halfway, we started moving down the racetrack and the car just started moving forward there. We got into a lapped car there on the last lap, but we were coming, so that was a good thing. We’ll take this and go on to tomorrow.”
Miller’s front-row starting spot was key, he said.
“We had a little luck tonight. We didn’t qualify the greatest and ended up front in the feature,” Miller said, looking ahead to the rest of the weekend. “I don’t know, we’ll see. When we get rain, I think we’ll be fine. You’re definitely going to have to adjust on your race car. If it goes slick, it should be some fun.”
The feature was slowed by two cautions, first for Josh Rice’s turn-four spin on the first lap that forced a complete restart, then again on the third lap when Rice, Nick Hoffman and Joey Coulter were part of a turn-two yellow.
World 100 action continues Friday with a program identical to Thursday’s with all qualifiers split into odd-even groups running heats, consies and 25-lap features worth $10,000 to the winner.
Notes: Eighteen of 24 starters completed 25 laps at about 2:30 a.m. … Fourth-starting Hudson O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., the 16-year-old entering his first World 100, got too high on the start and slipped back to seventh and ended up 11th; his father Don O’Neal won the second 25-lapper. … Overall fast qualifier Michael Norris finished a lap down in 24th. … Fifth-place finisher Shane Clanton averted lap-nine disaster when he and Moyer touched exiting turn four with Clanton briefly getting out of shape on the frontstretch then nearly getting together with Ricky Weiss in turn two.
Preliminary results and notes:
First consolation (12 laps; top two transfer): Michael Norris, Nick Hoffman, Kent Robinson, Casey Noonan, Jason Feger, Kody Evans, Scott James, Nick Latham, Robby Hensley, Jesse Lay, Tanner Kellick, Devin Friese, Jay Johnson, Brad Wade, Blake Spencer, Bryant Dickinson.
Second consolation (12 laps; top two transfer): Josh Rice, Andrew Reaume, Jon Henry, Jake O’Neil, Steve Francis, Gordy Gundaker, Dylan Ames, Riley Hickman, Alex Ferree, Jason Jameson, Kyle Pierce, Kevin Reever, Rob Anderzack, Shane Unger, Brian Gray, Chase Porter
Odd heat race notes
Chris Simpson worked hard for his victory in the first heat. “I wasn’t lifting much,” he said. “That’s the fastest I ever went around this place. This place is fast — I’m out of breath! I gotta start working out.” … Veteran R.J. Conley raved about his XR1 Rocket car after capturing the second heat but was certain he could make it better. “Once I got out front I could drive the car where I wanted,” he said. “But I want to make the car more maneuverable.” … Canadian Ricky Weiss had some mixed emotions after winning the third heat thanks largely to rough lap-eight pass of Morgan Bagley for second place; Weiss slid across Bagley’s nose off turn four, leaving the left-front corner of Bagley’s bodywork with significant damage. “It wasn’t the perfect slide job,” said Weiss, who inherited the lead when Chad Simpson slapped the outside wall moments after Weiss made his move on Bagley. “I apologize to him. I hate to race like that.” … Shane Clanton might have won the fourth heat but he wasn’t satisfied with his Capital mount’s performance. “Our car’s a little too tight still,” he said. … Shannon Babb made the right moves to hustle forward from sixth and top the fifth heat. “I knew the track was a little narrow and I had to go,” said Babb, who has not won a feature. “I just had the right opportunity to get by the guys and I took it.” … Joey Coulter finished fourth in the final heat, making the prelim A-Main in his World 100 debut. The WoO rookie does have a good Eldora finish on his racing resume: third in the track’s inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event.
Sixth-starting Shannon Babb, winless in 2016, slipped by fellow Illinois driver and Dream winner Dennis Erb Jr. after a lap-four restart and completed the night's most impressive rally. Erb fell back to settle for second ahead of Jason Hiett while Joey Coulter got the final transfer spot over Kent Robinson. A lap-four caution appeared for Nick Latham's turn-three spin.
Finish (top four transfer): Shannon Babb, Dennis Erb Jr., Jason Hiett, Joey Coulter, Kent Robinson, Dylan Ames, Nick Latham, Kyle Pierce, Jay Johnson, Brian Gray.
Shane Clanton's turn-four slide job after a lap-three restart dropped Matt Miller to second as Clanton held on the rest of the way in his tribute car to late racer Grant Junghans. Miller valiantly tried to fight back past Clanton but settled for second with fifth-starting Kyle Bronson advancing two spots to finish tird. Brian Ruhlman got the final transfer spot. Outside front-row starter Bobby Pierce pulled up running third in turn one on the third lap, rolling to a stop on the backstretch with a broken fan blade to draw a yellow.
Finish (top four transfer): Shane Clanton, Matt Miller, Kyle Bronson, Brian Ruhlman, Gordy Gundaker, Jason Feger, Steve Francis, Scott James, Rob Anderzack, Bobby Pierce.
Ricky Weiss, benefitting from a bold pass of Morgan Bagley just before leader Chad Simpson hit the turn-two wall, won the third heat by going from third to first over the final two laps. Weiss slid in front of Bagley exiting turn four on the eighth lap — nearly getting hung up on Bagley's nose — then restarted up front upon Simpsons's departure. Steve Casebolt ran fifth most of the way, but got up to second late before Shanon Buckingham edged him at the line. Bagley ended up fourth as the final transferring driver and Nick Hoffman came from the tail to finish fifth.
Finish (top four transfer): Ricky Weiss, Shanon Buckingham, Steve Casebolt, Morgan Bagley, Nick Hoffman, Jake O'Neil, Jesse Lay, Alex Ferree, Robby Hensley, Shane Unger, Chad Simpson.
R.J. Conley, who slipped back to sixth early, won a battle of 71s with 16-year-old Hudson O'Neal on a lap-six restart and cruised to victory in the 10-lapper. Conley was the benefactor of polesitter Andrew Reaume's penalty for jumping the initial start as official docked the leader two spots at the mid-race yellow. O'Neal grabbed second ahead of Dustin Linville while Dustin Nobbe for the fourth and final transfer spot, Reaume, the only Canadian to start a World 100, ended up fifth. A caution appeared on the sixth lap when Jason Jameson, driving Justin Rattliff's No. 16, spun exiting turn four as rain began to fall mid-race; Jameson later retired. The rain quickly subsided.
Finish (top four transfer): R.J. Conley, Hudson O'Neal, Dustin Linville, Dustin Nobbe, Andrew Reaume, Casey Noonan, Jon Henry, Tanner Kellick, Riley Hickman, Bryant Dickinson, Jason Jameson.
Third-starting Chris Simpson took the lead from fellow Iowa native Billy Moyer on the third lap and grabbed a 10-lap victory. Fifth-starting Tyler Erb dropped Moyer to third on a lap-seven restart and pressured Simpson late. Overall fast qualifier Michael Norris crossed the line third, but he was docked two spots for jumping the restart, giving Moyer and Austin Smith the last two transfer spots. A lap-seven caution appeared when Brad Wade spun on the frontstretch, not too far in front of Simpson.
Finish (top four transfer): Chris Simpson, Tyler Erb, Billy Moyer, Austin Smith, Michael Norris, Josh Rice, Kody Evans, Kevin Reeve, Devin Friese, Chase Porter, Brad Wade.
Odd heat lineups
(10 laps; top four transfer)
Row 1: Billy Moyer, Austin Smith
Row 2: Chris Simpson, Michael Norris
Row 3: Tyler Erb, Josh Rice
Row 4: Kody Evans, Kevin Reeve
Row 5: Devin Friese, Brad Wade
Row 6: Chase Porter
Row 1: Andrew Reaume, Hudson O'Neal
Row 2: Dustin Nobbe, R.J. Conley
Row 3: Dustin Linville, Jon Henry
Row 4: Riley Hickman, Casey Noonan
Row 5: Jason Jameson, Tanner Kellick
Row 6: Bryant Dickinson
Row 1: Morgan Bagley, Chad Simpson
Row 2: Ricky Weiss, Steve Casebolt
Row 3: Jake O’Neil, Shanon Buckingham
Row 4: Robby Hensley, Jesse Lay
Row 5: Alex Ferree, Shane Unger
Row 6: Nick Hoffman
Row 1: Matt Miller, Bobby Pierce
Row 2: Brian Ruhlman, Shane Clanton
Row 3: Kyle Bronson, Rob Anderzack
Row 4: Jason Feger, Gordy Gundaker
Row 5: Steve Francis, Scott James
Row 6: Blake Spencer
Row 1: Joey Coulter, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 2: Kyle Pierce, Jason Hiett
Row 3: Kent Robinson, Shannon Babb
Row 4: Nick Latham, Dylan Ames
Row 5: Jay Johnson, Brian Gray
Odd qualifying notes
Michael Norris was almost at a loss for words after ripping off the fastest qualifying lap in his first-ever visit to Eldora. How did he do it with Gary Henry-powered Rocket XR1 car? “I have no idea,” the 24-year-old from Sarver, Pa., said, shaking his head. “I just did what the guy told me — I just stood on it. I was like, ‘That didn’t feel that fast. I felt a little tight.’ But I guess it was fast.” When Norris was called up to the stage to be feted for his fast time, he remained awestruck. “If you would’ve told me yesterday that I’d set fast time, I would’ve said you were full of crap.” … Teenager Hudson O’Neal’s crew was repairing some lower nosepiece damage after his respectable 23rd-fastest qualifying run. … Kent Robinson timed 49th-fastest after changing a water pump that broke on his car during hot laps. ... Australian driver Paul Stubber missed time trials and scratched for the weekend.
In his first visit to Eldora, Michael Norris of Sarver, Pa., topped 108 entrants in time trials on the opening night of the 46th annual World weekend. Norris posted a lap of 15.306 seconds around the half-mile oval.
The field will be split into odd and even programs for the rest of the night with the first, third, fifth and so on qualifiers in one group, and the second, fourth, sixth and so on qualifiers in the other.
Each group will run five alternating heat races apiece with four drivers transferring from each. Two consolations for each program will send two more drivers apiece to the 24-car starting fields.
Friday’s action was delayed about three hours by late afternoon showers.
Time trial notes: Nick Hoffman lost a 15.837-second lap because his deck height was 4 inches too high … Three-time Southern All Star champion Riley Hickman slowed on his second qualifying lap. … Mike Spatola dropped a driveshaft on his first qualifying lap and didn’t get a time.
Steady but light rain that hit after the 5 p.m. drivers' meeting delayed the scheduled 6 p.m. hot laps at Eldora. Skies to the west started to clear by about 6:10 p.m., but after a brief break, sprinkles continued as the 7 o'clock hour approached. Pack trucks hit the track shortly after 7 p.m. and were still rolling the track past 9 p.m., when the track asked drivers to preparing to hot lap.
More pre-race notes
After running the full UMP DIRTcar Summernationals for the first time this year, Bob Gardner of East Peoria, Ill., is making his first-ever start at Eldora. “I’ve only been here to watch once,” said Gardner, who has added a Pink Panther character to his traditionally pink-colored car for the weekend. “The year (Jimmy) Owens won the World (in 2011) me and my brother brought Tim Lance’s car here.” … Jared Hawkins of Fairmont, W.Va., will bid to make his first feature appearance in an Eldora crown jewel event driving for fellow Mountaineer State resident Eric Hudkins, who has had Hawkins in his Bloomquist Race Car since mid-August. Hawkins failed to qualify for the World 100 in his previous two attempts, in 2007 running for Tracey Seymour and ’11 in Bobby Lake’s car. … Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, is proudly sporting a throwback wrap duplicating the Big Johnson-sponsored car that his father Donnie drove in the late ‘90s. “I tried to find his old Big Johnson firesuit but I couldn’t find it,” Devin said. … After entering last year’s World 100 driving for the late Bucky Johnson, Alex Ferree of Saxonburg, Pa., is back to try again but this time with the familiar No. 10 machine he races weekly at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa. “The last month has been rough — we’ve hurt three motors,” Ferree said. “But we said if we got through the Working Man (WoO-sanctioned event last Saturday night) at Lernerville we’d think about coming out here and we finished 10th, so here we are.” … With Jared Landers of Batesville, Ark., sidelined for the World 100 while continuing his recovery from a torn carotid artery, his crew chief, Jason Durham, is at Eldora assisting Landers’s younger brother, Gavin, who is making his first attempt to qualify for the World 100. … Bryan Liverman, whose stint working as a crewman for the K&L Rumley team and driver Jonathan Davenport ended earlier this season, is lending a hand this weekend to Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa.
Former World 100 winner Steve Francis of Bowling Green, Ky., has an attention-grabbing wrap on the Chad Stapleton-owned Black Diamond machine he made a last-minute deal to run in the World 100. Sean Anderson of Orange Fatkat Media designed a scheme that honors Eldora owner Tony Stewart’s impending retirement from NASCAR racing; the quarter-panels sport the words “Thank you, Smoke!” and about 50 pictures of Stewart from throughout his career are spread across the bodywork. … Jon Henry of Ada, Ohio, also a special wrap saluting Stewart’s final year of NASCAR competition. “I just thought, this being his final year (of racing), we’d kind of send him with a thank you to him and show some respect toward him,” Henry said of his wrap produced by Wide Open Graphics. … Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., unveiled his World 100 wrap in unique fashion. At 1 p.m. the 19-year-old Pierce came out of his trailer dressed as the Joker — painted face and all — of D.C. Comics fame. His Canadian crewman, Jason Weese, appeared in a Batman costume and Pierce’s girlfriend, Maddy Supp, played the role of Harley Quinn. After a short skit in which Supp’s Quinn took down Weese’s Batman in front of Pierce’s Joker-themed car, Pierce jokingly said, “Superman, you’re next!” … Rusty Schlenk of McClure, Ohio, thought his World 100 plans were wiped out after his Lawrence Motorsports car was badly damaged in a wild series of flips he took during Sunday night’s Baltes Classic at Eldora, but he got an unexpected chance to enter his own No. 91 machine in the weekend’s action thanks to a phone call he received late Monday afternoon from Tyler Borck of Buckeye Concrete Coatings. Borck offered Schlenk the use of his ECR 438 engine and the former UMP DIRTcar national champion gladly accepted. Schlenk and his scrambled for the next three days to prepare his car, which sports a Donald Trump-themed wrap that includes a humorous Trump-related line on its spoiler: “Bump my car … there will be hell toupee.”
Time trials (unofficial)
Driver (car no.), hometown, time
- Michael Norris (72), Sarver, Pa., 15.306
- Josh Richards (1), Shinnston, W.Va., 15.312
- R.J. Conley (71), Wheelersburg, Ohio, 15.317
- Zack Dohm (17), Cross Lanes, W.Va., 15.399
- Steve Casebolt (c9), Richmond, Ind., 15.437
- Jackie Boggs (4B), Grayson, Ky., 15.496
- Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., 15.503
- Don O’Neal (5), Martinsville, Ind., 15.510
- Jason Hiett (1), Oxford, Ala., 15.543
- Joey Moriarty (51), Phoenix, Ariz., 15.556
- Chris Simpson (32), Oxford, Iowa, 15.582
- Darrell Lanigan (29), Union, Ky., 15.591
- Dustin Nobbe (5N), Batesville, Ind., 15.593
- Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill., 15.634
- Ricky Weiss (7w), Headingley, Manitoba, 15.640
- Jimmy Mars (28), Menomonie, Wis., 15.652
- Brian Ruhlman (49), Clarklake, Mich., 15.673
- Jonathan Davenport (6), Blairsville, Ga., 15.677
- Kyle Pierce (281), Statesville, N.C., 15.677
- Cody Mahoney (4), Madison, Ind., 15.686
- Austin Smith (11), Cedartown, Ga., 15.686
- Josh Putnam (212), Florence, Ala., 15.688
- Hudson O’Neal (71), Martinsville, Ind., 15.688
- Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 15.693
- Chad Simpson (25), Mount Vernon, Iowa, 15.697
- Billy Moyer Jr. (21jr), Batesville, Ark., 15.726
- Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 15.729
- Doug Drown (240), Wooster, Ohio, 15.733
- Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 15.743
- Chris Madden (44), Gray Court, S.C., 15.752
- Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 15.753
- Devin Moran (99m), Dresden, Ohio, 15.759
- Andrew Reaume (88), Blenheim, Ontario, 15.763
- Earl Pearson Jr. (1), Jacksonville, Fla., 15.770
- Morgan Bagley (14m), Longview, Texas, 15.775
- Bob Gardner (4G), East Peoria, Ill., 15.788
- Matt Miller (3), Whitehouse, Ohio, 15.788
- Rob Toland (39), Hinsdale, Ill., 15.803
- Joey Coulter (2), Miami Springs, Fla., 15.806
- Tyler Erb (91), New Waverly, Texas, 15.819
- Vic Hill (1), Mosheim, Tenn., 15.823
- Dustin Linville (D8), Bryantsville, Ky., 15.827
- Wendell Wallace (6m), Batesville, Ark., 15.830
- Jake O’Neil (0), Tucson, Ariz., 15.832
- Casey Roberts (101), Toccoa, Ga., 15.833
- Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., 15.838
- Delmas Conley (71), Wheelersburg, Ohio, 15.848
- Mike Mataragas (1m), DeKalb, Ill., 15.871
- Kent Robinson (7R), Bloomington, Ind., 15.889
- Dale McDowell (17m), Chickamauga, Ga., 15.892
- Josh Rice (11), Verona, Ky., 15.897
- Craig Vosbergen (8), Perth, Australia, 15.901
- Jon Henry (15), Ada, Ohio, 15.908
- Timothy Culp (c8), Prattsville, Ark., 15.911
- Shanon Buckingham (20), Morristown, Tenn., 15.914
- Donald Bradsher (93), Burlington, N.C., 15.923
- Rob Anderzack (8a), Swanton, Ohio, 15.929
- Curtis Roberts (9R), Coleman, Mich., 15.936
- Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 15.943
- Jeep Van Wormer (55), Pinconning, Mich., 15.944
- Kody Evans (4G), Camden, Ohio, 15.949
- Michael Page (18x), Douglasville, Ga., 15.956
- Riley Hickman (R1), Ooltewah, Tenn., 15.962
- Duane Chamberlain (20c), Richmond, Ind., 15.963
- Robby Hensley (21H), Walton, Ky., 15.968
- Rusty Schlenk (91), McClure, Ohio, 15.994
- Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 15.997
- Devin Gilpin (1G), Columbus, Ind., 15.999
- Nick Latham (31), Winchester, Ohio, 16.041
- Gavin Landers (77), Batesville, Ark., 16.044
- Kevin Reeve (4x), Hanover, Mich., 16.046
- Ryan King (1G), Seymour, Tenn., 16.049
- Casey Noonan (1N), Sylvania, Ohio, 16.087
- Garrett Alberson (F5), Las Cruces, N.M., 16.093
- Jesse Lay (33), Walton, Ky., 16.102
- Chris Ferguson (22), Mount Holly, N.C., 16.106
- Gordy Gundaker (11), St. Charles, Mo., 16.113
- Adam Bowman (77), Seymour, Ind., 16.132
- Dylan Ames (77), Harvest, Ala., 16.136
- Jared Hawkins (1), Fairmont, W.Va., 16.139
- Devin Friese (12), Chambersburg, Pa., 16.145
- Tim Lance (48), Brimfield, Ill., 16.150
- Jason Jameson (16), Lawrenceburg, Ind., 16.157
- Tyler Carpenter (28), Parkersburg, W.Va., 16.203
- Alex Ferree (10), Saxonburg, Pa., 16.227
- Tom Krankel (TK0), St. Louis, Mo., 16.248
- Steve Francis (14), Bowling Green, Ky., 16.279
- Zach McMillan (14z), Gladewater, Texas, 16.312
- Jerry Bowersock (95j), Wapakoneta, Ohio, 16.398
- Jay Johnson (93), West Burlington, Iowa, 16.398
- Brad Wade (23w), Dundee, Mich., 16.422
- Jon Hodgkiss (69), Kennedy Township, Pa., 16.499
- Tanner Kellick (3K), Mer Rouge, La., 16.550
- Larry Greer (9G), Bowling Green, Ky., 16.551
- Shane Unger (79), Rossburg, Ohio, 16.724
- Scott James (15), Bright, Ind., 16.739
- Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 16.801
- Brian Gray (3G), Hamilton, Ohio, 16.820
- Mark Whitener (6w), Middleburg, Fla., 16.821
- Chase Porter (34), DuQuoin, Ill., 16.960
- Jeff Robertson (P3), Defiance, Ohio, 17.394
- Bryant Dickinson (5*), Ionia, Mich., 17.507
- Samuel Tolley (8jr), Butler, Ind., 18.028
- Nick Hoffman (2), Mooresville, N.C., disqualified (deck height)
- Lamar Haygood (17), Douglasville, Ga., no time
- Blake Spencer (6s), St. Augustine, Fla., no time
- Paul Stubber (31aus), Bunbury, Australia, no time
- Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Ill., no time
6 a.m.: Showers open (close 6 p.m.)
7 a.m.: Breakfast at turn four concessions (closes 11 a.m.)
8 a.m.: Hillside markings may begin (chairs only)
8 a.m.: Turn three race registration opens (pit passes and media credential sign-in)
9 a.m.: Turn three pit gate opens
9 a.m.: Technical inspection for Late Models (closes 4:30 p.m.)
10 a.m.: Main gate ticket office opens (tickets, pit passes and will call)
10 a.m.: Turn four ticket office opens (tickets and pit passes)
11 a.m.: All ADA Parking opens (permit required)
11 a.m.: Grandstand cleared and secured for grand opening
Noon: All admission gates (including suites) open
Noon: All concessions open
5 p.m.: Drivers’ meeting
6 p.m.: Hot laps (followed by time trials)
8 p.m.: Heat races (followed by consolations and features)
Postrace party: Following the completion of racing in the Fan Zone
(Main concessions open overnight for limited food, beverage and ice service)