ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Every driver was gunning for history Friday in Dirt Late Model racing’s first indoor event in 34 years. Shannon Babb was simply trying to make sure his 2016 didn’t end without a victory.
The 42-year-old Moweaqua, Ill., driver etched his name in the sport’s record books at The Dome at America's Center with his $5,000 victory at the inaugural VP Racing Fuels Gateway Dirt Nationals presented by Karl Performance with a thrilling third-to-first move with three laps remaining.
Babb’s victory in St. Louis — where the four-time UMP DIRTcar Summernationals champion has won 10 series events at nearby tracks — was met with a roaring standing ovation from thousands of fans surrounding the fifth-mile oval at the downtown arena.
“We beat ourselves up a whole lot. We’ve got so much different equipment we’ve had to sort through … we’ve just been getting on a rhythm here from August on (and) we had a really good end of the year,” said Babb, whose four runner-up finishes from 2016 came late in the season. “We ran second several times and just never was able to get a win, but won a lot of heats. If you start winning heats, you’re going to win a feature. Our car’s pretty good right now.”
The fifth-starting Babb took the checkers .602 seconds ahead of Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., who ran second the entire 25-lap distance while chasing polesitter Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., over the first 22 laps. Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., finished just behind Lanigan in third while Bloomquist settled for fourth in the 20-car field.
The top eight finishers in Friday’s 25-lapper will redraw to set the first four rows of Saturday’s $20,000-to-win finale at the Dome. The rest of the 22-car field will be determined by Saturday consolation races scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. CST available on live pay-per-view at DirtonDirt.com.
The 23rd lap was a wild one as Lanigan and Babb pressured Bloomquist amid traffic in the race’s waning laps. When Bloomquist checked up slightly exiting turn two, it sealed off Lanigan’s run and allowed Babb to slide up and under at the top of the backstretch.
The three frontrunners stayed tight down the ultrashort backstretch with the nose of Bloomquist’s yin-yang ride catching the left-rear corner of Babb’s red No. 18, briefly unsettlingly the leader before contact from Lanigan righted Babb’s car and sent him toward his first victory since August 2015’s Topless 100 at Batesville (Ark.) Motor Speedway.
In ending his 16-month drought, Babb became the first indoor winner of a Dirt Late Model event since Jack Boggs captured a 1982 event at the Pontiac Silverdome near Detroit, Mich.
“If (the fans) didn’t get on their feet right then, they won’t ever,” Babb said. “That’s what it’s all about, just putting a show on for them fans and getting out blood pressure rolling here in December when everybody’s just kind of been laying low. I think I haven’t had adrenaline run through my body like that for a couple of months, so that was awesome.”
The second- and third-place finishers enjoyed the frenetic indoor action, too.
“I tell you what, that was definitely a race out there. It was fun. It had to be fun for the spectators, but man, it was just so close and I was all over the leaders there and everybody’s everywhere. For a little track, it raced awesome,” Lanigan said. “We all got side-by-side down the backchute there. The track was awesome. You could run top to bottom … the bottom wasn’t really that dominant, the top wasn’t dominant. You could run all over that thing. They did a heckuva job here tonight and, I mean, I don’t think the fans could ask for no better show.”
Feger burst into contention just before halfway on the flattish St. Louis oval.
“If (the fans) weren’t on their feet, they were either dead or too drunk to stand, but I’m telling you what, we had a blast out there. A lot of good hard clean racing, Babb and Lanigan and Scott. … I don’t know who was going where,” Feger said, adding that “I won’t forget that one anytime soon. I thought I was going to be able sneak by all of them for the win right there. I just felt like just kept getting better and better as the race went on … Babb hit them holes just right and snuck through there, man, what a show.”
Starting on the pole, Bloomquist faced stiff pressure from Lanigan from the outset, running the middle lane for two laps to give Lanigan a chance to dig underneath before Bloomquist closed the door on lap three.
A high-flying Babb took the third spot from outside front-row starter Chad Zobrist of Highland, Ill., and chased the top two on the high side in the early laps with Babb, Zobrist and Chris Simpson continuing to mix it up inside the top five.
Two early cautions slowed the action — the first for Billy Moyer Jr.’s turn-one spin on the fifth lap, and another two laps later when a frontstretch scramble send Nick Hoffman spinning — before Bloomquist went back to work, hugging the inside groove that got lower and lower.
With infield tire barriers nudged out of the way and some drivers dipping even onto the arena’s concrete floor, Bloomquist stayed in control through the first half of the race with Lanigan jumping up high, losing ground when he briefly got sideways in turn four on the ninth lap.
Bloomquist led Lanigan and Babb on lap 11 with Feger jumping up to the fourth spot ahead of Zobrist.
Just past halfway, the top three stayed in a tight pack with Bloomquist in the low groove, Lanigan up high and Babb running the middle groove. The slower cars of Moyer and Hoffman gave Bloomquist fits in the final five laps as Lanigan closed in, sizing Bloomquist up for an outside pass.
But Lanigan’s car got knocked off kilter by contact with Hoffman and Babb pounced down low, taking advantage when Bloomquist hit a rough spot that caused his car to check up, giving Babb the opening to end his long winless streak.
“The groove was everywhere. I mean, I tried the outside a couple of times early in the (feature), trying to blow it off, but it was pretty fluffy out there,” Babb said. “It was fast, but once those tires got knocked in, it was a lot shorter to go around the bottom, and that’s what I started doing is running the bottom, and I was able to gain up and catch up with those guys a little bit.”
For the winning move, he found “an open hole and I went. You know, I about got turned around there again, but like I said, it was super-tight racing out there, but a helluva good time. A lot of fun.”
Notes: The first four rows of Saturday’s feature lineup will be made up of Babb, Lanigan, Feger, Bloomquist, Chris Simpson, Chad Zobrist, Don O’Neal and Kevin Weaver. They’ll redraw for the 1-8 starting spots. … Weaver and O’Neal rallied from the sixth row to gain their key spots. ... Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, overtook O’Neal on the final lap of a B-main with a turn-four slide job. Moran ended up being the only driver to drop out of the feature when he slowed with a flat left-rear tire on the eighth lap. … Casey Roberts of Toccoa, Ga., was among the weekend’s top qualifiers but he dropped out of a B-main with a bent nosepiece while contending up front. … The Dome isn’t the only St. Louis venue hosting a trading places sports event. Nearby Busch Stadium, the home of 11-time World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, is covering its baseball field with ice for NHL’s Winter Classic scheduled for Jan. 2.
Preliminary results and notes:
First B-main (top six transfer): Joey Coulter, Kevin Weaver, Michael Kloos, Daryn Klein, Billy Moyer Jr., Hunter Rasdon, Justin Kay, Gordy Gundaker, Tony Jackson Jr., T.J. Markham, Mike Spatola, Jeremy Sneed, Tanner English, Scott Lewis, Zach McMillan, Spencer Diercks, Jay Elliott, Casey Roberts, Scott Ward, Dustin Griffin.
Second B-main (top six transfer): Devin Moran, Don O'Neal, Kent Robinson, Brandon Sheppard, Bobby pIerce, Nick Hoffman, Rodney Melvin, Randy Timms, Ryan Unzicker, Rusty Schlenk, Casey Montague, Austin Rettig, Timothy Culp, Matt Bailey, Mike Schulte, Scott Fitzpatrick, Bob Gardner, Jesse Stovall, Austin Hubbard, Tim Senic.
First C-main (top four transfer): Tanner English, T.J. Markham, Jeremy Sneed, Zach McMillan, Mark Voigt, Matt Santel, Charles LaPlant, Jeff Roth, Brant Kehrer, Steve Beach, Jason Zobrist, Jim Gray, Jeff Herzog, David Payne, Matt Taylor.
Second C-main (top four transfer): Bobby Pierce, Rusty Schlenk, Randy Timms, Austin Rettig, Kolby Vandenbergh, Greg Kimmons, Rick Salter, Shannon Scott, Cole Swibold, Nick Davis, Caleb Ashby, Austin Theiss, Payton Looney, Steve Thorsten, Jason Suhre, Chris Fetter.
First D-main (top four transfer): Zach McMillan, Brant Kehrer, Matt Sentel, Jeff Roth, Robbie Bauman, Scott Bell, Cody Holtkamp, Brian Shirley, Harrison Hall, Rob Toland.
Second D-main (top four transfer): Payton Looney, Nick Davis, Chris Fetter, Cole Swibold, Derek Fetter, Dan Jacober, Jon Driskill, Justin Russell, Samuel Tolley, Brian Mullins, Michael Luna, Mike Hammerle, Ricky Mardis, Kevin Palmer.
(Top six advance)
Row 1: Joey Coulter, Casey Roberts
Row 2: Spencer Diercks, Daryn Klein
Row 3: Kevin Weaver, Michael Kloos
Row 4: Billy Moyer Jr., Hunter Rasdon
Row 5: Justin Kay, Dustin Griffin
Row 6: Scott Lewis, Tony Jackson Jr.
Row 7: Scott Ward, Mike Spatola
Row 8: Jay Elliott, Gordy Gundaker
Row 9: Tanner English, T.J. Markham
Row 10: Jeremy Sneed, Zach McMillan
(Top six advance)
Row 1: Don O’Neal, Austin Hubbard
Row 2: Bob Gardner, Kent Robinson
Row 3: Jesse Stovall, Casey Montague
Row 4: Devin Moran, Rodney Melvin
Row 5: Nick Hoffman, Tim Senic
Row 6: Mike Schulte, Ryan Unzicker
Row 7: Brandon Sheppard, Scott Fitzpatrick
Row 8: Timothy Culp, Matt Bailey
Row 9: Bobby Pierce, Rusty Schlenk
Row 10: Randy Timms, Austin Rettig
(Top four advance)
Row 1: Jason Zobrist, T.J. Markham
Row 2: Steve Beach, Tanner English
Row 3: Jim Gray, Charles LaPlant
Row 4: Russ Ogletree, David Payne
Row 5: Jeremy Sneed, Matt Taylor
Row 6: Jeff Herzog, Mark Voigt
Row 7: Zach McMillan, Brant Kehrer
Row 8: Matt Santel, Jeff Roth
(Top four advance)
Row 1: Bobby Pierce, Randy Timms
Row 2: Rusty Schlenk, Rick Salter
Row 3: Shannon Scott, Austin Theiss
Row 4: Caleb Ashby, Kolby Vandenbergh
Row 5: Greg Kimmons, Jason Suhre
Row 6: Steve Thorsten, Austin Rettig
Row 7: Payton Looney, Nick Davis
Row 8: Chris Fetter, Cole Swibold
(Top four advance)
Row 1: Matt Santel, Jason Perry
Row 2: Zach McMillan, Brant Kehrer
Row 3: Jeff Roth, Harrison Hall
Row 4: Scott Bell, Cody Holtkamp
Row 5: Jimmy Sharpe Jr., Brian Shirley
Row 6: Bryan Collins, Robbie Bauman
Row 7: Rob Toland, Michael Walker
Row 8: Reid Millard, Brandon Tibaldi
Row 9: Dustin Reese
(Top four advance)
Row 1: Payton Looney, Nick Davis
Row 2: Chris Fetter, Ricky Mardis
Row 3: Derek Fetter, Cole Swibold
Row 4: Kevin Palmer, Mike Hammerle
Row 5: Dan Jacober, Doug Glessner
Row 6: Jon Driskill, Brian Mullins
Row 7: Chris Geisen, Justin Russell
Row 8: Samuel Tolley, Michael Luna
Heat race notes
Darrell Lanigan kicked off the afternoon heat-race action with a dominant victory in the first 8-lapper. … After holding off Don O’Neal to win the second heat, Scott Bloomquist reported that he’s ended his double-duty for the weekend to concentrate on claiming the $20,000 Dirt Late Model top prize. “We really weren’t prepared with the modified when we got here,” said Bloomquist, who didn’t transfer through his modified heat on Thursday. “We parked it for the weekend.” … Highland (Ill.) Speedway champion Chad Zobrist authored what was arguably the most stirring drive of the prelims, working hard to win the third heat with a two-to-go pass of Casey Roberts for the lead. “I was just hoping it was gonna stick in that first corner,” Zobrist said. “I saw them out there with the (water) mister so I figured there’d be so me moisture (for traction), and there was.” … Jason Feger felt like he survived a barroom brawl after emerging victorious in the fourth heat. “It’s tight, man,” said Feger, who spun in turn two on the opening lap but retained his spot on the outside pole for the restart. “It’s hard racing … I just stayed on the wood. Everybody was throwing elbows, trading paints. It’s tough out there.” … Boswell, Pa.’s Doug Glessner rode out a wild flip in the fourth heat, going over on the homestretch after tangling with Cole Swibold. “That was crazy,” said Glessner, who escaped the wreck uninjured. “That truly wasn’t the plan.” … Ray Cook earned his Heat 5 triumph behind the wheel of a new Capital Race Car fielded by Tennessee’s Stacy Boles. … Iowa’s Chris Simpson ran away with the sixth heat, easily winning on a bullring that’s new to him but not daunting. “It’s just another racetrack,” he said. “I’m not used to this kind of stuff, but it’s getting slick now and that’s what we like.” … Kansan Jacob Magee and Illinois star Shannon Babb were victorious in the seventh and eighth heats, respectively — the lone pair of prelims that ran caution-free. … A total of 19 caution flags and one red flag slowed the first six heat races, including six in the fifth heat, which was shortened one lap by a time limit.
Heat race results
(Eight laps - winner transfers; 2nd through fifth to B-main; 6th through 8th to C-Main; remainder to D-main)
First heat: Darrell Lanigan, Joey Coulter, Kevin Weaver, Justin Kay, Scott Ward, Jason Zobrist, Jim Gray, Jeremy Sneed, Matt Santel, Jeff Roth, Jimmy Sharpe Jr., Rob Toland.
Second heat: Scott Bloomquist, Don O'Neal, Jesse Stovall, Nick Hoffman, Brandon Sheppard, Bobby Pierce, Shannon Scott, Greg Kimmons, Payton Looney, Derek Fetter, Dan Jacober.
Third heat: Chad Zobrist, Casey Roberts, Michael Kloos, Dustin Griffin, Mike Spatola, T.J. Markham, Charles LaPlant, Matt Taylor, Jason Perry, Harrison Hall, Brian Shirley.
Fourth heat: Jason Feger, Austin Hubbard, Casey Montague, Tim Senic, Scott Fitzpatrick, Randy Timms, Austin Theiss, Jason Suhre, Nick Davis, Cole Swibold, Doug Glessner.
Fifth heat: Ray Cook, Spencer Diercks, Billy Moyer Jr., Scott Lewis, Jay Elliott, Steve Beach, Russ Ogletree, Jef Herzog, Zach McMillan, Scott Bell.
Sixth heat: Chris Simpson, Bob Gardner, Devin Moran, Mike Schulte, Timothy Culp, Rusty Schlenk, Caleb Ashby, Steve Thorsten, Chris Fetter, Kevin Palmer, Jon Driskill, Samuel Tolley.
Seventh heat: Jacob Magee, Daryn Klein, Hunter Rasdon, Tony Jackson Jr., Gordy Gundaker, Tanner English, David Payne, Mark Voigt, Brant Kehrer, Cody Holtkamp, Robbie Bauman, Brandon Tibaldi.
Eighth heat: Shannon Babb, Kent Robinson, Rodney Melvin, Ryan Unzicker, Matt Bailey, Rick Salter, Kolby Vandenbergh, Austin Rettig, Ricky Mardis, Mike Hammerle, Brian Mullins.
Pre-heat race notes
A total of 22 events are on Friday’s agenda, including 15 for the Dirt Late Models (eight heats, double D-, C- and B-mains and a 25-lap feature). … The second round of Dirt Late Model time trials Thursday proved to be a moot point as none of the 97 drivers who turned laps improved their time from Round 1. … Casey Roberts of Toccoa, Ga., who starts from the pole in Heat 3, had an interesting comment about running inside a Dome that was home to the St. Louis Rams for two decades: “I told my wife, ‘I think I got a little tight there on the 30-yard line,’ ” Roberts said. … Heat five polesitter Billy Moyer Jr. of Batesville, Ark., has his hauler parked next to his uncle Carl Moyer’s expansive display for Karl Performance, a major sponsor of the Gateway Dirt Nationals. … Kent Robinson of Bloomington, Ind., who starts from the pole position in the eighth heat, admitted to being in awe of his surroundings when he hit the track for time trials on Thursday. “I never thought I’d be a dirt car and look up and see that many stands,” he said. “It’s a testament to where we’ve come with this sport.” … Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., starts from the pole position in the second heat, but he’ll be looking to make the evening’s open-wheel modified feature through one of Friday’s consolation events after missing the cut in his heat race on Thursday evening. A scramble during the prelim sent him sideways and bouncing over an insider marker. … Ray Cook of Brasstown, N.C., noted drivers’ lack of laps on the fifth-mile oval in a humorous tweet he sent out prior to today’s action. “I’ve had a total of 57 seconds of track time so far,” he wrote. … Illinois drivers Brian Shirley and Rodney Melvin are teammates in Thomason Express Rayburn cars this weekend. … Steve Francis of Bowling Green, Ky., is in the pit area as a spectator rather than a competitor. He was entered to drive a Tim Logan-owned car, but Logan informed Francis last week that his machine wouldn’t be ready for Dome action and Francis didn’t have enough time to ready one of his own new Capital Race Cars or find a replacement ride. … Event officials have erected a huge inflatable movie screen in the pit area on which the live feed of the racing will be projected.
Friday’s heat race lineups
(Eight laps - winners transfer; 2nd-5th to B-mains; 6th-8th to C-mains; 9th-13th to D-mains)
Row 1: Darrell Lanigan, Joey Coulter
Row 2: Justin Kay, Matt Santel
Row 3: Scott Ward, Rob Toland
Row 4: Jeff Roth, Jimmy Sharpe Jr.
Row 5: Jeremy Sneed, Jason Zobrist
Row 6: Kevin Weaver, Jim Gray
Row 7: Dustin Reese
Row 1: Scott Bloomquist, Jesse Stovall
Row 2: Nick Hoffman, Shannon Scott
Row 3: Greg Kimmons, Don O'Neal
Row 4: Payton Looney, Brandon Sheppard
Row 5: Derek Fetter, Bobby Pierce
Row 6: Dan Jacober, Chris Geisen
Row 1: Casey Roberts, Chad Zobrist
Row 2: Michael Kloos, Dustin Griffin
Row 3: Mike Spatola, Rodney Melvin
Row 4: Jason Perry, Charles LaPlant
Row 5: Matt Taylor, Harrison Hall
Row 6: T.J. Markham, Michael Walker
Row 1: Tim Senic, Jason Feger
Row 2: Austin Hubbard, Doug Glessner
Row 3: Cole Swibold, Scott Fitzpatrick
Row 4: Jason Suhre, Randy Timms
Row 5: Austin Theiss, Casey Montague
Row 6: Justin Russell, Nick Davis
Row 1: Billy Moyer Jr., Ray Cook
Row 2: Scott Bell, Spencer Diercks
Row 3: Scott Lewis, Jeff Herzog
Row 4: Russ Ogletree, Zach McMillan
Row 5: Jay Elliott, Bryan Collins
Row 6: Reid Millard, Steve Beach
Row 1: Chris Simpson, Bob Gardner
Row 2: Rusty Schlenk, Mike Schulte
Row 3: Steve Thorsten, Devin Moran
Row 4: Caleb Ashby, Timothy Culp
Row 5: Chris Fetter, Samuel Tolley
Row 6: Jon Driskill, Kevin Palmer
Row 1: Jacob Magee, Daryn Klein
Row 2: Tony Jackson Jr., Gordy Gundaker
Row 3: Tanner English, Brant Kehrer
Row 4: Hunter Rasdon, Mark Voigt
Row 5: David Payne, Robbie Bauman
Row 6: Cody Holtkamp, Brandon Tibaldi
Row 1: Kent Robinson, Shannon Babb
Row 2: Matt Bailey, Brian Shirley
Row 3: Ryan Unzicker, Austin Rettig
Row 4: Rick Salter, Kolby Vandenbergh
Row 5: Michael Luna, Mike Hammerle
Row 6: Ricky Mardis, Brian Mullins
11 a.m.: Registration opens
8 a.m.-noon: Completion of trailer parking
1 p.m.: Pit gates open
3 p.m.: Racing begins
- Late Model heat races
- Modified consolations
- Late Model D-, C- and B-mains
- $5,000-to-win modified feature (20 laps)
- $5,000-to-win Late Model feature (25 laps)