SPRING VALLEY, Minn. (July 8) — Chris Madden’s first-ever visit to the spic-and-span Deer Creek Speedway produced a thoroughly satisfying result.
The 42-year-old driver from Gray Court, S.C., made a memorable debut at the 3/8-mile oval, winning Saturday night’s 38th annual Gopher 50 that kicked off the annual World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series’s Wild West Tour.
Madden was involved in some late-race drama — he assumed command on lap 43 when his battle for the top spot with fellow WoO regular Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, ended with the 22-year-old racer spinning from contention — but it didn’t diminish his post-race excitement. The first-time WoO traveler wore a big smile after pocketing $10,000 for his second victory of the season on the national tour and first since Feb. 18 at Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Ga.
The 11th WoO triumph of Madden’s career also moved him from a tie for fourth in the points standings to sole possession of third, just 12 points behind second-place Tyler Erb of New Waverly, Texas, who finished 10th.
“We had a great car and I would like to thank my guys who worked hard this week to get this thing ready for me,” said Madden, who steered his Longhorn machine to the victory. “This win is for my crew member Brian (Imler). His mom passed away earlier this week and he had to leave us (to return home for the services).”
Madden, who started seventh, took the checkered flag 1.342 seconds ahead of Menomonie, Wis.’s Jimmy Mars after having no trouble following a lap-48 restart. The sixth-starting Mars, 45, spent the green-white-checkered finish with his focus mostly on repelling the hard-charging Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., who settled for a third-place finish after his stirring run from the 22nd starting spot fell a mere 0.204 of a second short of the runner-up spot.
WoO points leader Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., crawled forward from the 12th starting spot to finish fourth while Chase Junghans of Manhattan, Kan., placed fifth after taking the initial green from the third starting slot. Polesitter Rodney Sanders of Happy, Texas, who led the race’s first 21 laps, faded to sixth in the final rundown.
Moran, who grabbed the lead from Rodney Sanders of Happy, Texas, on lap 22, was credited with a 17th-place finish after his bid for his second WoO feature win of the season evaporated with his lap-43 twirl while tussling with Madden. The tumble in the finishing order was costly for Moran, who fell from third to fourth in the points standings following his first-ever start at Deer Creek.
Moran’s race-deciding spin came moments after Madden, who passed Mars for second on lap 38, caught the leader and began mounting a challenge. Charging around the outside while Moran ran the bottom, Madden pulled up to Moran’s rear bumper heading into turn one on lap 43. Slight contact between the two caused Moran to lose control and spin out, sending him to the rear and Madden on to victory.
“We ran the top there and got to going good,” Madden said, replaying the scrape with Moran during his post-race interview in victory lane. “And, you know, guys want to run the bottom and the top, and I was there and I hate it for him.”
Mars was in a tight battle for second with Marlar when Moran spun, giving him a front-row view of the incident. He took advantage of Moran’s misfortune to leave Deer Creek with a runner-up finish.
“We were probably a third-place car there,” Mars said. “Just kind of a bad deal there between Madden and Moran. A little fireworks there … we were going to run third and we got second I guess. We will take second and move on to the next race.”
Marlar, meanwhile, was the race’s biggest mover and shaker, recovering from a slow start to the night to grab his fourth podium finish in six WoO starts this season.
“A wise guy told me today that I would finish on the podium and I don't know how that happened after such a bad start,” Marlar said. “I would just like to thank this racetrack. This might be the raciest racetrack I’ve ever been to. This place is awesome and I hope (the fans) really treasure this place. This is an awesome racetrack.”
The field at Deer Creek Speedway for the 38th annual Gopher 50 was stacked with 36 Late Models and a full house of fans. The World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series has an action-packed week coming up with three races in three days at Ogilvie Raceway on July 12, Hibbing Raceway on July 13, and River Cities Speedway on July 14.
Five caution flags dotted the event, including a lap-28 slowdown for a multi-car tangle between turns three and four involving Eric Wells of Hazard, Ky., Jordan Yaggy of Rochester, Minn., Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa, and Nick Anvelink of Navarino, Wis. Other cautions flew on lap 26 for Joey Coulter of Union Grove, N.C., slowing with a flat left-rear tire; lap 39 for Chad Mahder of Eau Claire, Wis., spinning in turn two; lap 43 for Moran; and lap 48 for Rick Eckert of York, Pa., slowing while running just outside the top 10.
Notes: All 21 drivers running at the finish were on the lead lap. … Morgan Bagley of Tyler, Texas, used a provisional to gain entry to the A-main but rallied from the 23rd starting spot to finish eighth. … Iowa’s Simpson brothers were mid-race retirees with Chris finishing 23rd and Chad placing 24th. … Tyler Erb's quick time in qualifying was his first of the season, but he lost the pole in the first heat when he jumped the initial start. ... The WoO tour contested the 15th feature in its history at Deer Creek. ... Jason Rauen of Farley, Iowa, cruised to victory in the 12-car non-qualifiers’ race.