SARVER, Pa. (June 21) — Chris Madden kicked off the 12th annual Firecracker 100 weekend at Lernerville Speedway with a flourish in Thursday night’s 30-lap feature — by outrunning his two biggest rivals on the 2018 World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series.
The 43-year-old star from Gray Court, S.C., passed Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., for the lead on lap 11 and kept Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., at bay during the race’s late stages to stay there, giving him a $6,000 victory in the first of two scheduled preliminary programs leading into Saturday night’s $30,000-to-win century grind.
Madden’s third WoO triumph of the season in his Barry Wright Race Cars house car kept him atop the national tour’s standings by eight points over Marlar and 36 over Sheppard. The three drivers are the only WoO regulars who have won A-mains on the circuit so far in ’18.
“It’s really fun racing with these guys,” Madden said after leading a podium sweep by the top three in the series points battle. “It don’t take but just a little bit to be off and then you’re gonna get beat. I feel like when we’re on our top of our game we’re good enough to win, and when they’re on top of their game they’re good enough to win. It makes you work real hard and make sure everything is as good as it can be.”
Sheppard, 25, followed Madden past Marlar and chased the eventual winner for the remainder of the distance in his Rocket Chassis house car. The defending WoO champion drew close enough to make a last-ditch bid underneath Madden rounding turns three and four amidst lapped traffic on the final lap but fell 0.381 of a second short at the finish line.
The 40-year-old Marlar settled for a third-place finish after starting from the pole position and leading the event’s first 10 laps. Three-time Firecracker 100 winner Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., climbed forward from the eighth starting spot to place fourth and Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, completed the top five driving a brand-new Tye Twarog-owned XR1 Rocket car.
Defending Lernerville track champion Michael Norris of Sarver, Pa., who has four wins in six starts this season at the track, made the race’s biggest advance with his charge from the 16th starting spot to a sixth-place finish.
Madden, who started third but shot by outside polesitter Sheppard for second place on the opening lap, stalked Marlar relentlessly running the bottom of the 4/10-mile oval for the first third of the race. He finally made his deciding move to gain command on lap 11 with well-executed slide through turns three and four.
“He was definitely running the top real hard,” Madden said of Marlar. “We was able to run that middle and just stay with him, so we just waited for our time. We got us a good run off of (turn) two and was able to complete the pass going into three.”
Marlar had no answer for Madden’s rush. His Ronnie Delk-owned XR1 Rocket wasn’t quite up to Madden’s performance level.
“I just misadjusted,” said Marlar, who finished second in last year’s Firecracker 100. “Everything’s touchy on these race cars. You’ve got to get them adjusted right, and I just missed it a little bit and (Madden) hit it right on.
“Chris was really good. I could feel him breathing down my neck and I could see him sliding up under me in the corners. He finally just got in the corner good and slid up in front of me. He just was better. When he got ahead of me, he pulled away from me. I was just holding him up really.
“When we were racing there was plenty of times he could’ve slid in there and took a chance on passing me, so I appreciate the way he raced me,” first-year WoO traveler added. “He knew he was better I think and he was patient about making a move to get by me.”
Madden maintained a short-but-steady edge of a half- to a full-second on Sheppard over the final 20 laps. The closest Sheppard got to Madden was the final circuit when slower cars factored into the equation.
“I knew he was gonna catch me in lapped traffic,” Madden said of Sheppard. “The racetrack was really dirty behind those guys, so I just had to make sure I hit my lines right.”
Sheppard felt he had a “really good car,” but it wasn’t enough to overcome Madden. In fact, the race’s lone caution, on lap 20 when Alex Ferree of Saxonburg, Pa., spun over the turn-four bank while running in sixth, hampered B-Shepp.
“I couldn’t take off on the restarts quite as good as I wanted to,” said Sheppard, who has two wins and two runner-up finishes in the last four WoO features. “It took me five or six laps to get going and get my line back that I had been running. It was kind of hard to see out there going through three and four once we got to lapped traffic so that made it tricky too, but Chris did a really good job. He was in the right place at the right time and made some really good moves out there.”
Sheppard was just happy that his team is “getting our consistency back in our race car,” he said. “I know what I got when I hit the racetrack every time now, kind of like how we were last year.”
Madden recorded his first-ever win at Lernerville, a track he’s visited only a handful of times in his career. He finished second in the inaugural Firecracker 100 in 2007 but has started the event’s finale just twice since then, placing 13th in ’08 and fifth last year.
Thanks to his victory, Madden is assured of starting from the pole position in one of Saturday night’s Firecracker 100 heat races, which have their lineups determined by drivers’ best points night from the preliminary programs. He’s just hoping that the potential for rainy weather on Friday and Saturday doesn’t create a heavy racing surface that could dive-bomb the strength of his BWRC machine.
“I feel real comfortable with what we got going on,” Madden said. “I just would like to get the race in in some regular conditions. I don’t want it to be a monsoon and then a mud hole of a place. I don’t think the car gets to shine when the racetrack is really super, super wet.
“Tonight it was gonna get slick, slick, slick (if the feature had been longer), so I’d like to get in that condition (for the 100) and see how we really are.”
The feature’s most notable casualty was 2010 Firecracker 100 winner Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., who limped off the track on lap 23 while battling Bloomquist for fourth due to a broken axle.
Preliminary results and notes:
Row 1: Mike Marlar, Brandon Sheppard
Row 2: Chris Madden, Shane Clanton
Row 3: Devin Moran, Alex Ferree
Row 4: Mike Pegher Jr., Scott Bloomquist
Row 5: David Breazeale, Chris Ferguson
Row 6: Gregg Satterlee, Chub Frank
Row 7: Dale McDowell, Chase Junghans
Row 8: Rick Eckert, Michael Norris
Row 9: Darrell Lanigan, Jared Miley
Row 10: Charles Powell Jr., Tyler Erb
Row 11: Justin Williams, Jason Covert
Row 12: Brent Larson, Morgan Bagley
First B-main finish (10 laps; top 3 transfer): Darrell Lanigan, Charles Powell Jr., Justin Williams, Morgan Bagley, Tommy Beck, Dan Angelicchio, Colton Flinner, Joey Moriarty, Joe Petyak, Bump Hedman, Dave Hess Jr.
Second B-main finish (10 laps; top 3 transfer): Jared Miley, Tyler Erb, Jason Covert, Davey Johnson, Matt Lux, Blake Spencer, Ken Schaltenbrand, Brent Larson, Michael Maresca, Gary Lyle, John Weaver, Clay Ruffo.
(10 laps; top 3 transfer)
Row 1: Darrell Lanigan, Dave Hess Jr.
Row 2: Justin Williams, Morgan Bagley
Row 3: Charles Powell Jr., Dan Angelicchio
Row 4: Tommy Beck, Joey Moriarty
Row 5: Bump Hedman, Joe Petyak
Row 6: Dan Stone, Colton Flinner
Row 7: Joshua Powell
Row 1: Jared Miley, Tyler Erb
Row 2: Michael Maresca, Jason Covert
Row 3: Brent Larson, Davey Johnson
Row 4: Matt Lux, Blake Spencer
Row 5: Gary Lyle, Clay Ruffo
Row 6: John Weaver, Ken Schaltenbrand
First heat finish (10 laps; top 4 transfer): Mike Marlar, Scott Bloomquist, David Breazeale, Dale McDowell, Darrell Lanigan, Justin Williams, Charles Powell Jr., Tommy Beck, Bump Hedman, Dan Stone, Joshua Powell.
Second heat finish (10 laps; top 4 transfer): Shane Clanton, Alex Ferree, Gregg Satterlee, Rick Eckert, Dave Hess Jr., Morgan Bagley, Dan Angelicchio, Joey Moriarty, Joe Petyak, Colton Flinner.
Third heat finish (10 laps; top 4 transfer): Brandon Sheppard, Devin Moran, Chris Ferguson, Chase Junghans, Jared Miley, Michael Maresca, Brent Larson, Matt Lux, Gary Lyle, John Weaver.
Fourth heat finish (10 laps; top 4 transfer): Chris Madden, Mike Pegher Jr., Chub Frank, Michael Norris, Tyler Erb, Jason Covert, Davey Johnson, Blake Spencer, Clay Ruffo, Ken Schaltenbrand.
The three-day Firecracker 100 weekend at Lernerville Speedway kicks off with the first of two World of Outlaws-sanctioned preliminary programs topped by a 30-lap, $6,000-to-win feature. … Weather conditions were ideal throughout the day — highs in the low 80s and partly sunny skies — but the threat of rain does enter the picture after midnight and remains for the remainder of the weekend. … The weather forecast did prompt several high-profile drivers to abandon their plans to enter the event, including Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series regulars Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., and the father-son combination of Don and Hudson O’Neal of Martinsville, Ill. … Another Lucas Oil traveler noticeably absent is Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., who has finished outside the top 10 just once in nine career Firecracker 100 feature starts. … The Lucas Oil tour is represented by three-time Firecracker 100 winner Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., 2014 victor and four-time race runner-up Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., and Gregg Satterlee of Indiana, Pa. … WoO regulars David Breazeale of Four Corners, Miss., Brent Larson of Lake Elmo, Minn., and Chris Ferguson of Mt. Holly, N.C., are making first-ever starts at Lernerville. … Another Lernerville first-timer is Joey Moriarty of Phoenix, Ariz. … Veteran Davey Johnson of Latrobe, Pa., will end his absence from Dirt Late Model action this action by driving a Club 29 car fielded by Todd Bachman of Natrona Heights, Pa., who hasn’t raced this season while recovering from an injured pelvis he suffered in an off-season hunting accident. … Perennial Firecracker 100 entrant Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa., is ready to take another stab at the $30,000 top prize, but his cousin and teammate, Boom Briggs, also of Bear Lake, Pa., isn’t competing. Briggs is off driving a truck for his trucking company today.
(10 laps; top 4 transfer)
Row 1: Mike Marlar, Scott Bloomquist
Row 2: David Breazeale, Dale McDowell
Row 3: Charles Powell Jr., Darrell Lanigan
Row 4: Dan Stone, Justin Williams
Row 5: Tommy Beck, Bump Hedman
Row 6: Joshua Powell
Row 1: Shane Clanton, Alex Ferree
Row 2: Gregg Satterlee, Rick Eckert
Row 3: Colton Flinner, Morgan Bagley
Row 4: Dave Hess Jr., Dan Angelicchio
Row 5: Joey Moriarty, Joe Petyak
Row 1: Brandon Sheppard, Devin Moran
Row 2: Chris Ferguson, Jared Miley
Row 3: Chase Junghans, Matt Lux
Row 4: Michael Maresca, Brent Larson
Row 5: Gary Lyle, John Weaver
Row 1: Chris Madden, Chub Frank
Row 2: Michael Norris, Tyler Erb
Row 3: Mike Pegher Jr., Jason Covert
Row 4: Davey Johnson, Ken Schaltenbrand
Row 5: Blake Spencer, Clay Ruffo
Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., 15.131
Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., 15.318
Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., 15.347
Alex Ferree (4), Saxonburg, Pa., 15.405
David Breazeale (54), Four Corners, Miss., 15.405
Gregg Satterlee (22), Indiana, Pa., 15.480
Dale McDowell (17M), Chickamauga, Ga., 15.573
Rick Eckert (7), York, Pa., 15.603
Charles Powell Jr. (94), Brookville, Pa., 15.605
Colton Flinner (75), Allison Park, Pa., 15.640
Darrell Lanigan (14), Union, Ky., 15.772
Morgan Bagley (14M), Tyler, Texas, 15.833
Dan Stone (2), Thompson, Pa., 15.842
Dave Hess Jr. (44h), Waterford, Pa., 15.862
Justin Williams (89), Concord, Va., 15.887
Dan Angelicchio (14a), Mt. Pleasant, Pa., 15.965
Tommy Beck (91b), Murrysville, Pa., 15.967
Joey Moriarty (51), Phoenix, Ariz., 16.076
Bump Hedman (B22), Sugar Grove, Pa., 16.111
Joe Petyak (44p), Gallitzin, Pa., 16.564
Joshua Powell (11), Sarver, Pa., 16.788
Brandon Sheppard (1), New Berlin, Ill., 15.345
Chris Madden (44), Gray Court, S.C., 15.436
Devin Moran (9), Dresden, Ohio, 15.480
Chub Frank (1*), Bear Lake, Pa., 15.491
Chris Ferguson (22), Mount Holly, N.C., 15.506
Michael Norris (72), Sarver, Pa., 15.539
Jared Miley (10), Pittsburgh, Pa., 15.552
Tyler Erb (91), New Waverly, Texas, 15.595
Chase Junghans (18c), Manhattan, Kan., 15.623
Mike Pegher Jr. (1c), Cranberry Twp., Pa., 15.708
Max Lux (111), Franklin, Pa., 15.802
Jason Covert (72), York Haven, Pa., 15.867
Michael Maresca (7mm), Potsdam, N.Y., 15.987
Davey Johnson (1J), Latrobe, Pa., 16.115
Brent Larson (B1), Lake Elmo, Minn., 16.125
Ken Schaltenbrand (29), Sarver, Pa., 16.182
Gary Lyle (10L), Leachburg, Pa., 16.245
Blake Spencer (6), St. Augustine, Fla., 16.308
John Weaver (3w), Commodore, Pa., 16.848
Clay Ruffo (14r), Mercer, Pa., no time