ROSSBURG, Ohio (June 8) — Delivering the crown jewel victory long missing from Mark Richards’s mantle, 15th-starting Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., won the 25th running of the Dream Saturday at Eldora Speedway. Sheppard took the lead on lap 72 from Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., when Pearson suddenly slowed with a deflating tire, and led the final 28 laps, barely nipping a hard-charging Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., at the line on the final circuit.
With McDowell hugging the bottom and Sheppard buzzing what little cushion remained around the outside, the two met on the front straightaway as they raced to the checkered flag. Slight contact — incidental at best — left McDowell’s car spinning on the front stretch as his furious rally over the final three laps fell short by a mere 0.056 of a second — barely the length of the hood on his Sweet-Bloomquist Race Car.
Sheppard earned a career-high $125,000 for his first Dream triumph, while handing Richards’s Rocket Chassis house car team its first-ever crown jewel victory at historic Eldora Speedway.
“It means the world to me to get one for Mark Richards and Rocket Chassis and this Rocket house car team for sure,” said an emotional Sheppard in victory lane. “I couldn’t do it without them guys, Mark, Dan, Austin, Joel … definitely the heart and sole behind this team. They make my life a lot easier you know, I get to go home and be with my family and I can’t thank them enough for sure.
“Man this is phenomenal. It’s hard to talk right now. My emotions are all over the place. It was definitely close there at the end. It’s hard to believe, I think it was 12 years ago now, I was at the Dale McDowell driving school learning from that guy.”
Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., a preliminary feature winner on Friday night, finished third after starting 11th, while 20th-starting Chris Ferguson of Mount Holly, N.C., and seventh-starting Tyler Erb of New Waverly, Texas, rounded out the top five. Chase Junghans of Manhattan, Kan., actually crossed the line fourth after starting 18th, but McDowell's spin triggered a caution at the checkers that reverted scoring to the previous lap for finishers fourth on back.
Searching for a way to express himself in victory lane, the 26-year-old Sheppard was thinking as much about his near misses at the famed half-mile oval in western Ohio as he was the biggest victory of his career.
“We won four prelim races here. The first time we won two and we didn’t even make the race,” said Sheppard. “Then we ran second at the Dream two years ago and we come back last year and we didn’t even make the race. Like I said, hat’s off to Mark Richards, Steve Baker and everyone at Rocket Chassis. They just keep fighting. Their hearts are huge and they want to win just as much as I do and that’s what it takes out here.
“It’s just an unbelievable feeling. It’s hard to believe we’re up here. The biggest thing that’s hard to believe is that Mark Richards never sat up here before. That’s pretty awesome to get one for him too.”
Richards was his typical low-key self in victory lane. But even the Rocket Chassis co-founder couldn’t stay completely restrained after finally checking Eldora off his bucket list.
“It’s been 44 years coming here and racing all the races at Eldora over the years and this is the first time my own personal car has been on stage,” he said. “You know we’ve built cars that’s won here. But for our own personal car to be here, or one that I crew chiefed … which back in the old days Rodney Combs was the driver that I always raced with back in those days … but this is really special to me.”
Much like Richards has patiently awaited an Eldora victory, he also had to wait for his driver to exert himself in Saturday’s 100-lap main event. Sheppard cracked the top five on lap 19, but still trailed a trio of drivers swapping the lead. Polesitter Kyle Strickler of Mooresville, N.C., led the first two laps, gave way to Kyle Bronson of Brandon, Fla., who led laps 3-15, and then reclaimed the top spot on lap 16. The modified standout appeared poised for an upset victory in his Wells Motorsports mount until Pearson wrestled the lead away on lap 48.
Two laps later Sheppard was in second, but Pearson, the 2006 World 100 winner still looking for his first Dream victory, began to pull away. He extended his advantage to 2.686 seconds by lap 62. Pearson’s time at the front was undone by a piece of debris however. Unable to avoid a section of a competitor’s spoiler that had broken loose and fallen on the track, Pearson suffered a punctured tire, allowing Sheppard to close quickly. Sheppard had just darted by when the caution waved for Pearson.
“It was a crazy race for sure,” said Sheppard. “There at the beginning me and J.D. (Jonathan Davenport) got rolling pretty good on the bottom there and got to them guys. Then I found a pretty good line on the top and got by a bunch of guys on restarts and stuff. I don’t know what happened to Earl, but sorry for him. I think we had a pretty good race car. We were gaining on him whenever he broke.”
Sheppard controlled the race the rest of the distance until McDowell broke free from a three-car battle for second in the final 10 laps and began to reel in the leader. With six laps remaining, Sheppard led Erb by nearly 2 seconds. Clearing himself of Clanton, McDowell retook the second spot on lap 95 and within two laps cut the deficit in half. Seemingly too far back to challenge Sheppard once he reclaimed second, McDowell, the 2014 Dream winner, put together an epic charge on the bottom over the final three circuits, nearly stealing the victory.
“The racetrack actually cleaned up there in the bottom those last couple laps and I was able to make some big gains,” said McDowell. “I went into turn three and Jimmy Owens was pulling into the pits so I had to actually swing a little bit wide so that killed me a little bit getting into the corner.
“When we come to the flag … I don’t race that way even though there’s that much money (on the line). Brandon and I talked about it. We’re gonna rub a little bit but we’re not gonna crash. So we rubbed a little bit and we ended up spinning out. I mean I was trying to get to the flag first obviously.”
Committed to the outside line, Sheppard simply peddled as hard as he could, hoping he’d beat the fast-closing McDowell back to the line.
“I really didn’t want to run that top all the way around,” Sheppard said. “I thought I was better entering on the top and then turning down off of it, but every time I went by, (crew chief) Dan (White) was telling me to ring the top. He showed me that my gap was closing up there at the end and I looked on the screen there and noticed that Dale was right there and I knew if he was right there it was gonna be tough. I’ve watched him win numerous times at this place (running) the middle bottom (groove).”
After dispatching Erb, Clanton could do little more than watch as the two front runners banged off of each other at the finish line.
“We needed a little more adjustment there to be in lapped traffic,” said an upbeat Clanton. “If I could have got out in the lead by myself and had enough air on my nose I think I could have run. But I just had a little aero-push behind those guys. All in all, it was a good weekend to win a preliminary (feature) and run third ain’t too bad.”
Notes: Seventeen of the 24 starters finished the race, with 16 completing 100 laps. … McDowell finished runner-up for the second year in a row and hasn’t finished worse than sixth in the Dream since 2012. He said his persistency has finally paid off. “I came here a long time and struggled and didn’t make races,” said McDowell. “I just kept coming and was persistent and just kept coming and finally got a little better and better and finally had things go our way.” … After running in the top five for much of the distance, Ricky Weiss of Headingly, Manitoba, was caught up in a wild lap-82 restart and shuffled back to eighth. He eventually finished seventh. … The night ended early for sixth-starting Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., who raced to the front and pulled even with leader Kyle Strickler on laps 26 and 27. But contact between the two on lap 28 resulted in a bent tie-rod for Davenport, who parked his car on lap 49. … Making a return to racing following a four-year absence, 2013 World 100 winner John Blankenship of Knoxville, Tenn., ran as high as third before finishing ninth. … Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., was not a contender in his Sweet-Bloomquist entry, but did manage to finish 11th after starting 24th. … At one point Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., was up to fifth on the track, but Pierce was already two laps down after pitting for repairs. Pierce stayed on track thinking he could potentially get back on the lead lap via a “Lucky Dog” award, but only drivers one lap down are eligible for the gift. He finally parked his machine after completing 69 laps.
Dream XXV finish
Pos. Driver (car no.), hometown, chassis, earnings
1. Brandon Sheppard (1), New Berlin, Ill., Rocket, $125,000
2. Dale McDowell (17m), Chickamauga, Ga., Sweet-Bloomquist, $20,000
3. Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., Capital, $12,500
4. Chris Ferguson (22), Mount Holly, N.C., Sweet-Bloomquist, $10,000
5. Tyler Erb (1), New Waverly, Texas, Rocket, $8,750
6. Chase Junghans (18), Manhattan, Kan., Rocket, $7,500
7. Ricky Weiss (7), Headingley, Manitoba, Sweet-Bloomquist, $6,500
8. Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., Rocket, $6,000
9. John Blankenship (23), Williamson, W.Va., Longhorn, $5,500
10. Darrell Lanigan (29), Union, Ky., Club 29, $5,000
11. Shannon Babb (0B), Moweaqua, Ill., Sweet-Bloomquist, $4,000
12. Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., Longhorn, $3,000
13. Ross Bailes (87), Clover, S.C., Barry Wright, $2,950
14. Kyle Strickler (8), Mooresville, N.C., Longhorn, $2,900
15. Brandon Overton (2), Evans, Ga., Rocket, $2,875
16. Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., Rocket, $2,850
17. Andrew Reaume (88), Blenheim, Ontario, Rocket, $2,825
18. Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., Rocket, $2,800
19. Earl Pearson Jr. (1), Jacksonville, Fla., Black Diamond, $2,775
20. Donald McIntosh (7m), Dawsonville, Ga., Rocket, $2,750
21. Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., Rocket, $2,725
22. Zack Dohm (17), Cross Lanes, W.Va., Swartz, $2,700
23. Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., Longhorn, $2,675
24. Kent Robinson (7r), Bloomington, Ind., MB Customs, $2,650
25. Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., Rocket, $2,625
26. Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., Rocket, $2,600
27. Chad Simpson (1), Mount Vernon, Iowa, Black Diamond $2,550
28. Ricky Thornton Jr. (99RT), Chandler, Ariz., Rocket, $2,500
Lap leaders: Strickler 1-2, 16-47; Bronson 3-15; Pearson 48-71; Sheppard 72-100
Fast qualifier (among 92 cars): Jacob Hawkins, 15.250 seconds
Heat race winners: Davenport, Blankenship, McCreadie, Bronson, D. Erb, Strickler
Consolation winners: McIntosh, Robinson
Scramble winners: Nick Hoffman, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Provisional starters: Lanigan, Ferguson
Preliminary feature winners: Lanigan, Weiss, Davenport, Clanton
Lap 100: Sheppard edges McDowell at the line to win Dream XXV.
Lap 87: Strickler and Pearson tangle in the top of turns three and four to draw a caution. Sheppard leads McDowell, Clanton, Tyler Erb and Blankenship.
Lap 83: Weiss falls back to seventh on the restart, as McDowell takes second.
Lap 82: A yellow flag waves when Donald McIntosh gets into the turn-four wall. Sheppard leads Weiss, McDowell, Tyler Erb and Blankenship. Chris Ferguson has advanced from 20th to run in sixth.
Lap 75: With 25 laps remaining, Sheppard holds a narrow lead over Weiss and McDowell.
Lap 71: Just as Sheppard was charging around the high side to overtake the race leader, Pearson slows to draw a caution and heads to the pits. Sheppard inherits the point over Weiss, McDowell, Blankenship and Shane Clanton.
Lap 55: Just past halfway, Pearson leads Sheppard, Weiss, Strickler and McDowell.
Lap 48: With the leaders working thorugh lapped traffic, it's a tight battle out front. Pearson slides ahead of Strickler out of turn four to take the lead.
Lap 31: Davenport slows on the frontstretch to draw a caution and heads to the pit area. Strickler leads Bronson, Brandon Sheppard, Pearson and Ricky Weiss. After starting 24th, Brandon Overton is up to seventh. Dale McDowell has advanced from 13th to run eighth.
Lap 28: After challenging Strickler for the lead, Davenport slips back to fifth.
Lap 17: Chad Simpson makes contact with Brian Shirley and spins in turn four to draw a caution. Strickler leads Davenport, Bronson, Blankenship and Earl Pearson Jr.
Lap 16: Strickler retakes the lead on the restart, with Davenport moving into second.
Lap 15: The first yellow flag waves when Bobby Pierce slows off the pace. Strickler was closing the gap between himself and Bronson in lapped traffic when the caution fell. Bronson leads Strickler, John Blankenship, Jonathan Davenport and Dennis Erb Jr.
Lap three: Crossing ahead of Strickler down the backstretch, Kyle Bronson takes the lead.
Lap one: The green flag waves at 11:01 p.m. Polesitter Kyle Strickler leads the opening lap.
10:52 p.m.: Driver introductions are complete and feature starters have been given the call to fire engines. Cars start rolling out for pace laps.
10:48 p.m. | Makeup of the starting field
Five first-time Dream starters are in the 28-car starting field, including two heat winners — Kyle Strickler of Mooresville, N.C., and Kyle Bronson of Brandon, Fla. Other first-timers are Andrew Reaume of Blenheim, Ontario; Ross Bailes of Clover, S.C.; and Donald McIntosh of Dawsonville, Ga.
Rocket leads in a big way among chassis manufacturers with nearly half the starters (13 of 28). Next with four apiece is Sweet-Bloomquist Race Cars and Longhorn Chassis, although every Longhorn driver is a heat winner. Black Diamond Chassis has two starters while there’s one apiece for Capital, Barry Wright, Club 29, MB Customs and Swartz.
Illinois and Georgia lead the way with five drivers apiece, the only state with more than two starters (17 states and Canadian provinces are represented). There are two drivers apiece from North Carolina, West Virginia, Florida and two Canadian drivers (Ricky Weiss from Manitoba and Andrew Reaume from Ontario, the first time two Canadians have started the same Eldora crown jewel). States with a single starter: New York, Texas, Iowa, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Indiana.
10:22 p.m. | Dream XXV lineup
Row 1: Kyle Strickler, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 2: Kyle Bronson, Tim McCreadie
Row 3: John Blankenship, Jonathan Davenport
Row 4: Tyler Erb, Ricky Weiss
Row 5: Chad Simpson, Earl Pearson Jr.
Row 6: Shane Clanton, Ross Bailes
Row 7: Dale McDowell, Jimmy Owens
Row 8: Brandon Sheppard, Andrew Reaume
Row 9: Ricky Thornton Jr., Chase Junghans
Row 10: Mason Zeigler, Chris Ferguson
Row 11: Donald McIntosh, Kent Robinson
Row 12: Bobby Pierce, Brandon Overton
Row 13: Zack Dohm, Brian Shirley
Row 14: Darrell Lanigan, Shannon Babb
10:17 p.m. | Robinson wins second consolation
Kent Robinson of Bloomington, Ind., controlled the second consolation throughout. Robinson grabbed the lead on the start and pulled away from Shannon Babb and Brian Shirley. Brandon Overton rallied from sixth to finish second, while Shirley finished third and Babb, the polesitter, slipped to fourth. A six-car pileup in turn one on the opening lap collected alternate starters Scott Bloomquist and Bryan Dickinson, but they managed to continue on as the race restarted. Bloomquist, who was in the consolation race after weighing in light from a heat race victory, made it to 11th. Frank Heckenast Jr. won the scramble.
Finish (top four transfer): Kent Robinson, Brandon Overton, Brian Shirley, Shannon Babb, Devin Moran, Frank Heckenast Jr., Shanon Buckingham, Brent Larson, Johnny Scott, Scott Bloomquist, Steven Roberts, Duane Chamberlain, Jake Timm, Rod Conley, Brandon Kinzer, Dustin Nobbe, Casey Noonan, Bryant Dickinson, Chuck Hummer, Robby Hensley, Anthony Sanders, Joey Moriarty.
9:52 p.m. | Zeigler wins first consolation
Polesitter Mason Zeigler shot to an early lead, with Bobby Pierce in tow. A yellow flag waved on lap six when Stormy Scott spun in turn two. Donald McIntosh moved into second on the restart, with Tyler Bruening overtaking Jeep Van Wormer for the fourth-place spot. With Mike Marlar attempting to work his way from the tail after he was forced to start last for adding fuel in the staging lane, Zeigler stretched his lead at the halfway mark. Another yellow flag flew on lap 15 when Michael Page slowed in turn one. It was a tight battle for position on the restart, with Marlar and Zack Dohm fighting for the final transfer spots. A caution fell on lap 18 when Ashton Winger and Kyle Hardy tangled in turn two. Zeigler topped the two-lap dash to the finish, with Donald McIntosh finishing second. Pierce and Dohm ran third and fourth to transfer to the feature. Nick Hoffman won the scramble.
Finish (top four transfer): Mason Zeigler, Donald McIntosh, Bobby Piercce, Zack Dohm, Nick Hoffman, Scott James, Mike Marlar, Stormy Scott, Dylan Yoder, Jeep Van Wormer, Tim Lance, Paul Stubber, Steve Casebolt, Tyler Bruening, Ashton Winger, Kyle Hardy, Michael Page, Blake Spencer, Chris Simpson, John Henderson, Vic Hill.
9:33 p.m. | Consolation lineups
(20 laps; top four transfer)
Row 1: Mason Zeigler, Mike Marlar
Row 2: Donald McIntosh, Bobby Pierce
Row 3: Blake Spencer, Jeep Van Wormer
Row 4: Tyler Bruening, Ashton Winger
Row 5: Steve Casebolt, John Henderson
Row 6: Zack Dohm, Kyle Hardy
Row 7: Stormy Scott, Vic Hill
Row 8: Nick Hoffman, Chris Simpson
Row 9: Dylan Yoder, Paul Stubber
Row 10: Michael Page, Josh Richards
Row 11: Scott James, Tim Lance
Row 12: Jason Jameson, Mike Mataragas
Row 1: Shannon Babb, Kent Robinson
Row 2: Shanon Buckingham, Brian Shirley
Row 3: Robby Hensley, Brandon Overton
Row 4: Frank Heckenast Jr., Chuck Hummer
Row 5: Steven Roberts, Brent Larson
Row 6: Duane Chamberlain, Gregg Satterlee
Row 7: Brandon Kinzer, Devin Moran
Row 8: Johnny Scott, Dustin Nobbe
Row 9: Hudson O’Neal, Chris Madden
Row 10: Rod Conley, Jimmy Mars
Row 11: Joey Moriarty, Casey Noonan
Row 12: Jake Timm, Anthony Sanders
9:26 p.m. | Erb wins fifth heat
Polesitter Scott Bloomquist charged to the front of the field at the drop of the green flag, with fourth-starting Kent Robinson powering ahead of Jimmy Mars to take third on the second lap. It was Devin Moran on the move early, overtaking Shane Clanton for fifth on lap six. Second-running Hudson O’Neal began reeling in Bloomquist at the halfway mark, just as a yellow flag waved for the slowing Jake Timm. Another yellow flag waved on the ensuing restart when Moran spun in turns one and two.
Bloomquist was penalized for jumping the start when the green flag waved, sent back a row on the next restart. Fourth-running Jimmy Mars was forced to the pit area after colliding with Duane Chamberlain when the caution fell. Second-running Robinson lost position when he got into the wall on the restart, with O’Neal edging ahead to lead the eighth lap.
Bloomquist retook the point on lap nine, with a yellow flag waving one lap later when O’Neal came to a stop on the frontstretch. As several of the race leaders crashed into the wall when the race went green again, heat rain began to fall, bringing the race to a halt. Cars were sent to the pit area.
With drivers returning to the track, Bloomquist brought the field to green for the final five laps. Unchallenged, Bloomquist crossed the line as the apparent heat race winner but was declared light at the scales. Dennis Erb Jr. inherited the heat race win, with Shane Clanton and Ricky Thornton Jr. taking feature transfer spots.
Finish (top three transfer): Dennis Erb Jr., Shane Clanton, Ricky Thornton Jr., Duane Chamberlain, Kolby Vandebergh, Kent Robinson, Robby Hensley, Devin Moran, Chuck Hummer, Scott Bloomquist.
9:22 p.m. | Strickler wins sixth heat
After drivers were allowed to make a couple of laps on the newly-sealed track following the brief shower earlier, polesitter Kyle Strickler of Mooresville, N.C., shot into the lead and powered his Wells Motorsports mount to a convincing lead in the sixth heat. Strickler had to survive a one-lap shootout to win the race when third-running Chris Madden spun on the white-flag lap after contact with a lapped car. Ross Bailes finished second and Chase Junghans took the third spot from Shanon Buckingham on the last lap. Gregg Satterlee tagged the backstretch wall on the opening lap and then made contact with Shanon Buckingham, but both continued, though Satterlee lost several positions.
Finish (top three transfer): Kyle Strickler, Ross Bailes, Chase Junghans, Shanon Buckingham, Brandon Overton, Steven Roberts, Gregg Satterlee, Johnny Scott, Chris Madden, Joey Moriarty, Anthony Sanders, Joe Godsey. Scratched: Colton Flinner, Nick Fenner, R.J. Conley.
9:19 p.m. | Fifth heat chaos
The drama that always seems to surround Scott Bloomquist at Eldora came back in major fashion during the fifth heat.
First Bloomquist was set back two spots when officials deemed that he jumped a lap-seven restart while leading. He came right back to grab the lead on lap 11 before a caution flag flew for Hudson O’Neal, who had been battling with Bloomquist. Then things truly got crazy when Bloomquist drove into turn one on the restart and just kept sliding up and into the outside wall — because a sudden shower had struck that end of the track, making the track slick and causing Bloomquist and virtually every other car on the track to lose control and end up smacking off the outside wall.
The incident set off mayhem in the pit area as the damaged cars — including Dennis Erb Jr., who slid into Bloomquist’s car, and Shane Clanton — were swarmed over by crews. Officials then decided that, due to the unique circumstances, the sixth heat would be run when the surface was ready with the remainder of the fifth heat completed after that so teams could make repairs to their cars. In addition, officials said the fifth heat would restart in the order the cars were running at the time of the lap-11 restart.
It was a truly bizarre turn of events.
“The officials didn’t know it was raining,” said Clanton, who slapped the wall in turn one. “We sure knew when we got there.”
9:06 p.m. | Heats reshuffled
With the track nearing ready, officials elected to bring the sixth heat to the track, giving drivers involved in the fifth heat's pileup a chance to regroup and finish any needed repairs. The fifth heat will restart as they were running when they took the green with five laps to go.
8:53 p.m. | Freak shower
As the fifth heat race took the green flag on a lap-10 restart, rain began to fall, bringing the race to a halt. Several of the race's leaders had bottled up on the start, crashing into the wall in turns one and two. With cars sent back to the pit area, it is unknown how many cars will continue the race.
8:46 p.m. | Blankenship, T-Mac show speed
A pair of former World 100 winners — John Blankenship and Tim McCreadie — were convincing victors in the second and third heats, respectively. They head to the evening’s feature with vastly different outlooks.
Blankenship, of course, has been out of racing since a handful of starts in 2015, including a 12th-place finish in that year’s Dream. He returned to the seat just two weeks ago and conceded that he’s “still rusty” in the cockpit.
McCreadie, meanwhile, swept to victory just nine months after capturing the World 100 for the first time in his career. He said he was “amazed” to win the heat from the fourth starting spot and noted that he’s “still losing the nose” of his Longhorn car a bit through the corners, but he felt confident about his chances of joining Scott Bloomquist as just the second driver to follow a World 100 win with a Dream victory victory the next year.
8:36 p.m. | Bronson captures fourth heat
In a battle of Floridians on the front row, second-starting Kyle Bronson of Brandon outran polesitter Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville into turn one on the opening lap and led all 15 laps of the caution-free fourth heat. Pearson finished 0.342 seconds back in the runner-up spot, while Andrew Reaume finished third, becoming the second Canadian to transfer to the main event. Shannon Babb slid in front of Brian Shirley in turn two on the second lap, drawing contact as Shirley had nowhere to go. Both drivers continued on, but Shirley’s No. 3s had significant nose damage. Babb finished fourth and Shirley fifth.
Finish (top three transfer): Kyle Bronson, Earl Pearson Jr., Andrew Reaume, Shannon Babb, Brian Shirley, Chris Ferguson, Frank Heckenast Jr., Brent Larson, Brandon Kinzer, Dustin Nobbe, Rod Conley, Casey Noonan, Forrest Frent, Bryant Dickinson. Scratched: Michael Norris.
8:34 p.m. | Light at the scales
The Eldora scales brought doom to Dream feature hopefuls Jacob Hawkins and Jonathan Henry. The drivers weighed in light in consecutive heats, disqualifying them from finishing positions that would have given them respectable starting spots in the first B-main.
Hawkins contended for a transfer spot at times in the second heat before crossing the finish line in fourth, missing a transfer spot by one. His Eric Hudkins-owned car scaled 10 pounds light, however, wiping out what would have been a front-row starting spot in the consolation.
Henry, meanwhile, was light afterward with his Heckenast Racing No. 33, costing him a fifth-place finish.
8:28 p.m. | T-Mac wins third heat
Rolling around the top side, outside polesitter Chad Simpson took an early lead, with Tim McCreadie powering from fourth to second on the first lap. Racing nose-to-tail with third-running Scott James for several laps, Brandon Sheppard challenged for the position at the halfway mark. A yellow flag waved on lap 10 when Ryan King slowed on the backstretch. Slipping under Simpson in turns one and two, McCreadie was set to take the lead on the restart, with another yellow flag waving when Darrell Lanigan and Donald McIntosh collided, resulting in a heavily damaged No. 29. McCreadie shot to the front of the field when the green flag waved again, with Sheppard in tow. Sheppard and Simpson raced side-by-side for second in the final circuits, with Simpson regaining the spot on lap 13. McCreadie pulled away to win the heat, with Simpson running third. Sheppard grabbed the third and final transfer spot. Jonathan Henry crossed the finish line fifth but was disqualified after he was declared light at the scales.
Finish (top three transfer): Tim McCreadie, Chad Simpson, Brandon Sheppard, Donald McIntosh, Jeep Van Wormer, Steve Casebolt, Kyle Hardy, Nick Hoffman, Paul Stubber, Scott James, Darrell Lanigan, Ryan King, Mike Mataragas, Jonathan Henry.
8:27 p.m. | Front row trouble
The front row starters in the first heat didn’t enjoy the types of races they were expecting. Both polesitter Don O’Neal and second-starter Michael Page ran into trouble early, dashing their hopes of cashing in on their prime starting spots.
Page was the first to experience problems when he slowed on the second lap due to a left-rear flat tire. He said the tire “got torn off my wheel” as he slid through the first and second corners, causing left-rear bodywork damage as well. He returned after a pit stop and was collected in a lap-seven incident that did further damage to his Troy Baird-backed Stinger machine.
“We’ll try to make the most of it the rest of the night,” said Page, who finished 10th to salvage a spot in a B-main.
O’Neal, meanwhile, saw his evening end after just four laps due to a variety of body and suspension damage his Clint Bowyer Racing car sustained from a hard hit he absorbed from another car early in the race.
8:16 p.m. | Blankenship wins second heat
Making his return to racing after a four-year hiatus, polesitter John Blankenship of Knoxville, Tenn., dominated the second heat. Blankenship shot to the lead on the opening lap and pulled away from third-starting Ricky Weiss and a 1.663-second victory. Jimmy Owens, who started in the rear after going to a backup car because of an ailing engine advanced from 16th to fourth in one lap and eventually grabbed the third and final transfer spot. Jacob Hawkins got by Mike Marlar late to finish fourth. Josh Richards gave up a couple of spots in turn one as he battled a tight race car and pulled in on lap 13. A three-car crash in turn one on the opening lap involved Jason Jameson, Vic Hill and Dylan Yoder and required a complete restart. A slowing Jameson brought out a second caution on lap one.
Finish (top three transfer): John Blankenship, Ricky Weiss, Jimmy Owens, Jacob Hawkins, Mike Marlar, Blake Spencer, Ashton Winger, Zack Dohm, Vic Hill, Dylan Yoder, Josh Richards, Jason Jameson, Jim Yoder. Scratched: Jesse Stovall, Freddie Carpenter.
8:07 p.m. | Davenport's spot-on
The track surface for the first heat was certainly heavier than it was during Thursday and Friday’s racing, but winner Jonathan Davenport didn’t seem to have any problem negotiating the half-mile oval.
“We really didn’t know what the racetrack was gonna do there, but we didn’t have to change much,” said Davenport, the 2015 Dream winner who will make his 10th career start in the 100-lap feature. “This thing’s been spot-on.”
8:02 p.m. | J.D. wins first heat
Nosing ahead of fifth-starting Jonathan Davenport at the line, polesitter Don O’Neal led the opening lap, with Davenport assuming the point on the second circuit. A yellow flag waved on lap two when Michael Page slowed with a flat tire. Davenport maintained his lead on the restart, with O’Neal slipping to the rear of the field after making contact with Tyler Erb in a battle for second. A second yellow flag flew on lap four when Trent Ivey slowed in the top of turn two with heavy damage to the front end of his car. Another caution fell on the sixth lap for debris on the racetrack. Third-running Dale McDowell lost position on the restart, falling to Mason Zeigler and Bobby Pierce. A yellow flag then flew on lap seven when Jeff Roth spun in turns one and two, collecting Page. As the race went back green, McDowell and Zeigler battled for third, with McDowell reclaiming the spot for good on the ninth circuit. Stretching his lead to nearly a full straightaway in the final laps, Davenport won the heat, with Erb and McDowell rounding out the podium.
Finish (top three transfer): Jonathan Davenport, Tyler Erb, Dale McDowell, Mason Zeigler, Bobby Pierce, Tyler Bruening, John Henderson, Stormy Scott, Chris Simpson, Michael Page, Tim Lance, Rob Anderzack, Dalton Polston, Jeff Roth, Trent Ivey, Don O’Neal.
8:01 p.m. | Ivey’s weekend over
Dream rookie Trent Ivey’s night came to a quick end on lap four of the first heat when a sliced left-rear tire sent the South Carolina driver into the outside concrete.
“We had a good car,” said Ivey, a first-year Super Late Model racer. “After restart we got rolling on the top … the tire’s cut in half, we went in the wall.”
7:44 p.m. | Saturday's weather
Weather conditions on Thursday and Friday were wonderful: a high temperature approaching 80 and a mix of sun and clouds with virtually no chance of rain. Tonight’s weather isn’t quite as perfect, but it’s certainly not bad; temperatures have been in the 70s throughout a breezy, partly cloud day and there’s a slight chance of showers in the evening forecast.
Some light sprinkles did pass over the track around 4:15 p.m. and again near the end of hot laps but caused no problems with the track surface. While pockets of light rain are dancing around the region, the forecast doesn’t call for steadier precipitation to develop until after midnight.
7:32 p.m. | Possible favorites
If you’re looking for some statistics to help you pick a $125,000 Dream winner, consider this: the drivers who have only gone forward from their starting positions in their preliminary races.
The list of drivers who are part of this group: Brian Shirley, Chris Ferguson, Dale McDowell, Darrell Lanigan, Frank Heckenast Jr., Hudson O’Neal, Jimmy Owens, Jonathan Davenport, Mike Marlar, Ricky Weiss, Scott Bloomquist, Scott James and Tyler Bruening. Five racers — preliminary feature winners Lanigan, Weiss and Davenport as well as Owens and McDowell — have put up results most similar to the profile of past Dream champions, installing them as pre-race favorites.
7:28 p.m. | Cars called to staging
Hot laps and the Rookie of the Race presentation are complete. Saturday's first heat race has been called to staging as starters go through tire tech before lining up along the frontstretch.
7:12 p.m. | Engine woes for Owens
Jimmy Owens’s quietly solid start to the Dream XXV weekend (a pair of fifth-place finishes) took an abrupt turn for the worse during hot laps when a terminal engine problem developed in his Ramirez Motorsports No. 20.
With the Newport, Tenn., driver scheduled to start fourth in Heat 2, the scramble to ready his backup car began as soon as he limped back into the pit area. Owens was up in his trailer pulling out his second XR1 Rocket while his crew scurried around the primary machine to pull suspension parts and tires off it.
Shifting to the backup car, however, will force Owens to drop to the rear of the starting field in his heat, greatly increasing his degree of difficulty to qualify for the feature. The 2009 Dream winner relied on a provisional to gain entry to last year’s Dream A-main field but rallied to finish 10th.
6:54 p.m. | No complaints from Fergy
Chris Ferguson’s pair of top-five finishes in the preliminary features — fourth on Thursday and an Eldora career-best second on Friday — put him near the top of the accumulated points standings and thus in the Saturday invert, leaving him with the fifth starting spot in the fourth heat.
The Mt. Holly, N.C., driver couldn’t complain about not hitting the invert a little bit, though. As he noted, his $6,250 in earnings from the preliminary programs “paid for our trip already,” so everything he picks up on Saturday is gravy.
Ferguson’s strength with his new Sweet-Bloomquist car certainly has him harboring legitimate thoughts of claiming the Dream’s $125,000 top prize. If he would happen to reach victory lane, he knows how he would react.
“I’m staying here until Tuesday,” Ferguson said with a laugh, envisioning his post-race celebration and how long he would want to savor it.
6:42 p.m. | B-Shepp aiming higher
Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., has rarely finished outside the top five this season when he drives the Rocket Chassis house car this, but he didn’t crack that standard in either Dream preliminary feature. He finished 10th on Thursday and eighth on Friday — not bad, but certainly not up to his lofty standards.
The World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series points leader remains confident, though, of his prospects tonight. He’s seen improvement on the icy Eldora track surface and believes he can pick it up to better his career-best Dream finish of second in 2017 and erase memories of his frustrating DNQ for the 100-lapper a year ago.
“Our car has been getting better all weekend,” said Sheppard, who starts third in Heat 3. “We’re trying to fine-tune it. The track’s just so slick, it’s hard to find a good balance.”
6:33 p.m. | Junghans's confidence
With a fourth-place run in Friday’s second preliminary feature, Chase Junghans of Manhattan, Kan., matched his career-best performance at Eldora. It was a decided improvement from his 14th-place outing in a Thursday A-main, but there was a good reason for the uptick in his results: he didn’t fit as well as he would have liked in the new racing seat in his car on Thursday.
“I fell out right out of the son of a ——,” said the 26-year-old Junghans, who felt his body moving around a bit too much in the new seat. “I just couldn’t get up on the wheel, and this isn’t the place to not be comfortable in your car.”
After replacing the new with the one in his backup car, Junghans got himself right in the cockpit and promptly drove to a solid finish in Friday’s headliner. Armed with the fourth starting spot in tonight’s sixth heat, he feels pretty confident about his chances to make his second career Dream feature start (he finished 14th in 2017).
“It’s pretty good,” Junghans said of his XR1 Rocket machine.
6:02 p.m. | Stovall finished
One driver who won’t make it out for his scheduled heat-race starting spot tonight is Jesse Stovall of Billings, Mo., whose weekend came to an early end due to engine trouble that developed during Friday’s action.
After a subpar qualifying run left Stovall starting 10th in his heat, a chain-reaction jam-up in front of him at the initial green flag resulted in the former Lucas Oil MLRA champion’s front end shoving under the back of another car. He continued racing without knowing that the impact had pushed his car’s radiator back into the fan; as he was running fifth — a transfer position — his powerplant began to lay down, forcing him to pull off the track with motor trouble that left him unable to continue racing.
5:49 p.m. | Dream rookies
This year’s Dirt Late Model Dream boasts a healthy group of more than a dozen first-time entrants, including Ashton Winger, Kyle Hardy, Ross Bailes, Kyle Strickler, Trent Ivey, Johnny Scott, Stormy Scott, Dalton Polston, Anthony Sanders, Dylan Yoder, Jim Yoder, Josh Robertson, Kolby Vandenberg, Jake Timm and John Henderson.
The weekend’s Rookie of the Race awards total $5,000. A total of $3,000 was already distributed to the top three performing rookies in each of the preliminary programs (ranked by points for the night) and the rookie ranked highest in accumulated points after the two shows (Ross Bailes); the remaining $2,000 will be awarded to the highest-finishing rookie in Saturday’s action.
5:25 p.m. | Drivers' meeting wraps
After an hour-long autograph session that saw a long line of fans file past all the entrants in the weekend’s action, the competitors remained in Eldora’s multi-purpose building outside turns three and four for a public drivers’ meeting.
Eldora general manager Roger Slack kicked off the gathering with a variety of comments that included him noting that the Thursday and Friday Dream programs enjoyed record crowds. He also provided some levity to the meeting when he said, “You look pretty comfortable there Scott” — a quip directed toward Scott Bloomquist, who had the right leg he injured in a March motorcycle accident propped up on the table at which he was sitting.
Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway owner Matt Curl, who is skipping his quarter-mile oval’s Saturday-night show to serve as the Dream’s race director, also addressed the drivers. He went over the Saturday-evening format, detailing that 28 drivers will start the 100-lap feature: 18 heat-race transfers; the two highest-ranked drivers in the Thursday-Friday points who do not qualify through the heats; and four racers from each of the two B-mains.
The meeting was otherwise uneventful. There were no controversies for Curl to address; in fact, when he opened the floor to questions, not a single driver raised their hand to ask him something.
Heat race lineups
Row 1: Don O’Neal, Michael Page
Row 2: Tyler Erb, Dale McDowell
Row 3: Jonathan Davenport, Mason Zeigler
Row 4: Tyler Bruening, Chris Simpson
Row 5: Bobby Pierce, Trent Ivey
Row 6: John Henderson, Dalton Polston
Row 7: Tim Lance, Jeff Roth
Row 8: Stormy Scott, Rob Anderzack
Row 1: John Blankenship, Mike Marlar
Row 2: Jacob Hawkins, Jimmy Owens
Row 3: Ricky Weiss, Josh Richards
Row 4: Zack Dohm, Dylan Yoder
Row 5: Ashton Winger, Vic Hill
Row 6: Freddie Carpenter, Jason Jameson
Row 7: Blake Spencer, Jim Yoder
Row 8: Jesse Stovall
Row 1: Scott James, Chad Simpson
Row 2: Brandon Sheppard, Tim McCreadie
Row 3: Darrell Lanigan, Donald McIntosh
Row 4: Steve Casebolt, Jonathan Henry
Row 5: Nick Hoffman, Jeep Van Wormer
Row 6: Ryan King, Kyle Hardy
Row 7: Paul Stubber, Josh Robertson
Row 8: Mike Mataragas
Row 1: Earl Pearson Jr., Kyle Bronson
Row 2: Shannon Babb, Brian Shirley
Row 3: Chris Ferguson, Andrew Reaume
Row 4: Frank Heckenast Jr., Brent Larson
Row 5: Rod Conley, Brandon Kinzer
Row 6: Casey Noonan, Dustin Nobbe
Row 7: Forrest Frent, Bryant Dickinson
Row 8: Michael Norris
Row 1: Scott Bloomquist, Hudson O'Neal
Row 2: Jimmy Mars, Kent Robinson
Row 3: Shane Clanton, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 4: Ricky Thornton Jr., Devin Moran
Row 5: Jake Timm, Duane Chamberlain
Row 6: Kody Evans, Robby Hensley
Row 7: Kolby Vandenbergh, Chuck Hummer
Row 8: Jerry Bowersock
Row 1: Kyle Strickler, Gregg Satterlee
Row 2: Ross Bailes, Chase Junghans
Row 3: Chris Madden, Shanon Buckingham
Row 4: Johnny Scott, Brandon Overton
Row 5: Steven Roberts, Joey Moriarty
Row 6: Colton Flinner, Joe Godsey
Row 7: Anthony Sanders, Nick Fenner
Row 8: R.J. Conley
Saturday’s event schedule
3:30 p.m.: Driver autograph session
4:30 p.m.: Public drivers’ meeting
6:30 p.m.: Hot laps (at track's discretion)
8 p.m.: Racing begins
- Heat races (15 laps; top three transfer)
- Consolation races (20 laps; top four transfer)
- Dream XXV (100 laps)