MARYVILLE, Tenn. (June 15) — Overtaking Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., just past the halfway mark, Hudson O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., scored a $15,000 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series victory in Saturday’s Big Daddy 60 at Smoky Mountain Speedway.
Winning his heat race to start third in Saturday’s 60-lap main event, O’Neal shot to second at the drop of the green flag, challenging Marlar for the lead in the early running. Gaining momentum from a lap-29 restart, O’Neal powered ahead of Marlar down the backstretch to assume the point on lap 31, leading the remaining distance for his third Lucas Oil Series victory of 2019.
“This thing was a rocket ship all night,” O’Neal said. “We started out a little slow in hot laps and I had some concerns. We just made slight gains on it all night. We definitely made the right changes there for the end. I felt just as good on lap 60 as I did on lap one. It’s not very often you get that type of race car. I’m just happy I could pull through and get another win for these guys. We’ve been up and down all year but hopefully we found a little bit of something to carry us on through the season.”
Late-race cautions worked in O’Neal’s favor, allowing the teen to stretch his lead over the field. The former Lucas Oil Series Rookie of the Year finished more than three seconds ahead of Ricky Weiss of Headingly, Manitoba, at the checkered flag in notching his fifth career victory on the national tour.
“I really think that last caution helped me, I wasn’t for sure,” O’Neal said. “I never moved off that bottom, so I wasn’t sure how maneuverable I was. Once I had that restart, I knew I could predict my own line again. So that kind of helped out. I think those cautions really played in our favor tonight.”
Fourth-starting Weiss finished runner-up, with fifth-starting Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., running third. Outside polesitter Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., finished fourth, with Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., advancing from the ninth starting spot to round out the top five. After leading the first 30 laps, Marlar slowed to draw a caution on lap 36, retiring early to finish 22nd.
Among Saturday’s heat race winners, Weiss started outside the second row, only to lose position in the early running. But the World of Outlaws Morton Building Late Model Series Rookie of the Year contender was able to work his way back to the front of the field to notch a second-place finish.
“We were a little snug at the start and I was actually bottoming out,” Weiss said. “Just over-adjusted a little early but it seemed to work out late. We like the longer races but we tend to start further back and usually are coming forward. This time we started forward, went back and came back. … It was a good night. I thought maybe I had something for Hudson there and the last caution, I don’t think he missed an inch on the track. I would try it a little bit and he’d just pull away. Hats off to him. He ran a hell of a race.”
Fighting a slightly challenging race car late-race, Richards fell to the charging Weiss. But his third-place finish marked a solid end to the Clint Bowyer Racing pilot’s weekend, where Richards finished no worse than ninth in the Lucas Oil tripleheader.
“(O’Neal) could hit that brown right there and he’s really good when you can do that,” Richards said. “I felt like we were going to be pretty good. But he could just gain just a little bit. We were maintaining there a little bit early. My nose folded under a little bit. There toward the end it was starting to chatter down into (turn) three. It was making me tight and Ricky was able to get up by us there. But we’ll take it.”
Notes: O’Neal’s previous 2019 series victories came at East Bay Raceway Park on Feb. 7 and 34 Raceway on May 16. … O’Neal scored a Father’s Day weekend victory for the second straight season, winning last year’s series event at Magnolia Motor Speedway. … The race was slowed by five cautions: debris (lap two); Devin Moran (lap 22); debris (lap 29); Mike Marlar (lap 36); Ryan King (lap 49). … Marlar won Friday’s 50-lapper at South Carolina’s Cherokee Speedway and Kyle Bronson won Thursday’s weekend opener at Fayetteville (N.C.) Motor Speedway.