MIDDLEBOURNE, W.Va. (July 5) — Tyler Erb wore a satisfied smile after winning Friday night’s 25th annual Topless 50 at Tyler County Speedway.
And with good reason — the $12,000 victory was, of course, the first in Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series action for the fast-rising 22-year-old from New Waverly, Texas, since February’s Georgia-Florida Speedweeks.
“I am super pumped!” Erb said in victory lane. “It feels like a year since we won a race.”
Five months to the day since he captured the last of his three Speedweeks features in a 30-lapper at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla., Erb was flawless racing around Tyler County’s quarter-mile oval with the roof removed from his Best Performance Motorsports XR1 Rocket car. He powered off the outside pole to grab the lead from front-row mate Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, at the initial green flag of the 50-lap A-main and never looked back.
Erb paced the entire distance, keeping his pursuers at bay through five caution flags to emerge triumphant on the Lucas Oil tour for the fifth time in his career. He crossed the finish line 0.780 of a second before the Clint Bowyer Racing XR1 Rocket piloted by Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., who wrestled the runner-up spot from Moran late in the race to duplicate his bridesmaid performance in the previous night’s series stop at Portsmouth (Ohio) Raceway Park.
Moran settled for a third-place finish in the Dunn Benson Racing XR1 Rocket after trading sliders several times with Richards during the feature’s second half. Chris Ferguson of Mount Holly, N.C., ran as high as second early in the A-main before slipping to a fourth-place finish in his Bloomquist Race Car while Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., started and finished fifth in his Sweeteners Plus-backed Longhorn house car.
Erb certainly hasn’t struggled in the wake of his spectacular breakout performance during Speedweeks — he’s finished as high as second in Lucas Oil competition (May 17 at 300 Raceway in Farley, Iowa) and been consistent enough to enter Tyler County’s program ranked second in the points standings — but going winless for 20 races brought him some frustration. He stayed focused on regaining his Speedweeks magic with his crew chief Randall Edwards, though, and the result was, at long last, a return to his winning early-season form.
“This just shows how good of a team we have,” said Erb, who leads the Lucas Oil Rookie of the Year standings over Moran. “We put in the work to win … it all worked out for us tonight. We’ve been fast every single night, it’s just a matter of if everything plays in your favor. You can prepare and do everything you want to do, but it doesn’t always pay off.
“It’s nothing new, except it’s satisfying,” he added when asked about returning to victory lane. “It’s what you come to do. There’s 30, 40 cars every night, and only one guy gets to leave here with the satisfaction of winning. I’m just super happy we got one.”
Calling his current XR1 Rocket “the best car I have ever driven,” Erb held firm control of the bullring’s feature from start-to-finish. His only real worry came late in the race after Richards cleared Moran for second on lap 42 and closed in to make a last-ditch bid as the leader battled lapped traffic.
Erb was aware that Richards was coming on the inside of the track, but he made the right moves — most notably a surge past a lapped car with two laps remaining — to secure his first-ever victory at Tyler County.
“Once I got into lapped traffic I kept wanting to move up in (turns) one and two, but them guys kept hitting them (inside marker) tires down and you could get lower and lower,” Erb said. “The gap closed up there and I thought I could hear somebody there pretty close, and Randall was doing a good job of letting me know where they were at.
“I moved up going around one of them lapped cars and I could tell I made up a lot of ground.”
Erb’s deft change in his line dulled the building momentum of the 31-year-old Richards, whose tire choice had made him arguably the fastest driver on the track in the race’s closing moments.
“I guess we gambled on tires and I didn’t even realize it,” Richards said. “These guys were a little bit softer (with compound choice).
“We got right to Tyler and he moved up just enough to where I couldn’t really run where we needed to. I feel like we definitely had a better car at the end, but he did what he needed to do to stay out front.”
Moran, 24, was unable to parlay his second straight fast-time honor and pole position start into his elusive first Lucas Oil victory with Dunn Benson Racing, but finishing third was much better than the 15th-place run he experienced Thursday night at Portsmouth.
“Once Tyler got the lead, I knew it was gonna be real hard to pass,” Moran said. “I tried real hard to get the lead on the initial start but it just didn’t quite work out.
“A podium finish after the couple weeks we’ve had, we’ll take it. We’ve been good in qualifying and heat racing … if we can stay consistently up front and think we can finally start clicking off some wins.”
Caution flags slowed the feature on lap eight when Zack Dohm slowed and head to the pit area; lap 12 for a turn-four tangle involving Earl Pearson Jr., Kyle Thomas, Shane Hitt and Matt Cosner; lap 20 for a flat tire on Billy Moyer Jr.’s car; and lap 21 for debris and, on the restart, a scramble that included Shanon Buckingham, Mason Zeigler and Travis Stickley.
Notes: Erb’s lone stateside checkered flag since Speedweeks was a March 31 score worth $15,000 in the American Ethanol Late Model Tour-sanctioned Thaw Brawl at La Salle (Ill.) Speedway. … Erb became the 10th winner in as many Lucas Oil Series events contested at Tyler County. … West Virginia weekly racers Colten Burdette and Derek Doll registered noteworthy runs, finishing seventh and eighth, respectively. … Thursday-night Portsmouth feature winner Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., finished sixth, just the second time in eight Lucas Oil Series starts this season that he failed to place among the top five. … Lucas Oil points leader Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., had a quiet outing, starting seventh and finishing ninth. … Michael Norris of Sarver, Pa., was forced to the hot pit in the Clint Bowyer Racing No. 5 after suffering a flat tire with running 10th on the eighth lap. He finished 20th.… After Hudson O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., had his SSI Motorsports No. 71 sidelined by a broken rocker arm, he ran the feature in the Tim Logan Racing No. 11 piloted by Jared Hawkins of Fairmont, W. Va.