DAVENPORT, Iowa (July 24) — Towing to Davenport Speedway for a mid-week World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series event proved to be a profitable decision for Jimmy Owens.
The 47-year-old standout from Newport, Tenn., was close to perfect in his visit to the big half-mile fairgrounds oval, setting a new track in qualifying, winning a heat race and leading all but the first two circuits of the 40-lap feature en route to a $10,000 victory.
A Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series regular who remained on the road in the Midwest after a grueling stretch of racing with his home tour in order to run the WoO series’s July 26-27 Prairie Dirt Classic at Fairbury (Ill.) Speedway and Aug. 1-3 USA Nationals at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis., Owens inherited the lead in Davenport’s headliner when polesitter Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa, pulled off the track during a lap-two red flag period. He never looked back over the remaining distance, racing largely unchallenged to his second WoO triumph of 2019 and the 14th of his career on the national tour.
Owens gassed his Ramirez Motorsports XR1 Rocket machine away from 10th-starting Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., following a lap-34 restart to beat the runaway WoO points leader’s Rocket Chassis house car by 1.184 seconds.
“We’ve had a good car all night long,” said Owens, whose previous WoO checkered flag this season came on March 23 at Smoky Mountain Speedway in Maryville, Tenn. “We were good qualifying, had a good heat race. We got a three pill draw (starting spot) right there, but you know … the car was really maneuverable.
“The guys worked their butts off the last couple of weeks. We’ve been out on the road … it’s good to get a win.”
WoO rookie Cade Dillard of Robeline, La., who started eighth, finished a series career-best third after swapping the position several times with fellow series regular Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., over the final six laps. Clanton settled for a fourth-place finish after starting seventh while WoO traveler Chase Junghans of Manhattan, Kan., who won a Lucas Oil Midwest LateModel Association-sanctioned event at Davenport on April 19, outdueled series Rookie of the Year leader Ricky Weiss of Headingley, Manitoba, over the final laps to complete the top five.
The race effectively titled in Owens’s favor as soon as Birkhofer, who made a surprise appearance driving a Jason Rauen-owned No. 15b after indicating recently that he would no longer run even a limited schedule, relinquished the lead after just two laps. A sense of relief washed over Owens when Birkhofer headed to the pits during the red flag period that followed a wild turn-three flip by Chad Simpson of Mt. Vernon, Iowa, who won last year’s WoO stop at Davenport.
“I don’t wish no bad luck on nobody,” Owens said. “But there was a lot of water all over my (helmet) shield (as he ran the first two laps behind Birkhofer) and I was glad it was his and not mine.”
Owens drove off to an edge of over 3 seconds at times during the ensuing 30-lap stretch of green-flag racing. Caution flags on lap 32 (for sixth-place Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., slowing with a blown left-rear tire) and lap 34 for Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill. (his car’s nose flap folded under in turn three as he ran third after charging forward from 15th) tightened the field and Owens said “that cushion up yonder got pretty treacherous” in the closing circuits, but no one had anything for the three-time Lucas Oil Series champion.
Sheppard, 26, reached second on the lap-32 restart when Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., gave up the spot due to a cloud of smoke forcing his Ronnie Delk-owned car out of the race, but the 2017 WoO titlist and 13-time 2019 winner was unable to offer Owens a challenge despite being put on the leader’s rear bumper by the lap-34 caution period.
“For a change tonight we were passing cars on the bottom so that felt good,” said Sheppard, who continued to rack up podium finishes on the WoO tour. “My car was really maneuverable. I could run the cushion pretty good, but I just felt more comfortable down on the track a little bit.”
Sheppard noted that the cushion “got pretty treacherous there at the end” anyway, making it “hard to run” and dulling his hopes of mounting a last-ditch bid.
The 28-year-old Dillard, meanwhile, was arguably the story of the race. He’s struggled for much of his first season as a WoO regular, but he’s made huge strides during the month of July. His first-ever podium finish in WoO competition was his third top-five run in his last five starts, backing up fifth-place finishes on July 9 at ABC Raceway in Ashland, Wis., and July 14 at Red Cedar Speedway in Menomonie, Wis.
Dillard earned his third-place result, too, after exchanging the spot with Clanton repeatedly following the final restart before gaining control on lap 37.
“That was a blast,” Dillard said of his battle with Clanton. “I appreciate him running me clean. Same with Lanigan (earlier) … we raced pretty hard there and nobody touched each other.
“It’s pretty cool just to be up here doing that. I’ve watched them guys on TV do it for a long time, so just to have the opportunity to be out here doing this, it’s a blessing.”
Dillard said his recent uptick in performance has buoyed his spirits heading down the stretch of the 2019 season.
“The car’s going real good,” Dillard said of his MB Customs machine. “We’ve been working hard at it. We’ve stumbled up on something that’s just more comfortable to me and got me a little more comfortable in the seat.
“Just to be up here with somebody like Owens and Brandon, I feel like I’ve won the race. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing and hopefully get a little further up, but I’m extremely satisfied with that.”
The race was marred by the lap-two incident that saw Chad Simpson’s self-owned mount crash in turn three with Brent Larson of Lake Elmo, Minn. Simpson’s No. 25 smashed into the catch fence — tearing down a portion of it — before coming to rest on its roof. He reported that he wasn’t injured in the wreck.
Notes: Owens recorded his sixth overall victory of 2019, including his third in the month of July. He swept the July 12-13 Lucas Oil Series doubleheader at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill. … Mike Fryer of Freeport, Ill., finished 10th and earned the $500 WoO Bonus Bucks cash for being the highest placing driver who isn’t a series regular and hasn’t won a WoO feature. … The WoO series made its fourth visit to Davenport; previous winners were Chad Simpson (2018), Brian Harris (’07) and Birkhofer (’04).