IMPERIAL, Pa. — Down but never out, Hudson O'Neal rallied in the second half of Saturday's Pittsburgher 100 at Pittsburgh's Pennsylvania Motor Speedway for a $20,000 victory on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.
The 17th-starting driver from Martinsville, Ind., lost a lap before halfway, got a Lucky Dog restoration to the lead lap at the lap-50 fuel stop, then used the low groove to catch race-long leader Earl Pearson Jr. on the 93rd lap and lead the rest of the way for a 2.334-second victory at the monster half-mile oval.
"Man, I just can't believe it," the 21-year-old Double Down Motorsports driver said in victory lane after his sixth series victory of 2021. "I'll take one anyway I can get it. We'll have to get a little better for the next time, but overall, man, we're just happy to be here and happy we were able to take advantage."
Pearson, looking for his first victory since shifting to the Jason Papich-owned team last month from the Black Diamond Chassis house car, settled for a runner-up finish while Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., was in the final podium spot. Spencer Hughes of Meridian, Miss., was fourth in his PPMS debut and 12th-starting Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., also used a Lucky Dog in racing to a fifth-place finish.
O'Neal's dramatic charge spoiled Pearson's bid for his first series victory in 15th months as the four-time champion has posted his best stretch of series finishes of the season.
"I was actually thinking on the last restart we had," O'Neal said, "I was like, 'Man, if I don't win this thing, I don't want anybody else to win it but Earl.' He's gotta feel amazing. I'm sure it's heartbreaking to lead the whole thing and then get passed like that, but he's gotta be happy with how his program has turned around and, you know, he's been really good here lately, so I'm so happy for him."
Pearson looked on the bright side after leading 93 laps and posted his third straight podium finish at PPMS.
"To come out of the box as good as we've been this last month, we can't hold our heads down," Pearson said. "The crew, they're down and out over there right now. I wanted to win it for them, but that's part of it. He was just a little bit better there late. But the first part of the race, the car was really good and I could go anywhere I wanted to go."
Pearson was indeed mostly unchallenged the first part of the race and was still in command until the late stages when O'Neal, who said he purposefully slowed on the 55th lap to draw a caution so he could make a shock adjustment, got rolling on the track's extreme inside groove while Pearson stayed up top.
O'Neal knew things fell his way.
"I'd rather be lucky than good, I guess. I wasn't good enough really to win the race," O'Neal said. "(Thanks) to Spencer (Hughes), he got around that bottom and showed it to me there one time, and he got a monster run down the frontstretch. I was like, 'All right, well, maybe I can get there and make (up) the same kind of ground. And I just happened to hit it good one time. It took a while to figure out how to hit it.
"It was really, really easy to miss. I just kept trying and kept trying and kept trying and it finally paid off. I was just in a better part of the racetrack than Earl was. He drove away from me a little bit on that restart, and I knew he was going to get his tires hot before mine, just because I was in the brown (part of the racing surface). And in about 10 laps I started driving back to him.
Combined with his lower line, O'Neal's mid-race shock adjustment paid off.
"We talked about it under the (halfway fuel stop) there. I had to stay out for that restart, just because I was the Lucky Dog, and I had to stay out on the racetrack just to get (the Lucky Dog bonus to get back on the lead lap)," O'Neal said. "So I knew, if I could run a couple of laps, and then I wasn't real good. So I brought the caution out and went in. I don't know. Evidently we made the right adjustment, so that just shows you how much just a little bit in a shock can go a long away. But all in all, we had a great race car. We had a little bit of a struggling weekend, but hopefully we can turn that around — well, I guess we have turned it around."
Pearson wasn't able to change his line to thwart O'Neal's bid for the lead.
"The car was really good. The crew, they worked their butts off on this whole deal. You know, to lead that many laps and come up short," said Pearson, whose finish was his best on the national tour since a runner-up performance Aug. 22, 2020 at Batesville (Ark.) Motor Speedway. "But, I mean, that's part of it. I've won that way and lost that way.
"He was good around the bottom. You know, I mean, I was pulling as far as I could go right there. Them last couple of laps I drove as hard as I could there, but (the car) was too tight around the top. That's the reason I didn't go to the bottom."
Besides the lap-50 fuel stop, the event was slowed by five cautions, none for serious incidents.
The first appeared when Michael Norris pulled up lame on the ninth lap with a broken lift bar in his Todd Cerenzia-owned Rocket while running in the seventh spot. Another appeared on the 11th lap when Gregg Satterlee slowed and headed pitside.
The third yellow appeared on the 55th lap for the slowing O'Neal, who was running 11th, and again on lap 73 when fourth-running Jimmy Owens had a flat right-rear tire.
The final two cautions appeared on lap 79 when the frontstretch door gate got unlatched and lap 81 when Stormy Scott slowed with a right-front flat tire.
Notes: O'Neal's six series victories have come in five states; he's won twice in Pennsylvania, winning at PPMS and on Aug. 26 at Port Royal Speedway. ... Pearson was bidding to become the first driver to lead 100 laps at PPMS since Don O'Neal in 2017. ... The O'Neal's are the first father-son winners of the race that started in 1980.
Row 1: Tim McCreadie, Earl Pearson Jr.
Row 2: Jonathan Davenport, Tyler Erb
Row 3: Michael Norris, Jimmy Owens
Row 4: Stormy Scott, Devin Moran
Row 5: Jacob Hawkins, Gregg Satterlee
Row 6: Chris Ferguson, Shane Clanton
Row 7: Spencer Hughes, Kyle Bronson
Row 8: Ricky Thornton Jr., Jared Miley
Row 9: Hudson O'Neal, Mason Zeigler
Row 10: Alex Ferree, Logan Zarin
Row 11: Kyle Lukon, Trever Feathers
Row 12: Josh Richards, Matt Cosner
(10 laps; top three transfer)
First consolation: Hudson O’Neal, Alex Ferree, Kyle Lukon, Clint Hersh, Dan Stone, Josh Richards, Gary Stuhler, Colton Flinner. Scratched: Derek Stefanick.
Second consolation: Mason Zeigler, Logan Zarin, Trever Feathers, Kyle Lee, Matt Cosner, Tommy Beck, Chuck Kimble, Reid Millard, Jon Hodgkiss.
Heat race results
(Eight laps; top four transfer)
First heat: Tim McCreadie, Michael Norris, Jacob Hawkins, Spencer Hughes, Hudson O’Neal, Josh Richards, Kyle Lukon, Gary Stuhler, Derek Stefanick.
Second heat: Jonathan Davenport, Stormy Scott, Chris Ferguson, Ricky Thornton Jr., Colton Flinner, Alex Ferree, Dan Stone, Clinton Hersh.
Third heat: Earl Pearson Jr., Jimmy Owens, Gregg Satterlee, Kyle Bronson, Mason Zeigler, Logan Zarin, Jon Hodgkiss, Tommy Beck, Reid Millard.
Fourth heat: Tyler Erb, Devin Moran, Shane Clanton, Jared Miley, Trever Feathers, Matt Cosner, Kyle Lee, Chuck Kimble.
- Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 18.324
- Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., 18.361
- Michael Norris (02), Sarver, Pa., 18.712
- Stormy Scott (2), Las Cruces, N.M., 18.812
- Jacob Hawkins (37), Fairmont. W.Va., 18.848
- Ricky Thornton Jr. (20rt), Chandler, Ariz., 18.857
- Josh Richards (14), Shinnston, W.Va., 18.903
- Chris Ferguson (22), Mount Holly, N.C., 19.123
- Hudson O’Neal (71), Martinsville, Ind., 19.218
- Alex Ferree (4), Saxonburg, Pa., 19.390
- Spencer Hughes (11H), Meridian, Miss., 19.400
- Colton Flinner (48), Allison Park, Pa., 19.595
- Kyle Lukon (23), Burgettstown, Pa., 19.828
- Dan Stone (2), Thompson, Pa., 20.125
- Gary Stuhler (4), Greencastle, Pa., 20.232
- Clinton Hersh (16H), Somerset, Pa., 20.510
- Derek Stefanick (65), Imperial, Pa., 21.349
- Earl Pearson Jr. (46), Jacksonville, Fla., 18.683
- Tyler Erb (1), New Waverly, Texas, 18.770
- Gregg Satterlee (22), Indiana, Pa., 18.884
- Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., 18.984
- Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., 19.004
- Devin Moran (9), Dresden, Ohio, 19.056
- Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 19.187
- Kyle Lee (2T), Mercersburg, Pa., 19.341
- Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 19.483
- Jared Miley (10), Pittsburgh, Pa., 19.499
- Logan Zarin (1z), Moon Township, Pa., 19.621
- Trever Feathers (20F), Winchester, Va., 19.755
- Tommy Beck (91), Delmont, Pa., 19.802
- Matt Cosner (66C), Ridgeley, W.Va., 19.899
- Jon Hodgkiss (69), Kennedy Township, Pa., 20.052
- Chuck Kimble (55), Rayland, Ohio, 20.491
- Reid Millard (14R), Jefferson City, Mo., 21.134