MERIDIAN, Miss. — In 26 runnings of the Coors Light Fall Classic entering the event's 2021 edition, never had a driver won the Mississippi event in back-to-back seasons. Not only did Dennis Erb Jr. accomplish that feat Saturday at Whynot Motorsports Park, the 49-year-old Carpentersville, Ill., driver did it in no-doubt fashion, winning by a half-track margin and lapping all but five competitors for a $15,000 Super Late Model payday.
"I'm really happy for that. Coming down here for a lot of years and getting that first one last year, and coming back and do it again, that's a good deal for us," Erb said. I'm real proud of that. Like I said, everything worked out for us this weekend and we had a good car."
The third-starting Erb patiently stalked polesitter and early leader Neil Baggett through the race's early stages, making an outside pass amid traffic on the 38th lap and cruising the rest of the way to win by a 7.505-second margin in a 100-lapper where the final 90 laps ran caution-free.
"That definitely was good for me," Erb said of the lengthy green-flag run that allowed him to maintain his rhythm."Once things started going and I got heat in the tires and everything, the car started working really good and I was real comfortable out front, so I didn't really want to see a caution out there, even when I was catching lapped traffic, I was able to be patient and move around and not have to worry about hustling (the car)."
Baggett, who led the first 37 laps, settled for second, his best career finish in the event, while Morgan Bagley of Longview, Texas, was third after taking the spot from Cade Dillard of Robeline, La., with six laps remaining. Dillard was fourth while hometown driver Chad Thrash rounded out the top five finishers.
Tony Jackson Jr. of Lebanon, Mo., making his first start in the event, started eighth and pressured Baggett from the second spot from laps 13-23 before slipping back to finish as the last car on the lead lap.
Erb, like Baggett a heat winner in Friday's prelims, looked strong throughout the race with his car running equally well in the inside, middle or outside groove at the racy oval.
"The racetrack, it started off pretty fast up around the top, which I thought it would," Erb said. "We just got up and kinda maintained there a little bit, and then, you know, waited for it to kinda slow down a little bit and be able to make a move. The car was working really good in the middle and I was real happy with that. I was able to get a good run there once we got out front, then the car felt good and I could pretty much maneuver it around. I was happy with that."
Baggett was more than three seconds behind at halfway and Erb built his margin up to seven seconds with 10 laps remaining.
"I didn't know how big of a lead I had," Erb said. "I know (crew chief) Heather (Lyne) was signaling I had a pretty big lead. But, you know, I just wanted to keep smooth and keep everything underneath me and didn't want to lose that lead either. You never know what's going to happen. The car was really good. It just kind of drove itself around there so I didn't have to really hustle it. I just kind of cruised around there at the end."
The handling on Baggett's car got too loose as the race went on as the part-time racer couldn't keep up with Erb, a World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series regular and longtime national touring driver.
"These guys do it for a living. We race 20 times a year. So, I mean, I would make two or three good laps, then I would drive a different line and banzai in there and then I would, I would catch myself hanging, or whatever, or slip the wheels. And I knew that was hurting me," Baggett said. "I just, I don't know, I just couldn't keep the car up under me. And like I said, with 20 or 30 (laps) to go, I was just kinda out to lunch, and I was just riding then. At the end, I kinda wanted a caution ... I'm a Hail Mary type guy, so I would've definitely like to zip that top one time. But it didn't work out. Dennis was good."
Baggett, who topped 31 cars in Friday's time trials, bettered his previous high of eighth place in 2019's Fall Classic, but he feared he might've let his best chance to win slip away.
"I'm happy with second, but this is one race since I was a kid my daddy used to bring me to. And watching Rex Richey win it, and (Mike) Boland and a lot of drivers over the years, just a kid coming up through here. I want this race, you know," he said. "And I don't know if I'll have another chance. That might've been my time. And I don't want to race forever, I don't want to be that guy. And a couple of more years and I'll be ready to hang it up. I thought tonight was my chance, and it just didn't work out."
The 100-lapper was slowed twice on the 10th lap, the second time for a turn-three pileup that saw former race winner David Breazeale getting upside down with Noah Daspit's car perched atop the Billy Franklin-owned car Breazeale was fielding. No one was injured but several other cars were involved in the red-flag accident that began on the backstretch including Brennon Willard, Rick Rickman, Jason Milam, Justin McCree, Matthew Brocato and Darrell Lanigan, who gave up the second spot to pit after the previous caution because of a flat right front tire and was restarting near the rear.
The red flag following the race's lone caution on the 10th lap for a turn-four pileup inside turn four that included Brocato, Shelby Sheedy and Luke Bennett. It took more than 30 minutes to cleanup the two accidents.
Notes: Erb has started every Fall Classic since 2010. ... He has seven top-five finishes, including a runner-up performance in 2011. ... His victory was the third of the season and second richest. He earned $20,000 for a July 10 WoO victory on July 10 at Jackson (Minn.) Motorplex. ... Nine of Whynot's 29 starters were out of the race before the 10-lap mark. ... Justin McCree started the main event Crate Late Model after issues in his Super Late Model; he finished 17th after retiring on lap 35.
27th annual Coors Light Fall Classic
Pos. Driver, hometown
1. Dennis Erb Jr., Carpentersville, Ill., $15,000
2. Neil Baggett, Columbus, Miss.
3. Morgan Bagley, Longview, Texas
4. Cade Dillard, Robeline, La.
5. Chad Thrash, Meridian, Miss.
6. Tony Jackson Jr., Lebanon, Mo.
7. Brian Rickman, Columbus, Miss.
8. Randy Weaver, Crossville, Tenn.
9. Josh Putnam, Florence, Ala.
10. Dean Carpenter, Coldwater, Miss.
11. Brandon Carpenter, Coldwater, Miss.
12. Hunter Lewis, Hurley, Miss.
13. Spencer Hughes, Meridian, Miss.
14. Logan Martin, West Plains, Mo.
15. Chris McElhenney, Decatur, Miss.
16. Jason Milam, Guntown, Miss.
17. Justin McRee, Woodstock, Ala.
18. Brennon Willard, Lebanon, Mo.
19. Noah Daspit, Kiln, Miss.
20. Darrell Lanigan, Union, Ky.
21. Rick Rickman, Columbus, Miss.
22. David Breazeale, Four Corners, Miss.
23. Luke Bennett, Ethel, La.
24. Matthew Brocato, Muscle Shoals, Ala.
25. Shelby Sheedy, French Camp, Miss.
26. Ryan Wilson, Margaret, Ala.
27. Clay Fisher, DeWitt, Ark.
28. Billy Franklin, Calera, Ala.
29. Alex Ashley, Center, Texas
Lap leaders: Baggett 1-37; Erb 38-100
Fast qualifier (among 31 cars): Baggett, 12.967 seconds
Heat race winners: Baggett, Dillard, Erb, Lanigan
Consolation winners: Sheedy, McElhenney
Row 1: Neil Baggett, Cade Dillard
Row 2: Dennis Erb Jr., Darrell Lanigan
Row 3: Morgan Bagley, Hunter Lewis
Row 4: Rick Rickman, Tony Jackson Jr.
Row 5: Chad Thrash, Brian Rickman
Row 6: Luke Bennett, Logan Martin
Row 7: Spencer Hughes, Josh Putnam
Row 8: David Breazeale, Noah Daspit
Row 9: Shelby Sheedy, Chris McElhenney
Row 10: Matthew Brocato, Randy Weaver
Row 11: Brennon Willard, Dean Carpenter
Row 12: Clay Fisher, Jason Milam
Row 13: Brandon Carpenter, Alex Ashley
Row 14: Justin McRee, Billy Franklin
Row 15: Ryan Wilson
The 27th annual Coors Light Fall Classic drew 31 drivers from nine states, topped by 14 from the Magnolia State. Six drivers are representing Alabama, with three representing Missouri. There are two drivers each from Louisiana and Texas and one apiece from Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky. … There are 13 first-time starters: Hunter Lewis, Tony Jackson Jr., Luke Bennett, Logan Martin, Noah Daspit, Shelby Sheedy, Jason Milam, Clay Fisher, Matthew Brocato, Brennon Willard, Alex Ashley, Brandon Carpenter, and Ryan Wilson … Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., is making his third career Fall Classic start. Lanigan’s best finish, third, came in 2019. He finished 24th in 2014. Last season Lanigan won a preliminary race for a 100-lapper as well, but he was 900 miles away in Bedford, Pa. For the record, Bedford Speedway at 394 miles from Union, is actually closer to home than Whynot, which is 590 miles from Lanigan’s Old Kentucky Home. … Starting 15th, David Breazeale of Four Corners, Miss., has a chance to become the event’s first three-time winner. Breazeale, who won in 2005 at Jackson Motor Speedway and 2016 at Whynot, has 15 career Fall Classic starts with four top-five finishes. Breazeale is driving Billy Franklin’s Rocket Chassis. “Billy’s son plays high school football and he had a game (Friday), so Billy knew he wasn’t going to be here. He called me up last week,” said Breazeale. “We was gonna go to Senoia in my stuff and get some laps for that ($52,000-to-win Peach State Classic), but when he calls, I’m definitely putting my (car) on stands to drive his.” … There are three former winners in the field: Breazeale; last year’s winner Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill.; and 2014 winner Randy Weaver of Crossville, Tenn. … Erb, who starts third, can become the event’s first back-to-back winner. In 11 Fall Classic starts, Erb has finished sixth or better eight times. Along with last year’s breakthrough victory, he was runner-up in 2011 behind Jonathan Davenport and third in 2017 behind Scott Bloomquist and Brandon Overton. … Weaver is piloting Leon Henderson’s car this weekend. “Leon, he sponsors my son (Cameron) and the guy who was gonna drive couldn’t, so I came down,” said Weaver. “We’re gonna try my stuff on the car today. We tried their stuff on it last night and it just wasn’t for me. I was terrible.” Weaver has only one previous career start in the Fall Classic, but he made it count, winning in 2014 for the second richest victory of his career (he topped his $15,000 Fall Classic payday with a $20,000 win at Virginia Motor Speedway in 2015). … Clay Fisher of Dewitt, Ark., snuck into the feature when fourth-running Justin McRee’s engine went up in smoke on the final lap of the first consolation race. Fisher was in solid shape on Friday until he tagged the wall while running in a transfer spot in his heat. After making repairs overnight, he’ll start 23rd in the main event. ... Billy Franklin of Calera, Ala., was the only new addition on Saturday.
Saturday's consolation results
First consolation (top four transfer): Shelby Sheedy, Matthew Brocato, Brennon Willard, Clay Fisher, Brandon Carpenter, Justin McRee. Scratched: Willie Traywick.
Second consolation (top four transfer): Chris McElhenney, Randy Weaver, Dean Carpenter, Jason Milam, Alex Ashley, Billy Franklin, Ryan Wilson.
Saturday’s consolation lineups
(Top four transfer)
Row 1: Matthew Brocato, Shelby Sheedy
Row 2: Brandon Carpenter, Brennon Willard
Row 3: Clay Fisher, Willie Traywick
Row 4: Justin McRee
Row 1: Randy Weaver, Chris McElhenney
Row 2: Alex Ashley, Dean Carpenter
Row 3: Jason Milam, Ryan Wilson
Friday preliminary recap
Sweeping action on prelim night at Whynot Motorsports Park, overall fast qualifier Neil Baggett of Columbus, Miss., won the first heat to earn the pole position for Saturday’s 27th annual Coors Light Fall Classic. Baggett led all 10 laps, turning back a brief challenge from Meridian’s Spencer Hughes before finishing 1.386 seconds ahead of Morgan Bagley of Longview, Texas. Hughes slipped to fourth as Chad Thrash of Meridian grabbed third.
Friday’s other heat winners were Cade Dillard of Robeline, La., who won the second heat and will start alongside Baggett on the front row of the 100-lapper; Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., who led the entire third heat from his outside front-row starting spot; and Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., who held off polesitter Tony Jackson Jr. of Lebanon, Mo., by 1.045 seconds to win the final heat.
Erb and Dillard, who ran first and second, respectively, in last year’s event, won heats for the second year in a row. Both Baggett and Dillard won from the pole, while Erb and Lanigan won from the outside front row as the track transitioned to a dominant top grove for the third and fourth heats.
Sixteen cars are locked into Saturday’s 100-lap feature, with a pair of consolation races on tap to set the remainder of the 24-car field. Saturday’s drivers’ meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. The 27th annual Coors Light Fall Classic drew 193 cars across six divisions, with the Crate Late Model division entertaining the most entries at 41. With each division slated for two consolations on Saturday, Saturday’s lineup includes a total of 18 races (12 consolations and six features). Friday's final checkered flag (a sportsman heat) fell at 12:15 a.m.
Friday heat race results
First heat (top four advance): Neil Baggett, Morgan Bagley, Chad Thrash, Spencer Hughes, Matthew Brocato, Brandon Carpenter, Clay Fisher, Justin McRee.
Second heat (top four advance): Cade Dillard, Hunter Lewis, Brian Rickman, Josh Putnam, Randy Weaver, Alex Ashley, Jason Milam.
Third heat (top four advance): Dennis Erb Jr., Rick Rickman, Luke Bennett, David Breazeale, Shelby Sheedy, Brennon Willard, Willie Traywick.
Fourth heat (top four advance): Darrell Lanigan, Tony Jackson Jr., Logan Martin, Noah Daspit, Chris McElhenney, Dean Carpenter, Ryan Wilson.
Friday heat race lineups
(10 laps, top four transfer)
Row 1: Neil Baggett, Spencer Hughes
Row 2: Chad Thrash, Clay Fisher
Row 3: Brandon Carpenter, Morgan Bagley
Row 4: Matthew Brocato, Justin McRee
Row 1: Cade Dillard, Hunter Lewis
Row 2: Josh Putnam, Alex Ashley
Row 3: Randy Weaver, Brian Rickman
Row 4: Jason Milam, Cole Cameron
Row 1: Rick Rickman, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 2: Luke Bennett, David Breazeale
Row 3: Shelby Sheedy, Brennon Willard
Row 4: Willie Traywick
Row 1: Tony Jackson Jr., Darrell Lanigan
Row 2: Logan Martin, Noah Daspit
Row 3: Chris McElhenney, Dean Carpenter
Row 4: Ryan Wilson
Neil Baggett went out first and then had to wait for each of the remaining 29 qualifiers to see if his quick lap of 12.967 seconds would hold up. It did. Baggett, of Columbus, Miss., was the overall fast qualifier Friday, earning the pole position for the night’s first heat race. He’ll start alongside Spencer Hughes (13.022 seconds) of Meridian, with Chad Thrash and Clay Fisher in row two of the opening heat, which will determine the polesitter of Saturday’s 27th annual Coors Light Fall Classic.
Cade Dillard of Robeline, Ill., was the quickest in Group B, with his 13.212-second lap just nipping Tony Jackson Jr. (13.231) of Lebanon, Mo. Going out late in the lineup, Dillard and Jackson were on the track at the same time. The duo rode the cushion, swapping the quick time during their two circuits with Dillard nabbing it on his second lap. Hunter Lewis (13.247) of Hurley, Miss., was the third quickest in Group B and will start beside Dillard in the second heat. Jackson will start from the pole of the fourth heat, with Union, Ky.’s Darrell Lanigan (13.264) to his outside.
Rick Rickman of Columbus, Miss., put down a 12.979-second lap in Group A, good enough for the pole in the third heat, providing his gets his Rocket XR1 patched up. Rickman tagged the wall on his second lap and had to be pushed across the scales. He’s scheduled to start the heat on the front row alongside reigning Fall Classic winner Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill.
Driver (car no.), hometown, time (unofficial)
- Neil Baggett (21xxx), Columbus, Miss., 12.967
- Rick Rickman (86), Columbus, Miss., 12.979
- Spencer Hughes (11), Meridian, Miss., 13.022
- Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 13.128
- Chad Thrash (1), Meridian, Miss., 13.157
- Luke Bennett (3), Ethel, La., 13.371
- Clay Fisher (99) Dewitt, Ark., 13.413
- David Breazeale (17), Four Corners, Miss., 13.586
- Brandon Carpenter (51B), Coldwater, Miss., 13.602
- Shelby Sheedy (G4), French Camp, Miss., 13.604
- Morgan Bagley (14m), Longview, Texas, 13.665
- Brennon Willard (3w), Lebanon, Mo., 13.778
- Matthew Brocato (713), Muscle Shoals, Ala., 13.836
- Willie Traywick (15T), Wilsonville, Ala., 14.107
- Justin McRee (25), Woodstock, Ala., 18.863
- Cade Dillard (97), Robeline, La., 13.212
- Tony Jackson Jr. (56), Lebanon, Mo., 13.231
- Hunter Lewis (7), Hurley, Miss., 13.247
- Darrell Lanigan (29), Union, Ky., 13.264
- Josh Putnam (212), Florence, Ala., 13.268
- Logan Martin (36), West Plains, Mo., 13.329
- Alex Ashley (31), Center, Texas, 13.381
- Noah Daspit (34), Kiln, Miss., 13.437
- Randy Weaver (10), Crossville, Tenn., 13.468
- Chris McElhenney (27), Decatur, Miss., 13.487
- Brian Rickman (90), Columbus, Miss., 13.522
- Dean Carpenter (51), Coldwater, Miss., 13.786
- Jason Milam (82B), Guntown, Miss., 14.069
- Ryan Wilson (4), Margaret, Ala., 14.076
- Cole Cameron (26c), Hattiesburg, Miss., 14.263
2 p.m.: Pit gates open
5 p.m.: Grandstands open
6:30 p.m.: Drives' meeting
7 p.m.: Hot laps/time trials/prelims
- Super Late Model
- Crate Late Model
- Street stocks
- Factory stock
- 602 Late Models
11 a.m.: Gates open
4 p.m. Drivers’ meeting
4:30 p.m.: Hot laps
5 p.m.: Competition begins
- B-mains for all divisions (if necessary)
- Super Late Model
- Crate Late Model
- Street stocks
- Factory stock
- 602 Late Models