ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Saturday's Castrol Gateway Dirt Nationals finale ended just like Tyler Carpenter's previous three feature races at The Dome at America's Center did — with the 30-year-old Parkersburg, W.Va., driver in victory lane.
The difference this time? Instead of a brash, trash-talking driver emerging from his car, it was a tearful racer trying to come to terms with his $30,000 victory that gives him $70,000 in earnings from two preliminary and two main event triumphs in 2019 and 2021.
"I did kind of create a bunch of hype and (was being) somebody that everybody wants to see," Carpenter said while tears streamed down his reddened face. "I ain't no crybaby, but how do you celebrate?"
While Carpenter was trying to figure out how to celebrate, his 20 opponents were left to figure out how to keep up with his speedy No. 28 Kryptonite Race Car that led all 40 laps. Even a deflating tire in the final laps — the right-rear was nearly flat in victory lane — couldn't stop the polesitter from outrunning fellow front-row starter Tanner English of Benton, Ky., by 0.717 seconds at the checkers.
Third was Nick Hoffman of Mooresville, N.C., while 13th-starting Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., rallied to fourth in his Donny Schatz-owned car. Bob Gardner of East Peoria, Ill., rounded out the top five finishers.
Carpenter's second straight victory in a Gateway finale — Covid-19 restrictions halted last year's event — matches the 2017-18 wins by Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., who was running seventh when a broken transmission yoke and driveshaft forced him out on the 15th lap.
The tearful Carpenter, a talented Mid-Ohio Valley racer who entered the weekend with 12 Late Model victories among 10 tracks this season, tried to wrap his head around matching his career-richest payday from two Decembers earlier.
"It ain't going to sink in, and I'll tell you why. Because I don't think I'm supposed to be here. We're just forcing it to happen," Carpenter said. "I ain't saying we're freaking broke. I know you guys are tired of hearing it, but you just don't even really know.
"I've begged for help, I've begged for somebody to help me get better on big tracks. This is for my family, you know? I don't care how you see me trashed. People take me out ... I don't even care. I'm here and you guys gotta see it to love the ones that love me."
An elderly supporter who has since died from a bout with Covid-19 had told Carpenter he expected him to win again at the Dome. He dedicated his victory to the supporter, but he wasn't as confident.
"Everybody toots your horn, but I'm not that type. I come in here scared to death I wasn't even going to make (the feature lineup) and I didn't want to get in this thing with a provisional," he said. "I can't thank all you guys enough, my family, my crew, sponsors, I could go on for days, just read the car. I'm too (broken) up to thank all you guys. Just know it's appreciated."
After a lengthy session of victory lane photographs, Carpenter took another shot at explaining what winning on such a big stage means.
"I'm sorry for the people that don't like me hootin' and hollerin' and saying bad words and the ones that have seen me rough up a couple of guys," he said. "But you just don't know what I'm coming from. I'm just glad to be amongst this crowd.
"I feel like I'm not supposed to be here. But I'm going to make it happen somehow, you know? There's too much willpower in me. It's going to happen. Or I'm going to die trying. I'm just glad the ones that are supporting me are staying with me, and I'll try my best to put on a show for all you guys, that's all I can do."
English, who has twice experienced heartbreaking defeats in the Gateway Dirt Nationals, didn’t leave the Dome in despair this time after earning a $15,000 runner-up finish. But he was still a bit sullen because he knew just a couple twists of fate probably cost him his coveted victory.
First there was the caution flag on lap 37 that came just as Carpenter was reaching lapped traffic, which English thought would provide his best opportunity to overtake the leader.
And then there was Carpenter’s right-rear tire, which likely didn’t have enough air left in it to keep him in front for one more lap.
“That last corner coming to the checker, that was his last corner,” English said of Carpenter. “His tire was flat. It was on the rim. It was going flat on that caution and I thought he’d never make it, and that’s why I didn’t really try to press the issue (after the restart).
“Then that last lap he went in there (turns three and four) and shoved, and I seen the rim dug in and set over. That’s all he had was that last corner … so one more set of corners and I’m passing him, I guarantee it.”
Six cautions slowed the action, including two before a lap was complete (for Shannon Babb's spin and then Kyle Hammer).
A lap-16 caution appeared when the fifth- and sixth-running cars of Friday prelim winner Myles Moos and Austin Simpson tangled in turn two and the yellow flag returned a lap later for a spinning Cody Bauer.
Jadon Frame lost a spoiler on the 26th lap to draw another caution and the final yellow fell on lap 37 when Ricky Thornton Jr.'s seventh-running car ended up perpendicular under the flagstand after contact with Jason Feger.
Babb survived his first-lap spin and briefly reached the fourth position with a dozen laps left before slipping back and retiring on lap 31.
Notes: Along with his $35,000 in weekend earnings, Carpenter's victory gives him the opportunity to compete in next season's NASCAR Camping World Truck dirt event at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway with Niece Motorsports. "They don't know what they got themselves into is all I can say," said Carpenter, who posed for pictures with the truck in victory lane. ... The feature lasted less than 20 minutes with 15 of 21 starters finishing on the lead lap. ... Tail-starting provisional starter Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., rallied to finish seventh.
Castrol Gateway Dirt Nationals
Pos. Driver (car no.), hometown, chassis, earnings
1. Tyler Carpenter (28), Parkersburg, W.Va., Kryptonite, $30,000
2. Tanner English (81E), Benton, Ky., Rocket, $15,000
3. Nick Hoffman (0NH), Mooresville, N.C., Team Zero, $10,000
4. Brandon Sheppard (15), New Berlin, Ill., Rocket, $5,000
5. Bob Gardner (4G), East Peoria, Ill., Rocket, $3,000
6. Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., MB Customs, $2,500
7. Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., MB Customs, $2,400
8. Gordy Gundaker (11), St. Charles, Mo., Black Diamond, $2,300
9. Ryan Montgomery (4s), Fairmont, W.Va., Lazer, $2,200
10. Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., Longhorn, $2,100
11. Jody Knowles (66), Tyrone, Ga., Rocket, $2,000
12. Tanner Collins (24), Franklin, Ga., Rocket, $2,000
13. Cody Bauer (19x), Farwell, Mich., Domination, $2,000
14. Myles Moos (84), Lincoln, Ill., Barry Wright, $2,000
15. Ricky Thornton Jr. (20rt), Chandler, Ariz., Longhorn, $2,000
16. Austin Simpson (35), Bartonville, Ill., Black Diamond, $2,000
17. Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., Team Zero, $2,000
18. Jadon Frame (J8), Decherd, Tenn., Capital, $2,000
19. Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., Pierce, $2,000
20. Kyle Hammer (45), Clinton, Ill., Longhorn, $2,000
21. Chris Carpenter (18), Parkersburg, W.Va., Kryptonite, $2,000
Lap leader: Carpenter 1-40
Fast qualifier (among 82 cars): Moos, 11.659 seconds
Heat race winners: Jeffrey Ledford, Thornton, Gardner, Sheppard, Scott Bloomquist, T. Carpenter, Moos, Hoffman, Simpson, Mike Spatola, Kenny Collins, Gundaker
Consolation winners: Babb, Gundaker, Feger, Pierce, Sheppard, Bauer
Provisional starter: Unzicker
Preliminary feature winners: T. Carpenter, Moos
Row 1: Tyler Carpenter, Terry English
Row 2: Nick Hoffman, Bob Gardner
Row 3: Austin Simpson, Kyle Hammer
Row 4: Myle Moos, Jody Knowles
Row 5: Shannon Babb, Gordy Gundaker
Row 6: Jason Feger, Bobby Pierce
Row 7: Brandon Sheppard, Cody Bauer
Row 8: Ricky Thornton Jr., Jonathan Davenport
Row 9: Ryan Montgomery, Chris Carpenter
Row 10: Tanner Collins, Jadon Frame
Row 11: Ryan Unzicker
After the completion of Saturday’s last-chance races, track officials began reworking the fifth-mile oval’s racing surface with plans to have opening ceremonies — including the famed driver introductions — tentatively scheduled to commence around 7 p.m. CT. … Tyler Carpenter’s blessed life at the Dome continued with the redraw when the Thursday-night preliminary feature winner picked the pole position for the 40-lap, $30,000-to-win headliner. He started fourth in his 2019 Gateway Dirt Nationals victory. … Carpenter will be joined in the feature field by his older brother Chris, who starts 18th in his first-ever Gateway appearance after grabbing the runner-up spot in a consolation despite running much of the distance with his car’s spoiler dangling behind his car. The Carpenter boys’ dad, Freddie, came close to cracking the A-main lineup as well, missing a berth by two positions. … Tanner English has experienced plenty of heartbreak at the Dome, but after drawing the outside pole for the 40-lapper it appears his fortunes might be changing for the better. “That was probably all my good luck right there in the draw,” he cracked. … Two-time event winner Bobby Pierce will take the green flag from 12th after capturing the fourth consolation. He’s uncertain, however, if he’ll be able to use the top side of the track to make a run at a third victory; he feels the track’s layout this year isn’t as banked to the outside wall as it was two years ago, making it more difficult overtake cars running on the bottom. … The most memorable move of Saturday’s consolations was authored by Brandon Sheppard, who slipped inside Tanner Collins rounding turns three and four on the final lap of the fifth prelim to emerge victorious. The dramatic pass gained B-Shepp six positions in the feature lineup; with his car owner, WoO Sprint Car star Donny Schatz, looking on, he starts 13th. … West Virginia’s Ryan Montgomery survived a late-race scrape with leader Jason Feger in the third consolation to salvage a runner-up finish and crack the feature field with the western Pennsylvania-based Suppa Racing Lazer Chassis in his first career visit to the Dome. “It’s definitely a cool experience to make the show,” Montgomery said. … Eight of the feature’s 20 starters are in the Gateway Dirt Nationals headliner for the first time: Montgomery, Chris Carpenter, Austin Simpson, Kyle Hammer, Myles Moos, Jody Knowles, Cody Bauer and Tanner Collins. … Scott Bloomquist, the inaugural Gateway Dirt Nationals winner in 2016, will be a spectator for the feature after experiencing a rough time during the first consolation. After spinning in turns three and four on the opening lap but keeping his fourth starting spot because a circuit wasn’t completed, his night ended several laps later when he slapped the homestretch wall and his car had to be towed off.
(10 laps; top two transfer)
First consolation: Shannon Babb, Ricky Thornton Jr., Blair Nothdurft, Jeffrey Shackelford, Josh Baker, Scott Bloomquist, David Webster, Scott Bell, Doug Tye, Landen Zakalowski, John Trowbridge.
Second consolation: Gordy Gundaker, Jonathan Davenport, Jeff Herzog, Rusty Schlenk, Austin Horton, Joseph Hughs, Ruben Mayfield, Reid Millard, Chris Nash, Robert Ardry, Robert Tincher, Matt Koch.
Third consolation: Jason Feger, Ryan Montgomery, Trevor Gundaker, Jayme Zidar, Jason Zobrist, David Marlow, W.L. Stile, Rusty Griffaw, Jason Wagner, Jonathan Woods, Arlen Stewart.
Fourth consolation: Bobby Pierce, Chris Carpenter, Ryan Unzicker, Rich Bell, Mike Spatola, Max Baker, Charles Newby, Will Harris, Erik Thorne, Jacob Magee, Daniel Jacober, Kenny Collins.
Fifth consolation: Brandon Sheppard, Tanner Collins, Jeffrey Ledford, Rachel Carpenter, Todd Brennan, Dewayne Kiefer, Chad Zobrist, Adam Elliott, Bob Sidener, Blake Bailey, Brian Mullins.
Sixth consolation: Cody Bauer, Jadon Frame, Delbert Crum, Freddie Carpenter, Jason Welshan, David Seibers, Robbie Stuart, Joe Derby, Derek Fetter, Rob Bayard, Chris McKeehan.
(10 laps; top two transfer)
Row 1: Shannon Babb, Blair Nothdurft
Row 2: Scott Bell, David Webster
Row 3: Ricky Thornton Jr., Scott Bloomquist
Row 4: Doug Tye, Kevin Smith
Row 5: Jeffrey Shackelford, Josh Baker
Row 6: John Trowbridge, Landen Zakalowski
Row 7: Garrett Alberson
Row 1: Gordy Gundaker, Rusty Schlenk
Row 2: Jonathan Davenport, Reid Millard
Row 3: Joseph Hughs, Jeff Herzog
Row 4: Austin Horton, Robert Tincher
Row 5: Ruben Mayfield, Matt Koch
Row 6: Robert Ardry, Levi Ashby
Row 7: Chris Nash
Row 1: Jason Feger, Ryan Montgomery
Row 2: Jayme Zidar, Jason Zobrist
Row 3: Trevor Gundaker, Arlen Stewart
Row 4: Jason Wagner, William Stile
Row 5: David Marlow, Joel Willman
Row 6: Rusty Griffaw, Jonathan Woods
Row 1: Mike Spatola, Kenny Collins
Row 2: Daniel Jacober, Bobby Pierce
Row 3: Jacob Magee, Chris Carpenter
Row 4: Charles Newby, Max Baker
Row 5: Rich Bell, Erik Thorne
Row 6: William Harris, Ryan Unzicker
Row 1: Tanner Collins, Jeffrey Ledford
Row 2: Dewayne Kiefer, Brandon Sheppard
Row 3: Rachel Carpenter, Adam Elliott
Row 4: Blake Bailey, Bob Sidener
Row 5: Todd Brennan, Brandon Tibaldi
Row 6: Chad Zobrist, Brian Mullins
Row 1: Cody Bauer, Jason Welshan
Row 2: Bub Crum, Jadon Frame
Row 3: David Seibers, Derek Fetter
Row 4: Freddie Carpenter, Robbie Stuart
Row 5: Chris McKeehan, Joe Denby
Row 6: Rob Bayard, McKay Wenger
10 a.m.: Registration and credentials office opens
10:30 p.m.: Vendors’ early access
11 a.m.: Pit doors open
11 a.m.: Fuel storage and fueling lane opens
1 p.m.: Drivers’ meeting
2 p.m.: Spectator doors open
2:30 p.m.: Midget engine heat
3 p.m.: On-track activity begins
- Late Model consolations (10 laps)
- Late Model hot laps (locked-in cars)
- Modified consolations (10 laps)
- Modified hot laps (locked-in cars)
6 p.m.: Opening ceremonies
- Late Model driver intros
- Late Model feature (40 laps)
- Midget feature (30 laps)
- Modified feature (30 laps)