KNOXVILLE, Iowa (Sept. 26) — If the 11th annual Lucas Oil Knoxville Late Model Nationals ends up being Brian Birkhofer’s final weekend as a race car driver, he’s sure making the most of it.
On the heels of publicly revealing that he’s seriously considering walking away from the sport, the 42-year-old star from Muscatine, Iowa, thrilled his home-state fans with a triumphant performance in Friday night’s caution-free 25-lap preliminary feature at Knoxville Raceway.
Birkhofer moved forward from the fourth starting spot to pass race-long pacesetter Rodney Sanders of Happy, Texas, for the lead on lap 14 and roll on to a $7,000 victory. The champion of the inaugural Knoxville Late Model Nationals in 2004 kept fellow event winner Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., at bay over the final circuits to preserve his position at the front of the pack.
Moyer, 56, settled for runner-up money after starting 10th, crossing the finish line several car lengths behind Birkhofer. Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., finished third after ceding second place to Moyer on lap 20, while fifth-starter Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., was fourth and Sanders slipped to fifth in the final rundown after leading laps 1-13.
Birkhofer’s victory gave him the highest single-night points total for the two preliminary programs, putting him on the pole position for Saturday night’s 100-lap finale that boasts a $40,000 top prize. With the event potentially being his last competitive start, he’s well positioned to go out with a bang.
“Honestly, my gut tells me I’m gonna quit,” said Birkhofer, who announced on Thursday that he plans to sell his racing inventory and is contemplating whether he wants to take an early retirement from driving or accept a ride offer to compete for the Brian Rowland-owned team that currently employs Jason Hughes of Westville, Okla. “I can’t really explain what I’m feeling. I will say I promised pretty much everybody that (Saturday) they’ll know whether I’m gonna race or not. I’m gonna either commit to a group of people and race, or I’m gonna hang ‘er up.
“I just gotta figure it out (Saturday) — and if I decide to quit, I’ll try to get a good finish (Saturday) night and walk away doing something good I guess.”
Birkhofer stamped himself as a favorite for Nationals glory after steering his Vic Hill-powered Rocket machine past Sanders, an open-wheel modified specialist who has made just a half-dozen Dirt Late Model starts this season. Sanders, who turns 25 on Oct. 3, started from the outside pole and built a half-straightaway lead early in the race but by lap 10 had Birkhofer on his back bumper.
“He was getting tight and he ran over the cushion a couple times so I just said, ‘I’ll stay on the bottom’ and we got by him,” Birkhofer said of Sanders. “Then we got to lapped traffic and I couldn’t lap cars, and that really showed me exactly what my car was like. You get behind cars here, you’re going so fast, the dirty air starts really effecting you. You gotta have a really good, balanced car to make sure that you can steer here at the end of the straightaways.”
Birkhofer didn’t have a flawless vehicle, but it worked well enough for him to hang on the to lead when Moyer mounted a late bid.
“I think I found more on the gas pedal a couple times, on the cushion, to try to keep those guys behind me,” Birkhofer said.
Moyer drew close to Birkhofer in the final laps but refrained from attempting any desperate moves, preferring to take second place after experiencing a very short outing the previous night because a broken engine left him sidelined after time trials.
“We caught him (shortly after reaching second place),” Moyer said. “He was being careful with the lapped cars, I could see that — and I needed to do the same thing. Definitely the last five laps, with the night we had last night, I was trying to figure (event) points in my head a little bit to where I’m not completely buried for the big race. I just thought, I don’t need to do anything stupid.”
The bridesmaid finish satisfied Moyer, whose Friday points total earned him the 12th starting spot in Saturday’s 100-lapper.
Birkhofer will lead the Knoxville Nationals field to the green flag, but he knows the speed he showed while winning on Friday won’t be sufficient to bag the big money.
“We gotta be better,” said Birkhofer, who finished third in Thursday night’s preliminary feature. “Honestly, I could probably run top five-ish (Saturday), but I don’t think I got a car to win right now.
“That’s the problem with this place, though — your car is gonna do three or four different things over a 100-lap race. I think last night I was too tight, tonight I was tight-loose in different ways … so I’ll get up (Saturday) and work on it a little bit in the morning, watch the (University of) Iowa game, and then come back and hopefully make the right decisions in hot laps and tune from there.
“If I can just stay in that top five, stay in the same straightaway as the leaders, I think we got a shot."
Friday's blog-style updates:
The call to line up the 25-lap feature was made at approximately 9:55 p.m. CT. … The A-Main’s front-row starters — Shannon Babb and Rodney Sanders — didn’t qualify for Thursday night’s headliner. … Lucas Oil Series points leaders Don O’Neal and Jimmy Owens missed the cut for the feature, which does not offer tour points. Only Saturday night’s 100-lapper is a points race. … Jimmy Mars grabbed the sixth and final transfer spot in the B-Main by a slight margin over Wendell Wallace.
B-Main (15 laps; top 6 to A-Main): Darrell Lanigan, Jared Landers, Dennis Erb Jr., Kent Robinson, Rick Eckert, Jimmy Mars, Wendell Wallace, Eddie Carrier Jr., Jason Papich, Jason Utter, Don O’Neal, Tyler Bruening, Scott James, Chris Simpson, Jimmy Owens, Gregg Satterlee, Rich Bell, Ray Guss Jr., Chad Simpson, Chase Junghans, Tim McCreadie (DNS) Brady Smith.
C-Main (12 laps; top 4 to B-Main): Ray Guss Jr., Tyler Bruening, Chris Simpson, Chad Simpson, Jason Hughes, John Blankenship, Tim Lance, Denny Eckrich, Jorday Yaggy, Brian Harris, Brandon Overton, Jake Meier, Justin Duty, Jay Johnson, Greg Kimmons, Jason Rauen, Skip Frey, Chris Speaker, Todd Frank, Mike Fryer (DNS) Mike Marlar, Jesse Stovall.
D-Main (10 laps; top 4 to C-Main): Denny Eckrich, Brian Harris, Chris Spieker, Mike Fryer, Billy Moyer Jr., John Duty, Charlie McKenna, Dave Eckrich, Rob Moss, Steve Lance Jr., Roger Brickler, Lyle Zanker.
B-Main (15 laps; top 6 to A-Main)
Row 1: Darrell Lanigan, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 2: Wendell Wallace, Jared Landers
Row 3: Kent Robinson, Eddie Carrier Jr.
Row 4: Gregg Satterlee, Tim McCreadie
Row 5: Jason Papich, Rick Eckert
Row 6: Jimmy Mars, Don O’Neal
Row 7: Jimmy Owens, Brady Smith
Row 8: Scott James, Jason Utter
Row 9: Chase Junghans, Rich Bell
C-Main (12 laps; top 4 to B-Main)
Row 1: John Blankenship, Tyler Bruening
Row 2: Todd Frank, Chad Simpson
Row 3: Mike Marlar, Jason Rauen
Row 4: Ray Guss Jr., Jesse Stovall
Row 5: Chris Simpson, Jason Hughes
Row 6: Justin Duty, Jake Meier
Row 7: Jay Johnson, Skip Frey
Row 8: Tim Lance, Greg Kimmons
Row 9: Jordan Yaggy, Brandon Overton
D-Main (10 laps; top 4 to C-Main)
Row 1: Mason Zeigler, Billy Moyer Jr.
Row 2: Brian Harris, Denny Eckrich
Row 3: Vic Coffey, Matt Furman
Row 4: Ryan Gustin, Spencer Diercks
Row 5: Mike Fryer, Rob Moss
Row 6: John Duty, Dustin Walker
Row 7: Jordan Heiman, Dave Eckrich
Row 8: Chris Spieker, Lyle Zanker
Row 9: Jonathan Brauns, Steve Lance Jr.
Row 10: Charlie McKenna, Roger Brickler
Rodney Sanders was unbeatable in the final qualifier, marching forward from the fifth starting spot to score a convincing victory. Terry Phillips crossed the finish line second and Morgan Bagley — a Texan like Sanders — placed third.
Finish: Rodney Sanders, Terry Phillips, Morgan Bagley, Don O’Neal, Jared Landers, Rich Bell, Jesse Stovall, Tyler Bruening, Skip Frey, Dustin Walker, Roger Brickler, Billy Moyer Jr.
In the most competitive prelim of the night, third-starter Jonathan Davenport wrestled the lead from Brady Smith on lap seven and marched on to victory. Brian Birkhofer also overtook Smith late in the distance and finished second, about 10 car lengths behind Davenport. Scott Bloomquist claimed third with a last-lap move on Smith that sent the Wisconsin high and shuffled him to fifth place. The race’s lone caution flag flew on lap three when Denny Eckrich slowed due to a broken driveline.
Finish: Jonathan Davenport, Brian Birkhofer, Scott Bloomquist, Tim McCreadie, Brady Smith, Jason Utter, Jason Rauen, Jake Meier, Greg Kimmons, Lyle Zanker, Denny Eckrich, Spencer Diercks.
Frank Heckenast Jr. was flawless, rolling off the pole position to lead the entire distance. He beat Billy Moyer to the finish line by a half-straightaway to become the third Illinois driver to win a heat. Dale McDowell placed third from the eighth starting spot after Matt Furman relinquished the spot on the final lap.
Finish: Frank Heckenast Jr., Billy Moyer, Dale McDowell, Eddie Carrier Jr., Rick Eckert, Dennis Erb Jr., Chad Simpson, Brandon Overton, Jason Hughes, Dave Eckrich, Steve Lance Jr., Matt Furman, Rob Moss.
Fifth-starter Steve Francis cruised to victory, outdistancing Jason Feger and Will Vaught. Jimmy Owens, who flipped in his heat on Thursday night, finished a quiet fifth in the non-stop race.
Finish: Steve Francis, Jason Feger, Will Vaught, Jason Papich, Jimmy Owens, Kent Robinson, John Blankenship, Chris Simpson, Tim Lance, Mike Fryer, Jordan Heiman (DNS) Jonathan Brauns.
Brian Shirley became the second UMP DIRTcar Summernationals regular to win a heat as he bested A.J. Diemel by a couple car lengths. Earl Pearson Jr. was third at the checkered flag. Mason Zeigler was running fourth on lap 10 when he slowed to bring out the race’s only caution flag.
Finish: Brian Shirley, A.J. Diemel, Earl Pearson Jr., Wendell Wallace, Chase Junghans, Scott James, Ray Guss Jr., Jorday Yaggy, Justin Duty, Brian Harris, Mason Zeigler, Vic Coffey.
Brandon Sheppard proved his run from 22nd to fifth in Thursday night’s feature was no fluke as he romped to victory in the first qualifier over Shannon Babb. Mark Dotson started and finished third, taking the final transfer spot over Jimmy Mars. Fast-timer Darrell Lanigan missed the cut, finishing fifth.
Finish: Brandon Sheppard, Shannon Babb, Mark Dotson, Jimmy Mars, Darrell Lanigan, Gregg Satterlee, Mike Marlar, Jay Johnson, Todd Frank, Charlie McKenna, John Duty, Chris Spieker, Ryan Gustin.
Defending Knoxville Nationals champion Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., was quickest overall in Friday night’s split qualifying session, turning a lap of 17.865 seconds during Group 1. The accomplishment will give Lanigan the maximum qualifying points total but an eighth-place starting spot in his heat thanks to the 8-car invert.
Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., who was the overall fastest qualifier on Thursday night, was the fastest in Group 2 with a lap of 18.121 seconds. He will also start eighth in a heat race.
Friday night’s field numbers 74 cars. Drivers who are not entered after competing on Thursday night are Donny Schatz (off to run World of Outlaws Sprint Car races), Andy Eckrich, Curt Schroeder, Al Humphery and Junior Coover. … Hot laps began at 6:30 p.m. CT. … Joining Thursday-night feature winner Jonathan Davenport tonight is his team co-owner and crew chief Kevin Rumley, who flew in this afternoon after work commitments at home in North Carolina kept him from attending last night’s action. … Davenport has been asked one question quite often while at Knoxville: what’s up with the shiner on your left eye? His black eye was on full display to the cameras when he posed for pictures in victory lane last night. Davenport said it was the result of some, uh, rough-housing with “an old friend” last week. … Billy Moyer is ready for action after replacing the broken engine that sidelined him during time trials Thursday night.
The 11th annual Lucas Oil Knoxville Late Model Nationals presented by Casey’s General Stores continues night with the second of two preliminary nights at the famed Knoxville Raceway, a half-mile fairgrounds oval best known for hosting sprint car racing.
Tonight’s racing card is identical to Thursday’s with a complete program of time trials, six heat races, D-main, C-main, B-main and 25-lap A-Main paying $7,000-to-win. Drivers accrue points based on performances each time they hit the track that will help set the lineup for Saturday's action.
Drivers will use their better points night — not combined points — to see where they stand for Saturday’s alphabet soup of features, which are topped by the 100-lap A-Man paying $40,000 to win. The top 24 drivers in the “best night” points rankings after Friday’s action will transfer directly to Saturday night’s headliner and start straight-up.
For full details of the weekend’s format, refer to our Fast Facts page.
(12 laps; top 3 transfer)
Row 1: Todd Frank, Ryan Gustin
Row 2: Mark Dotson, Shannon Babb
Row 3: Brandon Sheppard, Jimmy Mars
Row 4: Gregg Satterlee, Darrell Lanigan
Row 5: Mike Marlar, John Duty
Row 6: Jay Johnson, Chris Spieker
Row 7: Charlie McKenna
Row 1: Scott James, Brian Shirley
Row 2: Vic Coffey, A.J. Diemel
Row 3: Brian Harris, Mason Zeigler
Row 4: Earl Pearson Jr., Wendell Wallace
Row 5: Ray Guss Jr., Justin Duty
Row 6: Chase Junghans, Jorday Yaggy
Row 1: Mike Fryer, Jason Feger
Row 2: John Blankenship, Will Vaught
Row 3: Steve Francis, Jimmy Owens
Row 4: Jason Papich, Kent Robinson
Row 5: Chris Simpson, Jordan Heiman
Row 6: Tim Lance, Jonathan Brauns
Row 1: Frank Heckenast Jr., Matt Furman
Row 2: Billy Moyer, Rick Eckert
Row 3: Chad Simpson, Eddie Carrier Jr.
Row 4: Dennis Erb Jr., Dale McDowell
Row 5: Jason Hughes, Rob Moss
Row 6: Dave Eckrich, Steve Lance Jr.
Row 7: Brandon Overton
Row 1: Spencer Diercks, Brady Smith
Row 2: Jonathan Davenport, Jason Rauen
Row 3: Denny Eckrich, Tim McCreadie
Row 4: Brian Birkhofer, Scott Bloomquist
Row 5: Jason Utter, Jake Meier
Row 6: Lyle Zanker, Greg Kimmons
Row 1: Terry Phillips, Morgan Bagley
Row 2: Don O’Neal, Jesse Stovall
Row 3: Rodney Sanders, Tyler Bruening
Row 4: Jared Landers, Billy Moyer Jr.
Row 5: Rich Bell, Dustin Walker
Row 6: Skip Frey, Roger Brickler
Time trial results (unofficial)
Darrell Lanigan (29), Union, Ky., 17.865
Wendell Wallace (1x), Batesville, Ark., 17.902
Kent Robinson (7R), Bloomington, Ind., 18.038
Gregg Satterlee (22), Indiana, Pa., 18.345
Earl Pearson Jr. (44), Jacksonville, Fla., 18.346
Jason Papich (91P), Arroyo Grande, Calif., 18.396
Jimmy Mars (28M), Menomonie, Wis., 18.424
Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 18.429
Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 18.607
Charlie McKenna (22), Clear Lake, Iowa, 18.615
Brandon Sheppard (b5), New Berlin, Ill., 18.626
Brian Harris (15R), Davenport, Iowa, 18.675
Steve Francis (15), Ashland, Ky., 18.682
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 18.725
A.J. Diemel (58), Elk Mound, Wis., 18.734
Will Vaught (1W), Crane, Mo., 18.735
Mark Dotson (85d), Cameron, Mo., 18.822
Vic Coffey (32c), Caledonia, N.Y., 18.827
John Blankenship (23), Williamson, W.Va., 18.91
Ryan Gustin (19R), Marshalltown, Iowa, 18.986
Brian Shirley (81), Chatham, Ill., 19.041
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 19.043
Todd Frank (21F), Mellen, Wis., 19.141
Scott James (83), Bright, Ind., 19.152
Mike Fryer (5m), Freeport, Ill., 19.191
Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., 19.263
Ray Guss Jr. (58), Milan, Ill., 19.291
Chris Simpson (32), Oxford, Iowa, 19.339
John Duty (5), Portland, Ore., 19.44
Justin Duty (15D), Portland, Ore., 19.499
Jordan Heiman (38), Sioux Falls, S.D., 19.567
Jay Johnson (93), W. Burlington, Iowa, 19.594
Chase Junghans (18), Manhattan, Kan., 19.6
Tim Lance (48), Brimfield, Ill., 19.763
Chris Spieker (56), Massena, Iowa, 19.857
Jordan Yaggy (77), Rochester, Minn., 20.157
Jonathan Brauns (22b), Muscatine, Iowa, N/T
Dale McDowell (17M), Chickamauga, Ga., 18.121
Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., 18.323
Billy Moyer Jr. (21), Batesville, Ark., 18.381
Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 18.461
Brian Birkhofer (15b), Muscatine, Iowa, 18.568
Jared Landers (777), Batesville, Ark., 18.665
Eddie Carrier Jr. (28), Salt Rock, W.Va., 18.699
Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 18.738
Tyler Bruening (50), Decorah, Iowa, 18.767
Chad Simpson (25), Mt. Vernon, Iowa, 18.816
Denny Eckrich (50), Tiffin, Iowa, 18.873
Rodney Sanders (21), Happy, Texas, 18.902
Rick Eckert (1), York, Pa., 18.916
Jason Rauen (98), Farley, Iowa, 18.954
Jesse Stovall (00), Billings, Mo., 19.081
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 19.113
Jonathan Davenport (6), Blairsville, Ga., 19.173
Don O'Neal (5), Martinsville, Ind., 19.193
Matt Furman (51), Columbus, Ohio, 19.205
Brady Smith (2), Solon Springs, Wis., 19.206
Morgan Bagley (14M), Tyler, Texas, 19.224
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99Jr), Frankfort, Ill., 19.278
Spencer Diercks (29), Davenport, Iowa, 19.317
Terry Phillips (75), Springfield, Mo., 19.383
Jason Hughes (12), Watts, Okla., 19.476
Jason Utter (31), Columbus Junction, Iowa, 19.539
Rich Bell (21b), Sheffield, Ill., 19.557
Rob Moss (1M), Iowa City, Iowa, 19.597
Jake Meier (20), Tipton, Iowa, 19.686
Dustin Walker (14W), Peculiar, Mo., 19.724
Dave Eckrich (58), Cosgrove, Iowa, 19.799
Lyle Zanker (9), Rockford, Ill., 19.807
Skip Frey (3x), Ely, Iowa, 20.081
Steve Lance Jr. (25), Cuba, Ill., 20.192
Greg Kimmons (27), Pleasant Plains, Ill., 20.2
Roger Brickler (82), Springfield, Ill., 20.401
Brandon Overton (5), Appling, Ga., 20.502
Knoxville Nationals Thursday points rankings
(top 24 ‘best night’ points totals transfer to Saturday night’s 100-lap A-Main)
1. Jonathan Davenport - 488
1. Darrell Lanigan – 488
3. Earl Pearson Jr. – 487
4. Brian Birkhofer – 485
5. Eddie Carrier Jr. – 480
6. Kent Robinson – 475
7. Dale McDowell – 474
8. Scott Bloomquist – 469
9. Frank Heckenast Jr. – 464
10. Steve Francis – 463
11. John Blankenship – 456
12. Brandon Sheppard – 452
13. Brandon Overton – 442
14. Brady Smith – 440
15. Chad Simpson – 439
16. A.J. Diemel – 437
17. Mike Marlar – 436
17. Jared Landers – 436
19. Rick Eckert – 426
20. Dennis Erb Jr. – 425
21. Chase Junghans – 422
22. Jason Rauen – 419
23. Wendell Wallace – 416
24. Will Vaught – 415
25. Tim McCreadie – 410
26. Vic Coffey – 408
27. Jesse Stovall – 402
28. Jason Papich – 389
29. Don O’Neal – 387
30. Denny Eckrich – 386
30. Terry Phillips -386
32. Morgan Bagley – 385
33. Gregg Satterlee – 380
34. Donny Schatz – 377
35. Scott James – 373
35. Mark Dotson – 373
37. Mason Zeigler – 371
38. Billy Moyer Jr. – 369
39. Tim Lance – 363
40. Shannon Babb – 328
41. Ray Guss Jr. – 327
42. Rodney Sanders – 322
43. Brian Shirley – 320
44. Jay Johnson – 318
45. Brian Harris – 317
46. Chris Spieker – 306
47. Rich Bell – 302
47. Jake Meier – 302
47. Dave Eckrich – 302
50. Jonathan Brauns – 296
51. Jason Utter – 295
52. Ryan Gustin – 294
53. Charlie McKenna – 289
53. Chris Simpson – 289
55. John Duty – 288
56. Jimmy Mars – 281
57. Greg Kimmons – 277
58. Jason Hughes – 274
59. Jimmy Owens – 272
60. Jordan Yaggy – 266
60. Lyle Zanker – 266
62. Tyler Bruening – 265
63. Rob Moss – 257
64. Andy Eckrich – 252
65. Matt Furman – 251
65. Todd Frank – 251
67. Skip Frey – 249
68. Jason Feger – 243
69. Justin Duty – 240
70. Steve Lance – 238
71. Mike Fryer – 232
72. Roger Brickler – 227
73. Dustin Walker – 223
74. Curt Schroeder – 213
75. Billy Moyer – 202
76. Al Humphery – 201
77. Junior Coover – 198
78. Spencer Diercks – 192
79. Jordan Heiman - 185