GIBSONTON, Fla. — Throughout the winless start to his Rocket Chassis house car tenure, Hudson O’Neal reminded himself that once the first win came to fruition, the remaining victories would come all the more easier.
A day after his breakthrough victory on night four of the Wieland Winternationals at East Bay Raceway Park, the 22-year-old vindicated that very belief on Thursday, surging to a second straight flag-to-flag win with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. Friday’s win awarded $12,000 and, more importantly, another dose of confidence.
“It’s sky-high, no doubt,” O’Neal said of his team’s confidence. "To be able to win like last night in a little bit slower (track) condition, then come out tonight and have a bad-fast racetrack and still be able to hang on. Clean air means a lot, though. We just have to continue to qualify good, heat race good, and stay up front.
“When you start on the front row of these features, it makes everybody’s job a lot easier. I have to continue to do my job qualifying. And I’m sure they’ll keep giving me an unbelievable race car.
“Hats off to the East Bay crew, man,” O’Neal added. “They definitely got the racetrack way better tonight and let us race all over this thing. I saw Devin several times underneath of me there before the last caution. I had to get up on the wheel and go because I knew he was. I just can’t thank my guys (enough).”
O’Neal crossed the checkers 3.044 seconds ahead of series sophomore driver Daulton Wilson, an obviously more comfier margin of victory than Thursday’s 0.363-second triumph over Max Blair. There were only two points in Friday’s 50-lap feature where O’Neal was challenged up front.
The first challenge O’Neal had to fend off was Moran’s show of the nose on a lap-32 restart, where Moran snatched second from Ryan Gustin and set his sights on perhaps taking the lead.
“Got a really good run on (O’Neal) and about took us both out down into one,” said Moran, who faded to fourth by the checkers. “He saw me, and I about took us both out on accident. That’s the way it goes. I’m finally glad we ran good and finally glad it put on an awesome show. East Bay, when it’s like this, it’s a lot of fun to race. That’s why the stands are filled, to see a race like this.”
O’Neal’s final opposition came where Wilson found speed around the middle of the racetrack in the closing laps, particularly along the cushion with five laps to go. From laps 44 to 47, the Fayetteville, N.C., driver trimmed the deficit from 2.2 seconds to 0.9 of a second. As O’Neal gradually grew larger through Wilson’s dashboard, the harder he pushed, and that unfortunately led Wilson to hit the outside wall in turns three and four.
“I saw (O’Neal) getting bigger … second is great, but to be that close, I wanted to give it everything I had,” Wilson said. “I hadn’t been up there (the top) and overshot it. Hats off to (the Rocket Chassis house car team). They’ve been working their butts off and have a good race car. Thanks to my guys. This is a brand-new car. … She’s pretty good.”
Overall, four cautions slowed the main event, with the first a collision that shook up the top half of the leaderboard. Jockeying hard for second and trying to keep pace with O’Neal in traffic, Gustin and pole-starting Garrett Smith closed on the slower car of Tyler Bruening rather quickly entering turn one on 13.
The sequence ended in Gustin checking up to avoid spinning out Bruening, which left Smith the short end of the stick, as the 19-year-old clobbered Gustin from behind, spun around and collected fifth-place Tanner English. The race’s second caution appeared for Mark Whitener on lap 16, which set up the restart that triggered a four-car melee in turn two that involved Brian Shirley, Garrett Alberson, Kyle Bronson and Jimmy Owens.
Ashton Winger, who started ninth and finished third, narrowly avoided disaster himself on the lap-18 pileup.
“Those restarts are really close. There are some guys that aren’t sure about where they want to be, so they swipe at you,” Winger said. “I started ninth, but hell, I ended up like 12th or 13th at one point because everybody gets so bottled up. I know it’s just East Bay — and I know it’s crazy for me to say this — but there’s not a whole lot of respect out there. Our car is really good.”
Though Ricky Thornton Jr. finished fifth from the B-main, his once-sizable lead in the Lucas Oil Series standings is now down to 50 points over O’Neal entering Saturday’s $15,000-to-win finale.
“I just got myself behind in qualifying,” said Thornton, who qualified ninth in the second flight of time trials. “Really, if you don’t put yourself on the front row, it’s hard to pass. I’ve come the last three years, and I’d say that was the best feature race we’ve had. I’m excited to move on tomorrow.”
Row 1: Garrett Smith, Hudson O’Neal
Row 2: Devin Moran, Tanner English
Row 3: Ryan Gustin, Daulton Wilson
Row 4: Tyler Erb, Garrett Alberson
Row 5: Ashton Winger, Jimmy Owens
Row 6: Jonathan Davenport, Brian Shirley
Row 7: Earl Pearson Jr., Tim McCreadie
Row 8: Dennis Erb Jr., Blair Nothdurft
Row 9: Kyle Bronson, Brandon Overton
Row 10: Stormy Scott, Mark Whitener
Row 11: Ricky Thornton Jr., Ross Bailes
Row 12: Brandon Sheppard, Billy Moyer Jr.
Row 13: Spencer Hughes, Ross Robinson
Row 14: Max Blair, Tyler Bruening
Row 15: Wil Herrington, Logan Roberson
(10 laps; top two transfer)
First consolation finish: Stormy Scott, Ross Bailes, Max Blair, Chase Osterhoff, Boom Briggs, Wil Herrington, Josh Putnam, Tyler Bruening, Brenden Smith, Seth Daniels, Doug Drown, Adam Boyd, Steve Sheppard Jr. Scratched: Jensen Ford, Kenneth Howell.
Second consolation finish: Mark Whitener, Brandon Sheppard, Chase Junghans, Mike Spatola, Logan Roberson, Ross Robinson, Matt Cosner, Logan Zarin, Dustin Mitchell, Jason Riggs, Larry Grube, David McCoy, Jack Riggs, Carson Ferguson. Scratched: Tyler Millwood.
Third consolation finish: Ricky Thornton Jr., Billy Moyer Jr., Mike Benedum, Kyle Beard, Rusty Schlenk, Spencer Hughes, Eddie Carrier Jr., Mason Zeigler, Kenny Collins, Benji Hicks, John Tweed, Todd Brennan. Scratched: John Henderson, Kerry King.
Garrett Smith nudged past Tyler Erb to assume command halfway through the first heat and went on to capture the race, earning him the pole position for the 50-lap feature. … Wil Herrington retired early from the first prelim. … Devin Moran overtook Ashton Winger for the lead coming to the white flag en route to winning the second heat. .. Ryan Gustin slipped high through turns three and four with three laps but gathered his car back in time to complete a flag-to-flag triumph over Jonathan Davenport. … Hudson O’Neal won the fourth heat by a straight over Garrett Alberson, giving him the feature’s outside pole starting spot for the second straight night. … Rebounding from a blown engine in hot laps and ignition trouble during time trials with his hastily-readied backup car — he needed a push start to fire his engine before his qualifying circuits — Tanner English rolled to victory in the fifth heat. … Driving his new Longhorn car for the first time this week, Daulton Wilson controlled the sixth heat from start-to-finish to defeat Brian Shirley by 0.963 of a second.
(Eight laps; top three transfer)
First heat finish: Garrett Smith, Tyler Erb, Earl Pearson Jr., Stormy Scott, Chase Osterhoff, Josh Putnam, Jensen Ford, Brenden Smith, Steve Sheppard Jr., Wil Herrington. Scratched: Kenneth Howell.
Second heat finish: Devin Moran, Ashton Winger, Dennis Erb Jr., Ross Bailes, Max Blair, Boom Briggs, Tyler Bruening, Seth Daniels, Adam Boyd, Doug Drown.
Third heat finish: Ryan Gustin, Jonathan Davenport, Kyle Bronson, Mark Whitener, Mike Spatola, Jack Riggs, Logan Roberson, Ross Robinson, Dustin Mitchell, Carson Ferguson.
Fourth heat finish: Hudson O’Neal, Garrett Alberson, Tim McCreadie, Brandon Sheppard, Chase Junghans, Matt Cosner, Logan Zarin, David McCoy, Jason Riggs, Larry Grube, Tyler Millwood.
Fifth heat finish: Tanner English, Jimmy Owens, Blair Nothdurft, Mike Benedum, Billy Moyer Jr., Todd Brennan, Mason Zeigler, Rusty Schlenk, John Henderson, Kerry King.
Sixth heat finish: Daulton Wilson, Brian Shirley, Brandon Overton, Ricky Thornton Jr., Kyle Beard, Kenny Collins, Spencer Hughes, Eddie Carrier Jr., Benji Hicks, John Tweed.
East Bay’s weather remains warm (afternoon highs in the low 80s) with partly cloudy skies for Friday’s action. … A 62-car field is signed in, including new additions Matt Cosner of Ridgeley, W.Va. (joining his teammate Eddie Carrier Jr. of Salt Rock, W.Va., for the first time since the Lucas Oil Series events at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla.); Carson Ferguson of Concord, N.C., who accepted an offer to driver South Carolina racer Kale Green’s No. 4; and Chase Osterhoff of Kankakee, Ill., who will join Ferguson in making a first-ever Super Late Model start at East Bay. … Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., finished seventh on Thursday in his first start of the week but has opted to bypass running Friday’s program. … Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., made an engine change for Friday’s show after retiring from Thursday’s feature with terminal motor trouble in his No. B5. … Sheppard’s powerplant swap was part of a busy work night for Sheppard Riggs Racing. While Brandon was toiling under the hood, his father, Steve Sheppard Jr., was repairing significant damage his car sustained in a B-main accident and brothers Jason and Jack Riggs had repairs to make as well. … Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., is back in his Double L Motorsports Longhorn car that was sidelined by a heat-race crash on Thursday. With the team wanting to save the machine he ran in Thursday’s feature for the bigger Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., next week, his crew patched up the damaged mount, which fortunately did not sustain a bent frame when J.D. nosed into the turn-two wall after a scrape with Tyler Bruening of Decorah, Iowa. … Stormy Scott’s Jason Durham-led crew fixed mostly cosmetic damage that the Las Cruces, N.M., driver’s 2-race-old Longhorn car sustained in a B-main tangle on Thursday. … Hudson O’Neal’s victory in Thursday’s 40-lap feature was the 13th Winternationals triumph since 2015 for his Rocket Chassis house car owner Mark Richards, who over the past decade at East Bay won nine times with Brandon Sheppard and three times with his son Josh Richards.
1. Garrett Smith (10), Eatonton, Ga., 14.707
2. Devin Moran (99), Dresden, Ohio, 14.883
3. Ryan Gustin (19R), Marshalltown, Iowa, 14.918
4. Tyler Erb (1), New Waverly, Texas, 14.979
5. Ashton Winger (12), Hampton, Ga., 15.033
6. Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., 15.052
7. Earl Pearson Jr. (46), Jacksonville, Fla., 15.069
8. Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 15.072
9. Jack Riggs (81J), Nolensville, Tenn., 15.092
10. Max Blair (111B), Centerville, Pa., 15.203
11. Jensen Ford (83), Johnson City, Tenn., 15.203
12. Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., 15.232
13. Kenneth Howell (21K), Inez, Ky., 15.242
14. Ross Bailes (79), Clover, S.C., 15.260
15. Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Ill., 15.268
16. Stormy Scott (2s), Las Cruces, N.M., 15.269
17. Seth Daniels (S21), Jackson, Ohio, 15.275
18. Chase Osterhoff (130), Kankakee, Ill., 15.313
19. Mark Whitener (89J), Middleburg, Fla., 15.313
20. Boom Briggs (99B), Bear Lake, Pa., 15.344
21. Logan Roberson (89), Waynesboro, Va., 15.356
22. Wil Herrington (19M), Hawkinsville, Ga., 15.403
23. Adam Boyd (6b), Riverview, Fla., 15.431
24. Dustin Mitchell (D8), Pine Level, N.C., 15.433
25. Josh Putnam (212), Florence, Ala., 15.438
26. Doug Drown (12D), Wooster, Ohio, 15.489
27. Ross Robinson (7R), Georgetown, Del., 15.567
28. Tyler Bruening (16), Decorah, Iowa, 15.573
29. Brenden Smith (17SS), Dade City, Fla., 15.573
30. Carson Ferguson (4G), Concord, N.C., 15.676
31. Steve Sheppard Jr. (5s), New Berlin, Ill., 15.811
1. Hudson O'Neal (1), Martinsville, Ind., 14.706
2. Blair Nothdurft (76), Sioux Falls, S.D. 14.869
3. Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., 14.897
4. Garrett Alberson (58), Las Cruces, N.M., 14.945
5. Tanner English (96V), Benton, Ky., 14.955
6. Daulton Wilson (18D), Fayetteville, N.C., 14.978
7. Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 15.007
8. Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 15.039
9. Ricky Thornton Jr. (20rt), Chandler, Ariz., 15.056
10. Brandon Sheppard (b5), New Berlin, Ill., 15.083
11. Mike Benedum (25), Salem, W.Va., 15.132
12. Brandon Overton (76), Evans, Ga., 15.135
13. Matt Cosner (66C), Ridgeley, W.Va., 15.138
14. Billy Moyer Jr. (21M), Batesville, Ark., 15.139
15. Kyle Beard (86), Trumann, Ark., 15.224
16. Chase Junghans (18), Manhattan, Kan., 15.225
17. John Henderson (2x), North Augusta, S.C., 15.253
18. Kenny Collins (1C), Colbert, Ga., 15.259
19. Logan Zarin (1z), Moon Township, Pa., 15.281
20. Todd Brennan (20B), Zanesville, Ohio, 15.294
21. Eddie Carrier Jr. (66Jr), Salt Rock, W.Va., 15.302
22. David McCoy (187), Franklin, N.C., 15.334
23. Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 15.337
24. Benji Hicks (55), Mount Airy, N.C., 15.399
25. Tyler Millwood (31), Kingston, Ga., 15.401
26. Rusty Schlenk (91), McClure, Ohio, 15.491
27. Spencer Hughes (11H), Meridian, Miss., 15.517
28. Larry Grube (29), Maulten, S.C., 15.571
29. Kerry King (KB), Delmar, Del., 15.606
30. John Tweed (5T), Greeneville, Tenn., 15.756
31. Jason Riggs (81), College Grove, Tenn., 16.840
(All times local)
2 p.m.: Pits open
5 p.m.: Grandstands open
5:45 p.m.: Hot laps
- Super Late Models
- Super Late Models
- Super Late Models (8 laps)
- Super Late Models (10 laps)
- Super Late Models (50 laps)
Correction: Fixes Jensen Ford hometown.