BARBERVILLE, Fla. (Feb. 18) — So much for a slow start. After a less-than-stellar beginning as the new driver of the Rocket Chassis house car, Hudson O’Neal closed out his first Georgia-Florida Speedweeks with the Shinnston, W.Va.-based team with a flourish.
Was there any reason to think his final night among the 18 races he entered during the month-long grind should be any different? Much like his Speedweeks experience itself, O’Neal’s final day at Volusia Speedway Park didn’t get off to a great start, yet it ended with a triumphant bang.
Forced to start deep in Saturday’s 30-car field, the Martinsville, Ind., driver threw doubts aside and rallied magnificently throughout the field, driving from 23rd to first, to win Saturday’s World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series feature, closing out the 52nd annual Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals with a $20,000 triumph, his first-ever with the World of Outlaws.
O’Neal took the lead from Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, on lap 45 and led the rest of the 50-lap feature, finishing 0.608 of a second ahead of eighth-starting Moran to capture his fourth Georgia-Florida Speedweeks win in his last seven starts while wrapping up his ninth consecutive top-five finish. His night got off to a rocky start though when he qualified 16th out of 26 in his group. O’Neal then finished fifth in his heat — two spots out of a transfer spot — and had to transfer into the feature via a runner-up finish in the final consolation race.
“(We have) a great crew that never gives up man. I drove my heart out,” said O’Neal. “I knew whenever we started passing cars there early, the first caution came out (on lap four) and I was running like 12th, and I was like, ‘Oh man!’ What an awesome crew I have. You know I messed up a little bit qualifying and just got us buried, fought it all night. And we just continued to work on the race car all night long and just continued to get it better and better and better. Finally, right before that feature, Mark (Richards) just said, he said, ‘You'll just have to get up on the wheel. It's up to you now.’”
Say no more boss. That’s exactly what O’Neal did. Steadily working his way forward in a fast race slowed by only two cautions, O’Neal cracked the top-10 for good on lap six. By lap 23, he was inside the top five. He watched as Moran dispatch polesitter and race-long leader Tim McCreadie on lap 42, went by McCreadie on lap 44 and then made his move on Moran.
Ricky Thornton Jr. of Chandler, Ariz., improved 17 spots to finish third after starting 20th, slipping by McCreadie with two laps remaining. McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., settled for fourth after leading the first 41 laps, while Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., completed the top five after starting seventh.
“It feels so good. After such a rough day, we weren't really hanging our heads, but we thought we were out, we didn't have a shot,” said O’Neal. “But I knew when I started driving up through there that I had a badass race car. I never would have thought that at the end of the night I'd be standing up here, but it's funny how things work.”
O’Neal’s first career World of Outlaws victory makes him the tour’s 100th different feature winner.
“Somebody told me earlier today that I had the chance to be the 100th winner,” he said. “Yeah, it's special. I've came close to winning these races before, just never have been able to quite pull it off and how fitting to do it with Mark (Richards) and the history he has with the World of Outlaws. It's cool. We're happy. It's going to make the drive home a little bit better tonight for sure.”
Moran was chasing his 12th career World of Outlaws feature win and third of the season after sweeping the tour’s season-opening Sunshine Nationals at Volusia in January. He took the lead from McCreadie on lap 42 as McCreadie struggled to negotiate lapped traffic. He paced the field for four laps before giving way top O’Neal. After struggling a bit with the tour’s February return to Florida, Moran was disappointed he let a third victory out of his grasp.
“Really I felt like we were really good all night long,” said Moran. “It's the best I've qualified all week. You have to have track position. When you're stuck on the bottom like that all week long you got to have good track position and we just had really good track position. It sucks man. I wanted to win that race so bad. But (O'Neal) did what he had to do and that's why he's in that (Rocket 1) ride right now.”
As for why he didn’t fare as well this week as he did in the Jan. 19-20 victories, Moran said it was simply harder to pass.
“Some of that was because my car was no good and I couldn't move around,” Moran said. “Tonight we could move around a little bit because I got my car better and we worked on it. We just have to keep that mentality. If we're struggling don't blame anybody but ourselves and make it better for ourselves and that's what we did and it was better.”
With his fourth-place finish, McCreadie was crowned the 2023 DIRTcar Nationals Big Gator champion, though it was little solace — for now at least — that he couldn’t close out the week with a third win of his own.
“It takes a bunch of good people behind you. Everybody that's behind this program is spot on every night and it's up to me to do my job ... I just didn't get it done,” McCreadie said. “(I) made a bunch of mistakes at the end and got chasing lapped cars and should have been bulldozing instead of farting around like I was.”
The DIRTcar Nationals tittle and accompanying Big Gator trophy, makes the 48-year-old McCreadie the first driver to win a DIRTcar Nationals Big Gator crown in two different disciplines as he also won the 2018 Big Block Big Gator championship.
“It's pretty cool. Not a lot of guys like to even try to venture out and do something different,” McCreadie said. “My whole career has been about, ‘Hey let's go try to do something and have some fun with it,’ and let's see if I'm good enough to overcome not knowing what to do with the different type of race car I guess. It hasn't always worked out, but to come down here and get a couple of these (Big Gators, with) all these fans here, it's pretty cool.
“It doesn't feel very good right now obviously, but down the road 20 years from now when I forget that Hudson passed us all, I'll look at the trophy and be happy.”
Notes: Hudson O’Neal won his sixth career Georgia-Florida Speedweeks feature. Along with his four this season, he won at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla., in 2019 and 2020. … O’Neal’s father Don has 24 career Georgia-Florida Speedweeks wins, which includes an incredible six victories in 2002. … Third-finishing Ricky Thornton Jr. felt he had a good car, but after starting 20th he was unable to maneuver to the front as quickly as O’Neal. “Tonight went pretty good,” Thornton said. “I felt like we were just as good as the other guys there at the top. We had to work a little bit through the middle just to get going, but we’ll take it and move on.” … Second-starting Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., slipped high in turn two in the opening lap, fell back to fifth and was never a factor for the win, despite running second from laps 24-39 and 31-32. … Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., back in Bryan Conard’s Team Zero car, ran inside the top three for 41 laps before fading to ninth. … The race was slowed by two cautions. Benton, Ky.’s Tanner English brought out the first caution when he spun in turn four in lap three. … Mike Spatola of Manhattan, Ill, slowed to a stop in turn four to draw the second caution own lap 29.
Row 1: Tim McCreadie, Chris Madden
Row 2: Brian Shirley, Jonathan Davenport
Row 3: Bobby Pierce, Shane Clanton
Row 4: Brandon Overton, Devin Moran
Row 5: Max Blair, Mason Zeigler
Row 6: Daulton Wilson, Chase Junghans
Row 7: Ryan Gustin, Tanner English
Row 8: Kyle Bronson, Blair Nothdurft
Row 9: Jimmy Owens, Brandon Sheppard
Row 10: Dale McDowell, Ricky Thornton Jr.
Row 11: Mike Spatola, Brent Larson
Row 12: Hudson O’Neal, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 13: Dennis Erb Jr., Gordy Gundaker
Row 14: Nick Hoffman, Ashton Winger
Row 15: Boom Briggs, Payton Freeman
(10 laps; top two transfer)
First consolation finish: Dale McDowell, Brent Larson, Ashton Winger, Johnny Scott, Michael Norris, Boom Briggs, Brenden Smith, Stacy Boles, Brian Booze, Nick Hoffman, Chase Osterhoff, Reid Millard.
Second consolation finish: Ricky Thornton Jr., Hudson O’Neal, Payton Freeman, Dennis Erb Jr., Kyle Strickler, Jordan Koehler, Jason Garver, Todd Cooney, Freddie Carpenter, Dustin Walker, Blake Spencer (DNS) Dylan Thompson.
Third consolation finish: Mike Spatola, Frank Heckenast Jr., Mark Whitener, Trevor Gundaker, Gordy Gundaker, Cade Dillard, Colton Flinner, Logan Martin, Tyler Bruening, Mike Benedum, Nevin Gainey.
(Eight laps; top three transfer)
First heat: Jonathan Davenport, Brandon Overton, Ryan Gustin, Brent Larson, Michael Norris, Johnny Scott, Stacy Boles, Chase Osterhoff, Nick Hoffman.
Second heat: Bobby Pierce, Max Blair, Kyle Bronson, Dale McDowell, Ashton Winger, Boom Briggs, Brenden Smith, Brian Booze, Reid Millard.
Third heat: Shane Clanton, Daulton Wilson, Jimmy Owens, Payton Freeman, Jordan Koehler, Kyle Strickler, Blake Spencer, Freddie Carpenter, Jason Garver.
Fourth heat: Chris Madden, Devin Moran, Tanner English, Dennis Erb Jr., Hudson O’Neal, Ricky Thornton Jr., Dylan Thompson, Todd Cooney, Dustin Walker.
Fifth heat: Brian Shirley, Mason Zeigler, Blair Nothdurft, Mike Spatola, Frank Heckenast Jr., Mark Whitener, Logan Martin, Nevin Gainey, Trevor Gundaker.
Sixth heat: Tim McCreadie, Chase Junghans, Brandon Sheppard, Tyler Bruening, Gordy Gundaker, Cade Dillard, Colton Flinner, Mike Benedum.
After persistent precipitation wiped out Friday’s program after three World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series heat races, the DIRTcar Nationals concludes Saturday under partly sunny skies with cooler temperatures (a high only in the 60s) prevailing. … The $20,000 first-place prize for Saturday’s 50-lap WoO feature is record high payoff for a DIRTcar Nationals Late Model event. … Two drivers saw their weeks at Volusia end early during Friday’s abbreviated action: Donny Schatz of Fargo, N.D., was felled by a burnt piston in his heat while Hunt Gossum of Mayfield, Ky., scratched after encountering terminal engine trouble in hot laps. … Stacy Boles of Clinton, Tenn., is back in action after sitting out Friday’s show, putting Saturday’s field at 53 cars. … Originally WoO officials announced that drivers could drop their worst finish from each of the tour’s three-night runs during Speedweeks — last month’s Sunshine Nationals and the DIRTcar Nationals — but, with both stints at the half-mile oval losing one event to rain, all completed races will count for points. … With a victory in the finale, Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., will achieve the second three-win DIRTcar Nationals of his career. He previously pulled off the hat trick in 2005 — a burst of success that included his first-ever WoO triumph. … After winning a 20-lap feature on Wednesday, Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., stands as the only driver with at least one DIRTcar Nationals victory in each of the last three years.
1. Brandon Overton (76), Evans, Ga., 15.886
2. Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 16.075
3. Kyle Strickler (8), Mooresville, N.C., 16.129
4. Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., 16.166
5. Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., 16.206
6. Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., 16.211
7. Brent Larson (B1), Lake Elmo, Minn., 16.264
8. Ashton Winger (12), Hampton, Ga., 16.283
9. Daulton Wilson (18D), Fayetteville, N.C., 16.309
10. Ryan Gustin (19R), Marshalltown, Iowa, 16.328
11. Max Blair (111B), Centerville, Pa., 16.333
12. Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 16.365
13. Stacy Boles (11B), Clinton, Tenn., 16.421
14. Dale McDowell (17m), Chickamauga, Ga., 16.426
15. Payton Freeman (22*), Commerce, Ga., 16.460
16. Johnny Scott (1ST), Las Cruces, N.M., 16.527
17. Jordan Koehler (114) Mount Airy, N.C., 16.556
18. Brenden Smith (17SS), Dade City, Fla., 16.587
19. Jason Garver (01), Starke, Fla., 16.617
20. Nick Hoffman (9), Mooresville, N.C., 16.630
21. Boom Briggs (99B), Bear Lake, Pa., 16.644
22. Freddie Carpenter (C4), Parkersburg, W.Va., 16.858
23. Michael Norris (10), Sarver, Pa., 16.866
24. Brian Booze (B2), Greencastle, Pa., 16.900
25. Blake Spencer (6S), St. Augustine, Fla., 17.020
26. Chase Osterhoff (130), Kankakee, Ill., 17.484
27. Reid Millard (14R), Jefferson City, Mo., 18.116
1. Chris Madden (44), Gray Court, S.C., 16.119
2. Blair Nothdurft (76), Sioux Falls, S.D., 16.291
3. Chase Junghans (18), Manhattan, Kan., 16.306
4. Devin Moran (99), Dresden, Ohio, 16.488
5. Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 16.498
6. Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 16.527
7. Ricky Thornton Jr. (20rt), Chandler, Ariz., 16.536
8. Mark Whitener (5), Middleburg, Fla., 16.548
9. Brandon Sheppard (b5), New Berlin, Ill., 16.556
10. Tanner English (96V), Benton, Ky., 16.574
11. Frank Heckenast Jr. (99Jr), Frankfort, Ill., 16.581
12. Tyler Bruening (16), Decorah, Iowa, 16.626
13. Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 16.691
14. Brian Shirley (8), Chatham, Ill., 16.756
15. Mike Benedum (25), Salem, W.Va., 16.805
16. Hudson O'Neal (1), Martinsville, Ind., 16.806
17. Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Ill., 16.831
18. Colton Flinner (48), Allison Park, Pa., 16.864
19. Todd Cooney (30), Des Moines, Iowa, 16.892
20. Logan Martin (36), West Plains, Mo., 16.994
21. Gordy Gundaker (11G), St. Charles, Mo., 16.996
22. Dylan Thompson (99T), Paducah, Ky., 17.341
23. Trevor Gundaker (14G), St. Charles, Mo., 17.343
24. Cade Dillard (97), Robeline, La., 17.353
25. Dustin Walker (14W), Peculiar, Mo., 17.628
26. Nevin Gainey (01G), Fort White, Fla., 17.636
(All times local)
1 p.m.: Pits open
4:30 p.m.: Drivers’ meeting
5 p.m. Grandstands open
5:15 p.m.: Hot laps
- Super Late Models
- Super Late Models
6:50 p.m.: Opening ceremonies
7 p.m.: Heat races
- Modifieds (8 laps)
- Super Late Models (8 laps)
- Modifieds (10 laps)
- Super Late Models (10 laps)
- Modifieds (30 laps)
- Super Late Models (50 laps)