BULLS GAP, Tenn. — If Dale McDowell’s pair of recent runner-ups at Volunteer Speedway were merely tuneups in advance of Saturday’s XR Super Series Spring Thaw 100, then he prepared for the 4/10-mile oval's biggest event of the year quite well.
The 56-year-old never faltered from start to finish as the Chickamauga, Ga., veteran led all 100 laps from the front row to claim the night’s $100,000 top prize, his richest win since capturing the six-figure Dream in June 2014. Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., crossed the checkers 1.082 seconds behind McDowell.
“I’m going to be 57 here next month. Really, at my age, you really get to looking at how fortunate we are to do what we love,” McDowell said. “And it’s really not just people on the car, but people all the way up the ranks that’s gotten me here. It’s huge because you don’t know how many more of these things you can win. You can bet your butt we’re going to enjoy this one tonight."
McDowell executed a clean sweep of the lucrative program that drew 60 cars on Saturday, his big night starting when he raced to overall quick time in qualifying with a lap of 13.171 seconds. From there, practically nothing stood in McDowell’s path to victory. If there were obstacles, it came in the form of slower traffic and on the restart with 20 laps to go following Bobby Pierce’s sudden flat tire that removed him from the ninth position.
“It was hairy. Lapped traffic was hairy,” McDowell said. “You just don’t know where to go when you’re leading. Man, everything was good. … All my family’s here. My kids are here. They’re not here very often. They’ve gotten older and they don’t care what dad does. They’re here tonight, Tiffany and the whole family. This is bigger than you guys know.”
The Georgian’s biggest lead of the night came on lap 27 when he opened up a 3.322-second advantage on pole-starting Hudson O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind. The third-place-finishing O’Neal ran second for much of the century-long grind — from laps 19 through 73 — but his car wasn’t good enough to make a move on McDowell down the stretch.
“Yeah, it’s not too bad. Anytime you can be standing on this front straightaway you can consider it an OK night,” O’Neal said. “Obviously we want to be a little bit better. We want to be out there where Dale is or even one more spot where Mikey is. We had a good race car, just lost it a little bit there the last 30 laps.
“I started to get a little free through turns one and two, and that let them get by me,” O’Neal added. “Then I got to the top and thought I’d make a run. I slid Mikey once and had some more opportunities to capitalize and I would make a mistake, or not get the launch I needed to. I don’t know, man. I’m very, very pleased with this Rocket Chassis. We had a great week here, and a great couple weeks here. We’ll take third and see if we can’t build upon it.”
Marlar, who started sixth and slid into the runner-up spot with 26 laps to go, could only cut McDowell’s lead to less than a second on two occasions. Both of those instances transpired in the thick of lapped traffic with under five laps to go — with the closest margin being 0.810 of a second on lap 99 — but even then it was never enough to scare McDowell.
“Yeah, no. One-hundred (laps) is plenty. Dale is a heckuva competitor,” Marlar said. “I left it all on the racetrack. I thought I was going out of the ballpark on the last lap in three and four. As I said, there’s a lot of camaraderie in the pits. We race each other hard in very expensive equipment and high stakes.
“We really do a good job of taking care of one another I feel like, for the most part,” Marlar added. “I was happy for Dale and Shane and his team. We definitely had a good car. I had a real good shot at it. The thing that probably got me was the caution with 15 to go. I felt like I was rolling really good when that happened. That was probably the thing that got me. It wasn’t the amount of laps.”
Consolation race results
(12 laps; top two transfer)
First consolation: Tyler Erb, Cory Hedgecock, Jonathan Davenport, Devin Moran, Earl Pearson Jr., Benji Hicks, Wil Herrington, Dakotah Knuckles, Stormy Scott, Logan Roberson, Shane Clanton, Kenny Collins, Chris Chandler, Vic Hill, Austin Neely, Kaede Loudy, Kyle Strickler. Scratched: Mike Bargo, Parker Martin, Mack McCarter, John Tweed.
Second consolation: Ethan Dotson, Dennis Erb Jr., Jacob Hawkins, Tanner English, Trent Ivey, Ricky Weiss, Michael Chilton, Forrest Trent, Brent Larson, Josh Henry, David Payne, David McCoy, Ryan King, Ellery Leake, Reid Millard, Jensen Ford. Scratched: Jason Trammell, Brad Dyer, Chase King, Ross Bailes.
Heat race results
(10 laps; top three transfer)
First heat: Hudson O'Neal, Sam Seawright, Mason Zeigler, Benji Hicks, Cory Hedgecock, Logan Roberson, Wil Herrington, Shane Clanton, Vic Hill, Austin Neely.
Second heat: Bobby Pierce, Brian Shirley, Tim McCreadie, Tyler Erb, Earl Pearson Jr., Dakotah Knuckles, Kenny Collins, Kaede Loudy, Mike Bargo, Mack McCarter.
Third heat: Chris Madden, Camaron Marlar, Ricky Thornton Jr., Devin Moran, Jonathan Davenport, Stormy Scott, Kyle Strickler, Chris Chandler, Parker Martin, John Tweed.
Fourth heat: Dale McDowell, Chris Ferguson, Jimmy Owens, Ethan Dotson, Jensen Ford, Tanner English, Michael Chilton, Josh Henry, Chase King, David McCoy.
Fifth heat: Kyle Bronson, Rusty Ballenger, Daulton Wilson, Dennis Erb Jr., Forrest Trent, Jacob Hawkins, David Payne, Ryan King, Reid Millard, Ross Bailes.
Sixth heat: Mike Marlar, Brandon Overton, Michael Brown, Trent Ivey, Brent Larson, Jason Trammell, Ellery Leake, Brad Dyer, Ricky Weiss.