KOKOMO, Ind. (June 12) — Anything he may have left on the table during the running of the 29th annual Dream at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, Hudson O’Neal cleaned up Monday in Kokomo, Ind. O’Neal had a win and a runner-up finish in Dream XXIX preliminary features before fading a bit in Saturday’s finale to a seventh-place finish at Eldora. No worries. O’Neal has 100,000 reasons to forget Eldora — for now at least.
Leading 99 of 100 laps from the pole, O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., drove to a career-high $100,000 victory in Monday’s XR Super Series feature at Kokomo Speedway. O’Neal worked though five cautions, but ran the final 32 laps yellow free. He fought off a bevy of would-be challengers, including a late charge from Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., to win by 0.716 of a seconds aheads of Sheppard, who started ninth.
Third-starting Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., finished third, while Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., finished fourth, improving four spots from his eighth starting position. Tanner English of Benton, Ky., rallied from 19th to round out the top five.
In victory lane, the subdued race winner struggled to put his gargantuan victory into perspective.
“I don't know how to feel. Some may say I’m not excited. I just … I don’t even know what to do,” said O’Neal.
Despite leading the final 98 laps, O’Neal had plenty of challengers throughout the century grind. Ricky Thornton Jr. of Chander Ariz., Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., Pierce and Sheppard each took a shot at O’Neal.
Thornton managed to grab the lead on lap two, but O’Neal quickly went back ahead on the next circuit. Pierce appeared to take the lead briefly on lap nine, but a caution — timely or untimely depending your camp — erased his move. Often it was both Pierce and Thornton nipping at O’Neal’s rear deck until Thornton retired on lap 17 with a broken shock.
Sheppard managed to pull alongside with five laps remaining, but O’Neal drifted up the track momentarily squeezing Sheppard toward the frontstretch wall.
“Lapped traffic was crazy,” said O’Neal. “I did Brandon (Sheppard) a little dirty to be honest with you. I hate that. I wish I could maybe go back and redo that one a little bit. I didn't see him out there. I thought I might have heard someone, but I didn't see him and it was just … yeah. But we're racing for 100-grand, too, man.
“I don't even know what to say. Lapped traffic was everywhere. I'm sure they were everywhere behind me. The cushion was big. The bottom was rough. I just can't think my guys, Mark, Steve Baker, Rocket Chassis, Danny, Joel, Austin, Cody, my girlfriend (Tessa Sims), my Dad's here. Got some good people here with us, the Sharpley’s. I don't know. I've never done anything like this. I can't even put it into words.”
Ninth-starting Sheppard joined the top five on lap 21 and stayed either fourth or fifth for the next 47 laps. Sheppard barely nipped Marlar at the line for third on lap 68 before the race’s final caution waved. It was a key position grab for Sheppard, who moved by Pierce for second on the ensuring restart.
Trailing by a second or more for only nine of the final 32 circuits, Sheppard began to close in on O’Neal while somehow keeping Pierce at bay. With seven laps remaining, Sheppard trailed by a half second. Two laps later, Sheppard got a great run exiting turn four, trimming the lead to .110 of a second. As he moved to O’Neal’s right side to make a bid for the lead, O’Neal moved up the track, squeezing Sheppard and stalling the run. Sheppard recovered to get close again with three laps to go, but he never got another shot like he had on lap 95.
“It is what it is, man. We're racing for 100-grand, you know,” said Sheppard, measuring his words. “Next time, if it happens the other way around he won't be mad at me. You know them guys are tough competition for sure and they do a really good job. You know, our car I was really fast tonight. I can't thank everybody at Longhorn enough. Bilstein Shocks and Kevin and Matt and (Steve) Arpin and all the guys at Loenbro and just everybody that helps me on this car. It means the world to me.”
While Sheppard’s best chance to get around O’Neal was late in the race, Pierce knew his best opportunity went by the wayside much, much sooner.
“Damn cautions,” said Pierce. “Congrats to Hudson on the win. He did everything he could do there except for the one time we did pass him and Devin (Moran) was stopped down there on the backstretch (with a flat right rear tire). But, you know, we just kept getting them runs, kept getting them runs and it is what it is. I figured then once we were all in the bottom, the top would show its hand eventually. The second Brandon (Sheppard) went to the bottom, I knew I was going to go to the top.
“I was just worried about that corner down there (in turns three and four). It was crummy all night, never really had any grip.I figured if I could make something happen there then chop down, you know I probably could chop down on Brandon top get second, but I also didn't want to overshoot the corner whatever. I figured I might as well send it in there one last corner and see what we can do. Maybe the crumbs had turned into traction all magically all of a sudden, but that didn’t happen. Just a heck of a night for us really. We’ll take it.”
Notes: O’Neal won for the ninth time this season and has now won with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, the World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series, the Castrol FloRacing Night in America tour and the XR Super Series. … It was his first career XR Super Series win. … O’Neal’s previous career high victory was the $40,000-to-win Topless 100 at Batesville (Ark.) Motor Speedway. … Both O’Neal and Sheppard were high on the racing at Kokomo. “It seems like every time we come here, we have a barn burner man. The lapped traffic made it a hell of a show. Hopefully we get to come back,” said O’Neal. Sheppard took it a step further. “Man I think we outta have the World 100 here. This was better than Eldora,” Sheppard said. … The five cautions included: Devin Moran’s right rear flat (lap nine); Billy Moyer slowing on the front straightaway (lap 17); James Walters spinning in turn four (lap 29); Kyle Bronson slowing (lap 34); Shane Clanton stopping (lap 68). … Tim McCreadie, who won last year’s XR Super Series Kokomo Dirt Nationals finale, which paid, $40,000-to-win, failed to make the feature on Monday, as did Chris Madden and Dennis Erb Jr., who both finished in the top five last season.
Row 1: Hudson O'Neal, Ricky Thornton Jr.
Row 2: Bobby Pierce, Jason Feger
Row 3: Devin Moran, Jonathan Davenport
Row 4: Kyle Bronson, Ryan Unzicker
Row 5: Brandon Sheppard, Billy Moyer
Row 6: Mike Marlar, Jimmy Owens
Row 7: Tyler Erb, Joseph Joiner
Row 8: Ryan Gustin, Spencer Hughes
Row 9: Shannon Babb, Shane Clanton
Row 10: Tanner English, Ethan Dotson
Row 11: Brian Shirley, Daulton Wilson
Row 12: Dale McDowell, James Walters
Row 13: Ricky Weiss
(12 laps, top three transfer)
First consolation: Shannon Babb, Tanner English, Brian Shirley, Chris Madden, Dennis Erb Jr., Mason Zeigler, Tim McCreadie, Dale McDowell, Earl Pearson Jr., Brent Larson, Clay Harris, Mike Benedum, Brenden Smith.
Second consolation: Shane Clanton, Ethan Dotson, Daulton Wilson, Kent Robinson, Tyler Bruening, Dona Marcoullier, Chase Junghans, Jordan Koehler, James Walters, Brad Dyer, Manny Falcon, Brent Vosbergen, Ricky Weiss.
Heat race notes
Hudson O’Neal led all 10 laps to win the first heat race, earning the pole for Monday’s $100,000-to-win, $2,000-to-start feature. After getting sideways and drawing a caution at the initial start attempt, defending event winner Tim McCreadie finished seventh and will need to transfer through a consolation race. ... Bobby Pierce led every lap of heat two unchallenged. ... Ricky Thornton Jr. led green-to-checkered, narrowly repelling Jonathan Davenport to win heat three. ... Jason Feger led every lap of the fourth and final heat race. After winning last year’s $20,000 opener, Shane Clanton faded to finish sixth.
Heat race results
(10 laps; top four transfer)
First heat: Hudson O'Neal, Devin Moran, Brandon Sheppard, Tyler Erb, Shannon Babb, Chris Madden, Tim McCreadie, Dale McDowell, Earl Pearson Jr., Clay Harris, Mike Benedum.
Second heat: Bobby Pierce, Kyle Bronson, Mike Marlar, Ryan Gustin, Brian Shirley, Tanner English, Dennis Erb Jr., Mason Zeigler, Brent Larson, Brenden Smith.
Third heat: Ricky Thornton Jr., Jonathan Davenport, Billy Moyer, Joseph Joiner, Ethan Dotson, Kent Robinson, Dona Marcoullier, Chase Junghans, Jordan Koehler, Brad Dyer, Brent Vosbergen.
Fourth heat: Jason Feger, Ryan Unzicker, Jimmy Owens, Spencer Hughes, Ricky Weiss, Shane Clanton, Daulton Wilson, Tyler Bruening, James Walters, Manny Falcon.
Driver (car no.), hometown, time (unofficial)
Hudson O’Neal (1), Martinsville, Ind., 13.880
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 13.973
Devin Moran (99), Dresden, Ohio, 13.977
Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., 14.080
Tyler Erb (1t), New Waverly, Texas, 14.114
Ryan Gustin (19r), Mashalltown, Iowa, 14.192
Brandon Sheppard (B5), New Berlin, Ill., 14.199
Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., 14.233
Shannon Babb (18B), Moweaqua, Ill., 14.240
Tanner English (96v), Benton, Ky., 14.287
Dale McDowell (17m), Chickamauga, Ga., 14.291
Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., 14.292
Chris Madden (44), Gray Court, S.C., 14.318
Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 14.470
Earl Pearson Jr. (46), Jacksonville, Fla., 14.502
Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 14.502
Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 14.575
Brent Larson (B1), Lake Elmo, Minn., 14.702
Clay Harris (6), Jupiter, Fla., 14.730
Mike Benedum (25B), Salem, W.Va., 15.144
Brenden Smith (17ss), Dade City, Fla., 15.230
Ricky Thornton Jr. (20rt), Chandler, Ariz., 14.140
Jason Feger (25f), Bloomington, Ill., 14.381
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 14.411
Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 14.419
Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., 14.428
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 14.452
Joseph Joiner (10), Milton, Fla., 14.454
Kent Robinson (7r), Bloomington, Ind., 14.505
Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., 14.505
Ricky Weiss (7), Headingley, Manitoba, 14.533
Ethan Dotson (174), Bakersfield, Calif., 14.572
Spencer Hughes (11), Meridian, Miss., 14.577
Dona Marcoullier (6m), Houghton Lake, Mich., 14.649
Daulton Wilson (18D), Faytteville, N.C., 14.663
Jordan Koehler (114), Mount Airy, N.C., 14.706
James Walters (34w), Brazil, Ind., 14.774
Chase Junghans (18), Manhattan, Kan., 14.792
Tyler Bruening (16), Decorah, Iowa, 14.833
Brad Dyer (20B), Mohawk, Tenn., 15.233
Manny Falcon (995), Pine Grove, La., 15.407
Brent Vosbergen (AUS1), Perth, Australia, 15.445
(Subject to change)
1 p.m..: Pits, driver registration and pill draw open
2 p.m.: Grandstands open
2:30 p.m.: Pre-race tech opens
6 p.m.: Drivers’ meeting
6:30 p.m.: Hot laps
6:50 p.m.: Opening ceremonies
- Late Model qualifying (2 laps)
- Late Model heat races (10 laps)
- Late Model consolations (12 laps)
- XR Super Series 100K Upgrade feature (100 laps)