TUCSON, Ariz. (Jan. 14) — Rodney Sanders was completely frank about his mental outlook as he set the pace late in Wednesday night’s 30-lap Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout feature at USA Raceway.
“I looked up at the (score) board and I saw the ‘5’ up there in second (place) and I knew that had to be Darrell (Lanigan),” Sanders said, “so I was just running scared.”
That proved to be a more than adequate boost for Sanders, a fast-rising 25-year-old from Happy, Texas, who survived a late-race challenge from Union, Ky.’s Lanigan to register a $3,000 victory in Round 3 of the six-race midwinter racing meet at the 3/8-mile oval.
An open-wheel modified standout who has fewer than two-dozen Dirt Late Model starts on his career resume, Sanders steered his Lanigan-designed Club 29 Race Car past race-long pacesetter Don Shaw of Ham Lake, Minn., for the lead on lap 14 and never looked back in the caution-free race. He beat the 44-year-old Lanigan to the finish line by 1.001 seconds to become the second first-time Wild West Shootout winner of 2015, joining Sunday-night victor Tony Jackson Jr. of Lebanon, Mo.
Jason Papich, 36, of Nipomo, Calif., advanced from the sixth starting spot to finish a Wild West Shootout career-best third, just under two seconds behind Lanigan at the checkered flag. The 51-year-old Shaw settled for a fourth-place finish after starting second and leading laps 1-13 while Papich’s teammate, Tony Toste, 46, of Pismo Beach, Calif., slipped from his pole position start to fifth in the final rundown.
Making his Dirt Late Model debut at the Wild West Shootout, Sanders announced his status as a contender with a fifth-place finish in the Jan. 10 opener. After a busted radiator knocked him out of the following night’s feature, he was on a mission in the event’s only midweek program.
Sanders charged from the fifth starting spot to second place in just three laps and proceeded to stalk Shaw, who jumped to an early lead for the second consecutive race. The youngster made his move just before the race’s halfway mark, seizing control on lap 14 and immediately opening up a healthy advantage.
“There was a little bit of a cushion and I knew I probably had to be up there so I was trying to get by him and get up there as fast as I could,” said Sanders, detailing his pursuit of Shaw. “I was just trying not to make any mistakes after that.”
Lanigan, who started fourth but slipped back to fifth when he bounced over the turn-four cushion on lap two, rallied to reach second place with a lap-19 pass of Shaw. The reigning World of Outlaws Late Model Series champion quickly cut into Sanders’s half-straightaway edge and on lap 25 drew within a couple car lengths of the leader, but moments later Lanigan slid high in turn four and lost significant ground, effectively ending his hopes of a second Wild West Shootout victory in three starts with the Louisiana-based Childress Racing Club 29 car.
“I don’t want to make excuses, but the right-rear (tire) had a big hole in it,” said Lanigan, whose win and runner-up finish sandwiched a third-place run in Sunday night’s feature. “The last 10 laps I just got tight because the tire was going down. We just couldn’t turn in the middle of the corner.
“We had a good car, though, and I’m glad to see Rodney win. He’s a good little wheelman. He’s a good one to have in our cars.”
The talented Sanders is hopeful that his high-profile victory — just the second Dirt Late Model win of his fledgling career, actually, after an April 2014 score at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb. — will serve as a harbinger of full-fender success to come.
“This is awesome,” said Sanders, whose Dirt Late Model equipment is fielded by David Tanner of Wichita Tank in Wichita Falls, Texas. “We haven’t run a Late Model a whole lot (a handful of times in 2013 and about a dozen starts in ’14), but we’re wanting to run a whole lot more. This definitely helps for sure.
“I knew we could potentially run good here if everything went right, but I didn’t know if we could actually pull it off,” he added. “We had a good car in the heat race and I didn’t jack with it too much, and then I knew when we took off (in the feature) it was good. I just gave it everything I had and it all worked out.”
Notes: Sanders’s triumph made Club 29-Black Diamond Race Cars 3-for-3 in the Wild West Shootout. The chassis firm headed by Lanigan and Ronnie Stuckey also claimed a sweep of the top-three finishing positions with Sanders, Lanigan and Papich. … Shaw and Toste completed the top five running Rocket Chassis machines. … The feature was the second consecutive to run nonstop. ... R.C. Whitwell of Sahuarita, Ariz., recorded a runaway heat win and started third in the feature, but the only Arizona driver to win a Wild West Shootout feature only managed an eighth-place finish. … World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series champion Donny Schatz of Fargo, N.D., made his 2015 Wild West Shootout debut after returning from a racing trip to Australia. He started 22nd in the feature and quietly worked his way forward to finish on the lead lap in 13th place. … Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., was scheduled to start second in the fourth heat race but scratched from the event after breaking a motor during hot laps. His crew spent the remainder of the night swapping engines. ... Clay Daly of Watsonville, Calif., also scratched from further action after his heat due to terminal mechanical trouble. ... Reports indicate that Jon Mitchell of Texarkana, Texas, suffered a thumb injury in a homestretch tangle during the second consy. ... Other notable non-qualifiers included Sunday’s winner Tony Jackson Jr., Garrett Alberson of Las Cruces, N.M., Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa, Terry Phillips of Springfield, Mo., and Ronny Lee Hollingsworth of Northport, Ala.
First B-Main finish (top 4 transfer): Jake O’Neil, Ricky Weiss, Tyler Erb, Kyle Beard, Brian Diveley, Ronny Lee Hollingsworth, Hunter Rasdon, Jake Redetzke, Dave Deetz, Kenny Murphy, Matt Furman, Bucky Andrews, Larry Childress, Marshall Miles, Anthony Burroughs.
Second B-Main finish (top 4 transfer): Jimmy Owens, Rob Sanders, Donny Schatz, Ryan Gustin, Garrett Alberson, Chris Simpson, Tony Jackson Jr., Jeremy Keller, Dave Smith, Terry Carter, Sean Bray, Terry Phillips, Jon Mitchell (DNS) Clay Daly, Billy Moyer.
(12 laps; top 4 transfer)
Row 1: Kyle Beard, Jake O’Neil
Row 2: Brian Diveley, Ricky Weiss
Row 3: Tyler Erb, Larry Childress
Row 4: Hunter Rasdon, Marshall Miles
Row 5: Ronny Lee Hollingsworth, Matt Furman
Row 6: Dave Deetz, Jake Redetzke
Row 7: Ken Murphy, Anthony Burroughs
Row 8: Bucky Andrews
Row 1: Rob Sanders, Jimmy Owens
Row 2: Tony Jackson Jr., Donny Schatz
Row 3: Chris Simpson, Ryan Gustin
Row 4: Terry Phillips, Dave Smith
Row 5: Garrett Alberson, Jon Mitchell
Row 6: Terry Carter, Jeremy Keller
Row 7: Sean Bray, Clay Daly
Row 8: Billy Moyer
Heat race results
First heat finish: Darrell Lanigan, Adam Hensel, Chase Junghans, Jimmy Mars, Tyler Erb, Ricky Weiss, Jake Redetzke, Garrett Alberson, Jeremy Keller, Bucky Andrews.
Second heat finish: R.C. Whitwell, Rodney Sanders, Kyle Beard, Jimmy Owens, Larry Childress, Ryan Gustin, Hunter Rasdon, Ken Murphy, Sean Bray.
Third heat finish: Don Shaw, Joey Moriarty, Rob Sanders, A.J. Diemel, Stormy Scott, Dave Smith, Ronny Lee Hollingsworth, Matt Furman, Clay Daly.
Fourth heat finish: Jason Papich, Tyson Turnbull, Jake O’Neil, Tony Jackson Jr., Brian Diveley, Terry Phillips, Marshall Miles, Terry Carter (DNS) Billy Moyer.
Fifth heat finish: Tony Toste, Trevor Glaser, Pat Doar, Billy Moyer Jr., Chris Simpson, Donny Schatz, Dave Deetz, Jon Mitchell, Anthony Burroughs.
A 46-car field is signed in for Round 3 of the Wild West Shootout — the only mid-week show of the six-race meet. … A rogue rain shower hit the speedway around 3 p.m. MT, but hot laps started on schedule at 6 p.m. MT and the weather looks good for the remainder of the night, though temperatures are cool. … The high-profile newcomer to the Late Model field tonight is World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series champion Donny Schatz of Fargo, N.D., who flew to Arizona immediately after going undefeated in four sprint car starts in Australia. Schatz, who is driving his own Rocket No. 15 machine, scored a top finish of seventh in three Wild West Shootout starts last year. … Another addition to the Late Model action is Ken Murphy of Hooks, Texas, who is behind the wheel of a car from fellow Texan Jon Mitchell’s stable.
Heat race lineups
(8 laps; winners and remainder of top 16 in passing points transfer to feature)
Row 1: Jake Redetzke, Darrell Lanigan
Row 2: Chase Junghans, Adam Hensel
Row 3: Tyler Erb, Jimmy Mars
Row 4: Bucky Andrews, Ricky Weiss
Row 5: Garrett Alberson, Jeremy Keller
Row 1: Kyle Beard, R.C. Whitwell
Row 2: Jimmy Owens, Larry Childress
Row 3: Ken Murphy, Rodney Sanders
Row 4: Ryan Gustin, Sean Bray
Row 5: Hunter Rasdon
Row 1: Rob Sanders, Don Shaw
Row 2: Dave Smith, Joey Moriarty
Row 3: Clay Daly, A.J. Diemel
Row 4: Ronny Lee Hollingsworth, Stormy Scott
Row 5: Matt Furman
Row 1: Jake O’Neil, Billy Moyer
Row 2: Tony Jackson Jr., Tyson Turnbull
Row 3: Terry Phillips, Jason Papich
Row 4: Terry Carter, Brian Diveley
Row 5: Marshall Miles
Row 1: Trevor Glaser, Tony Toste
Row 2: Dave Deetz, Pat Doar
Row 3: Chris Simpson, Billy Moyer Jr.
Row 4: Anthony Burroughs, Donny Schatz
Row 5: Jon Mitchell