SARVER, Pa. (June 24) — Hot as a firecracker.
Little else need be said about Ricky Thornton Jr. at the moment. He’s simply the hottest Dirt Late Model driver in the country. The Chandler, Ariz., native continued to run rough shod over Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series competition with a convincing victory in the 17th annual Firecracker 100 at Lernerville Speedway on Saturday, recording his second consecutive full-field — an event where racers are not split into two groups prior to the start of competition — victory worth $50,000.
Thornton’s drive to his 10th Lucas Oil Series win of the season didn’t have quite the flavor as five of the last six Firecracker 100 features. It was not a flag-to-flag romp like four of those events at the Sarver, Pa., oval have been, but it was convincing nonetheless in that he led five times for a total of 47 laps — including the final 20 — and finished a whopping 4.912 seconds ahead of Martinsville, Ind.’s Hudson O’Neal, who led four times for nine laps after starting 11th.
In four of the last six Firecracker 100 features, the race winner has led 410 of the 450 laps, including green-to-checkered runs by Brandon Overton (2017), Chris Madden (’18), Cade Dillard (’20) and Tim McCreadie (’22). And in the 2021 main event Overton led the final 60 laps. Instead, Saturday’s main event was a dandy, right up until Thornton decided it was time to stop messing around.
He pulled away from the back-and-forth battle with O'Neal and regained the point for good on lap 81 to capture his first-ever Firecracker 100. The third-starting Thornton, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series points leader, lapped through the seventh-place car of Sarver’s Michael Norris and was bering down on sixth-finishing and two-time Firecracker 100 winner Brandon Overton, finishing 17.540 seconds ahead of the star from Evans, Ga.
The race was slowed three times — two cautions and a red flag — just enough to keep Thornton guessing.
“Oh man, I really didn't know what to do on those restarts,” Thornton said. “I’m like, you know what? I know I was running around the bottom if I can just keep (O’Neal) pinched down there, maybe late in the race I could roll the middle and get back by him. I don't know, I guess I just saved my stuff long enough where whenever I needed to use it I really could.”
Thornton first flexed his muscle when he moved by race-long leader Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., on lap 45. Davenport, the polesitter, finished a distant third after leading the first 44 laps, while Gregg Satterlee of Indiana, Pa., rallied from 12th to finish fourth and Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, completed the top five, improving one spot after starting sixth.
Despite officially swapping the lead with O’Neal a staggering eighth times, the race winner thought his battle with Davenport was pretty intense as well.
“I felt like I had a really good race there with (Davenport) too for awhile and then (O’Neal) would get by me and I just kind of rolled the middle (then) he’d get stuck behind a lapped car,” said Thornton. “I wasn't positive what tires (O’Neal) had on. I know they were talking about going soft so that kinda committed him to the bottom. I don't know if that's what they ended up on. I don't know.
“I felt like I gave the race away once he got by and then I was behind Earl (Pearson Jr.) and I just, I don't know, kicked it another gear and just kind of Hail Mary’d the top and it stuck and I was able to run there for a long time and then there was about 15 (laps) to go I moved back down to the middle. I don't know, our stuff was good all night, all weekend really, other than my bonehead move other there in turn three (during the first semifeature Friday afternoon).”
That was likely Thornton’s only misstep of the entire weekend. During his first preliminary feature on Friday, he was running second on lap 16 when he ran into the back of a lapped car and slid over the banking, folding the nose of his car under and ending his race. He didn’t make the same mistake Saturday as he carefully maneuvered around the slower cars of Mason Zeigler, Ken Schaltenbrand, Michael Norris and finally Overton, all while continuing to distance himself from O’Neal.
“I was so married to that bottom,” said O’Neal. “It was hard to deal with some of them lapped cars because I just couldn't quite get the run on them I needed. Then that bottom got so thin and then it made it even harder and then that Ricky had a little hard tires on and was able to move out on the racetrack a little bit. Maybe, maybe I didn't give it a fair enough shot, I don't know. But we kinda been behind the 8-ball here all week.
“Man we just struggled to find our stride and I felt like we just kept getting a little bit better and a little bit better every time we got on the racetrack. So to come out here with a second, we're not going to bow our heads about that, you know. Obviously we want to win and we want to be where that 20 car is, but we're happy with the second tonight.”
For the most part, Davenport was pleased with his podium finish as well.
“Hudson was on a little bit different tire than I think me and Ricky was,” Davenport said. “Me and Ricky was on the same tires, I believe, but we was just, just a little too tight and once it got slicker and slicker that it showed up more and more. I couldn't turn down in the corner like I needed to and had to shear. But, you know, it's a brand new car and that's the best we’ve ever been here by far. So you know, I'll take that, top-three, good points night for us really in the big scheme of things.
“Hell, I'm happy. Top-three is good. You know, obviously we want to win. Congrats to Ricky. He's just really, really good right now and we're throwing a lot of things at it, a lot of new stuff and we just missed a little bit. So, I've been on the other turn of that where everybody else is throwing stuff at their cars trying to catch me. So that's just part of the game. They're going to ride that wave as long as it is and we're going to try to catch up to them.”
17th annual Firecracker 100 presented by Big River Steel
Pos. Driver (car no.), hometown, chassis, earnings
1. Ricky Thornton Jr. (20rt), Chandler, Ariz., Longhorn, $50,000
2. Hudson O'Neal (1), Martinsville, Ind., Rocket, $20,000
3. Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., Longhorn, $10,000
4. Gregg Satterlee (22), Indiana, Pa., Rocket, $8,000
5. Devin Moran (99), Dresden, Ohio, Longhorn, $6,000
6. Brandon Overton (76), Evans, Ga., Longhorn, $5,000
7. Michael Norris (10), Sarver, Pa., Rocket, $4,000
8. Ken Schaltenbrand (29), Sarver, Pa., Longhorn, $3,000
9. Mason Zeigler (25Z), Chalk Hill, Pa., Rocket, $2,750
10. Max Blair (111), Centerville, Pa., Rocket, $2,600
11. Tyler Erb (1), New Waverly, Texas, Rocket, $2,500
12. Ross Robinson (7), Georgetown, Del., Rocket, $2,475
13. Daulton Wilson (18D), Fayetteville, N.C., Longhorn, $2,450
14. Spencer Hughes (11), Meridian, Miss., Longhorn, $2,425
15. Colton Flinner (48), Allison Park, Pa., Longhorn, $2,400
16. Earl Pearson Jr. (46), Jacksonville, Fla., Longhorn, $2,375
17. Tyler Dietz (77), Saxonburg, Pa., Longhorn, $2,350
18. Logan Zarin (1z), Moon Township, Pa., Rocket, $2,325
19. Chub Frank (1*), Bear Lake, Pa., Longhorn, $2,300
20. Tyler Bruening (16), Decorah, Iowa, Capital, $2,250
21. Levi Yetter (9Y), Cabot, Pa., Barry Wright, $2,200
22. Boom Briggs (99B), Bear Lake, Pa., Rocket, $2,150
23. Garrett Alberson (58), Las Cruces, N.M., Longhorn, $2,100
24. Alex Ferree (1c), Saxonburg, Pa., Rocket, $2,050
25. John Garvin Jr. (J4), Sarver, Pa., Longhorn, $2,000
26. Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., Longhorn, $2,000
27. Gary Lyle (10L), Leechburg, Pa., Rocket, $2,000
28. Ryan Montgomery (4S), Fairmont, W.Va., Capital, $2,000
Lap leaders: Davenport 1-44; Thornton 45-52, 56-70, 75-77, 79, 81-100; O'Neal 53-55, 71-74, 78, 80
Preliminary feature winners: Davenport, McCreadie, Thornton, Blair.
Heat race winners (among 51 cars): Davenport, Thornton, Overton, McCreadie, Norris, Moran
Consolation winners: Wilson, Erb.
Provisional starters: Bruening, Dietz, Montgomery, Lyle
Row 1: Jonathan Davenport, Tim McCreadie
Row 2: Ricky Thornton Jr., Michael Norris
Row 3: Brandon Overton, Devin Moran
Row 4: Garrett Alberson, Chub Frank
Row 5: Max Blair, Colton Flinner
Row 6: Hudson O’Neal, Gregg Satterlee
Row 7: Spencer Hughes, Alex Ferree
Row 8: Logan Zarin, Levi Yetter
Row 9: Ross Robinson, John Garvin Jr.
Row 10: Daulton Wilson, Tyler Erb
Row 11: Ken Schaltenbrand, Boom Briggs
Row 12: Earl Pearson Jr., Mason Zeigler
Row 13: Tyler Bruening, Ryan Montgomery
Row 14: Tim Dietz, Gary Lyle
(12 laps; top three transfer)
First consolation finish: Daulton Wilson, Ken Schaltenbrand, Earl Pearson Jr., Daryl Charlier, Ryan Montgomery, Dan Angelicchio, Brent Vosbergen, Chris Schneider, Breyton Santee, Chuckie Lepsch, Cody Overton.
Second consolation finish: Tyler Erb, Boom Briggs, Mason Zeigler, Tyler Bruening, Benji Hicks, Joshua Powell, Braeden Dillinger, Trevor Collins, Bump Hedman, Doug Eck, Nicholas Eck, Gary Lyle, Tyler Dietz (DNS) Kyle Strickler.
(10 laps; top three transfer)
First heat finish: Jonathan Davenport, Garrett Alberson, Spencer Hughes, Daryl Charlier, Earl Pearson Jr., Ryan Montgomery, Dan Angelicchio (DNS) Mike Smith, Todd Bachman.
Second heat finish: Ricky Thornton Jr., Max Blair, Logan Zarin, Daulton Wilson, Breyton Santee, Chris Schneider (DNS) Darrell Bossard, Kevin Smith, Zachary Kane.
Third heat finish: Brandon Overton, Hudson O’Neal, Ross Robinson, Cody Overton, Ken Schaltenbrand, Brent Vosbergen, Chuckie Lepsch (DNS) Cory Sines, Kyle Lukon.
Fourth heat finish: Tim McCreadie, Chub Frank, Alex Ferree, Tyler Bruening, Bump Hedman, Braeden Dillinger, Joshua Powell (DNS) Ron Hall.
Fifth heat finish: Michael Norris, Colton Flinner, Levi Yetter, Tyler Erb, Doug Eck, Gary Lyle, Kyle Strickler, Mason Zeigler.
Sixth heat finish: Devin Moran, Gregg Satterlee, John Garvin Jr., Boom Briggs, Benji Hicks, Tyler Dietz, Trevor Collins, Nicholas Eck.
Saturday’s heat lineups
(10 laps; top three transfer)
Row 1: Jonathan Davenport, Spencer Hughes
Row 2: Garrett Alberson, Ryan Montgomery
Row 3: Earl Pearson Jr., Dan Angelicchio
Row 4: Daryl Charlier, Mike Smith
Row 5: Todd Bachman
Row 1: Max Blair, Daulton Wilson
Row 2: Ricky Thornton Jr., Logan Zarin
Row 3: Darrell Bossard, Breyton Santee
Row 4: Chris Schneider, Kevin Smith
Row 5: Zachary Kane
Row 1: Brandon Overton, Hudson O’Neal
Row 2: Ross Robinson, Ken Schaltenbrand
Row 3: Brent Vosbergen, Cody Overton
Row 4: Cory Sines, Chuckie Lepsch
Row 5: Kyle Lukon
Row 1: Tim McCreadie, Tyler Bruening
Row 2: Chub Frank, Alex Ferree
Row 3: Bump Hedman, Braeden Dillinger
Row 4: Ron Hall, Joshua Powell
Row 1: Michael Norris, Tyler Erb
Row 2: Colton Flinner, Mason Zeigler
Row 3: Levi Yetter, Gary Lyle
Row 4: Doug Eck, Kyle Strickler
Row 1: Devin Moran, Gregg Satterlee
Row 2: Boom Briggs, Trevor Collins
Row 3: Benji Hicks, John Garvin Jr.
Row 4: Nicholas Eck, Tyler Dietz
6 p.m.: Hot laps
- RUSH Crate Late Models
- Lucas Oil Series
- Opening ceremonies
- RUSH Crate Late Model B-mains (12 laps)
- Lucas Oil Series heats (10 laps)
- Lucas Oil Series B-mains (12 laps)
- RUSH Crate Late Model A-main hot laps
- Lucas Oil Series driver introductions
- Firecracker 100
- RUSH Crate Late Model Bill Emig Memorial (50 laps)
- RUSH Crate Late Model Non-Qualifiers’ Race