WHEEL, Tenn. — Mike Marlar’s flawless drive to victory Saturday in the Deep Fried 75 sanctioned by the Hunt the Front Super Dirt Series at Duck River Raceway Park was never seriously in question throughout the 75-lap main event.
The Winfield, Tenn., native who eventually became $20,000 richer wasn’t all that convinced he had the night’s payday in the bag, especially when seventh-starting Dale McDowell quickly made his way to second.
“Dale managed so good. Dale’s my hero, man,” Marlar said. “He’s a 57-year-old and he’s got me running like that every night. He’s tough. I saw him got into third that fast, and then to second. And I’m like, ‘I better not play around here.’ I was on it. I assumed he was on me. I wasn’t sure.”
On one hand, Marlar never relented, and that led to a dominant three-second maiden win in the Deep Fried 75, a race he led by as many as six seconds. McDowell, on the other hand, had a growing hunch that he was no match for Marlar as the feature wore on, particularly on the longest green-flag run of the night between laps 17 and 56.
“We missed it a little bit in qualifying, and got us buried. But Mikey had the better car,” said McDowell, who qualified fourth in his 20-car qualifying group. “We just need to work and get balanced a little bit. A little rigid through the holes. He could float through those holes and carry speed better than I could. Gives us something to work toward. It was a good night. … Great to see the stands packed tonight.”
On that near 40-lap green-flag run, Marlar lapped up to eighth-running Wil Herrington, the points leader of the inaugural Hunt the Front Super Dirt Series season. It was then that Marlar realized the sizzled pace he had going for him.
“I seen some of the guys I started up there with and thought, ‘I must have a pretty good here.’”
Still, during the lap-56 caution period for Dillon Tidmore, who slowed out of the 12th spot on a night in which he set overall fast time, Marlar had to turn in another clean restart with McDowell in tow.
“I have a great team,” Marlar said. “I have great cars. … It’s our fifth year with Ronnie Delk. He’s given me great cars through the years. Always wants me to have the best, whatever is available. I can’t thank him enough. … I have great equipment, and that’s what it takes.”
McDowell surged into the top three by lap five and then into second following a lap-11 caution for Tyler Millwood, who dropped out of the race thereafter.
The 57-year-old veteran sized up a move on the race’s second restart through turns three and four upon the race’s resumption that powered him around Payton Freeman by way of the bottom.
Three laps later, Heath Hindman drew the race’s third caution and McDowell was then tasked with keeping Freeman at bay. While Marlar was never challenged out front, the battle for second between Freeman and McDowell entertained, as Freeman regained the second spot momentarily when he beat McDowell off turn four via the top side.
McDowell would ultimately regain second on lap 19 and stay there for good.
“I really enjoy this little place, it creates some excitement,” McDowell said. “I kept getting beat on the restarts. I was hoping to get up there and race him. The only shot I had was to get him pinned up in lapped traffic or something. On a flat out run, he had a better race car. Congrats to them. We’ll shoot at it again.”
Third-place finisher Jadon Frame of Winchester, Tenn., meanwhile, was thrilled to be on the podium with the touring stalwarts. Frame, whose Winchester hometown is right down the road from Wheel, Tenn.’s Duck River facility, is obviously fond of the quarter-mile. He was also accepting of the fact he didn’t have anything for Marlar.
“Yeah, he checked out and left us all. Third-place, I’ll take it running against these boys,” Frame, the 2020 Deep Fried 75 winner, said. “I grew up watching these guys. I love being on the frontstretch with these two. It’s a privilege. I’ll take third.
“I never thought I’d be able to race with these guys here, and me being on the podium with them. I’m just blessed to be here. I’d like to thank the good Lord for everything, giving me a chance to race and doing what we love.”
Notes: Seventh-finishing Christian Hanger of Winchester, Tenn., was the last driver to finish on the lead lap. ... The last driver prior to Marlar to lead all 75 laps in the Deep Fried 75 was Billy Moyer Jr. when he topped Riley Hickman in 2018. ... Among drivers failing to qualify for Saturday's main event: Brad Skinner, Camaron Marlar, Chase Oliver, Daniel Miller, Donald Johns, Hunt Gossum, Jamie Elam, Jason Riggs, Joe Denby and John Henderson.