Dispatches: Hilsabeck flirts with MLRA podium
The latest notes and quotes from Dirt Late Model special and sanctioned events during the Fourth of July weekend, including Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, Valvoline Iron-Man Racing Series, Lucas Oil Midwest LateModel Racing Association and Ultimate Super Late Model Series action (find Lucas Oil's Muskingum County and DIRTcar Summer Nationals coverage elsewhere):
Still seeking a podium
Lucas Oil Midwest LateModel Racing Association rookie Daniel Hilsabeck of Earlham, Iowa, is still trying to break through for a podium finish on the Missouri-based tour.
The milestone appeared to be within the grasp of the 10th-starting Hilsabeck on Saturday at 34 Raceway’s Slocum 50, but after holding the third spot on laps 18-22, he slipped back to a seventh-place finish in West Burlington, Iowa.
Evolving track conditions didn’t play into the 32-year-old’s favor in the event won in flag-to-flag fashion by Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill.
“(The track) was really it was almost, like slimy, heavy, and I got up to third, and we’ve been really good when it’s heavy,” Hilsabeck said. “And then when it starts getting black, it seems like (his Rocket Chassis) just isn’t as good. (The track) started started slowing down — there was a little moisture right around the bottom — but that cushion, I don’t know if it was too far around the track or what, but I tried running that a couple times and I didn’t feel as good up there. I don’t know. I just backed up a couple spots.”
Hilsabeck was running third behind Erb and eventual third-place finisher Ryan Gustin of Marshalltown, Iowa, just before the race’s midpoint. The driver who stands second in MLRA rookie points behind Kolby Vandenbergh was gunning to improve on his best-ever MLRA run, a fourth-place finish on June 18, 2021, at the Salina (Okla.) Highbanks.
The former modified driver who has been piloting Late Models for three seasons is still getting the hang of a newer Rocket in his team’s stable.
“We did some things to the car that I thought was in a good direction, so we’re still trying to figure out. I had an old car and it’s just a little bit different, so stuff that we used to do doesn’t quite work on this thing,” he said. “I’m still trying to make it go when (the track) starts getting that kind of like dirty or black. So we’ll just work on that.”
Hilsabeck was glad to be mixing it up with the fastest cars.
“It felt like I could actually race,” he said. “Normally, it seems like the A-main comes around and I’m just trying to keep up. … Not necessarily because I think it’s me, it just seems like my car just doesn’t doesn’t have any go. So we’ve been working on it. It seemed better. So we’ll keep working on it.” — Mike Ruefer
The Beets goes on
Brandon Hardgrove owns Lake Cumberland Speedway, but Eli Beets is definitely staking a claim to the Burnside, Ky., oval. The 18-year-Knoxville, Tenn., driver on Saturday captured his third Valvoline Iron-Man Racing Series event at Lake Cumberland this season, adding a $5,000 Hall of Fame 50 victory to $7,500 and $5,000 paydays from two races in May.
Beets led all the way, topping national touring standout Ricky Weiss of Headingley, Manitoba, and fellow Tennessean Camaron Marlar at the 3/8-mile oval.
“Props to Eli,” Weiss acknowledged in victory lane. “He’s been real good out here.”
Beets, who began Super Late Model racing last season and notched his first victory in the elite division May 14 at Lake Cumberland, is the first driver with three special-event victories at Lake Cumberland since Michael Chilton of Salvisa, Ky., in 2019 (three unsanctioned triumphs paying between $4,000 and $5,000).
The young winner was humble in victory lane Saturday.
“Cautions really fell at the right time,” he said. “I come up on some lapped cars that were going to be really hard to get around, and I got lucky there, and lucky on that first restart. Sometimes things just fall the right way and you come out with a good finish.”
The track conditions weren’t his favorite, but Beets clicked off his third Lake Cumberland victory and fourth of the season on the Iron-Man circuit, all in Kentucky.
“That was a little bit harder than I wanted to work. Ricky’s always really good, especially in a place (like this) that’s dry-slick around the bottom,” Beets said. “I’ve kind of been struggling in this condition lately. I feel like I’m drenched in sweat, but I wasn’t working that hard. I was only about quarter-throttle the whole race.”
Mitchell’s hot streak
Zack Mitchell can’t really explain why he’s on a hot streak, but he’s enjoying every minute of it.
“It just seems like everything’s going our way right now,” Mitchell said after winning Saturday’s 40-lap Ultimate Southeast Super Late Model Series feature at Senoia (Ga.) Raceway. “But it can change in a split second.”
The 26-year-old driver from Enoree, S.C., is happily riding his wave of success. Saturday’s $4,000 score marked his sixth overall victory of the 2022 season, including five in 11 Ultimate Southeast events. It was his second Ultimate checkered flag in as many nights — he also won Friday at Lavonia (Ga.) Speedway — and his third consecutive.
Mitchell’s Ultimate Southeast hat trick puts him in some elite company. The three-time tour champion is just the fourth driver to string together three straight victories since the circuit’s launch in 2011, joining Vic Hill of Mosheim, Tenn. (2012), Casey Roberts of Toccoa, Ga. (2013) and Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga. (2021).
Now Mitchell, whose 14 career Ultimate Southeast triumphs puts him third on the series’s all-time win list behind Roberts (21) and Chris Ferguson of Mount Holly, N.C. (15), has a chance to make history on the tour. The circuit’s current points leader can become the first driver ever to rip off four consecutive Ultimate Southeast victories July 9 when the series visits Lancaster (S.C.) Speedway for a $7,500-to-win show.
Another 34 win for Erb
Dennis Erb Jr. grabbed his first win on the Lucas Oil Midwest LateModel Racing Association on Saturday at 34 Raceway, but it wasn’t the Carpentersville, Ill., driver’s first triumph at the track in West Burlington, Iowa. With his flag-to-flag victory in the Slocum 50 worth $10,000, Erb was back in 34 Raceway’s victory lane for the second time — and the first since 2003.
While Erb drove his traditional blue No. 28 to victory on Saturday, 19 years ago he was in quite an unfamiliar car, a Raider Chassis normally driven by Rob Kirchner of Donnellson, Iowa. No matter, Erb took the lead for good after a lap-77 restart in the Pepsi Late Model USA Nationals and raced to his lone career victory on the Deery Brothers Summer Series, earning $10,000.
"He's a great driver,” Rob Kirchner said then while celebrating in victory lane with his substitute driver. "He takes care of the car. We've had other drivers before, but he's driven it way better than anybody else.”
These days, Erb is driving his own car pretty well, too, during a standout season that’s seen him out front in the World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series points chase. He has eight victories overall, including three of his last four starts.
At 34 Raceway, he fought off challenges from Ryan Gustin and Chad Simpson for the 50-lap victory in a caution-plagued event.
"The car was working real good,” Erb said in victory lane. “Those cautions, we didn’t want to see them. It got a little dicey there for a little while, but once we were able to get some laps in the car was working really good, so real proud of that.”
Ricky Thornton Jr. was so happy to finally win a Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series feature Friday night at Portsmouth (Ohio) Raceway Park, he didn’t mind celebrating in a driving rain storm.
“Is that the craziest victory lane you’ve ever seen?” Lucas Oil Series announcer James Essex asked Thornton when the Chandler, Ariz., native who now lives in Martinsville, Ind., sat down with the voice of the tour for a postrace interview in the track’s tower. “Have you ever done a rain dance like that?”
A smiling Thornton responded, “No, I definitely hadn’t.”
After intensifying rain forced series officials to declare the Independence 50 official with 45 laps complete, Thornton, 31, pulled his SSI Motorsports Longhorn Chassis onto the infield winner’s stage amid a downpour. The second-year Lucas Oil Series regular, his Anthony Burroughs-led crew and all the officials and photographers around them proceeded to get drenched by a thunderstorm that had been threatening from the initial green flag.
Considering that the first hint of precipitation came during a lap-28 caution period when Thornton was still sitting second behind race-long pacesetter Daulton Wilson of Fayetteville, N.C., he felt fortunate to end up earning $12,000 for his first Lucas Oil triumph since his career-high $100,000 score in last October’s Dirt Track World Championship at Portsmouth.
“At that point, I was fine with second,” Thornton said. “We had that yellow and it started raining a little bit and I really didn’t know if we were gonna lose the track or not. I was thinking about it, that it would be kind of cool for Daulton (a Lucas Oil Series rookie) to get his first win.
“But I’m glad we went back green.”
Thornton grabbed the lead on lap 30 when Wilson slipped high through turns three and four, beginning a fall that saw him ultimately settle for a fifth-place finish. Eventual runner-up Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., who followed Thornton past Wilson, briefly challenged for the lead but was just over 2 seconds behind Thornton when the race-ending rain triggered yellow-flag conditions on lap 45.
For a moment, Thornton actually wasn’t sure why the caution had been displayed.
“With four (laps) to go there, five to go, I didn’t even know it was raining,” Thornton said. “I went down into turn one and I was like, ‘Man, I really blew that corner. McCreadie’s gonna drive by me.’ But by the time I got off of two it was raining pretty good.
“As a driver you don’t know (when a downpour is striking). You’re just hauling butt down the straightaway and then you get down in the corner and it’s like hitting ice.”
Thornton’s victory was just his second of 2022 in Dirt Late Model competition, the first coming Feb. 14 in a DIRTcar-sanctioned event at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla. He entered Friday’s action hot off a runner-up finish in Thursday’s Lucas Oil-sanctioned Ralph Latham Memorial at Florence Speedway in Union, Ky. — and a Tuesday triumph behind the wheel of his own micro-sprint at Circus City Speedway in Peru, Ind.
Donald McIntosh can’t say he’s terribly missed driving a Dirt Late Model on a regular basis this season after he ended up without a ride with Blount Motorsports owner Larry Garner’s decision to shut down his team last fall. For the 29-year-old from Dawsonville, Ga., getting away from the racing grind has been almost cathartic.
“Building shocks, just working, spending time with family, trying to enjoy things,” McIntosh said, describing how he’s filled his many open hours this year. “I’ve raced since I was five years old and I’ve never taken a break. It had gotten to where it was a job. … I hated that. When it’s not fun, it was just time to be done before I just really hated it.”
But make no mistake — racing is still in McIntosh’s blood, and he noted that his recent trip to Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, to spectate during the Eldora Million triggered his love for the sport.
“I got the itch after that,” he said of his visit to Eldora.
So McIntosh reconnected with Cleveland, Tenn., car owner Lamar Scoggins, who No. 32 Longhorn machine McIntosh piloted one time earlier this season, in a Valvoline Iron-Man Southern Series event on March 19 at Boyd’s Speedway in Ringgold, Ga. Returning to the seat of the vehicle on Friday night — again at Boyd’s — McIntosh promptly drove it to a $5,000 victory in the Valvoline Iron-Man-sanctioned Stars & Stripes 40.
“Man, it’s so cool,” McIntosh said after his first triumph since Sept. 3, 2021, in a Valvoline Iron-Man show at Boyd’s while driving or Blount Motorsports. “I can’t thank Lamar enough for letting me come out and drive this thing. Hell, he doesn’t even have a (spring) load machine with this (team), so we just come out have fun. To be able to get a win on top of it, it’s super, super special. I can’t say enough.”
McIntosh, who controlled Friday’s race after overtaking Sam Seawright for the lead on a lap-14 restart, feels fortunate to have an opportunity to race for Scoggins.
“I actually met him on a Cruise with the Champions,” McIntosh said. “And he called me, he’s like, ‘I got this race car, you want to race it?’ And that’s why we raced earlier this year (to a 14th-place finish at Boyd’s). And we’ve been talking back-and-forth and finally, just tonight, he just got back from another cruise, actually on Thursday.”
One thing McIntosh didn’t seem to show on Friday was any sign of rust from his inactivity this season.
“This race car is really good,” said McIntosh, who credited mechanic Tyler Breashears for providing some “pointers” to get Scoggins’s Longhorn car rolling. “I’ll be honest with you, anymore nowadays, the race car’s got to be good, and we just happened to hit on it. The race car was really good. I wouldn’t say I did a lot in the seat. The race car did good.” — Richard Allen
Another home run
Gregg Satterlee showed just last month at the Eldora Million that his race program is more than capable of dueling with the best in the business despite his downsized efforts racing closer to his Indiana, Pa., home. If it weren’t for a late caution and flat tire in his semifeature, Satterlee could have possibly given eventual dirt millionaire, Jonathan Davenport, a serious run at the record prize.
But nights like Friday at Bedford (Pa.) Fairgrounds Speedway further prove why Satterlee’s laid down the desire of hopscotching around the country full-time like his younger years. Satterlee rolled to his sixth feature victory of the season in Pennsylvania at Bedford’s big half-mile, collecting $4,900 in the Milt Miller Tribute. Satterlee led 25 of 35 laps and crossed the finish line 4.724 seconds ahead of polesitter Dillan Stake, who led the first nine laps as well as lap 11.
“I knew we had a good car car," Satterlee said. "I got a really good start. Dylan had a little bit better jump than me. I was on the outside there and it didn’t have much traction there. I knew I had to fall in line and make some laps, see where my car was the best. Once I knew what I needed to do I was able to slide in front of him here down in one and make some good laps. The car was really good."
The Pennsylvanian claims, on the other hand, the win wasn’t as breezy as it seemed. Third-running Drake Troutman, who passed Satterlee on the initial start for the runner-up spot, ducked pitside on lap seven with mechanical issues. On lap 18, second-running Rick Eckert had been next to fall victim to the demanding half-mile conditions, as the York, Pa., driver suffered a flat right-rear tire chasing Satterlee.
“This is a big track and it’s fast. It’s really demanding on the cars and everything,” Satterlee said. “You never know what’s going to happen until that checkered flag flies. Everyone has 35 laps out there to make. Some guys might be better at the beginning, others better at the end. The tires have to hold air. You just never know. You just have to stay focused, grind until the checkered flag.”
Friday’s race honored Miller, the former Late Model, super modified and sprint car standout of the track’s hometown. Miller, who died in April 2012 at age 79, began his driving career in 1964 and won multiple track championships at varying tracks across Pennsylvania.
“I obviously wasn’t around to watch those guys race, but when you see old videos or pictures of them, you certainly appreciate what they did with what they have compared to what we’re racing with today,” Satterlee said. “The safety equipment and the handling of the race cars. They had a lot more on their plate than what we do, for sure. It’s a privilege and pleasure getting the win for the family. … I look forward to coming back to Bedford when they put on a race for us.”