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DirtonDirt.com Dispatches

Dispatches: Pierce, RTJ play familiar tune

October 1, 2023, 2:07 am
From series, track and staff reports
Ricky Thornton Jr. at PPMS. (heathlawsonphotos.com)
Ricky Thornton Jr. at PPMS. (heathlawsonphotos.com)

Among latest notes and quotes from Dirt Late Model special and sanctioned events over the Sept. 30-Oct. 2 weekend, including Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series and Hunt the Front Super Dirt Series action:

Pierce-RTJ: Juggernaut duo

Most national touring drivers are probably glad Sunday morning to be flipping their calendars to October. They can only hope they'll have more opportunitiy to grab victories after two national touring points leaders — Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., and Ricky Thornton Jr. of Chandler, Ariz. — have left little but scraps for the rest of the competition in August and September.

Pierce, the World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series points leader, and Thornton, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, ended September's action holding checkered flags, a pose they were quite familiar with during a two-month stretch.

Pierce won WoO's $15,000 event Saturday at Ohio's Atomic Speedway while Thornton collected Lucas Oil's $30,000 prize at Pittsburgh's Pennsylvania Motor Speedway in the 35th annual Pittsburgher.

From Aug. 1-Sept. 30, Pierce and Thornton combined to win an amazing 24 of 34 contested national touring events — a .700 clip. Thornton won half the 20 Lucas Oil races during that stretch while an even-hotter Pierce won seven of 11 World of Outlaws events along with adding a pair of Castrol FloRacing Night in America victories and an XR Super Series event. (Not surprisingly, Pierce is atop the points on all three tours.)

Only six other drivers were able to break through for national series victories in August and September, with Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., leading the way with two Lucas Oil victories and a WoO triumph. Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., and Hudson O'Neal of Martinsville, Ind., won two races apiece while single victories went to Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., and Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga. — Staff reports

It all comes down to PPMS

Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, flashed a big smile when he learned from Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series announcer James Essex that his runner-up finish in Friday night’s Great Lakes 50 at Raceway 7 in Conneaut, Ohio, had pulled him within 15 points of fourth-place Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., in the national tour’s standings.

“The pressure’s on,” Moran said. “I love it.”

Normally drawing close to the fourth spot in the standings wouldn’t significantly turn up the pressure on a driver, but this is not a typical season on the Lucas Oil Series. Under the circuit’s new-for-2023 championship format, the top four drivers in the points after Saturday’s penultimate event — the 35th annual Pittsburgher at Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway — will be locked in as the Big River Steel Big Four who will race for the $200,000 title in Oct. 20-21’s Dirt Track World Championship at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.

So Moran, who turned 29 on Sept. 25, has a lot riding on Saturday’s action at PPMS. And so does Overton, whose 13th-place finish on Friday nearly wiped out the cushion he had on his closest pursuers for the final berth in the Final Four, and Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., who finished fourth at Raceway 7 to end the night 35 points in arrears of Overton.

With Raceway 7 feature winner Ricky Thornton Jr. of Chandler, Ariz., Hudson O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., and Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., assured of Big Four spots, it’s Overton, Moran and McCreadie who will tussle over the one remaining position.

And Moran, who celebrated his 29th birthday on Sept. 25, would appear to have the most momentum on his side. After moving into second place on lap 39 as O’Neal slowed with a flat left-rear tire and then keeping the spot to the checkered flag on Friday, he registered his third straight podium finish to put himself on the precipice of heading to the DTWC with an opportunity to win the tour’s championship.

Overton entered Raceway 7’s action with an 80-point edge over both Moran and McCreadie, but that crumbled as he experienced a miserable night.

He attempted to make his debut in a Team Zero Chassis but, after failing to run a qualifying lap and then stopping on the track during his heat, he pulled out his Longhorn car and only advanced from the 20th starting spot to 13th in the feature finishing order.

“It’s gonna be tight tomorrow (at PPMS) because I think Timmy’s probably only 35 behind (Overton), so I’m (essentially) three positions (back) and he’s five or six,” Moran said. “We just gotta perform tomorrow and see what we can do and try to get in this top four.”

Moran is licking his chops over the possibility of sneaking into the Big Four, a concept that he fully supports.

“I love it,” Moran said when asked about the new championship format. “A lot of people don’t like, and that’s fine too. Everybody’s allowed to have their own opinion. But I’m a sports fanatic and everything always comes down to the final game, and that’s what it’s gonna do at Eldora.”

The 49-year-old McCreadie, meanwhile, needs to overtake Moran and Overton to keep alive his hopes for a third consecutive Lucas Oil Series crown. He’s approaching the Pittsburgher with the feeling that he has “nothing to lose.”

“We’ll go in there and do our best,” McCreadie said. “That points system owes me one because I think we went in (to the season finale) up 40 (in the standings) a few years ago (the 2017 season) and had two flat tires (in the DTWC at Ohio’s Portsmouth Raceway Park) and lost (the title to Josh Richards), so hopefully this will be some luck our way and we can get in the (Eldora’s championship-deciding) show.” — Staff reports

Atomic's 'hornet's nest'

While Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., controlled the late stages of Friday's World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series event at Atomic Speedway near Chillicothe, Ohio, there was no lack of action among contenders giving chase.

The podium finishers Marlar, runner-up Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., and early leader Nick Hoffman of Mooresville, N.C., stayed out of a few tussles developing among other contenders.

"I guess it was a hornet's nest behind me," the third-finishing Hoffman said, "and I was glad I was ahead of that."

The prime tussles were between Illinois drivers Brian Shirley and Bobby Pierce with a separate late-race scrape between Tanner English of Benton, Ill., and Cade Dillard of Robeline, La.

Shirley and Pierce were battling for fifth on the 26th lap when Pierce drifted high exiting turn two, forcing Shirley over the backstretch banking. During the ensuing caution, Shirley drove back to Pierce and his left arm extended out the window in protest. Officials reset the field with Shirley losing a few spots via the tour's blend rule.

That meant Shirley was quickly hot on Pierce's heels again, and again the drivers found themselves racing in close quarters into turns one and two on the 27th lap. Again Shirley was on the outside of Pierce, and again Pierce slid up the track with the rear of Pierce's car sliding over Shirley's nosepiece, getting him out of shape with contact from an onrushing Brent Larson sending Shirley around on the backstretch to draw another caution.

Shirley sat tight in his car until Pierce's car was rolling past during the yellow flag, then pulled away and veered toward Pierce, who took evasive action by retreating over the backstretch banking. Pierce, the series points leader, managed to finished fourth while Shirley had to restart near the rear and ended up 15th.

After the Pierce-Shirley theatrics, the English-Dillard show took the stage. Dillard slid under English entering turn three to take the fourth spot with eight laps remaining. English chased Dillard from the fifth position and he made the same move on the 38th of 40 laps, diving into aggressively turn three and making contact with Dillard with the drivers briefly getting hung together in turn four. English broke free, but Dillard gave English's car a shot in the tail at the top of the frontstretch.

English led the pair into turn one and Dillard went English-hunting, sliding into English in turn two and sending him over the backstretch banking — in virtually the same place of the initial Pierce-Shirley incident.

Instead of grabbing top-five finishes, English and Dillard — who suffered a flat tire — fell far out contention with English in 10th and Dillard finishing 16th. — Staff reports

Determining the Big Four

The Big River Steel Big Four on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series will be set this weekend following Saturday’s 35th annual Pittsburgher at Pittsburgh's Pennsylvania Motor Speedway in Imperial, Pa.

Points leader Ricky Thornton Jr. of Chandler, Ariz., and second-running Hudson O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., are locks to be among the all-important top four drivers in points, while Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., can guarantee himself a top-four points finish by finishing 11th in the national tour’s weekend races Friday at Raceway 7 in Conneaut, Ohio, and Saturday at PPMS.

Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., who is fourth in the Lucas Oil points which will send four drivers into next month’s Dirt Track World Championship with a chance to win the record-setting $200,000 series title, has an 80-point margin on his closest pursuers, making him most vulnerable to challengers during a weekend where he’s making his debut at both tracks.

Overton has 6,945 points for an edge over two drivers drivers tied for fifth at 6,865 points, two-time and reigning series champion Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., and Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio.

Many scenarios could play out to put McCreadie and Moran in position to overtake Overton, but Overton can end any drama by finishing first or second in both feature events. If Overton were to finish third in both events, it gets a little murkier, provided McCreadie or Moran sweep the weekend features.

If McCreadie wins both features (while earning 20 bonus points for setting fast time in his group both nights), a third-place finish by Overton would tie McCreadie for fourth in series points. The nod would go to McCreadie by virtue of the second tiebreaker: most runner-up finishes in series points races, since both would have two wins in points-paying features in that scenario.

If Moran wins both features (while earning the 20 bonus points from qualifying fastest both nights), he would tie Overton for fourth in points, and the berth would go to Moran for the No. 4 spot because he would be ahead in the first tiebreaker: most wins (3-2).

Obviously if McCreadie or Moran don’t top qualifying groups, that gives Overton a little more cushion, and a sweep for either driver seems unlikely with each driver having just two series victories in 2023 (and just one of Moran’s and neither of McCreadie’s coming in points-paying features).

One thing is for certain: if Overton finishes ahead of McCreadie and Moran each night, he’ll hold onto the fourth spot.

The fourth of four bonus payouts comes after PPMS with Thornton set to receive $10,000 (drivers 2-4 in points will receive $2,000 apiece). Teams then take a three-week break before heading to Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, for the $100,000-to-win DTWC. The driver among the top four with the best finish in the 100-lap finale will be crowned series champion and receive $200,000. Second in the title chase earns $150,000 with $125,000 for third and $100,000 for fourth. — Series and staff reports

Another title chase

With just four races remaining for the inaugural season of the Hunt the Front Super Dirt Series presented by Sweet Victory Apparel, Joseph Joiner of Milton, Fla., is atop the series standings heading into the tour’s final two weekends of racing Sept. 29-30 at Talladega Short Track in Eastaboga, Ala., and Oct. 6-7 at Swainsboro (Ga.) Raceway.

With an average finish of third in the tour’s past six races, Joiner has climbed from third in the points standings at midseason to the top of the chase for the $20,000 championship. Joiner took the points lead outright for the first time this season following Sept. 2’s runner-up finish at Rome Speedway and now holds a four-point advantage over second-place Josh Putnam of Florence, Ala., and a 42-point lead over third-place Wil Herrington of Hawkinsville, Ga.

While Putnam may have lost the points lead at Rome, don’t count him out. With three different stints at the top of the standings already this season, he’s shown that he’s in the battle for the long haul and that he’s capable of bouncing back quickly.

Meanwhile, Herrington has his work cut out for him after hitting a slump in the second half of the season. After logging an average finish of fourth on his way to claiming the tour’s $5,000 Midseason Points Championship, a string of bad luck has led to an average finish of 11th in the last six races. Herrington still has a shot at claiming the series title, but he’ll need help in the form of poor finishes for both Joiner and Putnam to get it done.

Beyond the three title contenders, leading series rookie Trey Mills of St. Augustine, Fla., remains fourth in the standings. While the teenager has the $5,000 Aces Renovation Rookie of the Year Award all but locked up, his hold on fourth in the overall standings isn’t as strong as it once was. A resurgent Dalton Cook of Salem, Ala., is just 16 points back in fifth.

During NASCAR weekend in Talladega, Friday's Jerry Goodwin Challenge pays $5,038 to the winner Friday and the $9,700-to-win Red Farmer Tribute is set for Saturday. — Ben Shelton

Wenger proves speed

A warm Thursday evening at Lincoln (Ill.) Speedway provided a strong playground for 40 of DIRTcar’s most dedicated weekly racers looking for a tuneup session before the final points weekend of the year in the 28th annual DIRTcar Fall Nationals. Super Late Models will compete in a $2,000-to-win program Friday and $3,000-to-win show Saturday.

In Thursday's practice, McKay Wenger of Fairbury, Ill., topped the Super Late Model charts with a best lap of 12.639 seconds around the quarter-mile oval. The 2020 Fairbury Speedway track champion — who typically pilots his self-owned No. 42 Rocket Chassis — was instead behind the wheel of a No. 99 Longhorn Chassis for Moline, Ill.-based Curless Motorsports.

A regular racer of Rocket Chassis, Wenger said he was looking to give a Longhorn a try. He had positive things to say, and his chart-topping results backed it up.

“The main thing is getting comfortable,” Wenger said. “It’s a completely different deal. I’ve been in my own car for 30 races or so this year, so to hop in something completely different takes me a little bit to get used to. It’s definitely a completely different feel.”

Wenger has long been a keeper of his own equipment, but said he encountered the opportunity to come and drive for team owner Doug Curless through mutual connections in the industry and couldn’t pass it up. He and the team spent several hours in the shop earlier this week preparing for their first Fall Nationals together, and they’re ready to chase a trophy.

“It came together last minute, but these guys have been super helpful,” Wenger said. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for me to run with these guys and the equipment they have. I’m very thankful right now.” — Jordan DeLucia

DirtonDirt.com Dispatches

In continuing to streamline our race coverage, we’ve added DirtonDirt.com Dispatches to our list of regular features on the site. The idea of the new feature is to spotlight key storylines of the weekend (and sometimes during the week), putting notes, quotes and accomplishments in context to provide subscribers a quick-hitting read on all the latest from tracks around the country. Bear with us as the new feature evolves. Our intention is to have a single file that’s regularly topped by the latest news, so check back throughout the weekend.
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