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DirtonDirt.com Dispatches

Dispatches: Joiner's win shifts season trajectory

April 13, 2024, 12:39 am
From series, track and staff reports
Joseph Joiner after his All-Tech victory. (Zackary Washington)
Joseph Joiner after his All-Tech victory. (Zackary Washington)

Among latest notes and quotes from Dirt Late Model special and sanctioned events over the April 12-13 weekend, including Hunt the Front Super Dirt Series and Lucas Oil MLRA competition:

Big turnaround

The magnitude of Joseph Joiner’s victory in Saturday night’s 50-lap Southbound Throwdown finale at All-Tech Raceway in Ellisville, Fla., went far beyond the hefty $15,000 first-place check.

It simply might have changed the entire trajectory of the Milton, Fla., driver's season.

After an 18th-place finish in March 16’s Hunt the Front Super Dirt Series season opener at Talladega Short Track in Eastaboga, Ala., continued a moribund start to his 2024 Super Late Model action (aside from a $3,000 Coltman Farms Racing Southern All Star Series win on March 29 at his hometown's Southern Raceway), the 30-year-old standout wondered if he was headed in a bad direction. He knew he needed a major rebound when the HTF tour resumed with All-Tech’s doubleheader.

“We go to Talladega with this opener deal and it was like just pure suck, and we don’t really have a plan of getting any better,” Joiner said. “It’s kind of looking like hey, this season’s liable to just be one of those you wanna get through and forget. Then the whole team kind of sits down and …”

Standing in victory lane after his flag-to-flag triumph, Joiner’s voice trailed off and cracked with emotion as he almost whispered, “Hold up.” Thinking of his Hunt the Front race team’s meeting that refocused their efforts and resulted in a huge checkered flag, he was left speechless for a moment.

“We all sit down and decide how important the race team is,” Joiner said, explaining his family-run operation’s epiphany. “I’m so blessed to be the guy that gets out front and drives this car.”

Joiner piloted his Longhorn Chassis to perfection in Saturday’s headliner. After tumbling from a pole starting spot to an eighth-place finish in Friday’s 30-lapper, he didn’t let another pole position opportunity slip through his fingers.

While the half-mile track’s surface locked down on the inside to make passing extremely rare, Joiner made no mistakes en route to his second career HTF series victory. He remarked that he barely “took a breath in 30 minutes,” but he stayed strong out front, including for the final 26 circuits when Hall of Famer Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., chased him in pursuit of his first win since September 2020.

“I seen on the (score) board there Scott was behind us,” Joiner said. “I knew I couldn’t miss my mark here. The whole thing rubbered down there. We kind of might thought it would, but heck, the track was the same speed on lap time all night long so we really didn’t know, but we were kind of at least prepared with our tire choice for if it did lane up like that.

“I just knew if I caught the lapped traffic wrong and they were on me and somebody was able to get a run it was gonna be all over. So I just did my best to leave a gap, and if somebody slipped out I did my best to kind of be there and fill the hole. All that worked out.”

Joiner crossed the finish line 1.306 seconds ahead of the 60-year-old Bloomquist, who recorded his first runner-up finish since May 11, 2022, at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C., despite conceding that his problematic right foot did feel a bit numb during the race.

Defeating the legendary Bloomquist brought extra joy to Joiner, who made no apologies for benefitting from one-lane conditions. He needed a win and he got one.

“I know we just won a race in the rubber, but who cares, really?” Joiner said. “We lined up in a line and didn’t mess up. You know, who cares? Look at all who’s here, man. We’re fast all night, or all weekend, run good … we just missed it last night, made a bad call. We’re completely blessed to be able to do this and be up front and have a competitive team when we go out and put it all together like we did this weekend.” — Staff reports

Sentimental triumph

A dominant weekend at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo., certainly provided Jonathan Davenport a reason to smile. But at the same time, he couldn’t help feeling a bit subdued after a $20,000 win in Saturday night’s 60-lap feature completed his sweep of the Lucas Oil MLRA-sanctioned MLRA Spring Nationals Presented by Arizona Sport Shirts doubleheader.

The 40-year-old superstar from Blairsville, Ga., spoke in victory lane about how he led all 100 feature circuits over the two nights before switching gears to discuss the more emotional aspect of the weekend.

“We definitely got a lot to talk about other than the race,” Davenport said.

Indeed, Davenport went on to remember four members of the racing fraternity who have passed away over the first quarter of 2024, starting with longtime MLRA photographer Lloyd Collins. The 65-year-old native of Kansas City, Mo., who died on March 25 after a short battle with cancer, was honored before the start of Saturday’s feature.

“Mr. Collins, I didn’t know him personally,” Davenport said. “But I can remember his smile and him coming up to talk to me when I was here.”

Davenport next mentioned Jimmy “Pup” Thomas, the veteran Hoosier Tire South sales representative who was well known in the Southeast racing community and beyond. An unquestioned character with one of the biggest personalities in the Dirt Late Model world, he passed away on Friday but the news didn’t reach Davenport — one of Pup’s many Southern boys — before his $7,000 triumph in the weekend’s 40-lap opener.

“I didn’t even know it until I got back to the pits last night,” Davenport said of Thomas’s passing. “Man, he was a great friend of mine, super nice guy.”

Davenport also acknowledged the April 8 death of 90-year-old Bob Labonte, the father of former NASCAR drivers Terry and Bobby Labonte who founded Longhorn Chassis in 2010 along with Terry’s son Justin.

“Big Bob … he was in the shop every day when I first went to Longhorn and started working on these things way back in 2014,” Davenport said of the Labonte family’s patriarch. “We lost a great one there.”

Davenport ended his melancholy list by noting that his victory on Saturday came with him wearing the last helmet he had painted by Indocil Art’s Ryan Young before his talented friend died on Feb. 9 at the age of 50 after a short battle with cancer.

“I wasn’t gonna wear it,” Davenport said. "And then I just got to thinking, You know, he probably would’ve wanted me to wear it instead of just putting it up somewhere where nobody else could see it.”

After a pause, Davenport concluded, “So, yeah … just a lot going on tonight.” — Staff reports

Breakthrough triumph

Five races. Less than one month.

That’s how long it took Carson Ferguson of Lincolnton, N.C., to affirm his hiring as Tim McCreadie’s Paylor Motorsports replacement with a victory.

Ferguson, 24, registered his milestone triumph on Friday night at All-Tech Raceway in Ellisville, Fla., dominating the final 28 circuits of the 30-lap Hunt the Front Super Dirt Series feature that kicked off the Southbound Throwdown weekend.

The moment was slightly surreal for Ferguson, who’s no stranger to winning races — he captured five special Super Late Model events last year, including a career-high $23,000 in October’s HTF finale at Swainsboro (Ga.) Raceway — but still feels a bit sheepish about standing in the spotlight.

“Hopefully we can be here more (in victory lane) to get better at this speech thing,” Ferguson said after offering some brief post-race comments to HTF announcer Lenny Batycki.

Ferguson’s driving did his talking at the half-mile oval. He seized command on lap three from Joseph Joiner of Milton, Fla., and never looked back en route to taking the $5,000 top prize by a healthy 3.188 seconds over Mark Whitener of Middleburg, Fla.

It was some close racing on the initial start with Whitener that played a role in Ferguson’s convincing run. He started from the outside pole but slipped to third by the end of the first lap.

“The 5 kind of slid across my nose there on the start,” Ferguson said of the third-starting Whitener. “I think he thought he had me clear, but I got a run through the center and kind of started a fire under me. I drove real hard.”

Ferguson overtook Whitener for second on lap two. Then he glided past Joiner for the lead on lap three and never looked back.

“I think Joseph was maybe trying to hunt the brown (moisture) down there around the bottom,” Ferguson said. “Momentum was on our side for that lap and I just was able to keep it clean.”

Ferguson was quick after the race to thank his car owners Donald and Gena Bradsher, who have supported Ferguson in recent years but moved him up to their primary driver after McCreadie ended his four-plus years with the team in mid-March to join the Rocket Chassis house car operation. He also gave credit to the Paylor Motorsports full-timer crew members that include crew chief Scott Fegter and young mechanics Nick Smith and Kyle Tompkins.

While Ferguson’s first four starts as the Bradshers’ number one pilot yielded no highlights — a DNQ for March 16’s HTF event at Talladega Short Track in Eastaboga, Ala., followed by Lucas Oil Series finishes of 16th (Brownstown) and 15th (Atomic) and a Schaeffer’s Spring Nationals result of 15th at East Alabama Motor Speedway — he looked right at home at All-Tech. The victory was the third of his career on the HFT tour, moving him into a tie with Ashton Winger atop the second-year tour’s all-time win list. — Staff reports

Rolling at Wheatland

The coming of another season meant another trip to victory lane at Lucas Oil Speedway for Jonathan Davenport.

After withstanding a late charge from Ricky Thornton Jr., the 40-year-old superstar from Blairsville, ga., captured the 40-lap opening night feature of the 11th annual Lucas Oil MLRA Spring Nationals Presented by Arizona Sport Shirts. Davenport beat Thornton by 1.02 seconds to earn $7,000 in the Lucas Oil MLRA tour’s season opener — and more notably, continue his run of success at the 3/8-mile oval in Wheatland, Mo.

Davenport won at Wheatland for the 11th time overall in his career. Five of them came in 2023, including a memorable victory over a group of well-known motorsports names as a guest driver in last August’s SRX Series event.

“I don’t know, this place just fits me,” Davenport said of his success on the Wheatland dirt. “It constantly changes and gives us all a curve ball for sure. It feels good to come back after that special win the SRX Series. That was definitely cool.

"I just have to thank my guys for all they do for me and thank Longhorn. This is a brand new car. All the guys back at the shop worked hard on this thing."

Chandler, Ariz.’s Thornton, who lost an apparent triumph in last year’s Show-Me 100 at Wheatland to a penalty for a droop-rule infraction, loomed large behind Davenport after gaining control of second on lap 27. But Davenport stayed strong in lapped traffic to shine once again at one of his favorite tracks.

“You never know who is coming from behind,” Davenport said of the late going. “Ricky didn't qualify very well and I knew he’d be coming up through there, plus there were several other cars that didn’t get a good qualifying lap in.

“That’s one thing about Wheatland: if you don’t like the race track, just wait a minute because it’s going to change. But I didn’t get quite as slick tonight as I thought it would. The top stayed there longer than I thought it would.”

Thornton said the poor qualifying effort, which relegated him to seventh at the start, was too much to overcome.

“Early in the night we were about a second off the pace to these guys,” Thornton said. “We’ll see if we can get a little better early in the night and start a little farther forward. But once the track slowed down, our car really came to us.

“Congrats to J.D. His stuff looked really good and he was kind of on cruise control. Hopefully we can get a little better.”

The two Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series regulars will battle again in Saturday’s 60-lap, $20,000-to-win Spring Nationals finale, a race Davenport won last year albeit for a smaller payday of $10,000. His victories in each of the last two Spring Nationals are among his 10 Dirt Late Model checkered flags at Wheatland over the past decade that also include four Diamond Nationals (2015, ’19, ’21, ’23), three Show-Me preliminary features (2015, two in ’23) and the 2015 Show-Me 100. — Lyndal Scranton

Tabulating the points

So Tony Jackson Jr. of Lebanon, Mo., is leading the Lucas Oil MLRA points standings after the tour’s season opener on Friday night at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo., despite a fifth-place finish in the 40-lap feature.

How’s that possible? The regional tour’s rulebook provides an explanation.

According to the points breakdown detailed in the rulebook, every driver who competes in an MLRA event receives 50 show-up points if they pay an entry fee and attempt to qualify. But those points — and a possible 10 bonus points for registering a group fast time in qualifying — are the only markers a driver will earn if they haven’t purchased an MLRA membership for $150.

Drivers must have MLRA memberships to receive points for their feature finishing positions. In Friday’s A-main, the top-four finishers — Jonathan Davenport, Ricky Thornton Jr., Mason Zeigler and Garrett Alberson — did not qualify under their mandate; fifth-place Jackson did so he was credited with 155 points for his position plus 50 show-up points to end the night atop the standings with 205 points.

Jackson, a two-time MLRA champion, is planning to chase Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series with the Capital house car team but his MLRA membership keeps the regional tour as a fall-back option for him. He enters Saturday’s Spring Nationals finale leading the standings over defending champion Chad Simpson (finished sixth in Friday’s feature), Justin Duty (ninth), Chris Simpson (10th) and Jeff Herzog (11th).

The rulebook also states that drivers who purchase memberships later in the season will not earn points retroactively, and drivers must compete in 100 percent of the series events to be eligible for the points fund that offers $20,000 to the champion and pays back 10 spots. — Staff reports

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. 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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