Bristol Motor Speedway
Nine of top 10 back with WoO for 2009
By Kevin KovacWorld of Outlaws Late Model Series
A familiar group of all-star drivers have committed to following the 2009 World of Outlaws Late Model Series schedule, series officials announced on Monday. Nine of the top 10 finishers in the 2008 WoO points standings are returning to chase the national tour’s prestigious championship trophy this season, assuring fans of another intense points battle among the most talented dirt Late Model drivers in the country.
Led by defending WoO champion Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., the 2009 traveling-driver lineup is filled with standout chauffeurs. The contracted racers represent a combined 96 career WoO A-Main victories and occupy seven of the top 10 spots on the tour’s win list since 2004, when the series began its modern era under the World Racing Group banner.
In addition, the drivers own a combined 23 touring-series titles, six Dirt Track World Championship triumphs, three World 100 wins and two $100,000 Dirt Late Model Dream checkered flags.
“It’s a great sign for the stability and future of the World of Outlaws Late Model Series to have virtually all of last year’s top 10 drivers coming back for another season of competition,” said WoO director Tim Christman, who is entering his third season at the helm of the tour. “They know the benefits that come with being the headliners of a national tour and they do a tremendous job representing the series everywhere we go.
“The quality of the drivers and teams who have signed on as regulars is the reason why the World of Outlaws Late Model Series continues to gain strength in the minds of fans, racetrack operators and sponsors.”
The touring drivers are set to follow a 2009 WoO schedule that boasts a record number of events. There are currently 45 confirmed events at 37 tracks in 20 states and three Canadian provinces, including first-time visits to at least a half-dozen new speedways. The 2009 WoO kicks off with 50-lap, $10,000-to-win events on Feb. 12 and 14 as part of the 38th annual Alltel DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla.
The tour’s 2009 driver roster includes (in order of ’08 points finish):
• Lanigan, 38, of Union, Ky., who is coming off a spectacularly-steady 2008 campaign that made him a WoO champion for the first time by the largest points margin in tour history. The owner-operator known as the Bluegrass Bandit has 10 career WoO victories to his credit, and his resume boasts triumphs in such Dirt Late Model mega-events as the $100,000 Dirt Late Model Dream and Dirt Track World Championship.
• Josh Richards, 20, of Shinnston, W.Va., who last year continued his growth from 2005 WoO Rookie of the Year to serious championship contender by finishing a career-best second in the points standings. No driver surpassed the six victories that Richards accumulated on the ’08 tour, pushing his career total to 12 and cementing his status as Dirt Late Model racing’s brightest young star.
• Steve Francis, 41, of Ashland, Ky., the well-known Kentucky Colonel who followed up his long-awaited 2007 WoO points crown with a solid third-place finish in last year’s standings during his first season driving for Maryland car owner Dale Beitler. A three-time STARS/Renegade Series champ and former winner of the World 100 and Dirt Track World Championship events, Francis became the winningest driver on the WoO since 2004 (20 career wins) while tying Richards for the most checkered flags earned on the ’08 trail.
• Shane Clanton, 33, of Locust Grove, Ga., who established himself as a true national star with a memorable 2008 season behind the wheel of Ronnie Dobbins’s yellow No. 25. He won a personal-best four WoO A-Mains last season (upping his career total to 10) and finished fourth in the points standings, and a victory in the UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned World 100 classic at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway was among the dozen triumphs he earned away from the tour.
• Chub Frank, 47, of Bear Lake, Pa., the popular driver known as Chubzilla who has finished as high as second (2007) in the WoO points standings. A sometimes-frustrating 2008 season saw him win just once and finish fifth in the standings, but the veteran owner-operator is poised for a return to the form that has brought him 14 career WoO wins as well as four STARS/Renegade Series titles and victories in crown-jewel shows such as the World 100, Dirt Track World Championship and North-South 100.
• Rick Eckert, 43, of York, Pa., the third-winningest driver (16 victories) on the WoO since 2004 and one of only two drivers (Francis is the other) to start all 197 tour A-Mains contested over the past five years. The two-time UDTRA/Hav-A-Tampa Series champion, whose major-event victories include the $100,000 Dirt Late Model Dream and the Dirt Track World Championship, ended a uncharacteristically-long winless slump last season with one victory en route to a seventh-place finish in the points standings and returns for the ’09 schedule armed with Bloomquist Race Car for the first time.
• Clint Smith, 43, of Senoia, Ga., one of the country’s busiest dirt Late Model drivers and a WoO stalwart since 2004. The veteran known as Cat Daddy slipped to eighth in the 2008 points standings with only one win after placing a career-high third the previous season, so he’s been hard at work during the off-season in hopes of adding to a resume that features 11 career WoO A-Main victories, a UDTRA/Hav-A-Tampa Series championship and four titles with the Southern All-Stars Series.
• Tim Fuller, 41, of Watertown, N.Y., a big-block modified superstar who has established himself as a serious Dirt Late Model contender since capturing the 2007 WoO Rookie of the Year Award and becoming a regular in the full-fender division. The former Mr. DIRTcar Modified titlist and winner of the prestigious Rite Aid 200 big-block modified spectacular at the Syracuse (N.Y.) Mile won twice (giving him three career victories) and finished ninth in the 2008 WoO points standings.
• Vic Coffey, 37, of Caledonia, N.Y., who made dirt Late Model racing his focus for the first time in 2008 and ran off with the WoO Rookie of the Year Award while driving for the same Sweeteners Plus team that carried Tim McCreadie to the tour’s 2006 championship. Following the big-block modified-to-Dirt Late Model path set by McCreadie and Fuller, Coffey — a two-time victor of DIRTcar big-block modified racing’s marquee $50,000-to-win Rite Aid 200 at the Syracuse Mile — entered 38 of the last year’s 43 events and finished 10th in the points standings.
The only top-10 driver from last year's WoO circuit not returning is Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill. Three more slots in the WoO Winner’s Circle travel program remain open and will be determined early in the season by attendance and points standing. Drivers aiming for those additional travel-benefits spots include 2008 Rookie of the Year runner-up Joe Isabell of Pennellville, N.Y., who finished 12th in the points standings, and more than a half-dozen racers who have indicated they would like to pursue the 2009 Rookie of the Year award.
Among the expected Rookie of the Year applicants are Brady Smith of Solon Springs, Wis., who has announced plans to make his first national-tour assault after winning two WoO events last year in limited appearances; Dustin Hapka of Grand Forks, N.D., who made his WoO debut during the ’08 Wild West Tour; 18-year-old Jeff Isabell Jr. of Pennellville, N.Y., who ran half of the ’08 schedule; Isabell’s father and team owner Jeff Isabell Sr., who made a handful of series starts last year; Brent Robinson of Smithfield, Va.; Chas Shellenberger of Winfield, Pa.; Chuck Hummer of Ottawa Lake, Mich.; and teenagers Russ King of Bristolville, Ohio, and Tyler Reddick of Corning, Calif.