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Notes: Big one plays havoc with WoO regulars

June 2, 2009, 10:55 am
By Kevin Kovac
World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Multicar, metal-crunching wrecks are a rarity on the World of Outlaws Late Model Series — and that's a good thing after a long line of teams found themselves with serious repair work thanks to a huge homestretch crash on lap two of May 28's First State 50 at Delaware International.

More than half of the race's 24 starters were involved in the wild restart accident, which began when the fifth-running Rick Eckert ended up over the cushion in turn four and then came in contact with Austin Hubbard as he battled to control his car off the corner. Eckert's machine lurched side-to-side and was clipped by Jeremy Miller, Ricky Elliott, Lanigan and Vic Coffey, whose car bounced into the air when he slid into the middle of the melee near the flagstand.

Several other drivers were involved, including Shane Clanton, rookie Brent Robinson, Kerry King and 72-year-old Delaware veteran Hal Browning, whose second-place heat-race finish earlier in the night had made him the oldest driver to ever make a WoO feature redraw.

Amazingly, Eckert, Lanigan, Clanton and Robinson all returned after pitting, albeit with battle-scarred cars. Robinson's car appeared to be hampered the least by the incident; he was able to push his machine hard and climbed up to sixth place before a bumper bar got into his tire, forcing him out on lap 12. Lanigan and Eckert, meanwhile, managed to soldier on with patched-up cars to salvage points-saving finishes of seventh and eighth, respectively, while Clanton ran 11 more laps with his car missing its hood and fenders before retiring and settling for 15th place.

Francis winning and loving it

If not for a cut tire with six laps remaining at Delaware International Speedway, Steve Francis would have swept the three-race World of Outlaws eastern swing that closed the month of May. Nevertheless, with consecutive victories Saturday night at Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway and Sunday night at Tyler County Speedway in Middlebourne, W.Va., the 41-year-old from Ashland, Ky., stands as the hottest driver on the national tour. He's captured three of the last five races and five features in all this season — no other driver has won more than once — and leads the points standings by 34 markers over defending champion Darrell Lanigan.

Not surprisingly, Francis is loving life. He was virtually bubbling over with enthusiasm after Sunday night's program at the Tyler County quarter-mile.

“I'm just happy with everything right now,” said Francis, who mitigated the disappointment of his late-race flat at Delaware International by charging back to finish third. “I'm just real comfortable, relaxed and enjoying racing.

“Nobody (on the Beitler Motorsports team) is uptight. We're not counting points. We're just going out and racing. We're gambling on things, doing things to the car that we normally might not do. What we're trying might win us a race, or might make us run eighth. So far — knock on wood — we've been hitting it right.”

Francis knows he couldn't be in rhythm at a better time. The $100,000-to-win Dream XV is scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.

By the seaside

The destruction during the First State 50 took its toll on one of the annual highlights of the tour's visit to Delaware International: a Friday of R&R in nearby Ocean City, Md.

Nearly a dozen regular WoO LMS teams had indicated plans to spend Friday at the beach, including Eckert, who owns a rental condo in Ocean City, Clanton and Coffey. But Thursday's carnage forced the trio to focus on repairing their cars on Friday — Eckert returned to his shop in York, Pa., Clanton joined Francis at Dale Beitler's shop in West Friendship, Md., and Coffey's Sweeteners Plus gang headed to teenager Austin Hubbard's garage in Seaford, Del., to fix their mangled mount.

The WoO's Ocean City tradition was kept alive, however, by the Chub Frank, Tim Fuller, Clint Smith, Dustin Hapka and Tyler Reddick teams. Frank, Fuller, Smith, Hapka and their crews were seen playing pool and bench racing at the Purple Moose Saloon on the boardwalk and later at the open-air Caribbean Beach Bar (where Smith played a mean air-guitar while listening to a band), while Reddick — at 14, obviously a bit too young to hang with the boys at a bar — enjoyed the town with his family.

Frank, Fuller, Smith and Hapka ended their day with a memorable bus trip back to the Park ‘n Ride across the bay bridge, where they parked their haulers. After getting on the bus just as a strong storm unleashed on the town, they were headed toward the bridge when a car struck the side of the bus just below where Frank was sitting. Damage was minimal and no one was injured, but the racers were kept on the bus for a short time upon arrival at the Park ‘n Ride so they could provide statements about the incident to authorities.

Under the weather

No one experienced a rougher three-race swing than Rookie of the Year contender Brent Robinson, who probably should have been home in bed rather than racing.

Robinson, 21, of Smithfield, Va., arrived at Delaware International already looking ragged because he was suffering from a case of strep throat and the pain of a kidney stone. His condition worsened on Friday, and he awoke on Saturday morning feeling like he couldn't breathe because his throat was so inflamed. As a result, his mother took him to the emergency room of the local hospital, where doctors determined he had contracted mononucleosis.

After being released from the hospital, Robinson jumped in his family-operated team's hauler and rested during the trip to Hagerstown. They arrived in time for hot laps, but that ended up being a bad thing because a mechanical malfunction sent Robinson spinning into the turn-three guardrail. Robinson's primary car was sidelined with significant left-rear damage and his crew was unable to get his backup machine running for time trials or a qualifying event, so he didn't start the feature.

While still far from 100 percent on Sunday at Tyler County, Robinson did finally have something go his way after getting in the main event on a points provisional. He finished 13th to earn the $250 Rookie of the Race bonus.

New car blues

Josh Richards, Chub Frank and Brady Smith decided to debut new cars on Saturday night at Hagerstown — and all three drivers experienced some trials and tribulations getting them up to speed.

Richards had the worst evening of the bunch. Pressing his new Rocket into service after the car he drove on Thursday at Delaware was found to need a new front clip (he was involved in a first-lap accident but returned one lap down with a hastily-repaired car and salvaged an 11th-place finish), the 21-year-old was a non-factor all night and finished one lap down in 17th.

“I was confident coming in here – I'm always confident at Hagerstown because I've had a lot of success here,” Richards said after his poor night dropped him from first to fifth in the points standings. “But we just couldn't do anything. We were missing something and we gotta figure out what it was.”

Frank also struggled with his new Rocket, qualifying through a consolation race and finishing a quiet 12th.

Smith, meanwhile, busted out a new Bloomquist Race Car and promptly spun in hot laps, during time trials and early in his heat race. He figured out what was causing his handling problems, however; he won the first consolation race and advanced from the 17th starting spot to finish ninth in the feature.

Keep things moving

BDS Racing Promotions, which operates Tyler County Speedway, continued its fan-friendly guarantee that the Super Late Model feature will be on the track by 9:30 p.m. each week with Sunday's WoO program.

The feature was indeed doing parade laps around the quarter-mile oval just before 9:30 p.m. A fast-paced event saw the checkered flag drop before 9:45 p.m. — and the usefulness of the early finish was evidenced by the throng of youngsters and adults alike who swarmed winner Steve Francis when he brought his car to the checkered-board square area behind the grandstand following the Victory Lane ceremonies.

With the fans still energized after seeing a crisply-run WoO show and the clock just approaching 10, they were more than willing to stay a few more minutes to meet the night's victor.

Odds and ends

Jamie Lathroum of Mechanicsville, Md., won his first-ever WoO feature Thursday at Delaware International Speedway, but on Saturday he struggled and failed to qualify at Hagerstown. ... Rick Eckert's team owner Raye Vest was on hand in Delaware, but he had to skip Saturday's action at Hagerstown to attend his granddaughter's wedding. ... Austin Hubbard, 17, continued his impressive '09 outings on the WoO tour at Hagerstown, finishing a tour career-best fifth in the Conococheague 50. The addition of former Rick Eckert crew chief Robby Allen has boosted Hubbard, who is planning to run WoO's Great Northern Tour from June 18-27. ... At Tyler County Speedway, just an hour or so from the Rocket Chassis shop in Shinnston, W.Va., the chassis manufacturer swept the top 11 finishing positions and claimed 19 of the 24 starters.

 
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