Skid-ending Bloomquist wins Knoxville's $40,000
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com chief writer
KNOXVILLE, Iowa (Oct. 4) — Throughout his storied career, Hall of Famer Scott Bloomquist has faced plenty of questions from fans, promoters and media members. Where are you racing next? Will you sign my T-shirt? Why did you change your car number from No. 18 to No. 0? | Complete Knoxville coverage
But during his 2009 season, the 45-year-old Bloomquist has been dogged by a question he's seldom gotten during 27 years of Dirt Late Model racing.
"You get tired of answering the same question: When are you going to win a race? That's an old question to hear too damn long," Bloomquist said. "So when you get that question since what, April? It gets a little aggravating."
At Sunday's sixth annual Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals, Bloomquist made sure he wouldn't be getting that question for a while. Stalking polesitter Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., through the middle stages of the 100-lapper, the sixth-starting Bloomquist surged ahead on the 64th lap and led the rest of the unsanctioned event for a season-high $40,000 victory, his first victory of any kind since April 11 at Columbus (Miss.) Speedway.
Bloomquist survived a few tense moments with a charging Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., and fellow Hall of Famer Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., with 20 laps remaining and eased away over the final laps to take the checkered flag 4.5 seconds ahead of Moyer to become the race's first two-time winner.
"It makes this whole trip worth it," said Bloomquist, who sat through three straight rainouts before Sunday's clearer skies allowed racing at the half-mile oval better known for its sprint cars. "A lot of people tow a long way to come out here, but this is one of the finest racetracks in the country, absolutely. It means a lot to come up here and win a race. We don't get to race in front of this crowd very often. I know they like to boo us, but I know they love it.
"We're just happy to have knocked this one down," added Bloomquist, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series points leader who had gone winless for more than 30 races throughout the middle of the season. "I usually win two or three big ones a year and we hadn't hit one yet, so it definitely feels especially good to at least have gotten this one down."
The eighth-starting Moyer faded more than a straightaway behind his fellow Iowa native in the closing laps in settling for second while last year's winner, Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., rallied from his 20th starting spot to finish third. Third-starting Brady Smith of Solon Springs, Wis., nursed an ailing engine to a fourth-place finish while Babb got shuffled back on the race's final restart on lap 82 and settled for eighth.
While Babb dominated the first half of the race and ended up leading 62 of the first 63 laps, Bloomquist introduced himself as a contender on a lap-10 restart with a dazzling fourth-to-second move as he threaded the needle between Mars and front-row starter Rick Eckert on a lap-10 restart. While he dropped back to fourth on the next restart, he moved into second by the 25th lap to get in position to battle Babb later in the race.
"We got a good start that one time and came out running second and I felt like I was going to be able to put some pressure on Shannon," Bloomquist said. "Then we had that other restart and came out running fourth and had to work our way back past Jimmy Mars and Brady Smith. Once we got back past them I knew we were pretty good, then that last start, we definitely decided it was time to get it on. We couldn't afford for possibly someone to be coming through the field we'd have trouble with."
While Babb was in control most of the race — and rebuffed Bloomquist's first serious challenge on lap 54 — his car was drifting too high in the corners, costing him valuable time as the challenges increased.
"I went away definitely," Babb said. "It was real good for 60 (laps). It got to where I really couldn't finish the corner. I could enter good and I'd start to lose the nose from the center out. I wasn't able to run on the part of the racetrack where I wanted to. I could go in good, but I had to exit high and I was losing a lot of ground.
"We were in the position, we just didn't have the setup to finish it out."
Babb edged comfortably ahead of Bloomquist on lap 60, but four laps later Bloomquist made a frontstretch pass for a lead he'd never give up. Babb valiantly tried to hang with Bloomquist several laps, but soon enough Moyer, Mars and others joined the chase and by lap 75, the top seven drivers — Bloomquist, Moyer, Mars, Babb, Smith, Brian Birkhofer and McCreadie — were all on the same straightaway.
Moyer worked the low groove against Bloomquist while Mars worked the high groove, briefly losing ground when he jumped the turn-three cushion on lap 78. Four laps later, Mars slowed down the backstretch with terminal engine problems, drawing a caution that rejuvenated Bloomquist and robbed the race of the developing drama.
"We've had pretty good luck the last few years with motors and someday you're going to have one go bad," Mars said. "It's just kind of a heartbreaker. I thought we had a chance."
Moyer lost the second spot to Smith on the lap-82 restart, and said that struggling on restarts throughout the race hurt his chances. "We weren't as good as we needed to be at the end, for sure," he said.
Bloomquist eased away over the final 18 laps for a victory he celebrated with 3-year-old daughter Ariel. "This is the first time I think my daughter has gotten to see me win a race when she can understand what's going on," he said.
"It feels great. I think it probably is the longest" winless streak of his career, he said. "We don't like counting when it starts getting that long, but it feels really good.
"We've had a good car a lot of races this year. The points-racing does change a little bit of how you approach things. We've had a lot of seconds, a lot of thirds. You've gotta run good enough to run in those positions before you can win a race, and we finally... we've been working hard and I think we've picked it up a notch here lately."
Notes: Bloomquist's self-designed car has a Vic Hill Racing Engine and sponsorship from Miller Bros. Coal, Hawkeye Trucking and Allstar Performance. ... Bloomquist's previous Knoxville victory came in 2005. ... All the race's other previous winners (Tim McCreadie, Brady Smith and Brian Birkhofer), except for first retiree Brian Shirley, finished in the top six. ... Seventeen of 28 starters were running at the finish. ... None of the five cautions were for serious incidents. Shirley slowed twice for yellows on laps 10 and 13. ... Jeremiah Hurst slowed on lap 39 and Steve Francis slowed a lap later while running fifth. ... Mars drew the final yellow on lap 82.