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Team effort puts Francis on brink of title

October 16, 2007, 9:48 pm
By Kevin Kovac
World of Outlaws Late Model Series
Steve Francis (mrmracing.net)
Steve Francis (mrmracing.net)

Steve Francis isn't about to take all the credit for his late-season surge on the World of Outlaws Late Model Series. He'll be the first to tell you there’s a lot of people responsible for the push that has put him on the brink of his WoO championship.

“We have been working our butts off,” Francis said after winning Oct. 13's Tennessee Fall Brawl 100 at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn. “Me, Lee (Logan, the team's chief mechanic), Mark (Richards of Rocket Chassis), Josh (Richards), Little Brian (Daugherty) from Integra, Larry and Jeremy (Clark) from Custom (Race Engines) — everyone has contributed to how strong we’ve been running.

“We’ve tested, and tested, and tested, and I finally got everything all put together where it needed to be.”

Francis, who has won three of the last nine WoO events and holds a 62-point lead over Chub Frank with just two events remaining on the 2007 schedule, also credits his Rocket Chassis stablemates on the tour for helping him step up his game.

“The Rocket crew (on the WoO) kinda got separated out this year,” said Francis. “With Dale (McDowell) deciding to do the thing with (Richard) Childress and Rick (Eckert) changing cars, our group kinda got all jumbled up.

“But now we finally got myself, Josh, Darrell (Lanigan), Brian (Shirley), (Shane) Clanton, Chub (Frank) and (Tim) Fuller where we’re actually back working on our cars, sharing our information and helping each other with our decisions. It’s just showing up for all of us.”

Francis, 40, of Ashland, Ky., heads to the season-ending Outlaws World Finals on Nov. 1-3 at the Dirt Track @ Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., solidly in the driver’s seat for the $100,000 title. If he finishes 14th or better in each of the 50-lap features, he’s assured of the championship even if Frank wins both events.

Pain in the neck for Frank

Chub Frank didn’t lose any points to Francis after finishing seventh in the Jani-King Southern Showdown at Lowe’s (the event offered equal WoO show-up points to all entrants), but he did lose a part of his car during the 50-lapper. When Frank hit a hole especially hard on the final lap, his car’s air cleaner stud broke, sending the air cleaner flying away. Frank stopped his car between turns one and two following the checkered flag and climbed out of his cockpit to search for the missing component, which he was able to locate.

The jarring blow that Frank absorbed at speed in the Jani-King event also left him with a sore neck. He realized how painful his stretched muscles were when he dived into Volunteer Speedway’s steeply-banked turn one for the first time two nights later.

“The G-forces pushed my head to the side and I was like, Oh, man! That hurts!’ ” said Bear Lake, Pa.’s Frank.

Frank gingerly moved his neck all weekend at Volunteer, but that wasn’t the reason for his subpar 11th-place finish. “We ain’t found a setup that works,” he said.

To start the second feature of the Outlaws World Finals with at least a shot at the WoO title, Frank must shave a minimum of 10 points off the points lead in the first night’s 50-lapper. That equals a five-position difference (or four positions if Frank wins the feature).

With 26 cars scheduled to start each feature at Lowe's, a driver can make up a maximum of 52 points (the difference between 150 points for first and 98 for 26th). If Frank and Francis finished in a tie for the points lead, the title would go to Frank because he has more victories.

Shirley gets uplifting run at Volunteer

Brian Shirley was very upbeat after driving forward from the 14th starting spot to finish sixth in the 100-lapper at Volunteer Speedway, where two months ago he failed to qualify for the Scorcher 100 in his first-ever appearance there. The 26-year-old standout from Chatham, Ill., showed that he’s finishing his first season with the WoO on a strong note.

“We did some carburetor work on this car, did some motor work, and it’s a good package now,” Shirley said of the newest Ed Petroff-owned Rocket No. 3s. “This is a big race, and to run sixth is a important deal to us.

“Unfortunately, it’s all just so new to us, but I feel like in the last month, we’ve run second twice, won a (Knoxville Nationals) preliminary deal – things are seemingly getting better.”

The uplifting Bulls Gap run came after Shirley had a tough night at Lowe’s. He was scheduled to start second in the 50-lapper, but he was forced to take the green flag at the rear of the field after leaving the staging line to repair a broken rocker arm on his Rayburn car’s engine. Shirley was able to climb as high as third in the event, but he was hampered by a broken left-front A-frame and bodywork damage before retiring on lap 45 with a broken axle tube. He also discovered afterward that his machine’s swing-arm had pulled out of the frame.

McCreadie's surface switch means shift switch

Reigning WoO champion Tim McCreadie made his first tour start since June 2 at Lowe's, finishing fifth despite making a mid-race pit stop to change a flat tire on his Sweeteners Plus No. 39. McCreadie, 33, has run a limited dirt schedule to concentrate on his duties as a Richard Childress Racing development driver. He’s entered NASCAR Busch, Busch East and West Series events as well as ARCA RE/MAX Series shows. Racing on pavement hasn’t been his biggest adjustment this year. It’s been just as big a challenge for him to get used to a new work schedule.

“It’s a big lifestyle difference," McCreadie said. “I’m used to night work from running on dirt. I always say that I was a third-shift guy — we’d race and work all night, drive all night to the next track, and then do it again the next night. Now, it’s the opposite for me. I have to get to the track early.”

 
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