Canyon Speedway Park
Moriarty wins finale as Thornton gets first title
By Ryan NeuharthDirtonDirt.com correspondent
PEORIA, Ariz. (Oct. 30) — On a night of firsts for the Total Seal Late Model Dirt Series at Canyon Speedway Park, Joey Moriarty won his first series race, rookie Ricky Thornton Jr. won his first Late Model championship as the Arizona-based tour got its first new champion since 2004.
Moriarty, who operates the Phoenix company that's the title sponsor of the series, started on the pole and led every lap in the season finale.
“We won some on asphalt but this is our first dirt win,” Moriarty said. “I didn’t know if it would ever come.”
While Moriarty celebrated his victory, the 20-year-old Thornton survived a last-weekend scare from six-time series champion Lonnie Parker Jr. to wrap up the series title.
Parker's victory on Friday moved him into a 10-point lead over Thornton, who had led the championships standings most of the season, but when Parker's car was damaged in a spin with 17 laps remaining, Thornton was virtually assured the title.
“When I saw him going on the hook all I wanted was to go back green. 'Let’s hurry up and finish this thing,' " recalled Thornton, who ended up fourth in the final rundown.
Thornton had problems with his primary Jeff Manka-owned car in Friday's action, and after encountering problems with an ill-performing backup machine, he ended up finishing the season in the car normally driven by Karl Tipton.
“I don’t know if it was karma or what, but I didn’t think it was going to happen,” Manka said while enjoying a victory cigar. “It’s more of a relief right now, but we couldn’t be happier.”
After drawing the pole, Moriarty blasted to the front at the drop of the green and built a lead he would never relinquish. Often extending his margin to more than a straightaway, Moriarty’s domination of the field turned everyone’s attention towards the fight for the championship between Thornton and Parker.
With Parker making up a 30-point deficit Friday and entering Saturday with a 10-point advantage, it appeared after hot laps his seventh consecutive championship was a given as Thornton was seeking a capable car.
Thornton needed to finish two positions ahead of Parker, and his title hopes dwindled further when Parker jumped into third early while Thornton held on to the sixth spot. With Moriarty comfortably out front, Parker looked for a way around John Cornell for second as Thornton’s teammate Anthony Madrid pressured Parker for third.
A Bruce Duckett-Garrett Higgins collision in turn two drew a lap-eight caution, and the ensuing restart changed the complexion of the title chase.
When the green flag reappeared, Cornell briefly got crossed up in turn one, causing Parker to alter his line as Madrid dove to the inside and grabbed second. Parker got further out of shape and looped in front of the field as his car was struck by the machines of Brad Williams and Art Lacy. The second impact with Lacy ended Parker’s night, season and championship hopes with a broken lower right-rear suspension.
With the title decided, Moriarty continued to dominate but Colorado's Jeep Berry and California's Nick Bartels made up ground. Berry, who started 15th, broke into the top five after 10 laps and and engaged with Madrid and Thornton in the best fight for position on the track. Bartels, a victim of a lap-two spin, fought back to the front and ran sixth.
Berry went from fifth to second between laps 14-16, but there was no catching Moriarty. Berry settled for second with Cornell, Thornton and Bartels rounding out the top five.
Total Seal @ Canyon: (1) Joey Moriarty, (2) Jeep Berry, (3) John Cornell, (4) Ricky Thornton Jr., (5) Nick Bartels, (6) Anthony Madrid, (7) Jeremy Thornton, (8) Keith Noyes, (9) Bill Bartels, (10) Bruce Duckett, (11) Garrett Higgins, (12) Jerry Fincher, (13) John Romero, (14) Keith James, (15) Richard Johnson, (16) Terry Belcher Sr., (17) Lonnie Parker Jr., (18) Brad Williams, (19) Art Lacy, (20) David Vennard, Scratched: Tommy Hussak III. Heat race winners: Moriarty, Williams, Cornell.