Forgettable night ignited Lobb's WoO rookie chase
By Kevin KovacWorld of Outlaws Late Model Series
John Lobb still shakes his head when he thinks back to June 17, 2010.
On that evening the 41-year-old driver from Frewsburg, N.Y., shocked the World of Outlaws Late Model Series field at Merrittville Speedway in Thorold, Ontario, by setting fast time. He then went out and dominated his heat race until a blown engine just two laps from the finish ended his storybook ride in disheartening fashion.
A couple hours later, however, Lobb received a phone call from his former crew chief John Kennedy that would not only brighten his disposition but ultimately lead him to a map-hopping 2011 chase of the WoO Rookie of the Year award.
"On the way home John called me and said, 'I hear you had some bad luck?' " recalled Lobb, who had lost his only engine at Merrittville. "A couple days later we had a new motor coming from him. A few months later we're putting together a team with John to run with the Outlaws.
"I guess," he added, "Merrittville was the catalyst to get everything going."
Lobb now finds himself as one of four contenders for this year's WoO Rookie of the Year honors, battling Ron Davies, 53, of Warren, Pa.; Pat Doar, 47, of New Richmond, Wis.; and Brian Reese, 29, of Sharpsburg, Ga. The quartet — as well as the rest of the tour's traveling stars — will see their next action in the $25,000-to-win Commonwealth 100 on April 15-16 at Virginia Motor Speedway in Jamaica, Va.
The road to rookie status on the WoO has been a whirlwind for Lobb, who has raced primarily on western Pennsylvania and New York's Eriez Speedway-Stateline Speedway circuit since 1986. A dirt Late Model regular for 20 years, he has more than 40 career feature wins and captured the 2005 championship at Stateline.
Lobb ran throughout the '90s with Kennedy serving as his right-hand man in the pit area and shop, but in 1998 Kennedy moved west to Phoenix. Kennedy, whose company, Kennedy Partners, handles a variety of capital improvement construction projects (solar, new schools, etc.), remained in contact with Lobb and last year mentioned that he had a desire to become a car owner.
"We're long-time friends and every year we get together in Florida to watch the races in February," said Lobb, who has five children (two daughters and three sons ranging in age from 2 to 23) with his wife Erin. "Last year we were at East Bay (Raceway Park) walking through the pits, and John said, 'Let's start a race team.' When he brought it up I thought he was kidding, but he wasn't. We didn't put anything in motion, though, until after Merrittville when he called me."
Lobb debuted in a car owned by Kennedy, 42, late in the 2010 season, racing as a teammate to Stateline-Eriez veteran Dick Barton. They ended the campaign with a trip to the Dirt Track at Charlotte for the World Finals and then decided to tackle the WoO in '11. That, of course, didn't leave much time to gear up for a grueling national tour.
As of mid-November, the team "didn't even have a trailer," said Lobb. But over the next two months they hastily assembled a Dirt Late Model operation boasting two Core Construction-sponsored Rocket cars and three Custom engines, completing the job in time to make a cross-country trip in January to compete in the Wild West Shootout at USA Raceway in Tucson, Ariz. They picked up their used hauler and trailer just two weeks before heading west.
The start of Lobb's WoO odyssey has been even more difficult than he could have imagined. He failed to qualify for the first three events of 2011 — the February doubleheader at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., and last month's Cash Cow 100 at Columbus (Miss.) Speedway — and, even worse, he was presented an unexpected obstacle when the team's truck and trailer were destroyed on the way home from Florida in a wreck on an icy western Pennsylvania highway.
Lobb has taken the trials and tribulations in stride. He scored a lead-lap finish of 17th in the most recent WoO event March 25 at Ocala (Fla.) Speedway, and while he's currently ranked fourth in the Rookie of the Year standings, he's only 14 points behind second-place Davies and 62 behind leader Doar.
The early season "has been a little disappointing for us," said Lobb, who entered 10 WoO LMS events from 2006-2010 with a top finish of eighth on Aug. 24, 2010, at Brewerton (N.Y.) Speedway. "We had some higher expectations, but we know it's really tough to do this deal. I think it's gonna take us six months to really get organized the way we need to be, so this whole year is going to be a learning experience for us.
"I never thought about going on the road, so this is all new to me," he continued. "This all just materialized. John asked me if I wanted to do it, and – well, you know, I'm not getting any younger, so why not give it a shot? We talked about it, and after some long conversations we got it put together."
Lobb, whose biggest career victory came in a Renegade STARS series event in 1999 at Eriez, is looking forward to the challenge of the '11 WoO schedule. And in an ironic twist, one of his rivals for the Rookie of the Year award, which is determined using drivers' best 30 finishes, will be a buddy from back on his home turf.
"Ron Davies and I have been best of friends for years," said Lobb, who works at family-owned gas and service stations in Frewsburg and Jamestown, N.Y., but will take time off to focus on racing this year. "I bought a new car from Ron one year a while back and we've always raced good together, so this is gonna be kind of cool to run for this rookie deal against him.
"We joked about it and said, 'Why don't we just split the (Rookie of the Year) money if we finish one-two?' "