Big E's Big 10: Drivers likely to break through
By Joshua JoinerDirtonDirt.com staff writer
Editor's note: This is the second of four top-10 listings this week previewing the 41st annual World 100.
A victory in one of Eldora Speedway’s major events is something every Dirt Late Model driver dreams of putting on his resume. Don O’Neal, Jimmy Owens, Shane Clanton and Bart Hartman all earned first-time Eldora victories in recent years. Heading into this weekend’s 41st annual World 100 at the famed half-mile, here's our view of top 10 drivers most likely to change their status as non-winners of Eldora's biggest events (Dream, World 100 and Eldora Million). | Complete World 100 coverage
10. Mike Marlar, Winfield, Tenn.
Marlar seems to run well in major events no matter whose equipment he’s driving. After starting the season as a teammate to Eric Wells, the former Hillbilly 100 winner spent part of the summer as the Warrior house car driver before driving a Billy Ward Motorsports Rocket to a fifth-place finish in the North-South 100. Since then he’s teamed up with Georgia-based Bryson Motorsports and drove the team’s brand new Rocket to finishes of second and third during the Black Diamond 125 at Tyler County Speedway this past weekend. Marlar has just one top-10 finish in a major event at Eldora, but will his new car and new team translate to better performance at the Big E?
9. Eddie Carrier Jr., Salt Rock, W.Va.
Coming off a career-best fifth-place finish in this year’s Dream, Carrier may have the best chance he’s ever had at Eldora this weekend. The Grover Motorsports driver has been awfully strong this year, recording six special event victories, and he’s proven he can win major events with his 2007 Hillbilly 100 triumph. Relatively quiet in five previous Eldora major-event starts, is Carrier’s strong run at Eldora in June a sign of even better things to come?
8. Steve Shaver, Vienna, W.Va.
Showtime has never shown much at Eldora with just one top-five finish coming way back in 2003. But with the way he’s performed in the K&L Rumley Rocket this year, Shaver has to be considered a threat to win any event he enters. And considering the Rumleys’ expertise at high-speed racetracks, this team could be just the combination Shaver needs to reach Eldora’s victory lane. He was 10th in the Dream earlier this year in his first visit to Eldora with Kevin and Lee Roy Rumley.
7. Jonathan Davenport, Blairsville, Ga.
Davenport has logged by far the least amount laps around Eldora of any driver on this list. With just three main event starts at a track where experience is paramount, Davenport is still learning the ropes at the tricky half-mile. But the Barry Wright house car driver has come a long way in a short amount of time in his career, and he had a stellar 2010 season. His 2011 campaign hasn’t been quite as impressive, but it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see him near the front this weekend.
6. Ray Cook, Brasstown, N.C.
After finishing second in the 2010 Dream, Cook would likely have been much higher on this list a year ago. Unfortunately for Cook, things are much different this September than they were last. Winless on the Lucas Oil Series in 2011, Cook has been up-and-down all year with more time spent on the lower end than the upper. A disappointing qualifying run at this year’s Dream resulted in the veteran driver pulling out of the Eldora pit area Saturday morning and heading for a $3,000-to-win race in Kentucky. Can he get things turned around this weekend at Eldora? He’ll have to start by qualifying well enough Friday night to merit sticking around for Saturday’s heat races.
5. Chris Madden, Gray Court, S.C.
Madden may not be the most impressive driver at Eldora among those making this list, but he has definitely been one of the most consistent. He and Josh Richards are the only two drivers on the list who have made the previous five major-race main events. In fact, Madden has only missed two feature lineups at Eldora’s biggies since the 2005 Dream. He scored his best Eldora finish with a fourth-place effort in last season’s Dream and was seventh in the race this year. He’s yet to score a top-10 in the World, but Madden’s Dream success proves that he knows how to get around the fast half-mile.
4. Scott James, Lawrenceburg, Ind.
Solely looking at statistics from recent Dream and World features, it would be easy to overlook James as a threat to win. But it’s hard to count out a driver who once led 78 laps of the Dream, especially considering he’s back in quality equipment this year with the Harrisburg, Ill.,-based Riggs Motorsports team. James started on the pole of the 2006 Dream and led most of the race until a late charge by Scott Bloomquist dropped him to a runner-up finish. After a couple of down years recently, James returned to Eldora with his new team in this year’s Dream and was battling for a heat race victory before spinning. Although he missed the main event lineup, he left Rossburg excited to come back. “We no doubt have a car that can win here,” James said after mechanical woes later knocked him out of a consy. “I already can’t wait to come back.”
3. Jeep Van Wormer, Pinconning, Mich.
Eldora veterans know that the key to running well in one of the biggies is getting off to a good start in the prelims. With three Eldora heat race victories to his credit, Van Wormer does that fairly well, but he still hasn’t found a way to turn his heat race aptitude into a main event victory. He’s come close, with third-place World 100 finishes in 2006 and '08. His 2006 run included a memorable battle in which the wall-banging, spark-throwing Van Wormer swapped the lead multiple times with eventual winner Earl Pearson Jr. before a late slip-up dropped him to third. Van Wormer grabbed his best Dream finish with a sixth-place run in June, giving him even more momentum as he heads back to Eldora this weekend.
2. Shannon Babb, Moweaqua, Ill.
Six years after a World 100 victory was taken away from him when he came up light at the scales, Babb has to be wondering when he'll get his next best shot at picking up a globe trophy. He finished second in the 2006 World 100, the year after his would-be victory, but Babb has been less than impressive at Eldora since then. He has two top-10 finishes in the past five years, but has missed more main events than he’s made. The good news for Babb, is he’s much improved this year after switching to a Victory Circle Chassis over the offseason. He was just getting comfortable in the new car when he finished 11th in this year’s Dream, and is now hitting his stride with 12 victories since then, including an impressive run to his third Summernationals championship.
1. Josh Richards, Shinnston, W.Va.,
After finally getting his first crown jewel victory out of the way at Cedar Lake Speedway’s USA Nationals in early August, the two-time defending World of Outlaws champ seems primed to score a victory in the biggest one of them all after finishing in the top 10 of the previous three Eldora majors. After his impressive fourth-place finish in just his third Eldora start in the 2006 World 100, Richards had to believe he would have an Eldora victory by now. Still winless five years later with plans to go full time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2012, you have to wonder if Richards’s window of opportunity at Eldora is closing.