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Quick Time: An ode to the Rat1 and its drivers

October 19, 2011, 11:41 am
By Todd Turner
DirtonDirt.com managing editor

Take a quick lap around the proverbial dirt track with managing editor Todd Turner for roundup of Dirt Late Model racing through the latest weekend of action. Quick Time, one of the newest features of our website, will appear every Wednesday at DirtonDirt.com:

Frontstretch: An ode to the Rat1

One of the charms of Dirt Late Model racing over the years has been the mystery of which driver will show up at which track. It gets even better when a race car rolls on the track and it's a mystery who's driving it.

Such was the case of the Marion, Ind.-based No. Rat1 car of the mid-'90s, a burnt orange car with a white No. 1 and the letters R-A-T stacked vertically within the numeral. Over just three seasons, a dozen drivers, most of them quite accomplished, took turns behind the wheel at various Midwestern and Florida Speedweeks events.

While Bob Pierce of Danville, Ill. (winning the 1995 UMP DIRTcar Summernationals title primarily running the Rat1) and John Lawhorn of Phillipsburg, Ohio (who finished seventh in the 1996 World 100 in the Rat1) drove the car more than anyone else, there's a long list of others: Don O'Neal of Martinsville, Ind., Steve Smith of Powell, Tenn., Glenn Bradley of Marion, Ind., Duane Chamberlain of Richmond, Ind., John Gill of Mitchell, Ind., and famed open-wheel start Jack Hewitt of Troy Ohio. Drivers making single starts in the car include Chad Reichenbach of Bakersfield, Calif., (at Kokomo, Ind.) and sprint car superstar Jac Haudenschild of Wooster, Ohio (at Eldora Speedway).

Commonly known as the "Hodge brothers" entry, it was primarily fielded by Jack Hodge and his Mark, while Mark's brothers Bill and Allen pitched in occasionally, Mark Hodge said in a phone interview.

The car's name came about when Mark Hodge first started racing in the street stock division, hauling a '69 Camaro out of a barn on the family chicken farm, he said. When they began to prepare the car for racing, a couple of rats scurried out of the car, and the name was born. "We started calling it Rat1 from then on," Hodge said.

The 53-year-old Hodge still has the final Rat1 — a MasterSbilt with a Rayburn front end — and he turns the engine over every once in a while. But the team mostly quit racing after Jack Hodge's death in 1996 at age 72. "I tried it a couple of years, but it just wasn't the same, so I gave it up," Mark Hodge said.

Turn 1: Drivers of the week

National: Don O'Neal of Martinsville, Ind., entered the season without a crown jewel, and now he's got three of them following Saturday's victory at the 31st annual U.S. Steel Dirt Track World Championship presented by Sunoco. O'Neal led all 100 laps at Atomic Speedway, which opened the weekend under the name of K-C Raceway before going back to the original name.

Regional: Vic Hill of Mosheim, Tenn., posted first- and second-place finishes in Southern Regional Racing Series action, picking up a flag-to-flag $3,000 victory at Smoky Mountain Speedway in Maryville, Tenn.

Weekly: Butch McGill of West Union, W.Va., captured the Budweiser Fall Festival Topless 52 at Elkins (W.Va.) Raceway for a $2,500 payday. He capped his 44th season of racing with his seventh victory of the season at Elkins.

Crate: Nick Lyons of Centralia, Ill., wrapped up the first-year Pro Crate Racers of America Championship with his runner-up finish in Friday's finale at Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon Beach, Ill. Steve Lance Jr. won the final series event, which drew 44 cars.

Turn 2: Five Western standouts in 2012

The top five Western states performers in Dirt Late Model this season:

Clay Daly: The 23-year-old Watsonville, Calif., driver has 13 victories overall in 2012 split between Super and Crate Late Models, including two stretches of three victories in a row. He captured the West Coast Shootout title in his Pete Van Iderstine-owned No. 32B along with his first career victory on the Northwest I-5 DIRTcar Tour.

Garrett Alberson: The 22-year-old Las Cruces, N.M., driver broke into the double-digits in victories in winning the UMP DIRTcar Western Region. He also picked up a $2,500 victory on the Championship Late Model Association at Aztec (N.M.) Speedway

Scott Lewis: The Henderson, Colo., driver outpointed two-time champion John Kuchar to win the championship on the Colorado-based CLMA tour. He won the second-to-last series event at El Paso (Texas) Speedway Park.

Richard Papenhausen: Running a part-time schedule, the Chico, Calif., captured three special events, winning twice with the Western Allstars and once on the I-5 Tour.

Ricky Thornton Jr.: Proving his championship rookie season was no fluke, the 21-year-old Chandler, Ariz., driver has a series-leading six Total Seal Late Model Dirt Racing Series victories and stands second in tour points.

Backstretch: Five favorite three-named drivers

• Tommy Joe Pauschert of Carlisle, Ark.

• Lee Jay Haddox of Ruston, La.

• David Earl Gentry of Lewisburg, Tenn.

• Michael Paul Howard of Falcon, Ky.

• Ronny Lee Hollingsworth of Northport, Ala.

Turn 3: Top five driver rivalries of 2011

Jimmy Owens-Scott Bloomquist: The Tennesseans engaged in one of the most compelling points chases on a national tour with Owens coming out on top in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. The back-and-forth battle was spiced by a contact-filled clash at Winchester (Va.) Speedway that dug a hole for Owens in the title chase.

Chris Madden-Jonathan Davenport: Respect seems to have replace bad blood between the drivers whose race shops are in the same South Carolina neighborhood, but each one still wants to come out on top. It seems like they're always in the same group, same heat or even same row at virtually every event.

Josh Richards-Rick Eckert: A friendly rivalry from all appearances in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series title chase, there's history there with Eckert — years ago a Rocket Chassis stalwart — battling Richards and the Rocket Chassis house car team. It's Eckert's self-owned team battling one of the sport's top programs.

Shannon Babb-Jeep Van Wormer: If only for a week of the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals, the drivers traded paint, positions and criticism (with Don O'Neal in a guest starring role in the rivalry). Babb got the last laugh by winning seven straight races, three of them with Van Wormer as runner-up.

Max Blair-Mike Pegher Jr.: The rivals on the Fastrak Northeast Series always seem to be mixing it up, most recently at McKean County Raceway when late-race contact sent the leading Pegher for a spin while officials sent Blair to the tail in the incident.

Turn 4: Turn back the clock

Five items from this week in Dirt Late Model history:

Oct. 24, 1982: Jerry Inmon of Bruce, Miss., raced to victory at Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway in the season finale on the National Dirt Racing Association.

Oct. 22, 1988: James Cline of Oxford, Ala., won the first of three career Southern All Star Dirt Racing Series events at Talladega (Ala.) Short Track in the season finale.

Oct. 19, 1996: Hometown driver Jerry Cassano started outside the front row and led every lap of the Louisiana State Championship feature at Baton Rouge (La.) Raceway for his second and finally career victory on the SUPR circuit.

Oct. 24, 2003: Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., makes his debut with Kentucky-based Harrod Brothers Racing at Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway's Commonwealth Cup, which ended up raining out. Owens had rides earlier in the season with Jerry Weisgarber and then Joe Armes.

Oct. 21, 2006: Billy Drake of Bloomington, Ill., earned $15,000 at Magnolia Motor Speedway's third annual Cotton Pickin' 100, making the seventh pass for the lead on David Breazeale with six laps remaining in Columbus, Miss. Breazeale had hit a rut that smashed his car's fan into the radiator and he ended up third.

Checkered flag: Five fearless weekend predictions

• After having just two home-state drivers in the main event (and neither better than 18th) last year, Mississippi will have two drivers in the top 10 and one in the top five at Whynot Motorsport Park's Coors Light Fall Classic.

• The winners at Kentucky races at Lake Cumberland Speedway ($10,000-to-win Mac Metals Lake Cumberland Classic) and Florence Speedway ($5,000-to-win Fall 50) will be drivers who have won at both tracks.

• A Northeast Region driver will be the $30,000 winner of Fastrak's Grand Nationals at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn.

• A home-state driver will capture the Delaware State Championship at Delaware International Speedway in Delmar.

• The three UFO Race Championship Series features Oct. 21-22 at Hesston (Pa.) Speedway will have three different winners.

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