Lake Cumberland Speedway
Dustbuster cleans up with best career season
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com managing editor
BURNSIDE, Ky. — Dustin Neat scanned his race car hauler looking for a marker, then asked crew members for a writing instrument he could use to sign his name on the biggest paycheck — in size and value — he'd ever received.
Just moments earlier, the 35-year-old driver from Dunnville, Ky., had taken the checkered flag Saturday night at Lake Cumberland Speedway for a $10,000 victory in the Mac Metal-sponsored Lake Cumberland Classic. | Neat wins $10,000 at Lake Cumberland
"My wife don't believe me," Neat said, camera-phone in hand. "I've gotta write my name on the check and send a picture to her."
In reality, Shannon, Neat's wife of nine years, was joking on the other end of the cell phone call. Perhaps it was the driver himself who needed concrete proof of his victory after outrunning race favorite Don O'Neal and 20 other drivers for his first five-figure payday.
"Whew, I'm a little nervous," Neat said while searching for the right words in a postrace interview, "because it still hasn't sunk in yet."
Even if Neat had a little trouble getting his head around such an accomplishment, the packed grandstands and everyone else knew the driver nicknamed Dustbuster had just capped his best season with a sterling performance.
Neat, who began dirt Late Model racing with his brother Brad a dozen years ago, has won track championships and once totalled 11 weekly victories in 2006. But his 2011 season ranks on top with four victories, including his Lake Cumberland triumph, along with a runner-up finish in Richmond (Ky.) Raceway's Butterball Wooldridge Memorial. In addition he made his first career starts in two of the sport's most prestigious events, Eldora Speedway's $100,000-to-win Dream and World 100.
"The season's No. 1 by far, No. 1 by far. We don't have a lot of wins. But we've got a lot of good runs with real good competition, people who do it for a living," Neat said. "It feels real good to go out here and races with these guys on a national level when you just get to certain races and you don't feel intimidated by pulling up beside a Don O'Neal or a Earl Pearson Jr. or a Scott Bloomquist or a Jimmy Owens.
"Granted, they're going to be there to win, but you don't feel like when you pull in with a crowd of 60 (cars) that you're not going to make the race. You've got enough confidence that you're going to make the race."
At Lake Cumberland, O'Neal was the heaviest hitter on the grounds, and it appeared he'd be in victory lane after he started outside the front row and lapped all but four competitors after 54 laps. But Neat stayed in touch with the leader, and as the race entered the late stages, his red No. 25 was hot on O'Neal's heels.
O'Neal eventually got hung up behind lapped traffic, and when he slipped up out of the groove in turn four, Neat took command to earn a victory and a compliment from O'Neal, the winner of three crown jewel events this season, including the previous weekend's 31st annual U.S. Steel Dirt Track World Championship.
"Actually, once (Neat) got in front of me, he was better than I was," O'Neal said. "That's the bottom line: He had the better race car."
While Brad Neat, 31, races full time with Bobby Labonte Motorsports on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, Dustin has been content to run regional events while working as an account executive at Tarter Gate, the world's largest manufacturer of animal management equipment.
Dustin does benefit from his brother's connections and the North Carolina-based Labonte team, which produces the Longhorn Chassis driven by Earl Pearson Jr. and Brad Neat. Dustin is driving one of the first models, a car he debuted in August 2010.
While Labonte's in-house team has struggled in the fledgling chassis — Pearson is winless in 2011 — Dustin Neat has found it's a chassis that works well for him.
"I cannot say one bad thing about my Longhorn Chassis. It's been wonderful all year long," Dustin said. "Brad and them have struggled a little, I know, touring nationally. We've run with some of the guys that tour nationally, as well, and we've been able to compete. It's a great race car.
"Those guys do wonderful work. It's rigid — actually maybe a little to rigid starting out — but after you get some races on it, it's ready to go, and it's coming right together."
With the season winding down, Neat has decided to extend his racing into November by heading to the World of Outlaws Late Model Series World Finals at the Dirt Track at Charlotte. His earnings from Lake Cumberland will help fund the trip, and Neat's looking forward to it.
"Actually I hate to see the season end," Neat said, still in his hauler at Lake Cumberland. "Because I'm ready to get back in that thing again and go another 100."