Lucas Oil champion tops list of 2011's top drivers
By Todd Turner and Joshua JoinerDirtonDirt.com
With the 2011 racing season in the books, DirtonDirt.com takes a closer look at top five drivers among national, regional and weekly Dirt Late Model competition. Here's the Best of 2011:
Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn.: After twice coming up one position short in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series championship battle, the 39-year-old Owens unseated two-time defending series champ Scott Bloomquist for the national tour’s $75,000 title in one of the most dramatic points battles in the history of the sport. If that wasn’t enough, Owens also posted three crown jewel victories on the season. His eight Lucas Oil Series wins included his first Show-Me 100, which later became the first Dirt Late Model event to appear on a major broadcast television network, and his third North-South 100. He also won his second World 100 trophy at Eldora in September before wrapping up the season with his third-consecutive victory in second round of the World of Outlaws World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. | Best of 2011 coverage index
Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn.: The 48-year-old Bloomquist blew away his own single-season win record on the Lucas Oil Series with an astounding 15 victories in 2011. But untimely miscues and misfortunes allowed Owens to stay close in the title chase, and mechanical woes in the next to last race at Rome (Ga.) Speedway dealt Bloomquist a final blow he couldn’t overcome. Still the year will go down as one of the Hall of Famer’s best with triumphs in Batesville (Ark.) Motor Speedway’s Topless 100, Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway’s Jackson 100 and Virginia Motor Speedway’s USA 100. He also added $20,000 victories at Lone Star Speedway in Kilgore, Texas, and Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus, Miss.
Don O'Neal (71), Martinsville, Ind.: One of the sport’s top drivers without a crown jewel victory entering the season, O’Neal emphatically erased his name from that list by winning three of the sport’s biggest races in 2011. O’Neal’s triumphs in the MasterSbilt Race Cars house car included $100,000 in Eldora’s Dream XVII and $50,000 in the Dirt Track World Championship at Atomic Speedway. In his part-time Moring Motorsports ride, the 47-year-old O’Neal added victories in Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway’s Knoxville Nationals finale and the inaugural Silver Dollar Nationals at I-80 Speedway. O’Neal notched five Lucas Oil Series victories on his way to a third-place finish in the series standings behind Bloomquist and Owens.
Josh Richards (1), Shinnston, W.Va.: Although a flat tire on the final lap of the World of Outlaws season finale at Charlotte cost him his third consecutive series title, Richards still had plenty to brag about in 2011. The 23-year-old Richards drove his father Mark’s Rocket Chassis house car to nine WoO victories, including his first crown jewel victory in the WoO-sanctioned USA Nationals at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis. His final WoO victory on the year in Charlotte’s Late Model Showdown in October tied Bloomquist’s single-season win record set in 2004 and matched Billy Moyer atop the tour’s all-time wins list at 37. Richards plans to leave Dirt Late Model racing full time to follow the 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga.: After posting just one victory paying $10,000 or more between February and September, the 28-year-old Davenport piloted the Barry Wright Race Cars house car to seven such paydays during October and November. His impressive late-season streak included back-to-back $15,000 Mississippi triumphs at Whynot Motorsports Park and Magnolia Motor Speedway, his second-consecutive victory in the opening round of the World of Outlaws World Finals at Charlotte and his second sweep of East Alabama Motor Speedway’s Alabama State Championship and National 100. He topped it all off the first week in December by winning the $10,000 NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series finale in an AES Racing Team Crate Late Model. Davenport will join Clint Bowyer Racing for a run at the Lucas Oil Series title in 2012.
Honorable mention: Steve Shaver, Vienna, W.Va. (drove the K&L Rumley Motorsports Rocket to seven victories including the $25,000 Commonwealth 100 at Virginia Motor Speedway); Rick Eckert, York, Pa. (won three WoO events on his way to tour’s $100,000 championship).
Ray Moore (93), Haughton, La.: Using a less-is-more approach with a selective racing schedule, the 30-year-old Moore turned in his best career season with 14 victories, nearly all of them in sanctioned special events. His biggest career victory came at ArkLaTex Speedway's Pelican 100 in February, paying $10,000, but his best stretch of racing from April through September was just as impressive. During those six months, Moore won 10 of 16 feature starts and impressed with a five-race winning streak from May 29-July 1.
Jason Covert (43a), York Haven, Pa.: The 41-year-old driver won his sixth touring championship overall and third in a row on the Three State Flyers in one of the most competitive regions of the country. Covert had 10 victories in 48 starts overall, including a run of six triumphs over a nine-race stretch from June 24-July 22. He was in the top five 28 times.
Ray Guss Jr. (58), Milan, Ill.: The death of co-car owner Hershel Roberts dimmed the early season, but the 52-year-old veteran kept the team as successful as ever by repeating IMCA weekly and Deery Brothers Summer Series championships. Guss also won three track championships for the second straight year at Davenport Speedway, Jackson County Speedway and Quad City Speedway. Guss won 16 races overall.
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill.: The 30-year-old, steadily improving in recent years, took aim at the UMP DIRTcar overall championship and held off late challenges from Rusty Schlenk and Jon Henry for the title. Overall Unzicker won 17 features to unseat Schlenk, who briefly took the points lead late in the season before Unzicker reeled off four consecutive victories. Unzicker's victories included his second career UMP DIRTcar Summernationals triumph.
Jake Redetzke (27), Eau Claire, Wis.: The 23-year-old, second-generation driver earned his first touring title by capturing the Dart Challenge Late Model Series title for WISSOTA competitors. Redetzke won three series races and eight races overall including a career-best $10,000 victory at Hibbing Raceway's Governor's Cup, one of the region's richest events.
Honorable mention: Chad Simpson, Mount Vernon, Iowa (repeated Corn Belt Clash champion; won nine races overall in 39 starts); Rusty Schlenk, Weston, Ohio (16 UMP victories at five tracks, including two on Sunoco ALMS); Parker Herring (Southeastern Late Model Sportsman Series champ, 24 victories overall); Robbie Blair, Titusville, Pa. (19 victories between Supers and Crates, including three sanctioned specials); Dave Hess Jr., Waterford, Pa. (14 victories overall, including four specials, along with Eriez and Lernerville track titles); Jon Henry, Ada, Ohio (Second career ALMS title, 14 UMP victories); Ricky Weiss, Winnipeg, Manitoba (NLRA title, second straight WISSOTA weekly crown, 20 victories overall); Brad Looney, Republic, Mo. (Eight victories overall including three in a row on MARS en route to series title).
Ron Parker (8), Belwood, N.C.: Parker racked up 23 victories in 40 feature starts while racking up three championships in Crate Late Model competition. Beside his Carolina Speedway title, Parker was the National Dirt Racing Association's overall champ among weekly racers. He also took NDRA's Heintz Bros. Performance Road Show title, winning two of five special events. Additionally, Parker swept NDRA's Dirt Wars weekend, leading all 80 laps of feature action between Carolina and Lancaster Speedways to pocket $6,000.
Terry English (96), Benton, Ky.: While son Tanner traveled more broadly, the former UMP DIRTcar champion piled up nearly 20 victories between Paducah (Ky.) International Raceway and Clarksville (Tenn.) Speedway. He capped the season with a $3,000 victory in the Tennessee Super Series finale at Duck River Speedway in Wheel, Tenn.
Gene Knaub (1), Dover, Pa.: Knaub captured 16 checkered flags in 34 starts while repeating championships at Lincoln (Pa.) Speedway and Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Knaub capped his season by winning his final seven starts.
Chris Garnes (42), Evans, W.Va.: En route to capturing the AMRA weekly championship, Garnes earned more than a dozen victories among four tracks. He won track championships at I-77 Raceway Park in Ripley, W.Va., and Skyline Speedway in Stewart, Ohio.
Max Blair, Centerville, Pa.: The 21-year-old, second-generation driver captured his second weekly championship on the Fastrak Racing Series while winning 21 features in 55 starts. The Crate Late Model standout added the Fastrak Northeast touring title — winning three series events — along with a track championship at Raceway 7 in Conneat, Ohio.
Honorable mention: Winky McGee, Pilot Mountain, N.C. (26 Crate and steel-head victories at three tracks); Eric Spangler, Lake City, Mich. (13 UMP DIRTcar victories); Steve Lance Jr., Cuba, Ill. (14 Super and Crate victories with UMP along with Peoria title); Rylan Long, Lockwood, Mo. (ULMA and Lucas Oil Speedway titles); Butch McGill, West Union, W.Va. (Elkins dominance included victories in three specials); Rich Neiser, Fruitport, Mich. (10 victories, Thunderbird and Winston titles); Lee Gill, LaFargeville, N.Y. (15 victories in 28 starts, Go Nuclear Late Model Challenge Series champ); Dustin Griffin, Camp, Point, Ill. (22 victories en route to UMP Crate title).