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Reviewing 2011 racing season 5 items at a time

December 27, 2011, 6:28 am
By Todd Turner
DirtonDirt.com managing editor

With top driver honors previously published, DirtonDirt.com takes a look at some other top-five lists from the 2010 season, running the gamut from the top-five performances to top-five gaffes of the year:

Top five individual performances

Don O'Neal's Dream victory: Saddled with the tag of "best driver without a big victory at Eldora" for many years, the 12th-starting O'Neal rallied from the sixth row to catch Billy Moyer with 13 laps remaining and win Dream XVII at Ohio's Eldora Speedway. “What a long time coming” O'Neal said in victory lane. “I drove the wheels off this thing for 100 laps and finally we got it done.”

Shannon Babb's Summernationals streak: The Moweaqua, Ill., driver was relatively quiet early and late in the season, but he was a terror at mid-season, reeling off an incredible seven straight UMP DIRTcar Summernationals victories en route to his third tour crown. Babb won 10 series races overall on his way to the $25,000 championship.

Jared Hawkins at the Black Diamond 125: A West Virginia driver who's shown flashes of brilliance, it all came together for Hawkins at home-state Tyler County Speedway with a $28,000 weekend at the Black Diamond 125. He earned $8,000 for a UFO-sanctioned tuneup victory, then collected $20,000 in the weekend finale for his first career World of Outlaws Late Model Series triumph.

Jonathan Davenport's late-season hot streak: Coming off a splendid 2010 campaign, the Blairsville, Ga., driver's 2011 season was so-so until October. But as the leaves began to fall, so did the checkered flags as Davenport piled up more than $100,000 in winning purses the last two months of the season. Davenport, who announced at season's end a move from the Barry Wright house car to Clint Bowyer Racing, won eight of his last 11 starts in Super and Crate Late Model action.

Darrell Lanigan rebounds from injury: A broken tailbone forced the Union, Ky., driver to miss the season-opening World of Outlaws race, but the former series champion quickly healed enough to win four races over a five race stretch after Florida Speedweeks.

Top five storylines

Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series title chase: Jimmy Owens set out to knock two-time champ Scott Bloomquist off his perch, but it was a back-and-forth grind all season long. While Owens reeled off an incredible streak of top-five finishes, Bloomquist weathered a storm of DNFs before a hole in his radiator overheated his engine in the second-to-last event in Rome, Ga., giving Owens a victory and a points lead he held on to in the finale.

Economic effects on track closures, car counts: Although many tracks reopened, Smoky Mountain Speedway, North Georgia Speedway, Pike County Speedway and Central Pennsylvania Speedway were among ovals hitting speedbumps or worse amid tough economic times. Florida Speedweeks car counts rebounded, but some weekly tracks struggled and Eldora Speedway's prestigious World 100 had 112 entries, nearly 100 fewer than just four years ago.

First-time series winners: Standout rookies like Mike Spatola, Morgan Bagley and Timothy Culp led a parade of first-time winners on dozens of series as an influx of young drivers and rising stars gave the sport some new blood.

Don O'Neal's crown jewels: The 47-year-old Martinsville, Ind., driver entered the season without a crown jewel victory in his long career, but he had nearly a handful by the season’s final checkered flag. Besides his $100,000 Dream victory at Eldora, he captured Knoxville's Lucas Oil Late Model Nationals and the Dirt Track World Championship over a three-weekend span during his career-best season.

World of Outlaws points chase: While the World of Outlaws points didn't have a the back-and-forth drama as its rival Lucas Oil Series, two-time champion Josh Richards reeled in points leader Rick Eckert late in the season. It appeared Richards — in perhaps his last title attempt before moving to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series — had the title in hand at the white flag of the final race at Charlotte, but a flat tire allowed Eckert to slip by and capture his first WoO crown.

Top five controversies

Firecracker 100 appeal: Scott Bloomquist officially protested two tires on the car of Firecracker 100 Jimmy Mars, forcing the Wisconsin driver to wait two weeks and undergo a lie-detector test before receiving his $30,000 check. A laboratory declared the tires clean.

Battle of Winchester: In one of the late-season races of the back-and-forth Lucas Oil Series points battle, Jimmy Owens and Scott Bloomquist traded slide jobs on lap 40. Owens made contact in taking the lead in turn two, and Bloomquist answered the move by making contact with his own slide job in turn three. Bloomquist went on to win while Owens was 16th after damage forced him out of the race. "When he drove by me, he didn't do it with any respect at all," Bloomquist said. "So I don't need to have any back."

Kloos stripped on Summernationals: Michael Kloos of Trenton, Ill. won his first-ever UMP DIRTcar Summernationals victory at Belle-Clair Speedway, but he became the first driver stripped of the series victory after laboratory tests revealed he used chemically altered tires.

Photo finish at Fairbury: Runner-up Jason Feger disputed Rodney Melvin's Summernationals victory at Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway. Melvin officially led just two laps and a video review of the finish appeared to be too close to call.

Carolina Clash tire penalties: Winner Ricky Weeks and two other drivers whose tires were inspected after the race were all disqualified after the Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series opener at Carolina Speedway near Gastonia, N.C. Weeks, a five-time series champion, participated sparingly on the series and finished outside the top five in points for the first time since 2003.

Top five gaffes

Jimmy Owens at Knoxville: Leading the $40,000-to-win Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals with less than five laps remaining, Owens jumped the cushion and damaged his car's nosepiece, causing a near-spin that gave Don O'Neal the lead and the victory. "He was finally human and he messed up too," said O'Neal, who battled the high groove most of the race, too.

Southern All Stars loophole: After disqualifying Klint Byars from a May 28 victory for using chemically-altered tires, the Southern All Star Series reversed the decision in mid-August. An appeal by Byars allowed a second laboratory to test the tires, deeming them clean and forcing the series to reinstate his victory. Three days later, the series closed the second-lab loophole.

O'Neal-Lanigan battle at World 100: With a faltering Jimmy Owens vulnerable in the closing laps of Eldora Speedway's prestigious event, Don O'Neal and Darrell Lanigan battled each other so hard for second that their repeated slide jobs and contact allowed Owens to survive — and allowed Eddie Carrier Jr. to steal second place in the final laps.

Van Wormer flattens O'Neal's tire at Brownstown: Just after losing the lead to Don O'Neal in the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals feature at Brownstown Speedway, Jeep Van Wormer clipped the left-rear of O'Neal's car on the backstretch, flattening O'Neal's tire and triggering further fireworks between the two — on and off the track.

Cherokee's dustout turns to rainout: Trying to beat approaching rain, Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, S.C., hurried the Sept. 4 Ultimate Super Late Model Series event onto the track, but dusty track conditions forced a halt to the race and officials summoned the water truck. But before the race could resume, the rain hit, forcing a postponement.

Top five losses

B.J. Parker: A racing pioneer who founded the longest-running Dirt Late Model series, the beloved and legendary Parker died April 4 at his Graysville, Ala., home. The silver-haired National Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer who always had an easy-going smile and a story to share died after a four-year battle with cancer. "Part of racing died when he died," said driver Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga., the only four-time Southern All Star champion. "There's not many people who have done as much for dirt racing as B.J. Parker did over the years."

Johnny Johnson: The cigar-chomping fixture in Iowa dirt racing who was an accomplished driver, track owner and team sponsor died Feb. 19 at age 75 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. Johnson sponsored Hall of Fame drivers including Scott Bloomquist, Billy Moyer, Freddy Smith and Ronnie Johnson. “People will sure miss the J&J Steel car, that’s for sure,” said chassis builder Barry Wright, whose teams enjoyed Johnson's support.

Hershel Roberts: The East Moline, Ill., driver who valiantly continued driving and fielding race cars despite a terminal cancer diagnosis in 2006 died on May 4 at age 68. "He kept right on going, no matter what they told him," said Ray Guss Jr., who piloted the team's championship-winning car when Roberts finally climbed from behind the wheel. "He kept right on fighting."

J.T. Kerr: The late-blooming racer and Tennessee legend died Oct. 23 at age 81 in Maryville, Tenn. The dirt and asphalt racer who famously celebrated victories with 20 pushups in victory lane was a NASCAR Weekly Racing Series runner-up in '93 and won more than 200 races overall. His racing legacy continues with J.T. Kerr Racing Equipment and grandson Tommy Kerr, a former Schaeffer Oil Southern Nationals champion.

Rusty Cummings: The 1998 O'Reilly SUPR champion died Sept. 9 at age 56 after a five-month battle with ALS. The likable eight-time winner on the Louisiana-based series was honored during July's Race to Erase ALS event at Champion Park Speedway, where the night's proceeds went to fund research for a cure for Lou Gehrig's Disease.

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