World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series
World of Outlaws: Driver update departing Florida
By Kevin KovacWorld of Outlaws Late Model Series
Nearly two dozen drivers began the 2012 World of Outlaws Late Model Series campaign with hopes of following the full schedule. After a season-opening burst of six races at three tracks in two states over a 15-day span – the most ambitious February in the history of the national tour – how do the hopeful regulars stand?
Here’s an assessment of each driver (listed by their position in the current points standings) in the wake of the circuit’s Southeast swing to Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Ga. (Feb. 10-11), Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla. (Feb. 16-18) and Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla. (Feb. 23, 25). Drivers are listed in order of points:
1. Darrell Lanigan (864): No racer was stronger out of the ’12 starting gate than the 41-year-old former champion from Union, Ky., who won the season’s first two events (Screven and BRP) and added finishes of second, third, fourth and ninth to end the trip sitting atop the points race.
While his back-to-back victories were impressive, Lanigan’s fourth-place run in the 50-lap finale at Volusia on Feb. 25 might have been the performance that proved his strength. He started the evening in a deep hole after a fire under the hood of his car left him unable to log a time-trial lap, but he rallied from the rear of his heat to finish second and battled forward from the eighth starting spot to place fourth. If not for a mid-race scrape with Steve Francis that bent his car’s right-front corner, Lanigan felt he could have challenged for the win.
What a difference a year makes for Lanigan, who missed the 2011 WoO season opener at VSP due to a medical issue and never was able to make up those lost points. Now he has a chance to become the first driver in WoO history to lead the points standings from start-to-finish.
2. Josh Richards (836): The 23-year-old star from Shinnston, W.Va., matched his friendly rival Lanigan virtually move-for-move through the season’s first four races — he was fourth at Screven and sandwiched a victory with two runner-up finishes at BRP — but stumbled at Volusia.
Richards uncharacteristically struggled at the half-mile Volusia oval, registering WoO finishes of eighth and 16th. He did appear headed to a top-five finish in the first A-Main until he slowed on lap 47 due to vision problems — his helmet shield was covered with so much mud that he had no choice but to pit for a helmet exchange — but he failed to flash the speed that propelled him to consecutive opening-night WoO wins at Volusia from 2007-2010.
“We started the whole trip off awesome,” said Richards, who is once again focusing on the WoO this season after his expected full-time move to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series did not materialize. “We felt like we were getting a good rhythm going. We were really feeling good.
“Then we came to Volusia, a place where we've always been successful and I’ve loved racing at. For some reason, we struggled (there) and just never could dig our way out of a hole.”
3. Shane Clanton (822): If anyone doubted Clanton’s off-season decision to leave Ronnie Dobbins’s established team for a ride with the fledgling Kennedy Motorsports operation, his performance in Georgia and Florida snuffed out those thoughts.
Clanton, 36, of Fayetteville, Ga., seemed ready to put his struggles of recent years behind him. While he failed to reach Victory Lane, he ended his three-track tour having already matched his top-five finish total from all of 2011 (four) and exceeded the number of fast times and heat wins he recorded one year ago.
A pair of third-place finishes (BRP opener and VSP finale) represented Clanton’s best outings, but he also lost second place in the second race at BRP because of a late-race flat tire (he settled for 14th).
“The good thing is,” said a very satisfied Clanton, “every time we’re running, we’re running up front.”
4. Rick Eckert (814): The defending WoO champion got off to a pretty strong start, finishing third in the opening-night 60-lapper at Screven and scoring a nail-biting $12,000-plus victory in the 60-lap finale at BRP.
But while Eckert, 46, of York, Pa., didn’t finish worse than 12th in Outlaws action, he ended the swing facing a larger deficit in the points standings than he did at any time in 2011. Last year he never trailed by more than 36 points — and after six races he was second in the standings, just eight points behind the leader.
5. Chub Frank (778): Re-energized for ’12 by new Roush-Yates Ford engines, Chubzilla enjoyed his strongest WoO run in two years on Feb. 23 at Volusia, racing off the outside pole to lead laps 1-27 before settling for a third-place finish.
The 50-year-old from Bear Lake, Pa., who has not won on the tour since Aug. 22, 2009, also was solid at BRP, registering steady finishes of seventh (twice) and eighth. But two subpar nights — 17th in the opener at Screven and 19th in the finale at Volusia — left him further back in the points standings than he would have liked.
6. Bub McCool (752): The 34-year-old from Vicksburg, Miss., established himself as the early favorite in the WoO Rookie of the Year battle with a trip highlighted by a career-best tour finish of third on Feb. 17 at BRP.
But McCool, who added a second top-10 finish (ninth) in BRP’s finale, didn’t leave Florida unscathed. His last night of competition at Volusia was forgettable: after parking his primary car due to engine problems that were discovered during afternoon maintenance, his backup machine also developed terminal woes under the hood during time trials and he had to rely on a provisional to start his ailing mount.
7. Vic Coffey (738): A pair of top-10 finishes at BRP — 10th on Feb. 17 and eighth on Feb. 18 — were the best runs of the southern excursion for the former WoO Rookie of the Year.
Coffey, 40, of Caledonia, N.Y., had to use WoO emergency provisionals to start at Screven and on Feb. 25 at Volusia, but he still managed to end the swing with the highest points ranking of his career.
8. Clint Smith (732): A seventh-place finish in the 40-lap opener at BRP was the lone top-10 WoO run for Cat Daddy, whose best performance of the trip was a third-place finish in the postponed DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned 25-lapper run on Friday afternoon, Feb. 24, at Volusia.
Smith, 46, of Senoia, Ga., also started the 2011 season with a seventh-place finish as his only top-10 through six races. He was ninth in the last year’s points standings after six events, but was fewer points (92) out of the lead than his current positioning.
9. Tim McCreadie (730): The 2006 WoO champion didn’t get off to the start he was hoping for with his new Warrior cars, failing to crack the top five in a single feature.
McCreadie, 37, of Watertown, N.Y., appeared primed for a solid trip when he jumped out of the box with a sixth-place finish at Screven, but his only other top-10 runs were ninths on Feb. 17 at BRP and Feb. 25 at VSP.
10. Pat Doar (688): The 2011 WoO Rookie of the Year was smiling after earning a career-best tour finish of fifth in the 60-lap finale at BRP, but he spent most of his trip snarling.
Doar, 48, of New Richmond, Wis., didn’t break into the top 10 in another WoO A-Main. He also rode out two hard crashes in DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned action at Volusia, hitting the turn-two wall during Feb. 21 heat racing after contact from Jared Landers and smashing the spun car of Jonathan Davenport in turn one after Davenport and Dale McDowell came together in a heat on Feb. 24.
11. Mike Marlar (680): A talented 34-year-old from Winfield, Tenn., who is eyeing his first assault on the WoO this season, Marlar nearly experienced a spectacular Speedweeks.
Marlar recorded consecutive top-five finishes of fourth and fifth on Feb. 16 and 17 at BRP, but he was actually in position to string together four in a row, and even bag his first-ever WoO victory. He had his Bryson Motorsports No. 5B solidly in the top five midway through the opener at Screven when a scrape sent him bouncing through the infield and out of the race (he finished 25th), and in BRP’s 60-lap finale he led laps 1-42 and was bidding to regain command from Eckert on the final circuit when he found himself squeezed into the turn-three wall (and saddled with an 18th-place finish).
While Marlar failed to qualify for the finale at VSP due to heat-race suspension trouble, he departed Florida ranked among the top 12 in the points standings. That puts him in position to receive series travel benefits at the next event, the Illini 100 on March 30-31 at Farmer City (Ill.) Raceway.
12. Brandon Sheppard (676): The 19-year-old DIRTcar UMP standout from New Berlin, Ill., started five of six features and broke into the top 10 once, finishing a WoO career-best ninth on Feb. 17 at BRP in his new Roush Yates-powered Rocket. He headed home ranked second among Rookie of the Year contenders.
Other drivers who announced intentions to follow the tour:
14. Jared Hawkins (654): The 25-year-old Rookie of the Year aspirant from Fairmont, W.Va., hit his high-water mark in the WoO season opener, finishing seventh at Screven. He didn’t crack the top 10 again and failed to qualify for both A-Mains at Volusia, but he did turn heads in the second feature at BRP when he charged from the 21st starting spot to the verge of the top five before an incorrect tire choice caused him to fade.
15. Tim Fuller (638): In dire need of a strong start, the 44-year-old from Watertown, N.Y., instead lived a nightmare.
Nothing went right for Fuller, who started all six races but used four emergency provisionals — requiring him to forfeit last-place money — to achieve that perfect record. His top finish was a 12th on Feb. 18 at BRP, two nights after he flipped midway through the track’s opening-night feature.
Fuller ran the finale at BRP and all his VSP events in a familiar car: the blue-and-white Reliable Painting Rocket No. 19 that Dale Beitler fielded last year for Austin Hubbard. Beitler announced his retirement as a car owner following the 2011 season but he is providing one of his cars to Fuller this year, and Beitler was in the pits helping Fuller throughout the action at BRP and VSP.
16. John Lobb (628): While his new Kennedy Motorsports teammate Shane Clanton shined, Lobb struggled throughout his trip.
The 42-year-old from Frewsburg, N.Y., started five of the six races — scoring a top finish of 17th on Feb. 18 at BRP — but never made the cut through a heat or B-Main. He used one points provisional and his entire allotment of four emergency provisionals.
18. Kent Robinson (602): The WoO Rookie of the Year contender’s trip started in promising fashion — he transferred through a heat and finished 15th in the season opener at Screven — but he was unable to maintain the momentum.
Robinson, 24, of Bloomington, Ind., placed 22nd, 20th and 16th at BRP. He then fell short of both features at VSP, where he was passed by Earl Pearson Jr. for the final transfer spot on the last lap on Thursday night and saw his evening end early on Saturday after slapping the turn-one wall in his heat.
19. Billy Moyer Jr. (586): The 24-year-old son of a dirt Late Model legend, Moyer’s chase of the WoO Rookie of the Year award kicked off in disappointing fashion with a DNQ at Screven. He recovered with three progressively better outings at BRP — 20th, 19th, 15th — but the Batesville, Ark., driver slipped again at VSP, where he failed to qualify for both World of Outlaws features (and experienced engine woes on Thursday night that forced him to pull out his backup car).
21. Dan Stone (560): The 34-year-old driver from Thompson, Pa., became the first casualty of the record WoO rookie crop, revealing that he would have to call off his pursuit of the tour schedule after breaking two of his family-owned team’s three engines during the UNOH DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia.
22. Jack Sullivan (558): The 36-year-old from Greenbrier, Ark., began his trip with a promising 13th-place finish at Screven — after hurting an engine during the weekend’s first practice session — but didn’t make another race at either Ocala or Volusia. Undaunted, Sullivan said he plans to enter this month’s Illini 100 in hopes of turning around his fortunes in the WoO Rookie of the Year race.
23. Ron Davies (530): The runner-up in the 2011 WoO Rookie of the Year standings made no preseason commitment to follow the tour this year; he said his travel plans would hinge on his performance.
When Davies, 54, of Warren, Pa., found himself fifth in the points standings through two events after finishes of ninth at Screven and 11th at BRP, it appeared he might be on his way to another campaign on the road. But then he failed to finish the next two events at BRP, didn’t qualify for the opener at Volusia (and refused an emergency provisional) and skipped the Volusia finale altogether.
24. Greg Johnson (514): At 44 the oldest driver in this year’s WoO Rookie of the Year field, Johnson began the trip with great expectations but never found his rhythm. He qualified for just two features, finishing 26th in the opener at Screven and 22nd in the finale at Volusia.
26. Jill George (454): It was a rough trip for the 34-year-old female racer, who entered all six WoO events but was unable to make an A-Main field. George experienced her most painful night during the finale at BRP. She piled hard into a multi-car heat-race accident and was shaken up enough to warrant a hospital visit. A CT scan and X-rays of her neck, chest and left elbow were negative, but she suffered a minor concussion, needed a couple stitches to close a cut on his left arm and was left with a sore neck, shoulders and ribs.
George, who worked with new crew chief Jay Sessoms of Stanley, N.C., in Georgia and Florida, flew home to Cedar Falls, Iowa, after the BRP events in order to spend three days working at her chiropractic office. She returned to the Sunshine State for the WoO events at Volusia and said she hopes to continue following the tour this season if she obtains sufficient sponsorship.