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World of Outlaws Notebook

Notes: WoO drivers get sneak peek at Berlin

September 19, 2012, 5:00 pm
By Kevin Kovac
World of Outlaws Late Model Series
A look at the dirt-covered Berlin Raceway. (randyellenphotography.com)
A look at the dirt-covered Berlin Raceway. (randyellenphotography.com)

Every entrant in this weekend’s Keyser Manufacturing Down & Dirty 100 presented by NAPA Auto Parts at Berlin Raceway will have the same level of knowledge about the track — which is to say, none at all.

The Marne, Mich., track, of course, operated as a 7/16-mile asphalt oval since 1966. But the renowned Wolverine State speedway has been covered with more than 300 truckloads of clay for a historic event headlined by the World of Outlaws Late Model Series, setting up a unique situation in which no one starts with an advantage.

The inside track on the $20,000 top prize Saturday will belong to the driver who most quickly deciphers the tricky layout — and several WoO racers have already visited Berlin Raceway in hopes of learning something, anything, that will enhance their hopes.

One of the WoO regulars who arrived in the area early was Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga. With his hauler parked at Keyser Manufacturing in Coopersville, Mich., Smith made the short drive over to Berlin Raceway on Tuesday with fellow World of Outlaws travelers Tim Fuller of Watertown, N.Y., and Vic Coffey of Caledonia, N.Y.

Smith, 47, only eyeballed and walked the track, but the stop did give him an idea of what to expect when engines are fired for an open practice session Thursday and time trials and heat races roll off Friday.

“I think there’s gonna be good racing there,” said Smith, who scored one of his 12 career WoO victories in Michigan, in 2005 at Butler Speedway. “The (surface) was packed good, and it seemed like excellent clay — no sand or grit to it. That usually means it’s gonna be a good, slick surface, so I would say it’s gonna be fast early and then it will slow down and get slick and there will be some real good racing.”

Smith was impressed with the “big, D-shaped track” and its amenities.

“It’s a nice looking place,” said Smith. “All the buildings look refurbished, the grandstands look nice — and there are lots of them — and they’ve got neat group party areas with wooden decks. It looks like a great place to have a big show like this.”

And what does Smith think about his chances for taking the big money back to the Peach State?

“Six years ago it wouldn’t have fit my style,” Smith said of Berlin. “But I think I’m more of a big-track racer now and our program has been good this year, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Smith is winless on the 2012 WoO, but he’s been knocking on the door. He has two heartbreaking runner-up finishes this season, both losses to Darrell Lanigan, the national tour’s most dominating driver this season.

Charge of the Wolverines

The Down & Dirty 100 ranks as the richest dirt Late Model event ever run in Michigan, so naturally the state’s full-fender drivers would love to defend their turf with a memorable victory. Just ask Jeep Van Wormer of Pinconning, arguably Michigan’s� best-known dirt Late Model racer.

“It would be huge to win it,” said Van Wormer, the only Michigan driver who has won a WoO feature (in 2007 at LaSalle Speedway in Illinois). “It’s exciting to have a race like this in our state. I’m a little rusty because I haven’t raced that much this year, but I’m really hoping to run well in front of the home crowd — well, we’re as ‘home’ as anybody I guess — and maybe get to victory lane.”

Van Wormer, 37, lives three hours northeast of Berlin and has never seen a race at the track, but he’s heard nothing but good reports about the speedway. “It sounds like it’s top-notch,” he said.

Dozens of other Michigan drivers are expected to join Van Wormer in the Down & Dirty 100 field, including Ryan VanderVeen of Six Lakes, Brian Ruhlman of Clarklake, Curtis Roberts of Coleman, Brandon Thirlby of Traverse City, J.R. Hotovy of Hartford, Alan Vochaska of South Haven, Dona Marcoullier of Houghton Lake, Eric Spangler of Lake City, Rich Neiser of Fruitport, Adam Thrush of Farwell, Zack Olger of St. Johns and Phil and Doug Ausra of Dowagiac.

Another 100-lapper for Lanigan?

Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., will bid to enhance his already spectacular and record-setting campaign at Berlin. A victory would give him an unprecedented third 100-lap WoO win in a single season and rocket him past the $300,000 mark in season earnings.

A winner of a single-season WoO record 14 races in ’12, Lanigan leads the tour’s points standings by 204 points over defending champion Rick Eckert of York, Pa., entering this weekend’s action. With only five points races remaining on the 2012 schedule Lanigan can clinch his second career title by merely finishing no worse than 20th in each event.

Lanigan has won a WoO event in Michigan, capturing the 2011 event at Hartford Motor Speedway. Other WoO regulars who have been victorious in tour events held in Michigan include Eckert (last month at Winston Speedway in Montague), Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa. (2007 at I-96 Speedway in Lake Odessa) and Smith.

This weekend’s WoO roster will also include Coffey, Fuller, 2012 Eldora Dream winner Shane Clanton of Fayetteville, Ga., 2006 champ Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., Pat Doar of New Richmond, Wis., and Rookie of the Year contenders Bub McCool of Vicksburg, Miss., and Kent Robinson of Bloomington, Ind.

Odds and ends

Other expected entries are three-time WoO champ Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., and the winner last weekend’s St. Louis-area events, Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., and Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill. ... With town ordinances prohibiting racing at Berlin Raceway on Sundays, a raindate of Monday has been established for the Down & Dirty 100. ... If Friday's program is rained out, all WoO qualifying will be moved to Saturday evening and Friday’s scheduled support-division competition will be rescheduled for Sept. 29. ... Title sponsor Keyser Manufacturing will host a pig roast in the pit area following Thursday evening’s practice for all competitors with pit wristbands.

Keyser Manufacturing Down & Dirty 100

Dates: Sept. 20-22
Berlin Raceway in Marne, Mich. (7/16-mile dirt-covered asphalt oval)
Sanction: World of Outlaws Late Model Series
Purse: $20,000-to-win

Tickets: berlinraceway.com or (616) 662-2051.

Thursday: 4-8 p.m. practice.
Friday: WoO time trials and heat races (along with complete program for modifieds, factory stocks and four-cylinders); gates open at 3 p.m. with racing at 7.
Saturday: WoO consolation races and 100-lap feature (along with complete program for modifieds and street stocks); gates open at 3 p.m. with racing at 7.
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