Notes: Runner-up intent on Eldora breakthrough
By Joshua Joiner and Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com
ROSSBURG, Ohio (June 8) — After Saturday’s runner-up finish at Eldora Speedway’s Dream XIX presented by Ferris Commercial Mowers, Dennis Erb Jr. is convinced he’ll eventually be one spot better in one of Eldora’s major events.
“I’m going to win one,” Erb said emphatically after finishing second to $100,000 winner Scott Bloomquist at the legendary half-mile oval. “We’re just going to get closer here each time, and like I said, we’re working hard on getting everything here where we need to go and be up front.” | Complete Dream XIX coverage
Erb’s second-place purse paid a career-high $20,000 and, coupled with his $5,000 victory in Friday’s preliminary feature, gave him a weekend with more than $25,000 in earnings at a track where he's previously won during UMP Nationals weekend.
In the 100-lap finale, Erb started 17th and wasn’t a factor until the last 10 laps when he broke into the top five. He took advantage of two late-race restarts to grab the second spot, but he never was able to make a serious challenge on Bloomquist, who led the final 36 laps.
“We had a good car starting that far back. We fell back a little bit early and then just worked our way up there,” Erb said. “We just used everything we had to get up to the front there. Right there at the end, we gave it a shot, but his car fired off real good and he was rolling on the top real good, so we had a good run.
“It’s pretty tough in that long race out there, no matter where you start, to run this place, it takes a lot out of you. ... we just kept plugging away and we got up to the front tonight.”
Too much to overcome
While Josh Richards proved with a victory in Thursday’s preliminary feature victory he had among the fastest cars during Dream XIX weekend, the Rocket Chassis house car team couldn’t overcome a series of obstacles down to the bitter end.
Even rallying from his tail-starting 28th spot and up to third place was denied after the race when officials ruled that his car came up 32 pounds shy of the 2,300-pound postrace requirement.
It was the final setback during a long day that started with an engine change before a sixth-place start in a heat race that saw him catch part of an accident that damaged the car.
“We had a rough night. We were thrashing around, they drew a six for the invert, the track was kind of falling apart there, we got messed up with Darrell ... we didn’t really get a chance to work on the car for handling to make it better,” the 25-year-old Shinnston, W.Va., driver said. We just made a couple of changes before the race and ran a little bit different tires than the most of the guys. And I really know how to run those tires, so I felt confident going out there that we were going to be OK.”
With most races he runs allowing a pound-per-lap burnoff, the team failed to add weight to offset the fuel loss in the long-distance affair.
“It’s not like we were trying to be light,” he said. “You have to add extra lead, and you just burn so much fuel. It’s our own fault.
“I feel good we had a car to get up through there, and I had a ton of fun driving. I love running this place. And I love the new format. So I hope they keep it and we’ll just have to try again and be legit.
“I’ve been coming here since I was, I guess, 11 or 12 years old, and I always loved coming here. It’s hard enough to get yourself in position, and then to get yourself in position to be able to battle for a win, it’s not easy to do. It’s definitely frustrating. It’s definitely a confidence-booster that we had a good car tonight and we were able to drive up through there, and I had a lot of fun. I guess we’ve gotta take the positives out of it and move along.”
Three in a row denied
Matt Miller of Whitehouse, Ohio, captured preliminary feature victories in his Rick Delong Racing Rocket Chassis on Thursday and Friday, and late in Saturday’s 100-lapper he appeared to be gaining ground on eventual winner Scott Bloomquist.
But shortly after taking the second spot from Jimmy Mars, Miller’s No. 3 dropped a driveshaft entering turn three, putting a damper on what was otherwise a fantastic weekend for an all-volunteer racing team. Miller was a few tenths of a second faster than Bloomquist with 10 laps remaining, but he had a long way to go to reel in the driver who had previously built nearly a half-lap margin on Mars.
“These races don’t have a lot of cautions, and it took a while for my car (to get going), and there’s all good racers up there, and it was kind of top-dominant for a long, long time,” Miller said. “My car kind of came in late and then once I started to pick 'em off, I finally got to Jimmy (Mars) there and I guess we were catching him in a big way. We needed a caution — but just not us.”
Did he think he had a chance if a late caution would’ve been brought out by another car instead? “I think if we’d have gotten a restart, we could’ve made it exciting,” he said.
The outcome of the 100-lapper was disappointing, but Miller and his team were pleased with the weekend performance.
“That stuff happens,” he said. “I’d rather come here and run like we did and I feel like we had the best car all weekend. Scott won, but you know, I had to come from 14th, kind of got shuffled back. That’s all right. We’ll get better and we’ll be back for the World (100).”
Duane Chamberlain of Richmond, Ind., carried the banner for the local favorite St. Henry Nite Club team and ran strong through the first half of the feature, holding the second spot from lap 25-53. But his No. 20c lost traction late in the race because of the team’s choice of soft-compound tires, then he broke to draw a caution on lap 98.
“We lost a driveshaft. I’m not sure what happened there, but I would’ve like to have at least finished,” he said. “I just went soft on tires. Our right-rear quarterpanel got into the tire and it ate all the tread off, so them last 10 laps I was just out there.”
The 34-year-old Chamberlain thought he was in good shape while running among the leaders in the first half of the race.
“I really did ... about lap 60 I could tell the car was slowing down and losing grip. We chose to go soft and e didn’t make it,” he said. “The car was good. Just the wrong tire selection, so we know we’re on the right track and we’ve got a good program running.”
Birky makes progress
Last year’s World 100 winner Brian Birkhofer debuted a new race car two weeks ago, and he’s pleased with its progress after scoring a third-place Dream finish.
Most significantly, the Muscatine, Iowa, driver said, was it’s ability to give him a qualifying time that puts him closer to the front for Eldora’s critical heat races. “I haven’t went 15.6 (seconds) around here in a long time,” he said. “So we’re definitely taking steps in the right direction.”
Starting 10th in the 100-lapper, Birkhofer was fifth by the 20th lap and ran among the leaders the rest of the way, dueling with fellow MB Customs chassis driver Jimmy Mars frequently.
“This is the longest race on the new-style car, I ran it at Wheatland, Granite City and went to a little show last week. It’s way better than what it was the first few nights. I’m pretty pumped about it,” he said. “We’ll take our notes and come back for the World.
“I definitely feel like we’ve got a package I can qualify better with. I feel like I can run against the top of the racetrack more comfortably than I ever really used to, so I’m happy with that. I’ve just gotta take it and go home and scale it and keep taking notes and keep getting better with it.”
Birkhofer found himself running a little higher on the track than he’d have liked, but he survived.
“I kind of knew I was biding time once that cushion went ahead and left. Here I am running the cushion, and I hate running the cushion ... I’ve never been to Daytona, but when you’re driving the top of this racetrack, it’s pretty intense, man,” he said. “That wall, it just kind of disappears through the speed until you touch it off (turn) two.”
A realist’s perspective
Starting on the outside of the front row for the 100-lap Dream, Tim Fuller of Watertown, N.Y., was in a prime position in his first action at Eldora in four years. But realistically, he harbored no dreams of pulling off an upset with the racing surface slickening off.
“I had a pretty good 30-lap setup in, but that was about it. I was realist. We were no good on Friday when the (the surface) was really black like that, and the setup I’ve got in is not that good for when it gets that black,” Fuller said. “It’s a pretty good 15.8 to 16.2 setup, but when it slows down, it’s just not good enough. But we learned and we’ll write this all down in the notes and give it another whirl. I hadn’t been here in four years or something. It was a good experience in being able to come back next time and maybe know a little more about it.”
Fuller hung around in the top five through the first half of the race, but he ended up ninth at the finish.
“All in all, it is what it is. I’m a realist. I knew I really had no shot and I wanted to hang on as long as I could hang on. We just aren’t good enough when the track slows down here. But we got the wide-open part down.”
He was one of two Capital Race Cars in the main event along with Kennedy Motorsports teammate Shane Clanton, who bowed out with engine problems in lap 66.
“Shane drives a little bit different than me, and he wants something a little bit different, but I plugged in, I listened right to him and exactly, basically what he was doing right to a T, because he’s got more experience here than I do,” Fuller said. “It just wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t balanced enough after lap three. It seemed like when the cautions came out, I just go worse and worse after that. My right-rear (tire) doesn’t have a lot of tread left on it.
“I tried to conserve as much as I could early. (Polesitter Tyler) Reddick set a pace and I knew he was going to hit the wall or do something the way he was going. I was just biding my time to save my tires and restarts really screwed me.”
Salvaging the night
Most drivers who go a lap down in the first 10 laps of a 100-lapper at Eldora are doomed to the obscurity of a finish deep in the pack. But somehow Terry Phillips of Springfield, Mo., was able to get rolling in the low groove, unlap himself and post a top-10 Dream finish.
“We got lapped there early, and my tires started coming,” Phillips said. “We put brand news tires on — I don’t know if everybody did — and it took me a while and I couldn’t get going. About the time I got going, I was getting lapped, and then I just kind of stayed on the bottom out of the way — heck, I passed him back. I thought, 'Well that’s pretty cool, you know?' ”
On the tail of the lead lap when a red flag appeared for a lap-17 cleanup, Phillips took advantage to head to the pits and put on tires that would enhance his choice of the low groove.
"I came in and put some soft tires on and went towards the front,” said Phillips, who was battling for eighth early in the second half of the feature. “Before that long run there, I mean I was holdin’ on and they were going by me and the tires quit. The cautions at the end helped me and I got by a few more. It was just kind of a gamble and I thought we’d try it, and it didn’t work out too bad.
“We struggle here. I don’t get to race here very often, and to run these cars, this is the third time I’ve been here in a Bloomquist car, so I’m learning every time. I’ve just gotta be patient I suppose. I don’t want to be, but I am, and it seems like we’re getting better each time, learning something.”
More driver notes
Fast qualifier Jonathan Davenport’s race ended when he was caught up in a multicar backstretch scramble on lap 17. “It’s just hard racing luck ... eventually it’ll turn it around,” the Blairsville, Ga., driver said. “It’ll be all right. We had a good car. I think I finally hit the setup I needed to do tonight for the slick. We just started rolling there pretty good and just got caught up in somebody else’s mess.” .... Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., retired with a broken engine on lap 66 after an early pit stop to change tires. “We probably should’ve started with a different tire, but we started so far back we were trying to gamble,” said Clanton who ran the low groove most of the way. “Our car was good. We just blowed a motor.” ... Sixth-finishing Jimmy Mars of Memonomie, Wis., led laps 23-64, but lost four positions during two late-race restarts. “I just was no good on the restarts. We were going to be about a third-place car,” he said. “We weren’t bad. I know where we were at and what we need to do. ... It sucks. But if we wouldn’t have had the restarts, I’d have ended up third. But I just could not go on the restarts.” ... Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., managed a fourth-place finish despite a broken faceshield on his helmet. “A big piece of dirt clod hit up there and it broke the shield on the side, so it was half open about halfway through the race,” he said. “During a caution, I was able to position the two pieces back together and get it to seal up. So I got my eyes full of dirt.”
Dream XIX odds and ends
Six first-time Dream starters were among the 28-car field, with Jon Henry the top finisher among them in 13th. ... Other first-time starters: Wayne Chinn (16th), Mason Zeigler (20th), Chris Simpson (22nd), Gregg Satterlee (25th) and Devin Moran (26th). ... Eight chassis brands were represented in the feature field led by Rocket Chassis with eight entries and Bloomquist Race Cars with six. Next were MasterSbilt (4), MB Customs (3), Barry Wright Race Cars (3), Capital (2), Warrior (1) and Victory Circle (1). ... Three Bloomquist cars were in the top five. ... Fifteen states were represented in the starting field with home-state Ohio leading the way with four starters. Georgia had three starters followed by two apiece for New York, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Indiana.