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World of Outlaws Notebook

Notes: Another crack at Firecracker for Lanigan

June 27, 2013, 9:41 am
By Kevin Kovac
World of Outlaws Late Model Series
Darrell Lanigan is aiming for his first Firecracker 100 victory. (mrmracing.net)
Darrell Lanigan is aiming for his first Firecracker 100 victory. (mrmracing.net)

The Firecracker 100 Presented by GottaRace.com weekend has arrived, so Darrell Lanigan is ready to hear the question everyone will be asking him as he makes his way around Lernerville Speedway. Hey Darrell, is this the year you finally win the Firecracker?

With four second-place finishes in the last five years, Lanigan knows what it feels like to fall agonizingly short in the summer-starting World of Outlaws Late Model Series spectacular that highlights three nights of racing (June 27-29) at Lernerville. But all those near-misses aren't changing his approach to this year's $30,000-to-win show.

"Like I've always said, we go there to try to win the race," said the no-nonsense Lanigan, deflecting the inevitable pre-Firecracker 100 inquiry. "Yeah, we've run second there a few times, been close. We'll just see if we can get it done this time."

Lanigan, 43, of Union, Ky., is entering this weekend's seventh annual Firecracker 100 with a sense of calm, refusing to let his previous bridesmaid finishes (three consecutive from 2008-10 and a fourth last year) alter his approach. He's an intensely competitive driver who absolutely hates to lose any race, but he's come to realize that his burning desire to capture the Firecracker 100 is only worth so much. The defending WoO LMS champion understands that his fate will ultimately be decided by fortune and the gods of metallurgy.

"You just gotta have luck behind you,” Lanigan said. "If you don't have no luck, you're not gonna win it. Actually, those races we finished second in there don't bother me. I mean, yeah, I want to win it, but I'm not gonna beat myself up about it if it doesn't happen."

Lanigan demonstrated that attitude following last year's Firecracker 100, when he crossed the finish line 1.582 seconds behind Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., after his dramatic late-race bid for victory was effectively dashed when he slipped over the 4/10-mile oval's cushion between turns one and two on lap 98. He accepted his latest heartbreak with a head-shaking smile — a stark contrast to runner-up finish No. 3 in 2010, when he climbed out of his car for the postrace ceremonies and simply stared into the distance with a stern look on his face, too frustrated to say much more than comments unpublishable on a family website.

"Last year I was close and I was aggravated, but we had a good car," said Lanigan. "We came from (seventh) to run second, but we just lost a little too much ground there when I got over the cushion with two to go. Hopefully this year we'll be good again and get up front, and then have a little bit of luck on our side."

In both 2010 and '12, Lanigan finished second in the Firecracker 100 without leading a lap; he reached the runner-up spot on lap 82 of the '10 event but wasn't able to get close enough to seriously challenge winner Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga. In '08, however, Lanigan led the race's first 69 laps before Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa, gained control and ran away from the field for a convincing triumph, and in '09 Lanigan paced laps 13-93 before Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., swept by him to emerge victorious after rallying from a lap-27 pit stop to change a cut tire.

Lanigan, who has never won a feature at Lernerville, enters this year's Firecracker 100 with momentum on his side for the second straight year. Though he sits third in the WoO LMS points standings, he leads all drivers with six victories, including back-to-back triumphs in Ontario, Canada on June 20 at Brighton Speedway and June 23 at Cornwall Motor Speedway.

One year removed from setting a single-season WoO record with 15 victories, Lanigan actually isn't all that far off his sizzling 2012 pace. Through 22 races last year he had seven victories, 16 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes; this season he has six victories, 13 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes.

Stone’s special night

The feel-good story of last year's Firecracker 100 was authored by Dan Stone of Thompson, Pa., everyone's favorite underdog who drove to a popular victory in the 30-lap WoO prelim on Friday night.

Stone, 36, remembers that special evening well. Driving the Super Deuce Rocket car fielded by Indianapolis's Leo Milus, he turned back a last-lap challenge from Bloomquist to register his second career WoO triumph.

"That was so cool," said Stone, whose previous WoO victory came behind the wheel of his father Warren's No. 21d on Sept. 2, 2007, at Tri-City Speedway in Franklin, Pa. "It was really neat to get another Outlaw win at a big race like that with all those people there, and it was nice winning driving for someone else. I haven't really had too many chances to drive somebody else's car, so that made it special.

"We actually were horrible the night before (Thursday's first preliminary night), so we change a bunch of stuff back to standard. It's weird — you kind of get off in left field and then you put everything back to how Rocket tells you to run to begin with, and you end up way better. You always think you can out-think 'em, but they kind of have it figured out to start with.”

Stone wasn't able to transfer his preliminary success into a strong run in last year's Firecracker 100 finale, however. He finished the century grind one lap down in 16th place.

"I think on Saturday (last year) the track got a lot slicker because we didn't have the rain we did on Friday," recalled Stone. "So maybe we were just a little too conservative with our changes. Sometimes when you run good like that it trips you up a little. You don't want to deviate from that setup that worked. We definitely needed to be a little tighter.

"That's OK, though. We have some more notes for this year and hopefully we can be a little more consistent and run good all three nights."

Stone will be behind the wheel of the same Super Deuce machine he entered in last year's Firecracker 100. He's made four starts in the car this season: two earlier this month in Appalachian Mountain Speedweek events and two in WoO LMS shows (June 23 at Cornwall and June 25 at New York's Canandaigua Motorsports Park).

Capturing the Firecracker 100 is a dream that is certainly dancing in Stone's head. He would relish the honor of being the first home-state driver to bag Pennsylvania’s richest Dirt Late Model event.

"It would be huge to win it," said Stone, who drove his family's No. 21d to a pair of top-five WoO finishes last week (second at New York's Fonda Speedway on June 19, fourth at Brighton on June 20). "We've never come real close in a crown-jewel event like that, so it would be real cool to pull that off and get your name with all those other great guys who have won it. They're almost unstoppable when it comes to that type of racing — it's like if you give them guys a 100-lapper and they're in a league of their own, so it would be cool to be able to beat them.”

Odds and ends

The event is available on pay-per-view at DirtonDirt.com. ... Besides Lanigan, the only other WoO regulars to have third-place or better finishes in the Firecracker are Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga. (2010 winner) Rick Eckert of York, Pa. (third in 2011) and Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y. (third in 2012). ... The event includes the $3,000-to-win Uncle Sam 30 for non-qualifiers; previous winners: Josh McGuire of Ashland, Ky. (2007), Mike Knight of Ripley, N.Y. (2008), Robbie Blair of Titusville, Pa. (2009), Birkhofer (2010), Matt Lux of Franklin, Pa. (2011) and Morgan Bagley of Longview, Texas (2012). ... The best finish among Lernerville regulars on the Firecracker 100 finale was the eighth-place finish last season of Jared Miley of South Park, Pa. ... Local drivers John Garvin Jr. (by virtue of leading track points) and Alex Ferree (Mid-Season Championship winner) have provisionals for the 100-lapper. ... Besides WoO regulars, among drivers expected are Davey Johnson, Gregg Satterlee, Boom Briggs, Ron Davies, Mason Zeigler from Pennsylvania. ... Mike Marlar and Randy Weaver from Tennessee. .... West Virginia's John Blankenship, Eddie Carrier Jr. and Steve Shaver. ... Georgia’s Dale McDowell and Jonathan Davenport. ... And other standouts: Austin Hubbard, Dillon Wood, Steve Francis, Jamie Lathroum, Ross Camponovo, Vic Coffey, Russ King, Brady Smith and Andrew Reaume. ... For complete race details, visit lernerville.com or call (724) 353-1511.

 
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