Notes: Hard shot ends Johnson's North-South
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com managing editor
UNION, Ky. (Aug. 10) — After starting 13th Saturday, Greg Johnson was trying to sneak into the top five late in the Sunoco North-South 100 when he got a rude awakening on the frontstretch at Florence Speedway.
Running right up against the concrete wall, the Bedford, Ind., driver suddenly came upon a stalled John Blankenship just past the flagstand, slamming into Blankenship’s machine while Johnson was running sixth on the 96th lap.
“I was running the top there and I didn’t see him. I mean, (Steve Francis) was in front of me, and when he darted down, I didn’t see him,” Johnson said later in the pits. “I hit him wide open.”
As Johnson talked, Revelution Chassis designer Frank Revel and other members of the Gary Engle-owned team banged away on the car, trying to make repairs on the badly mangled front end. The driver hoped it looked worse than it was.
“I think it’s mostly cosmetic to be honest with you,” he said. “I don’t think it got the frame. It took the carburetor off, but it just broke the studs on that. As far as the T-bars and all that stuff, it bent that, but I don’t think it bent the frame.”
Starting with harder tires, Johnson said his car was better at the finish, although a series of late cautions kept him from getting optimum heat in the rubber. He found himself trading positions much of the night with fifth-place finisher and Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series points leader Jimmy Owens.
“Them guys would get me slowed up on the top, and he’d get me on the bottom,” Johnson said of his battle with Owens. “I’d get a run and get going again and he’d go to the bottom to pass, and I’d get beside him and pass him. It was just one of them things. I was just trying to get to the front.”
Then came the wreck that he’ll be reminded of this week.
“It was pretty hard,” he said. “I’ll be very sore tomorrow.”
Back in the big money
Tim McCreadie hadn’t tasted crown jewel success since 2008, so things are looking up for the 39-year-old Watertown, N.Y., racer after back-to-back weeks in contention for $50,000.
McCreadie collected the big money Aug. 3 at Cedar Lake Speedway’s USA Nationals in New Richmond, Wis., outrunning Don O’Neal. On Saturday at Florence, he was a $10,000 runner-up to the triumphant O’Neal in the North-South 100.
“If you can run good with these guys, you know you’re going to have shots at it,” McCreadie said. “We’ll just keep digging and digging and hopefully keep this Warrior car where it’s been. It’s been fun so far.”
While McCreadie has been more consistent in 2013, clicking off a total of five victories on the World of Outlaws Late Model Series, he knows the big money is where careers are made.
“For us, for where we were a year ago ... to keep coming and coming and coming with this program, it’s all you can ask for,” he said. “It’s amazing we went to work and made things better, and it’s starting to show. Hopefully it’s not just a two-weekend stretch. Hopefully it can be a rest-of-the-year deal, because this is way more fun, that’s for sure.”
McCreadie was fast enough to work his way from his seventh starting spot to second, but he couldn’t master the tricky high groove quite as well as O’Neal, who led all 100 laps.
“We can’t ask for much better. He was just really smooth. He got to the lead early and he could just be smooth. I just had to run so hard to get to where I was at; it’s hard to dial it back,” McCreadie said. “I got to second there, and I couldn’t steer good enough through the center (of the corners), that I had to bend (the car) so hard in, it just didn’t help things.”
Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., said he’s usually not worried much about inversions in heat races, but the North-South 100 format knocked him out of a front-row starting spot when he was the second overall fast qualifier at the undersized half-mile oval.
“Normally I don’t qualify well,” McDowell said with a laugh, “so normally the inversions help me.”
While McDowell as able to transfer through his heat race despite the three-car inversion, the third-place finish — as good as any driver who started third in heat races — buried him in the 16th starting spot of the main event. The Team Dillon Racing crew went to work to make sure he could run high or low.
“We threw some things at the car and knew we were going to have to be maneuverable and try to run where they weren’t,” McDowell said. “(Crew member) Jesse (Kerns) and (brother-crew chief) Shane (McDowell) and all the guys just kind of made some changes and I just went out there to drive it wherever they weren’t.
“Starting that far back, starting 16th, we just tightened the car up a little bit — maybe a little bit too much ... but we knew we had to do something in order to be able to pass. We inherited a couple of positions from people falling out, but through most of it, we passed our way up through there. The car was really good on the restarts whether I was on the bottom or the top.”
McDowell hasn’t had much success at Florence in recent years — his best North-South 100 finish of fifth came in 2002 — but teammate Austin Dillon’s experience at Florence during the northern Kentucky oval’s previous two UMP DIRTcar Summernationals gave him fresh insight.
“It’s helped a lot, Shane and Austin came up here and run the Summernationals race, and Austin ran third, and he came up here last year and ran really well. So really, that helped us a lot, because I really haven’t run well here since the late '90s,” McDowell said with a laugh, realizing how long it’s been. “I mean, at least it’s given me a little bit of confidence for what I need to do as a driver here. Because I was really, really lost. You can go to these places that you run well, and you can kind of take mental notes of what you need to do. I didn’t have any good mental notes here, so I’m just glad to run the top five.”