O'Neal falters as Owens triumphs at Florence
By Michael RigsbyDirtonDirt.com staff writer
UNION, Ky. (May 31) — Inheriting the top spot when race-long leader Don O'Neal departed with engine problems, Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., led the final six laps at Florence Speedway to capture the Ralph Latham Memorial. Owens earned $10,000 for his seventh career victory on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.
O'Neal, of Martinsville, Ind., started on the pole and built leads of as much as a half-straightaway while holding Owens at bay through the middle portion of the 50-lap event. But Owens was tracking down O'Neal when the leader pulled into the infield about lap 44. Owens, who started outside the front row, led the rest of the way to cross the finish line ahead of Eddie Carrier Jr. of Salt Rock, W.Va., and Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa. Lucas Oil Series points leader Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., was fourth ahead of Rick Combs of nearby Cincinnati, Ohio. Steve Casebolt of Richmond, Ind., last year's winner, finished sixth after starting 17th at the half-mile northern Kentucky oval.
O'Neal wasn't the only contender to exit early. Hometown driver Darrell Lanigan, who returned to Florence after the World of Outlaws Late Model Series event in Hagerstown, Md., was rained out, made it a three-wide battle for the lead on the 18th lap when he tried to get under Owens in turn three as O'Neal ran the high side. A Lanigan-Owens collision broke a tie rod on Lanigan's No. 29 and he limped around a few more laps before bringing out a caution.
Notes: Winner Jimmy Owens drives a Bloomquist Race Car powered by a Cornett Thunder engine. His main sponsors are Reece Monument Co. and Gantte Appraisals. ... His previous victory on the circuit came Sept. 15 at West Virginia Motor Speedway in Mineral Wells, W.Va. ... Owens fell to third behind Eddie Carrier Jr. on the 35th lap but he regained the second spot and began hunting down O'Neal. ... Only two cautions slowed the feature action. ... Rodney Combs entered the event as a teammate to Don O'Neal in a Harrod Farms-backed machine. The Hall of Famer finished 24th. ... Among drivers failing to make the feature lineup: Mike Marlar, Dan Schlieper (a former North-South 100 winner at Florence), Kevin Claycomb (a winner earlier this year at Florence), Josh McGuire (coming off a Friday IRS victory at Skyline Speedway), Michael England, Jesse Lay, Billy Drake, Rick Corbin, Joey Kramer and John Mason. ... The series takes a two-week break before returning to action June 12-14 at Duck River Speedway in Wheel, Tenn., North Georgia Speedway in Chatsworth, Ga., and Talladega Short Track in Eastaboga, Ala.
Lucas Oil @ Florence: (1) Jimmy Owens, (2) Eddie Carrier Jr., (3) Brian Birkhofer, (4) Earl Pearson Jr., (5) Rick Combs, (6) Steve Casebolt, (7) John Gill, (8) Josh Williams, (9) Brad Neat, (10) Wayne Chinn, (11) Bart Hartman, (12) Audie McWilliams, (13) R.J. Conley, (14) Justin Rattliff, (15) Freddy Smith, (16) Robby Hensley, (17) Victor Lee, (18) Don O'Neal, (19) Matt Miller, (20) Jerry Rice, (21) Dustin Neat, (22) Steve Landrum, (23) Rod Conley, (24) Rodney Combs, (25) Darrell Lanigan. Fast qualifier (among 58 cars): R.J. Conley, 16.365. Heat race winners: Lanigan, O'Neal, Owens, Combs, Rice, Carrier. Consolation winners: Lee, Hensley. Provisional starters: Hartman, Rattliff, McWilliams.
Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly reported the lap when Owens took the lead. He led the final six laps.