ON A ROLL: Jonathan Davenport nearly pulled off an unprecedented sweep of last year’s Lowes Foods World of Outlaws World Finals presented by Tom’s Snacks, Coca-Cola and Nature’s Own. This weekend (Nov. 3-5) he returns to The Dirt Track at Charlotte looking like a driver who just might get out the broom and finish the job.
Blairsville, Ga.’s Davenport enters the World of Outlaws Late Model Series portion of the fifth annual World Finals – a three-day festival of speed that also includes the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series and the Super DIRTcar Series for Big-Block Modifieds – as arguably the hottest full-fender competitor in the country. His sizzling, season-turning month of October featured four special-event victories in five weekends – a surge that brought him and car owner Barry Wright a cool $50,000 in first-place earnings.
“We struggled the beginning of the year,” Davenport said after his latest triumph on Oct. 29 in the unsanctioned Cotton Pickin’ 100 at Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus, Miss., “but we’ve come on strong here at the end.”
Davenport, who turned 28 on Oct. 31, was virtually flawless during the 2010 World Finals. He set fast time in both rounds of WoO LMS time trials, won his heat race for both the Saturday afternoon and evening programs (a day-night doubleheader was set up by a rainout on Friday) and scored a win and a second-place finish in the A-Mains. If he had won last year’s nightcap, he would have become the first driver to enjoy a perfect run through the World Finals.
For most of the 2011 season, of course, Davenport didn’t look like a racer capable of playing another starring role in the World Finals. He was unable to find a consistent rhythm with Wright’s house car team during his travels – until autumn arrived, that is. He gained some momentum with a $5,000 triumph on Sept. 24 at Virginia’s Wythe Raceway and then went absolutely wild in October, rolling up four five-figure checkered flags: an Ultimate Series event on Oct. 2 at East Alabama Motor Speedway in Phenix City ($10,000); the Raye Vest Memorial on Oct. 15 at Winchester (Va.) Speedway ($10,000); the Fall Classic on Oct. 22 at Whynot Speedway in Meridian, Miss. ($15,000); and last Saturday night’s 100-lapper at Magnolia ($15,000).
Davenport, whose first – and still only – career WoO LMS win came in last year’s World Finals opener, has four top-five finishes in nine A-Main starts on the tour this season. His best outing was a runner-up finish in the ‘Outlaw Sizzler 101’ on July 3 at Tazewell (Tenn.) Speedway.
SETTING THE SCENE: For the third consecutive year the WoO LMS championship battle will conclude in dramatic fashion during the World Finals, which kick off with Kellogg’s Qualifying Night on Thursday (Nov. 3) featuring two rounds of time trials for the Late Models and Sprint Cars and two sets of heats for the Big-Block Modifieds. The programs on Friday (Nov. 4) and Saturday (Nov. 5) boast 50-lap A-Mains for the Late Models, 40-lappers for the Modifieds and 30-lap contests for the Sprints.
Rick Eckert of York, Pa., sits on the precipice of his first-ever WoO LMS crown, leading the standings by 14 points over two-time defending champion Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va. The 45-year-old veteran can clinch the $100,000 title – regardless of the 23-year-old Richards’s performance – if he finishes at least third in both A-Mains.
Richards owns the more formidable record at The Dirt Track in general and the World Finals in particular. For starters, he’s the only WoO LMS regular who has won an A-Main during the World Finals (the Saturday race in 2008) and he’s finished outside the top 10 just once in eight features since the event’s launch in 2007 (he was fifth and 11th in ‘07; 10th and first in ‘08; fifth and seventh in ’09; and 12th and fourth in ’10). He also has dealt with the pressure of nip-and-tuck title races the last two years (he beat Steve Francis by 14 points in ’09 and Darrell Lanigan by four markers in ’10), and he’s won the track’s October World of Outlaws Late Model Showdown three years in a row (including a dominant victory in this season’s version three weeks ago).
Richards will also be gunning for the WoO LMS single-season win record this weekend. His nine victories in 2011 currently has him tied with Scott Bloomquist’s standard-setting 2004 campaign.
Eckert, meanwhile, has never won at The Dirt Track, but he’s certainly no slouch at the four-tenths-mile oval. His World Finals finishing records shows sixth and 12th in ‘07; 17th and 12th in ‘08; third and eighth in ’09; and second and 13th in ’10. He also finished a solid fourth in last month’s World of Outlaws Late Model Showdown.
BUSY WEEKEND: The World Finals will mean more than WoO LMS competition for tour regulars Tim McCreadie and Tim Fuller, who will both pull double-duty by adding a return to their DIRTcar Big-Block Modified roots to their itineraries.
McCreadie, 37, and Fuller, who turned 44 on Oct. 28, will drive their familiar Late Models in the full-fender action – McCreadie will run the Sweeteners Plus No. 39 and Fuller will go to the post in his own BPG Inc. No. 19 – and also steer Big-Block Mods for Empire State-based teams that they hook up with for selected events that fit their schedules. McCreadie’s Modified ride is the Vinnie Salerno-owned Four Star Racing mount – a machine he drove to victory in last year’s World Finals Super DIRTcar Series nightcap – and Fuller will campaign the J&S Racing No. 74.
While the two drivers from Watertown, N.Y., have never won a WoO LMS event at Charlotte, both have reached Victory Lane there in Super DIRTcar Series shows during their Big-Block Modified careers. McCreadie was triumphant on April 6, 2002, before adding a second triumph last year, and Fuller hit paydirt on May 25, 2005.
McCreadie, who sits fourth in the WoO LMS points standings, has come close to the winner’s circle at The Dirt Track in World of Outlaws competition, having finished second in the 2009 World Finals finale and the 2010 Showdown event. He also had a second-place run going in last year’s World Finals opener until a flat tire knocked him out late in the distance and left him 23rd in the final rundown. His other World Finals finishes are fourth and 11th in ’08; 27th in the ’09 opener; and fifth in last year’s finale (he didn’t enter the 2007 edition).
Fuller, who ranks ninth in the WoO LMS points standings and needs a victory this weekend to avoid his first-ever winless season since becoming a tour regular in 2007, has only a single memorable run at the World Finals – a third-place finish from deep in the field in the finale of the 2007 twinbill. He failed to qualify for the first A-Main in ‘07 and then scored finishes of 14th and 15th in ‘08; 17th and 13 th in ‘09; and 15th and 24th in ’10.
DIFFERENT FEELING: One year after engaging Richards in a thrilling, down-to-the-last-lap battle for the WoO LMS title, Union, Ky.’s Darrell Lanigan returns to The Dirt Track without championship hopes but fairly secure as the third-place man in the points standings. He also can claim a share of the tour’s single-season win record by sweeping the pair of A-Mains to match Richards and Bloomquist at nine victories.
Lanigan has never won at Charlotte, but he’s been solid in the World Finals with finishes of 11th and fifth in ‘07; 11th and seventh in ‘08; a pair of fourths in ’09; and fourth and third (from the 25th starting spot) in ’10.
IN SIGHT: Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa., enters this weekend’s action facing the prospect of a second straight winless season on the WoO LMS, but he nonetheless can claim a sense of accomplishment by locking down his first top-five finish in the points standings since 2008.
The 49-year-old Frank currently holds fifth in the rankings thanks to a steady but unspectacular 2011 season in which he’s scored five top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. He leads sixth-place Shane Clanton of Fayetteville, Ga., by just 16 points, seventh-place Austin Hubbard of Seaford, Del., by 42 and eighth-place Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga., by 74.
The Dirt Track, of course, hasn’t been kind to Frank. While he didn’t compete in the 2009 World Finals doubleheader because of the fractured cheek and orbital bones he suffered on the eve of the event when an apparent clod of hard-packed clay struck him in the helmet during qualifying for the rescheduled WoO LMS Showdown, his finishes in the other three editions of the event have been pedestrian: 14th and 24th in ’07; 12th and sixth in ’08; and 25th and 26th in ’10.
WIN ONE FOR DALE: Austin Hubbard craves a victory in the World Finals not only to avoid a winless sophomore season on the WoO LMS, but also so he can give his car owner, Dale Beitler, a big send-off.
After four years of fielding his familiar blue-and-white No. 19 on the World of Outlaws circuit – 2008-09 with Steve Francis behind the wheel and the last two seasons with Hubbard driving – Beitler recently announced that he plans to disband his racing team after this weekend’s action. The Maryland resident has owned race cars for more than two decades.
The 19-year-old Hubbard will need to turn around his past performance at The Dirt Track in order to put Beitler in Victory Lane, however. The 2010 WoO LMS Rookie of the Year entered the ‘07, ‘08 and ‘09 World Finals programs but did not qualify for an A-Main, while last year he managed finishes of just 18th and 14th.
OUTLAWS AT THE WORLD FINALS: Other WoO LMS regulars and their World Finals finishing histories include:
* Shane Clanton: 10th and ninth in ‘07; 25th and 18th in ‘08; 11th and 16th in ’09; and 16 th and 11th in ’10.
* Clint Smith: 26th and 23rd in ‘07; 23rd and 17th in ‘08; 13th and sixth in ’09; and seventh and 10th in ’10.
* Vic Coffey of Caledonia, N.Y.: DNQ and 22nd in ’08; 23rd and DNQ in ’09; and 14th and 15th in ’10.
* Ron Davies of Warren, Pa.: DNQ for both events in 2010.
* John Lobb of Frewsburg, N.Y.: DNQ for both events in 2010.
TOP ROOKIE: Pat Doar of New Richmond, Wis., who will look to put the finishing touches on his 2011 WoO LMS Rookie of the Year campaign this weekend, has never entered the World Finals. His first appearance at The Dirt Track came in last month’s WoO LM Showdown when he finished 21st.
VICTORS: No driver has enjoyed more success in the Lowes Foods World Finals than Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., who won the opening-night 50-lapper in 2007, ’08 and ‘09. He was uncharacteristically a non-factor last year, however, finishing 10th and 20th in the A-Mains.
Joining Bloomquist, Richards and Davenport as World Finals A-Main winners are Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn. (2009 and 2010 finales) and Donnie Moran (2007 finale).
CARS, CARS, CARS: The Lowes Foods World Finals dirt Late Model field has averaged 79 cars in its four-year run – a record 82 in 2007, 78 in ‘08, 80 in ’09 and 76 in ’10. Another huge turnout is expected to pack The Dirt Track’s pit area this weekend.
NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT: The Lowes Foods World Finals program on Saturday night (Nov. 5) will once again be broadcast live on the SPEED cable network – this year as a four-hour spectacle beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
The show will see popular SPEED personality Dave Despain serve as host for the fifth consecutive year. The broadcast team also includes well-known commentator Ralph Shaheen, who will work with hall-of-famer Brad Doty during the Sprint Car action and Super DIRTcar Series announcer Shane Andrews during the Late Model and Big-Block events, and pit reporters Bobby Gerould and Roger Slack.
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS: The Lowes Food World of Outlaws World Finals begin on Thurs., Nov. 3, with the big Kellogg’s Qualifying Night featuring two rounds of Late Model and Sprint Car time trials and two sets of Big-Block Modified heats. Each division’s first round of qualifying will apply to Friday’s program and the second round to Saturday’s racing card.
In addition to practice and qualifying on Thursday, the Modifieds of the NDRA Modz ‘Road Show’ presented by Roush Yates Performance Parts will compete in their final race of the season. The 30-lap feature was rescheduled from Oct. 12 due to weather. Fans can bring in their ticket stub from the Oct. 12 race and get a discount on their Thursday ticket.
The Late Models and Sprint Cars will compete in full programs (heats, Last Chance Races, A-Mains) on both Fri., Nov. 4, and Sat., Nov. 5, while the Big-Block Modifieds will contest Last Chance Races and 40-lap features each evening.
Spectator gates open at 4 p.m. on Thurs., Nov. 3, and 3 p.m. on Fri., Nov. 4, and Sat., Nov. 5. Racing action is scheduled to get the green flag at 6:05 p.m. on Thursday and 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
GET YOUR SEATS: Tickets are still available but going fast for the three-day spectacular that has already become one of the biggest dirt racing events of the year. Capacity crowds are once again expected to pack The Dirt Track’s 14,000-plus seat grandstand as well as expanded pit-area seating.
Single-day tickets are still available for the World Finals. Adult tickets are just $20 for Thursday and $39 each day for Friday and Saturday. Tickets for children 12-and-under are just $10 on Thursday and $15 each day for Friday and Saturday. Fans can also upgrade their ticket to include a pit pass for just $15 each day.
For more details on the World Finals or to purchase tickets, call the speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS (3267) or go online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.
For more information on the WoO LMS, visit www.worldofoutlaws.com.
The World of Outlaws Late Model Series is brought to fans across the country by many important sponsors and partners, including Arizona Sport Shirts (Official Apparel Company), Armor All (Official Car Care Products), Hoosier Racing Tires (Official Racing Tires), STP (Official Fuel Treatment), Vicci (Official Uniform), VP Racing (Official Racing Fuel), DirtonDirt.com (Hard Charger Award), McCarthy’s One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning (Raye Vest Memorial Pill Draw Award), Chizmark Larson Insurance, Factory Value Parts and RacingJunk.com; in addition to contingency sponsors Comp Cams, Eibach Springs, JE Pistons, MSD Ignition, Ohlins Shocks, Pro Power Engines, Quartermaster, Rocket Chassis, R2C Performance, Superflow Dynos, Wix Filters and Wrisco Aluminum.