‘Unbelievable’ 2012 Season Brought Lanigan Second Career World of Outlaws Late Model Series Championship
By Kevin Kovac, WoO LMS P.R. Director
CONCORD, NC – Nov. 14, 2012 – Darrell Lanigan isn’t a man of many words, but he needn’t be to describe his 2012 championship season on the World of Outlaws Late Model Series.
The easiest way to sum up Lanigan’s campaign is with the single word he uttered in Victory Lane interviews following virtually all of his record-setting 15 A-Main wins: “Unbelievable.”
Lanigan, 42, of Union, Ky., absolutely rewrote World of Outlaws history in 2012, dominating the national tour in a manner that might never be duplicated. With a resounding 33 top-five and 37 top-10 finishes in 40 starts, his control of the season was so complete that he clinched the circuit’s $100,000 points title by merely entering the year-ending PEAK Motor Oil World Finals Presented by NAPA Auto Parts on Nov. 1-3 at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C.
After Lanigan capped the ’12 schedule with a pair of third-place finishes in the doubleheader at The Dirt Track, he topped the WoO LMS standings by a record 228 points over 2011 champ Rick Eckert of York, Pa. – a figure that easily surpassed the previous championship-margin standard of 160 points Lanigan established in winning his first crown in 2008. He also became the first driver in the tour’s modern era (2004-present) to lead the points standings from start-to-finish.
Lanigan, of course, roared out of the 2012 WoO LMS gate with wins in the season opener on Feb. 11 at Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Ga., and the second race on Feb. 16 at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla. Not surprisingly, as the first series regular to start a season with back-to-back triumphs, he had an immediate inkling that something special could be brewing.
“To start the year out we switched some stuff around on our shock program and it really hit on what I like to feel,” said Lanigan, a loyalist of Integra Shocks. “I kind of felt the year was gonna be pretty good. I didn’t know it would end up being as awesome as it was, but really, who would’ve predicted what we did this year?”
Indeed, who could have forecast that Lanigan would obliterate the single-season WoO LMS win record of nine (Scott Bloomquist, 2004) with victories at 15 different tracks in 12 states and one Canadian province? That he would rip off a record six consecutive victories in one sizzling July-August stretch? That he would vault to the top of the tour’s alltime win list, with 41 wins? That he would capture an unprecedented three 100-lap WoO LMS events in a single season (and finish second in two more)? That he would tally a win percentage of .375 on a series that had never seen a regular win even 30 percent of their starts? That he would lead 638 of the season’s 2,215 A-Main laps – nearly four times more circuits than any other driver? That his 2012 earnings (including points fund) would total a record $426,700?
The statistics Lanigan put up were simply mind-boggling. He was, for all intents and purposes, in a league of his own. After championship favorite Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., abruptly departed the series in April to pursue a pavement career on the NASCAR Nationwide Series, the only WoO LMS regulars who managed to upstage Lanigan for more than fleeting moments were Eckert (five wins) and Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y. (three).
Off-nights were few and far between for Lanigan, who failed to qualify through a heat race three times and used just two provisional starting spots. With an amazing 27 podium finishes (15 wins, four seconds and eight thirds) and just three outings outside the top 10 (14th on April 27 at North Alabama Speedway, 18th on July 10 at South Dakota’s Black Hills Speedway and 21st on June 28 at Pennsylvania’s Lernerville Speedway), he never gave his rivals a sliver of hope. Lanigan’s points lead broke 100 points after the 13th race of the season (his May 26 victory in the Jackpot 100 at West Virginia’s Tyler County Speedway) and never fell below triple figures the remainder of the way.
“We didn’t really have a slump all year,” said Lanigan, whose longest winless streak was a nine-race stretch immediately following his pair of season-opening victories. “Our worst deal was Lernerville – that first night of the Firecracker (100) we just missed it bad. We had a couple DNFs – at North Alabama because of a tangle and Black Hills because we overheated a motor – but other than that, our year was phenomenal.”
There were plenty of highlights for Lanigan, the most notable being his three 100-lap triumphs: the Jackpot 100 (worth $25,150); the USA Nationals on Aug. 4 at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis. ($50,050); and the Keyser Manufacturing ‘Down & Dirty 100’ Presented by NAPA on Sept. 22 at Berlin Raceway in Marne, Mich. ($20,650). His first-ever triumph in the USA Nationals was certainly his most prestigious checkered flag, but no race got the normally reserved Lanigan’s adrenalin pumping more than his dramatic score at Berlin, a uniquely-shaped 7/16th-mile asphalt track that was covered with dirt for a historic WoO LMS weekend.
“Winning Cedar Lake was great, but I probably was more excited about the Berlin race,” said Lanigan, who showed his biggest burst of emotion all season when he exited his car in Berlin’s rain-soaked Victory Lane. “At the start of that race I didn’t think we had a chance, but then we got up through there early and got ourselves in the mix. Then we tore a quarter-panel up and I thought, We’re done, but we got a caution, were able to get that (bent) body pulled away from the tire and just started getting better and better. The next thing you know, I ran down (Billy) Moyer and passed him (for the lead) right there at the end (six laps to go).
“There were just so many ups-and-downs in that race. We had a lot of great moments all year, but nothing topped that one.”
There was no magic formula to Lanigan’s 2012 success. As he made clear, it was just a classic mixture of experience and hard work that carried him to the Promised Land.
Lanigan, it should be noted, has been driving dirt Late Models for a quarter-century. He started as a teenager when his late father, Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame team owner Porter Lanigan, gave him a chance to go racing at the family’s hometown track, Florence Speedway, and he began competing on a national level in the early ’90s. He cemented his status as a bona fide star in 2003 when he became the first driver to win the $100,000 Dream at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway and the $60,000 Dirt Track World Championship (then at Kentucky’s Bluegrass Speedway) in the same season.
A fulltime points-chaser on the WoO LMS since the circuit was reincarnated under the World Racing Group banner in 2004, Lanigan’s best points finish in his first four years on tour was fifth, in ’06, and he managed a modest total of 10 wins over his first five seasons (exactly two wins per year). But after claiming his ’08 championship mostly on the strength of remarkable consistency, he’s busted out to the tune of 31 wins over the past four seasons with points finishes of second (’10) and third (’09 and ’11) preceding his second title.
“Experience definitely pays off in this deal,” said Lanigan, who has taken his place as one of the sport’s most seasoned veterans. “I’ve been doing this a long time now, and after running so many races and laps (at tracks) all over the country you kind of learn how to points race. Youth might be faster at points, but in the long run experience pays off – you just kind of know where to put yourself without getting in a bad position.
“I know that 15 years ago I was one of the young ones, all gas, all the time. It didn’t matter who, or what, you crashed, or what happened. Now, from experience, you go out there and you respect your competitors a whole lot more – I know I do – because you gotta race with ’em all the time, and you understand what it takes to put yourself in position to win races.”
All those years in the game also allow a driver to figure out and refine the pre-race preparation necessary to reach Victory Lane. Lanigan, who fields his own race team, has certainly gotten that aspect of his program down to a science. As anyone who travels the WoO LMS will readily admit, Lanigan’s off-track focus on his equipment is so intense, he’s raised the bar to a level that his traveling rivals have found difficult to match.
“I think the biggest thing my father taught me was that the harder you work for something, the more you’re gonna gain,” said Lanigan, whose father passed away in 2011. “He was a hard worker; that’s the way he made his money. I always saw that, and it proved to me that if you’re gonna work hard at something, you’re probably gonna make it work.”
Meticulous by nature, Lanigan has always operated one of dirt Late Model racing’s slickest, most professional teams. He cuts no corners. From a thoroughly regimented maintenance program to the spic-and-span appearance of his Rocket Chassis race cars (“We probably put a new right-side door on every time we get to the house,” he will admit with a smile), black hauler and shop outside Cincinnati, he strives for perfection.
“Everybody’s got their own way they like to do stuff,” said Lanigan, who is engaged to Erin and has two daughters (Tiffany, 11, and Brittney, 8) from a previous relationship. “I’m sure (other teams) look at me and are like, ‘Why does he do that so much? Why does he worry about his stuff looking good?’ But that’s just the way I am.
“My father was completely different than I was,” he continued. “He was kind of like the people on the television shows who go around collecting stuff. He always wanted to keep everything, never wanted to throw nothing away. Hell, I’d be in the garage and I’d throw something in the dumpster or the garbage can, and he’d be over there saying, ‘What are you throwing this away for? You might need that.’
“For me, everything has always had to be neat and tidy. It’s just the way I like things and it’s why I operate my team the way I do.”
Actually, in terms of dedication to his craft, Lanigan was even more engaged with his team in 2012 than at any time in his career. During the 2011 season he closed on the sale of an apartment building he had been operating near Cincinnati, freeing him up to become a true fulltime racer in ’12. He worked more regularly alongside his new 20-something crewmen Jason Jameson, a dirt Late Model racer from Lawrenceburg, Ind., who slowed his own driving career to assist Lanigan this year (and ended up as the Integra Shocks WoO LMS Crew Chief of the Year), and Adam Logan.
“Pretty much this is the first full year I’ve been fulltime concentrating on racing,” said Lanigan, who had previously balanced his business concerns at the apartment building with his racing. “I got more time to concentrate on this now and it’s been paying off. I can tell – the more time I spend at the shop and concentrate on what we’re doing, it helps your program.
“I got two real good guys working with me this year. We’ve really clicked. But I think me being there in the shop more has helped everything come together faster.”
For a driver who just a couple years ago was contemplating a reduction in his travel schedule, everything about following the WoO LMS now appears rosy. While Lanigan understands his 2012 season will be tough to repeat, come February, he’ll be ready to hit the road again. After joining Richards on the short list of two-time WoO LMS champions since ’04, Lanigan would love to make more history as the modern era’s first three-time titlist while also matching Richards’s standard of back-to-back crowns in 2009-10.
“It’s a grind,” Lanigan said of running the WoO LMS. “But you sit there for a couple months when we get home after the World Finals in November, and then by the time Florida (Speedweeks) comes around you’re like, ‘Man, let’s get going.’ You’re ready to go again. You just need a little time to get everything back together, spend some time with the family at home, and you’re ready to go do it again.
“I think it’s a challenge to run a series like the Outlaws,” he added. “I think you have it in your blood and you’re always trying to win. It’s kind of like playing Black Jack – it’s a challenge to go there to a casino and try to make money. Racing is a challenge just like that – because basically, racing is gambling.”
And in 2012, Lanigan definitely beat the house.
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), Gravely Tractors (Official Lawn Equipment), Hoosier Racing Tires (Official Racing Tires), STP (Official Fuel Treatment), Vicci (Official Uniform), VP Racing Fuel (Official Racing Fuel), DirtonDirt.com (Hard Charger Award) and McCarthy’s One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning (Raye Vest Memorial Pill Draw Award); in addition to contingency sponsors Butlerbuilt, Cometic Gasket, Comp Cams, Dominator Race Products, Eibach Springs, JE Pistons, Klotz Synthetic Lubricants, MSD Ignition, Ohlins Shocks, QuarterMaster, Roush Yates Performance Parts, Superflow Dynos, Wix Filter, Wrisco Aluminum and XS Power Racing Batteries; along with manufacturer sponsors Integra Shocks, GRT Chassis, Jake’s Carts, Longacre, Racing Electronics, Rocket Chassis, TNT Rescue, and Warrior Chassis.