All Eyes On A Big Prize
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062111_FirecrkNotes

WoO Late Model Series News & Notes: Lanigan Takes Another Shot At Firecracker 100 Glory; Richards Heads To Lernerville On High Note

By Kevin Kovac, WoO LMS P.R. Director

SARVER, PA – June 21, 2011 –

HIS TURN?: Ask Darrell Lanigan if this will be the year that he finally breaks through to win the Firecracker 100 Presented by GottaRace.com at Lernerville Speedway after three consecutive runner-up finishes and he’ll just shrug his shoulders.
 The silence from Lanigan, 41, of Union, Ky., isn’t surprising. He’s not big on talking about himself in general, so discussing his prospects for victory in a race that has become a thorn in his side certainly doesn’t rank high on his priority list.

But make no mistake: while Lanigan might not wax poetic about pursuing victory in the $30,000-to-win World of Outlaws Late Model Series event that takes over Lernerville this weekend (June 23-25), his tight-lipped approach demonstrates just how badly he wants to win one of the national tour’s crown jewels.

“All I want to do is lead that last lap (on Saturday night),” said Lanigan, reiterating the comment he made prior to last year’s Firecracker 100 weekend.

Lanigan has come agonizingly close to the checkered flag in the last three editions of the summer-starting spectacular. But while the three straight bridesmaid finishes have earned him a cool $51,423, that’s little consolation for a competitive driver who said after last year’s event, “I guess I’m not supposed to win this —— ——- race.”

Last year’s Firecracker 100 marked the first time Lanigan finished second without leading a lap; he reached the runner-up spot on lap 82 but wasn’t able to get close enough to seriously challenge winner Shane Clanton of Fayetteville, Ga. In ’08 he 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 he 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, certainly enters this year’s Firecracker 100 with momentum on his side. Third in the WoO LMS points standings despite missing the season opener at Florida’s Volusia Speedway Park due to a medical issue related to treatment of lower-back pain he was suffering (doctors ultimately discovered he had a fractured tailbone), Lanigan has four wins and eight top-three finishes in 10 starts on the tour this year. One of his victories came in the ‘Cash Cow 100’ on March 19 at Columbus (Miss.) Speedway – ending his frustrating, career-long chase of a 100-lap triumph on the WoO LMS – and on June 11 he contended for a $100,000 win in the DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned Dream XVII at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway before a carburetor problem relegated him to a third-place finish.

In addition, Lanigan got his Rocket No. 29 tuned up for this weekend’s action by entering last Friday night’s weekly DIRTcar UMP Late Model program at Lernerville. He marched from the 15th starting spot to a second-place finish – a run he hopes to top by one spot on Saturday night.

LOOKING FOR MORE: Josh Richards won his first WoO LMS A-Main of the season last Saturday night at Winchester (Va.) Speedway, but don’t think for a minute that the tour’s two-time defending champion will be any less hungry this weekend at Lernerville.

Richards, 23, of Shinnston, W.Va., still has some goals to motivate him. His Winchester triumph, of course, came behind the wheel of the Ernie Davis-owned No. 25, so he still needs to guide his father Mark’s Rocket Chassis house car to its first Victory Lane stop in 2011. He also dearly craves a win in the Firecracker 100, a race that would immediately become the signature checkered flag of his dirt Late Model career.

“If we could win that race, it would mean everything,” said Richards. “It’s a crown-jewel event, a World of Outlaws event and it’s close to home.”

Richards won last year’s first Firecracker 100 preliminary A-Main and was the runner-up in the second – the same format, featuring 30-lap, $6,000-to-win events on Thurs., June 23, and Fri., June 24, leading into the 100-lapper on Saturday evening, will be repeated this weekend – but he started and finished seventh in the long-distance headliner. It was unspectacular but still his best finish in the Firecracker 100 following runs of ninth in ’07, 12th in ’08 and eighth in ’09.

“We were good in the preliminary features last year and we’ve always qualified well (for the 100),” said Richards, who hasn’t started worse than seventh in the event. “But for some reason when the track gets like it does for the Firecracker, we’re just lacking a little bit there. We’ve always been a fifth- to 10th place car.

“I feel really good about this year though. We’ve been working on some things, and every year I feel that I’m teaching myself to get better and better in 100-lappers just from watching these other guys and knowing how hard to run. That track is a challenging place for the Firecracker because it slows down and it feels like you’re never hooked up, so it takes experience to run up front and I feel like we’ve got the laps there to know what we should do.”

NEW WHEELS: Shane Clanton has consistently been one of the fastest entrants in the Firecracker 100, but can he continue his strength this year driving a two-race-old Capital Race Cars machine?

Save for a quiet 10th-place finish in the 2009 Firecracker 100, the 35-year-old Clanton has perennially been a serious threat to capture the event’s unique trophy. He won last year’s event, of course, but prior to that he might have had the fastest car in the 2007 and 2008 editions of the race. In ’07 he appeared primed to sail by eventual winner Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., to take the lead on lap 88 but had his momentum broken by Bloomquist’s sixth-sense groove change (Clanton finished sixth), and in ’08 an early tangle with Richards knocked him from contention (he finished 24th after retiring shortly after the incident because he slapped the wall while attempting to rally from the rear).

All of Clanton’s previous visits to Lernerville have come behind the wheel of a Rocket car. This time he’ll unload a Capital machine that he built in collaboration with former Dirt Track World Championship winner Marshall Green, adding an element of uncertainty to any pre-race scouting report on him.

TUNED UP: No WoO LMS regular has made more laps so far this season at Lernerville than Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa., whose three “competitive-practice” appearances in the four-tenths-mile oval’s weekly shows have resulted in a win, a second and a fifth.

The 49-year-old owns 13 career victories at Lernerville – including WoO LMS wins in 2004 and 2005 – but his best Firecracker 100 finish came in 2007, when he advanced from the 10th starting spot to finish fifth in a race slowed by only three caution flags. He’s also recorded finishes of sixth (’08 and ’10) and 12th (’09).

EXORCISING A DEMON: Rick Eckert of York, Pa., could virtually bring his WoO LMS career full-circle with a victory in the Firecracker 100.

The only driver to start all 292 WoO LMS A-Mains contested since 2004, Eckert has won two of the last four WoO LMS events and leads the points standings entering this weekend’s action. He’s on his best roll since 2006, when he won eight of the tour’s first 17 events before a heartbreaking early-August incident at Lernerville dive-bombed his championship hopes and sent him spiraling into an extended funk. Eckert was bidding for a dramatic last-lap win that evening when he got too low in turn four and spun to a stop, dropping him from second to 19th in the finish and from second to sixth in the points standings.

Almost five years later, Eckert has a golden opportunity to expunge that ’06 Lernerville memory – and his lackluster Firecracker 100 performance record – from his mind. While he’s won a WoO LMS A-Main at the track (in the spring of ’06), he’s never made a serious run at victory in the Firecracker 100, finishing 16th in ’07 (after using a provisional and starting 25th), 11th in ’08 (started 19th), ninth in ’09 (started 13th) and 15th in ’10 (started 21st).

GOING FOR NUMBER ONE: If teenage WoO LMS sensation Austin Hubbard of Seaford, Del., can get his start-to-finish A-Main performance to match his qualifying prowess, he just might be in the mix for his first-ever 100-lap victory.

The 19-year-old Hubbard, who enters the Firecracker 100 weekend just two weeks removed from scoring two feature wins en route to capturing the Appalachian Mountain Speedweek title, leads all WoO LMS drivers with six heat wins in 11 events this season. He’s been unable to turn that early-evening speed into a victory, however; incorrect setup and tire decisions have held him back to three top-five finishes.

Hubbard will enter the Firecracker 100 for the second time with car owner Dale Beitler and third time in his career. He failed to qualify his father Mike’s machine in 2009 and finished 12th in Beitler’s No. 19 last year.

SEARCHING FOR SPEED: Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., is hoping to find the combination that made him one of the stars of last year’s Firecracker 100 activities.

The 37-year-old former WoO LMS champion is mired in a frustrating slump on this year’s tour, entering this weekend’s competition winless and sitting fifth in the points standings. In 2010, however, he won the Friday-night preliminary A-Main and finished a career-best fourth in the 100-lapper after leading laps 20-72.

McCreadie didn’t compete in the inaugural Firecracker 100 in 2007. He finished eighth in ’08 and then failed to qualify in ’09 after barrel-rolling his car several times on the homestretch during Friday-night heat-race action – just one week after he had returned to the cockpit following five months on the sidelines due to a back injury he suffered during the January 2009 Chili Bowl Midget Nationals.

REGROUPED: The month-long break in the WoO LMS schedule that ended last Saturday night at Winchester was helpful to Tim Fuller of Watertown, N.Y., who needed every bit of that off-time to work on his new self-owned dirt Late Model program.

Fuller, who left John Wight’s Gypsum Express team in April and started his own operation backed by Pennsylvanian Chad Sinon’s BPG Inc., ran the late-April/early-May WoO LMS events with just one engine at his disposal. He’s since added a backup powerplant, giving him a bit more piece of mind as he dives into the busiest part of the tour’s 2011 schedule.

Fuller’s career-best finish in the Firecracker 100 is an eighth in ’07. He also placed 10th in ’08, 15th in ’09 and 13th in ’10.

FRUSTRATION: The Firecracker 100 has been no fun for Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga., who has never been a factor in the event.

Smith’s 18th-place finish in 2010 – the last driver on the lead lap – marked the first time he even completed the entire 100-lap distance. Previously, in ’07 he finished 28th after mechanical trouble knocked him out on lap 11; in ’08 he finished two laps down in 19th after using a provisional to gain entry to the 100; and in ’09 he dropped out on lap 73 and placed 18th.

THE CAPTAIN: Vic Coffey of Caledonia, N.Y., who is following the WoO LMS for the first time since he was the Rookie of the Year in 2008, will enter the Firecracker 100 for the fourth time in his career.

After skipping the 2007 event, Coffey finished 15th in ’08; did not qualify in ’09 (he was second in the Uncle Sam 30 Non-Qualifiers’ Race); and 24th last year.

NEW TRAVELERS: Two of this year’s three WoO LMS Rookie of the Year contenders are no strangers to Lernerville. The other? He’s never been to the place.

Pat Doar, 47, of New Richmond, Wis., who leads the current rookie standings, will make his first-ever visit to the track. His rivals, meanwhile, will be racing close to home – Ron Davies, 53, of Warren, Pa., won the Lernerville dirt Late Model championship in 1991, and John Lobb, 41, of Frewsburg, N.Y., has made sporadic appearances at the track throughout his career.

Lobb and Davies entered last Friday night’s weekly program at Lernerville, finishing seventh and eighth, respectively, in the 25-lapper.

DEBUT: Second-year WoO LMS regular Jill George of Cedar Falls, Iowa, will enter the Firecracker 100 for the first time. She missed last year’s event during her rookie season in order to attend a training camp for women’s college basketball officials.

CONSISTENT RACER: The only driver who has scored a top-10 finish in all four Firecracker 100s is 2007 WoO LMS champion Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., who for the first time in his career is not following the tour fulltime this season but plans to be in action at Lernerville.

Francis owns finishes of seventh (’07), fourth (’08), fifth (’09) and ninth (’10) in the Firecracker 100. He started second in the ’09 event and led laps 1-9 and 11-12.

HISTORY-MAKER: Scott Bloomquist won the inaugural Firecracker 100 in 2007, but he hasn’t put his familiar No. 0 in the spotlight since then. He will enter this weekend’s action looking to recapture his ’07 magic; his finishing record over the past three years shows a seventh in ’08 (from the 20th starting spot), 24th in ’09 (dropped out on lap 43) and eighth in ’10.

DID YOU KNOW?: The best Firecracker 100 run authored by a Lernerville or western Pennsylvania dirt Late Model regular came in 2007, when Dave Hess Jr. of Waterford, Pa., finished 11th.

Last year’s highest-finishing local was Jared Miley of South Park, Pa., who ended the race 16th on the lead lap.

Both Hess and Miley will be in this year’s Firecracker 100 field.

CONSOLATION PRIZE: Former winners of the Uncle Sam 30 Non-Qualifiers’ Race – a $3,000-to-win event that will be run prior to the start of the Firecracker 100 on Sat., June 25 – include Josh McGuire of Ashland, Ky. (2007), Mike Knight of Ripley, N.Y. (2008), Robbie Blair of Titusville, Pa. (2009) and ’08 Firecracker 100 winner Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa (2010).

BIG LIST: More than 50 drivers are expected to enter the Firecracker 100, including Mars; Brady Smith of Solon Springs, Wis., who finished fourth in 2009 and led laps 1-19 of last year’s event before fading to a 10th-place finish; Earl Pearson of Jacksonville, Fla., who hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in his three previous starts (third in ’07 and ’09, ninth in ’08); Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga. (fifth in ’10); Bub McCool of Vicksburg, Miss. (22nd in his Firecracker debut last year); Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga.; Rick ‘Boom’ Briggs of Bear Lake, Pa., who earned a guaranteed starting spot for the 100 with a victory last Friday night at Lernerville; 2009 WoO LMS Rookie of the Year Russell King of Bristolville, Ohio; 15-year-old Tyler Reddick of Corning, Calif.; first-time Firecracker entrant Chip Brindle of Chatsworth, Ga.; Dan Stone of Thompson, Pa.; brothers Jared and Jacob Hawkins of Fairmont, W.Va.; Matt Lux of Franklin, Pa.; Gregg Satterlee of Rochester Mills, Pa.; Alex Ferree of Saxonburg, Pa.; and Lynn Geisler of Cranberry Twp., Pa.

WHAT A WEEKEND: Fans get three full days of entertainment during the Firecracker 100 presented by GottaRace.com.

The weekend not only includes the complete WoO LMS preliminary programs on Thurs., June 23, and Fri., June 24, and the grand finale on Sat., June 25, featuring heat races, B-Mains, the Uncle Sam 30 and the Firecracker 100, but also pre- and post-race excitement.

Thursday night’s program will be followed by the first round of the Ms. Firecracker Pageant, a cornhole tournament and a concert by the Joe Patrick Band; Friday’s extracurricular activities include judging for the Best Tailgate Party and Best Camp Site awards at 3 p.m., a pulse-pounding post-race fireworks display and a concert by the group NOMaD following the final checkered flag; and on Saturday spectators can enjoy the annual driver/fan horseshoe tournament and weenie roast starting at 12 noon and the traditional driver autograph session under the main grandstand at 4 p.m.

GET YOUR TICKETS: Three-day reserved seat ticket packages are currently on sale for the Firecracker 100 weekend. Value-priced at $59 for adults and $19 for children 10-and-under, each package includes a FREE fan pit pass for the Thursday and Friday events and priority access to Saturday’s pre-race driver autograph session when purchased by midnight on June 22.

The ticket packages and single-day advance-sale tickets can be purchased on-line at www.lernerville.com and http://www.dirtcar.com/tickets or by calling 724-353-1511.

THE SKED: Pit gates will open at 4 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and 3 p.m. on Saturday, with hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6:50 p.m. each day of the Firecracker 100 weekend. Time trials will commence at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and Saturday’s heat action will get the green flag at 7:30 p.m.

Complete details on the Firecracker 100 can be obtained by logging on to www.lernerville.com or www.worldofoutlaws.com.

DON’T MISS THE ACTION: Fans who can’t make it to Lernerville will still have an opportunity to witness all the intense competition on the ‘Action Track’ clay. A live video ‘Cybercast’ of the Thursday and Friday programs will be available on DIRTVision.com for a $12.99 subscription price, and Saturday’s Firecracker 100 will be taped for later broadcast on the SPEED cable network.

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.