SYLVANIA, GA – Aug. 16, 2008 – Steve Francis knows he’s running out of time to catch Darrell Lanigan in the 2008 World of Outlaws Late Model Series points standings.
But judging by his triumphant performance in Saturday night’s 50-lap A-Main at Screven Motor Speedway, the defending WoO LMS champion isn’t going down without a fight.
Francis, 40, of Ashland, Ky., continued his summer hot streak in the first-ever WoO LMS visit to the three-eighths-mile oval, roaring forward from the sixth starting spot to grab the lead for good with a lap-11 pass of Swainsboro, Ga.’s Jeremy Faircloth.
It was Francis’s third win in the last six tour events, and his fourth overall victory of 2008 tied him with Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., and Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., as the season’s top winner.
The only down side to Francis’s $10,250 score? He gained little ground on Union, Ky.’s Lanigan, who finished second and remained atop the points by a commanding 142-point margin over Francis.
Shane Clanton of Locust Grove, Ga., made a late-race charge to finish third, while Faircloth placed a head-turning fourth after leading laps 6-10 in his first career WoO LMS start and the 20-year-old Richards completed the top five.
“I can’t catch up four points at a time,” Francis said when asked about his pursuit of Lanigan, noting the slight points difference between a first- and second-place finish. “Unless there’s a hundred races left that I don’t know about, it just isn’t going to happen.
“The way Darrell’s been running all year, it’s just going to be real hard to make up anything on him.”
Facing that hard reality about his prospects for a WoO LMS title repeat, Francis is heading down the homestretch of the 2008 season with his mind focused on checkered flags rather than points.
“If we can’t win the championship, maybe we can keep this momentum up and win the most races (on the tour),” said Francis, whose 18th career WoO LMS victory increased his lead atop the tour’s modern-era (2004-present) win list, to two over Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., and Rick Eckert of York, Pa. “I’d like to string together some wins and I think we’re in good position to do that. We struggled some with our car for a while, but I’m real happy with how it’s working now.”
Driving Dale Beitler’s Cornett-powered Reliable Painting/Valvoline Rocket machine, Francis and Co. made all the right calls on a night that was threatened by rain. He pulled off a clean sweep of the program, setting fast time, winning a heat race and bagging the A-Main, which was run with lightning flashing in the sky and a strong wind and periodic drizzle signaling an approaching storm.
“We had the car a little tight all night,” said Francis, standing near his team’s trailer after the Victory Lane ceremonies as a steadily-intensifying rain began to fall. “That doesn’t always work out, but we left it that way because we figured that once the track slowed down our car would get faster.
“That’s really what happened. When I got to second (with a pass of Lanigan on a lap-seven restart) I saw that 4 car (Faircloth) running awfully good up front and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, we might have our hands full.’ But our car just kept getting better and better.
“I think this might have been one of those nights where our tires (American Racers) gave us an advantage too,” added Francis, who has a top-five finish in six of the last seven WoO LMS A-Mains. “Tracks like this that have some sand and grit and wear tires a little – our tires just seem to really like that kind of condition.”
The 38-year-old Lanigan, who started second in his GottaRace.com Rocket car but never led a lap, could offer little difference between his car and Francis’s No. 19 other than the tires bolted on them. Lanigan registered his series-leading 20th top-five finish of the season – and joined Francis as the only drivers to break $100,000 in 2008 earnings – using Hoosier rubber.
“Our cars were pretty much equal on setup,” said Lanigan, who crossed the finish line 1.272 seconds behind Francis. “I really don’t think I would’ve done anything different. (Francis) just used a different tire brand than we did.”
Clanton, 32, ran fifth for much of the distance, but he slid by Richards and Faircloth to grab third on lap 43 and finished in the position. He never had a chance to challenge Lanigan for second, however, because the race ran caution-free from lap 27 to the checkered flag.
“I needed a caution to cool my tires off,” said Clanton, who drove the RSD Enterprises Rocket. “But I managed to come from ninth (starting spot) and I passed two cars in one lap (to reach third), so I’m pretty happy about that.”
The story of the race was Faircloth, who battled with the tour’s top stars while making just his second career appearance in a full-blown Super Late Model event. The race’s polesitter was penalized one row by WoO LMS officials after jumping the last of three aborted original starts, but he rallied to grab the lead from early pacesetter Chesley Dixon of Swainsboro, Ga., on lap six.
Faircloth, who drove a Clements-powered Rayburn car, finished just 0.234 of a second behind Clanton. His fourth-place run earned him the $500 WoO LMS ‘Bonus Bucks’ cash for being the highest-finishing driver who has never won a tour event and isn’t ranked among the top 12 in the points standings.
Richards, meanwhile, actually slipped by Faircloth for third on lap 39, but he slid high high in turn one moments later and shortly thereafter watched Faircloth and Clanton overtake him.
Finishing in positions 6-10 were Tim Fuller of Watertown, N.Y., who spent the final laps in the battle for third place; Scott Shirey of Swansea, Ga.; Jeff Fortner of Vidalia, Ga.; John Henderson of Aiken, S.C.; and Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., who used a provisional to start 23rd after his car’s left side sustained significant damage in a heat-race scrape.
Eight caution flags slowed the event.
A field of 34 cars was entered in the program, which was contested in front of a standing-room-only crowd at James ‘Redd’ Griffen’s facility. Action took place simultaneously throughout the evening at the adjoining Savannah River Dragway, with fans allowed to enjoy the competition at both tracks and enter the pit areas for a $20 admission charge.
During qualifying Francis established a new track record of 14.261 seconds around the three-eighths-mile oval, which Griffen lengthened and widened prior to the 2007 season.
Heat winners were Francis, Faircloth, Fortner and Dixon, who went on to lead laps 1-5 of the A-Main before spinning out of third-place while negotiating turn two on a lap-16 restart. Eckert and Ed Basey of Evans, Ga., topped the B-Mains.
The next action for the WoO LMS is the fifth annual ‘Scorcher’ presented by Alltel Wireless, which is scheduled for Aug. 20-21 (Wednesday/Thursday) at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn. Separate $10,000-to-win programs will be run each evening.
Results of WoO Late Model Series at Screven Motor Speedway (Finishing Position/Start/Driver/Laps Completed/Money Won):
1. (6) Steve Francis/50 $10,250
2. (2) Darrell Lanigan/50 $5,100
3. (9) Shane Clanton/50 $3,000
4. (1) Jeremy Faircloth/50 $3,000
5. (11) Josh Richards/50 $2,000
6. (10) Tim Fuller/50 $1,700
7. (5) Scott Shirey/50 $1,400
8. (8) Jeff Fortner/50 $1,300
9. (14) John Henderson/$1,200
10. (23) Shannon Babb/50 $1,100
11. (17) Rick Eckert/49 $1,050
12. (19) Chub Frank/49 $1,000
13. (15) Clint Smith/49 $950
14. (12) Vic Coffey/49 $1,150
15. (21) Corey Fletcher/45 $850
16. (4) Dillon Wood/35 $800
17. (13) William Thomas/29 $770
18. (22) Sean Beardsley/26 $750
19. (16) Jason Fitzgerald/25 $730
20. (3) Chesley Dixon/22 $700
21. (24) Joe Isabell/14 $700
22. (7) Shane Riner/10 $700
23. (20) Bo Smith/9 $700
24. (18) Ed Basey/7 $700
Time of Race: 27 Mins., 05.731 Secs.
Margin of Victory: 1.272 Secs.
Yellow Flags: 8 (Laps 0, 0, 0, 4, 7, 16, 16, 27)
Lap Leaders: Dixon (1-5); Faircloth (6-10); Francis (11-50)
Provisional Starters: Babb, Joe Isabell
Rookie of the Race: Coffey ($250)
WoO LMS ‘Bonus Bucks’ Winner: Faircloth ($500)
Integra Shocks Crew Chief of the Race ($50): Jay Hunt (Babb)
Chick Hawk Racing Hot Lap Award: Dixon (half-off tire warmers)
Super Clean ‘Start of the Race’: Francis ($100)
Time Trial Results (Position/No./Driver/Hometown/Best Lap):
1. 19-Steve Francis/Ashland, KY 14.261 (NTR)
2. 4F-Jeremy Faircloth/Swainsboro, GA 14.370
3. 29-Darrell Lanigan/Union, KY 14.409
4. 7-Jason Fitzgerald/Jacksonville, FL 14.511
5. 22T-William Thomas/Phenix City, AL 14.512
6. 19T-Tim Fuller/Watertown, NY 14.523
7. 27-Jeff Fortner/Vidalia, GA 14.582
8. 3-Chesley Dixon/Swainsboro, GA 14.602
9. 26-Dillon Wood/New Smyrna Beach, FL 14.617
10. 6-Shane Riner/Guiton, GA 14.649
11. 1-Josh Richards/Shinnston, WV 14.708
12. 32c-Vic Coffey/Leicester, NY 14.746
13. 25-Shane Clanton/Locust Grove, GA 14.792
14. 2x-John Henderson/Aiken, SC 14.844
15. 4b-Ed Basey/Evans, GA 14.862
16. 7JR-Jeff Isabell Jr./Pennellville, NY 14.866
17. 24-Rick Eckert/York, PA 14.929
18. 07-Wilson Griffis/Homerville, GA 15.027
19. 44-Clint Smith/Senoia, GA 15.080
20. 10-Scott Shirey/Swansea, GA 15.096
21. 41-John Kellum/Jacksonville, FL 15.120
22. 18-Shannon Babb/Moweaqua, IL 15.128
23. 93-Bo Smith/Sylvania, GA 15.162
24. 98-Casey Barrow/Savannah, GA 15.270
25. 8-Corey Fletcher/Bloomingdale, GA 15.442
26. M31-Michael Akeson/Augusta, GA 15.562
27. D1-Dion Deason/Greenwood, SC 15.565
28. 18J-Sean Beardsley/Central Square, NY 15.661
29. 22s-Jimmy Sharpe/Sylvania, GA 15.811
30. 21-Steven Howard/Bloomingdale, GA 15.878
31. x-15-Allen Taylor/Waycross, GA 16.083
32. 6J-Joe Isabell/Pennellville, NY 16.298
33. 1*-Chub Frank/Bear Lake, PA 17.074
34. 20-Chris Taylor/Waycross, GA 17.809
Heat No. 1 (10 laps – Top 4 Transfer): Francis, Wood, Clanton, Thomas, Eckert, Frank, Sharpe, Kellum, Fletcher
Heat No. 2 (10 laps – Top 4 Transfer): Faircloth, Riner, Fuller, Henderson, Griffis, Babb, Akeson, C. Taylor, Howard
Heat No. 3 (10 laps – Top 4 Transfer): Fortner, Lanigan, Richards, C. Smith, B. Smith, Basey, Deason, A. Taylor
Heat No. 4 (10 laps – Top 4 Transfer): Dixon, Shirey, Coffey, Fitzgerald, Joe Isabell, Beardsley, Barrow, Jeff Isabell Jr.
B-Main No. 1 (12 laps – Top 3 Transfer): Eckert, Frank, Fletcher, Sharpe, Kellum, Griffis, Akeson, C. Taylor (DNS) Babb, Howard
B-Main No. 2 (12 laps – Top 3 Transfer): Basey, B. Smith, Beardsley, Barrow, A. Taylor, Joe Isabell, Jeff Isabell Jr. (DNS) Deason
2008 World of Outlaws Late Model Series Point Standings as of Aug. 16 – 32 A-Mains completed (rank/driver/wins/top-5s/top-10s/earnings/points/deficit to leader):
1. Darrell Lanigan 2-20-30-$103,917-4433 (-0)
2. Steve Francis 4-16-25-$137,700-4291 (-142)
3. Josh Richards 4-15-22-$99,160-4281 (-152)
4. Shane Clanton 1-15-23-$74,390-4213 (-220)
5. Chub Frank 1-9-21-$65,480-4207 (-226)
6. Shannon Babb 2-13-22-$90,600-4197 (-236)
7. Rick Eckert 1-9-20-$65,630-4159 (-274)
8. Clint Smith 1-10-18-$56,820-4139 (-294)
9. Tim Fuller 2-6-14-$57,900-3990 (-443)
10. John Blankenship 0-0-6-$32,870-3698 (-735)
11. Vic Coffey 0-0-7-$30,470-3339 (-1094)
12. Joe Isabell 0-0-0-$15,120-2853 (-1580)
13. Sean Beardsley 0-0-0-$9,780-2357 (-2076)
14. Danny Johnson 0-0-1-$13,620-2187 (-2246)
15. Tim McCreadie 1-7-12-$46,700-1983 (-2450)
LISTEN ONLINE: If fans can’t get to a track to see the World of Outlaws Late Model Series, they can experience the excitement of the nation’s premier tour live on DIRTvision.com through the DIRT Radio Network.
To listen to the free audio broadcasts, log on to www.dirtvision.com and click on the DIRT Radio Network logo.
Listeners will need Windows Media Player 9 or higher to listen to the DIRT Radio Network. For technical support or questions, e-mail [email protected]
The World of Outlaws Late Model Series is brought to fans across the country by several sponsors and partners, including Advance Auto Parts – the official auto parts store of the WoO LMS – and contingency sponsors Wrisco Industries, Chicken Hawk Racing, Crane Cams, Ohlins Shocks, Quarter-Master, Eibach Springs, Integra Shocks, Jake’s Custom Golf Carts, Qwikliner and Super Clean.