Prior to this week, Ricky Thornton Jr. hadn’t raced at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in nine years. But on Friday night, he drove around it like it was his home track, scoring his first career World of Outlaws World Finals Feature win and the $15,000 grand prize.
“I’ve only been here two other times – 2010 and 2014 – and I think out of those six nights, I only made one show,” Thornton said. “We did a lot better this year.”
Over 30 Feature wins in 2023 has dubbed the Arizona native one of the most dominant dirt Late Model drivers in the nation. He and the team at SSI Motorsports faced one of the biggest and most competitive fields they’d seen all year with 74 World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Models in the pits, on a track they’d yet to race together at.
But that didn’t scare Thornton at all. He embraced the bright spotlight.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Thornton said. “There’s a lot of people in attendance, and it’s one of the biggest races of the year.”
Of those 74 entrants, his biggest challenge in the Feature was one of the best red-clay oval racers in the Southeast – Chris Madden. The South Carolina racer took the lead from the pole at the drop of the green and paced the field in the opening laps while Dale McDowell and Thornton followed.
A caution flag on Lap 10 restacked the field for what was the race’s only restart. Thornton devised his plan to get around McDowell under the yellow and quickly sprang into action.
“I just kinda Hail-Mary’d the top in Turns 1-2 and was able to get back to second,” Thornton said. “I was able to get back down in front of Dale and just kinda blocked him for a few laps until I got my stuff going again.”
Now with only Madden in front of him, Thornton tightened his grip on the steering wheel and began to close the gap.
Madden crossed the line at the halfway point with a line of lapped traffic in front of him. He entered low in Turn 1 behind the first lapped car but drifted up off the bottom lane at the exit of Turn 2, opening the door for Thornton right behind him to slip by underneath.
“I was just trying to negotiate lapped traffic there and I rolled out to the outside, and [Thornton] filled the hole,” Madden said. “I really wasn’t tight enough to be where I needed to be. Sometimes, it’s hard to lead in this lapped traffic in the conditions that we’re in here.”
They drag raced down the backstretch, but Thornton had the speed and the preferred line on the bottom as he rounded Turns 3-4 and took the lead on Lap 19.
“The more my car stayed the same, the more [Madden’s] kinda slowed down,” Thornton said. “He got to traffic, made one little mistake and slid off the bottom. I knew I had to go for it then.”
Thornton maintained the advantage over Madden as the laps wound-down under five-to-go and encountered some lapped traffic of his own in front of him – a cause for a bit of concern in the final laps.
“I was just worried we’d get too close, and we’d have a freight train with five or six of us,” Thornton said. “Usually, that’s when the guy in second can try and move around and find a way to get around you.”
That guy in second was Madden, who did move off the bottom once more in Turn 2 on Lap 33 in a last-chance attempt to get back by Thornton. But instead, the car behind him took the open door underneath him once again.
McDowell had been patiently waiting in tow for a mistake from Madden and took advantage of it by slipping by him on the bottom and into second place off of Turn 2.
“I felt like I may could have done something in Turns 3-4, so I was gonna try to ease out there and see if we could do it in 1-2, and I lost a spot there,” Madden said.
McDowell hung on to finish second for his second top-five finish, while Madden came home third – his second podium of the week.
The 2023 World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series campaign comes to a close in the World Finals finale Saturday, Nov. 4 at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. A 50-lap, $25,000-to-win main event will headline the event, racing alongside the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars and Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modifieds.
ABBREVIATED RESULTS (view full results)
CASE Construction Equipment Feature (35 Laps): 1. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr; 2. 17M-Dale McDowell; 3. 44-Chris Madden; 4. 39-Tim McCreadie; 5. 8-Brian Shirley; 6. 157-Mike Marlar; 7. 0-Scott Bloomquist; 8. 10-Garrett Smith; 9. 97-Cade Dillard; 10. 18D-Daulton Wilson; 11. 32-Bobby Pierce; 12. 1-Hudson O’Neal; 13. 20-Jimmy Owens; 14. 9-Nick Hoffman; 15. 93-Carson Ferguson; 16. 19M-Spencer Hughes; 17. 22-Chris Ferguson; 18. 76-Brandon Overton; 19. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 20. 40B-Kyle Bronson; 21. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 22. 25-Shane Clanton; 23. B1-Brent Larson; 24. 49-Jonathan Davenport; 25. 96V-Tanner English; 26. 174-Ethan Dotson; 27. 19R-Ryan Gustin; 28. 7T-Drake Troutman