Francis Overpowers Eckert For Checkered Flag On Opening Night Of UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit Late Model Action
By Kevin Kovac, WoO LMS P.R. Director/DIRTcar Racing P.R.
BARBERVILLE, FL – Feb. 20, 2012 – Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., began the Late Model portion of the 41st UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit Racing Equipment with a vintage performance, overpowering longtime rival Rick Eckert of York, Pa., with a late-race pass to capture Monday night’s 30-lap DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned feature at Volusia Speedway Park.
The 44-year-old standout snapped a three-year victory drought at the half-mile oval – and continued his rebound from a rare winless 2011 season – in impressive fashion. He advanced from the seventh starting spot to grab the lead from Eckert on lap 25 with a do-or-die charge around the outside of the D-shaped track.
Francis earned $7,000 for the triumph, which came by 0.575 of a second over Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill. Erb, who started fourth and ran in the top five throughout the distance, slipped by Eckert exiting turn four on the final lap to grab the runner-up paycheck.
Eckert settled for a third-place finish after racing off the outside pole starting spot to lead laps 1-24. Eighth-starter Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., who won the DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned opener of last year’s UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit, placed fourth and 15th-starter Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., was fifth.
Francis, who steered his Barry Wright Race Cars house car into second place with a lap-21 pass of Erb, took advantage of a restart on lap 23 to make his decisive move. He tossed his machine to the top of the racetrack in turns one and two when the green flag flew and carried the momentum past Eckert’s Team Zero by Bloomquist mount on lap 25.
“The cushion was all the way out there in the parking lot someplace off two, so (on the restart) all we had to do was run wide-open into (turn) one and all the way across the corners and then pedal all the way down the backstraightaway,” said Francis, whose last victory at Volusia came in a World of Outlaws Late Model Series event on Feb. 14, 2009. “I could see Rick drive back up and under me, so then I had to do the same thing in three and four – run wide-open around the top and pedal all the way down the frontstraightaway. After a lap I was able to get ahead of him.
“The racetrack had two good lanes in it. You just had to be elbows up for the top, or elbows way down for the bottom. You just had to make your mind up which you were going.
“Rick gave me a good line on the outside,” he added. “He didn’t crowd me nowhere – he let me have my line, and I let him have his down there until I felt like I was cleared of him and I could turn back to the bottom. After that I just pedaled down there to make sure we had a good, clean finish.”
Eckert felt that the race’s second and final caution flag, on lap 23, contributed to his demise. It was a lengthy caution period due to the removal of the car driven by Larry Wight of Phoenix, N.Y., who also brought out the race’s first caution two laps earlier.
“We ran so many laps around there until they got the truck hooked up to (Wight’s) car, the moisture bled back enough that the whole racetrack was good again,” said Eckert, who owns seven career wins at Volusia but none since 2006. “Them guys in second and third (Francis and Erb) had to make a move and they did, and it worked for ’em. I would’ve done the same thing if I was in their position.”
“There was no use following me with the whole racetrack being good. I was sort of a sitting duck after getting the lead that early.”
Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., finished sixth after surviving a lap-eight slap of the turn-two wall while battling for position with Frankie Heckenast Jr. of Orland Park, Ill. Local talent Dillon White of Daytona Beach, Fla., placed seventh; Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., tumbled from a pole position start to eighth at the checkered flag; Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., hustled forward from the 21st starting spot to finish ninth; and Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., rounded out the top 10 in NASCAR star Clint Bowyer’s car.
With a massive 75-car field signed in for action, group qualifying was utilized to set the starting lineups for six heat races in the first of four DIRTcar UMP Late Model programs during the UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit.
Moyer registered the fastest overall qualifying lap at 15.141 seconds, Other group fast-timers were Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn. (15.356), Eckert (15.317), Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill. (15.203), McCreadie (15.345) and Eric Wells of Hazard, Ky. (15.469).
Heat winners were Shane Clanton of Fayetteville, Ga., Heckenast, Eckert, Erb, Davenport and Richards. The B-Mains were captured by Wight, Brady Smith of Solon Springs, Wis., and McCreadie.
Clanton’s evening went downhill after his heat victory. His Kennedy Motorsports team discovered a terminal engine problem, forcing Clanton to start the A-Main from the rear of the field in his soon-to-be father-in-law Ron Davies’s car.
The DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit continues on Tuesday night (Feb. 21) with another UMP Late Model program topped by a 30-lap A-Main. The UMP Modifieds will also compete in triple 25-lap features to close out the division’s week-long meet.
Race time is 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
The World of Outlaws Late Model Series will run 50-lap, $10,000-to-win programs during the UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit on Thurs., Feb. 23, and Sat., Feb. 25.
For more information on the DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH, log on to www.DIRTcarNationals.com.
DIRTcar UMP Late Model 30-Lap A-Main Finish (Finish Pos./Start Pos./Driver):
1. (7) Steve Francis
2. (4) Dennis Erb Jr.
3. (2) Rick Eckert
4. (8) Billy Moyer
5. (15) Jimmy Mars
6. (14) Darrell Lanigan
7. (10) Dillon Wood
8. (1) Josh Richards
9. (21) Tim McCreadie
10. (6) Jonathan Davenport
11. (5) Jason Feger
12. (3) Frankie Heckenast Jr.
13. (9) J.R. Hotovy
14. (25) Ryan Unzicker
15. (20) Brady Smith
16. (13) Scott Bloomquist
17. (24) Morgan Bagley
18. (16) Brian Shirley
19. (19) Larry Wight
20. (11) Gregg Satterlee
21. (17) Don O’Neal
22. (23) Chub Frank
23. (22) Shannon Babb
24. (12) Shane Clanton
25. (18) Donnie Moran
Heat No. 1 (8 laps – Top 3 Transfer): 1. Shane Clanton, 2. Steve Francis, 3. Scott Bloomquist, 4. Duke Whiseant, 5. Scott James, 6. Brandon Sheppard, 7. John Lowery, 8. Danny Mitchell, 9. Shannon Babb, 10. Phil Ausra, 11. Alan Fink, 12. Donald Beyers, 13. Chuck Julien
Heat No. 2 (8 laps – Top 3 Transfer): 1. Frankie Heckenast Jr., 2. Billy Moyer, 3. Darrell Lanigan, 4. Dan Stone, 5. Larry Wight, 6. Billy Decker, 7. Jared Landers, 8. Mike Marlar, 9. Steve Isenberg, 10. Mason Zeigler, 11. Tyler Carpenter, 12. Don Gordon, 13. John Lobb
Heat No. 3 (8 laps – Top 3 Transfer): 1. Rick Eckert, 2. J.R. Hotovy, 3. Jimmy Mars, 4. Brady Smith, 5. Chub Frank, 6. John Blankenship, 7. Billy Moyer Jr., 8. Greg Johnson, 9. Jason McBride, 10. Kent Robinson, 11. Lance Matthees, 12. Mike Hammerle
Heat No. 4 (8 laps – Top 3 Transfer): 1. Dennis Erb Jr., 2. Dillon Wood, 3. Brian Shirley, 4. Stacy Boles, 5. Eric Jacobsen, 6. John Garvin Jr., 7. Tim Lance, 8. Jim Yoder, 9. Chad Hollenbeck, 10. Michael Norris, 11. Justin Rattliff, 12. Jim Fletcher
Heat No. 5 (8 laps – Top 3 Transfer): 1. Jonathan Davenport, 2. Gregg Satterlee, 3. Don O’Neal, 4. Bobby Pierce, 5. Jack Sullivan, 6. Tim McCreadie, 7. Pat Doar, 8. Morgan Bagley, 9. Duane Harbaugh, 10. Ron Davies, 11. Freddie Carpenter, 12. Todd Frank
Heat No. 6 (8 laps – Top 3 Transfer): 1. Josh Richards, 2. Jason Feger, 3. Donnie Moran, 4. Eric Wells, 5. Tyler Bruening, 6. Ryan Unzicker, 7. Billy Ogle Jr., 8. Shelby Miles, 9. Chris Nash, 10. Charlie Sandercock (DNS) Terry Casey, Clint Smith, Jeff Beyers
B-Main No. 1 (10 laps – Top 2 Transfer): 1. Larry Wight, 2. Shannon Babb, 3. Mike Marlar, 4. Duke Whiseant, 5. Scott James, 6. Billy Decker, 7. John Lowery, 8. Steve Isenberg, 9. Jared Landers, 10. Phil Ausra, 11. Tyler Carpenter, 12. Mason Zeigler, 13. Alan Fink, 14. Donald Beyers, 15. Brandon Sheppard, 16. Danny Mitchell, 17. Don Gordon (DNS) Dan Stone, Chuck Julien, John Lobb
B-Main No. 2 (10 laps – Top 2 Transfer): 1. Brady Smith, 2. Chub Frank, 3. John Blankenship, 4. Greg Johnson, 5. Billy Moyer Jr., 6. Stacy Boles, 7. Jason McBride, 8. Eric Jacobsen, 9. John Garvin Jr., 10. Lance Matthees, 11. Kent Robinson, 12. Jim Yoder, 13. Justin Rattliff, 14. Chad Hollenbeck, 15. Michael Norris, 16. Mike Hammerle, 17. Tim Lance, 18. Jim Fletcher
B-Main No. 3 (10 laps – Top 2 Transfer): 1. Tim McCreadie, 2. Morgan Bagley, 3. Jack Sullivan, 4. Eric Wells, 5. Bobby Pierce, 6. Tyler Bruening, 7. Billy Ogle Jr., 8. Charlie Sandercock, 9. Freddie Carpenter, 10. Jeff Beyers, 11. Pat Doar, 12. Todd Frank, 13. Chris Nash, 14. Ryan Unzicker, 15. Duane Harbaugh (DNS) Shelby Miles, Ron Davies, Terry Casey, Clint Smith