World of Outlaws Late Model Series News & Notes: Lanigan’s Rare Absence From Action; Solid Starts For Eckert & Hubbard

By Kevin Kovac, WoO LMS P.R. Director

CONCORD, NC – Feb. 23, 2011 –

TOUGH START: Darrell Lanigan’s blueprint for capturing the World of Outlaws Late Model Series championship that eluded him by just four points in 2010 will be a little more difficult than he anticipated.

Health issues forced the 40-year-old driver to miss the tour’s 2011 season opener last Thursday night during the 40th DIRTcar Nationals by University of Northwestern Ohio at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla. – putting him in an immediate points hole that he knows will be a challenge to overcome.

Lanigan had his new hauler parked in Volusia’s pit area on Feb. 14 for the DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned event that kicked off the six-night full-fender portion of the DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH, but he surprisingly decided to leave the track by himself during the afternoon and fly back to his home in Union, Ky. He told his crewmen, Randall Edwards and D.J. Callon, that he wasn’t feeling well – the lower-back pain and general malaise that had plagued him throughout the off-season seemed to resurface after he spent a day testing his cars en route to Florida – so he wanted to get checked out by his own doctor before the WoO LMS lidlifter set for Feb. 17. Lanigan figured he would take it easy for a few days and return to Volusia on Thursday to reunite with his team and begin his pursuit of a second career WoO LMS title.

Unfortunately, after heading to the airport on Thursday morning as scheduled, Lanigan was unable to board a plane because he found that his blood pressure had become elevated. He headed to a hospital for immediate medical attention and was admitted for tests and observation, preventing him from entering the evening’s action at Volusia.

Lanigan’s absence from the Volusia field was impossible to overlook – not only because he’s coming off a near-championship 2010 season that saw him win a career-best seven series A-Mains, but also because he was one of the original 12 drivers signed to follow the WoO LMS when the tour was reincarnated under the World Racing Group banner in 2004. Thursday night’s opener – the 282nd WoO LMS A-Main contested since ’04 – marked just the second tour event he did not enter in his eight years as a regular (his other no-show came on July 3, 2007, at Missouri’s Lebanon I-44 Speedway) and represented the seventh A-Main he did not start (he was a non-qualifier twice in 2004, once in ’05 and twice in ’07).

Lanigan was released from the hospital on Friday and by Saturday morning felt much better, so he took a morning flight to Florida. While preparing for hot laps to start that evening, he said doctors suggested his high blood-pressure reading might have resulted from a reaction to antibiotics he was prescribed for the initial treatment of a cyst found at the base of his tailbone – the apparent source of his lower-back discomfort.

There would be no storybook run to victory in Saturday night’s 50-lap WoO LMS A-Main for Lanigan, but he looked far from rusty in his first appearance of 2011. After timing 16th-fastest he made a powerful outside move to pass Jimmy Mars for third and was challenging Tim McCreadie for second when his car’s battery shorted out exiting turn two on the final lap, dropping him off the pace. Lanigan’s car came back to life rounding turn four – just as third-place Mars slowed with an expired engine – and he nearly recovered to grab the final transfer spot, but he settled for fourth and qualified for the headliner by winning the B-Main.

Lanigan started 20th in Saturday’s 50-lapper and was never a factor. He pitted during a lap-five caution period to loosen up his car and change the left-rear tire, but he ultimately was lapped on the 40th circuit and finished 15th. The race was the first WoO LMS A-Main in which Lanigan was running at the finish but not on the lead lap since Aug. 15, 2009, at Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway.

While Lanigan received 60 “hardship” points for the Thursday-night event because he is a WoO LMS contracted driver, he still left Volusia tied for 30th in the points standings, 120 points out of first place. On the positive side, however, he’s 96 points behind the highest-ranked driver who plans to follow the entire WoO LMS (Austin Hubbard) and he’s 76 points behind two-time defending champion Josh Richards.

Lanigan, who hopes to be 100 percent by the time the WoO LMS returns to action with the inaugural ‘Cash Cow 100’ on March 18-19 at Columbus (Miss.) Speedway, knows his margin of error will now be very small on this year’s tour. But considering that last year he fell as many as 78 points behind Richards midway through the season and rallied to briefly grab the points lead before settling for second in the standings, the ‘Bluegrass Bandit’ certainly isn’t out of the hunt.

CONFIDENCE-BUILDER: Rick Eckert came to life at the end of the DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH – just in time to save his trip south and send him into the 2011 WoO LMS schedule on a strong note.

Racing with the doors of his Team Zero by Bloomquist car largely blank to draw attention to his desperate need for sponsorship assistance, Eckert finished no better than 13th in the week’s first four events (including a 13th-place run in the WoO LMS opener) before scoring a runner-up finish in the 40-lap DIRTcar UMP finale on Feb. 18. He backed that up with a solid fifth-place outing in Saturday night’s WoO LMS 50-lapper, allowing him to leave Volusia feeling good about his position in the tour’s points standings.

Eckert, 45, of York, Pa., ended Saturday’s action tied for sixth in the points standings, just the fourth time in his eight years as a WoO LMS regular that he departed Volusia ranked among the top six. He’s second among expected Outlaw fulltimers, just 12 points behind Hubbard.

“We made some changes to our car while we were down here and it lets me drive it really hard,” said Eckert, who quipped that he hadn’t made “enough money to buy diesel fuel to get back home” before earning $7,050 over the final two nights. “We were lacking that for awhile, so hopefully we got something there now.”

Eckert felt he might have been able to contend for victory in Saturday’s Outlaw program if he had made a slightly different tire-compound choice, but he was pleased with his performance nonetheless.

“I had a little bit harder tire than the rest of the (top-running) guys because I was a little conservative,” said Eckert, who swapped motors on Saturday afternoon due to some ignition problems. “I probably needed a little softer tire like the rest of them guys had, but I wasn’t sure what the track was gonna do so I was trying to make sure I had enough tire because it was a points race.

“I wish Friday night’s race was an Outlaw show too, but we’re happy about how we’re leaving here.”

LEADER OF THE GANG: Austin Hubbard’s goal of improving upon his unprecedented 2010 WoO LMS Rookie of the Year campaign seems on target after he enjoyed the best visit to Volusia of his young career.

After a week highlighted by his WoO LMS finishes of third (Thursday) and ninth (Saturday) behind the wheel of Dale Beitler’s familiar blue-and-white No. 19, Hubbard headed home as the highest-ranked Outlaw regular in the points standings, sitting in a tie for fourth overall.

“It’s been a good week except for a few motor issues we had,” said Hubbard, who also registered noteworthy finishes of seventh (Monday) and fifth (Friday) in DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned events. “It’s nice to start the points off with some good runs. There’s a lot of stuff that can go on the rest of the year, but it’s definitely way better to start off on top of the hill than on the bottom like we did last year.

“I’m really looking forward to the season. I think we have a great team this year and it’s shown so far.”

Hubbard’s third-place run in Thursday night’s WoO LMS opener – he ran as high as second early in the distance and briefly challenged eventual winner Scott Bloomquist for the lead – came after a motor from his father Mike’s stockpile was installed in his machine. After Hubbard used an engine borrowed from Mark Richards on Wednesday night, his father made a 12-hour overnight drive (accompanied by Delaware dirt Late Model veteran Kenny Pettyjohn) from Seaford, Del., to deliver his powerplant as a reinforcement.

“Austin called and asked if I could bring down one of my motors,” said Mike Hubbard. “I said, ‘Hey, it’s your birthday (Austin turned 19 on Feb. 17), so I’ll bring it down for you.'”

STREAK SNAPPED: Josh Richards ran hard – real hard – in a bid to win the WoO LMS season opener at Volusia for an unprecedented fifth straight year.

“I wanted to win that race so bad,” said Richards, who turns 23 next month. “I wanted to win it for five in-a-row, and I was trying to win that one for Darrell (Lanigan). That would’ve been our 29th Outlaw win and we drew pill No. 29 (Lanigan’s number), so with him missing the show, if we would’ve won I was gonna dedicate it to him.”

Alas, after pulling off some breathtaking moves to put himself in the lead with a lap-29 pass of Bloomquist, Richards was unsuccessful in his Drive for Five. The standout from Shinnston, W.Va., lost momentum when he slammed the ample cushion between turns one and two on lap 41, ceded the top spot to Bloomquist and then saw his Rocket car’s right-rear wheel break off exiting turn two on the final lap as he attempted to hang on to second place. Richards limped across the finish line on three wheels and finished 14th.

Richards finished a relatively quiet eighth in Saturday night’s WoO LMS A-Main, sending him home ranked eighth in the points standings, 44 points out of the lead and 20 markers behind leading Outlaw Hubbard. It’s the first time he hasn’t left Volusia either first or second in the points race since 2006, when he ended the DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH sitting 10th in the standings (76 points behind the leader).

FORGETTABLE: The DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH weren’t kind to most of the drivers who followed the WoO LMS last year and are planning to chase the tour again in 2011. Consider the positions of these drivers in the points standings after Volusia:

* Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y. (tied for 11th in the standings, 64 points behind the leader) struggled all week with his new Sweeteners Plus Rocket cars, failing to score a single top-10 finish over the six nights. He placed 16th in both WoO LMS A-Mains.

* Shane Clanton of Fayetteville, Ga. (tied for 11th, 64 points behind) parked his new Capital Race Cars mount on Wednesday night (he said the changes he wants to make to the car must be done back at the shop) in favor of running his Rocket machine for the rest of the week. He used a provisional spot to start both WoO LMS A-Mains; he managed to finish ninth on Thursday’s A-Main but was 23rd on Saturday after retiring early.

* Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky. (tied for 14th, 72 points behind) never got his Barry Wright-built cars running to his satisfaction during a frustrating week. He scored Outlaw finishes of 17th (Thursday) and 19th (Saturday after using a provisional).

* Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga. (tied for 14th, 72 points behind) recorded WoO LMS finishes of 24th (Thursday) and 12th (Saturday), but he did have one claim to fame: he won a B-Main four times in six nights during the week. “I was trying for the sweep, but I fell a little short,” joked Smith, who finished second and 11th in his non-winning B-Main efforts.

* Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa. (tied for 18th, 74 points behind) crossed the finish line 15th (Thursday) and 22nd (Saturday) in Outlaw action after using an emergency provisional to start both races, forcing him to give up start money.

* Tim Fuller of Watertown, N.Y. (tied for 21st, 78 points behind) also used a pair of emergency provisionals to start the WoO LMS events and scored dismal finishes of 21st (Thursday) and 18th (Saturday).

* Russell King of Bristolville, Ohio (tied for 42nd, 138 points behind) and Jill George of Cedar Falls, Iowa (tied for 51st, 148 points behind) did not qualify for either WoO LMS A-Main.

THE NEW GUYS: Four drivers approved for WoO LMS Rookie of the Year contender status – Pat Doar of New Richmond, Wis., Ron Davies of Warren, Pa., John Lobb of Frewsburg, N.Y., and Brian Reese of Sharpsburg, Ga. – competed in all six nights of the DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH.

Doar, 47, shined the brightest of the rookie hopefuls. A veteran full-fender racer on the Upper Midwest’s WISSOTA circuit who has never run open Late Models extensively, Doar was the only contender to qualify for a WoO LMS A-Main, making the cut for both 50-lappers. Though he only managed finishes of 20th (Thursday) and 28th (Saturday), he earned his first career Ohlins Shocks Time Trials fast-qualifier honor on Thursday night with a blistering new-track-record lap of 15.783 seconds around the half-mile oval.

Davies, a longtime competitor on the western Pennsylvania circuit who turned 53 on Feb. 18, had the rookie clan’s best finish of the week when he placed ninth in the 30-lap DIRTcar UMP feature on Feb. 16. Lobb, 41, and Reese, 29, did not transfer to an A-Main.

WEEK GONE BAD: Vic Coffey of Caledonia, N.Y., who is contemplating following the WoO LMS as a regular for the first time since winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2008, appeared primed for a big DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH after scoring a strong fourth-place finish in the DIRTcar UMP opener on Feb. 14.

Unfortunately, that was the lone highlight of Coffey’s stay at Volusia. He failed to qualify for another feature all week and headed home ranked 33rd in the WoO LMS points standings.

UP NEXT: The WoO LMS heads to Mississippi for a huge weekend of competition on March 18-19 at Columbus Speedway, which hosts the $20,000-to-win ‘Cash Cow 100.’ A practice night on March 17 will kick off the tour’s first visit to Columbus since 2007.

General admission tickets – both multi- and single-day options – for the event are on sale at www.worldofoutlaws.com/tickets. Fans who purchase a two-day weekend pass in advance will receive special perks, including a discounted price and the opportunity to enter the grandstand area 15 minutes prior to the general front-gate opening time for a show that is expected to pack the high-banked, one-third-mile oval.

For more information on the WoO LMS, visit www.worldofoutlaws.com.

2011 World of Outlaws Late Model Series Point Standings as of Feb. 19 – 2 A-Mains completed (rank/driver/points/deficit to leader):

1. Scott Bloomquist 300
2. Brady Smith 292 (-8)
3. Billy Moyer 282 (-18)
4. (tie) Austin Hubbard 276 (-24)
4. (tie) Don O’Neal 276 (-24)
6. Chris Madden 264 (-36)
7. Rick Eckert 264 (-36)
8. Josh Richards 256 (-44)
9. (tie) Jason Feger 238 (-62)
9. (tie) Dennis Erb Jr. 238 (-62)
11. (tie) Shane Clanton 236 (-64)
11. (tie) Tim McCreadie 236 (-64)
13. Dan Schlieper 230 (-70)
14. (tie) Steve Francis 228 (-72)
14. (tie) Tyler Reddick 228 (-72)
14. (tie) Jonathan Davenport 228 (-72)
14. (tie) Clint Smith 228 (-72)
18. (tie) Jared Landers 226 (-74)
18. (tie) Chub Frank 226 (-74)
18. (tie) Eddie Carrier Jr. 226 (-74)

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), Chizmark Larson Insurance, Factory Value Parts and RacingJunk.com; in addition to contingency sponsors MSD Ignition, Pro Power Engines, Quartermaster, Rocket Chassis and Wrisco Aluminum.