ROSSBURG, OH – June 11, 2011 – Don O’Neal finally has a victory in a crown-jewel dirt Late Model event.
Ending a frustrating career-long pursuit of a signature triumph, O’Neal surged forward from the 12th starting spot to capture Saturday night’s DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned Dream XVII at Eldora Speedway.
O’Neal, 46, of Martinsville, Ind., passed Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., for the lead on lap 87 and held on the remainder of the 100-lap distance to earn the MasterSbilt house car team a whopping $100,000 – the largest first-place payoff offered anywhere in the country for a dirt Late Model event in 2011.
“What a long time coming,” said O’Neal, expressing relief over his coveted win in a major race. “This is pretty awesome. I drove the wheels off this thing for a hundred laps and finally we got ‘er done at the end.”
A former DIRTcar Summer Nationals champion known for his hard-charging style, O’Neal crossed the finish line 0.700 of a second in front of the legendary Moyer, who swept last year’s Dream and World 100 at Eldora and was bidding to become the first driver to win three of the track’s marquee events in a row. Moyer started second and led laps 1-86 in his Victory Circle car.
Polesitter Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., made several strong attempts to overtake Moyer for the lead during the race’s middle stages but was hampered late by an engine skip and settled for third place in a Rocket mount. Dream rookie Will Vaught of Crane, Mo., placed fourth after starting third in a Warrior and Eddie Carrier Jr. of Salt Rock, W.Va., registered a career-best Dream finish of fifth after starting one spot better in a Rocket.
Driving a Jay Dickens-powered car sponsored by Magnaflow Exhaust, O’Neal ran the race of his life to become the 11th different winner of the Dream and the second driver from the Hoosier State to capture the event.
“I talked to (mechanic) Ronnie Stuckey before the feature and he said, ‘Just remember, about lap 60 we need to be up there in striking condition,'” said O’Neal, whose best finish in eight previous Dream starts was third, in 2002. “That’s what we done.
“I started off and held my own, and for probably 20 or 30 laps I didn’t know if I had a car (to win) or not. Then when I started picking up the pace 40, 50 laps in, I kept thinking, Well, we might have a shot here. I just kept getting one car at a time every few laps. I finally got up there in the top five (on lap 31), and then third (passing Vaught on lap 64), and then second (overtaking Lanigan on lap 79). I thought, I’m gonna win this race.”
In a fast-paced race slowed by a single caution flag (on lap 45 for a turn-four spin by Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn.), O’Neal “kept digging” and found a way to sneak by Moyer for the lead rounding turns one and two on lap 87. Passing was difficult on a high-banked, half-mile oval that developed a dominant outside lane, but O’Neal was up to the challenge.
“The way (the track) was (fastest) around the top, there were some slide jobs that probably weren’t real great,” said O’Neal, describing the strategy necessary to advance forward. “But that was the only way you were gonna get the job done – and I wasn’t gonna give up on this one.”
Detailing his aggressive race-deciding pass of Moyer, O’Neal noted, “You know, we’re down in crunch time, and he’s won these things several times and I haven’t. He probably should understand a little. It was hard, close racing.”
Moyer, who has won the Dream twice and the World 100 a record six times, felt he was ultimately a victim of circumstance after controlling more than three-quarters of the event.
“Everything just worked out right for him at the right part of the racetrack that lap,” said Moyer. “If the lapped car (Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill.) wouldn’t have been there (entering turn one), we would’ve gone in there and might’ve bumped, but I think I could’ve beat (O’Neal) back off the corner. Once (O’Neal) slid me, I just couldn’t romp on through that little hole there because (Shirley) kind of had me blocked.”
Moyer, 53, fell a half-straightaway behind O’Neal before rallying in the final circuits. He closed within a couple car lengths on the last lap.
“It’s definitely hard to lose like that – especially when you go to the pay window and there’s that much of a difference in the money (between first and second place),” said Moyer, who earned $20,000 for his second career runner-up finish in the Dream.
Lanigan, who turned 41 on June 3, was Moyer’s prime challenger for most of the distance. The 2003 Dream winner was outgunned for the lead at the initial green flag but never let Moyer out of his sight.
On more than a half-dozen occasions Lanigan dived to the inside of Moyer but was unable to gain enough traction to pull off a pass. He was beginning to step up his assault with less than 30 laps remaining when his car’s powerplant began to develop a skip, hampering his ability to smoothly negotiate the turns and causing him to lose second to O’Neal and steadily fall out of touch with the leaders over the final tours.
Jeep VanWormer of Pinconning, Mich., started and finished sixth, running just outside the top five throughout the race. Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., moved forward from the 10th starting spot to finish seventh, while Bart Hartman of Zanesville, Ohio, placed eighth in the Ernie Davis-owned No. 25; Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., finished ninth – the same spot he started the event – after sliding back to 13th at the initial green flag; and 17th-starter Steve Shaver of Vienna, W.Va., was 10th.
Ninety-one cars entered the two-day event.
Jared Landers of Batesville, Ark., established a new dirt Late Model track record in Friday night’s time trials, which were slowed twice by rain. His blistering circuit of 14.922 seconds surpassed Rick Eckert’s former standard of 15.215 seconds set at the 2004 Dream.
Landers spun a ‘6’ on the inversion wheel, however, saddling him with the sixth starting spot in the first of Saturday night’s six 20-lap heat races. The driver of NASCAR star Clint Bowyer’s No. 777 opted to forego running the heat, instead dropping to the rear of the field for the green flag and using his fast-time provisional to start 19th in the Dream. He was never a factor in the A-Main, finishing one lap down in 17th.
Winners of Saturday’s heats were VanWormer, Hartman, Carrier, Vaught, Moyer and Lanigan. Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., won the 20-lap C-Main
and Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga., who changed engines after heat action, captured the 20-lap B-Main.
For more information on DIRTcar Racing, visit www.dirtcar.com.
Dirt Late Model Dream XVII Finish (Finish/Start/Driver/Laps Completed):
1. (12) Don O’Neal/100
2. (2) Billy Moyer/100
3. (1) Darrell Lanigan/100
4. (3) Will Vaught/100
5. (4) Eddie Carrier Jr./100
6. (6) Jeep VanWormer/100
7. (10) Chris Madden/100
8. (5) Bart Hartman/100
9. (9) Josh Richards/100
10. (17) Steve Shaver/100
11. (8) Shannon Babb/100
12. (15) Scott Bloomquist/100
13. (16) Kent Robinson/100
14. (7) Matt Miller/99
15. (24) Brian Shirley/99
16. (18) Jonathan Davenport/99
17. (19) Jared Landers/99
18. (20) Jimmy Owens/85
19. (25) Dale McDowell/80
20. (21) Clint Smith/66
21. (11) Chris Brown/61
22. (22) Bub McCool/46
23. (14) Jacob Hawkins/28
24. (23) Doug Drown/24
25. (26) Frank Heckenast Jr./17
DNS: Dustin Neat (scheduled to start 13th)
Heat 1 Finish (20 laps – Top 3 Transfer to A-Main):
1. Jeep VanWormer, 2. Matt Miller, 3. Dustin Neat, 4. Bub McCool, 5. Frankie Heckenast Jr., 6. John Blankenship, 7. Earl Pearson Jr., 8. Steve Francis, 9. Tanner English, 10. Eric Turner, 11. Tanner English, 12. Jeff Franklin, 13. Russ Frohnapfel, 14. Jack Sullivan, 15. Jared Landers.
Heat 2 Finish (20 laps – Top 3 Transfer to A-Main):
1. Bart Hartman, 2. Shannon Babb, 3. Jacob Hawkins, 4. Clint Smith, 5. Jimmy Owens, 6. Brad Neat, 7. Terry English, 8. Dennis Erb Jr., 9. David Breazeale, 10. Daniel Bagglery, 11. Chris Ferguson, 12. Don Gordon (DNS) Ray Cook, Casey Noonan, Tyler Carpenter
Heat 3 Finish (20 laps – Top 3 Transfer to A-Main):
1. Eddie Carrier Jr., 2. Josh Richards, 3. Scott Bloomquist, 4. Dale McDowell, 5. B.J. Robinson, 6. J.R. Hotovy, 7. Mike Spatola, 8. Shane Clanton, 9. Darren Miller, 10. Ryan VanderVeen, 11. Brad Eitinear, 12. Andrew Reaume, 13. Shannon Thornsberry, 14. Bobby Michaels, 15. Brian Reese.
Heat 4 Finish (20 laps – Top 3 Transfer to A-Main):
1. Will Vaught, 2. Chris Madden, 3. Kent Robinson, 4. Doug Drown, 5. Duane Chamberlain, 6. Chip Brindle, 7. Scott James, 8. Johnny Pursley, 9. Jon Henry, 10. Tim Lance, 11. Tim Allen, 12. Steve Casebolt, 13. Chad Ruhlman, 14. Tim Rivers (DNS) Chris Wall
Heat 5 Finish (20 laps – Top 3 Transfer to A-Main):
1. Billy Moyer, 2. Chris Brown, 3. Steve Shaver, 4. Brian Shirley, 5. Chub Frank, 6. Tim Isenberg, 7. Jimmy Mars, 8. Jay Johnson, 9. John Mason, 10. John Lobb, 11. Jeff Wolfenbarger, 12. Randy Korte, 13. Jason Feger, 14. Alan Vochaska, 15. Sammy Epling
Heat 6 Finish (20 laps – Top 3 Transfer to A-Main):
1. Darrell Lanigan, 2. Don O’Neal, 3. Jonathan Davenport, 4. Brian Birkhofer, 5. Dan Schlieper, 6. Curtis Roberts, 7. Greg Johnson, 8. Donnie Moran, 9. Jerry Bowersock, 10. Gary Christian, 11. Roger Best, 12. Leon Henderson, 13. Ben Adkins, 14. Jared Hawkins, 15. Chris Ross.
B-Main Finish (20 laps – Top 6 Transfer to A-Main):
1. Clint Smith, 2. Bub McCool, 3. Doug Drown, 4. Brian Shirley, 5. Dale McDowell, 6. Frank Heckenast Jr., 7. Chub Frank, 8. Dan Schlieper, 9. Dennis Erb, 10. Brad Neat, 11. Jerry Bowersock, 12. Chip Brindle, 13. B.J. Robinson, 14. Curtis Roberts, 15. Greg Johnson, 16. Tim Isenberg, 17. Brian Birkhofer, 18. Duane Chamberlain, 19. Terry English, 20. John Blankenship, 21. Mike Spatola, 22. Steve Francis, 23. Jimmy Mars, 24. J.R. Hotovy.
C-Main Finish (15 laps – Top 6 Transfer to B-Main):
1. Dennis Erb Jr., 2. Mike Spatola, 3. Jimmy Mars, 4. Steve Francis, 5. Greg Johnson, 6. Jerry Bowersock, 7. Donnie Moran, 8. David Breazeale, 9. John Mason, 10. Gary Christian, 11. Eric Turner, 12. Don Gordon, 13. Scott James, 14. John Lobb, 15. Tanner English, 16. Daniel Baggerly (DNS) Earl Pearson Jr., Shane Clanton, Johnny Pursley, Jay Johnson, Darren Miller, Jon Henry, Ryan VanderVeen, Tim Lance