ROSSBURG, OH – Sept. 7, 2013 – Welcome to the elite, John Blankenship.
The 32-year-old driver from Williamson, W.Va., reached the mountaintop of dirt Late Model racing on Saturday night, racing forward from the 12th starting spot to capture the 43rd annual DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned World 100 at Eldora Speedway.
Blankenship passed Terry Phillips of Springfield, Mo., for the lead on lap 53 and never looked back. He secured the biggest win of his decade-long racing career – a star-making triumph worth $46,000 – by reaching the checkered flag 1.757 seconds ahead of Union, Ky.’s Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., whose late bid to finally put the World 100 on his resume fell short.
A low-key racer who has come of age as a championship contender this season on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, Blankenship kept an even keel during his Victory Lane celebration with his father/car owner Don and crew. He had a hard time grasping the significance of what he had accomplished in front of a massive crowd that ranked as one of the largest in the history of the historic high-banked, half-mile oval.
“It’s unbelievable,” Blankenship said with reverence after becoming the 27th driver – and first from the state of West Virginia – to win dirt Late Model racing’s most prestigious event. “I can’t describe being up here (on the winner’s stage).
“I’m not a real emotional type of guy. I’ve been let down so many times by expectations being so high (at Eldora), when it finally happens it’s almost just surreal. It’ll soak in about Wednesday and then I’ll be really elated and probably go party some.”
As Blankenship cruised out front and Lanigan vainly attempted to run him down, the most compelling late-race battle was for third place. Three-time World 100 winner Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., came out on top of the three-car tussle, grabbing third from Phillips on lap 94 and then turning back a furious outside assault from 16-year-old Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., to register his 16th top-five finish in 24 career World 100 starts.
Pierce, who started from the outside pole and led laps 8-13, settled for a fourth-place finish in his spectacular first-ever World 100 appearance. The rising young star drew some of the loudest cheers from the crowd as he went toe-to-toe with veteran drivers throughout the race.
World of Outlaws Late Model Series points leader Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., completed the top five, reaching fifth with two laps remaining to conclude a steady march forward from the 20th starting spot.
Phillips, who started from the pole position and led laps 1-7 and 15-52, slipped to a sixth-place finish in his eighth career World 100 start but first since 2006.
No one broke through traffic in the 100-lapper quicker that Blankenship. He was only ninth when the race’s first caution flag flew on lap 21 for a flat right-rear tire on the car driven by Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., but he reached fifth on lap 36, took third from Pierce on lap 44, passed Lanigan for second on lap 48 and sailed into the lead with a smooth slide underneath Phillips on lap 53.
“We’ve had a good car here all week and hit on a little something last night,” Blankenship said of his Rocket machine. “I felt real good about a long (green-flag) run, so I was real surprised I took the lead as early as I did.”
With the race running without interruption following a second and final caution flag on lap 56 for the slowing car of Chatham, Ill.’s Brian Shirley, Blankenship set a torrid pace. He built a near straightaway advantage by lap 70, giving him more than enough cushion to absorb Lanigan’s late-race charge.
Lanigan, 43, wrestled second place from Phillips on lap 77 and managed to cut Blankenship’s nearly two-second lead in half within 10 circuits. But Blankenship found the rhythm he needed to keep Lanigan from drawing any closer.
“I was really nervous about the whole race,” said Blankenship, whose three previous World 100 A-Main starts resulted in progressively better finishes of 21 st (2009), 11th (’10) and fifth (’11). “I thought they were breathing down my neck the whole time, so I was driving pretty hard and didn’t know how long my stuff was gonna stay under me.
“Evey time I tried to be a little more patient I would get a push and I couldn’t even run down the lapped cars. I decided to just start driving it in like I was when I was trying to catch the leader and actually the car handled a lot better.”
Lanigan had a perfect view of Blankenship’s impeccable mount while chasing the leader late in the distance. Try as he might, the alltime winningest WoO LMS driver couldn’t catch Blankenship.
With the loss, Lanigan surpassed Freddy Smith as the driver who has made the most career World 100 A-Main starts (20) without reaching Victory Lane. He recorded his second runner-up finish and eighth overall top-five run in the event, but that was little consolation to the hyper-competitive racer.
“It’s just disappointing to come up here and be that close,” said Lanigan, whose previous second-place finish came in 1999. “I already got a couple ideas of what we should’ve done, but it’s too late now. We were just a little bit off.
“(Blankenship) kind of surprised me to be that good down there in the middle. He could run that middle to the bottom. I tried it and felt good there, but he was just a little bit better. I reeled him in and got within six, seven car lengths, but then I couldn’t close up no more.”
Lanigan could only look on from afar – or, more precisely, the post-race inspection area in the pit area – as Blankenship celebrated on the winner’s stage.
“We’ve had an up-and-down season and really slipped the last four or five weeks,” said Blankenship, who briefly led the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series points standings in the middle of the summer before falling back. “This is just a really big booster to us.
“You definitely have doubts,” he continued, “especially when you come out here (to Eldora) and can’t even run last in a B-Main – that’s happened before too. It’s just a really competitive sport, and that’s actually why I love it so much. You can be the fastest car one week and the slowest car the next. It makes wins like this even more special.”
Finishing in positions 7-10 were Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., who ran as high as fourth for a short period after the lap-56 restart; Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga.; Jared Landers of Batesville, Ark.; and Eddie Carrier Jr. of Salt Rock, W.Va.
Winners of Saturday night’s six 15-lap heats were J.R. Hotovy of Hartford, Mich., Shirley, Davenport, Lanigan, Pierce and Phillips. The 20-lap B-Mains were captured by teenager Tyler Reddick of DuQuoin, Ill., and Bloomquist.
Two five-lap ‘Scrambles’ for drivers failing to earn transfer positions in the B-Mains were also contested, with Randy Weaver of Crossville, Tenn., and Morgan Bagley of Longview, Texas, earning $1,000 each for their victories.
For more information on DIRTcar Racing, visit www.dirtcar.com.
World 100 A-Main Results (Finish/Start/Driver/Lap Completed/Earnings):
1. (12) John Blankenship/100 $46,000
2. (3) Darrell Lanigan/100 $15,000
3. (22) Scott Bloomquist/100 $10,000
4. (2) Bobby Pierce/100 $7,500
5. (20) Josh Richards/100 $6,000
6. (1) Terry Phillips/100 $5,000
7. (8) Earl Pearson Jr./100 $4,000
8. (4) Jonathan Davenport/100 $3,500
9. (16) Jared Landers/100 $3,000
10. (9) Eddie Carrier Jr./100 $2,500
11. (15) Bub McCool/100 $2,475
12. (23) Chris Simpson/100 $2,450
13. (10) Chris Madden/100 $2,425
14. (30) Gregg Satterlee/99 $2,400
15. (27) Brandon Sheppard/98 $2,375
16. (14) Duane Chamberlain/98 $2,350
17. (25) Vic Hill/97 $2,325
18. (5) Brian Shirley/61 $2,300
19. (13) Frankie Heckenast Jr./60 $2,275
20. (11) Jimmy Mars/58 $2,250
21. (19) Jason Feger/49 $2,225
22. (17) Jeff Babcock/48 $2,220
23. (24) Jimmy Owens/43 $2,175
24. (21) Tyler Reddick/41 $2,150
25. (26) Brian Birkhofer/40 $2,125
26. (7) Dale McDowell/39 $2,100
27. (31) Shane Clanton/36 $2,090
28. (6) J.R. Hotovy/32 $2,080
29. (29) Kent Robinson/25 $2,065
30. (32) Jeep VanWormer/21 $2,050
31. (28) Shannon Babb/17 $2,025
32. (18) Jerry Bowersock/15 $2,000
Lap Leaders: Phillips (1-7); Pierce (8-13); Phillips (14-52); Blankenship (53-100)
Heat 1 Finish (15 laps – Top 3 Transfer to A-Main/4-11 to B-Main): 1. J.R. Hotovy, 2. Dale McDowell, 3. Frankie Heckenast Jr., 4. Tyler Reddick, 5. Jason Feger, 6. Dustin Neat, 7. Chris Simpson, 8. Chad Ruhlman, 9. Randy Korte, 10. Brian Ruhlman, 11. Steve Kester, 12. Gary Christian, 13. Kevin Weaver, 14. Steve Francis, 15. Matt Irey, 16. Justin Chance, 17. Dennis Erb Jr., 18. Robby Hensley (DNS) Nick Latham
Heat 2 Finish (15 laps – Top 3 Transfer to A-Main/4-11 to B-Main): 1. Brian Shirley, 2. Earl Pearson Jr., 3. Duane Chamberlain, 4. Vic Hill, 5. Randy Weaver, 6. Kent Robinson, 7. Brandon Kinzer, 8. Matt Miller, 9. Chad Smith, 10. Shannon Thornsberry, 11. Ryan Sutter, 12. Mike Marlar, 13. Josh Richards, 14. Dustin Neat (DNS) Jeremy Nichols, Joe Ramey, Jason Riggs, Chad Simpson, Don Hammer
Heat 3 Finish (15 laps – Top 3 Transfer to A-Main/4-11 to B-Main): 1. Jonathan Davenport, 2. Eddie Carrier Jr., 3. Bub McCool, 4. Brandon Sheppard, 5. Ray Guss Jr., 6. Wayne Chinn, 7. Tim Isenberg, 8. Billy Moyer, 9. Doug Drown, 10. Tim Rivers, 11. Don Gordon, 12. Jason Montgomery, 13. John Mason, 14. Jeep VanWormer, 15. R.J. Conley, 16. Jeff Watson, 17. John Mayes Jr. (DNS) Scott James, Doug Zartler
Heat 4 Finish (15 laps – Top 3 Transfer to A-Main/4-11 to B-Main): 1. Darrell Lanigan, 2. Chris Madden, 3. Jared Landers, 4. Shannon Babb, 5. Scott Bloomquist, 6. Michael Asberry, 7. Brett Wyatt, 8. Jody Knowles, 9. Steve Lance Jr., 10. Justin Rattliff, 11. Jason Riggs, 12. Phil Ausra, 13. Jason Smith, 14. Shane Unger, 15. Michael Chilton, 16. Mason Zeigler, 17. Don O’Neal, 18. Shane Clanton, 19. Devin Moran
Heat 5 Finish (15 laps – Top 3 Transfer to A-Main/4-11 to B-Main): 1. Bobby Pierce, 2. Jimmy Mars, 3. Jeff Babcock, 4. Jimmy Owens, 5. Jon Henry, 6. Donnie Moran, 7. Tim McCreadie, 8. Gregg Satterlee, 9. Greg Johnson, 10. Chub Frank, 11. Ryan VanderVeen, 12. Mike Spatola, 13. Casey Noonan, 14. Jay Brunson, 15. Jim Gingery, 16. Mason Combs, 17. Brian Gray, 18. Jeff Sloan, 19. Ky Harper
Heat 6 Finish (15 laps – Top 3 Transfer to A-Main/4-11 to B-Main): 1. Terry Phillips, 2. John Blankenship, 3. Jerry Bowersock, 4. Morgan Bagley, 5. Dustin Linville, 6. Brian Birkhofer, 7. Andrew Reaume, 8. Casey Roberts, 9. Brian Diveley, 10. Brad Dyer, 11. Jacob Hawkins, 12. Tim Manville, 13. Tim Lance, 14. Jeff Wolfenbarger, 15. Scott Clifford, 16. Jay Johnson (DQ – light) Weiss (DNS) Henry Cooper
B-Main 1 Finish (20 laps – Top 5 Transfer to A-Main): 1. Tyler Reddick, 2. Chris Simpson, 3. Vic Hill, 4. Brandon Sheppard, 5. Kent Robinson, 6. Randy Weaver, 7. Tim Isenberg, 8. Brandon Kinzer, 9. Brad Neat, 10. Randy Korte, 11. Gary Christian, 12. Chad Ruhlman, 13. Ray Guss Jr., 14. Chad Smith, 15. Steve Kester, 16. Billy Moyer, 17. Doug Drown, 18. Brian Ruhlman, 19. Ryan Sutter, 20. Tim Rivers, 21. Don Gordon, 22. Matt Miller, 23. Dustin Neat, 24. Wayne Chinn (Scratched) Shannon Thornsberry
B-Main Scramble 1 Finish (5 laps): 1. Randy Weaver, 2. Brad Neat, 3. Brandon Kinzer, 4. Tim Isenberg, 5. Ray Guss Jr., 6. Billy Moyer, 7. Chad Ruhlman, 8. Gary Christian, 9. Brian Ruhlman, 10. Randy Korte, 11. Doug Drown, 12. Steven Kester, 13. Tim Rivers, 14. Chad Smith, 15. Ryan Sutter, 16. Don Gordon
B-Main 2 Finish (20 laps – Top 5 Transfer to A-Main): 1. Scott Bloomquist, 2. Jimmy Owens, 3. Brian Birkhofer, 4. Shannon Babb, 5. Gregg Satterlee, 6. Morgan Bagley, 7. Greg Johnson, 8. Andrew Reaume, 9. Dustin Linville, 10. Mike Spatola, 11. Tim McCreadie, 12. Casey Roberts, 13. Justin Ratttliff, 14. Steve Lance Jr., 15. Jason Riggs, 16. Jody Knowles, 17. Brad Dyer, 18. Jon Henry, 19. Chub Frank, 20. Michael Asberry, 21. Ryan VanderVeen, 22. Donnie Moran, 23. Brett Wyatt, 24. Brian Diveley (Scratched) Jacob Hawkins
B-Main Scramble 2 Finish (5 laps): 1. Morgan Bagley, 2. Greg Johnson, 3. Andrew Reaume, 4. Dustin Linville, 5. Mike Spatola, 6. Tim McCreadie, 7. Justin Rattliff, 8. Steve Lance Jr., 9. Jason Riggs, 10. Jody Knowles, 11. Brad Dyer