BARBERVILLE, FL — Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., a veteran racer in action since 1988, has been one of the biggest names without a World of Outlaws Craftsman® Late Model Series victory. That changed in his 53rd career feature start when O’Neal finally took a coveted trip to Victory Lane during the bookend to the 46th Annual DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park on Saturday night.
Heading into the 40-lap Craftsman Club Feature, the buzz was about what tire compound the teams would choose. It was ultimately Don O’Neal who chose the right combination.
“We’ve had a good car,” said O’Neal. “The Peak Anti-Freeze team with Crawford Outdoor, Cometic Gasket, and Penske Shocks car has been good all Speedweeks, there just wasn’t anything going our way. Tonight, it did.”
O’Neal was a man on a mission all night. Locking up the final transfer spot from his heat put him 13th on the feature starting grid. O’Neal made quick work of the cars in front of him and used a lap 15 restart to take the lead from polesitter Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill. who had led every lap to that point.
“We had a harder tire on then most of those guys,” said Erb Jr., who finished seventh. “A lot of those guys gambled with that soft tire. We took the green early and everyone stayed in that line around the bottom. My car was working really good there. Everything was going good until that yellow came out. Then everybody got chasing the brown, [tacky dirt] around the top and those soft tire were able to pull away from me. We definitely got beat on tires tonight.”
Tim McCreadie of Watertown, NY jumped to the second position the same lap as O’Neal took over the point and steadily gained ground on the leader. On lap 38 in the midst of heavy lapped traffic, O’Neal nearly got into the turn two wall. The slip up by O’Neal allowed McCreadie an attempt for a last lap pass bringing the crowd surrounding the World’s Fastest Half-Mile to their feet.
“I was warming my tires up on the outside and I thought ‘this feels so much better than the bottom did on that first 14-lap run” said McCreadie. “Don, he’s a professional and he found the traction before I did. I moved up and thought we could run with him, but at the end I think he had the best car. He made one little mistake at the end there and it gave us a chance. We hadn’t run this car yet and we ran it for three nights. We got a second and a third out of it.”
O’Neal claimed a desired Gator trophy and $10,000 but it was Shane Clanton who took home the king of them all, the Big Gator as DIRTcar Nationals Late Model champion.
“We missed it a little bit tonight, but it’s a testament to how hard we worked all week,” said Clanton “To run top-five three nights and just miss it a little bit tonight and run where we did (13th), we had a shot.”
Before the stretch at DIRTcar Nationals, series veteran Clanton explained the importance of coming out of the Georgia-Florida jaunt ahead in the standings.
“If you come out of Florida on top then it’s easy to stay on top, if you come up behind then it’s hard to dig yourself out of that hole,” said Clanton. “It’s important to have a good run because it will boost the whole season and [at this point] who knows who will be running good.”
Headed out of DIRTcar Nationals, Brandon Sheppard is the leader in the 2017 World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series Points Standings followed by Rick Eckert who is only a mere four points behind. For the last two years the driver who headed out of DIRTcar Nationals highest in points ultimately won the Championship Title at the end of the year. That may not be the case this year as the points race is still very close; meaning it could be anyone’s for the taking.
-World of Outlaws Press Release. Photo credit: Speed51.com/Bruce Nuttleman
World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series Finish – Volusia Speedway Park (FL)
Feature: 1.5- Don O’Neal; 2.39-Tim McCreadie; 3.21-Billy Moyer Jr; 4.40B-Bronson; 5.44-Chris Madden; 6.9-Devin Moran; 7.28-Dennis Erb Jr; 8.18-Eric Wells; 9.7-Rick Eckert; 10.15s-Donny Schatz; 11.3s-Brian Shirley; 12.14-Darrell Lanigan; 13.25-Shane Clanton; 14.1-Brandon Sheppard; 15.91-Tyler Erb; 16.17M-Dale McDowell; 17.1*-Chub Frank; 18.18c-Chase Junghans ; 19.7F-Jason Fitzgerald; 20.2H-Nick Hoffman; 21.99j-Frank Heckenast Jr; 22.14M-Morgan Bagley; 23.2c-Joey Coulter; 24.99B-Boom Briggs; 25.116-Brandon Overton; 26.15-Steve Francis