Curtis Roberts lived his dream Friday night at I-96 Speedway.
A regional racer for more than 20 years, Roberts, 47, of Coleman, Mich., took the lead when Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., suffered a flat right-rear tire on lap 42 of the NAPA Lake Odessa 50 Presented by Keyser A-Main and held off a furious charge by Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., through the race’s finale eight laps to claim his first career World of Outlaws Late Model Series victory.
Roberts earned and career-high $10,550 for his breakthrough victory and thrilled a large crowd of his home-state fans as the 3/8-mile oval hosted the national tour first time since 2007.
“I’ve been racing a lot of years and this is definitely my biggest win,” said Roberts, who became the fourth first-time winner on the WoO LMS this season. “To come in here and beat these guys – the best drivers in the country – it’s a dream come true. This is really just unbelievable.”
Surrounded by a pack of WoO LMS stars, Roberts turned in the performance of his life in Friday’s A-Main. Starting from the pole, Roberts slipped into second behind Clanton on the race’s opening lap and turned back challenges from series veteran Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa., through the first half of the 50-lapper.
After pulling away from Frank after the halfway point, Roberts appeared to be headed for a runner-up result until Clanton’s demise put him out front. Roberts continued his impressive performance by holding off Lanigan in a tense battle that saw the two-time series champion and current points leader pull even with Roberts with a hard charge into the final turn.
“I could hear (Lanigan),” Roberts said. “I didn’t know for sure who it was, I just said, ‘Hey, keep hitting your marks, you’ve been doing good the whole race. Just keep it up. Don’t mess up.’ ”
Just as he had all race, Roberts remained steady and pulled back ahead down the homestretch, forcing Lanigan to settle for the runner-up finish in his self-designed Club 29 Race Car. Frank, who claimed the only previous WoO LMS stop at I-96 in 2007, was third in the Sorbera Chiropractic Rocket, while 2006 WoO LMS champion Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., took fourth in the Sweeteners Plus Rocket ahead of leading series rookie Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill., in the Heckenast Racing Club 29 car.
After taking second from Frank on the race’s final restart on lap 42, Lanigan followed Roberts’ line around the track’s top groove before moving lower on the track to make his bid for the lead though the final corner. Lanigan crossed the finish line a mere 0.408 seconds behind Roberts, notching his 26th top-five finish in 30 WoO LMS A-Mains this season.
“He was super good around the top,” Lanigan said, describing how Roberts mastered the tricky cushion that kept drivers on their toes throughout the event. “I gave it a last-lap effort there to try to get it done, but he did a good job. Starting sixth and to come home second, I’m definitely happy. He did a great job to get his first win – super job.”
After lowering the track record in time trials and dominating his heat race, Clanton appeared headed for victory in dominating the majority of the main event. He built leads of more than a straightaway at times and continued to pull away from his chasers even in traffic. But his bid to end his year-long WoO LMS winless streak came to an early end when he slowed in turn two with 42 laps completed.
“It’s heartbreaking, but that’s racing,” said Clanton, who debuted a new Capital Race Car in Friday’s event. “This being a brand new race car, as good as it was you can’t ask for much more. Set a new track record, won the heat, led every lap that we were on the racetrack – that’s a pretty good night. It just sucks that Lady Luck got us.”
Restarting second after the lap-42 caution for Clanton, Frank was aiming to end a winless streak even longer than Clanton’s, but he was unable to challenge Roberts as the race went back green and Lanigan drove by for the second spot.
“We just weren’t any good on the restarts,” said Frank, whose winless stretch on the WoO LMS reached exactly five years on Friday. “I don’t know why – if it was tires or what. I just needed a few laps to get going and just could not get going on the restarts.”
Rick Eckert of York, Pa., drove the Rocket Chassis house car to a sixth-place finish, while Morgan Bagley of Longview, Texas finished seventh in the P&W Sales Rocket. Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga., was eighth in the Todd Wood Racing Rocket with Eric Wells ninth in the Wells Motorsports Rocket and Mike Spatola 10th in a Warrior Race Car.
The race was slowed by four cautions, the first appearing when Rusty Schlenk of McClure, Ohio had mechanical issues with 23 laps complete. The next yellow flag waved on lap 35 when WoO LMS rookie contender Chase Junghans of Manhattan, Kan., slowed on the front straightaway, collecting Tim Fuller of Watertown, N.Y. Jeep Van Wormer of Pinconning, Mich., spun to bring out a lap-36 caution, and Clanton’s flat tire caused the final caution on lap 42.
The World of Outlaws Late Model Series completes its doubleheader weekend with a visit to Merritt Speedway in Lake City, Mich., on Saturday for the NAPA Merritt 50. Gates open at 4 p.m. at the 3/8-mile oval with qualifying scheduled for 6 and racing to follow at 7. General admission prices are $30 for adults and $6 for children ages 6-15. Additional information is available on the track’s website at www.merrittspeedwaymi.com
Results of World of Outlaws Late Model Series NAPA Lake Odessa 50 Presented by Keyser at I-96 Speedway (Finishing Position/Start/Driver/Laps Completed/Money Won):
1. (1) Curtis Roberts/50 $10,550
2. (6) Darrell Lanigan/50 $5,650
3. (3) Chub Frank/50 $3,550
4. (5) Tim McCreadie/50 $3,200
5. (4) Frank Heckenast Jr./50 $2,800
6. (12) Rick Eckert/50 $1,350
7. (15) Morgan Bagley/50 $1,950
8. (7) Clint Smith/50 $1,900
9. (9) Eric Wells/50 $1,800
10. (17) Mike Spatola/50 $1,200
11. (18) Jeep Van Wormer/50 $1,050
12. (16) Brandon Thirlby/50 $1,000
13. (10) Boom Briggs/50 $1,550
14. (22) Eric Spangler/50 $950
15. (2) Shane Clanton/42 $1,400
16. (8) Tim Fuller/35 $800
17. (11) Chase Junghans/34 $1,320
18. (20) Casey Noonan/24 $750
19. (13) Rusty Schlenk/23 $730
20. (23) Herb Reich/21 $700
21. (19) Ryan VanderVeen/20 $700
22. (20) Bry Sloan/7 $700
23. (24) Bill Bray/3 $700
24. (14) Brady Smith/1 $725
* Earnings include Winners Circle program and cash contingency award bonuses
Time of Race: 26 Mins. 54 Secs.
Margin of Victory: 0.408 seconds
Yellow Flags: 4 (laps 23, 35, 36 & 42)
Lap Leaders: Clanton (1-42); Roberts (43-50)
Provisional Starters: Reich, Bray
WoO LMS ‘Bonus Bucks’ Winner: Curtis Roberts ($500)
Ohlins Shocks Time Trial Results (Position/No./Driver/Hometown/Best Lap):
1. 89-Mike Spatola, Manhattan, Ill., 16.159
2. 9r-Curtis Roberts, Coleman, Mich., 16.499
3. 99jr-Frank Heckenast Jr., Frankfort, Ill., 16.501
4. 44-Clint Smith, Senoia, Ga., 16.628
5. 91-Rusty Schlenk, McClure, Ohio, 16.816
6. 23v-Ryan VanderVeen, Six Lakes, Mich., 16.857
7. 18-Eric Wells, Hazard, Ky., 16.910
8. 1*B-Boom Briggs, Bear Lake, Pa., 16.943
9. 39-Tim McCreadie, Watertown, N.Y., 17.015
10. 2-Brady Smith, Solon Springs, Wis., 17.420
11. 94-Bill Bray, Spring Lake, Mich., 17.596
12. 22-Kevin Juusola, Muskegon, Mich., 17.603
13. 52A-Brad Harden, Ovid, Mich., 17.932
14. 87-Rich Neiser, Fruitport, Mich., 17.987
15. 2s-Bry Sloan, Lowell, Mich., 18.436
16. 66-Kurt Mesman, Wyoming, Mich., 19.551
17. 41-Jason Playter Jr., Saranac, Mich., no time
1. 25-Shane Clanton, Zebulon, Ga., 16.000
2. 29-Darrell Lanigan, Union, Ky., 16.224
3. 1*-Chub Frank, Bear Lake, Pa., 16.435
4. 19-Tim Fuller, Watertown, N.Y., 16.482
5. 55-Jeep Van Wormer, Piconning, Mich., 16.543
6. 1-Rick Eckert, York, Pa., 16.559
7. 18c-Chase Junghans, Manhattan, Kan., 16.606
8. 1N-Casey Noonan, Sylvania, Ohio, 16.613
9. 14m-Morgan Bagley, Longview, Texas, 16.653
10. m14-Brandon Thirlby, Traverse City, Mich., 16.785
11. 34-Herb Reich, Ann Arbor, Mich., 17.076
12. 21-Tom Sprague, Muskegon, Mich., 17.555
13. 1G-Greg Gokey, Buckley, Mich., 17.650
14. 27-Eric Spangler, Lake City, Mich., 17.884
15. 28-John McDonald, North Muskegon, Mich., 18.963
16. 8G-Keith Gentz, Grant, Mich., 19.484
17. 21t-Derek Thebo, Ionia, Mich., no time
Heat No. 1 (10 laps – Top 4 Transfer): Heckenst, McCreadie, Wells, Schlenk, Spatola, Sloan, Bray, Harden, Playter.
Heat No. 2 (10 laps – Top 4 Transfer): Roberts, C. Smith, Briggs, B. Smith, VanderVeen, Neiser, Juusole, Mesman.
Heat No. 3 (10 laps – Top 4 Transfer): Clanton, Frank, Junghans, Bagley, Van Wormer, Reich, Gokey, Thebo, McDonald.
Heat No. 4 (10 laps – Top 4 Transfer): Lanigan, Fuller, Eckert, Thirlby, Noonan, Spangler, Sprague, Gentz.
B-Main No. 1 (12 laps – Top 3 Transfer): Spatola, VanderVeen, Sloan, Juusole, Bray, Neiser. Did not start: Harden, Playter, Mesman.
B-Main No. 2 (12 laps – Top 3 Transfer): Van Wormer, Noonan, Spangler, Reich, Gokey, Thebo, Gentz, McDonald.
World of Outlaws Late Model Series Contingency Award Winners (awards presented to noted finisher/qualifier or next highest displaying decal):
Ohlins Shocks ($50 cash to fast qualifier): Mike Spatola
Comp Cams ($50 certificate to A-Main winner): Curtis Roberts
MSD Ignition ($50 cash to A-Main winner): Curtis Roberts
Quartermaster ($100 certificate to A-Main winner): Curtis Roberts
Wrisco (three sheets of aluminum/certificate to A-Main winner): Curtis Roberts
STP ($50 cash to 2nd-place finisher in A-Main): Darrell Lanigan
Penske Racing Shocks ($50 to 3rd-place finisher in A-Main): Eric Wells
Roush-Yates ($50 cash to 4th-place finisher in A-Main): Tim McCreadie
Mobile 1 ($50 cash to 4th-place finisher in A-Main): Tim McCreadie
JE Pistons ($50 cash to 5th-place finisher in A-Main): Frank Heckenast Jr.
Lincoln Welders ($50 cash to 6th-place finisher in A-Main): Morgan Bagley
American Racing Wheels ($50 cash to 7th-place finisher in A-Main): Clint Smith
VP Racing Fuels ($50 cash to 8th-place finisher in A-Main): Clint Smith
Edelbrock ($50 cash to 9th-place finisher in A-Main): Eric Wells
Comp Cams ($50 cash to 10th-place finisher in A-Main): Mike Spatola
Cometic ($50 cash to 12th-place finisher in A-Main): Boom Briggs
JRI Shocks ($50 cash to 13th-place finisher in A-Main): Boom Briggs
Superflow Dynos ($50 cash to 14th-place finisher in A-Main): Eric Spangler
Quartermaster ($25 certificate to 15th-place finisher in A-Main): Shane Clanton
JE Pistons (one set of rings certificate to 16th-place finisher in A-Main): Tim Fuller
Roush-Yates ($50 certificate to 18th-place finisher in A-Main): Casey Noonan
Quartermaster ($50 certificate to 19th-place finisher in A-Main): Herb Reich
Arizona Sports Shirts ($100 certificate to 20th-place finisher in A-Main): Herb Reich
Mobil 1 (20% off gift certificate to 20th-place finisher in A-Main): Herb Reich
JE Pistons (one set of rings certificate to 21st-place finisher in A-Main): Ryan VanderVeen
Roush-Yates ($50 certificate to 22nd-place finisher in A-Main): Brady Smith
MSD Ignition ($25 cash to 24th-place finisher in A-Main): Brady Smith
Armor All (one case of product to highest-finishing non-WoO driver): Curtis Roberts
Reliable Painting award (one free tire): Rick Eckert
2014 World of Outlaws Late Model Series Point Standings as of Aug. 22 – 30 A-Mains completed (rank/driver/points/deficit to leader):
1. Darrell Lanigan 4,254
2. Rick Eckert 3,984 (-270)
3. Tim McCreadie 3,946 (-308)
4. Morgan Bagley 3,786 (-468)
5. Chub Frank 3,764 (-490)
6. Eric Wells 3,722 (-532)
7. Shane Clanton 3,682 (-572)
8. Frank Heckenast Jr. 3,658 (-596)
9. Clint Smith 3,514 (-740)
10. Chase Junghans 3,398 (-856)
11. Rick ‘Boom’ Briggs 3,264 (-990)
12. Tim Fuller 2,530 (-1,724)
Rookie of the Year Standings as of Aug. 14 (27 A-Mains completed; best 25 races counted)
1. Frank Heckenast Jr. 3,286
2. Chase Junghans 3,048 (-238)
3. Boom Briggs 2,946 (-340)
– World of Outlaws press release. Photo credit: @WoOLateModels Twitter