The 17th annual Dirt Late Model Dream at Eldora Speedway was nothing short of a spectacle for the fans. Ninety-one drivers had laid down qualifying laps Friday night in hopes of paving their way into the 26-car A-main. Mother nature was kind, providing just enough of a breeze and cloud cover that the intense heat was bearable, but not a drop of rain would fall over the track on Saturday.
With such a large number of entries, six heat races were scheduled to kick off Saturday’s night of events. Each heat would consist of 20 laps, and the top three finishers would advance to the A-main.
In heat one, the field was led to the green by the 57J of Bub McCool. The cars were battling side by side en route to turn one, and at the exit of turn two it was the 55 of Jeep Vanwormer who was at the point. McCool began sliding back through the top five, leaving the second place position up for grabs. The battle for that second spot was heating up between the 44 of Earl Pearson Jr and the 7 of Matt Miller. The caution would fly on lap three after a car got turned around on lap three.
When the green was out again it was Vanwormer and Miller in the top two positions while EPJ and the 25 of Dustin Neat were battling for that third and final transfer position. Neat secured the position and EPJ fell back to the sixth spot. The 55 and 7 had broken away from the field, with three car lengths separating them from each other. By lap 13, the gap had been closed and the two were battling nose to tail for the lead. Miller gave the outside line a shot as they ran side by side down the backstretch, but Vanwormer was sticking to the low line, which kept his car out front. With two to go, Miller tried to get his nose in under the 55 machine, but once again, Vanwormer was able to shut the door. As the checkered flag flew, it was Vanwormer who took the win, with Miller and Neat also being advanced to the A-main.
Heat two was led to the green by the 25H of Bart Hartman with the 20H of Jacob Hawkins and the 18 of Shannon Babb in tow. With eight laps complete, Hartman and Hawkins got together in turn four battling for that runner up spot. Both drivers were able to regain control of their cars and continue on. The battle continued on for that second spot, all while Hartman was pulling away. With one to go, Babb was able to get around Hawkins in turn four to take the runner up position after a lap car slowed down the 20H machine. Hartman took the win, with Babb and Hawkins also being advanced to the A-main.
The 25 of Shane Clanton led the field to the green in heat three. Clanton wouldn’t have time to get comfortable with the lead, as the 28 of Eddie Carrier Jr. motored to the point in turn three. However, the caution would fly as the leaders got back around to the flagstand since officials ruled it as a bad start. At the green Clanton would lead the way again, and just like before Carrier had taken it away before the lap was completed. The 33 of Brian Reese and the 1 of Josh Richards were battling side by side for the third spot when the two got together on the front stretch. Richards went to the third spot, but Reese had suffered damage to his rear tires and slammed into the wall in turn two after cutting a tire. At the green, the top five was made up of Carrier, Clanton, Richards, the 88 of Andrew Reaume and the 0 of Scott Bloomquist. Reaume took his machine to the pit area right before the halfway mark and on lap 13, the caution came out for two cars getting together in turn two.
When the green was out again, Richards tried to get a nose in under Clanton for the second position but couldn’t get it to stick in the turn. The caution was out again with only four laps to go for debris on the track. When the field was back under green there were only eight cars remaining on the track. With two to go, Clanton cut a tire, taking him out of the race and moving Bloomquist up to the final transfer spot. The 17M of Dale McDowell had moved up to the fourth position after Clanton left the race, but on the last lap, he too had an issue, breaking his rear axle, but still managed to hold on to the fourth spot. It was Carrier who took the win, taking both Richards and Bloomquist to the A-main.
Heat four was led to the green by the 81 of Scott James. The caution would come out on lap one after the 23 of Duane Chamberlain spun out in turn two. At the restart, the field was three-wide at the line for the point. It was the 1 of Will Vaught who secured the point out of turn two and James settled in to the second spot. The caution came out only laps later for a violent wreck in turn one. The caution was quickly replaced by the red flag after officials caught sight of the mangled 11 machine of John Henry. Luckily, Henry was able to get out of his car and walk away. The C9 of Steve Casebolt and the 36 of Tim Lance were also involved, and both their machines were taking to the pit area, unable to rejoin the field.
When the race was back underway, the top two of Vaught and James had pulled away. The 7R of Kent Robinson and the 44 of Chris Madden were battling for the third position when the caution came out for James who had spun out on the backstretch after getting into Vaught after the 1 jumped the cushion and got sideways. With eight to go, the top five consisted of Vaught, Robinson, Madden, the 12 of Doug Drown and Chamberlain. The caution would come out again with seven to go after Chamberlain got into Drown on the front stretch. In the shootout to the finish it was Vaught who jumped out with the lead, while Robinson and Madden were battling heavily for the second spot. Madden was able to take the spot away with only four laps to go. On the white flag lap, Vaught had stretched his lead out to almost a half track advantage. When the checkers flew it was Vaught who took the dominant win, taking both Madden and Robinson to the A-main as well.
Defending winner of the Dream, Billy Moyer led the field to the green in heat five. Behind him, cars were fighting three-wide for the runner-up spot. The 21 of Chris Brown had settled in to the second position, but Moyer had stepped out with a spacious lead over the other 21 machine. The caution would come out on lap three after a car went for a spin on the front stretch. At the restart the 6 of Steve Shaver took the low line to take the third position away from the 3S of Brian Shirley. The caution would fly again on laps 10 and 11 after a couple of issues occurring in turn two. With a nine lap run to the finish, Moyer led the field to the restart and had no trouble pulling away. Shirley took the third position away from Shaver in turn three, but the 6 took it right back in turn four after Shirley got up over the cushion in turn four. At the flagstand, it was Moyer who took the top spot, and Brown and Shaver transferred to the A-main.
In the sixth and final heat, the 9R of Curtis Roberts led the field to the green as the 71 of Don O’Neal and the 29 of Darrell Lanigan were side by side for the second spot. The 15B of Brian Birkhofer and the 49 of Jonathan Davenport were battling for the fourth position. Lanigan took the low line to work his way around Roberts in turn four for the lead. It become somewhat of a ripple effect as O’Neal, Davenport and Birkhofer also worked their way around Roberts within only two laps. The top three cars of Lanigan, O’Neal and Davenport had pulled away from the rest of the field. With only a few laps to go, O’Neal looked as though he was reeling the 29 machine in, but Lanigan was strong and was able to hold O’Neal off to win the event. O’Neal and Davenport joined the 29, all automatically transferring into the main event.
With 18 positions accounted for in the A-main, six spots were open for drivers to get in through the B-main. The top six finishing drivers in the C-main were given the opportunity to start at the tail of the B-main in hopes of getting in to the show. Here are the top finishers in both the C and B-mains.
- 28 – Dennis Erb Jr.
- 89 – Mike Spatola
- 28 – Jimmy Mars
- 15 – Steve Francis
- 49 – Greg Johnson
- 95J – Jerry Bowersock
- 44 – Clint Smith
- 57J – Bub McCool
- 12 – Doug Drown
- 3S – Brian Shirley
- 17M – Dale McDowell
- 99JR – Frankie Heckenhast Jr.
The 26-car A-main was on the track, gearing up for the seventeenth annual Dirt Late Model Dream. The field consisted of seasoned veterans, past champions, first time Dream runners and those that have sought out the historical race win, but had fallen short time and time again. The high banks would sort through the lot of the field in a 100-lap race that would ultimately leave the strongest man standing at the end. The Dream isn’t just any late model event, it’s a huge event, and in order to win it, a driver must be versatile, strong and have just the right setup. All in all, the driver needs to be the real deal.
Moyer in his 21 machine led the field to the green alongside the 29 of Darrell Lanigan. The top five lined up in single file; Moyer, Lanigan, The 1 of Will Vaught the 28 of Eddie Carrier Jr. and the 18 of Shannon Babb. Lap traffic began playing a part in the event early, only ten laps into the 100 lap race. The first 25 laps of the event went smoothly, and looked a lot like a game of follow the leader. With 40 laps in the book, the 71 of Don O’Neal had worked his way from the twelfth starting position to get around Babb to take the fifth spot. O’Neal didn’t stop there, going around the outside of Carrier to take the fourth position on lap 41. There was only a car length separating the top three of Moyer, Lanigan and Richards and O’Neal began setting his sights on the front runners.
The caution would come out for the first and only time in the 100 lap event for the 20 of Jimmy Owens as he took a spin on the outskirts of turn four. At the restart it was Moyer who stepped out with the lead, but again, Lanigan wasn’t letting the 21 machine get out of his sight, staying right on him.
At the halfway point, Lanigan had worked his way up to the rear of the 21, battling closely, trying to take the top spot away from Moyer. The 29 was able to get his nose under the 21 in turn one and the two were running side by side on the backstretch. Lanigan wasn’t able to stick the move and Moyer powered by, holding on to the lead.
On lap 65, O’Neal took to the low side of the track to get underneath Vaught to take the third position away. Lanigan continued his work on Moyer, trying every which way to get around the 21, but he was unsuccessful, and with the laps winding down, it didn’t look as though he was going to be able to make the move work.
At lap 76, O’Neal had worked his way up to the two frontrunners, and he wasn’t planning on settling for a third place run. The 71 got a nose under Lanigan in turn one, and coming out of turn four on lap 79, O’Neal had taken the second position and began running down Moyer. The yellow 71 machine was right on the bumper of the 21 with less than a car length separating the two of them. O’Neal tried to get his nose under Moyer, much like Lanigan had been trying to do, and just like Lanigan’s attempts, it didn’t work for him either.
At lap 85, the two were battling side by side on the backstretch. Moyer and O’Neal made slight contact, but Moyer was still at the point. But, on lap 86, the table had turned, and finally, O’Neal got the break he was looking for. In turn one, O’Neal got a run on the low side of the track and was able to work his way under Moyer and secure the top spot.
It looked as though O’Neal was going to run away with the win. But, on lap 89, the 71 got a little high in turn two and smacked the wall. He was able to regain control and continue with the lead, but that lengthy lead was getting smaller and smaller each lap. Every few laps, O’Neal would continue to get high in turn two and just brush the wall, getting fans up on their feet, holding their breaths, just waiting for something to go wrong.
With two laps remaining in the 100 lap feature, Moyer had taken the five-car length lead down to less than two. Coming into turn three, the two had less than a car length between them on the white flag lap. It looked as though Moyer had a shot to get back under him, but it was too late. O’Neal, finally, after years of trying and several disappointing bridesmaid finishes, had finally secured his first crown jewel win, and the biggest of his career.
As the yellow 71 pulled into victory lane, the damage on the right rear was evident and looked as though it could have ended his night at any moment, yet he was able to push the machine to the finish. “The Real Deal,” Don O’Neal, adds his name to the list of winners, making history and becoming the 11th different driver to win the Dirt Late Model Dream.
Here is a full rundown of results from the A-main of the Dirt Late Model Dream:
1. 71-Don O’Neal
2. 21-Billy Moyer
3. 29-Darrell Lanigan
4. 1-Will Vaught
5. 28-Eddie Carrier Jr.
6. 55-Jeep Vanwormer
7. 44-Chris Madden
8. 25H-Bart Hartman
9. 1R-Josh Richards
10. 6-Steve Shaver
11. 18-Shannon Babb
12. 0-Scott Bloomquist
13. 7R-Kent Robinson
14. 7M-Matt Miller
15. 3S-Brian Shirley
16. 49-Jonathan Davenport
17. 777-Jared Landers
18. 20-Jimmy Owens
19. 17M-Dale McDowell
20. 44-Clint Smith;
21. 21-Chris Brown
22. 57J-Bub McCool
23. 20H-Jacob Hawkins
24. 12-Doug Drown
25. 99JR-Frank Heckenast Jr.
26. 25-Dustin Neat [DNS]
Be sure to check back tomorrow for a photo gallery of Friday and Saturday’s event at the historic half-mile for one of late model racing’s premiere events.