When Blankenship jumped out to the early lead, Bronson didn’t lose his composure. He simply took the advice of Rocket Chassis co-owner Mark Richards, who provided valuable setup assistance throughout the week, and remained patient.
“Mark Richards told me at the beginning of the race that Blankenship was gonna drive real hard and he told me not to race him,” said Bronson. “He told me to ride as long as I could until an opportunity showed up. I tried to ride as long as I could, but when I had my opportunity (to make an outside pass for the lead on lap 17) I didn’t want to follow him no more. I kind of wanted to get myself in clean air.”
Moments after assuming command, Bronson was taken out of lapped traffic by a lap-20 caution flag for Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa., who slowed in turn three. The race’s only other caution flag, on lap 35 when Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., slowed with a crushed nosepiece sustained when he ran into the back of York, Pa. driver Rick Eckert’s car, also kept Bronson free of slower traffic.
“I usually hate seeing cautions, but I was actually happy to see every caution I seen because it got me back into clean air,” said Bronson, who was under heavy pressure from Blankenship and McDowell when the yellow flag flew on lap 35.
Once McDowell, who passed Blankenship for second place on the lap-35 restart, pulled off on lap 41 – just a few laps before he said he planned to step up his bid for victory – Bronson was effectively home free. His only scare was a slip rounding turn four with the checkered flag waving in front of him.
“I started getting tighter and tighter and kind of jumped the cushion down there, misjudged it,” Bronson said of the final lap. “I was kind of getting ready for a slide job (from a challenger) and actually just missed my corner. Fortunately I was able to gather it back up and hold on.”
Bronson got back in the groove in time to register by far the biggest win of his career, which he launched a mere three years ago. He’s already piled up more than 60 open-wheel Modified victories – including a DIRTcar Nationals by Summit UMP Modified triumph on Feb. 12 – and a handful of wins in spec- and crate-engine Late Model events in Florida, but none compare to this success.
“I just can’t thank all my guys enough, especially (team owners) Wayne and Shirlene (Hammond),” said Bronson, whose two previous WoO LMS A-Main starts resulted in finishes of 24th on Aug. 5, 2013, at Independence (Iowa) Motor Speedway and 25th on Thursday night at Volusia (he failed to qualify for the 2013 USA Nationals at Wisconsin’s Cedar Lake Speedway in his WoO LMS debut). “If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be driving this race car. I’d be back at East Bay (Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla.) racing Street Stocks.”
With his victory, Bronson became the fourth first-time DIRTcar Nationals by Summit winner during this year’s five nights of Late Model competition. He also joined Roberts to become the first back-to-back first-time winners on the WoO LMS since 2012 when Brad Neat (April 27 at North Alabama Speedway) and Bub McCool (April 28 at Tennessee’s Tazewell Speedway) logged career-first victories.
Frankie Heckenast Jr. of Orland Park, Ill., finished sixth after running as high as fourth midway through the race. Eckert, meanwhile, quietly worked his way forward from the 16th starting spot to place seventh; Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., finished eighth; Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., guided the Rocket Chassis house car to a ninth-place finish after using a provisional to start 23rd; and Brady Smith of Solon Springs, Wis., capped his strong Florida Speedweeks with a 10th-place outing.