SYLVANIA, Ga. — Shane Clanton debuted a new car in sparkling fashion on Friday night, driving to a convincing heat-race victory during the World of Outlaws Late Model Series Winter Freeze qualifying program at Screven Motor Speedway.
A strong field of 56 was signed in for the national tour’s season-opening weekend, which will conclude on Saturday night (Feb. 11) with a 60-lap A-Main paying $20,000 to win.
Clanton, 36, Fayetteville, Ga., established himself as a favorite to collect the big money in the Winter Freeze finale with his Friday-night performance. He dominated the second of five 15-lap heat races, turning the fastest lap of the preliminary events en route to beating Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., to the finish line by over a straightaway.
Joining Clanton as heat-race victors were 2008 WoO LMS champion Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., who outran two-time tour titlist Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., in the first prelim; Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., who hopes to chase the WoO LMS for the first time in 2012; Ray Cook of Brasstown, N.C.; and Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill.
Clanton’s triumph came in his first start since destroying a car in a grinding crash while leading the Jan. 18 feature during the unsanctioned Wild West Shootout at USA Raceway in Tucson, Ariz. The accident forced him and Kennedy Motorsports teammate John Lobb of Frewsburg, N.Y., to head home early from the six-race series and hastily assemble a new Capital Race Car for the start of the WoO LMS campaign.
Friday’s heat-race triumph made a grueling stretch of hard work well worth the effort.
“We stayed up a couple days to get enough cars and enough equipment built up to run for two-and-a-half weeks here,” said Clanton, who won just two heats all season en route to a disappointing seventh-place finish in the 2011 points standings. “We worked probably the hardest in the pit area the last two-and-a-half weeks.”
Lanigan, 40, was fastest in Friday night’s Ohlins Shocks Time Trials, clocking a circuit of 14.305 seconds around promoter Redd Griffin’s three-eighths-mile red-clay oval. It was his 21st career fast-time honor on the WoO LMS.
Defending WoO LMS champion Rick Eckert of York, Pa., transferred to the A-Main with a third-place finish in the second heat. He will start 12th in the Winter Freeze.
Also making the cut through Friday night’s heats was three of the eight drivers who were recently approved as 2012 WoO LMS Rookie of the Year contenders. Greg Johnson of Bedford, Pa., Kent Robinson of Bloomington, Ind., and Jared Hawkins of Fairmont, W.Va., each scored a third-place finish to crack the A-Main lineup.BREAKING NEWS: SPEED SPORT is back in print with a new monthly format! Subscribe for just $24.95. Special offer for former subscribers.