PONTOOON BEACH, Ill. — Steve Francis won his first feature of the season on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Friday at Tri-City Speedway.
Francis started third in the $10,000 to win Battle at the Beach. He took the lead on lap nine and was challenged all the way to the checkered flag by John Blankenship, who finished second. Trailing Francis and Blankenship to the finish were Chris Simpson, Don O’Neal and Billy Moyer.
Francis, who claimed six series wins last year, recorded his 12th career LOLMDS victory. He also became the 12th different winner on the tour in 2013. Blankenship, in the Coal World’s Energy Rocket stayed within striking distance until the end, and came up just short of his third win of the year. With his second-place finish, Blankenship took over the series points lead from Jimmy Owens, who failed to make a lap in the main event due to transmission issues.
“The team worked really hard for this win,” said Francis, who registered his first ever win at Tri-City. “I told Kevin (Gundaker) earlier that I liked the old half-mile better, but not now. We had a meeting this week with Clint (Bowyer) and decided we wanted to finish the season strong, this is a very good start to that goal.”
Blankenship bolted to the lead and led the first eight circuits until Francis took to the outside and dashed by him. The race was slowed by three caution flags and remained close all the way with Blankenship cutting the lead on the final lap to less than one-car length.
“Congrats to Steve, he drove a heck of a race,” Blankenship said. “We switched cars before the night, and went with the car that had the smaller motor in it, Tom (Buckingham) made the right call on that and it nearly paid off. I didn’t even know Owens did not run a lap.”
Simpson, who was the runner-up in the Show-Me 100 back in May at Lucas Oil Speedway came home in another solid run.
“Congrats to Steve for his win,” Simpson said. “John and I battled hard for second; we never touched the whole race! It’s great to able to compete with these guys, they do it on a weekly basis, we are getting our program to where we are a threat to win each time out.”
In preliminary action, Billy Laycock set the overall time (Group A) amongst the 33 entrants, with a lap of 15.506 seconds.
Steve Francis, John Blankenship, Chris Simpson, Don O’Neal, Billy Moyer, Brian Birkhofer, Billy Moyer Jr., Randy Korte, Jason Feger, Tyler Reddick, Eddie Carrier Jr., Earl Pearson Jr., Denis Erb Jr., Billy Drake, Billy Laycock, Jerry Lierly, Chris Fetter, Derek Fetter, Jared Landers, Timothy Culp, Craig Smith, Tim Manville, Michael Kloos, Scott Weber, Jeff Herzog, Jimmy Owens.