Clanton Dreaming Big This Weekend

Shane Clanton is hoping to hit it big this weekend during the Dirt Late Model Dream at Eldora Speedway. (Larrie Ervin Photo)
Shane Clanton is hoping to hit it big this weekend during the Dirt Late Model Dream at Eldora Speedway. (Larrie Ervin Photo)

ROSSBURG, Ohio – If Shane Clanton had his druthers, this year’s Dirt Late Model Dream Presented by Ferris Commercial Mowers Thursday-Saturday at Eldora Speedway would go exactly like the 18th running of the sport’s richest event in 2012.

Clanton, of course, likes how that race weekend turned out.

“It went great,” said the standout World of Outlaws Late Model Series regular from Zebulon, Ga. “I won $100,000, the biggest race of the year. It don’t get better than that.”

But as Clanton well knows, he can’t take an identical path to Victory Lane in the 2013 DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned spectacular. With a unique new format in place that is expanding the Dirt Late Model Dream by Ferris to three nights of action, his quest to make history as the race’s first winner in back-to-back years will have to go down a slightly different road.

While the traditional format for this Saturday night’s Dream finale remains (six 15-lap heat races, C- and B-Features, ‘C’ and ‘B’ Scrambles, the 100-lap A-Main), how drivers get to that much-anticipated evening has changed. For the first time full racing programs will be contested on Thursday and Friday nights, providing fans more action and teams more track time and opportunities to earn cash.

Drivers will be aligned for Saturday night’s heats by their best lap time turned during the multi-car time trials run on both Thursday and Friday. Each night’s qualifying results will also split the field into two groups that will then compete in separate cards of heat races, B-Features and 25-lap A-Mains paying $2,500 to win on Thursday and $5,000 to win on Friday.

For a veteran Eldora hand like the 37-year-old Clanton, the shuffling of the Dream’s deck adds some anxiety to an already pressure-packed weekend – but not too much. He said he likes the extra chances to make money that the Thursday/Friday double-feature format has set up, so the biggest stress-maker is just a variant of drivers’ usual concerns during crown-jewel events at Eldora.

“Qualifying is what I’m worrying about,” Clanton said of the multi-car time trials on Thursday and Friday that will replace the Dream and World 100’s customary Friday qualifying program (one car at a time, two rounds, two total laps). “You’re always worried about your qualifying lap more than anything else. That’s the way it’s always been because starting up front in a heat race is so important.

“I guess nobody will really know what’s gonna happen until we get there, but I’m sure it’s still gonna be all about luck. The number you draw to go out for qualifying is still probably gonna be a big deal.”

Clanton will go to the post during Dream weekend with the same Kennedy Motorsports Capital Race Car and Clements engine he used to win last year’s event. The car has been reworked with a new front clip because Clanton crashed it during last September’s World 100 weekend at Eldora, so it should be like new since Clanton hasn’t raced it since it came off the jig during the off-season.

The machine definitely worked well last year on Eldora’s high banks. There is no denying that.

“When I hot-lapped (for last year’s Dream) we were too tight, so we freed it up for qualifying and it responded to what we changed,” remembered Clanton, who timed 11th-fastest in 2012. “Then, in the heat race, I won (from the outside pole) but didn’t tighten up near enough, so I figured I could tighten up for the race and I did.

“I was right, because it was good. I led every lap (of the A-Main off the outside pole), but I knew I had a good enough car to pass them guys if I would’ve had to. (Polesitter Brian) Shirley beat me down the front straightaway at the start, but I just turned left, mashed the gas and went by him. I knew I had a good car then. Lapped traffic got kind of scary there at the end because I was trying to save my tires and not hurt my equipment, but if I had to do some basic moving I could have.”