ROSSBURG, Ohio — The 25th running of the Dirt Late Model Dream started with everything the Dirt Late Model world was hoping for on a Thursday night — clear skies, warm weather and a record car-count not seen in 7 years.
The only thing left on the list was some incredible racing from the industry’s best competitors. And boy, did they ever deliver on that.
Ninety-two of the best DIRTcar Late Model drivers in the world packed the pit area and put on a show the Eldora Speedway crowd would not soon forget, starting with Darrell Lanigan’s incredible last-lap pass for the win over Jonathan Davenport in Group A’s Feature.
Fellow World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series regular Ricky Weiss also put the moves on his competition, driving around World of Outlaws veteran Chris Madden and Thursday’s fast qualifier Jacob Hawkins to pick up his very first win at Eldora in the Group B Feature.
Lanigan was fast qualifier for Group A and started fifth while Davenport took the lead from outside the front row. He hit thick lapped traffic on lap 10, but expertly maneuvered through it to hold his lead over Brian Shirley.
But this advantage would fade quickly, as Lanigan put a strong move on Shirley going down the backstretch on lap 15. With 10 laps remaining, Davenport was a sitting duck.
Without a doubt, Lanigan’s Club 29 car was the fastest machine on the track in the final laps, as he closed the gap rapidly. With three laps left, there was almost no gap between he and Davenport, and that’s when Lanigan knew it was time to crack the whip and set up to make the move.
Two lapped cars sat in Davenport’s way — Brandon Overton on the low side, John Blankenship on the top. With no choice but to get off the bottom, Davenport moved to the middle-top in turns three and four to take away Lanigan’s line, coming to the white flag. Naturally, Lanigan turned it back underneath Davenport and drag raced him down the frontstretch.
“Once we took the white, I saw a black car beside me and I didn’t know who it was,” Davenport said. “It sounded like he was in the gas pretty hard, so I figured it was somebody.”
Into turn one they raced, and with minimal contact, Lanigan drew a nose in front of Davenport. They drag-raced again down the backstretch, around Overton, and when Davenport slipped way up to the top in turn three, Lanigan saw just enough room to get by underneath and made the most of it. Davenport made a last-ditch effort to swipe the spot away on the bottom, but to no avail.
“I got a good run off the bottom [of turn three] and got up beside him,” he said. “We rubbed a little bit getting into turn one, and then we went three-wide with the lapped car. I think Davenport was rubbing the wall [back into turn three], but we came out ahead, and it was fun.”
Davenport knew he had let one slip away, but was in light spirits, as a second-place finish in a preliminary feature gave him a great start to his weekend in event points.
“I think [my night] went really well, up until the last 200 yards,” Davenport said.
In hindsight, Davenport said sticking to the low line may not have been the absolute best idea, but knows of how also refusing to move from the high side has cost him wins at the very same track in previous starts.
“I just didn’t move off of the bottom fast enough,” he said. “I was just concentrating on running around the bottom and should have moved up.”
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