ROSSBURG, Ohio — Dale McDowell won Friday’s second preliminary feature for the weekend’s Dirt Late Model Dream presented by Ferris Mowers by .073 seconds over Darrell Lanigan.
Compared to Brian Birkhofer’s winning margin in the first preliminary feature, McDowell’s narrow victory was a virtual blowout.
On a night with a pair of tight finishes at the legendary half-mile oval, Birkhofer and McDowell collected $5,000 victories in Twin 25-lap features leading to Saturday’s $100,000-to-win event sanctioned by UMP DIRTcar, the richest race in Dirt Late Model racing.
“Believe me, I’m glad we won $5,000 … but it’s still about coming out and standing on that stage tomorrow night,” the 42-year-old Birkhofer said. “I got a race car that I can keep working on and maybe try to win this big race tomorrow night. That’s all I’m thinking about.”
At the tail end of a thrilling final lap, Birkhofer’s crossover move on Rick Eckert of York, Pa., exiting turn four ended with officials ruling Birkhofer the winner by a hair after viewing and reviewing the video replay and digital photos.
“What a race!” said Birkhofer, who led only laps 18 and 25 in the caution-free event. “It was a lot of fun.”
It took several minutes for Eldora general manager Roger Slack and race officials to determine Birkhofer was the winner, leaving Eckert disappointed after starting outside the front row and leading 23 of 25 caution-free laps.
“You hate to lose them that way,” the 48-year-old driver said after initially hearing that transponders scored him as the winner, “but that’s the way racing goes sometimes.”
Billy Moyer, who hung with the frontrunners the first half of the race, settled for third-place finish while polesitter Shannon Babb was fourth. Kent Robinson, one of Thursday’s preliminary feature winners, improved two positions from his Friday start to round out the top five.
Birkhofer’s high-side charge gave him the lead on the 18th lap, but Eckert went back ahead a lap later as the race wound down to the final circuit, when the leaders came upon traffic, forcing both drivers to swap lanes.
First, Birkhofer was held up by a slower Jimmy Mars on the backstretch, allowing Eckert to move underneath in turn three. Then Eckert, too, was held up by the slower Duane Chamberlain’s car in the low groove.
Eckert slid in front of Birkhofer exiting turn four heading for the checkers, but Birkhofer made a crossover move underneath Eckert and — barely — won the drag race to the checkered flag.