BARBERVILLE, Fla. — Kenny Pettyjohn was almost at a loss for words after driving away from a star-studded field to capture Tuesday night’s 30-lap DIRTcar late model feature during the 43rd DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit Racing Equipment at Volusia Speedway Park.
A 46-year-old veteran from Millsboro, Del., who has been slinging cars around dirt tracks for nearly 30 years, Pettyjohn was victorious for the first time in more than a decade’s worth of February trips to the sprawling half-mile oval outside Daytona Beach.
“Shoot, I can’t believe I’m standing here,” Pettyjohn said after emerging from his Rocket Chassis machine. “I think this tops every race that I ever won in my life. To a lot of these guys this wouldn’t be that big a deal, but for me this took a lifetime.”
Pettyjohn became the first driver from Delaware to win a dirt late model feature during the long history of the DIRTcar Nationals by Summit. He achieved the milestone with a powerful performance that saw him swap the lead twice with Rick ‘Boom’ Briggs before gaining command for good on lap three.
A caution flag on lap 20 barely slowed Pettyjohn, who pulled away following the restart to defeat the red-hot Brady Smith — a driver who has finished no worse than third with his new Rocket mount in his Sunshine State starts over the past five nights — by 1.075 seconds.
Brandon Sheppard passed Shane Clanton for third on lap 28 and finished in the show position driving the Rocket Chassis house car. Clanton, who advanced from the seventh starting spot to second by lap eight, settled for a fourth-place finish and eighth-starter Scott Bloomquist completed the top five.
Pettyjohn, who started from the outside pole, was never seriously challenged after wrestling the lead from Briggs. He simply hit the setup perfectly for the fast track.
“Matt Barnes (of Rocket Chassis) came over and told me a couple things before the race and I think that put us right on time,” said Pettyjohn, who won the 2013 dirt late model championship at Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway. “The car was really good — it was good everywhere to be honest.”
Pettyjohn, whose career-high payday remains the $9,800 he earned for a runner-up finish at Natural Bridge (Va.) Speedway, spoke the truth when he said the victory was about more than the first-place prize. In fact, the $7,000 he collected was earmarked for a cause bigger than him.
“We’re donating every dollar we make on this Speedweeks trip (to Georgia and Florida) to the Wounded Warriors (Project),” said Pettyjohn, referring to the charity that benefits wounded American soldiers. “When we get home, my car owner (Brian Donley of Abingdon, Md.) will cut a check and send it to the Wounded Warriors Project. With this win, I think we’re over $11,500 now for the trip.”
Jimmy Owens registered the fastest overall qualifying lap at 16.050 seconds for the 40-car field.
Owens was one of the night’s big stories. He made an unexpected appearance behind the wheel of a new Club 29 car from the stable of two-time World of Outlaws Late Model Series champion Darrell Lanigan, who sat out the program to give Owens an opportunity to try his machine in competition.
Kenny Pettyjohn, Brady Smith, Brandon Sheppard, Shane Clanton, Scott Bloomquist, Billy Moyer, John Blankenship, Steve Francis, Eric Wells, Bobby Pierce, Gregg Satterlee, Jeff Babcock, Chad Hollenbeck, Brian Shirley, Mike Marlar, Rick Eckert, Morgan Bagley, Vic Coffey, Tim McCreadie, Casey Roberts, Frankie Heckenast Jr., Rick ‘Boom’ Briggs, Jimmy Owens, Kyle Bronson.