INDEPENDENCE, Iowa - Darrell Lanigan’s assault on the World of Outlaws Late Model Series rolled on Monday night at Independence Motor Speedway.
Continuing the most amazing season in the history of the national tour, the 42-year-old star from Union, Ky., set or matched three different series records with a hard-fought victory over Clint Smith in the three-eighths-mile ovals Dirt Late Model Magazine 50.
Lanigan drew the pole position in the pre-race redraw and led all but one circuit of the A-Main, but his drive to the checkered flag behind the wheel of his Cornett-powered Rocket was anything but easy.
He had to survive a relentless late-race challenge from Smith, who nosed ahead to lead lap 42 but lost ground and fell behind for the remainder of the distance when the leaders rubbed together in turn two moments after Lanigan was scored the leader of lap 43.
Smith settled for a disappointing runner-up finish in his J.P. Drilling Rocket, crossing the finish line .330 of a second behind Lanigan. It was Smith’s second bridesmaid run to Lanigan in the last four races.
“I definitely had to work for this one,” said Lanigan, who passed Smith on the final lap to win a WoO LMS A-Main on July 13 at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks, N.D. ”Cat (Smith) had the best car at the end. He had the right rubber on and we were hanging on.”
Don O’Neal finished third after nearly swiping second place from Smith on lap 44. Defending WoO LMS champion Rick Eckert battled to a fourth-place finish and Billy Moyer completed the top five.
Lanigan’s $10,650 victory was his fifth in a row, 12th of the season and 38th of his career on the WoO LMS - all significant numbers in the history of the renowned full-fender circuit.
Already the holder of the WoO LMS’s modern-era (2004-present) single-season win record after registering his 10th checkered flag on July 14 at North Central Speedway in Brainerd, Minn., Lanigan tied the tours all-time single-season win standard set by Moyer in 1989 during the initial two-year run of the series under late WoO Sprint Car Series founder Ted Johnson.
Lanigan also set a new modern-era record for consecutive wins – surpassing the four-race streaks authored by Eckert in 2006 and Tim Fuller in 2009 - and tied Josh Richards for the top spot on the tours win list since 2004.
In addition, he is now tied with Richards and Moyer for the most all-time WoO LMS victories, including the 1988-89 seasons.
The milestone win almost slipped through Lanigans grasp. Smith, who started seventh, reached second by passing Chris Simpson just before a lap-18 caution flag and proceeded to track down Lanigan like few drivers have been able to this season.
After caution periods on laps 29 and 36 stalled his charge, Smith stepped up the pressure. He moved to the outside of Lanigan and nipped the WoO LMS points leader at the start/finish line to lead lap 42, but Lanigan went back ahead by inches the following circuit and effectively gained control for good seconds later.
Just as it appeared that Smith was in position to surge completely ahead of Lanigan off the outside of turn two, Lanigan’s car slipped up the track and into Smith. Smith hopped over the cushion and lost his momentum, allowing Lanigan to power away with the lead.
Smith made a gallant attempt to rally for his first win of the season, but he couldn’t get closer than a car length over the remaining laps.
The veteran driver known as Cat Daddy wasnt happy happy after the checkered flag. Feeling that Lanigan crowded him up the track on the 43rd lap and cost him a victory, Smith had little to say when WoO LMS announcer Rick Eshelman attempted to interview him during the post-race ceremonies.
When Eshelman asked Smith to describe the last 10 laps, he muttered, ”Uh…,” and then threw up his hands and walked away. The Independence crowd gave him a big cheer and moments later, after Smith climbed back into his car, Lanigan temporarily stopped his Victory Lane picture-taking to lean into Smith’s cockpit and discuss what had transpired.
Lanigan was admittedly a bit upset with the turn of events that clinched his latest victory. He has been close with Smith this season, caravanning with Smith down the highways from race-to-race and collaborating on setups.
“I was getting a little loose,” Lanigan said of the races final laps. ”We went with a little softer tire, and Cat (Smith) got on the outside of me. I had the bottom groove and I went in there (through turns one and two) and got loose a little bit and got into him, but nothing intentionally. We were just racing hard. I knew he don’t want to let him win, so I’m gonna race him hard for the win.
“I know he’s mad at me, but I wasn’t trying to get into him. I just lost the air and I was loose, and I got into him.
“He definitely had a good car,” added Lanigan, who broke the $250,000 mark in earnings with his victory. “We’ve been working together good, and I know he’s wanting to win as bad as I do. He’s got the wins coming.”
After taking some time to cool off, Smith spoke eloquently about the situation at his trailer following the race.
”He kind of made a defensive move to the bottom to give me the top, and the top was better,” said Smith, whose WoO LMS winless streak reached 52 races since his last victory, on May 8, 2011, at Needmore Speedway in Norman Park, Ga. ”When I got up there on the outside of him he just…its just a deal, I guess. I think he went in there hot and knocked me up out of the way to get the lead back. He knocked me up so hard it put me in the loose stuff and he got back by me.
“He drove in that corner hard and came across those holes and hit me, and I’m sure when he got in those holes and got to bouncing and slid into me, he kind of said, Uh oh.
Smith let Lanigan know his wasn’t pleased, but he also made it clear he wasn’t going to hold the scrape against his pal.
“Its hard to race your buddy sometimes, you know what I mean?” said Smith. “The way I kind of got to look at the deal is, I wouldn’t have been running second and trying to pass him without his help, so its a Catch 22. My car was good, but he’s helped me make it good.
“Me and (Lanigan) are buddies. We travel up-and-down the road together. We’ll travel with him tonight, and well go on tomorrow night (at Wisconsin’s Shawano Speedway) and see if we get it on.”
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