SARVER, Pa. — The opener for the 14th edition of the Firecracker 100 came down to the last lap Thursday night at Lernverville Speedway.
The 25-lap World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series feature saw Pennsylvania ace Max Blair boot WoO kingpin Brandon Sheppard from the lead in a race to the checkered flag.
After Sheppard snookered Blair with the help of lapped traffic out of turn two and down the backstretch on lap 24, the Rocket1 Racing No. 1 assumed the point and went into the final corners with the lead. However, as Sheppard backed it down and then clipped the turn three inside berm, Blair couldn’t adjust fast enough and the cars collided.
Sheppard spun, the crowd roared and Blair had the lead for the green-white-checkered restart.
“Next to my dad, there is nobody in this sport that I respect more than Mark Richards and Brandon Sheppard,” Blair said. “I hate that that happened. I got bottled up behind those lap cars and didn’t know where to go. I should’ve never got under him, I knew better than that. Brandon passed me and then he slowed down just way, way, way more than I was anticipating. I was trying to get by the lap car and back up the track to give myself a run. I know I definitely got into him and I feel terrible about it. Mark and Rocket are a big, big part of my program. I’ll go talk to them and apologize.”
Blair battled with Cade Dillard through much of the race, but took command on lap 18. But as Blair set the pace, Sheppard was closing fast.
Reaching him just as the white flag waved, Sheppard set Blair up for a last-lap pass. Picking him off between the lappers of Dennis Erb Jr. and Brent Larson in turns one and two, Sheppard turned the Rocket/Durham No. 1 off the banking off turn two and cut underneath Blair to take the lead down the backstretch. It all went wrong in turn three though.
Slowing down to hit the bottom, Blair misjudged the corner behind Sheppard and ran into the back of the No. 1, spinning him around and causing a caution.
“I got a good run off turn four coming to the white flag when I got under Dennis [Erb Jr.],” explained Blair on the last lap. “I thought if I could get beside him to where he could see me that he would give me room, but I didn’t get far enough up. I was gonna pass him, but then I slid up, and stuff got ugly for a straightaway. Like I said, I feel terrible about what happened in turn three.”
Creating a green-white-checkered restart, Blair survived a two-lap sprint to the finish to claim his third career World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series feature win.
“These races are tough to come by, especially here,” Blair commented on the big win. “This one means the world to me. It’s just a huge confidence booster. We tried a few different things on the car for the feature after I drew a bad pill. I don’t know how close those guys were when I got by Dillard and before I hit lap traffic, but I felt like we were really good.”
Dillard finished second after leading 17 laps.
“We weren’t the best there at the end, we’re gonna have to work on that,” noted Dillard. “I got more conservative there at the end. The top was probably better in turns one and two, but it just got thin and a couple of times I caught a push. I probably should’ve gave it a little more and took a chance at winning, but it was a good points night. It was definitely better than where we were at here last year. We’re building on that. Hopefully after two more days we can build up that notebook and figure out what we need. These guys have a lot of experience here and this is just our second time at this place.”
Ricky Thornton Jr. romped from 21st to finish third.
“We took out time there at the beginning when I was just rolling around the bottom, but then I let it all hang out and moved up to the top,” Thornton said. “We were really good. I’m super excited for the rest of the weekend.”
Feature (25 laps): 1. 111-Max Blair [$6,000]; 2. 97-Cade Dillard [$3,000]; 3. 20rt-Ricky Thornton [$2,000]; 4. 0-Scott Bloomquist [$1,750]; 5. 18-Chase Junghans [$1,500]; 6. 1x-Chub Frank [$1,400]; 7. 12-Ashton Winger [$1,300]; 8. 72-Jason Covert [$1,200]; 9. 25z-Mason Zeigler [$1,100]; 10. 72n-Mike Norris [$1,000]; 11. 0e-Rick Eckert [$900]; 12. 0m-Chris Madden [$850]; 13. 4-Alex Ferree [$800]; 14. 12d-Doug Drown [$775]; 15. 2s-Dan Stone [$750]; 16. 29v-Darrell Lanigan [$700]; 17. 18b-Shannon Babb [$660]; 18. 56-Russ King [$640]; 19. B1-Brent Larson [$620]; 20. 28-Dennis Erb [$600]; 21. 7-Ricky Weiss [$110]; 22. 1-Brandon Sheppard [$600]; 23. 99b-Boom Briggs [$600]; 24. 2-Pearson Williams [$600]; 25. 66c-Matt Cosner [$600]; 26. 44-Colten Burdette [$600]; 27. 9-Will Thomas [$600]. Lap Leader(s): Dillard 1-17; Blair 18-25; Hard Charger Award: 20rt-Ricky Thornton Jr. [+18]