LAKE ODESSA, Mich. — Curtis Roberts lived his dream Friday night at I-96 Speedway.
A regional racer for more than 20 years, Roberts, 47, of Coleman, Mich., took the lead when Shane Clanton suffered a flat right-rear tire on lap 42 of the NAPA Lake Odessa 50 Presented by Keyser A-Main and held off a furious charge by Darrell Lanigan through the race’s final eight laps to claim his first World of Outlaws Late Model Series victory.
Roberts earned and career-high $10,550 for his breakthrough victory and thrilled a large crowd of his home-state fans as the thre-eighths-mile oval hosted the national tour first time since 2007.
“I’ve been racing a lot of years and this is definitely my biggest win,” said Roberts, who became the fourth first-time winner on the WoO LMS this season. “To come in here and beat these guys — the best drivers in the country — it’s a dream come true. This is really just unbelievable.”
Surrounded by a pack of WoO LMS stars, Roberts turned in the performance of his life in Friday’s A-Main. Starting from the pole, Roberts slipped into second behind Clanton on the race’s opening lap and turned back challenges from series veteran Chub Frank through the first half of the 50-lapper.
After pulling away from Frank after the halfway point, Roberts appeared to be headed for a runner-up result until Clanton’s demise put him out front. Roberts continued his impressive performance by holding off Lanigan in a tense battle that saw the two-time series champion and current point leader pull even with Roberts with a hard charge into the final turn.
“I could hear (Lanigan),” Roberts said. “I didn’t know for sure who it was, I just said, ‘Hey, keep hitting your marks, you’ve been doing good the whole race. Just keep it up. Don’t mess up.’”
Just as he had all race, Roberts remained steady and pulled back ahead down the homestretch, forcing Lanigan to settle for the runner-up finish in his self-designed Club 29 Race Car. Frank, who claimed the only previous WoO LMS stop at I-96 in 2007, was third in the Sorbera Chiropractic Rocket, while 2006 WoO LMS champion Tim McCreadie took fourth in the Sweeteners Plus Rocket ahead of leading series rookie Frank Heckenast Jr. in the Heckenast Racing Club 29 car.
After taking second from Frank on the race’s final restart on lap 42, Lanigan followed Roberts’ line around the track’s top groove before moving lower on the track to make his bid for the lead though the final corner. Lanigan crossed the finish line a mere 0.408 seconds behind Roberts, notching his 26th top-five finish in 30 WoO LMS A-Mains this season.
“He was super good around the top,” Lanigan said, describing how Roberts mastered the tricky cushion that kept drivers on their toes throughout the event. “I gave it a last-lap effort there to try to get it done, but he did a good job. Starting sixth and to come home second, I’m definitely happy. He did a great job to get his first win — super job.”