PEVELY, Mo. — Dennis Erb Jr. pulled off the rarest of feats on the 2012 World of Outlaws Late Model Series in Saturday night’s Pepsi Nationals at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55.
With one of the season’s most memorable drives, Erb outdueled Darrell Lanigan for the lead and survived a frantic last-ditch bid from the national tour’s record-breaking driver to emerge victorious in a raucous A-Main that was extended an extra circuit, to 56 laps, by a late caution flag.
Erb, 39, swapped the top spot four times with Lanigan, 42, during the scheduled 55-lap event, with the last lead change coming on lap 36 when Erb dived low in turn three and surged ahead. But the former DIRTcar Summer Nationals and UMP national champion faced tense restarts on laps 48 and 54 before celebrating his second WoO LMS triumph of 2012 and the fourth of his career.
Lanigan offered the strongest late-race challenge, sliding to the outside of Erb off turn two on lap 50 and pulling ahead down the backstretch of the high-banked, one-third-mile oval. But Lanigan skated a bit too high between turns three and four and momentarily rode the outside wall with the right side of his car, damaging his steering and causing him to immediately fall to fourth.
Billy Moyer sneaked past the stricken Lanigan to grab second and was desposited on Erb’s back bumper by a lap-54 caution flag, but the legendary veteran didn’t seriously threaten Erb during the ensuing green-white-checkered finish. He crossed the finish line 0.486 of a second behind Erb, duplicating his runner-up effort in the previous night’s WoO LMS A-Main at Belle-Clair Speedway in Belleville, Ill.
Brian Birkhofer finished third, rallying late in the distance after tumbling out of the top 10 from the fifth starting spot. Lanigan held on to place fourth with a ailing car and 20th-starter Chub Frank charged forward to finish fifth after switching to his backup car because his primary machine was sidelined by a broken rear axle tube during heat-race action.
The race became a showdown between Erb and Lanigan by lap three, when the sixth-starting Lanigan reached second place. Erb had started fourth in his Team Zero by Bloomqusit car and vaulted into the lead on the opening lap.
Lanigan pushed into the top spot for the first time on lap nine. Erb went back ahead on lap 12 when Lanigan was slowed by a lapped car, but Lanigan regained command on lap 18 and stayed there until Erb gained control on the 36th circuit.
“I was feeling pretty good at that point,” said Erb, who earned $10,000 for the win. “I broke away there and I didn’t see anybody for a while and I was hoping that we were gonna be able to finish it. But then we had that last caution there at the end.”
Erb was referring to the lap-48 caution period for WoO LMS Kent Robinson, whose dream night (fast time, heat win) came to a disappointing end when he slapped the backstretch wall while being lapped by the pacesetter. With his two-second-plus edge over Lanigan wiped out, Erb had to withstand a withering attack from the hottest World of Outlaws driver of 2012.
“I seen Darrell up there getting a run on me and we just kind of kept our line,” said Erb, whose previous WoO LMS victory this season came on Feb. 23 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla. “I just put it to where the car was working and where I could try to get through the corners as fast as I could.
“The car just performed great tonight. It’s been kind of an up-and-down year for us so hopefully this gives us some momentum for the end of the year. This is a good win here tonight.”
Lanigan’s hopes for pushing his single-season WoO LMS win record to 15 were dashed when he slid into the concrete wall between turns three and four just five laps from the finish – a finish that he actually thought was coming that very circuit. He said he mistakenly believed that there were only two laps remaining when the lap-48 caution flew, so he threw caution to the wind in a bid to overtake Erb in dramatic fashion.
Despite a bent front end from his encounter with the wall, Lanigan managed to nurse his car to his 28th top-five finish in 35 A-Mains. He pushed his point lead to 204 points over defending champion Rick Eckert, who finished a quiet 14th.
Dennis Erb Jr., Billy Moyer, Brian Birkhofer, Darrell Lanigan, Chub Frank, Shane Clanton, Vic Coffey, Jesse Stovall, Randy Korte, Tim Fuller, Brandon Sheppard, Clint Smith, Jack Sullivan, Rick Eckert, Pat Doar, Dewayane Kiefer, Jeff Herzog, Ron McQuerry, Kent Robinson, Tim Manville, Wendell Wallace, Billy Moyer Jr., Bub McCool, Tim McCreadie, Michael Long, Jill George.