OCALA, Fla. — Darrell Lanigan ended the Bubba Army Dirt Late Model Winter Nationals on a high note, breaking through to capture Sunday night’s 60-lap World of Outlaws Late Model Series ‘Super Sunday Showdown’ at Bubba Raceway Park.
Finding the winning touch with his self-designed Club 29 car after top-five finishes in each of the first two events of the weekend, Lanigan passed Don O’Neal for the lead on lap seven and controlled the remainder of the distance.
The two-time WoO LMS champion turned back a late challenge from O’Neal while racing through lapped traffic to pocket the race’s $12,650 top prize.
O’Neal settled for second place, about one second behind Lanigan at the checkered flag. The driver of NASCAR star Clint Bowyer’s Barry Wright car once again fell short of his elusive first WoO LMS triumph.
Friday-night winner Brady Smith finished close behind O’Neal in third place in his Rocket machine, sending him out the gates of the three-eighths-mile oval with the WoO LMS points lead. He scored a podium finish in all three events.
O’Neal’s Bowyer Racing teammate, Steve Francis placed fourth in his Barry Wright car after getting shuffled back to eighth on a lap-22 restart. Morgan Bagley finished fifth in Wayman McMillan’s Rocket machine — just his second career top-five finish on the WoO LMS — after battling past Saturday-night winner Brandon Sheppard for the position on lap 48.
The 21-year-old Sheppard was in position to sweep a WoO LMS program for the second consecutive night after setting fast time and winning a heat, but he settled for a sixth-place finish after starting eighth. He steered the Rocket Chassis house car as high as fourth midway through the A-Main but slipped backward in the closing circuits while unsuccessfully searching for traction on the outside of the track.
Lanigan, 43, also found the top side of the egg-shaped speedway difficult to grip late in the race. He tried using the outside line to overtake a pack of lapped cars with less than 10 laps remaining and it nearly cost him the race.
After racing virtually unchallenged for most of the distance, Lanigan suddenly found O’Neal on his back bumper on lap 53. With Lanigan’s pace hampered by two slower cars ahead of him, the door was open for O’Neal to duck to the inside and come within inches of grabbing the lead on lap 54.
But then Lanigan summarily dived to the inside in turn one, breaking O’Neal’s momentum and building just enough of an edge to carry him to his first WoO LMS win of 2014 and his fifth victory in 11 starts at BRP over the past five years.
“The lapped cars were tough,” said Lanigan, who sits atop the alltime WoO LMS win list. “We were definitely a lot faster than they was (lapped cars), but there just wasn’t no (outside) groove. I just lost too much ground up there so I had to get back to the bottom.”
O’Neal saw the golden opportunity to steal the race from Lanigan’s grasp, but his hopes were effectively snuffed out by Lanigan’s move to the inside. He had to be satisfied with matching his career-best WoO LMS finish.
“He got on the outside of that (lapped) traffic and the outside wasn’t the place to be,” O’Neal said of Lanigan. “Now, if he would’ve stayed out there just a little bit longer, we may have gotten him, but that’s part of racing.
“He just cut down real hard in front of me, but that’s part of it. I would’ve done the same thing if I was him. We made it exciting there at the end but just didn’t get the job done.”
One of the most accomplished veterans in dirt late model racing, O’Neal remained winless in 31 career WoO LMS A-Main starts over the past decade. He has 17 top-five and 25 top-10 finishes in his limited appearances on the tour.
Lanigan’s series record 54th career win was his first in World of Outlaws action since debuting the Club 29 chassis he partnered with noted crew chief Ronnie Stuckey to build and market. He needed a couple nights to get the machine tuned just right.
“It’s a little bit different from what we’ve been used to,” said Lanigan, who scored finishes of third and fifth in the first two legs of the Winter Nationals. “We’ve been close (in the previous events), but it needed a little bit more. We found some stuff tonight and it seemed to like it.”
Putting a WoO LMS victory on his ledger so early in the season certainly gave Lanigan a boost.
“It relieves a lot of pressure,” said Lanigan. “I had a lot of pressure on myself to do good with this piece. We put a lot into it to do well.”
Sheppard was quickest in Ohlins Shocks Time Trials, which were split into two groups. His lap of 14.626 seconds in Group ‘A’ was the overall fastest, giving him his third fast-time honor in as many nights.
Darrell Lanigan, Don O’Neal, Brady Smith, Steve Francis, Morgan Bagley, Brandon Sheppard, Mark Whitener, Tim McCreadie, Shane Clanton, Jack Sullivan, Rick Eckert, Frankie Heckenast Jr., Chub Frank, Brandon Overton, Tim Fuller, Ivedent Lloyd Jr., Eric Wells, Chase Junghans, Raymond Merrill, Clint Smith, Rick ‘Boom’ Briggs, Scott Bloomquist, Dan Stone, Gregg Satterlee.