RIPLEY, W. Va. — Chris Garnes, of Evans, W.Va., pulled off one of the biggest upsets in World of Outlaws Late Model Series history, shocking the touring stars with a convincing run to victory in Sunday night’s 50-lap Ripley RaceFest at I-77 Raceway Park.
The 25-year-old talent authored the race of his life, dominating his reconstructed home track’s first WoO LMS event after inheriting the lead when a shorted-out battery caused Steve Shaver to slow on a lap-five restart. He was never challenged during the 45 laps of uninterrupted green-flag action that closed the race.
With a growing resume that features dirt late model points titles at I-77 in each of the last two seasons, Garnes entered Sunday’s program with plenty of confidence in his ability to battle the high-profile invaders. But he still struggled to grasp the enormity of his accomplishment after rolling his 2011 Swartz car, which he co-owns with his father, into Victory Lane before a loud partisan crowd.
“I don’t know what to say,” said an awed Garnes, whose only previous WoO LMS appearance came in 2009 and resulted in a DNQ. “(Winning a national event is) something that every local kid thinks of whenever they’re growing up and racing at these no-name tracks that nobody knows of. Maybe it’ll soak in here in about a year or two.”
Garnes, who started from the outside pole and led laps 1-2 before Shaver took over for a brief stint at the front of the pack, cruised under the checkered flag 2.827 seconds – nearly a full straightaway – ahead of Dale McDowell. The former WoO LMS regular grabbed second place from Vic Coffey on lap 13 but couldn’t put even a slight dent in Garnes’s edge over the remaining distance.
Tim Dohm, who won I-77’s season opener on May 12, finished third. Chub Frank was the highest-finishing WoO LMS traveler after pounding the extreme outside of the three-eighths-mile oval to move from the 11th starting spot to fourth at the finish, and defending WoO LMS champion Rick Eckert hustled forward from the 13th starting position to place fifth.
Garnes, who won a weekly feature at I-77 on May 19, became the 46th driver to win a WoO LMS A-Main since the circuit was restarted in 2004 under the World Racing Group banner. He also joined a select group of local-level competitors who have managed to capture a WoO LMS event at the track closest to their home.
“It just makes me proud to bring this big of a race back to the local community,” said Garnes, who lives less than 15 minutes from I-77 and, of course, began his dirt-track career there in 2001 as a 14-year-old in the Semi-Late division and has been a regular in the dirt Late Model class since ’05.
Garnes, who celebrated his 25th birthday on May 23, demonstrated a cool approach on Sunday, refusing to allow any pressure – on and off the track – to derail his efforts.
“Everybody else was pumped up and excited (about the WoO LMS event),” Garnes said of the family members, crewmen and friends who support his racing. “I would think people would try to calm me down before a race, but I was the one telling them, ‘Let’s just go do what we do every night. (The stars are) here, but just ignore them. They’re all just another car on the track. Let’s just run our own race and do what we do every week and see what happens.’”
The result was an unforgettable performance by Garnes, who earned a career-high payoff of $10,550, including a $500 bonus for being the highest-finishing driver who had never won a WoO LMS A-Main and wasn’t ranked among the top 12 in the points standings.
“I was just trying to give everything I had and get as many lapped cars between me and whoever was behind me,” Garnes said of his strategy once in command. “I seen a blue and white car stick his nose under me, but I didn’t know if it was a lapped car or second place so I started hugging the bottom a little bit tighter those last five, eight laps.”
Chris Garnes, Dale McDowell, Tim Dohm, Chub Frank, Rick Eckert, Darrell Lanigan, Tim McCreadie, Rick Williams, Vic Coffey, Walker Arthur, Travis Brookover, Shane Clanton, Harold Redman Jr., Jack Sullivan, Clint Smith, Bub McCool, Jared Hawkins, Zack Dohm, Chris Ferguson, Pat Doar, Mike Gault, Kenney Newhouse, Kent Robinson, Tim Fuller, Steve Shaver.