NEW RICHMOND, Wis. — Tim McCreadie celebrated like he’s never celebrated before after capturing Saturday night’s 26th annual USA Nationals at Cedar Lake Speedway.
With the $50,150 score representing the biggest and most prestigious triumph of his decade-long dirt late model career, the 39-year-old star from Watertown, N.Y., did joyful donuts in his Sweeteners Plus Warrior car off turn four, applauded the standing-room-only crowd in victory lane and even invited the fans to join him at his team’s trailer for a raucous post-race party.
Yes, it was a memorable evening for McCreadie, the 2006 World of Outlaws Late Model Series champion who has been chasing a signature win since returning fulltime to the national tour in 2010 following a brief foray into NASCAR (2007) and six months on the sidelines in 2009 due to a back injury.
“After everything I’ve gone through just with health and where I thought my career was going five years ago and where it ended up,” said McCreadie, “yeah, this is probably definitely at the top of the list.”
McCreadie earned his fifth WoO LMS victory of the season after inheriting the lead on lap 54 of the 100-lap A-Main when race-long pacesetter A.J. Diemel pulled to the infield with engine trouble. He controlled the remaining circuits, outrunning Don O’Neal in a race slowed by just a single caution flag.
O’Neal, 49, spent the late stages of the event turning back repeated challenges from defending USA Nationals champion Darrell Lanigan to secure the runner-up spot and a $20,500 payday. The veteran driver steered Larry Moring’s MasterSbilt machine across the finish line 1.186 seconds behind McCreadie.
Lanigan, 43, settled for third place in his Rocket car after surviving a lap-96 backstretch scrape with O’Neal that momentarily sent both drivers sideways. He started ninth and ran behind O’Neal for the race’s final 58 laps.
WoO LMS points leader Josh Richards, who won the USA Nationals in 2011, finished fourth after starting from the outside pole in the Rocket Chassis house car and 12th-starter Brandon Sheppard, who captured Thursday night’s WoO LMS preliminary A-Main, registered a career-best USA Nationals finish of fifth in his Rocket mount.
McCreadie started from the pole position after winning Friday’s six-lap dash for winners of the six 15-lap heat races, but he took an immediate back seat to home-state favorite Diemel when the green flag flew. Diemel bolted from the third starting spot to the lead on the opening lap and quickly established a convincing advantage, leaving McCreadie to battle for second with O’Neal.
Bidding to become just the second Wisconsin driver to win the USA Nationals alongside Jimmy Mars, Diemel led by as much as three seconds – nearly a full straightaway – before WoO LMS rookie Morgan Bagley slowed with engine problems on lap 42 to trigger the lone caution flag of the 100. Diemel resumed his lead on the restart, but his hopes for an upset victory came to an end on lap 53 when he abruptly pulled his car into the infield with an apparent broken crankshaft.
Diemel’s departure presented a golden opportunity for McCreadie, who had his doubts about overtaking the popular Dairy State racer for the lead. McCreadie could only watch helplessly as Diemel blasted past him at the start of the race and was never able to mount a serious challenge for the top spot before Diemel retired.