By DOUG SEEGER
7-1-13 This past weekend Lernerville Speedway in Sarver Pennsylvania hosted the 7th annual Firecracker 100 for the World of Outlaws Late Model series. Since its inception back in 2007 the Firecracker 100 has become a marquee event for Late Model teams and fans. The 3-day extravaganza concludes with a $30,000 to win 100-lap feature event. I have covered Sprint Car events from coast-to-coast over the years but never attended a major Late Model event until last weekend. I was very impressed with the racing and the professionalism that both Lernerville Speedway and the World of Outlaws Late Model series displayed in conducting such a fantastic event for the fans and competitors.
Coming into this year’s festivities it was quite evident by numerous forecasts that weather was going to be a major player during these three days. Racing kicked off on Thursday night for the first of two preliminary nights. Each preliminary boasted a $6,000 to win 30-lap feature event. Drivers used their best finish from either Thursday night or Friday night to align themselves in heat races for the Saturday night finale. Heavy rain early Thursday morning coupled with cloudy and light drizzle during the majority of the afternoon did not stop Lernerville from forging ahead with night number one. Lernerville management was ready for the challenge as the track crew did a superb job of getting the four-tenths-mile oval into racing condition on Thursday night.
The Thursday night feature pitted Eric Wells and Steve Shaver on the front row as flagman Todd Beichner waved the green flag over the 28-car feature field. Shaver stormed out to an early lead as current World of Outlaws Late Model point leader Josh Richards motored from his fifth starting spot into second by lap four. Richards immediately challenged Shaver for the lead but Shaver was able to keep the 25-year-old Shinnston West Virginia native at bay. Richards made a bid for the lead through turns three and four on lap nine to briefly take the top spot from Shaver but Shaver returned the favor to hold the lead at the line. The first of just two cautions during the hard fought 30-laps flew on lap ten as Steve Francis, Mike Marlar, Ron Davies and Tim Fuller tangled just underneath the flagstand. Once the incident was cleared Shaver and Richards continued to dual for the lead. On lap seventeen Richards pulled the trigger to drive around Shaver once again. Shaver again returned the favor and rocketed back around Richards to maintain his lead.
The two ran side-by-side as Richards pulled another move to take the lead from Shaver on lap eighteen and this time was able to make the move stick for keeps. Richards was slightly able to pull away although Shaver stayed within striking distance over the remaining laps. A caution for Bub McCool on lap twenty-eight set the stage for a frantic two lap dash to the finish. Richards nailed the restart to perfection and was able to drive away from the field to record the victory on the super-fast Lernerville clay. Shaver settled for second over Wells, Davey Johnson and Darrell Lanigan. Rounding out the top ten spots were Dale McDowell, Dan Stone, Shane Clanton, Tim McCreadie and Rick Eckert.
Despite the adverse weather conditions on opening night of the Firecracker the show was run off without a hitch. The 57-car field took time in group qualifying then ran six heat races before three last chance races set grid for the 30-lap feature. The entire show was completed just before 10 p.m. and the fans headed to the exits smiling from ear to ear after a fantastic night of action.
Friday afternoon started off with some sun and a few breaks in the clouds as night number two was set to commence. Late day showers and some powerful storms swept through Western Pennsylvania late Friday afternoon and unfortunately Lernerville was clipped by one and forced to cancel. The decision was made to run the Friday night program Saturday afternoon before the Firecracker finale. This set the stage for an action packed day/ night of racing action.
Saturday afternoon started off with sun and clouds but no rain as the second preliminary show rolled off. The field grew from 57-cars to 59 as Scott Bloomquist and Bump Hedman were in the pits. Bloomquist planned to compete in all three events during the Firecracker weekend but mechanical problems with his transporter kept him from competing on Thursday night. Bloomquist pulled in Friday afternoon before rain took over and became the big winner. Feature time on Saturday afternoon and luck of the draw found Thursday night winner Josh Richards on the pole with Shane Clanton flanked to his outside. Richards wasted little time picking up where he left off on Thursday night assuming the lead.
Richards had his Rocket Chassis locked down and set on cruise control as just one caution which occurred on lap nine slowed his torrid pace during the 30-lap affair. Although the bottom groove became the preferred line late in the Saturday afternoon feature, Clanton did catch Richards over the final five laps and was able to apply some pressure to the two-time World of Outlaws Late Model champion. The win for Richards made some history in the process as he became the only driver in Firecracker history to win both preliminary features.
Clanton, Jared Landers, Austin Hubbard and Gregg Satterlee completed the top five on Saturday afternoon. Darrell Lanigan, Scott Bloomquist, Russ King, Rick Eckert and Jimmy Mars completed the top ten. The Saturday afternoon feature ended just in time as a brief rain began to fall in victory lane.
Although rain was falling during victory lane ceremonies, the Lernerville track crew got right after track preparation for the big Saturday night finale. Another valiant effort turned out by the Lernerville track crew to get the surface into shape for the Firecracker 100 finale which was slated to get started at 6:50 p.m. As the first group of drivers was being called to the staging area for hot laps, rain arrived once again. As the rain intensified and the stands emptied it was evident the track crew was not done just yet. As the rain moved through and eventually came to a stop the track crew wasted little time whipping the surface back into shape once again. A look toward the skies found some serious dark black clouds quickly approaching the grounds. Several bolts of lightning and strong winds made the remainder of the night look very bleak. Somehow the severe storms managed to go right around the track and eventually moved away completely allowing for the completion of the Firecracker finale.
Another heavy, fast and demanding surface made for some outstanding racing action for the night cap. Just like the preliminary nights, six heat races were conducted with each winner moving into the feature redraw. The Saturday night heat race line-ups were set not by time trials but by the best performance on either preliminary night for each driver. Luck of the draw pitted sixth heat race winner and two-time and defending Firecracker 100 winner Scott Bloomquist on the pole with first heat race winner Josh Richards to his outside. The green flag dropped with Bloomquist firing out to an early lead. Richards stayed glued to Bloomquist’s tail as the pair set a blistering pace on the ultra-fast surface.
Richards who was looking to become the first driver in history to sweep the entire Firecracker weekend took several looks to the inside and outside of Bloomquist but could not get around the famed No. 0 machine. The battle for lead commenced once again on lap sixteen when Richards drove around Bloomquist to grab the lead. Richards quickly opened up ground over Bloomquist as he worked heavy lapped traffic. With a heavy fast surface came visibility problems for the entire field. Although there was never a fuel stop during the feature, the red flag brought the field to a halt on two separate occasions which allowed one crew member from each team to bring a new helmet out or more tear-offs to their driver for clear visibility.
Back to the racing as Richards continued to distance himself from the field. The racing behind the leader Richards was hot, heavy and highly contested. The grueling race saw eleven yellow flags fly. Richards fought off numerous challenges late in the race from the likes of Shane Clanton, Tim McCredie and Rick Eckert. Eckert provided the most serious challenges to Richards as the pair race side-by-side for several laps over the remaining twenty-laps. Richard continued to work the top of the track as Eckert rolled the bottom side. What is more impressive about Eckert is the fact that he pitted earlier in the race with a flat right rear tire.
Eckert rallied through the field and with the help of the multiple cautions and was able throw everything he had at Richards. Eckert’s great run came to end with just four laps remaining with a broken rearend. Eckert’s misfortune gave Tim McCreadie one last chance to challenge for the victory. Like he did all weekend long Richards nailed the restart to perfection and cruised to the victory making it a clean sweep of the Firecracker 100 weekend. Richards weekend earnings for the three days tallied well over $42,000. McCreadie, Darrell Lanigan, Gregg Satterlee who came from the tail twice and Jared Landers completed the top five. Positions six through ten went to Steve Francis, Tim Fuller, Shane Clanton, Morgan Bagley and Clint Smith. The final event of the night was the Uncle Sam 30-lap non-qualifiers feature for the drivers who failed to qualify for the 100-lapper. Russ King traded sliders with Boom Briggs to capture the victory.
All and all the entire Firecracker 100 weekend was very impressive. The staff and management at Lernerville Speedway and the World of Outlaws Late Model series fought hard all weekend to present the fans with some outstanding racing in less than favorable weather conditions. There was more to the Firecracker weekend then just racing. Free post-race concerts, a charity kick ball game and a driver/ fan corn hole tournament were just a few of the extra activities that makes the Firecracker weekend a huge success. If you have never been to the Firecracker weekend at Lernerville Speedway and always wanted to go be sure to mark your calendars for 2014. You will not be disappointed. For more information regarding Lernerville Speedway be sure to visit http://www.lernerville.com. For more information on the World of Outlaws Late Model series visit http://www.woolms.com.
Well that does it for this week. Until next time it looks like it will be another weekend of dodging rain all over Pennsylvania and Ohio. Any comments, news or notes is always appreciated and can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org.