By Nick Graziano
BARBERVILLE, FL – Before climbing out of his Late Model to cheers and trophies, Kyle Bronson placed a symbolic straw hat on his head.
The large sun cover fit his cranium as if it was custom made; reminiscent of how he worked Volusia Speedway Park to perfection Thursday night for the 2021 World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model season-opener during the Sunshine Nationals.
Bronson, of Brandon, FL – about two hours from Volusia – looked as comfortable as a traveling salesman in his own bed around the half-mile speedway. He became the first driver this year to set Slick Woody’s Cornhole Company Quick Time, win a Drydene Heat Race and park his car in Victory Lane with the $10,000 check.
When asked how it felt to win in his home state, Bronson simply said with a wide grin, “Awesome.”
The victory is his second career World of Outlaws win. His first win also came at Volusia Speedway Park seven years ago. He was the first Sunshine Nationals champion last year with the DIRTcar Late Models, as well.
His Florida dominance was almost halted by Robeline, LA’s Cade Dillard, who was going for his first Volusia win.
Bronson led the first half of the 40-lap Feature but had pressure from 2006 Series champion Tim McCreadie and Dillard the entire time. McCreadie worked his way from fourth to second on the first lap and focused his scope on Bronson’s orange #40B car.
The duo looked like fighter jets maneuvering their way through a tight canyon when they hit lap traffic on Lap 6. The roadblocks hindered Bronson’s momentum and brought McCreadie closer to his rear bumper.
While they tangoed with obstacles, Dillard took advantage of the opportunity to close on them from third. He passed McCreadie for second on Lap 12 and three laps later was on a run to take the lead from Bronson. However, before he could, McCreadie slowed down the backstretch with an issue that brought out a caution took him out of the race.
Dillard picked up where he left off when the Feature resumed, breathing down Bronson’s neck. That didn’t help Bronson’s tight-handling condition, either. On Lap 22, as he struggled to get a clean exit off Turn 4, Dillard slid by the Floridian for the lead and pulled away.
“I was extremely, extremely tight there,” Bronson said. “The more I tried to slow down and pace myself, the tighter I got.”
Bronson continued to fade, giving up second to three-time Series champion Darrell Lanigan, of Union, KY, four laps later.
The win was in Dillard’s hand. Lanigan couldn’t catch him. Then, a caution with five laps to go. Lanigan knew he had one shot at Dillard and was willing to take it. He was going to go for it.
Lanigan threw a Hail Mary slider underneath Dillard going into the first corner. Wanting the win, he stayed in the gas on the exit of Turn 2 and the two cars collided, sending Lanigan spinning and damaging Dillard’s left front fender.
“I had a chance to go for it, a chance to go for the win. Any guy in this pit area would have done the same thing with the same car,” Lanigan said. “He (Dillard) just jumped over my right front. He did what he had to do, too. Like, I said, we’re all going for the win.”
His winning attempt ultimately cost Dillard his own and gave Bronson new life. The damage on Dillard’s car was enough that a large piece of his fender had to be removed, killing his aero.
When the race resumed, Bronson pulled the same move as Lanigan, but cleared Dillard and ran away with the victory.
“Man, we had a really good car,” Dillard said before having to take a breath to force out more words. “When we lost the left front this whole car just got terrible. These things are so aero dependent. I don’t know, man, it is disappointing. We had a really good car and we’ve been working really hard. I’m not going to bad mouth anybody. I know bad things happen. Just unfortunate.”
Dillard still managed to finish second with Kyle Strickler rounding out the podium. Last year’s runner-up in points Ricky Weiss earned the hard charger award with an impressive run from 23rd – after not transferring out of the Last Chance Showdown – to seventh in his new self-built chassis.
Three-time defending champion Brandon Sheppard had a quiet start to the season with a ninth-place run. And another heartbreak came when rookie contender Tony Jackson, Jr., who was making his World of Outlaws and Volusia Speedway Park debut, broke while running fifth.
For Bronson, the sun shined on him all night. He put on his celebratory straw hat in Victory Lane and basked in the glory.
“I had a damn good time racing,” he said.
The World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series continues its residency at Volusia Speedway Park, Jan. 15, for the second night of the Sunshine Nationals. For tickets, click here.
If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch all the action live on DIRTVision.
Morton Buildings Feature (40 Laps) – 1. 40B-Kyle Bronson [$10,000]; 2. 97-Cade Dillard [$6,000]; 3. 8-Kyle Strickler [$3,500]; 4. OE-Rick Eckert [$2,800]; 5. 54-David Breazeale [$2,500]; 6. 28-Dennis Erb [$2,300]; 7. 7-Ricky Weiss [$2,200]; 8. 19R-Ryan Gustin [$2,100]; 9. 1-Brandon Sheppard [$2,050]; 10. 16-Tyler Bruening [$2,000]; 11. 12-Ashton Winger [$1,600]; 12. 7R-Ross Robinson [$1,400]; 13. 44-Chris Madden [$1,200]; 14. 1P-Earl Pearson [$1,100]; 15. 99B-Boom Briggs [$1,050]; 16. 29V-Darrell Lanigan [$1,000]; 17. O-Scott Bloomquist [$1,000]; 18. 18-Chase Junghans [$1,000]; 19. B1-Brent Larson [$110]; 20. 14JR-John Baker [$1,000]; 21. 56-Tony Jackson [$1,000]; 22. 17M-Dale McDowell [$1,000]; 23. 6-Blake Spencer [$110]; 24. 6JR-Parker Martin [$1,000]; 25. 39-Tim McCreadie [$1,000]; 26. 58-Ross Bailes [$110]; 27. 20-Jimmy Owens [$1,000]; 28. OS-Ryan Scott [$110]; KSE Hard Charger Award: 7-Ricky Weiss[+16]
Qualifying Flight-A – 1. 40B-Kyle Bronson, 15.839; 2. 17M-Dale McDowell, 15.868; 3. 16-Tyler Bruening, 16.083; 4. 385-Mark Whitener, 16.118; 5. 8-Kyle Strickler, 16.18; 6. 6JR-Parker Martin, 16.206; 7. 7R-Ross Robinson, 16.34; 8. 97-Cade Dillard, 16.361; 9. 1-Brandon Sheppard, 16.369; 10. 58-Ross Bailes, 16.421; 11. 18-Chase Junghans, 16.554; 12. 1P-Earl Pearson, 16.692; 13. 6-Blake Spencer, 16.76; 14. 14JR-John Baker, 16.819; 15. 7-Ricky Weiss, 16.922; 16. 14R-Jeff Roth, 17.037; 17. OS-Ryan Scott, 17.171; 18. OG-Deshawn Gingerich, 17.288; DNS. 3-Mike Collins, NT
Qualifying Flight-B – 1. 39-Tim McCreadie, 16.075; 2. 29V-Darrell Lanigan, 16.116; 3. 54-David Breazeale, 16.15; 4. O-Scott Bloomquist, 16.193; 5. 28-Dennis Erb, 16.25; 6. 56-Tony Jackson, 16.293; 7. 44-Chris Madden, 16.301; 8. 10-Ryan Crane, 16.367; 9. 12-Ashton Winger, 16.414; 10. OE-Rick Eckert, 16.426; 11. 99B-Boom Briggs, 16.456; 12. 2-Dan Stone, 16.463; 13. 25-Donnie Chappell, 16.483; 14. 33-Jeff Mathews, 16.525; 15. 19R-Ryan Gustin, 16.646; 16. 14G-Josiah Godsey, 16.884; 17. B1-Brent Larson, 17.024; 18. 20-Jimmy Owens, 17.345; 19. 31-Tyler Millwood, 17.617