Sunday, May 10, 2009

Birkhofer Wins Diamond Nationals @ Lucas Oil Speedway

"If you build it, they will come." A phrase quote from the movie "Field of Dreams", it also can be used by the Lucas Oil Speedway. The magnificent facility located in Wheatland, Missouri hosted the third annual Diamond Nationals, a late model event that pays the winner $30,000 plus a diamond ring, on Saturday May 8th. A stellar group of 76 late model drivers were on hand as well as forty-five open modifieds. The two-day event was shortened to a Saturday only show as the weather forced the cancellation of Friday's events.

The late models went through their time trials to kick off the program and it would be Missouri driver Will Vaught earning fast time with a quick lap of 14.905 seconds on the 3/8 mile track. Modifieds also used time trials to set up their event later in the show and it would be David Hendrix setting fast with with a 17.631 clip.

Heat races were run next for the late models followed by b-features for the modifieds. The format for the modifieds were a little different then I'm used to as the top 16 from time trials automatically were locked into the feature and the rest of the field would have to run a b-feature. Two late model b-features were also run as the field was set for the showcase of the night. Before the features rolled out, track officials took some time to work on the track as there were a few ruts in turn one.

The 75-lap late model feature would take to the track first as twenty-nine drivers set their sights on the top prize of $30,000. This race was co-sanctioned by both the Lucas Oil late model dirt series as well as the MLRA. Last year's winner Shannon Babb found himself on the pole while David Breazeale was alongside. Inaugural winner Brian Birkhofer found himself starting in the third spot, but he would not stay there for long. Babb jumped out to the lead early on, but "Birky" caught him on lap four and made the pass for the top spot. Three laps later, Babb's night would end on a sour note as Brad Neat's car drifted up the track coming out of turn two and made contact with Babb's left front. Babb coasted to a stop, bringing out the caution flag. Birkhofer took command of the race on the restart until the caution flag waved again on lap twenty-nine. By this time, provisional starters Scott Bloomquist, Billy Moyer, and Scott James were making their way through the field while Earl Pearson found himself in the runner up spot.

Lap fifty saw four cars battling it out for the fourth position as Steve Casebolt, Dale McDowell, Brad Neat, and Moyer wrestled for every piece of real estate they could find. Casebolt would win this battle and set his sights further ahead as he climbed his way up to second. Another caution slowed the field down and Jimmy Mars would take advantage of it as he passed two cars and set his sights on the leader Birkhofer. Mars, nor the rest of the field, was going to catch Birkhofer as he took home the top prize for the second time in three years at this event. Dale McDowell charged back up to claim the second spot, Moyer finished third as he got by fourth place driver Jimmy Mars with two laps to go, and Casebolt rounded out the top five. The track was in great shape as drivers raced three-wide for several laps throughout the event. Birkhofer's car was dialed in perfectly as he enjoyed a couple big leads, some even while working through lapped traffic. McDowell started 19th, Moyer 27th, and Mars 12th, so that should tell ya how great the track was for this awesome caliber of talent.

Twenty-four modifieds were up next for their twenty-lap feature event to cap off the night. David Hendrix took advantage of his pole starting spot to jump out front early. At the half-way point of the race, Jesse Stovall was running second when he suffered a flat left rear tire. He went pitside to change it, but restarted deep in the field was would not be able to come back through the field. Muskogee, Oklahoma driver Tate Cole came home second behind Hendrix, Justin Folk was third, veteran driver Rex Merritt was fourth, and Chad Wheeler rounded out the top five.

My first ever trip to the Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri was a very enjoyable one! A state of the art facility with a great crowd on hand. Definitely a must-see for any race fan. I hope to make it back down there again in June for the USMTS modified special.

- Racing may be a hobby, but it's DEFINITELY addictive!

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