As the champions of the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series powered into the mountains of Tennessee, two drivers raced their way to two of the hardest fought victories in Tennessee Tipoff history.
The first of two feature races began Friday night at Lewisburg, TN’s own Duck River Raceway Park. The no. 28 of Dennis Erb led the field to the drop of the green flag and continued to lead the first 14 of 50 laps. This changed when the first caution flag of the race flew on lap 14.
This flag gave outside polesitter Josh Richards the opportunity to swoop up some high-side momentum on the restart and eventually gave him the chance to drive to the lead two laps later. Following this pass for the lead the young driver, who has been on a race win dry spell since 2016, fended off multiple challenges from several competitors, including one of the most challenging on lap 31.
After pole sitter Erb would pull up beside Richards and briefly retake the race lead down the backstretch, yet another caution flag would give Richard’s Bowyer Dirt iRacing No. 14 the chance to reclaim the race lead. As the two drivers played cat and mouse up front with only five laps remaining, it seemed as if no one else existed. Thanks to following the advice of his hard-working team, who suggested Richards move to the bottom of the track on the final lap, the veteran collected his first win in 134 tour races.
“This win is really special, especially since it is in my dad’s car,” said Richards. “At the end, I saw my guys were showing that I had a gap when I was running the top, and then they were closing it up so I switched and went to the bottom and just tried to ride it out, which obviously worked and I will be forever grateful to them for making this win possible.”
As the champions raced into Tennessee Tipoff night two at Smoky Mountain Speedway, polesitter Chris Madden led the 28-car field to the wave of the green flag with Rocket Racing’s own Brandon Sheppard following close behind. Although Madden would lead the way for the first 25 laps, a reported steering issue on lap 25 would end his night and give the No. 7 of Ricky Weiss the opportunity to race from an eighth place start to the race lead.
While the Headingley, MB native, maintained the lead for the next few laps, another driver proved that he had what it takes to drive to both the race lead as well as the final victory of Tennessee Tipoff weekend. On lap 28, the No. 57 of third place starter Mike Marlar fed off his topside momentum to race his way to the lead. After doing so, Marlar kept this lead until the final 12 laps of this race. While struggling with race traffic on lap 48, Marlar started to lose some ground, which gave earlier leader Weiss a chance to race back to the lead.
“When we got to lapped traffic, I was able to inch up on Marlar and found my way around him,” said Weiss. “I knew that we would have a shot at winning if the race stayed green, but of course we got a caution with about six or seven laps to go.”
Under the yellow, Marlar paced behind Weiss, all the while trying to decide what move it would take to steal the victory. Just ahead of him, Weiss was making an equally difficult decision on what to do – try switching to the high line to hinder Marlar’s momentum or stick to his guns down low.
After a bit of careful thought under yellow, Weiss made his choice to stay down low through Turns 1 and 2. While this seemed like the best decision, it wouldn’t be enough to hold off the high-flying Mike Marlar, who threw a textbook slidejob on Weiss as they entered the corner and took the lead away permanently with two laps remaining. Marlar brought it all the way back to the checkered for his eighth career World of Outlaws Feature win and first in the Tennessee Tipoff.
“I was giving it everything I had,” said Marlar. “I had pretty good confidence that I could do it, but there’s always that question mark, but I went ahead and went for it and it all worked out.”
Despite these two impressive victories, 2019 champion Brandon Sheppard continues to maintain the points lead going into the Spring Thaw Weekend, presented by Excel, at Volunteer and Cherokee Speedway on March 27 and 28. Stay tuned to RacingJunk.com for all of your dirt racing coverage!