By Kevin Kovac, WoO LMS P.R. Director
ORLANDO, FL – Dec. 11, 2008 – Darrell Lanigan hates standing in front of a crowd to deliver a speech.
But the 38-year-old driver from Union, Ky., happily cast aside his fears on Thursday night to accept the 2008 World of Outlaws Late Model Series championship during the tour’s ‘Night of Champions’ Awards Banquet at the International Plaza Resort & Spa in Orlando, Fla.
“For $100,000,” quipped Lanigan, noting his lucrative six-figure title prize, “I can do it.”
Lanigan’s much-anticipated moment in the spotlight capped the fifth annual gala affair, which was held in conjunction with the nearby Performance Racing Industry Trade Show for the second consecutive year. Nearly $400,000 in points-fund cash for handed out by officials of the World Racing Group, the operator of the WoO LMS since 2004.
After taking some ribbing from several fellow racers about his famed aversion to formal public speaking, Lanigan addressed the banquet gathering with a smile on his face.
“As you guys know, I don’t like to be up here speaking,” said Lanigan, who had prepared remarks but largely spoke off-the-cuff when called to the stage. “I’d much rather be on the racetrack, but it’s been a long year and I want to thank a lot of people.”
Lanigan’s roll-call of appreciation for his first career WoO LMS points crown began with his 35-year-old head mechanic Chris Burton, who earlier in the night was named the 2008 WoO LMS Crew Chief of the Year by a vote of the tour’s crew chiefs and officials. He also mentioned his second fulltime crewman, Thomas McDowell; car builders Mark Richards and Steve Baker of Rocket Chassis; longtime engine builder Jack Cornett; and his list of sponsors, including Fusion Energy, which became the primary backer of Lanigan’s self-owned team late in the season.
The people and companies Lanigan listed provided the quality help and top-notch equipment that propelled him to a spectacularly steady campaign, which he ended with the largest championship-winning margin (160 points) in WoO LMS history. His 2008 victory total numbered a modest two A-Main wins, but he seized control of the points standings by stringing together an unprecedented streak of 15 consecutive top-five finishes en route to a series-leading 25 top-five and 36 top-10 placings in 43 events.
Lanigan, who also received a custom-made championship ring and trophy from WRG Chief Executive Officer Brian Carter, had his total ’08 earnings on the WoO LMS pushed to nearly $250,000 by the 100-grand check he collected on Thursday night.
“We had an awesome year,” said Lanigan, whose best previous points finish in four seasons on the WoO LMS was fifth, in 2006. “We got on a roll and had luck on our side, and we accomplished our goal of winning a World of Outlaws championship.”
Lanigan reserved his strongest comments for his competition on the national tour.
“It’s an honor to be up here tonight,” said Lanigan, gazing out at the banquet hall, “and it’s a privilege to be racing with you guys. You are the best group of guys with any series out there.
“When you race with you guys, it’s like racing with family. When you’re at the track or going down the road, there’s always someone there to help you whenever problems happen.”
One of Lanigan’s extended WoO LMS family members during the past season was Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., who received a $60,000 check for finishing a career-high second in the 2008 points standings. The 20-year-old sensation hailed Lanigan when he stood behind the podium on stage.
“I’d like to congratulate ‘Uncle’ Darrell, Chris (Burton) and Thomas (McDowell) on an awesome year,” said a smiling Richards, who knows Lanigan well because their teams travel together throughout the season. “To have 15 top-five finishes in a row is just crazy.”
Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., who was unseated as WoO LMS titlist by Lanigan, provided his fellow Kentuckian a glimpse into life as a champion after accepting a $40,000 check for finishing third in the 2008 points standings.
“You’ll learn to appreciate this thing next year,” the 41-year-old Francis said of holding the WoO LMS throne. “I didn’t realize how much it would mean until the next year, and you will too Darrell.”
Shane Clanton of Locust Grove, Ga., received $35,000 for finishing fourth in the points standings, while Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa., pocketed $30,000 for placing fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the standings was Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill. ($25,000), Rick Eckert of York, Pa. ($24,000), Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga. ($23,000), Tim Fuller of Watertown, N.Y. ($22,000) and Vic Coffey of Leicester, N.Y. ($10,500).
The top-10 drivers were all in on hand for the awards banquet. Also in attendance was 2006 WoO LMS champion Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., who came to help celebrate the 2008 Rookie of the Year award earned by his Sweeteners Plus Racing teammate Vic Coffey.
Coffey, 37, received an additional $15,000 for winning the Rookie of the Year honor. A standout from the Northeast’s DIRTcar big-block Modified ranks like former WoO LMS Rookie of the Year winners McCreadie (2004) and Fuller (2007), Coffey ran away with the first-year traveler title, which was determined using a driver’s best 30 finishes on the tour.
“It’s an honor for me to be up here and to race with these guys, who I consider the best dirt Late Model racers in the country,” Coffey told the banquet crowd. “It was a learning experience for us, but it was a good year.
“All the guys in this room, no matter how busy they are, when we have a question or need some help, they’ll always take time to help. That means a lot to me and our race team.”
Rocket Chassis of Shinnston, W.Va., was recognized as the winner of the 2008 WoO LMS Chassis Builders’ Challenge – the fifth straight year that the company co-owned by Mark Richards and Steve Baker has earned the nod. Eleven drivers won WoO LMS A-Mains using Rocket cars in 2008, giving the manufacturer 27 victories in 43 events.
“It’s a tribute to the good racers in our stuff who have confidence in what we build, take it and do a good job with it,” said Mark Richards, who accepted the accolades. “We’re always honored to win this award.”
Cornett ‘Thunder & Lightning’ Racing Engines in Somerset, Ky., was announced as the winner of the 2008 WoO LMS Crane Cams Engine Builders’ Challenge. It was the first such honor for company owner Jack Cornett, who saw Lanigan, Richards and Francis sweep the top-three spots in the points standings using his powerplants.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” said Cornett, 52. “I’ve been trying to win this thing for five years. It’s not an easy thing to do.”
WRG Chief Operating Office Tom Deery honored Mike Graham and Roger Crick, who operate Tri-City Speedway in Franklin, Pa., as the 2008 WoO LMS Promoters of the Year.
Graham and Crick, who were unable to attend the awards banquet, brought the WoO LMS to their half-mile oval for the first time in 2005. Since then they’ve made the tour the centerpiece of their Oil Region Labor Day Classic, a two-day extravaganza of speed and post-race fun that has become a true event on the Northeast’s racing calendar.
WoO LMS director Tim Christman closed the evening’s program with a short address.
“Everyone in this room from a competitor standpoint has won a championship,” said Christman. “So when you win this championship, you are the best of the best. There’s no question.
“I tell people that all the time – I will take these 10 guys (WoO LMS regulars) and I will be willing to wager anything anybody wants to bet on them against any other 10 guys, night in and night out. And I mean that, because these guys are the best.”
Christman also touched upon the 2009 WoO LMS schedule, which was released earlier in the day at the PRI trade show. Forty-five confirmed events at 37 tracks in 20 states and three Canadian provinces currently comprise the slate, with at least a half-dozen more dates to be announced in the near future.
“I’m looking forward to 2009,” said Christman. “We’re going on to bigger and better things. We’re going to some new venues, we’re going to visit some new markets, and we are going to continue to grow and make something that’s already great into something superior.”
The 2008 WoO LMS kicks off on Feb. 12 and 14 with two dates during the 38th annual Alltel DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla.