We fall to learn how to pick ourselves back up.
When the trapdoor opened on Kyle Strickler at the start of the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series DIRTcar Nationals opener Wednesday night at Volusia Speedway Park, he did just that.
He fell from fourth to eighth in a lap, but with an injured finger, found a ledge to grab before his descent continued. On the next lap, he began his rise.
By Lap 5 he was seventh. By Lap 20, sixth. By Lap 23, fifth. By Lap 34 he found himself back inside the top-four and challenging for a podium finish. Then, with three laps to go, as the leader slowed to the wall, he reached the peak. Minutes later, the win was his – his second World of Outlaws victory (in 12 starts), his second in a row, and second in a row at Volusia.
“We took that green, I went straight backward,” Strickler said with a chuckle. “I was like, ‘Man, we messed up and picked the wrong tire or made the wrong adjustment or something. Got to lap traffic there and all the leaders went to the top and the car really came to us. I said, ‘I’m not going to let a Modified guy beat me, I’m going to the front.’”
What ensued during his climb back to the top created one of the best shows during the 50th DIRTcar Nationals, so far.
Bobby Pierce and Tim McCreadie – who each won a DIRTcar Late Model event to kick off Late Model week during the DIRTcar Nationals – started on the front row of the 40-lap Feature. While Strickler fell on the opening lap, Pierce catapulted ahead of the 33-car field. McCreadie kept a tight hold on the runner-up position until a suspension failure took him out of the race four laps in.
The next 29 laps went caution-free and were 29 laps of pure dirt track ecstasy. Pearce led, with Ricky Thornton and Devin Moran close enough to be annoying the entire time. Thornton tortured Pierce’s heart lap after lap, showing his nose multiple times through Turns 3 and 4. But Pierce put his #32 machine through a workout, sending it into each corner as hard as he can around the top, lifting the left side of his car off the ground at times to get the better momentum off the corner.
That lasted until Lap 12 when Thornton’s patient work paid off as he got the advantage on Pierce off Turn 2. Pierce battled back but soon found himself having fend off Moran for second.
Their war came to a halt when Kyle Bronson suffered a flat tire and brought out a caution with seven laps to go. When it resumed, Moran tried a Tom Brady-level Hail Mary pass into Turn 1, going from third to first by the middle of the corner. His slide job made him look like a hero until the exit of Turn 2 when Thornton split the middle between Moran – up top – and Pierce – on the bottom – to reclaimed the lead.
And at this point, Strickler had fought his way to fifth, slowly digging his fingers in the dirt and crawling back to the front.
Then, jaws dropped when Moran had a driveshaft issue going down the front stretch and got rear-ended by Brandon Overton, ending both of their nights.
On the restart, the trapdoor that plagued Strickler found Thornton as he fell from first to fourth in a lap. Pierce reclaimed the lead while Strickler and Hudson O’Neal found themselves inside the podium, battling for second. With three laps to go, Strickler passed O’Neal for second, just in time to watch Pierce slow with a flat tire.
Strickler’s rise was complete. It wasn’t an easy climb, reminding himself how to drive a Late Model versus a UMP Modified – which he drove last week. But his exuberant celebration showed it was worth the effort.
“Man, I never would’ve thought I’d fall back to eighth and then charge to the front,” said Strickler, of Sinking Spring, PA. “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. This is awesome.
“This is one right now, of course, this is probably my favorite race of my career. That’s so much fun to go back and forth like that.”
Strickler, a rookie, maintains the Series points lead – 34 points ahead of Ricky Weiss – as he’s decided to join the World of Outlaws 2021 tour full-time with the PCC Motorsports team.
O’Neal finished second with his own rise to the front from eighth.
“We were just a little too free there from the git-go,” O’Neal said. “I didn’t think I had a second-place race car. Just took advantage of some of the bad situations for the other guys.”
Thronton, after leading 23 laps, had to swallow a third-place finish.
“We were good. I wish that yellow didn’t come out,” Thornton said. “I don’t really have enough experience here to know what to do on the restart and let Bobby get by that one time… We’ll take a third and move on tomorrow.”
Defending Series champion Brandon Sheppard was on track to have his best showing of the year, so far, with a potential podium run, but had an incident with Mike Norris and suffered a flat tire with two laps to go. He fell to 20th – now currently sitting ninth in points.
But what applied to Strickler, could also apply to Sheppard in the three remaining days of the DIRTcar Nationals.
We fall to learn how to pick ourselves back up.
If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch all the action live on DIRTVision.
Morton Buildings Feature (40 Laps) – 1. 8-Kyle Strickler [$10,000]; 2. 71-Hudson O’Neal [$6,000]; 3. 20RT-Ricky Thornton [$3,500]; 4. 20-Jimmy Owens [$2,800]; 5. 3S-Brian Shirley [$2,500]; 6. 16-Tyler Bruening [$2,300]; 7. 58-Ross Bailes [$2,200]; 8. 19R-Ryan Gustin [$2,100]; 9. 7-Ricky Weiss [$2,050]; 10. 14-Josh Richards [$2,000]; 11. O-Scott Bloomquist [$1,600]; 12. 56-Tony Jackson [$1,400]; 13. OE-Rick Eckert [$1,200]; 14. 99B-Boom Briggs [$110]; 15. 40B-Kyle Bronson [$1,050]; 16. 7R-Ross Robinson [$1,000]; 17. 2-Dan Stone [$1,000]; 18. 97-Cade Dillard [$1,000]; 19. 29V-Darrell Lanigan [$1,000]; 20. 1-Brandon Sheppard [$1,000]; 21. 28-Dennis Erb [$1,000]; 22. 14B-John Baker [$1,000]; 23. 72-Mike Norris [$1,000]; 24. 18-Chase Junghans [$110]; 25. 25-Shane Clanton [$110]; 26. 6-Blake Spencer [$110]; 27. 12-Ashton Winger [$110]; 28. 54-David Breazeale [$110]; 29. OS-Ryan Scott [$110]; 30. 32-Bobby Pierce [$1,000]; 31. 9-Devin Moran [$1,000]; 32. 76-Brandon Overton [$1,000]; 33. 39-Tim McCreadie [$1,000]; Hard Charger Award: 99B-Boom Briggs[+13]
Qualifying Flight-A – 1. 76-Brandon Overton, 15.956; 2. 20-Jimmy Owens, 16.131; 3. 39-Tim McCreadie, 16.241; 4. 32-Bobby Pierce, 16.252; 5. O-Scott Bloomquist, 16.369; 6. 1-Brandon Sheppard, 16.374; 7. 40B-Kyle Bronson, 16.394; 8. 72-Mike Norris, 16.452; 9. 7R-Ross Robinson, 16.493; 10. OE-Rick Eckert, 16.536; 11. 31-Tyler Millwood, 16.611; 12. B1-Brent Larson, 16.656; 13. 25-Shane Clanton, 16.671; 14. 16-Tyler Bruening, 16.673; 15. 11-Josh Rice, 16.679; 16. 54-David Breazeale, 16.711; 17. 25C-Donnie Chappell, 16.737; 18. 5-Mark Whitener, 16.789; 19. 44-Chris Madden, 16.814; 20. 76N-Blair Nothdurft, 16.92; 21. 33-Jeff Mathews, 16.977; 22. 18-Chase Junghans, 16.995; 23. 89-G.R. Smith, 17.092; 24. 6-Blake Spencer, 17.113; 25. 11H-Spencer Hughes, 17.161; 26. 3-Mike Collins, 17.872
Qualifying Flight-B – 1. 8-Kyle Strickler, 16.185; 2. 9-Devin Moran, 16.238; 3. 20RT-Ricky Thornton, 16.317; 4. 7-Ricky Weiss, 16.344; 5. 58-Ross Bailes, 16.365; 6. 3S-Brian Shirley, 16.391; 7. 97-Cade Dillard, 16.416; 8. 14G-Joe Godsey, 16.447; 9. 21-Billy Moyer, 16.503; 10. 28-Dennis Erb, 16.522; 11. 29V-Darrell Lanigan, 16.56; 12. 19R-Ryan Gustin, 16.575; 13. 71-Hudson O’Neal, 16.588; 14. 14-Josh Richards, 16.591; 15. 14B-John Baker, 16.686; 16. 12-Ashton Winger, 16.708; 17. 99B-Boom Briggs, 16.713; 18. 6JR-Parker Martin, 16.8; 19. 56-Tony Jackson, 16.892; 20. 14M-Trevor Gundaker, 16.977; 21. 42-Chad Finley, 16.997; 22. 3W-Brennon Willard, 17.049; 23. 2-Dan Stone, 17.275; 24. 6H-Clay Harris, 17.476; 25. OS-Ryan Scott, 17.615