For the second consecutive year, “The Crusher Kid” Michael Norris outdueled the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series stars on his home dirt in the Friday night Feature at Lernerville Speedway’s Firecracker 100 weekend.
This time it was a different car, but the same winning ambition and driving skill his Western Pennsylvania fans are so accustomed to seeing, and those family, fans and friends were there again Friday to see him pick up the $6,000 win, setting the stage for Saturday’s huge $30,000-to-win Firecracker 100 main event.
Norris held off a hounding Mason Zeigler and a hard-charging Brandon Sheppard over 30 laps to pick up his second career World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series win, both in his backyard at Lernerville.
“There were a lot of heroes, in my book, behind me, and that’ll get you rattled pretty quick,” a smiling Norris, 27, said after the race. “I just tried to pretend like it was another Friday night, another 25 or 30 laps here, hit my marks and drive as fast as I can.”
In what was almost a mirror result of his big Firecracker victory last year, Norris again set the second-fast time overall in Qualifying, won his Drydene heat race, redrew inside row two and led 26 laps en route to the checkers. But just as it was for him last year, the win did not come easily.
Norris had to survive several restarts after cautions and even one red flag, but he held his ground on the top side of the track, narrowly skating the cushion for most of the green-flag action while defusing the pressure bombs behind him on each restart.
“Restarts were tricky because I didn’t really know where to go,” said Norris, a Sarver native. “Once we got rolling, I felt like I got a good enough rhythm that they were really going to have to work to get by me, but I wasn’t sure to go high or low or anything like that. At the end of the day, we’re standing here and super blessed to be here.”
Norris is now two-for-two in the Todd Cerenzia-owned #02. Last Friday night, he made his debut behind the wheel of the blue-and-green Rocket XR1 at Lernerville and ran away with the show, picking up his second win of the season. He’s normally seen behind the wheel of his family-owned #72, but that operation went sour after his engine expired in night one of Dirt Late Model Dream competition at Eldora two weeks ago.
Norris said he got in touch with Cerenzia through Brian Daugherty of Integra Shocks, who he spoke with after his Dream weekend came to an early end. Daugherty mentioned Cerenzia’s name and, after some deep thought and conversation, the new team materialized just one week ago.
“At the time, I didn’t think anything of [the partnership], and on the ride home from the Dream I was thinking more about it,” Norris said. “It sounded like it was going to be more of a possibility, and the next thing I know, I was driving up on Tuesday to put my seat in it.”
Reflecting back on his 2018 Firecracker prelim win just a few weeks ago, Norris said it was such a blessing to accomplish what he did and tie it to the Norris family name. Now that he’s done it twice, it still brings he and his family just as much pride.
“I don’t know what I did to deserve this type of stuff, but it feels great,” he said. “To do it for all of [my family], it means the world.”
Mason Zeigler served as the thorn in Norris’s side for much of the race, planting himself on the #02’s rear bumper for almost every restart. He grabbed the early lead but quickly gave it up to Norris after trading slidejobs out front.
“It was all about just slinging it in there, getting the nose pointed straight and trying to keep from pushing,” Zeigler said. “Norris did a really great job of keeping it out front and not making any mistakes.”
Zeigler started on the pole but fell back a tiny bit after Norris took the lead away. His patience together with his line around the track and decisions on restarts earned back his runner-up spot over the final 10 laps.
Tacking on his 12th top-three finish in 15 World of Outlaws races this year, Brandon Sheppard drove the wheels off of his Rocket1 Racing ride Friday night, coming from the 12th starting spot to finish third.
Making the most of each line on the track, Sheppard searched around for grip on the track throughout 30 laps and found just enough of it on the low groove mid-way through the race to make the passes he needed.
“All in all, we came from 12th, so we were passing a little bit,” said Sheppard, the 2017 Series champion who is coming off a huge victory at the Dream. “A few guys fell out, we passed a few cars and it just worked out for us tonight.”
The Firecracker 100 action continues Saturday, starting with the LUNGevity Foundation Kick-it to Cancer kickball game and door panel auction at noon, located at the football field next to the Lernerville Speedway facility. Then at 4 p.m., come meet your favorite driver at the autograph session before Hot Laps kick off at 6:15 p.m.!
ABBREVIATED RESULTS (see full results)
Morton Buildings Feature (30 Laps) – 1. O2-Mike Norris [$6,000]; 2. 25z-Mason Zeigler [$3,000]; 3. 1-Brandon Sheppard [$2,000]; 4. 14-Josh Richards [$1,750]; 5. 29-Darrell Lanigan [$1,500]; 6. 2-Brandon Overton [$1,400]; 7. 22-Chris Ferguson [$1,300]; 8. 7-Ricky Weiss [$1,200]; 9. 28-Dennis Erb [$1,100]; 10. 6m-Tim McCreadie [$1,000]; 11. 18-Chase Junghans [$900]; 12. 29s-Ken Schaltenbrand [$850]; 13. 1T-Tyler Erb [$800]; 14. 17M-Dale McDowell [$775]; 15. 49-Jonathan Davenport [$750]; 16. 25-Shane Clanton [$700]; 17. B1-Brent Larson [$660]; 18. 97-Cade Dillard [$640]; 19. 99B-Boom Briggs [$620]; 20. 157-Mike Marlar [$600]; 21. 22s-Gregg Satterlee [$600]; 22. 111-Max Blair [$600]; 23. O-Rick Eckert [$600]; 24. 1x-Chub Frank [$600]; 25. 6-Blake Spencer [$110]; Hard Charger: 28-Dennis Erb[+14]