DIRTcar’s richest 2023 event kicks off huge summer racing season on DIRTVision
ROSSBURG, Ohio — Nobody knows his way around Eldora Speedway better Jonathan Davenport, and he proved it again Saturday night by holding off Chris Madden and Bobby Pierce to bank $129,000 and his second Dirt Late Model Dream victory to go with his five World 100 wins.
But to be the first to the checkered flag in DIRTcar Racing’s summer kickoff, Davenport needed the pieces to fall his way. From Brian Shirley’s tire going down while leading their heat race earlier in the night to Eldora’s half-mile taking rubber in the low groove as he moved to the point, everything was going Davenport’s way.
After sweeping past Pierce to lead Lap 30, sixth-starting Davenport had to survive only a Lap 62 restart that helped World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series points leader Madden move past Pierce into second and a chance to put an end to his series of frustrating Eldora finishes.
Madden could close to Davenport’s tail, but if he got even a little out of line seeking a path to the lead his car would push up the track. He could do nothing but keep the pressure on to the checkered flag as Davenport was faced with trying to figure out how he was going to navigate through the tail of the field in the closing laps.
“It was definitely hectic where I was,” said Davenport, of Blairsville, GA. “I couldn’t go full speed because I couldn’t get caught up behind those lapped cars, it was rubbered just enough. I held my breath for the last two laps.
“We sure had a lot of luck this whole weekend from Shirley blowing a tire to getting the right lane on the restart, getting to draw the number three pill [for the heat race inversion], the racetrack slowed down, getting in the right heat … just so many different things.
“We hadn’t been on these tires all weekend so I thought it would take a little longer to get there. I was patient at first and just tried not to burn the edges off and tried to take advantage of other people’s mistakes and when somebody would slip, I’d try to go ahead and go. I guess I got to the lead at the right point, but Madden followed us up through there. I just bided my time.”
It was Madden’s third runner-up finish and his sixth top-five overall in the Dirt Late Model Dream. Tremendous results no doubt in an event that routinely draws nearly 100 cars, but it was little consolation as he was chasing down Davenport and hoping the Eldora master would make an unlikely mistake.
“I just sit there and say, second again … I tried,” said Madden, of Gray Court, SC. “I stepped out down there a few times to see if I could find anything and there wasn’t anything to get it done. All you can do is get back in line and try to stay right on his bumper and pressure him a little bit. I didn’t know how tire wear was going to be so you can’t be too stupid and wear your stuff out. I was just hoping he was going to push out of the rubber and I was going to be right there to get beside him and take the spot. … I was able to run on his bumper so I had a really good racecar. A lot of times it’s hard to do that in that condition. There’s just nothing you can do, absolutely nothing. … It takes a lot of luck here. You can try your best, but sometimes your best isn’t good enough.”
Davenport knew if he simply hit his marks, there would be little his rival could do, but at the same time understood Madden wouldn’t let up.
“He’s been so good here, so close so many times,” Davenport said. “I can remember one of the first times I came here to race and he ran over a header or a muffler coming off of Turn 4, I just remember that and that was before I could even make the race here. So I know he’s had a lot of frustration, and the way the racetrack was once he got to second it was kind of locked down. Unless I made a big mistake he wasn’t going to pass me. I’m sure he’s like, ‘Dammit, I probably had a better car and if it stayed slick we could have raced all over it.’ Just one more that got by him. Hell, Dale Earnhardt never won the 500 for however many tries at Daytona. He’s going to get one, he’s way too good here not to win.”
While Pierce has a World 100 victory at Eldora, this is only his second top-five finish in the Dream. He led laps 26 through 29 and ran second to Davenport until the Lap 62 restart when Madden slipped past him.
“By far my best finish in the Dream,” said Pierce, a five-time DIRTcar Summer Nationals champion who is tied for second in the World of Outlaws CASE Late Model championship behind Madden. “I was right there with JD for a little then he pulled away from me. I was making the top work until the bottom rubbered, but we’ll take it.”
The Dirt Late Model Dream kicks off the busy summer season, with the DIRTcar Summer Nationals beginning on Wednesday at Peoria Speedway and the World of Outlaws CASE Late Models racing seven times in nine nights during the Heartland Speedweek beginning June 23 at 81 Speedway. Madden owns a 40-point advantage over Pierce, Kyle Bronson, and Nick Hoffman, who was the Dream’s hard charger after racing from 22nd to 13th.
“It’s early and we’re leading the points and got a little bit of a lead, but we have been terrible so when we do get our program running, we’ll be all right,” Madden said.
After winning the past two DIRTcar Summer Nationals titles, Pierce is focused on battling Madden for the World of Outlaws CASE Late Model title this season.
“I think it made a pretty good statement for us to finish on the podium at one of the biggest races this year,” said Pierce, of Oakwood, IL. “We know that we’re good, we know we have a good team and we’re capable of winning this race, we were right there. It boosts our confidence a little bit knowing we could be up there. Hopefully it intimidates some others. Madden was good, he went out there and tracked JD down, he tracked down the best driver there is on this stuff. That goes to show if we can hang in there and keep chugging along, maybe we can catch him in points and beat him.”
One driver leaving the Dream weekend and heading to Peoria on Wednesday with positive momentum is Ashton Winger, who was runner-up to Pierce in the 2021 DIRTcar Summer Nationals championship. Winger was one of the most consistent drivers across all three nights of the Dream, finishing the main event in 15th.
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals begins Wednesday at Peoria Speedway, Thursday at Kankakee County Speedway, Friday at Tri-City Speedway, Saturday at Fairbury Speedway, and Sunday at Sycamore Speedway. Follow all 28 races over the five-week tour by watching the action on DIRTVision. For more info, visit DIRTcarSummerNationals.com.
29th Annual Dream Feature (100 Laps): 1. 49-Jonathan Davenport [$129,000]; 2. 44-Chris Madden; 3. 32-Bobby Pierce; 4. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr; 5. 25Z-Mason Zeigler; 6. 1T-Tyler Erb; 7. 1-Hudson O’Neal; 8. 99-Devin Moran; 9. 25-Shane Clanton; 10. 2S-Stormy Scott; 11. 157-Mike Marlar; 12. 93-Carson Ferguson; 13. 9-Nick Hoffman; 14. 17M-Dale McDowell; 15. 12-Ashton Winger; 16. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 17. 18D-Daulton Wilson; 18. 96V-Tanner English; 19. 11R-Josh Rice; 20. 19R-Ryan Gustin; 21. 39-Tim McCreadie; 22. 8-Kyle Strickler; 23. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 24. 20-Jimmy Owens; 25. 40B-Kyle Bronson; 26. 28S-Dustin Sorensen.