Monday, June 13th, 2016
Erb holds on to win The Dream
By Mike Ernst
ROSSBURG - The Illinois Jinx has ended at Eldora.
Carpentersville, Ill., native Dennis Erb Jr. would not be denied Saturday night at the 22nd annual Dirt Late Model Dream, leading on four different occasions to become the first Illinois driver to win a major dirt late model race at the track.
"It's been a long time," Erb said in victory lane after having waved an Illinois state flag while standing atop his familiar blue No. 28. "All's I've got to say is, 'How 'bout that, Illinois?' "
Erb battled at or near the front of the field the entire 100-lap feature. He was one of four drivers that had swapped the lead a race-record seven times before taking the lead for good on lap 90 and immediately pulling away from the field.
The 43-year old veteran appeared to be cruising to victory when the eighth and final caution flag flew for a spin by Jared Landers in turn two as Erb exited turn four on the final lap much to the chagrin of the large group of Illinois fans in the grandstands.
The restart allowed Josh Richards, 2014 champion Dale McDowell and defending Dream winner Jonathan Davenport to restart directly behind Erb for a two-lap shootout.
"My heart dropped coming to that checkered flag coming out of that corner. I didn't know what was going to happen after that," Erb said. "When you get out there and start getting in a rhythm and the car's good …. I just wanted to keep hitting my marks. I just knew we had a good car. We made the right decision and picked the right line at the end. We just got it done tonight."
Erb easily held at bay some of the best in the sport to pick up the $100,000 top prize, the largest winner's check in late model racing.
"I was just worried about getting to that checkered flag. That last caution there, I was kind of worried about that. I just knew I had a good car. I just prayed and told my dad, 'Let's go and let's get this done,' " Erb said.
Erb took the checkered flag 1.120 seconds ahead of Richards, who had led a race-high 41 laps. McDowell, who had started the main event 17th, was third while Davenport finished fourth in his bid to become the first back-to-back winner of the event and 2011 winner Don O'Neal improved 16 positions to round out the top five.
"I had a blast out there. Congrats to Dennis and those guys. The best car won the race and he did a great job," Richards said. "I was trying to do what I could; I was just a little too free to move to the bottom. I really don't know what Landers was trying to do there; I guess he gave me another shot at the $100,000. We'll take it; we just have to work a little harder next time."
Richards made contact with Landers as he spun in turn two on the final lap and the damage he received held him back from challenging Erb on the last restart.
"I knew it was going to be a long shot. We had a lot of damage," Richards said. "The left front corner was dragging (on)the ground and I spun the tires on the start because the nose was dragging. I thought we might have a little bit of a shot there; I just needed another car length or two to get a run down into three. But what can I say? We're a lot closer than what we were."
McDowell was also hoping the late restart might work to his advantage.
"I didn't know what was going to happen there at the last (restart)," he said. "I thought I might win from third. It didn't happen. We'll take it and come back for the World. It's unfortunate, those double-file restarts right there with one lap or two laps to go. It gets a little hairy. But it was fun. This tire management, as you go through the race, the racetrack changes complexion three or four different times. We'd fade and we'd go, we'd fade and we'd go, and I watched those guys do the same thing. I need to be a little bit better. We're going to go to work on it and see if we can do better next time."
Chris Simpson, who had earned the final spot in the main event starting lineup after passing six-time Dream winner Scott Bloomquist on the final lap of the final preliminary event, charged to a sixth place finish. Second-generation driver Devin Moran, Shane Clanton, Chris Madden and rookie Ricky Thornton, Jr. completed the top 10.
After winning preliminary feature events on Thursday and Friday night, St. Marys-based Best Performance Motorsports driver Brandon Sheppard could only muster a 13th-place finish on Saturday. His teammate Jeff Babcock, Duane Chamberlain - driving for St. Henry's Bill Dues - and Rusty Schlenk - driving for Versailles' Mike Lawrence - all failed to qualify for the feature event.
Erb, Landers, Tim McCreadie and Richards all led throughout the thrilling main event.
Heat races were won by Jon Henry, Bobby Pierce, Steve Casebolt, Davenport, Erb and Mike Marlar. O'Neal and Jason Feger won the B-mains while Michael Chilton and Wendell Wallace captured B-scrambles races for cars that had failed to qualify for the main event.
The next Eldora event is June 25 when the UNOH All Star Sprints conclude their annual Ohio Sprint Speedweek at the track.