Darrell Lanigan (29) led for all 100 laps of the Possum Town Grand Prix in his first NeSmith Late Model race of the season. Lanigan competes for Clint Bowyer’s team in Super Late Model races. Photo by: David Miller/Special to The Dispatch
November 27, 2017 10:50:02 AM
Darrell Lanigan got behind the wheel of a NeSmith Late Model car for the first time in two years -- and just the second time ever -- Saturday night at Possum Town Grand Prix.
The Lucas Oil series regular and Club 29 Racing owner didn't miss a beat, leading the 100-lap, $10,000-to-win race from front to back in a car he built for NeSmith regular Mark Garrison.
"I got lucky enough to build a car, bring it down for these guys, and we had a pretty good piece," Lanigan said. "We won last week (at Gaffney, South Carolina), and to come down here and win this deal is great. We have one more race out there at the dome (St. Louis, Missouri), and we'll see what we can do."
Saturday marked the first NeSmith feature in which Lanigan has competed. In his previous attempt -- two years ago in Ocala, Florida -- he set the fast time and was slated to start on the pole, but the feature was washed out.
Lanigan was nearly flawless from the start, as he opened leads of more than five seconds through the first 50 laps. But on the final lap, National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame inductee Ronnie Johnson reached Lanigan's bumper in turn three. It was the closest anyone got to Lanigan.
"It started rubbering and getting a little narrow," Lanigan said of the track. "We started getting a little tighter, but when it starts to rubber, if you don't get out of it, it's hard to lose the race."
Johnson, driving for Richard Austin and Josh Roberts, finished second. He said he "wanted this one really bad" to close the year on a high note for his car owners. Johnson, who started 11th, has been driving for Austin and Roberts since the end of July.
"A $10,000-to-win race -- that's one of our biggest races, and this is one of my absolute favorite tracks," Johnson said. "When the track gets in the condition it was tonight for a long feature, I've come from mid-pack several times and have had success here. We were hoping we could do that again tonight.
"I'm really appreciative of (Austin and Roberts) accepting me as a driver, and I wanted to do a really good job for them."
Johnson said his crew told him he'd built a good enough lead on eventual third-place finisher Evan Ellis to try a pass of Lanigan.
"On the last lap, I took a little bit of a stab at it in the middle of the racetrack getting into (turn) three, but I just couldn't exit (turn) 4 running that line," Johnson said. "Hats off to Darrell. I really wanted that one bad, but we came home clean, and we'll have a go at the next one."
Ellis debuted one of Lanigan's Club 29 cars after racing a Barry Wright car this year. He said his team got the car three weeks ago and tested just one night -- Wednesday -- before winning a heat race Friday and starting fifth.
Ellis floated in and out of the top five and dodged a lap 73 tangle between Johnson and Chad Thrash, who were jostling for second and eventually spun off turn four. Thrash left the track momentarily for repairs. Johnson escaped unscathed.
"Around that caution, I felt my car getting better and better," Ellis said. "The tires warmed up, and I moved from sixth to third."
Ellis said he's "pumped" to have a top-three finish in a new car and is excited about his prospects for next season. Though he wasn't as confident in the car entering Friday night, he said it took just one lap to gain it.
"During the heat race, that was the first time I'd ever been up around the high side in this car," Ellis said. "I dove off in there in the first corner, and it stuck and turned. I just kept going from there."
Jamey Boland and Walter Arthur finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
In other race action, Johnny Stokes won the Street Stocks feature and $2,000. Stokes' banner year also includes the NeSmith Performance Parts Street Stock World Championship Race win just a week ago. Bryan Fortner, Spencer Hughes, Booger Brooks, and Lee Ray rounded out the top five
Tony Shelton won the Late Model Sportsman feature. Hunter Carroll, Ryan King, Nick Thrash, and Buddy George rounded out the top five.
Jason Byrd won the Factory Stocks feature. Scooter Ware, Brandon Whitley, Aidan Fletcher, and Allen Greene rounded out the top five.
Booger Brooks won the first Outlaw Street feature at Magnolia. Michael Rodrigue, Darrell Russell, Jeremy Idom, and Cole Cameron rounded out the top five.
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