Monday, June 13th, 2011
By Mike Ernst
O'Neal gets victory for which he has been seeking
ROSSBURG - Forty-six year old late model driver Don O'Neal has been chasing a major dirt late model win at dirt tracks across the country.
On Saturday night, he finally captured his coveted first "Crown Jewel" victory by winning Dream XVII at Eldora Speedway with an aggressive pass of defending race champion Billy Moyer on lap 87 of the 100-lap affair.
"This has been a long time coming," said an exhausted O'Neal after the race. "You can't believe how good it feels. The car was really good all weekend and we just didn't give up the entire race."
O'Neal methodically worked his way through the field from his 12th-starting position before catching Moyer behind the lapped car of Brian Shirley. The two made slight contact entering turn one with Moyer getting trapped behind Shirley and O'Neal shooting ahead of not only Moyer, but also Shirley to clear lapped traffic.
"You know, we're down in crunch time, and he's won these things several times and I haven't. He probably should understand a little. It was hard, close racing," O'Neal said.
Moyer meanwhile was disappointed he couldn't become the first repeat winner of the $100,000 to-win race, which coupled with his sixth World 100 win last September, would have made him the first driver to win three consecutive "Crown Jewel" events at Eldora.
"Everything just worked out right for him at the right part of the racetrack that lap," said Moyer. "If the lapped car (Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill.) wouldn't have been there (entering turn one), we would've gone in there and might've bumped, but I think I could've beat (O'Neal) back off the corner. Once (O'Neal) slid me, I just couldn't romp on through that little hole there because (Shirley) kind of had me blocked.
"You couldn't pass the lapped cars with the way the track was," Moyer lamented. "He hit me twice and we all obviously race each other all the time, some with respect and some don't."
O'Neal immediately began to pull away from the rest of the field once he was in the lead by using a line much different from the rest of the field. While nearly the entire field was running the high line all the way around the high-banked, half-mile track, O'Neal was diving low in turn one and then sliding up high right next to the wall in turn two.
"I found that line just past the half-way point before anybody else did," O'Neal said. "I made up a lot of ground in turn one."
O'Neal nearly let the race slip through his fingertips when he drove in a little too deeply and collided with the turn two wall on lap 90, allowing Moyer to gain back much of the ground he had lost earlier.
"I got up in the fluff (loose dirt) down there and I couldn't get off of it," O'Neal said. "It felt like I had to stop to get going again."
Moyer began smelling blood as he regrouped inside his cockpit and began to eat away at the lead O'Neal had built. Moyer felt like he needed another five-to-10 laps and maybe he could have gotten back to the front.
"When you are out front, these races seem to take forever," Moyer said. "We started getting back to him and suddenly there is the white flag."
Moyer made one final, desperation attempt in the final two corners but came up several car lengths short at the checkered flag.
"It's definitely hard to lose like that - especially when you go to the pay window and there's that much of a difference in the money (between first and second place)," said Moyer, who earned $20,000 for his second career runner-up finish in the Dream.
Darrell Lanigan ran second early and pressured Moyer throughout the first 75 laps before O'Neal moved into the runner-up spot on lap 79. Lanigan faded after being passed by O'Neal and finished a distant third, while Will Vaught ran a steady race to finish fourth with Eddie Carrier, Jr. rounding out the top five.
Finishing in positions six through 10 were Jeep VanWormer, Chris Madden, 2009 World 100 winner Bart Hartman, Josh Richards and Steve Shaver.
Mercer County car owners Bill Dues and Chuck Sanning qualified for their first Dream feature event when driver Jacob Hawkins finished third in the second heat race. Hawkins ran second for most of the event, won by Hartman, surviving contact during the middle of the race with Shannon Babb, before a lapped car forced Hawkins high in the final corner allowing Babb to make the pass for second.
Hawkins was running in the top 15 when mechanical issues ended his feature event after just 28 laps. He was scored 23rd in the final results.
Other notable finishes were Scott Bloomquist in 12th, fast-qualifier Jared Landers, who elected to take a fast-time provisional and basically skipped his heat race, finished just 17th in the feature, and 2009 Dream winner Jimmy Owens came home 18th.
Other heat race winners were VanWormer, Carrier, Vaught, Moyer and Lanigan. Dennis Erb won the C-main, while Clint Smith won the B-main and qualified for the main event.
But the night belonged to O'Neal. After being so close to so many "Crown Jewel" wins he was asked if he felt any different after finally winning one.
"I don't know, but I might after I get that check," O'Neal said with a laugh.
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