History: Remembering the 2006 Late Model Nationals

History: Remembering the 2006 Late Model Nationals
Tuesday, September 11, 2018
by Lee Ackerman

Given the cold temperatures of the First Annual Knoxville Late Model Nationals in 2005, the Late Model Nationals were moved up with a starting date in late September. The event drew 96 late models to the famed ½ mile at the Marion County Fairgrounds.

On Thursday, September 29, with half the field qualifying, twelve drivers smashed the track record set the year before by Earl Pearson, Jr. with Justin Fegers of Mound, Minnesota blistering the track with a lap at 17.673 seconds. Heat races went to Steve Francis of Ashland, Kentucky, Richard Foster of Holt Summit, Missouri and Earl Pearson, Jr. of Jacksonville, Florida. Brian Harris of Davenport, Iowa took the consolation event.

When the green dropped to start the feature, it was Iowa native Denny Eckrich leading the first two circuits before York, Pennsylvania’s Rick Eckert went to the front and dominated the rest of the race. That lead change occurred on a restart after the caution waved on lap three. Eckert got underneath Eckrich in turns one and two and came out of two at the point.

The caution waved again with Eckert leading Matt Miller, Justin Fegers, Eckrich and Billy Moyer. When the green waved again all the front runners went to the bottom which seemed to be the fast way around the big half mile. Scott Bloomquist quickly moved up to third with Moyer moving to fourth.

By lap ten, Eckert had opened up nearly a straightaway advantage over the field and at that point he was getting into lapped traffic. After Eckert passed several backmarkers, the yellow waved again for debris on the track. Again when action resumed Eckert pulled away from the second running Miller.

The man on the move was Moyer and he started applying pressure to Bloomquist finally taking third on lap 20 and then a lap later going by Miller to take the runner-up spot. Then once again the yellow waved for debris on the track and that brought out a single file restart with Moyer right on Eckert’s tail.

The final restart saw Eckert go to the bottom with Moyer going topside in hopes of making a final charge but to no avail. Eckert held on to lead the final two laps and pick up the win. Moyer finished second, Matt Miller held on for third with Steve Francis getting by Bloomquist to take fourth and Bloomquist rounding out the top five.

The following night Iowa’s own Brian Birkhofer, winner of the Knoxville Late Model Nationals the year before, made the most of his qualifying night by taking the 25 lap feature. However, Birky was not a factor early on in the race.

When the green dropped it was polesitter Shannon Babb taking the lead and going to the bottom which seemed to be the preferred line. By lap five, Watertown, New York’s Tim McCreadie was the man on the move as he moved into second place. A lap later McCreadie took the point from Babb as the two excited turn two.

McCreadie’s run was however short lived as going into turn three he drove into two backmarkers that had spun out. While not a hard hit, T-Mac retired from the event. On the restart Babb once again assumed the point with Dale McDowell, Birkhofer and Josh Richards following closely.

By lap 12, the leaders were in lapped traffic and Babb changed his line to the top to pass the slower traffic. Two laps later Birkhofer passed McDowell in traffic to take second. By lap 15, Babb had a five car length lead over Birky.

On lap 19, the caution waved for a car which had blown a right rear tire. When the green waved again, Babb hugged the bottom with Birky heading to the cushion and coming off turn two on lap 21 Birkhofer took over the lead. Another caution slowed the field and gave one shot to retake the point.

The final lap saw Babb make a valiant effort to catch the leader as he dove low in the final turns only to come up one car length short. Following Birkhofer and Babb to the line were Dale McDowell, Josh Richards and Jimmy Mars. Heat race wins went to McCreadie, McDowell and Darren Miller with Racin’ John Mason taking the consolation.

When they put up a lot of money for a big race it doesn’t take long and one driver will looking to take the money. That happened on the final night of the Knoxville Late Model Nationals with a $35,000 check awaiting the winner.

It was time for Mooresburg, Tennessee’s Scott Bloomquist to show the racing world once again why he has been at the top of the dirt late model racing world for so long.

It was actually Dale McDowell who led the 100 lapper for the first twenty miles or so. McDowell grabbed the lead at the start of the event with Shannon Babb chasing. By lap ten it was Rick Eckert in the number two spot after a battle with Babb. When the leaders hit lapped traffic about lap 12, Eckert was there challenging McDowell but to no avail.

On lap 17, Bloomquist started to make his presence known as he passed Babb on the backstretch. Babb then experienced a cut left front tire and brought out the races first caution. When the race resumed McDowell held the point with Eckert and Bloomquist fighting it out for second. Several times Bloomquist dove low in turns one or three only to have Eckert shut the door.

Finally on lap 32 after a drag race down the backstretch Bloomquist owned second place. By lap 36 as the leaders were in lapped traffic again, Bloomquist started to close the gap on McDowell. Moyer got by Eckert just a lap after Bloomquist made the pass for second. Lap 40 and the caution waved again, this time for Brady Smith and a flat right rear tire.

Two laps after the green waved again, McDowell bobbled in three and four and Bloomquist around on the high side to take the lead. On lap 45, Moyer passed McDowell to take the runner-up spot. By the mid-point of the race Bloomquist held just a one car advantage of Moyer.

On lap 53, Earl Pearson, Jr. brought out the caution just as Moyer was getting by Bloomquist for the lead giving the lead back to Bloomquist. By lap 60, Bloomquist held a four car length lead but a bobble by Bloomquist several laps later and that led was gone.

On lap 67, Eddie Carrier, Jr. brought out the yellow as Steve Francis was starting to pressure Moyer for second. After a series of yellows fans started to notice that Brian Birkhofer had made his way up from the back of the field. On a lap 72 restart Birky got by McDowell and then on lap 75 after an intense battle passed Eckert. After a restart on lap 77 he was by Francis and into third.

By now the track and slicked over and cushion was nearly gone and cars were starting to tag the fence. On lap 86 it was Jimmy Mars turn. With ten to go Bloomquist maintained a 15 car length lead as he once more got into lapped traffic.

Finally after an intense battle with Moyer, Birkhofer took second on lap 95 and Bloomquist was once more in lapped traffic. On lap 99, Birkhofer’s chances for the win came to an end as Bloomquist split two lapped cars and left Birkhofer trapped behind them. Bloomquist took the win by 12 car lengths with Birkhofer second, Moyer third, Eckert fourth and early leader McDowell fifth.

In action earlier in the evening, Zanesville, Ohio’s Rick Aukland took the C feature with Springfield, Illinois’ Justin Allgaier and West Burlington, Iowa’s Johnny Johnson in pursuit. Brian Harris of Davenport, Iowa won the B feature followed by Salt Rock, West Virginia’s Eddie Carrier, Jr. and Solon Springs, Wisconsin’s Brady Smith.