MINERAL WELLS, W.Va. (Oct. 15-16) Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., earned $50,000 on Saturday at West Virginia Motor Speedway with a victory in the 30th annual Dirt Track World Championship.
Pearson, who started third in the 27-car field at the 5/8-mile oval, slipped under polesitter Shane Clanton of Fayetteville, Ga., on the 70th lap exiting turn two and led the rest of the Carl Short-promoted 100-lapper that returned to its native West Virginia for the first time since 2001.
Pearson labeled his first DTWC triumph “a dream come true” for his Bobby Labonte Motorsports team as he put memories of a pair of big-purse near-misses behind him this season with a victory that matches the richest payday of his career.
Single-file racing dominated much of a race slowed by a single-lap 60 caution, but Clanton and Pearson swapped the lead multiple times. Clanton led 14 laps before Pearson slipped ahead briefly on lap 15, then Clanton stayed in command all the way to the yellow flag for a slowing Tyler Reddick while Pearson continued to chase him.
On the double-file restart, Pearson briefly edged ahead to take command at the green flag, but Clanton had a high-side answer to move back ahead and lead lap 61. He stayed there nine more laps until slipping high in turns one and two, opening a door that Pearson busted through for the winning move.
“I got in front of him on that restart, but he had a little bit softer tire and drove right back by me,” the 38-year-old Pearson said. “But once I got some heat in the tire, it came on alive there. The track rubbered up around the bottom there late, and I knew it would be awful tough for him to pass me back, as long as we didn’t have a caution.”
Clanton realized too late that he needed to move down into the lower groove to maintain the lead.
“It all happened in one corner. I felt good the lap before and I’m just riding there. I went into turn one and it slipped, slipped, slipped,” he said. “I looked right and I was afraid I was going to hit the fence. I looked left and here he comes, and there wasn’t nothing I could do then.”
Pearson built a half-straightaway lead before catching a line of slower cars in the final laps, but Clanton never got close enough to make a serious challenge in the final laps.
Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., a former DTWC winner at West Virginia Motor Speedway, drove his brakeless car to a third-place finish after taking a position from Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., on the race’s lone restart. Davenport settled for fourth while ninth-starting Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., was fifth.
Davenport’s night wasn’t over, though, as he went on to dominate the Fastrak-sanctioned Crate Late Model feature, lapping all but three competitors in the 50-lapper for his second $10,000 payday of the season at WVMS.
Steve Shaver of nearby Vienna, W.Va., who lowered the Super Late Model track record with an 18.858-second lap at WVMS, finished 10th in the 100-lapper and was never a factor.
Fast Time: Steve Shaver 18.858 (new track record)
Heat 1: Scott Bloomquist, Josh Richards, Steve Shaver, Dennis Erb, Tyler Reddick, Clint Smith, Rick Eckert, Tim McCreadie, Brad Neat, Mark Banal, Delmas Conley, Anthony Adams, Jared Landers, Shane Newman
Heat 2: Jimmy Owens, Eddie Carrier, Jr., Steve Francis, Davey Johnson, R. J. Conley, Vic Coffey, Chris Meadows, Doug Drown, Daniel Baggerly, Brian Eaton, Anthony Kincaid, Dale McDowell, Robert Hilton
Heat 3: Austin Dillon, Ryan Markham, Johnathan Davenport, Shane Clanton, Matt Miller, John Blankenship, Austin Hubbard, Gregg Satterlee, Rod Conley, Scott James, Darren, Peters, Chuck Harper
Heat 4: Don O’Neal, Earl Pearson, Jr., Mike Marlar, Donnie Moran, Ron Davies, Shannon Babb, Bart Hartman, Tim Dohm, Corey Conley, Freddy Smith, Kevin Colston, Nick Corbitt
Consolation winners: Davies, McDowell.
30th annual Dirt Track World Championship: (1) Earl Pearson Jr., (2) Shane Clanton, (3) Steve Francis, (4) Jonathan Davenport, (5) Jimmy Owens, (6) Mike Marlar, (7) Josh Richards, (8) Davey Johnson, (9) Scott Bloomquist, (10) Steve Shaver, (11) Austin Dillon, (12) Dale McDowell, (13) Eddie Carrier Jr., (14) Shannon Babb, (15) Clint Smith, (16) Austin Hubbard, (17) Vic Coffey, (18) Donnie Moran, (19) Dennis Erb Jr., (20) Ryan Markham, (21) Don O’Neal, (22) Jared Landers, (23) Tyler Reddick, (24) Ron Davies, (25) Rick Eckert, (26) Tim Dohm, (27) Matt Miller.