2023 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series at Fairbury Speedway

Dennis Erb Jr. Fuming After Tangle With Hudson O'Neal At Fairbury Speedway

Dennis Erb Jr. Fuming After Tangle With Hudson O'Neal At Fairbury Speedway

Dennis Erb Jr. was left fuming after a collision with Hudson O'Neal in Saturday's Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series race at Fairbury Speedway.

May 14, 2023 by Robert Holman

FAIRBURY, Ill. — Often when there’s contact between two drivers battling for the same piece of real estate, there’s differing views of what happened. That wasn’t the case following Saturday’s 60-lap Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event at Fairbury Speedway, however. 

When second-running Hudson O’Neal and leader Dennis Erb Jr. got together entering turn one on lap 36, both drivers had remarkably similar versions of the race-changing incident that ended Erb’s chance to win the FALS Spring Showdown and its $30,000 top prize captured by Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill.

Erb, stoic on the best of days, was in no mood to talk about the incident afterwards. Already changed into his street clothes, his roughed-up car sitting on the liftgate of his familiar blue hauler as he and crew chief Heather Lyne secured the machine, Erb was succinct in his account of the tangle.

“Do I even have to say anything? You’ve got the answer. You said it. I got ran over,” Erb said. “I have no idea what (O’Neal) was thinking.”

Erb assigned O'Neal the blame, and the Rocket Chassis house car driver took it, saying the impatient attempt at the lead was "something I should have never, ever, ever done."

Seeking his 10th career Lucas Oil Series victory on a night after rain delayed the program for three hours, Erb felt like he had the field covered. Both he and O’Neal were already winners during the second annual Illinois Speedweek, with Erb capturing Wednesday’s opener at Spoon River in Banner, Ill., and O’Neal picking up Thursday’s win at Lincoln (Ill.) Speedway. A victory Saturday would have been Erb’s richest since collecting $100,000 in the 2016 Dream at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway.

After starting fifth, Erb had controlled the race since passing Shannon Babb of Moweaqua,, Ill., on lap six. The run-in with O’Neal came one lap after a caution slowed the pace, giving O’Neal and the third-running Pierce a chance to close in on Erb, who led O’Neal by a full second before the lap-35 yellow for Las Cruces, N.M.’s Garrett Alberson.

With Erb, of Carpentersville, Ill., in his preferred low line, O’Neal, of Martinsville, Ind., got a big run off of the topside cushion exiting turn four. Erb drifted up the track toward the flagstand as lap 36 was completed and O’Neal was able to turn left and pull alongside just as they entered turn one. The two made contact, with O’Neal’s car briefly getting airborne as he went over the left side nose of Erb’s car.


VIDEO: Watch highlights from Saturday's Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series race at Fairbury Speedway.

While O’Neal shot up the track in turn two and kept going, the contact sent Erb spinning around, collecting the fifth-running Babb. Babb's machine came to a stop between turns one and two while Erb brushed an infield yuke tire and kept rolling. Erb, however, was sent to the tail of the field, while O’Neal inherited the lead and Babb, who likely had the best view of the crash, retired.

“It looked like (O’Neal) over there jumped over the top of the 28 (Erb) and the 28 got turned around and I hit him … had nowhere to go,” Babb told pit reporter Ben Shelton while sitting in the infield minutes after the wreck.

Some 30 minutes after the race, Babb suggested that the lengthy rain shower and subsequent delay that left a heavy cushion and a narrow track in its wake, could have played a factor as well.

‘’It’s just an action-packed racetrack, really,” Babb said. “The weather wasn’t good for anybody, other than the fans. I mean, there was some hellacious (action) watching the race. I don’t really know what happened (with Erb and O’Neal). I just looked up and I seen that I guess maybe Dennis opened the door and Hudson had a run and went to the inside of him and the door closed and they hit.

“I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose. But those two hit. Dennis turned around and, hell, I’m coming in there and have nowhere to go. So, just wrong place, wrong time. Just kind of sucks for me. You know, it’s just part of racing. It really does suck.”

Erb expected to be reinstated to the lead and rode at the front of the field for a couple laps before officials told him to drop to the rear. Lucas Oil Series director Rick Schwallie said sending Erb to the rear, even though he didn't stop on the track, follows the tour's safety protocol.

“(Erb) spun and his left door was facing (oncoming cars) so we threw the caution for him, for safety,” said Schwallie. “That will happen about two or three times a year. But that’s in our rules and we tell them that at the drivers’ meeting.”

O'Neal restarted on the point, lost the lead to Pierce and ultimately met his own demise when he slipped into the thick cushion in turn two with two laps remaining and tagged the wall while chasing Pierce, who went on to win the race ahead of Fayetteville, N.C.’s Daulton Wilson and Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill.

O’Neal was credited with 16th place, two spots better than Erb, who managed just three more laps after going to the back. He retired with rear-end damage, likely a result from the contact from Babb.

While Erb and Lyne loaded up their car on one side of the Fairbury pit area, O’Neal and the Rocket Chassis house car crew worked to make repairs to their car on the opposite side of the pits after his car's nosepiece was ripped away in his wreck. O’Neal, drill in hand as he worked to remove crinkled body panels, stood at the back of the team’s hauler and gave his version of the incident, which, though more detailed, mirrored Erb’s sentiments.

“The whole thing with Dennis. It was just me,” O’Neal said. “I got in a hurry I guess. I don’t really know. I completely ruined his night. I feel about 2 inches tall for that and that’s about all I got to say. My mistake. I just did something I should have never, ever, ever done.

“Then there with Bobby, I was giving everything I had and I just got in there and I got tight a little bit in his air and against the cushion. I guess I caught the nose wrong in a big chunk or something and it took us out of the race. I didn’t do my job as driver tonight on either end. I wrecked somebody pretty bad and then probably destroyed a race car. So yeah, disappointing night on my end for sure.”