2023 Lucas Oil Dirt Track World Championship at Eldora Speedway

Updates On The Lucas Oil Big Four Championship Battle At Eldora Speedway

Updates On The Lucas Oil Big Four Championship Battle At Eldora Speedway

Updates on Ricky Thornton, Jr, Hudson O'Neal, Jonathan Davenport and Devin Moran as they battle for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series championship.

Oct 21, 2023 by Todd Turner

ROSSBURG, Ohio — Saturday’s blow-by-blow updates at Eldora Speedway of the four contenders for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series championship at Carl Short’s 43rd annual General Tire Dirt Track World Championship presented by ARP. The Big River Steel Big Four is made up of Ricky Thornton Jr. of Chandler, Ariz., Hudson O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., and Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio.

Feature Finish

Ricky Thornton Jr.: Eighth

Title chase finish: Third

Recap: The fifth-starter's victory and title hopes ended on the eighth lap when his car bounced into the Jimmy Owens machine, causing right-front suspension damage among other issues. He lost six laps trying to make repairs initially and several more later but never retired until his race mercifully ended on lap 97 when he stopped at the top of the backstretch.

Hudson O’Neal: Second

Title chase finish: First

Recap: Leading early and then coming from a lap down, O’Neal slipped by Moran for the second spot on the final lap to secure the championship. The sixth starter led laps 8-23 and was running fourth when he slowed with a deflating right-rear tire on lap 35. The team pitted on lap 41 to change a right-front tire and add fuel after O’Neal slowed on the backstretch. He was a lap down midrace but the Lucky Dog ruling put him back on the lead lap on lap 74 and he moved into a title battle with Davenport and Moran, coming out on top on the final lap.

Jonathan Davenport: Ninth

Title chase finish: Fourth

Recap: Led the first six laps before running conservatively most of the race, but retired on the 80th lap with mechanical issues while running fifth.

Devin Moran: Third

Title chase finish: Second

Recap: Started on the pole but was back to 10th by lap 13 and never was a factor until the final 25 laps when he began battling Davenport and O’Neal for the title. He broke into the top five with 11 laps remaining and had the title in hand when running second on laps 98-99. But O’Neal found a way past as they battled behind race winner Brandon Sheppard, who ran out of fuel heading for the checkers but narrowly held on.

Sunday's Heat Race Results

Ricky Thornton Jr.: Won the third heat from the pole, leading all 10 laps and taking the checkers 1.030 ahead of Carson Ferguson.

Feature starting spot: Fifth

Comment: Thornton declared that his car “wasn’t right” despite leading from wire-to-wire to win the third heat, but he was mostly upset with an opening-lap scrape that he felt kept him from running at full song. “The 69 (outside polesitter Jon Hodgkiss) about destroyed by right-front and right-rear off turn four,” said Thornton, who will start fifth in the feature. Thornton’s car sported a tweaked right-rear quarterpanel when he returned to the pits.

Hudson O’Neal: Won the sixth and final heat after starting fourth (a start-jumping penalty dropped him back from the second spot). He took the checkers 2.398 seconds ahead of Mason Zeigler.

Feature starting spot: Sixth

Comment: O’Neal believed that the two-spot penalty he received from Lucas Oil Series officials for jumping the original start might have doomed him to a starting spot deep in the feature field if a caution flag hadn’t given him new life to surge into the lead. He didn’t agree with the jump call. “That’s what I said in my (postrace) interview — you wanna nit-pick calls like that when we’re racing for a championship here?” he said. “(Polesitter) Mason (Zeigler) just came over here and said, ‘Man, I fired, but I just didn’t go.’” Indeed, Zeigler told O’Neal and Rocket house car owner Mark Richards that he spun the tires when he stepped on the gas in turns three and four and tried to get traction in the moisture on the inside of the track, making it appear that O’Neal jumped him. “If you wanna be honest, if it wasn’t for that caution, I probably start 18th and my chances of winning a championship are probably out the window,” O’Neal added, noting that his Big Four foes all won heats. “It gets your blood boiling a little better that you race all year and they don’t see that (circumstance on the start). Fortunately, we got a restart and we were able to show how good our race car was.”

Jonathan Davenport: The scheduled third starter won the fourth heat after inheriting the pole from the penalized Garrett Smith, leading all 10 laps and taking the checkers 1.741 seconds ahead of fellow Georgian Brandon Overton.

Feature starting spot: Second

Comment: When asked if he could turn a smooth lap on the tricky, choppy surface, Davenport quipped, “Half a good one,” before adding: “I couldn’t really hit it every time. I was kind of going above the holes getting in (turn one) and kind of going across ‘em trying to cover both grooves right there. I felt like I was making pretty good speed there, but it was so patchy — where it’s slick, it’s slick, and where’s there’s traction, you’re wide open.” Davenport will start the 100-lapper outside Moran on the front row and is unsure what will happen during the century grind. “It’s gonna be different for the feature,” he said. “It’s still rough enough you can still break some stuff out there. We’ll go through everything one more time and make sure nothing’s broke.”

Devin Moran: Won the first heat from outside the front row, leading all 10 laps and taking the checkers 0.454 of a second ahead of polesitter Jimmy Owens.

Feature starting spot: First

Comment: Moran was certainly glad the prelim races were postponed from Saturday night to provide better racing conditions. “You can see it’s still got a little chop (rough spots),” he said, “but it’s gonna be way better racing today.”

Heat Race Starting Position

Ricky Thornton Jr.: On the pole of the third heat (a heat victory would give him a fifth-place starting spot in the feature)

Hudson O'Neal: Outside the front row of the sixth heat (a heat victory would give him a sixth-place starting spot in the feature)

Jonathan Davenport: Inside the second row of the fourth heat (a heat victory would give him a fourth-place starting spot in the feature)

Devin Moran: Outside the front row of the first heat (a heat victory would give him the pole starting spot in the feature)

Comment: With Saturday's action postponed by rough track conditions, heat races are scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

Time Trials

Ricky Thornton Jr.: 15.363 seconds (third quickest in 31-car qualifying Group A)

Comment: When asked about his qualifying effort, Thornton made an expression that said, “Whoa!” He said he was holding on to negotiate the supersonic, unruly track, noting that the fourth turn was becoming the roughest spot on the half-mile oval. “That’s probably about the best we’re gonna go,” he remarked on his third-fastest time that will put him on the pole position of a heat. “The problem is, the moisture is coming back up on the racetrack.” Thornton’s crew chief, Anthony Burroughs, expressed doubt that the program will be completed to its conclusion this evening if the surface continues to get rougher.

Hudson O’Neal: 15.504 seconds (sixth quickest in 31-car qualifying Group B)

Comment: O’Neal felt fortunate to earn an outside pole starting spot in a heat after turning the sixth-fastest lap in his group. “You just hold on,” he said. “You just kind of get up in there, get pointed in the direction you wanna go and just hope you come out that way. My first lap was OK, my second lap I was a little better down here (in turns one and two) but I just got to hitting the ground so hard down there I just ended up out (on the groove).” Added O’Neal: “It’s not gonna be much of a race (with the surface’s trajectory). However you come out of two is how you’re gonna end up as long you don’t make any mistakes. Hopefully they decide to work on (the surface) or whatever because you don’t want a championship to be decided this way.”

Jonathan Davenport: 15.512 seconds (seventh quickest in 31-car qualifying Group B)

Comment: Davenport said the increasingly rough conditions made it virtually impossible for him to get a feel for how his car is performing. Shortly after returning to his trailer following his seventh-fastest lap, he spoke while walking through the pits to discuss the nature of the track surface with other racers and officials. “We can’t race like that,” he said. “For a lap you can hold on, for 10 laps you might be able to, but about nobody gonna be left at the end (of 100 laps) if we run on that tonight.”

Devin Moran: 15.440 seconds (fourth quickest in 31-car qualifying Group A)

Comment: Moran once again headed directly to the top of his trailer to keep an eye of the competition upon returning to his trailer after turning the fourth-fastest time. His brother, Tristin, spoke to him briefly; he said Devin had one primary assessment of the track (“It’s rough”), but he was satisfied with his time because he “messed up both laps.”

Hot Laps

Ricky Thornton Jr.: Best lap of 15.716 seconds (third quickest in his 10-car hot lap group)

Comment: Thornton said he couldn’t get a true gauge of his car’s strength because the track was so fast and soft, but he noted that his initial fears of the surface becoming exceedingly rough were assuaged slightly after watching the first Steel Block Late Model heat. “It looks like they got it packed down a little bit,” he said. Nevertheless, he predicted that the difficult conditions meant that timing well in qualifying will require a driver to turn a “hero lap.”

Hudson O’Neal: 15.864 seconds (third quickest in his 10-car hot lap session)

Comment: The Rocket house car driver seemed resigned to the fact that the wet weather has created “a racetrack we’re just gonna have to deal with tonight.” He’s prepared for “a long night” of persevering through the conditions — he doesn’t anticipate the track drying out much as the sun sets and temperatures fall — but he expressed hope that the break between the postponed qualifying program and the regularly-scheduled Saturday finale will allow the track crew to do some work that improves the surface.

Jonathan Davenport: 15.682 seconds (quickest in his 10-car hot lap session)

Comment: While Davenport was holed up in his trailer working on shocks and plotting strategy after turning the fastest circuit in hot laps, his crew chief Cory Fostvedt, was hard at work on the right-front corner of the car’s nosepiece. He said Davenport’s practice laps made it clear that some massaging was necessary on the right-front bodywork to keep it from digging into the soft racing surface

Devin Moran: Best lap of 16.074 seconds (third quickest in his 10-car hot lap group)

Comments: As Moran sat atop his Double Down Motorsports trailer after hot laps to keep an eye on the track surface during the Steel Block Late Model heats, his brother, Wylie, reported that Devin didn’t get a clean lap during his practice session because he found himself caught behind other cars.

Time Trial Order

Ricky Thornton Jr.: 24th in Group A (third hot lap group)

Hudson O’Neal: 26th in Group B (sixth hot lap group)

Jonathan Davenport: 13th in Group B (fifth hot lap group)

Devin Moran: 15th in Group A (second hot lap group)

Comment: The four contenders were split two apiece in the qualifying groups. Thornton and Moran could potentially see each other in one of the first three heats and, if they finish among the top three to transfer through the heat, would start in the inside lane of the feature lineup. O’Neal and Davenport could potentially see each other in one of the final three heats and if they transfer would start on the outside lane of the feature lineup.

Pit Area Position

Ricky Thornton Jr. 

Sixth pit stall inside turns one and two in interior lane.

Comment: Crew chief Anthony Burroughs said SSI Motorsports always prefers the interior lane instead of the front lane because it’s less crowded and the proximity to the video board. The team was able to roughly pick its spot for the DTWC.

Hudson O’Neal

Pit stall nearest infield media center in interior lane.

Comment: The Rocket1 team has traditionally parked on the front pit lane nearest the media center (opposite where the hauler sits this weekend), but the team is sticking with the pit spot where the Rocket Chassis house car hauler was for the team’s first-ever World 100 victory last month.

Jonathan Davenport

Fifth pit stall inside turns three and four in interior lane.

Comment: The Double L Motorsports team prefers to park in Eldora's upper pit area — because it allows “way more room” to work efficiently, crew chief Cory Fostvedt said — but because the Steel Block Late Model Series entrants were slotted for the upper pits, the Davenport’s team was forced to pit in the less-desirable infield.

Devin Moran

Second pit stall inside turns one and two in interior lane.

Comment: Moran’s brother Wylie said the team has been in or near the same pit area previously at Eldora, but the team didn’t pick the spot specifically (earlier this year the team has pitted in the outer pits and, for the only time in Devin’s career at an Eldora crown jewel, the frontstretch pit area). This weekend’s position does give the team a perfect view of the video board.