2023 Castrol Gateway Dirt Nationals

Dome Storylines: Nick Hoffman Brings Back Just The Steering Wheel

Dome Storylines: Nick Hoffman Brings Back Just The Steering Wheel

Storylines from the 2023 Castrol Gateway Dirt Nationals at The Dome at America's Center in St. Louis.

Dec 20, 2023 by Kyle McFadden

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Dec. 16) — Tanner English impressed again at the Castrol Gateway Dirt Nationals.

The Benton, Ky., driver's third-place finish from the 10th-starting spot to end up on the podium alongside $30,000 winner Brandon Sheppard and runner-up Ricky Thornton Jr., DirtonDirt.com's Driver of the year, is exactly the pick-me-up the 30-year-old needs before the holiday break.

“Definitely. It’s a big confidence-booster going into the winter,” English said. “We have something to build on and hopefully carry some momentum into Speedweeks.”

English's third-place run Saturday marks his third consecutive podium finish, trying him with Sheppard and two-time race winner Tyler Carpenter for the most all-time at the indoor St. Louis spectacle.

Saturday’s performance also gives English 20 podiums to conclude the 2023 season largely spent as a World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series traveler. Among those podium runs include Aug. 26’s runner-up finish at Davenport (Iowa) Speedway’s Quad City 150, Aug. 5’s third-place finish at the USA Nationals, June 24’s third-place finish at 81 Speedway’s $30,000-to-win WoO event in Park City, Kan., May 27’s runner-up at Sharon Speedway’s $25,000-to-win WoO event, April 22’s runner-up at Talladega Short Track’s Alabama Gang 100, and Jan. 28’s third-place finish at Golden Isles Speedway near Brunswick, Ga.

“Financially, this is probably my best year, money-winning wise,” English said. “We didn’t even win that many races; just a lot of seconds in a lot of big-paying races. Talladega we won $25,000, but nobody knows that because we finished second. I mean, Davenport that big $30,000-to-win race, I won $15,000 for second. 

“I could go on for days it seems like. But nobody remembers who runs second. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to get over that hump and try something different, get an edge on somebody.”


VIDEO: Tanner English & Globo Gym Score Another Gateway Podium

A large component of English “trying to get over that hump” is the recent investment of their new BMF Race Car, which the Viper Motorsports team debuted at Nov. 2-4’s World Finals. Two weeks later, English picked up a $10,000 Gobbler victory at Duck River Raceway Park in Wheel, Tenn.

Perhaps Saturday’s Gateway finale would’ve ended two spots better if not for squandering the final automatic transfer spot in Friday’s prelim. Riding in the third and final transfer position, English was three laps away from a guaranteed starting position in the first three rows of Saturday's feature until Shepherd found another gear and blasted past while English slipped to fifth.

“I thought I could get away with trying to play it safe (on Friday),” English said. “My car was a little bit off. I needed a little bit more. We’re still building a notebook. As I said, it’s the first time we’ve come here with this car. I think we’re going to be really good. I just need to go a little bit further; go a step further on the setup and I think we’ll be that much better.”

“Track position (Saturday) would’ve helped,” English added. “Starting up front would’ve been good. I felt like we were good. I don’t know; who knows. I couldn’t really see (the leaders). So I don’t know how close I was to their speed. I felt pretty good. I was happy with it.” — Kyle McFadden

Nick Hoffman’s Eventful Race

As Nick Hoffman stood in the Dome’s infield waiting for a tow truck to hook up his battered Tye Twarog-owned Longhorn car after the Castrol Gateway Dirt Nationals finale, he neatly described his situation.

“Well, the car owner tells you to bring back just the steering wheel, that’s what you do,” he said with a laugh. “I was just giving ‘er everything I had.”

The appearance of Hoffman’s machine certainly was proof. Not only was the right-rear corner of its bodywork completely torn apart, but it sported two blown rear tires as well. It looked like it had been through a war

A 31-year-old native of nearby Belleville, Ill., who now resides in Mooresville, N.C., Hoffman ran the entire 40-lap distance and finished ninth. The last 10 circuits, however, were rough on Thursday’s $5,000 preliminary feature winner as he plummeted from second place, the position he occupied for the race’s first 30 laps.

Hoffman, who started fourth, settled in behind eventual flag-to-flag victor Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., on the opening lap and kept him in sight for much of the distance. But his hopes for a $30,000 triumph slipped away down the stretch.

“Sheppy there was pretty damn good, a little better than I was down there in (turns) three and four but I could keep pace in down in one and two,” Hoffman said. “He was doing the right thing, hammering the top down here (in three and four), and when the track’s got a high side like that he’s about the best in the country. Down here (in one and two) I felt like was gonna be my strong suit but I just got my car a little too tight to run down there like I needed to.

“I probably just tried to give it a little too much and I smacked the wall off of two a couple times, and I was like, ‘Man, I’m gonna end up killing the right-rear tire, popping the right-rear,’ and I think I ended up slicing it. It started to go down and I could feel it start to lay more on the right-rear, and then we had contact off of two with (Devin) Moran and (Tanner) English there, and I think that’s what got the left-rear (tire).

“So I ended up with two flat tires,” he added, “but it’s the white flag so I was just limping back around to at least finish.”

Hoffman, whose right-rear tire exploded at the start-finish line on the last circuit with a giant chunk of rubber flying high into the air, was disappointed with his result but still managed to smile about being part of an intense race.

“That was pretty badass,” said Hoffman, who previous appearances in the Gateway Dirt Nationals Late Model finale produced finishes of third (2021) and eighth (’16). “I think the race fans should’ve got a pretty decent show out of that deal.

“I enjoyed the hell out of it. I hope the race fans did. It just didn’t fall my way. It’s just the way this deal goes sometimes. A lot of it comes down to the redraw, but right there, the racetrack was good enough, if I was just a little better I could’ve passed Sheppy.” — Kevin Kovac

Moran Settles For Fourth

When Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, shot from the eighth starting spot to third place by lap 10 of Saturday’s 40-lap feature, he thought he might just roll all the way to the front.

“The car was good,” the 29-year-old driver said of his Rick and Jess Mardis-owned Kryptonite machine that he drove in the Gateway Dirt Nationals for the second straight year.

But Moran wasn’t able to climb any higher. He leveled off at third for most of the race’s middle stages before ultimately crossing the finish line in fourth place.

“The track, it kind of lost that little bit of grip at the top that I really needed, and my car started bucking worse and worse,” said Moran, who scored a career-best Gateway finale finish after previously placing sixth (’22) and 20th (’16). “Once it did, I couldn’t make that run off the corner. Early in the race I felt like I could drive off the corner really, really hard, and I could throw a little bit of a slider deal and not run over anybody.

“I’m just happy that Rick and Jess Mardis could let me do this. They’re just friends from home and they race locally. They’re from West Lafayette, Ohio, about half-hour away (from Moran’s home).”

Moran was extremely upbeat after the race as he praised the conditions for the weekend’s headline affair.

“I feel like that’s the best racetrack for the feature they’ve ever had,” Moran said. “It wasn’t stupid rough, but they had enough grip up top in the cushion that you still ran up there. I thought it was awesome. Ricky and Sheppard railing the top, Tanner was on the bottom, I could kind of move around wherever. It was a lot of fun.

“I felt like it provided good racing. You get the best cars out there (for the feature) and there’s only two cautions (both for slowing cars), so that was cool.” — Kevin Kovac

Odds And Ends

Sixth-starting Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa, climbed as high as third early the feature before settling for a fifth-place finish driving Illinois racer Jason Suhre’s MB Customs car. “We just left it a little free to run through the holes,” he said after besting his two previous Gateway finale finishes of 18th (’16 and ’22). We pulled out there and they didn’t tear (the surface) up as much as I thought they would, which I was happy they didn’t because I didn’t want to run through the holes, but we would’ve left the car a little tighter if we would’ve known.” … Last year's winner Tyler Erb of New Waverly, Texas, made the most of his past winner's provisional, advancing from the 20th starting spot to finish sixth. He cracked the top 10 on lap 26 and reached his finally finishing position as the white flag was displayed. … While two-time Gateway winner Tyler Carpenter of Parkersburg, W.Va., saw his relatively quiet weekend end on lap nine with a cut left-front tire from a slap of the frontstretch wall as he ran 13th, his 52-year-old father, Freddie, uphold the family name with a seventh-place finish in the 40-lapper. The elder Carpenter said he thought a top-five finish would have been possible in his first-ever start in Gateway’s finale if his car’s right-rear tire hadn’t been deflating for the last five laps. … Freddie Carpenter was one of six first-time starters in the Gateway finale, joining Mike Harrison of Highland, Ill. (finished eighth), Kyle Hardy of Stephens City, Va. (11th), Spencer Hughes of Meridian, Miss. (15th), Jacob Magee of Caney, Kan. (17th) and Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn. (20th). ... Chad Zobrist of Highland, Ill., finished 18th in his first appearance in Gateway’s finale since 2019. He had missed the last two feature fields after qualifying for the first four (and scoring three top-10 finishes). … Brandon Sheppard became the fourth driver to lead every lap of the Gateway headliner, joining Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn. (2016), Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill. (’18) and Tyler Carpenter (’21). … Sheppard and Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., who finished 14th, are now the only remaining drivers who have started all seven Gateway finales. Bobby Pierce and Gordy Gundaker of St. Charles, Mo., fell from that group after heat-race troubles left them spectators during the 40-lapper for the first time. — Kevin Kovac