2024 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series at East Bay Raceway Park

Daulton Wilson Breaks Through On Emotional Night At East Bay Raceway Park

Daulton Wilson Breaks Through On Emotional Night At East Bay Raceway Park

Daulton Wilson won Saturday's last Winternationals race at East Bay Raceway Park for his first Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series victory.

Feb 11, 2024 by Kyle McFadden

At last. After two formative seasons with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series defined by growing pains and nine runner-up finishes, Daulton Wilson emerged Saturday at East Bay Raceway Park as the breakthrough touring winner he’s always sought to be.

The last-ever Wieland Winternationals at the third-mile oval in its final season of operations had already been bound for a sentimental, tear-jerking outcome. Then the Fayetteville, N.C., driver amplified the emotional night by giving Dirt Late Model onlookers one heckuva memory to forever hold onto as legendary East Bay ends its storied run as the synonymous kingpin of Georgia-Florida Speedweeks. 

For a driver who’s had practically lifetime to prepare a Lucas Oil Series victory lane speech, Wilson was, when it came down to it, pretty speechless when his lifelong mission finally became a reality.

“Man, I don’t know what to say,” an emotional Wilson said, his voice cracking in victory lane. “It’s a dream come true. My whole family is right there. They sacrificed everything for me. They believe in me 100 percent. My guys, my car owner, (manager Jeff) Gullett … everybody believed in me for this opportunity, and everybody along the way that gave me a chance for helping me. I can’t thank any of them enough.”

Wilson’s tone of voice then softened as he tried concluding his initial thoughts to realizing a dream.

“We finally got it done,” he said.

Indeed, Wilson sealed the deal on Saturday, and he did so rather decisively. Two moments stick out above the rest when unpacking Wilson’s drive to victory. The first came via Wilson’s swift dispatching of Tyler Erb for the lead on lap 16, an exchange that Wilson completed in one sliding move through turns one and two.

The second came with five laps to go as Wilson and Erb worked lapped traffic, namely the lapped car of Boom Briggs. Separated by two car lengths entering turn three at the time, Wilson heaved his Jason Ratliff-owned No. 18D underneath and around Briggs. Erb attempted to pass Briggs in one, clean maneuver like Wilson, but upon the exit of turn four clipped Briggs with his right-rear quarter panel.

Two laps later the caution came out for Briggs as Erb continued to put Wilson under serious duress.

“I thought I gave it away before the caution ever came out,” Wilson said. “You know, my car is really good. We’ve been working on it this week.”

Fortunately for Wilson, the caution couldn’t have intervened at more of an opportune time. From there, he turned in three more clean laps on the ensuing restart while Erb slipped from second to third and into the clutches of Brandon Sheppard.

"As I’ve said, we’ve been digging on this thing all week,” Wilson said. “We got off there during the middle of week but we hunkered back down. And the racetrack kind of threw us for a curveball, and we didn’t know what we were going to get for the feature, but it can about drive itself right now. I’m just the lucky guy that gets to hold the steering wheel.”

As for Erb, the polesitter, he led the opening 15 laps and paced the main event for the fourth time in six races this year. The self-professed East Bay lover looked to be on his way to a seventh-career East Bay win in his career on Saturday until Wilson’s convincing ways turned the tide.

Erb couldn’t be upset by the result. He and Wilson have grown to be good buddies these last two years.

“He deserves it. He’s been really, really fast,” Erb said. “It’s taken him like three years. I can feel like that pain. I know what it’s like to win. Yeah, this is a helluva place to win your first race, too. Congrats to him and his whole family and team. I’ve gotten really close to Daulton in the last three years. If anybody could win, I’d definitely like to see him.”

Still falling short after establishing the early tone does sting a little bit for Erb, who wonders if he was a little too lenient through the first batch of slower cars during the second-longest green flag run of the night (laps five through 18 whereas the longest run came laps 28 through 45).

“It does suck. I had the lead and was maybe being too patient,” Erb said. “I don’t know. I ran him down there in lapped traffic. Just made the wrong decision and couldn’t capitalize on it. Gave her all I had the last three laps there and about flipped out of the ballpark. But yeah, all in all a great week for us. … Just looking forward to the rest of the year racing. I can’t thank everybody enough who helps us.”

Judging Saturday’s overwhelming and bustling crowd at large, there didn’t seem to be a person in attendance who had a hard time supporting Wilson’s special breakthrough moment. Instead of streams of people lining for the exit gates upon feature finish, majority of the crowd stayed put to witness Wilson’s victory lane scene.

Even outside general admission seating, competitors flocked to the scales in the back pits to affirm and congratulate Wilson in his latest, biggest accomplishment. And it was all equally special for the driver who over the last 21 races entering Saturday on the Lucas Oil Series dating back to last September had six podium finishes.

He was the bridesmaid no more.

“Man, look at all these people,” Wilson said. “You go across the scales down there, like every race team is giving me high-fives. This is awesome. As I said, I can’t thank everybody enough. … This is a dream come true. I remember coming here watching racing. I said, ‘Man, it’d be awesome to just get to race. As I said, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity and great people around me. To be standing up here in such a short period of time really is just awesome.”

Notes: Jensen Ford slowed out of the third on lap 21 and received medical attention shortly after as part of a 10-minute red-flag, the aftereffects of hopping the ruts so turbulently in turns one and two that he banged his head against his head rest and left him dazed. Medical staff checked him for a concussion, but never diagnosed with him one. … Saturday marked the first time six different winners emerged during through Winternationals since 2011. … Hudson O’Neal had worked his way from 25th to 14th before pulling into the hot-pit area during the lap-21 stoppage. … Five cautions slowed the feature: On lap five for fourth-running Garrett Alberson who caught the short end of the stick in the battle for second between Briggs and Ford; on lap 18 for 16th-running Mike Spatola; lap 21 for Ford; lap 28 for an overheating Dillon McCowan; and then the slowing Briggs on lap 45.