2024 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series at Farmer City Raceway

Shannon Babb's Heartbreak At Farmer City Raceway

Shannon Babb's Heartbreak At Farmer City Raceway

Shannon Babb was in reach of his first Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series win since 2017 on Friday at Farmer City Raceway.

May 11, 2024 by Kyle McFadden

Basically anyone and everyone on the grounds Friday at Farmer City Raceway felt Shannon Babb’s heartbreak. Even Jonathan Davenport and Ricky Thornton Jr. grew empathic for the Moweaqua, Ill., veteran who couldn’t finish the Farmer City 74 feature on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.

The 50-year-old Babb went from the cusp of his first series win since 2017 — leading the $25,000-to-win event with five circuits remaining — to losing the top spot and his car’s power in a subsequent two-lap span.

“Man, I hate that for Babb,” Davenport told FloRacing’s Dustin Jarrett. “After he passed me (for the lead), I was about cheering him on.”

“It was tough to see the yellow and have it be him,” Thornton, the night’s winner, later told DirtonDirt.com. “You wanted to race it out.”

Not many drivers of late have been able to stand up to Thornton, who is now on a three-race win streak, in the closing laps of Lucas Oil Series events. Babb seemed fit for that challenge on Friday, streaking around both Davenport and Thornton on a lap-53 restart to lead laps 55-70.

Then, one circuit after Thornton dislodged Babb from the point on lap 71, his No. 18 Longhorn Chassis suddenly stalled out of second to draw the race’s final yellow. He crept his car back to the pits to try and diagnose the issue, but no answers were immediately found. Babb, however, does have a hunch.

“We really don’t know what happened there,” Babb said. “It just completely lost power and died. We checked it over there, and it looked like something happened to the engine. It was probably a piston or something. We were running it pretty hard. We have some laps on it. These things don’t last forever. We run them pretty hard all the time. It had probably four or five more laps in it.”

Babb said that the engine having more than 800 laps on it prior to the evening might be the simplest way to understand why he suddenly lost power when he needed it most as he tried making his way back around Thornton in the closing laps. For context, Babb likes to have his motors refreshed once they reach the 1,200-lap threshold.

“Nowadays, there’s so many parts to these cars, it’s so hard to control everything,” Babb said. “At any minute it can bite you. … Anyhow, on the bright side, we made a few adjustments tonight that we’ve been wanting to do for this racetrack. And it really panned out. That’s the bright side you always have to look at, you know?”

If there would be a night for the overly optimistic Babb to have wallowed in self pity, it was Friday. But unsurprisingly, Babb took the proverbial high road when reflecting upon his valiant effort. Winning his heat race to eventually leading 16 laps and going pound-for-pound with the two reigning DirtonDirt.com Drivers of the Year — Davenport and Thornton — left Babb smiling even in the midst of puzzling and otherwise heart-wrenching circumstances.

“Yeah, we’re picking and choosing where we race and how we race,” Babb said. “It’s not the result or finishes we’re seeing. But I feel like when we do come out, we’re pretty dang competitive. And we’re happy with that.”

Last month after he also retired early in the Illini 100 finale on the World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series at Farmer City — a broken right-rear axle his demise from the front row on lap two — Babb claimed that it’s been “a while” since he’s had this much excitement for a racing season. Friday he merely backed those words up with what almost became his first Lucas Oil Series win since May 2017 at Luxemburg (Wis.) Speedway.

“I’ve been skipping steps. Tonight we put it all together,” Babb said. “Hot laps, it was pretty wet. That was pretty difficult. In the heat race I felt pretty good. Then we did what we knew what we were going to do for the feature. We didn’t even look at the track conditions. We just did what we knew what we had to do. And it was good. We have a great car. We have all the right pieces. We just need to use them now.”

Babb’s early season speed goes back to Jan. 6-14’s Wild West Shootout at Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park. There he logged a podium, a pair of top-fives and four top-10s with an average finish of 7.7 in six miniseries races, which is a success in his eyes because he had never previously raced at Vado.

The true work, however, began last year when Babb purchased a new fleet of Longhorn Chassis. Being organized and in a position to hit the ground running to start this year has led to showings like Friday. While Babb has expressed the many challenges the modern-day Dirt Late Models present him, he’s enjoyed the process to stay competitive in the late stages of his career.

Babb actually goes as far to say he’s compelled to “think outside the box and ask the right questions” to those he consults with at Longhorn Chassis now more than ever.

“It’s nothing high-tech. It’s just old-school me,” Babb said. “I could save a lot of time if I just sit there and ask more questions. These guys spend a lot of money testing and everything. I respect that. They learn this information by spending a lot of money at times. They just don’t want to easily tell everybody. They’ve helped me get my mind right and answer a few of my questions to make myself better.

“These cars are changing constantly every night,” he added. “We’ve had to go to the drawing board and put our minds to it, and work on things. We’ve had some help with other people. All these guys are fast. I figured, hell, if I can get on an even playing ground with them, maybe I can use my experience to be a little ahead. So anyhow, being behind, you’re not going to get caught up. At least I do feel like I’m close to being in the ballpark with everybody on setups so we can race them.”

For a few moments on Friday, Babb’s experience played into his favor. Restarting third on lap 53, and lining up on Thornton’s outside with Davenport leading, Babb gassed his race machine around the cushion upon Davenport’s launch to slingshot him from third to first in a two-lap span.

It didn’t necessarily catch Thornton by surprise, but it certainly impressed him.

“He was really good,” Thornton said. “I kept picking the bottom on the restart because I didn’t want to get myself hung out in the top in turn one. That last one, he got a really good start and drove by me and J.D. He was doing the right thing there, firing off on the cushion to get some side bite and drive off.”

Thornton had stalked Babb for much of the closing laps, especially when he momentarily slid into the lead through turns three and four on lap 64 only to have Babb counter with a crossover to stay ahead by 0.009 of a second at the start-finish line. Entering turn one on lap 66, Babb also slammed the door on Thornton’s momentous run he generated around the top of turns three and four. That alone upped his lead from 0.183 of a second with nine laps left to 0.745 with six laps remaining.

But then Babb got hung up in traffic and that’s where Thornton made his move. And though Thornton had seemingly landed the knockout blow, Babb felt he could’ve counteracted if not for the premature ending.

“I think we could’ve. The racetrack was great,” Babb said. “It had a lot of different lanes. In one and two, if he happened to hit it wrong and shoot the wrong direction, I think I could’ve got them there. In three and four, there were multiple grooves in three and four.”

Babb then grinned through the following words: “It was more of, like, you want to be cautious, but be aggressive. My full aggressiveness hadn’t come completely out yet. So, there was more if I had to get it on.”

Babb’s very hopeful there’s more to capitalize on for the rest of the season. That resumes at another favorite place of his Saturday at Fairbury (Ill.) Speedway where he’ll employ his backup car for the $30,000-to-win main event to be safe until he can regroup his program to full strength next week at the race shop.

“To do things right, I don’t want to put another engine in that car and have metal or a dirty oil system,” Babb said. “I’ll just wait to get to the shop to work on that. And then I’ll just run my car I know is 100 percent. It’s my older car I ran a lot last year. We hadn’t ran it this year, but I’ve been wanting to get it and make laps on it.”

“It was fun racing with those guys,” Babb added. “Makes me feel god we’re able to race with those guys. Maybe we can do it again tomorrow night.”