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When Shannon Babb happily bounded into his chassis builder Scott Bloomquist’s trailer after postrace tech following his victory in Friday’s 30-lap Intercontinental Classic preliminary feature at Eldora Speedway, he received a loud, warm welcome.
“There he is!” exclaimed Scott Bloomquist Racing co-owner Cody Sommer, who was inside the trailer reviewing the evening with Bloomquist.
Flashing a megawatt smile, Babb, 46, of Moweaqua, Ill., responded with a joyous synopsis of how his two days at the high-banked, half-mile oval had gone.
“Won a B, won a heat, won an A!” Babb shouted, noting his progression from consolation winner on Thursday to heat and feature victor on Friday.
Without a doubt, it was party time in the Bloomquist camp. Beers and cocktails would soon be flowing to celebrate not only Babb’s long-awaited first-ever triumph at Eldora — a track where he famously was stripped of his apparent 2005 World 100 victory for weighing in light afterward — and first win driving a Bloomquist Race Car but also the first checkered flag for a 2020-model car constructed entirely at SBR’s headquarters in Mooresburg, Tenn.
Sommer, the 32-year-old promoter of the Gateway Dirt Nationals who became Bloomquist’s partner early in 2019, said that “pumped is an understatement” to describe the feeling among Babb and the SBR clan. Both Babb and SBR have been searching for speed this season, so a $10,000 victory on the high-profile Eldora stage was an uplifting development.
“He needed it,” Sommer said of Babb, whose only previous wins in 2020 came with his XR1 Rocket car over a 12-day span in June (a $3,000 MLRA score at Moberly, Mo., and a $5,000 DIRTcar triumph at Fairbury, Ill.). “We needed it, too, because (Babb) had been struggling with that car, and here we were excited to build a new car out of Tennessee.”
This was the moment that Babb and SBR had been waiting for since Babb officially joined the fold during racing’s spring shutdown for the coronavirus pandemic. Babb has long had Bloomquist’s respect — the Hall of Famer has raved about Babb’s talent in the past — and last year Babb ran an SBR car in Eldora’s Dream as Bloomquist was working his way back physically from his March motorcycle accident, but it took longtime St. Louis-area towing company owner and Dirt Late Model benefactor Ed Petroff to get a Bloomquist car in his stable.
“I gotta thank Ed Petroff,” Babb said. “He’s the one who put this together with me with Scott. He’s helped Scott forever and he’s helped me forever, and he’s like, ‘I need to put you two knuckleheads together instead of having you separated and just see what you can do. As tough as everything is today, you guys need to work together and get a little bit better.’ ”
“When Ed Petroff calls and says he wants Babb to have a car,” Sommer related, “Scott told me, ‘Make it happen,’ so we made it happen.”
That entailed Babb making his first pilgrimage to Bloomquist’s Volunteer State shop in mid-March. While there Babb spent time with Bloomquist — during which he further realized that the superstar driver has “a memory like an Apple computer” — and watched Sommers personally put the finishing touches on his new frame.
“Cody Sommer literally put this chassis together and welded it together on the jig,” Babb said. “That’s just how in-depth he is on Scott’s team. He’s building bodies, putting cars together, doing everything, and he wants to learn and know about it all. I think that some people had their doubts (about Sommer’s partnership with Bloomquist), but it’s a lot to ask out of a new guy and obviously he knows what he’s doing.”
While Sommer conceded that there are “a lot of things I’m doing right that I didn’t sign up for” when he entered into his agreement with Bloomquist, welding Babb’s frame wasn’t entirely out of his comfort zone.
“He’s done plenty of welding, and I wasn’t concerned about his ability to weld as much as I went over with him the process of how to do it with these cars,” Bloomquist said of Sommer. “And he’s tedious enough to do it exactly the way it needs to be done. It takes a lot more time, and it’s not near as pretty, but when you’re done you’ve got a quality piece that’ll never break or crack.
“It just shows that there’s nothing he won’t do,” he added. “And … that’s the future (of SBR). We all know that. It’s building cars.”
In the wake of Bloomquist’s close friend and business partner Randy Sweet passing away last November, Bloomquist and Sommer began formulating plans to bring the production of Bloomquist chassis from Sweet Manufacturing in Kalamazoo, Mich., to the SBR shop. No immediate spectacular results from the first three cars built in-house — Babb’s machine as well as one Bloomquist debuted in February at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., and another then SBR team driver Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., brought out for June 19’s World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series weekend at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn. — led to disparaging remarks about the vehicles passing through the Dirt Late Model grapevine.
Both Bloomquist and Sommer heard the critical comments.
“Not everything we’ve done (has come from Michigan in recent years), because we did some cars and Ricky (Weiss) welded them up in Tennessee,” Bloomquist said. “Then we just kind of shut down on that because we were getting them from Sweet’s place. When we started doing ’em again (this year), that’s when the rumor mill got rocking, saying they’re different.
“There’s been a lot of rumors going around about the cars that were (constructed) down in Tennessee. This was a big win just for the gossipers, or the people that are stirring s--- that don’t know what they’re talking about. That’s what tonight was a salute to — don’t think you know things you don’t know anything about.
“It’s just nice to have that over with and behind us,” he added. “We won’t have to listen to it now.”
Sommer agreed: “People say, ’Tennessee cars, they are not good, they won’t work, can’t build ‘em there.’ I’m sorry, but those people can just zip it now. We’ve known (the potential of the cars built on jigs in Mooresburg), but circumstances haven’t allowed us to prove it. It’s hard when you’ve got all these other cars (racing) that are, you know, technically our cars, but they’re not ‘Tennessee’ cars.
“The first 2020 car (constructed in Tennessee), the first go with it was at Volusia and we had some things that weren’t right. Then the pandemic (shutdown) happened and we went to (Minnesota’s) Jackson (Motorplex for a late-May WoO weekend) and we were actually pretty good up there but then Scott got over the cushion or whatever and got the nose bent out (inflicting significant damage) … so we didn’t really get that many laps on that car.
“And then Madden with his new car, the first night out (at Bulls Gap) he fences it. We tried it (with Bloomquist driving after making frame repairs) and were like, ‘Something ain’t right with this car.’
“We haven’t gotten a lot of laps on Tennessee-built cars,” he continued. “The cars we’ve been running (with Bloomquist behind the wheel) were built in 2017. One’s been clipped and been worked on and tweaked. We got a brand new car sitting at the shop, but I’ve got about four more days left to finish it.”
“We don’t have anything (currently in the stockpile) that hasn’t been wrecked multiple times,” Bloomquist said. “We found a couple of things (on his car) and I was fine tonight (he qualified for his first Eldora feature in five attempts this year and finished 17th) … but I just need to get one (of the new Tennessee-birthed cars) for myself.
Babb has actually only entered his Bloomquist car in about a dozen events this season; he’s reserved it primarily for major events at bigger tracks while running his XR1 Rocket as tighter ovals. He’s been feeling increasingly comfortable in the machine, however, and arrived at Eldora confident about his chances.
“I got a little taste of what (a Bloomquist car) felt like (at 2019 Dream), and it was really good,” Babb said. “I love my Rocket, but this thing here maybe suited me a little differently.
“That Stream (Invitational) deal (in June at Eldora), I think we ran in the top 10 (he finished seventh in the 67-lap finale), but I knew then the car was pretty good. I told them guys when I finished the race that I could’ve run another 200 laps. The tires looked brand new on it and I felt good.
“I just need to run it more often,” he added. “I just don’t know my limits on how much to change from one condition to the other, and you can’t get behind with these guys anymore. Everybody’s just so fast.”
In Babb’s most recent outing with the car — the Aug. 20-22 Topless 100 at Batesville Motor Speedway in Locust Grove, Ark. — he believed he could have contended for the century grind’s $40,000 top prize if he hadn’t had tangled with Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., and spun midway through the race.
Babb’s Batesville speed carried over to Eldora, a track that he has been visiting for nearly 25 years with varying degrees of success. His best crown jewel performances are well in the past — since finishing second in the 2006 World 100, he has just three top-10 runs in the sport’s biggest race and hasn’t placed better than 11th in the Dream — but Friday indicated that he’s ready to turn back the clock.
“Oh, man, I haven’t felt good here in a long time,” said Babb, whose best preliminary feature finish at Eldora is second (2016 World 100). “Back in the Rayburn (Chassis) days (in the 2000s), when everything was a lot slower but everyone was still here racing, I felt like my car was pretty good at that time.
“It just feels good to be glued to the ground here. It makes you pull your hair out when you’ve got all good pieces and you can’t get it dialed in — and this thing, (Bloomquist has) got ’er dialed in. It just feels so good.”
Bloomquist, 56, felt a deep sense of satisfaction in watching Babb outduel Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., to emerge victorious on Friday.
“Big salute to Shannon Babb,” said Bloomquist, who owns eight Dream and four World 100 triumphs. “That’s awesome. He’s not won here in a long time … and he got thrown out when he won (the ’05 World 100).
“That’s one of the things we discussed (before Babb became an SBR customer) — I said, ’I sure would like to see you win (a major event at) Eldora before your career is over. If we get you in one of our cars, I swear we can help you to do it.’”
Perhaps Babb will realize that dream in Saturday’s $50,000-to-win Intercontinental Classic finale. But if not, Bloomquist will have still played a role in propelling Babb to his first career Eldora checkered flag — an achievement that left the Land of Lincoln’s favorite son beaming brighter than he has in recent memory.
“It’s just nice to see someone really happy,” Bloomquist said, “and that they got what they thought they were getting (in a car).”