From Gary Heeman and Tyler Beichner
Every year, this time of the year, there are all sorts of great lists of the things that made the year great…..this is one of them!
There were too many moments that we won’t forget to list. But we’d be defaulting on our duties here at TDN to not bring up five unforgettable moments that made 2014 a great year on dirt.
Bloomquist From Worst to First
Scott Bloomquist bested a stout field of 100+ late models en route to the win in the World 100. Okay, we’ve seen that before, and it surprises absolutely nobody.
But, not this year. He started toward the front in typical Bloomquist fashion at Eldora speedway, but was penalized after he took the lead in the early going, for an illegal window net. (Which one of you told on him?).
At any rate, after removing the illegal part, he moved from the tail of the field to the lead again with methodical precision. It wasn’t just the fact that he went from worst to first in less than fifty laps, against the best late model drivers in the world, it was simply that he made it look so easy. It ranks atop our list here as one moment in 2014 that we’ll be talking about for years to come.
Gravel Defeats Posse On Home Turf
Well what can we say, nobody will forget this one for years to come, that’s for sure. David Gravel had a 2014 to remember. He landed a high profile full time WoOSTP ride (well deserved by the way), and had some terrific moments. But on one night at the legendary Williams Grove Speedway, Gravel etched himself in the memory of every central PA sprint fan.
He did that by winning the biggest race of his career, against the toughest home track competition in the world. But the manner in which he did so, will be a point of discussion forever. With seven laps to go in the amain, Gravel and race leader Stevie Smith made contact entering turn one which caused Smith to spin and Gravel to inherit the lead he would never relinquish on the way to his first crown jewel victory on the tour. The contact, it’s in a grey area, not quite charcoal, and not quite silver, is a part of what makes it so memorable. Either way, it’ll go down as one of the most dramatic National Open finishes in history!
Gravel then proceeded to apologize in victory lane, in a stand up move that garnered a good measure of respect.
|Kevin Rivoli Photo|
Friesen Pulls Off Syracuse Thriller
The last time Stew Friesen won at Syracuse, there was outrage by many. The Canadian hot shoe was found to have an illegal fuel cell.
In 2014, he not only won it fair and square, but also with a ballsy move that’ll be remembered for a long time.
With 10 laps remaining in the 200 lap classic, Friesen put his mount on the top side of turn three, a very narrow place to do so with a low probability of success, and pulled it off as he eased around leader Matt Sheppard. Friesen hung on over the final laps to clinch his third victory in the Syracuse 200, and it’s one that will never be in question. It was a day he cemented his legacy at the mile. And he did all this while battling a broken shock mount and a fuel pickup problem for the majority of the race.
|Photo by Tyler Beichner|
Kinser’s rally to win at Volusia as part of Florida Speedweeks may not just be a favorite memory from 2014, but possibly all-time.
We’ve known for years that anytime the years of piloting a sprint car for one Steve Kinser were winding down, so we’ve begun to cherish each victory more than the previous one.
So here we were, a chilly February night in Florida, fresh off the announcement that Kinser was making his last full WoO campaign, when magic happened right before our eyes.
The King put on a show during the World of Outlaws STP Dash (moving up 4 spots in 6 laps) but that only marked the beginning of a special night.
Kinser made his move early and blasted to the lead from his 4th place starting spot, overtaking Daryn Pittman on lap 5. He seemed to be in control much of the race, but a restart on lap 22 closed the gap between the two with the always dangerous Donny Schatz sitting in 3rd. As green flag racing resumed, Pittman took command of the race but only for a lap as Steve Kinser through a slide-job to take back the top spot. The remaining laps were intense but The King never surrendered the lead, continuing on to grab his 577th career WoO Feature win.
Birky’s Swan Song
Was there a better way to say goodbye? Probably not if you ask us. Brian Birkhofer announced his retirement in 2014 (we’ll see how long that lasts), but he went out with style.
He’d had a great car at the Late Model Nationals at Knoxville Raceway, and was among a small handful of drivers who had the best chance to take home the crown jewel event. But when Scott Bloomquist took the lead on lap 62, most everyone in attendance could have written the rest of the story….
What happened in the final laps provided a surreal moment though, as Birkhofer made the pass for the win on the final set of turns as Bloomquist’s car suffered driveline issues.
Some might call it a “gift”, but you’ve got to be there at the end and Birkhofer was, taking home the checkers in the 11th annual Nationals, the last of his career for the foreseeable future. Ironically, Birkhofer was winner of the very first Late Model Nationals.
He was emotional in victory lane, and his typical classy self while he delivered the news that it would mark the end of his racing. But what a way to go out!
|Mike Ruefer Photo|
Davey Johnson Delivers Popular Win
It had been quite some time since the Juice had been a factor on a national scale and 2014 saw him return to victory lane in two national touring races. He took home $20,000 in May with the World of Outlaw Late Models in their appearance at Tyler County Speedway (WV). And although the cash was great, his win in February at East Bay in Lucas Oil Series action was just as impressive, and perhaps more important.
Johnson bested a 34 car field, taking the lead on lap 12 and never looking back to collect his first win at East Bay since 2001, holding off Earl Person Jr, Scott Bloomquist and the rest of the Lucas Boys over 50 laps. It was a common purse, but the win resonated with many late model fans across the country, many of which asked the question in unison that night, “Where the hell has Davey J been?”, followed with “It’s about time, great to have you back Davey J!”
|Hein Brothers Photo|
Pettyjohn Delivers for Veterans
Allow us one sentimental moment that was awesome to see in 2014. And what’s more, it was a great win! Deleware’s Kenny Pettyjohn scored the biggest win of his 30+ seasons in racing at Volusia during the DIRTcar Nationals in February, defeating a very stout field that included both WoO and Lucas regulars.
He pulled away from Brady Smith following a lap 20 caution and cruised to the win in the 30 lap feature, taking home $7,000 in the process. It was a night to remember for Pettyjohn, but the best news was yet to come. Following the victory, he announced that he was donating his entire Speedweek’s earnings to the wounded warrior project, a sum that totaled $11,500. For us at TDN, this moment was as good as any other on the list!
|Tim Johnson Photo|
Crockett Hangs On
It took 66 tries for Medford, Oregon’s Roger Crockett to win his first World of Outlaw sprint car race! He never gives up! And proof of that was on display back in June at I-94 Speedway.
Crockett took the lead from Brad Sweet on lap 8 and worked up a tremendous advantage over him over the course of the next 21 laps. The lead enabled Crockett to survive what at the time appeared to be a moment destined for the heartbreaks of 2014 list.
His right rear blew just after he took the white flag, but he’d build up enough of an advantage to cross the line first.
“I take the white flag and I come off of turn two and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, after all these years I’ve finally won an Outlaw race’ and the tire blows right there,” said Crockett, who was making his 66th World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series start since 2002. “I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ So I go into turn three and I see a lapped car I passed eight laps ago go by me and I think, ‘Man, we might have enough of a lead to do this.’ … I’m not one to give up, and there’s a perfect example. You never give up until you cross that line or until she won’t go no more.”