The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Pepsi 75 was scheduled to take place Sunday night at Portsmouth Raceway Park. It finally happened - Monday morning at 12:18 a.m.
The big race carried a $10,000 purse and brought in some of the biggest names in the Lucas Oil series. With all that on the line, most of the roughly 4,000 fans didn't mind sticking out an hour-long power outage to see Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky. take home the giant check in his first Lucas Oil win of 2007. Francis' win is his fourth on the series but his first outside of Florida.
“We were on kind of a dry spell there,” said Francis. “We won there at Kentucky Lake and we were able to win the World of Outlaws show in Canada and then to come back and get a Lucas Oil show all in the same week makes for a pretty good week.”
Francis led all 75 laps of the late model feature but it was far from easy. The top three drivers, Francis, Billy Drake and defending PRP track champion Jackie Boggs, broke away from the field early and Drake challenged Francis for the lead on several occasions.
Boggs, the only PRP track regular with a win on the Lucas Oil series, challenged Drake and later had to fight to hold the three spot as Clint Smith challenged him.
Audie Schwartz, who won the limited late model feature on Sunday night/Monday morning is a regular at PRP and was glad to see Boggs finish well.
“I'm real proud of him,” said Schwartz. “I'm glad to see him getting a decent finish he didn't run so good (Saturday night). I was hoping to see him get a good run tonight and he did.”
Boggs and the rest of the field were ready to go at the conclusion of the modified heat races but shortly after the last modified heat got started, half the lights went out. A transformer behind the press box blew a fuse cutting the power to the PRP concession stands, the press box, the VIP boxes and most importantly, the frontstretch of the track. The race was immediately stopped by track officials at just before 10 p.m. and was power restored by AEP an hour and 15 minutes later.
Lucas Oil was making its first ever trip to the PRP and the fans in attendance were treated to six top-notch heat races in the late model division as 66 late model cars entered to try for the $10,000. To make the 24-car feature, racers had to finish in the top three of a heat race or top two of the B main race. That left two provisional spots for the top two Lucas Oil drivers in the points standings. Heat winners included Lucas Oil points leader Earl Pearson Jr., Billy Drake, Jackie Boggs, Rod Conley, Clint Smith and Steve Francis. Brian Birkhofer and Scott James won the two B mains.
Casebolt, currently second in points, gained some ground on Pearson Jr. by finishing eighth to Pearson's 10th. Scott James, currently third in the standings finished seventh and fourth in the standings Terry English finished 14th.
For the big race there were far more merchandise trailers than usual offering fans the chance to buy T-shirts of the drivers they may have seen on T.V. Also, fans had the chance to test their late model driving skills in racing simulator.
“I think that the car count we had was just tremendous and the number of spectators we had was just phenomenal,” said PRP co-promoter Chuck Greenslate. “That might be one of the biggest crowds we have had in the 17-year history of this track. I thought the fans were treated to some great racing especially in the heat races and throughout the night."
Lucas Oil Public Relations Director James Essex said the event went well and the series would like to come back.
“We appreciated the opportunity to be able to race there and hopefully, with the way the crowd went, we'll be back next year,” said Essex. “Maybe even twice in 2008 we'll see how it goes. I was very impressed with the size of the crowd and if not for the fuse in the transformer, we would've been done in a more timely manner.”
Running along with the series race, PRP featured a full program of modified and limited late model races as well. The feature races from those division's happened after the Pepsi 75 and continued in the early morning hours, finally ending around 2 a.m.
In the modified division Josh Weinmann ran away with a win over Doug the Buzzard Adkins for his first ever win at PRP. Weinmann, who is from Columbus and had to work this morning, said he called his boss with a message.
“It's nice. It's real nice (to get this win),” said Weinmann. “I'm gonna call my boss and tell him I'm gonna be a little bit late.”
In the final race of the night Schwartz took home the top spot for limited lates. Schwartz, who also ran in the late model division, was happy to win but would have liked to make the late model feature. He finished ninth in his late model heat and seventh in the B main.
“I want to thank dad he's been a big help this week and my crew, little John and guys with the late model,” said Schwartz. “We got going there in the B main but it was too late.”
The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series will stay in Ohio tonight and continue with the next race at Muskingum County Speedway in Zanesville for the Crenos 50 which will also pay $10,000 to win.
PRP is off this coming Saturday but returns with the Limited Late Model Eztravaganza on July 14. The next big late model race is July 21 when the Independent Racing Series makes its first trip to PRP.
JOHN STEGEMAN can be reached at email@example.com