Blackburn clinches LPR Late Model championship
by STEVE LeMASTER
COEBURN, Va. - The Late Model division track championship was settled Saturday night at Lonesome Pine Raceway with Steve Blackburn winning both Twin-50 events to maintain his lead in the point standings over Wayne Hale.
The question now is whether Blackburn's two wins Saturday night will be enough to overtake the slim lead that Motor Mile Speedway's Frank Deiny held over Blackburn coming into this weekend's action in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Atlantic Region title race.
The first Late Model Twin 50 Saturday night was reminiscent of numerous Late Model races this season at LPR with Blackburn starting on the pole and Bluff City, Tenn.'s Wayne Hale beside him on the outside of the front row. Blackburn got a good jump on the initial start and grabbed the leading, and he was able to maintain a couple car-length lead over Hale the entire race. Hale may have spent more time looking out his mirror than windshield, however, as Chesapeake, Va. driver Woody Howard who made a barnstorming stop at LPR Saturday dogged Hale the entire race. On several occasions Howard took a look under Hale heading into a corner, and then appeared to back off rather than take a chance of spinning a track championship contender.
Hale barely held on to finish second behind Blackburn and ahead of Howard in the first feature. Roger Neece finished fourth in the Blackburn backup car and veteran Kingsport driver Jeff Berry finished fifth.
With a possible mechanical problem brewing Howard opted to sit out the second 50 lap feature. That put Blackburn and Neece on the front row for the start, with Hale starting on the inside of row two. On the initial start, however, Hale made contact with Blackburn in the first corner, sending Blackburn spinning and setting up a chain reaction that also collected Neece and Berry. Despite some bent sheet metal all four cars were able to return to the field, starting at the rear of the 14 car pack. That put Buddy Talbert on the pole beside Caleb Holman for another double file start. It wasn't long, however, before Blackburn started picking off cars one by one, and on lap 22 he passed Talbert for the lead in heavy lapped traffic. Talbert running second and Holman in third with 20 laps to go appeared on their way to their best finishes of the season with an extensive lead over Neece in fourth and Hale in fifth. That is, until the caution flag flew with 17 laps to go, bunching up the field again. With nearly a full straight-away deficit erased Neece and Hale were able to pass Talbert and Holman for position shortly after the restart. Talbert fell out of the race near the end with an apparent mechanical problem. Meanwhile, Blackburn checked out from the rest of the pack and won the season Late Model finale ahead of Neece, Hale, Berry and Holman.
Blackburn said after the race it was a dream come true to win the track championship at LPR, and now it's time to wait and see what will come of his regional title hopes.
"We just hope everything goes OK and keep our fingers crossed," Blackburn said. "That was a hell of a race. When that happened on the first lap I said I'll just have to get in here and dig."
Motor Mile Speedway and Frank Deiny don't end their NASCAR Weekly Racing Series regular season until Sept. 25, so Blackburn has a few weekends to sweat it out.
"Time will tell," Blackburn said. "Car count is really what has hurt us this year. If we get it, great, and if not it just wasn't meant to be. If I finish second or third in the region that's still a big accomplishment, and we're just tickled to death to win the points championship here."
Although Neece has started several raced in the Blackburn backup car this season, they have been "start and park" races to help build up the car count, which is so important in the NASCAR regional title chase equation. Saturday night, however, he was rewarded with two full races and turned in a couple of solid top-five runs for his effort.
"I had a good time, and I tell you...that was a race," said Neece who stars in the LPR Sportsman and Grand Stock divisions. "Steve let me drive tonight because I helped him out with his points, and I wouldn't be able to do this without him. I've never driven a car that handled like this, and it's awesome to me compared to what I'm used to."
Blackburn ends the Late Model season with 1,032 points ahead of Hale with 998 and Will McKnight taking a championship podium position with 748 points. Rounding out the top-10 in final Late Model points were drivers who missed several races this season including Steve Treadway (628), Royce Peters (580), Jeff Berry (558), Eric McClure (482), Michael Kidd (444), Jeff Woodward (406), and Caleb Holman (388)
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