- Feb. 15 - Volusia Speedway Park by Sam Holbrooks

Don O'Neal after his 11th-hour win at Volusia Speedway Park. (Brian McLeod) 
UMP: O'Neal Overtakes Mars On Final Lap For Volusia DIRTcar Nationals Victory

Kevin Kovac

BARBERVILLE,  Fla. - Feb. 15. Don O'Neal of Martinsville, Ind., turned back the clock with a vintage performance at Volusia Speedway Park.

Flashing the form that made him a perennial star of the DIRTcar Nationals by University of Northwestern Ohio from 2002-2004, O'Neal passed Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., on the final circuit to win Tuesday's 30-lap DIRTcar UMP Late Model A-Main.

The $7,000 triumph was the eighth of O'Neal's career in DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH action - tops among all drivers since 1998, but it was his first win at the sweeping half-mile oval since the 2004 edition of the mid-winter racing classic.

Jimmy Mars - Dojn O'Neal - Volusia Speedway Park

Jimmy Mars (#28) led 29 laps of Tuesday's 30-lap feature, but a lap 27 caution gave #1 Don O'Neal a shot at the leader, and he took it on the final circuit for his first win at VSP in seven years.  (Mike Ruefer)

"I don't know if I can ever recapture that again,"”O'Neal said of the Volusia magic that carried him to two wins in 2002, three in 2003 and two in 2004. "That was just one of them deals where you can do nothing wrong. But we have won two already this year (in Florida after also capturing Sunday's UMP-sanctioned event at Ocala Speedway), so maybe we can get another one this week and leave here feeling like we did back then.”

O'Neal, 46, returned to Volusia's spotlight in dramatic fashion. He appeared headed to a third-place finish until a lap-27 caution flag for the stopped car driven by John Blankenship.– This allowed him to vault past Brady Smith of Solon Springs, Wis., and Mars with a memorable outside charge behind the wheel of Larry Moring's MasterSbilt machine.

Mars, who started second and led laps 1-29, fell to O'Neal's top-side assault rounding turns three and four for the last time. O’Neal surged ahead off the fourth corner to beat Mars by 0.381 of a second.

Smith, who won the World of Outlaws Late Model Series event that closed last year's DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH, moved forward from the sixth starting spot to place third. Two-time defending WoO LMS champion Josh Richards,  who started 14th, picked up two spots following the race’s final restart to finish fourth and opening-night DIRTcar UMP winner Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., settled for a quiet fifth-place finish after starting 10th.

O'Neal, who started fifth, climbed up to second by lap 12 before ceding the position to Smith nine circuits later. He was resigned to finishing third until the race’s second and final caution flag was needed on lap 27.

After immediately shooting to the outside of turns one and two on the restart to overtake Smith for second, O'Neal drew close to Mars. Mars slid up to repel O'Neal's initial challenge off turn two on lap 28, but O'Neal made the outside work the next lap.

"That yellow flag sort of gave me a new life," said O'Neal, who did not enter the DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH for the last two years. "I had never been on that top there (of turns one and two) the whole race, but I thought, `Man, I got nothing to lose running third here,’so I hauled her off in there and that top was pretty good down in one and two.”

Don O'Neal VL1 - Volusia Co

A late caution gave Don O'Neal a shot at leader Jimmy Mars, and he took it on the final circuit for his first win at VSP in seven years.  (Gary Shrey photo)

Mars, who turns 39 on Feb. 28, fell short of reaching Victory Lane at Volusia for the first time since the 2000 DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH.

"A late-race caution kind of sucks, but it is what it is,"”said Mars, who is competing in the DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH this season after a three-year absence. "Don did a helluva' job out there. I came off the corner and I heard him out there, so I did all I could do to get to the top but it just wasn't there. I just had to let him go."”

Polesitter Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., slipped backward throughout the distance and finished sixth. Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., placed seventh, followed by 17th starter Dan Schlieper of Sullivan, Wis., Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., who started third and was fifth for the lap 27 restart, and Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn.

With group qualifying utilized to set the starting lineups for the evening's six heat races, Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., turned the overall fastest lap at 16.117 seconds. But his night ended there because terminal engine problems forced him to scratch from his pole starting spot in the sixth heat.

Other group fast-timers were Davenport (17.916), O’Neal (17.470), Owens (17.240), Mars (16.798) and Brady Smith (16.562).

Don O'Neal hd - VSP

Feb. 15 - Volusia Speedway Park DirtCar Nationals
1) Don O’Neal, 2) Jimmy Mars, 3) Brady Smith, 4) Josh Richards, 5) Billy Moyer, 6) Jimmy Owens, 7) Dale McDowell, 8) Dan Schlieper, 9) Jonathan Davenport, 10) Scott Bloomquist, 11) Tyler Reddick, 12) Pat Doar, 13) Kent Robinson, 14) Jack Sullivan, 15) John Mason, 16) Jason Feger, 17) Dennis Erb, Jr. (prov.), 18) Tommy Kerr, 19) John Blankenship, 20) Earl Pearson, Jr., 21) Chub Frank, 22) Tim McCreadie, 23) Casey Roberts, 24) Rick Eckert, 25) Tim Fuller
Fast Time: Chris Madden 16.117 seconds; Heat winners: Davenport, O'Neal, Owens, Mars, Brady Smith, Robinson; B-Main winners: Reddick, Feger, Sullivan; Dash winner: Robinson

 Brian McLeod photo



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