- Oct. 1 - Knoxville Raceway by Sam Holbrooks


Don O'Neal, Knoxville Late Model Nationals winner

Jeff Bylsma photo

Lucas Oil Series: Owens Slips, O'Neal Pounces to $40,000 "Knoxville Nationals" Win

Bill Wright

KNOXVILLE, Ia. - Oct. 1. Martinsville, Indiana’s Don O’Neal had not been to Knoxville Raceway since 2004 when he was injured here, but the wait was worth it. He captured the eighth annual Lucas Oil Late Model Nationals presented by Casey’s General Stores. The win was worth $40,000 for O’Neal. 

Don O'Neal is joined by crewman Ronnie Stuckey after a huge win at Knoxville.(Mike Ruefer)
Nineteen year old Austin Hubbard led early in the 100-lap event. By the tenth lap, Brian Birkhofer trailed, followed by Scott Bloomquist, Darrell Lanigan and O’Neal. By lap 19, O’Neal had moved by Bloomquist and Birkhofer into the second position as a three-way battle developed for the lead involving O’Neal, Hubbard and Birkhofer. On lap 24, O’Neal shot around Hubbard for the lead.

With 24 laps in the books, the first of many cautions that plagued the event came out for Chris Simpson. Jimmy Mars entered the top five, and was third by the 27th circuit, up from 22nd. The lead trio of O’Neal, Hubbard and Mars separated themselves from the field at the halfway point.

Jimmy Owens asserted himself at that point and passed Mars and Hubbard to move into second on lap 54. Six laps later, he shot under O’Neal for the lead and pulled away from the field despite a number of caution flags.

Don O'Neal and Jimmy Owens at Knoxville

Don O'Neal was ready to pounce when #20 Jimmy Owens jumped the cushion and lost his lead before slipping back to fifth. (Jeff Bylsma) 

Austin Hubbard leads Owens, Birkhofer, and Mars

Austin Hubbard put his #19 out front first. chased by #15 Brian Birkhofer, #20 Jimmy Owens, and #28 Jimmy Mars. (Jeff Bylsma)

Hubbard and O’Neal traded second a few times, before O’Neal snatched the spot with 15 laps to go. Mars great night ended while running fourth on lap 88 when he stopped in turn one. When Brian Harris slowed on lap 92 while running seventh, and a caution for debris came out a lap later, the restarts became single-file.

At that point, Owens led O’Neal, Birkhofer, Steve Francis and Hubbard back to green. When Owens jumped the turn four cushion on lap 96, O’Neal pounced on the mistake and rode the cushion the last four laps to victory. Francis finished a late flurry to finish second, ahead of Birkhofer.

Scott James at Knoxville Raceway

Probably safe to say that Scott James' impromptu "wheelie" was not part of his strategy for winning last night's "Knoxville Late Model Nationals". (Mike Ruefer)

Steve Francis and Brady Smith at the Knoxville Late Model Nationals

Steve Francis raced his #15 to the runner up finish. Brady Smith (2) picked up a total of 31 positions between and B and A Mains to finish eighth. (Mike Ruefer)

“I was in second there for awhile, and I don’t know how many times I did the same thing as Jimmy and jumped the cushion,” said O’Neal in Victory Lane in front of the large crowd. “He raced me clean. It got to where it was hard to steer on the right front. We haven’t been here since 2004. I think we’ll be back next year!”

Tyler Reddick and Billy Moyer at Knoxville Raceway

When he's good, he's good. California teenager Tyler Reddick started 16th and put in a fourth place showing in one of the toughest fields of the season, while #21 Bill Moyer, who swept all three of last year's three events, picked up sixth. (Mike Ruefer) 

A dapper looking Brian Birkhofer (15) improved his late season fortunes considerably with a win on Friday and third place in Saturday's final. (Jeff Bylsma)
“We had a heck of a battle there with Birkhofer for a lot of the race,” said Francis. “With the year we’ve had, this is great. We had a battery go bad on Thursday…it seems like everything has gone against us. A good payday helps. I want to thank all the fans for being here.”

“I was terrible from about lap 30 on,” said Birkhofer. “I’m lucky to be up here. These guys were animals on the cushion. If I was up there, I would have been out of the park. I’m here with the fortune of a lot of cautions.”

Fifteen year old Tyler Reddick drove from 16th to fourth, while Owens settled for fifth. Billy Moyer, Hubbard, Brady Smith, who passed 31 cars through the B and A, Bub McCool and Scott Bloomquist rounded out the top ten.   

Kevin Sather won the non-stop 15-lap C main, while John Blankenship took the 20-lap B main.  

Don O'Neal hd at Knoxville Raceway

Oct. 1 - Knoxville Late Model Nationals

1) Don ONeal, 2) Steve Francis, 3) Brian Birkhofer, 4) Tyler Reddick, 5) Jimmy Owens, 6) Billy Moyer, 7) Austin Hubbard, 8) Brady Smith, 9) Bub McCool, 10) Scott Bloomquist, 11) Brian Shirley, 12) Jared Landers, 13) Mike Marlar, 14) Jason Feger, 15) Ray Cook (prov.), 16) John Blankenship, 17) Brian Harris, 18) Frank Heckenast, Jr., 19) Jimmy Mars, 20) Eric Wells, 21) Denny Eckrich, 22) Darrell Lanigan, 23) Will Vaught, 24) Earl Pearson, Jr. (prov.), 25) Tim McCreadie, 26) Shannon Babb, 27) Jason Rauen, 28) Scott James, 29) Chad Simpson, 30) Chris Simpson, 31) Brad Neat (prov.), 32) Andy Eckrich, 33) Rob Moss.

Jeff Bylsma photo


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