Dale McDowell wears many hats in the dirt racing world. Besides being one of the top drivers in the sport, he serves as a track owner/promoter, a mentor and a driving school instructor. On Friday night at the Smoky Mountain Speedway, the Chickamauga, Georgia native offered a lesson on working through slower traffic while holding off the competition.
McDowell led all 40 laps of the feature event in the first of two nights at the Maryville, Tenn. track on his way to collecting a $7,500 payday. And to do so, he had to beat out one of the most impressive fields of cars and drivers assembled on an east Tennessee track in quite some time.
East Tennesseans led the way in time-trials as Mike Marlar of Winfield set the early pace by posting the fastest lap in Group A qualifying and overall with a time of 15.881 seconds around the 4/10 mile clay oval. Billy Ogle, Jr. of Knoxville led the way in Group B with a mark of 15.962 seconds. In all, 40 cars made an attempt to earn a feature starting spot.
The four heat races used to determine which drivers would make the feature were won by McDowell, Kent Robinson, Chris Madden and Ray Cook. The two B-mains that served to complete the starting lineup were won by William Thomas and Shane Clanton.
The top-2 finishers from each heat race participated in a redraw that established their starting spots for the main event. Cook drew the pole position with McDowell, Madden, Robinson, Ogle, Don O’Neal, Scott Bloomquist and Jonathan Davenport filling in the remainder of the first four rows.
At the start of the 40-lap feature, McDowell bolted from the outside of the front row to take the early lead with Cook, Madden, Robinson and Ogle in hot pursuit. Within a matter of three laps, the #17m machine had pulled from the field while Cook, Madden and Robinson fought for the right to pursue the leader.
As green flag laps continued to click off, the threat of heavy traffic loomed in front of the lead cars. Finally on lap 10, the inevitable happened and McDowell found himself mired behind some of the top names in the sport, who were not keen on going a lap down to the leader.
Briefly, Cook and Madden closed to McDowell’s rear spoiler but the crafty veteran was able to slice through the slower cars and put distance on his rivals at the same time. Madden was eventually able to get around Cook for the runner-up spot on lap 16 while O’Neal briefly made his way into the top-5 with a pass of Ogle.
McDowell would never be seriously challenged during the second half of the race but a hornet’s nest of activity buzzed behind him as top-5 combatants fought for position while working through lapped cars.
Ultimately in the end, Dale McDowell won the caution free race ahead of Chris Madden, Ray Cook, Billy Ogle, Jr., Kent Robinson, Scott Bloomquist, Don O’Neal, Jonathan Davenport, John Blankenship and Chris Ferguson.
“The car was good,” McDowell said from Victory Lane. “I tore it up last week but Shane(McDowell, brother and crew chief) and the guys at TDR(Team Dillon Racing) worked hard and put it back together.
“When you’re out front it’s hard to judge where you need to be but I found something there at the end that helped me get through the traffic.”