The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series kicked off its 2018 season with a thrilling feature race at Golden Isles Speedway in Waynesville, GA. Defending series champion Josh Richards picked up where he left off in 2017 as the winner of the season finale Dirt Track World Championship scored a $10,000 victory on Friday night. But his win did not come without a challenge as he had to fight off a strong late race challenge from a hard charging Hudson O’Neal.
Jonathan Davenport began the night by setting fast time in Group A qualifying and overall by posting a lap of 16.070 seconds to beat out Kyle Bronson, Jason Jameson, Jimmy Owens and Don O’Neal in that group.
Richards proved to be fastest in Group B with a quick time of 16.185 seconds to best Scott Bloomquist, Mason Zeigler, Brent Larson and Earl Pearson, Jr.
Davenport earned the pole position for the feature by winning heat one over Shane Clanton, Don O’Neal and Gregg Satterlee while Owens took the second preliminary ahead of Bronson, Brandon Overton and Hudson O’Neal.
Richards would start the feature from the outside of the front row in the feature by virtue of his win in the third heat race over Pearson, Darrell Lanigan and Morgan Bagley while Larson bettered Bloomquist, Brandon Sheppard and Bobby Pierce in the fourth and final preliminary.
Tim McCreadie and Mason Zeigler were the winners of the two B-main events used to set the remainder of the field for the main event.
At the start of the 50-lap feature, Davenport and Richards looked as if they were already in mid-season form as they conducted a slide job swapping battle that resulted in multiple lead changes over the first four laps. Richards finally emerged from that fight with the lead with Owens, Clanton and a tight battle between Larson and Pearson just behind.
A lap 8 caution for the slowing car of Casey Roberts allowed fans and competitors alike to catch a collective breath before the battle would be rejoined. Once the green flag waved once more, Richards bolted out to a relatively comfortable advantage as Owens wrested the runner-up spot away from Davenport.
Richards continued to control the pace of the race, even when he encountered slower traffic on lap 19 as Owens, Davenport, Pearson and Sheppard ran in tight formation about a straightaway behind the leader. Owens and Davenport ran multiple laps in side-by-side formation as Sheppard slipped by Pearson for fourth just behind them.
A yellow flag for the slowing car of Jason Jameson bunched the field back together on lap 34. Richards once again bolted away on the ensuing restart with Davenport retaking second from Owens only to surrender the position when a second yellow flag came out before another lap was completed. However, Davenport would again succeed in moving around Owens on the second lap 34 restart but would lose that spot when Owens moved back around one lap later.
Jameson again suffered a flat tire to bring out a caution on lap 38. It was on the second lap 38 that Hudson O’Neal began to assert himself as he moved into the top-5 by passing by Sheppard. Also, Davenport would take and hold second away from Owens on this restart.
The No. 49 machine closed in on Richards and looked as he might challenge for the lead on lap 40 but it was eventually Hudson O’Neal who gained ground as he passed by Davenport to take second with just seven lap remaining.
After tracking Richards for several circuits, the younger O’Neal made his move as the cars raced off of turn two. After taking the top spot at the entrance of turn three, O’Neal narrowly missed the motionless car of Bloomquist who had spun just prior to the leaders arrival. O’Neal had to give the race lead back to Richards since the lap had not been officially scored.
When the green flag waved, Richards won the race back to the checkered flag to collect the victory.
Feature Finish: 1. Josh Richards, 2. Hudson O’Neal, 3. Jonathan Davenport, 4. Jimmy Owens, 5. Brandon Sheppard, 6. Earl Pearson, Jr., 7. Tim McCreadie, 8. Kyle Bronson, 9. Mason Zeigler, 10. Don O’Neal, 11. Kyle Bronson, 12. Darrell Lanigan, 13. Dennis Erb, Jr., 14. Shanon Buckingham, 15. Gregg Satterlee, 16. Boom Briggs, 17. Scott Bloomquist, 18. Bobby Pierce, 19. Brandon Overton, 20. Jason Jameson, 21. Morgan Bagley, 22. Shane Clanton, 23. Timothy Culp, 24. Casey Roberts