There were numerous success stories that came out of last weekend’s World of Outlaws Late Model Series double feature at Smoky Mountain Speedway. Chris Madden took the series points lead with a win on Friday and a runner-up result on Saturday and Dale McDowell added another $10,000 win to his increasingly impressive 2018 season. But perhaps the most interesting stories came from the regional heroes who turned in great performances against the national touring series stars.
Virginia’s Dakotah Knuckles set the overall fast time in Saturday’s time-trial session then went on to record a top-10 finish. Kentucky’s Michael Chilton won a heat race on Saturday evening and then drove to fourth place in the feature to go along with a sixth place from the previous night.
Another racer to come out of the Smoky Mountain weekend with a great deal of satisfaction with his effort in both races as well as tremendous excitement about the future for his team was Shanon Buckingham. The Double Down Motorsports driver recorded a pair of fifth place finishes to go along with solid qualifying and heat race performances on both nights.
“That sounds great, don’t it!” Buckingham proclaimed in a post-race interview on Saturday with InsideDirtRacing.com. “How can you not be happy about that? I feel like if the track had been the same tonight as it was last night we could have moved up. We were good last night for the first two-thirds of the race but I don’t know if I was too hard on the tires trying to get by (Devin)Moran or what and that last restart didn’t go my way.”
Buckingham could not have been more pleased with how his Roger Sellers-owned Longhorn Chassis showed speed throughout the weekend. The new machine has helped the team to improve, but at the same time, provided a new challenge in a good way.
“We had a good race car tonight,” the 44-year-old pointed out. “It showed in hot laps and qualifying then in the heat race. I think we had a top-3 car all weekend. It’s a new race car and it’s taking a little bit of a different setup. We’re so much better now that we can’t make our normal adjustments because we’re not having to take as big of a swing. We’re trying to not adjust ourselves out. It’s still a Longhorn but it’s almost like we changed brands or something. I’m excited. You know you hear all those big dogs say when they’re on a roll that they can’t wait for next weekend and now I can’t wait for next weekend.”
Buckingham and the Double Down Motorsports team plan to take on the other national tour this Friday and Saturday. The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series will pay visits to east Tennessee and to northern Kentucky with a race slated for Tazewell Speedway on Friday and Florence Speedway on Saturday.
The Morristown, Tenn. native admits that during portions of his team’s rougher stretches he has struggled with some doubts. But with last weekend’s performance, those doubts are subsiding.
“We’ve struggled for a while,” Buckingham explained. “We had a couple of decent runs but still we were off. Man, you get down on yourself and you get down on everything because we work so hard. It’s just hard to keep your head up sometimes when you know that you’re capable of more. You start to question absolutely everything. I know I can still drive a race car but I just need to get something that I like. I think we’ve got something we like now and if I can keep from banging it up I think we’ll be good for a while.”
Buckingham believes he could have finished even better than the fifth place he eventually earned on Saturday, but the track surface dictated otherwise.
“We knew the rubber was coming and I got off to a good start there,” the driver explained. “I wanted to beat Chilton because we’re good friends and we’re always picking at each other. He got a little push once and it let me run up beside him and I knew I probably couldn’t take the spot and he would just come on back around me. We actually touched a little and I thought this isn’t worth it under these conditions so I just laid back and rode and made sure I didn’t make a mistake and lose that top-5.”
Two top-5s has Buckingham looking forward to the weekend to come. He is hopeful that his car’s ability to compete with some of the sport’s top stars will translate to that same type of effort in Tazewell and Florence against a different set of stars.
“When you’re passing guys like that who have been so good it really makes you feel good. It’s fun when you come to these races and you can race with those guys. You feel like your team and your equipment is up to par. And it lets me feel like my driving and my decision making are up to par. I’m excited for the Lucas Oil races next weekend. We’re going to go do Tazewell because we had a good run up there(Spring Nationals where he finished fourth). We ran this car for the first time up there and a lot of things were different. There were things I wasn’t used to yet and comfortable with as a driver but we were still in contention to win. So even though we’re lacking on our notebook for setup but we did have a good run there. I feel more confident going there than I normally do and I love Florence so we’re excited to go there. I can’t wait, the weekend can’t get here fast enough.”