Clanton Looks To Regain Winning Rhythm With Return To I-55 Raceway For Pepsi Nationals' On Saturday
But when the national tour returns to the one-third-mile oval on Saturday night (Sept. 19) for the 27th annual Pepsi Nationals, Clanton will be looking to recapture the winning rhythm he flashed through the late-summer and early-fall of 2008.
Clanton, 34, of Locust Grove, Ga., entered the 2009 campaign as a driver expected to contend for the $100,000 WoO LMS points championship, but he didn't pick up right where he left off last year. He has just one win this season a $20,000-plus score way back on April 4 in the Illini 100 at Farmer City (Ill.) Raceway and sits a distant sixth in the points standings.
Last year everything just flowed, especially later in the season, said Clanton, whose career-best '08 campaign included four wins and a fourth-place finish in the WoO LMS points race plus a dozen triumphs in non-series events. It didn't matter what we did; we seemed to hit things right more often than not. But this year has been a different story.
Clanton pulled into I-55 Raceway last September literally on top of the world he had, after all, won the prestigious UMP DIRTcar Racing-sanctioned World 100 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, the previous week. He cemented his status as a national superstar with a victory in the 50-lap A-Main at the well-known Missouri facility owned by NASCAR veteran Ken Schrader and Ray Marler, advancing from the seventh starting spot to cap an impressive run of three wins in six WoO LMS events over a five-week span.
The I-55 checkered flag even ended Clanton's personal struggles in Missouri, a state he had taken to calling Misery' because of his inability to win there over the years.
Clanton started the 2009 WoO LMS schedule decently enough, with a string of top-10 finishes and his Illini 100 triumph helping push him into the points lead after the season's seventh event, at Fayetteville (N.C.) Motor Speedway. But then the bottom fell out; he was replaced atop the points rankings the next night and never got close to the lofty position again.
It's pretty frustrating, but what can you do? Clanton said of his '09 season, which shows nine top-five and 26 top-10 finishes in 37 events (he had 22 top-five and 32 top-10 finishes in 43 races last year). You just keep working, trying different things. We've been all over the map trying to find things that fit me and fit the race car and just haven't hit on it yet.
We've tried changing just about everything except the driver and we've thought about that, he added with a smile. I don't blame (the struggles) on one particular thing. It's just that everyone is always changing things and some guys have gotten a little bit better than us this year, so we have to catch up.
We're still trying, that's for sure. We're all trying to work together to get everything back in a row. When we do that, we'll start winning races again.
Clanton feels as if he's getting his RSD Enterprises Rocket cars closer to where they need to be, but he's not there yet. He recorded back-to-back top-five finishes in the last WoO LMS A-Mains contested two weeks ago at Tri-City Speedway in Franklin, Pa., but he followed that up by failing to qualify for last weekend's World 100 after starting his visit to Eldora in a manner that would seem to sum up his season: he discovered a broken valve in his primary engine while changing valve springs after unloading on Thursday, forcing him to install a backup.
When you work as hard as you can, you see the light at the end of the tunnel, said Clanton, who turned 34 on Aug. 29. We're starting to see more light.
A repeat of his '08 effort at I-55 Raceway would be a nice way for Clanton to get his groove back. He's confident that the 50-lap, $10,000-to-win event at the high-banked track can serve as his tonic for a disappointing season.
I feel good about going there, Clanton said of I-55, where he preceded his victory last year with WoO LMS finishes of eighth in 2007 and 15th in 2005. They do a good job of preparing the racetrack. It gets slick, but it's also the shape and size of two of the favorite racetracks I go to back around home Talladega (Ala.) and North Georgia so I like it.
Clanton will face plenty of competition at I-55 Raceway from his fellow WoO LMS stars as well as a host of tough customers from across the Midwest.
Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., leads the WoO LMS points standings by four points over Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., entering Saturday's action. The traveling Outlaw roster will also include the red-hot Tim Fuller of Watertown, N.Y., who has won seven of the last 11 tour events; Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga., the 2007 Pepsi Nationals winner; defending champion Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky.; Rick Eckert of York, Pa.; Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa.; Brady Smith of Solon Springs, Wis.; and Rookie of the Year contenders Russell King of Bristolville, Ohio, Jordan Bland of Campbellsville, Ky., Brent Robinson of Smithfield, Va., Dustin Hapka of Grand Forks, N.D., and 14-year-old Tyler Reddick of Corning, Calif.
Meanwhile, Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., who finished fourth in last year's Pepsi Nationals, and two-time defending UMP DIRTcar national champion Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., will continue their neck-and-neck battle for the 2009 UMP DIRTcar national points crown at I-55. Saturday's event is co-sanctioned by UMP DIRTcar and will be run using the organization's Hoosier LM20, LM30 and LM40 compound tires.
Other drivers planning to enter the Pepsi Nationals include Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa, Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., former WoO LMS champion Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., Randy Korte of Highland, Ill., 2009 I-55 champion Bryan Collins of Elsberry, Mo., and 2008 I-55 titlist Billy Faust of Lebanon, Ill.
Gates will open at 3 p.m. on Saturday (Sept. 19). Practice is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., followed by time trials at 6:30 p.m. and racing at 7 p.m.
The big program will also include a $1,000-to-win special for the UMP DIRTcar Modifieds and a UMP DIRTcar Sportsman event paying $500 to win.
Seats in the top three rows of the frontstretch grandstands are reserved and can be purchased in advance for $32 each by calling the track office at 636-479-3219. General admission tickets are $27, with kids 12 years old and younger admitted free in the general admission sections. Pit passes will be $35 for all ages.
Additional info on the Pepsi Nationals is available by logging on to www.i55raceway.com.
I-55 Raceway is located 30 minutes south of downtown St. Louis, off Pevely exits 180 and 178 of Interstate 55.
The Pepsi Nationals kicks off a Midwest doubleheader for the WoO LMS, which will visit La Salle (Ill.) Speedway on Sunday night (Sept. 20) to contest the Best Western Illinois Fall Nationals.
For more information on the WoO LMS, visit www.worldofoutlaws.com.
The World of Outlaws Late Model Series is brought to fans across the country by many important sponsors and partners, including Arizona Sport Shirts (Official Apparel Company), Armor All (Official Car Care Products), Crane Cams (Official Valvetrain), Hoosier Racing Tires (Official Racing Tires), Fusion Energy Boost (Official Energy Boost), SuperClean (Official Cleaner-Degreaser) and VP Racing (Official Racing Fuel); in addition to contingency sponsors Champ Pans, Eibach Springs, Hoosier Tires, Integra Shocks, Jake's Custom Golf Carts, Ohlins Shocks, Racing Electronics, Quarter Master and Wrisco Aluminum; Crane Cams Engine Builder's Challenge participants Cornett Racing Engines, Custom Race Engines and Pro Power Racing Engines; and Chassis Builder Challenge participants Rocket Chassis and Team Zero by Bloomquist.