Strickler, Long, Dotson, Haley, Nicely Also Net Gators at Volusia
BARBERVILLE, FL – Feb. 8, 2023 – The third night of competition for the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds in the 52nd annual Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park featured three separate three-peat winners, a dominant force returning to form, and a Victory Lane celebration/interview from a rising teenage star that those watching won’t soon forget.
Wednesday’s events were also the last before the format changes for Thursday’s show, where the six Feature lineups are determined by each driver’s points accumulated over the first three nights. This balances the competition in each Feature and has, historically, created some of the most competitive races seen all week.
Feature #1 – Kyle Strickler
After settling for second Tuesday night, Kyle Strickler rebounded Wednesday to bag his second gator trophy of the week and 11th of his career at DIRTcar Nationals.
Strickler, the two-time Gator Championship Feature winner from Mooresville, NC, led flag-to-flag unchallenged, thanks to a big effort by his team to improve on the car setup from the night before.
“We got our car a lot better than yesterday,” Strickler said. “Yesterday, I thought we were absolutely terrible. We made a big swing at it tonight, and I finally got my nose down where I can steer, so now I feel like we can put some traction back in it.”
Feature 1 (20 Laps): 1. 8-Kyle Strickler; 2. 8A-Austin Holcombe; 3. 4-Mike Learman; 4. 43A-Mark Anderson; 5. 11S-Jared Spalding; 6. 24D-Jesse Dill; 7. 00B-Buzzie Reutimann; 8. 23B-Ethan Boomsma; 9. 2C-Ronnie Chance; 10. 9-Ken Schrader; 11. 22B-Austen Becerra; 12. 54-Zachary Hawk; 13. 22K-Dale Kelley; 14. 97-Mitch Thomas; 15. 17C-Coleman Evans
Feature #2 – Charlie Mefford
In what will likely be remembered as one of the most iconic Victory Lane moments in modern DIRTcar Nationals history, 16-year-old Charlie Mefford jumped – literally, jumped – on the roof of his Elite Chassis #13 after winning his first career gator trophy in only his third start, leading the 20-lapper wire-to-wire.
With tears in his eyes and raw emotion aplenty his voice, Mefford gave the Volusia crowd and the DIRTVision cameras one of the most memorable Victory Lane interviews.
“This is a dream, man. Everything me, my mom and dad has ever worked for. We never even thought about coming down here and racing, and here we are in Victory Lane.”
Looking back, it’s been a memory-filled past three months for the Belton, KY-driver, who first rose to prominence in the Modified world for his signature “You can’t park there!” chant coined at the Gateway Dirt Nationals event in St. Louis last December. Ever since that big moment on the microphone, Mefford has had the attention, and gave fans another reason to listen Wednesday night.
“This is a dream come true,” Mefford said. “I’m a 16-year-old kid from Kentucky… I don’t even have my intermediate license yet; I just got my permit. I’m out here racing with grown adults and running like this.”
Feature 2 (20 Laps): 1. 13-Charlie Mefford; 2. 145-Kyle Hammer; 3. 7-Evan Taylor; 4. 90R-Raymond Kable; 5. 9PG-Percy Gendreau; 6. 07-Curtis King; 7. 29-Steve Shellenberger; 8. 0H-Dylan Henkins; 9. 35W-Ethan Weber; 10. 21J-Clay Harris; 11. 59-Doug Stine; 12. 40R-Shawn Reiss; 13. 25W-Allen Weisser; 14. 99G-Gavin Graham; 15. 77B-Ray Bollinger
Feature #3 – Michael Long
It had been three whole years since his last trip to Volusia Victory Lane, but Michael Long finally made it back Wednesday night to collect his third career DIRTcar Nationals victory.
Leading all 20 laps, Long proved he’s more than a Missouri-Illinois regional champion of the weekly DIRTcar Racing scene. Accustomed to racing mostly shorter, high-banked bullrings in the Midwest, Long showed his versatility, putting on a clinic and crossing the finish line nearly two full seconds over runner-up Zeke McKenzie.
“We’ve been gradually getting better,” Long said. “Car was a ton better tonight; just been working on getting it to steer around here. We’ve just been off, compared to what we run in the Midwest.”
Feature 3 (20 Laps): 1. 18L-Michael Long; 2. 24-Zeke McKenzie; 3. 21CZ-Benji LaCrosse; 4. 21C-Taylor Cook; 5. 22TW-Tim Ward; 6. 7G-Seth Geary; 7. 21S-Kenny Shaw; 8. 3-Josh Sanford; 9. 0-Glenn Styres; 10. 11-Jesse Rupe; 11. 22-Doug Carson; 12. 22J-John Baker; 13. 09-Michael Leach; 14. 49G-Billy Green; 15. 1S-Brian Shaw
Feature #4 – Ethan Dotson
Coming in as one of three drivers with their gator win streak still in-tact, Ethan Dotson kept the streak alive with yet another dominating performance for his third career gator trophy earned in as many starts.
Monday’s margin of victory was 4.869 seconds. On Tuesday, 2.350 was the gap to second. Wednesday marked Dotson’s largest lead of the week – a whole 6.725 seconds ahead at the finish. Now, he prepares for his toughest test of the week on Thursday.
Features will then be lined up by points totals accumulated throughout the week, which will put Dotson in a sea of drivers more at his speed for more 20 laps and another gator trophy up for grabs. Dotson said he’s eager to see exactly where he stacks-up.
“We’re pretty excited just to see how we are,” Dotson said. “Spreading the fast guys out just makes it tough to see if you’re really fast. We can check lap times, but they’re on a different racetrack than you, so you just never really know. But I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”
Feature 4 (20 Laps): 1. 00E-Ethan Dotson; 2. 77-George Dixon; 3. 95-Michael Altobelli; 4. 00EH-Steve Arpin; 5. 49-Brian Ruhlman; 6. 88-Matt Crafton; 7. 60-Shannon Fisk; 8. 2A-Matt Altiers; 9. 33-Kenny Mihalik; 10. M20-Mike Potosky; 11. 77S-Jim Shipman; 12. 3D-Makayla Tyrrell; 13. 91B-Chris Beaulieu; 14. 72X-Todd Neiheiser; 15. 11Z-Zane Oedewaldt
Feature #5 – Justin Haley
Justin Haley became the second driver to win three-in-a-row Wednesday night, in control the entire distance once again as he netted his fourth career DIRTcar Nationals victory.
Haley needed a good takeoff on the initial start and got it, taking the opportunity for the lead away from Monday night winner Lucas Lee on the opening lap and holding him off the rest of the way to capture the checkered.
“Another great night for us – three in-a-row down here at Volusia,” Haley said. “Awesome team effort by everyone here at Darkhorse Racecars. Matt Smith [crew chief], my brother Quentin, Rich Dawson.
“It’s been a team effort, and it’s pretty cool to come down here. We were a little tight tonight, so we’ll figure out tomorrow with a little different format, and hopefully keep going.”
Feature 5 (20 Laps): 1. 99-Justin Haley; 2. 12L-Lucas Lee; 3. 5CS-Curt Spalding; 4. 51-Dalton Lanich; 5. 51G-Brandon Green; 6. 114-Clayton Bryant; 7. 99M-Mike Mullen; 8. 05-Dave Wietholder; 9. 463-Daniel Sanchez; 10. 12-Robert Gast; 11. 1-Randy Giroux; 12. 32-Chad Roush; 13. 57-Fletcher Mason; 14. 34X-Shane O'Connor; 15. 99W-Wade Olmsted
Feature #6 – Tyler Nicely
Running away from the field for the third night in-a-row, Tyler Nicely shelved his seventh career gator trophy Wednesday night and locked himself into the top Feature event for Thursday.
“It’s gonna be fun to stack-up against all the big guys in one Feature,” Nicely said. “Tomorrow will give us a good judge for Saturday’s $5,000-to-win Feature.”
Nicely, of Owensboro, KY, broke out a brand-new Elite Chassis for this week and is making it count, having won each of the three nights he’s put it on track.
“We’ve just been running the same thing every night,” Nicely said. “Nick Hoffman over at Elite Chassis – this thing’s really balanced, so we’re just taking them as we can get them right now.”
Feature 6 (20 Laps): 1. 25-Tyler Nicely; 2. 7A-Justin Allgaier; 3. 777-Trevor Neville; 4. 5T-Drake Troutman; 5. 90-Jason Beaulieu; 6. 130-Chase Allen; 7. 10Y-Trent Young; 8. 4S-Craig Shaw; 9. 17T-Tyler Evans; 10. 7M-Steve Maughan; 11. 17-Rob Pitcher; 12. 7D-T J DeHaven; 13. 6B-Dave Baldwin; 14. 100-Dylan Murray; 15. 35-David Stremme
The UMP Modified action at Volusia Speedway Park continues on day #4 of the 52nd Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals – Thursday, Feb. 9 – racing alongside the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series.
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Photo – Paul Arch/Chris Anderson