No one could blame Georgia’s Dale McDowell for doubting the events unfolding around him late Saturday night at Eldora Speedway.
Despite the jubilant celebration on Eldora’s storied victory lane stage, despite the roughly 20,000 cheering fans and — best of all — despite that oversized $100,000 check, McDowell wasn’t sure if he was actually dreaming.
McDowell, 48, sliced through the field from his starting position of 22nd to capture the 20th Dirt Late Model Dream on Eldora’s high-banked, half-mile speedway. After a door-to-door battle with six-time winner and defending champ Scott Bloomquist, McDowell wrestled the lead away on lap 79 and wasn’t challenged again.
“Would somebody pinch me and let me know this is actually going on?” McDowell told dirtondirt.com.
Even McDowell didn’t think much of his chances prior to the 100-lap grind. He failed to qualify through his heat race, dropping him into a B-Main. He won that, but it landed him 22nd on the 28-car grid.
“I’m lost for words,” McDowell told dirtondirt.com. “We didn’t do well in the heat race — I’m just no … good up on the cushion — and we started 22nd, so I really didn’t have expectations of getting to the front. Honest to God I didn’t.”
McDowell stayed glued to the bottom of the multi-groove racing surface. He stormed into the top 10 by lap 32. He was fifth by lap 53. He moved to second on lap 60 after narrowly avoiding Jonathan Davenport’s slide into Don O’Neal. He chased down Bloomquist with 21 laps go and clicked off the final ones without a challenge.
“Thanks goodness that I made it to victory lane,” said McDowell, whose best Dream finish prior to Saturday night was third in 2010. “Man, them last 15 laps, I looked up on the board and I didn’t think they were ever gonna click off.”
McDowell made it to victory lane in the the prestigious World 100 in 2005, but on a technicality. Shannon Babb won the race but was disqualified after coming up 10 pounds too light at the post-race inspection. McDowell joined Bloomquist, Billy Moyer, Jimmy Owens, Donnie Moran and Shane Clanton as winners of both the Dream and World.
West Virginia’s John Blankenship charged up from his 24th starting spot to finish second. He finished nearly a half-straightaway behind McDowell to settle for $20,000. Bloomquist, Owens and Moyer rounded out the top five.