Birkhofer Is King Of The World 100
ROSSBURG, Ohio — Ten years later, Brian Birkhofer is back on top of the world.
A decade after capturing the prestigious DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned World 100 at Eldora Speedway for the first time, the superstar driver from Muscatine, Iowa, returned to the spotlight on Saturday night with a dominant march to victory in dirt late model racing’s biggest event.
Birkhofer’s triumph was worth $50,000, including a $5,000 bonus added to the first-place prize on Saturday by Mark Larson.
“Who would’ve thought 10 years ago I won and here we are again,” said Birkhofer, who became the seventh driver to win the World 100 at least twice in the race’s 42-year history. “It feels good to get back in victory lane. I’m in awe that I have my name on this (World 100) shirt a second time and I have a new globe (trophy) to put right by my big TV tomorrow night when I watch the (Pittsburgh) Steelers.”
Birkhofer, 40, inherited the lead on lap 35 when Don O’Neal retired with driveline problems and never looked back. He built an edge of over a straightaway before three late caution flags tightened the field and shrank his winning margin to a more modest 2.570 seconds over Scott Bloomquist — the same driver who finished second to Birkhofer in the 2002 World 100.
Brad Neat finished third, charging forward from the 23rd starting spot to tally a career-best performance in his seventh World 100 A-Main start. World of Outlaws Late Model Series points leader Darrell Lanigan quietly advanced from the 11th starting spot to place fourth and 16th-starter Jason Feger used a late burst to register a career-best World 100 finish of fifth.
Saturday’s race was a stark contrast to Birkhofer’s unforgettable first World 100 win, which he secured on a slicker, slower track surface with a dramatic last-corner pass of Bloomquist that brought the packed house down.
Patience wasn’t a virtue this around for Birkhofer, who steered his MB Customs car from the eighth starting spot to fourth by lap 32 and vaulted up to second following the race’s first caution flag that same circuit. Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., was the cause of the caution when he slowed while running second place due to brake woes.
“How I used to approach this place is, you wait till 20 (laps) to go and then go for it,” said Birkhofer. “But now you hustle all the time. It’s all about racing hard. I’m not saying I’m comfortable doing it, but I guess we got it done tonight.
“The race track’s different than what it was 10 years ago. It’s definitely faster, and I’ve had to bring my level up a little bit different. When Earl (Baltes) had it back in the day, it would get about 19 seconds and it just don’t get that slow anymore — so ol’ Brian has to get up on the wheel more. I realized, if I’m gonna win here again, I gotta get aggressive.”
Birkhofer slipped into the lead without having to battle O’Neal, who simply fell off the pace and ceded the top spot on lap 35. The mechanical trouble ended what appeared to be a very formidable bid for victory by O’Neal, who started fifth and passed polesitter Chad Simpson of Mt. Vernon, Iowa, for the lead on lap 33.
In fact, Birkhofer even acknowledged that O’Neal, 48, would have been difficult to overtake.
“Don O’Neal might have had the best race car, but he broke,” said Birkhofer. “It might have been a gift, but I’ll take it any day.”
Birkhofer never went into conservation mode the remainder of the distance, however. He stayed on the gas so thoroughly that Bloomquist, who slipped by Simpson for second on a lap-53 restart, fell a straightaway behind the leader by lap 60 and only was drawn close by a caution flag on lap 91 and two more on lap 93.
Birkhofer was more than ready for a showdown with Bloomquist, whose presence brought back memories of Birkhofer’s ’02 World 100 success.
“I seen the caution come out and I seen ‘zero’ (Bloomquist) in second,” said Birkhofer. “I went down the backstretch (under caution) and I’m warming my tires up, and I actually looked up in turn three at the crowd and I thought, Man they’re getting ready to see something here. It’s been 10 years since me and this guy battled.
“I think it was great for the crowd. They got to see restarts and us battling it out. I don’t think you can have a better ending.”
Especially since Birkhofer maintained full control on the restarts, of course.
“I actually felt pretty good,” said Birkhofer, who car carried an engine built by ProPower’s Bill Schlieper. “We had a restart and I looked over at my guy on the frontstretch and he kind of gave me that sign like I was pulling (away) after a lap. But with Scott it only takes one mistake and he’s by you.
“I gave him what room I needed to give him (on the restarts), and I said, ‘Brian, sail that baby in there.’ I just didn’t want to give Scott that clear run into (turn) three to slide me back.”
Birkhofer’s triumph came in his 12th World 100 A-Main start since he broke into the field for the first time in 1998. He’s only finished outside the top 10 three times, but a 26th-place finish in 2010 and a DNQ last year had him feeling uncertain about his abilities at Eldora.
“I actually contemplated not coming back here for just a year or two till I could come back and compete better,” said Birkhofer, who joined Bloomquist, Moyer, Donnie Moran, Jimmy Owens, Jeff Purvis and Larry Moore as a repeat winner of the World 100. “We didn’t even make the race last year, so it feels good to get back on top here.
“Who’s to say who would’ve won this if Don O’Neal don’t break, but we’ll take it.”
Bloomquist settled for his unprecedented eighth runner-up finish in 23 World 100 A-Main starts. He has also three wins and a total of 15 top-five finishes in the event, which he has failed to qualify for just twice since 1988.
Brian Birkhofer, Scott Bloomquist, Brad Neat, Darrell Lanigan, Jason Feger, Steve Francis, Brandon Sheppard, Eddie Carrier Jr., Shannon Babb, Michael Chilton, Brian Shirley, J.R. Hotovy, Jerry Bowersock, Chris Madden, Jimmy Mars, Andrew Reaume, Chad Simpson, Greg Johnson, Billy Moyer Jr., Wayne Chinn, Ryan Unzicker, Billy Moyer, Dale McDowell, Tyler Reddick, Jeep VanWormer, Rick Eckert, Don O’Neal, Dan Schlieper, Bub McCool, Shane Clanton.