Five years ago Shane Clanton dared to be different. He stepped away from what was easy and decided to build and then race a dirt Late Model of his own design.
This year he’s reaping the awards. Thursday victory at Fonda Speedway was his fifth of the early season and he leads the standings by nearly 100 points.
“I could go anywhere on the race track,” said Clanton after Thursday’s win.
“I don’t know how much better I could have made it.”
Clanton had one prior appearance at Fonda’s odd shaped half-mile speedway two years ago, but it came during a time when he was trying to develop the Capital-built race car. He struggled that night to finish sixth.
“I knew we had some work to do,” said Clanton, “so we went to work and today it’s pretty good.”
For many years Clanton drove a Rocket-built Late Model, the most popular chassis run on the circuit. In 2010, he decided he wanted something different.
“I ran a Mark Richards Rocket car for a long-time,” said Clanton. “I decided to do this deal at the house in 2010. Me and Marshall Green built it from ground up from the first piece of tubing until where it is now.”
After four wins and a third place in the WoO points in 2013, Clanton struggled last year, dropping to seventh in the standings with just seven top-ten finishes in 38 events and no wins.
“Last year was horrible, it kept our heads down,” said Clanton. “But I had a couple car owners in my time tell me to quit worrying about everyone else and work on your own race car and you can make it better. That’s what we did. We did a lot of testing and it’s paying off this year. This a product of a lot of hours back in the shop by me and Marshall. Gary Winger of Integra Shocks has helped us so much too. This season has been really special.”
Chase Junghams of Manhattan, Kansas, drove another Capital to an impressive third on Thursday.
“I have sort of a teammate next to me that ran third tonight,” said Clanton, who built several Capital cars for competitors during the off-season.
“He’s got the same thing I’ve got, we don’t have secrets.”
Chub Frank, who finished second at Fonda, has struggled longer than Clanton. Frank last won a WoO touring race in 2009.
“It’s a lot more fun coming to the races when you have something that is competitive,” said Frank. “I think I can get up there and win again.”
A long-time Rocket supporter, he switched to a Longhorn Chassis this season and it has given the veteran new life.
“Clanton definitely had the field covered tonight,” said Frank, “but our car has been really good. We’ve run second now the last two races. It’s still no fun, but it’s better than third and it pays the bills.”
Frank’s runner-up finish was his sixth top-five of the season, whereas he had just four during the entire 2014 campaign.
“It’s been frustrating because I was listening to everyone else say I couldn’t drive,” said Frank. “They don’t have a clue. If you give me a good race car, I’ll show you how to wheel it.”
Frank had been in the Rocket camp for many years, making the move a difficult one for him.
“I was taking a chance,” said Frank. “I could have run just as bad, but I just didn’t want to end my career like that. I found something now that works for me and I showed I can still drive.”
Frank knows the Rockets are good cars, but he’s found out quickly the Longhorn just works better for him.
“I guess the Longhorn just fits my style of driving. I have a couple of older Rocket cars at home I still like, but they are still off of this new Longhorn. I can manhandle this car and get up on the wheel. I can hustle it around and over-drive it without losing traction. If I get out of shape, I turn it to the left, gas her and she has traction.”
After struggling the first night with the Longhorn, he made some changes and has been good ever since.
“We have not won yet,” said Frank, “but if we keep knocking down seconds and thirds it will come. We’re not quite there yet, we just have not raced it enough.”
During a three week break on the WoO series, Frank didn’t have time to race elsewhere. He’s been busy working on customer cars, Rockets and Longhorns, for local western Pa., N.Y. and Canada race teams. “We’ve been running since Florida with one car. We almost have another Longhorn finished, it should be ready when I get back after this northern tour.”
While Clanton and Frank are smiling, several other regulars and former champions are pulling their hair out.
Darrell Lanigan, the defending series champion, continues to struggle with his Club 29 chassis. Lanigan, who won 17 of 37 events last year after jumping ship from a deal with Rocket, has yet to win after 17 events this season.
Josh Richards, who returned to the tour full-time this year after a medical leave, has been fast and consistent in his father’s Rocket Chassis house-car.
Richards, who has three wins and is ranked second to Clanton in the points, had a long night on Thursday.
“We had two brand new cars in the trailer tonight,” said Richards afterwards. “I’m proud both were fast because neither had ever seen a race track until today. We unloaded fast, then burned up a motor. We trashed and switched over all the shocks and springs to the other car. We never had a chance to set the brakes, but we still had a really good car in the feature. We went too hard on the tire, but had a better car than a seventh place shows.”
By switching to a back-up car, Richards gave up a fourth starting spot to line-up last.
“I think we would have had something for Shane if we started up front,” said Richards, “but I’m proud of our team and glad we had a good car.”
On each of the four restarts in the race, Richards was able to jump up on the cushion and rim- ride by one, if not two, competitors. Once they all were up to speed, he had problems passing.
“When you get on a big track like this you need clean air,” said Richards. “I’m happy we salvaged a decent night. The Modifieds that race here can move around, but our front end needs clean air to make the car have balance.”
On Saturday, Richards held off Clanton to win his fourth of the season.
Tim McCreadie finished a disappointed fifth at Fonda, a track he knows well from dirt Modified competition over the years and a place he won the WoO event at back in 2013.
“We’re terrible,” said McCreadie afterwards with great disappointment. “We’ve been all year long. You can’t experiment on a piece of crap. We either have to get a torch out or figure something out pretty quick because this is embarrassing from where I come from.”
McCreadie, the 2006 WoO series champion, reunited with crew chief Tommy Greco this season.
Last year he rejoined the Rocket Chassis camp after being away two seasons. That got him back to his championship combination of eight seasons ago, but he has still not been able to find the old magic.
“I have not qualified up front all year. I’ve not won heat races, nothing,” said McCreadie, who on Thursday registered just his fourth top-five in the first 17 WoO races.
“I don’t think it’s the motor, I’ve had six or seven different ones in it, but after that it’s a toss up what’s wrong. It’s just not here, it’s everywhere. I have to drive my butt off just to be competitive. If I have to settle for top- fives I should just quit racing.
McCreadie drove a Rocket chassis during his championship season. He attempted to have something different two years ago when he was the house car driver for Warrior Chassis.
“The best car won tonight,” McCreadie bottom-lined.
“He’s had the best car all year. Good for him, I hope he rolls to a championship because he deserves it. He put himself on an island and worked through it. I did the same thing two years ago, but it didn’t work for us and we gave up on it.”