Story By: JORDAN DELUCIA / DIRTCAR – TAMPA, FL – On the heels of a drama-filled past 24 hours, Lucas Lee served his critics a dominating performance in the conclusion to DIRTcar UMP Modified Winternationals at East Bay Raceway Park.
Lee led all but the first six laps of the 75-lap Feature Saturday night, passing polesitter Drake Troutman for the top spot on Lap 7 and fending off all challenges from that point forward to bag the $5,000 grand prize for the second time in his career.
From inside the second row, Lee wasted zero time making a break for the head of the field. He had already advanced two spots after the first trip around the 1/3-mile oval, and by Lap 3, had only Tuesday night winner Troutman left in front of him.
Troutman, the 17-year-old Modified sensation from Hyndman, PA, redrew the pole starting spot as high-point man through the first four races of the week. Though he carried speed in the opening laps, Lee was stronger on the bottom, and got a great bite out of Turn 2 and zoomed past Troutman into the lead on Lap 7.
“I was gonna ride, but when you’ve got Drake [Troutman] and Tyler [Nicely] up there, it’s like – how do you ride? You’ve gotta try and get in front of them,” Lee remarked on his early race strategy.
“I knew my shot with Tyler would be to get him on the bottom quick because he could roll that middle pretty good. I kinda figured Troutman wasn’t going to be able to hold that bottom. I got by them before I got to the lapped cars, which I kinda didn’t want to do, but I’m glad it worked out.”
For all 75 laps, Lee hugged the bottom of the racetrack, even in the thickest of traffic – some of which came before the first caution flag was displayed on Lap 31. For the next restart, and each of the numerous ones that followed, Lee kept his speed up on the bottom and middle lanes, more so than any other driver. He reflected on his 2019 victory in the event and recalled similar track conditions to Saturday night, which he said may have played into his favor.
“In 2019, it kinda did the same thing,” Lee said. “It went through a transition and cleaned-up really well. When it cleaned-up, I was in the right place at the right time. It was kind of a similar racetrack.”
Lee’s biggest challenge came from two-time Winternationals winner Rodney Wing in the Jeff Mathews Motorsports #33W. Wing, the racer and track owner/promoter from Meridian, MS, drove from the seventh starting spot to second by Lap 23 and began to work on finding a way around Lee.
He tried looking to Lee’s outside for a shot at the lead on multiple restarts but was unsuccessful on all attempts. Lee was simply too quick on the bottom.
“I was up beside him a couple of times, so really, I just needed to handle a little better through the corner,” Wing said. “I kept having to break traction to get it through the corner. If I had been able to circle the corner a little better, I think I could have got him.”
Though Wing never got close enough to seriously put Lee in danger of losing the lead, Lee did acknowledge his presence. Throughout the race, Lee’s car was finding considerably more traction than any of his fellow competitors through the bottom-middle lane, which aided in his efforts to keep the lead.
“I left the car free,” Lee said. “I knew I had to get [to the bottom lane] pretty quick, and I could circle that bottom when it had traction down there. Luckily, Travis [Norden, crew member] told me [Wing] was out there and I moved up.”
After multiple top-10 and top-15 finishes throughout the week, Wing took home second when all was said and done. Though he hadn’t piloted a Modified in succession like at Winternationals, he was slowly getting more used to the car as the week went on.
“Every night, we’ve been inching up on the setup more and more to my liking,” Wing said. “That’s been the main thing – just got it closer and closer.”
Crossing the stripe in third was Illinois ringer Allen Weisser. The DIRTcar regional champion stayed inside the top-10 the entire race and spent the second half battling his way through the top-five. In the end, he had to settle for third, as Lee and Wing were too far out in front.
Despite the struggles, Weisser is still finding success on the Speedweeks circuit, and takes a strong point total into Volusia Speedway Park next week.
“This is probably the best Speedweeks we’ve ever had,” Weisser said. “These tracks are just so different from what we’re used to running. We’ve just kinda struggled down here, but this car has been really good.”
A Feature 1 (75 Laps): 1. 12-Lucas Lee; 2. 33W-Rodney Wing; 3. 25W-Allen Weisser; 4. 145-Kyle Hammer; 5. 5-Drake Troutman; 6. 14-Mavrick Varnadore; 7. 25-LJ Grimm; 8. 54J-Jason Jack; 9. 25A-Jason Altiers; 10. 1H-Ben Harmon; 11. 205-Travis Varnadore; 12. 69B-Bryan Bernhardt; 13. 21CZ-Benji LaCrosse; 14. 25N-Tyler Nicely; 15. 17-Chris Wilson; 16. 5X-Joe Godsey; 17. 2-Devin Dixon; 18. 40-Kevin Adams; 19. 23B-Scott Bane; 20. 99-Blake Brown; 21. 72-Todd Neiheiser; 22. 2A-Matt Altiers; 23. 24-Zeke McKenzie; 24. 90-Tim Gay; 25. 20-Brian Skaggs