Birkhofer surges to win at Gopher 50

Published 9:05 pm Thursday, July 10, 2008

Brian Birkhofer surged into the lead at the initial green flag and never looked back, rolling to a flag-to-flag victory in Wednesday night’s 29th annual Featherlite Trailers Gopher 50 Charity Late Model Race at Deer Creek Speedway.

The 36-year-old from Muscatine, Iowa, was clearly the dominant force as the World of Outlaws Late Model Series ‘Wild West Tour’ opened before a near capacity crowd at the Queensland family’s three-eighths-mile oval and the SPEED television cameras.

“I’ve had a hard time even finishing races here in the past,” said Birkhofer, who earned $10,250 for his first-ever triumph at Deer Creek and second WoO LMS checkered flag of 2008. “But this is a fun place and it’s only three-and-a-half hours from home, so I’m pumped to finally win one here – especially against the caliber of drivers that were here tonight.”

Email newsletter signup

Birkhofer was never seriously threatened after using his outside-pole starting spot to outgun defending WoO LMS champion Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., for the lead when the race began. He was slowed only by two caution flags for minor incidents – both on lap 13 – en route to a 2.016-second margin of victory over WoO LMS points leader Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky.

Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga., started and finished third, less than a half-second ahead of fourth-place Shane Clanton of Locust Grove, Ga. Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., finished a distant fifth.

Birkhofer’s win was the sixth of his career on the WoO LMS. He became the fourth repeat winner in 19 WoO LMS events this season, joining Richards (four wins), Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark. (four) and Lanigan (two).

It was Birkhofer’s second career win in the prestigious Gopher 50, a long-running event that is promoted as a fundraiser by the Blooming Prairie (Minn.) Lions Club International. He previously was victorious in 2004, when the race was held for the last time at the Steele County Fairgrounds in Owatanna, Minn., before moving to Deer Creek and becoming a stop on the WoO LMS the following year.

“This isn’t a $40,000-to-win race, but it means a lot to win it,” said Birkhofer. “These people who put the Gopher on do a phenomenal job of promoting the race. They really work hard it. I just wish more people would promote races like this.”

The triumph came behind the wheel of the still-unnamed chassis that Birkhofer built with fellow racer Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., and Mars’s brother Chris.

“Jimmy’s been pretty dominant in his (Mars/Birkhofer) car the last couple of weeks, but I’ve been stubborn about doing one thing to my car,” said Birkhofer, whose previous WoO LMS victory this season came on May 4 at Monett (Mo.) Speedway. “I listened to him tonight because I watched how good he’s been running, and it’s definitely better. Once that racetrack got that black (groove) – man, this car just felt great.”

Birkhofer’s biggest challenge was finding the correct line to navigate the high-banked oval.

“It was a racetrack where you had to chase the groove around,” said Birkhofer, whose Daufeldt Transportation/J&J Steel car carried a Pro Power engine. “I got a good start and got rolling around the top, but I kinda looked over my shoulder one time (late in the race) and thought I saw Lanigan trying to run the bottom so I moved down (to the inside lane).

“I was like, ‘This feels a little better,’ so I just stayed there and tried to attack lapped traffic.”

Lanigan, who started 10th in his Rocket car, reached second place on lap 27 when he passed Smith. It appeared he was closing on Birkhofer at one point, but Birkhofer negotiated slower cars with ease and took the checkered flag nearly three-quarters of a straightaway ahead of Lanigan.

“I’d liked to have seen a yellow once I got to second,” said the 38-year-old Lanigan, who padded his points lead with his 11th consecutive top-five finish. “Without having to deal with lapped traffic, maybe we could’ve given (Birkhofer) a run.

“But what I really needed was a better starting position. You can’t start 10th and beat these guys very often.”

Smith, 43, climbed as high as second immediately after the lap-13 caution periods, but he couldn’t maintain enough speed with his J.P. Drilling GRT car to make a bid for the top prize at a speedway he called “my favorite racetrack.”

“I just was softer than both of them (Birkhofer and Lanigan) on tires,” said Smith. “We thought the track was going to be more like it usually is here, but it was a little bit different. When I couldn’t get any traction late in the race, they put a half-track on me.”

Clanton, 32, faced the same tire situation as Smith. Running an identical softer tire, he couldn’t keep pace with the two frontrunners.

“I didn’t think the track was gonna get that slick,” said Clanton, who started sixth in his RSD Enterprises Rocket.

The 20-year-old Richards, meanwhile, fought hard to score his 11th top-five finish of the season, which ties him with Lanigan for the series lead in that category. He started ninth and spent the middle stages of the event battling to take fifth from Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill.

“I had a real fun race with Babb,” said Richards, who drove the Seubert Calf Ranches Rocket. “My car was getting better and better, but I’m satisfied with a fifth tonight.”

Finishing in positions 6-10 was Rick Eckert of York, Pa., who steadily moved forward from the 10th starting spot; Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., who earned the $500 WoO LMS ‘Bonus Bucks’ cash for being the highest-finishing driver who hasn’t won a tour A-Main and isn’t ranked among the top 12 in the current points standings; Babb (after running as high as second); Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa., in a brand-new Rocket car; and Brady Smith of Solon Springs, Wis., who dropped to the rear for the start because he ran his backup car in the feature after damaging his primary mount in a heat-race accident.

Francis was the race’s most notable casualty. He had just moved to second on lap 13 when the engine in his Dale Beitler-owned No. 19 went up in smoke, leaving him with a 24th-place finish.

Forty-six cars entered the event, which was run on a brilliant summer evening.

Clanton blazed around the oval in time trials at 14.353 seconds to register his second fast time honor of the season.

Heat winners were Francis, Babb, Denny Eckrich of Tiffin, Iowa, and Mars. The B-Mains was captured by Andrew McKay of Edina, Minn., and WoO LMS Rookie of the Year contender Danny Johnson of Phelps, N.Y.

One of the night’s heartbreaks belonged to Keith Foss of Winona, Minn. The Deer Creek regular, who entered the night ranked second in the track’s points standings, was leading the fourth heat when his car suddenly shot to the right and slammed the turn-two wall.

The night’s action was taped for broadcast on Sun., Aug. 16, at 4 p.m. ET on the SPEED cable network.

Results of WoO Late Model Series Featherlite Trailers ‘Gopher 50’ (Finishing Position/Start/Driver/Laps Completed/Money Won):

1. (2) Brian Birkhofer/50 $10,250

2. (10) Darrell Lanigan/50 $5,100

3. (3) Clint Smith/50 $3,000

4. (6) Shane Clanton/50 $2,500

5. (9) Josh Richards/50 $2,000

6. (13) Rick Eckert/50 $1,700

7. (7) Jimmy Mars/50 $1,900

8. (4) Shannon Babb/50 $1,300

9. (11) Chub Frank/50 $1,200

10. (16) Brady Smith/50 $1,100

11. (5) Kerry Hansen/49 $1,050

12. (18) Danny Johnson/49 $1,250

13. (14) Tim Fuller/49 $950

14. (21) Vic Coffey/49 $900

15. (12) Mike Prochnow/49 $850

16. (21) John Blankenship/49 $800

17. (20) Tyler Bruening/48 $770

18. (24) Joe Isabell/48 $750

19. (26) Dennis Hillson/46 $730

20. (8) Denny Eckrich/35 $700

21. (21) Jeff Provinzino/26 $700

22. (22) Dustin Hapka/19 $700

23. (15) Chad Simpson/16 $700

24. (1) Steve Francis/13 $700

25. (17) Andrew McKay/13 $700

26. (25) Nick Herrick/12 $700

Time of Race: 19 Mins., 38.792 Secs.

Margin of Victory: 2.016 Secs.

Yellow Flags: 2 (Laps 13, 13)

Lap Leaders: Birkhofer (1-50)

Provisional Starters: Blankenship, Isabell (WoO); Nick Herrick, Hillson (track)

Rookie of the Race: Danny Johnson ($250)

WoO LMS ‘Bonus Bucks’ Winner: Jimmy Mars ($500)

Integra Shocks Crew Chief of the Race ($50): Jeff Roby (Birkhofer)

Chick Hawk Racing Hot Lap Award: Birkhofer (half-off tire warmers)

Super Clean ‘Start of the Race’: Birkhofer ($100)

Time Trial Results (Position/No./Driver/Hometown/Best Lap):

1. 25-Shane Clanton/Locust Grove, GA 14.353

2. 15b-Brian Birkhofer/Muscatine, IA 14.359

3. 44-Clint Smith/Senoia, GA 14.422

4. 28M-Jimmy Mars/Menomonie, WI 14.479

5. 19-Steve Francis/Ashland, KY 14.542

6. 18-Shannon Babb/Moweaqua, IL 14.622

7. 50-Denny Eckrich/Tiffin, IA 14.637

8. 95-Keith Foss/Winona, MN 14.682

9. 71-Andrew McKay/Edina, MN 14.685

10. 19T-Tim Fuller/Watertown, NY 14.755

11. 1*-Chub Frank/Bear Lake, PA 14.761

12. 25s-Chad Simpson/Mt. Vernon, IA 14.825

13. 24-Rick Eckert/York, PA 14.831

14. 29-Darrell Lanigan/Union, KY 14.837

15. 27J-Danny Johnson/Phelps, NY 14.842

16. 25H-Kerry Hansen/Spencer, WI 14.844

17. 1-Josh Richards/Shinnston, WV 14.871

18. 32c-Vic Coffey/Leicester, NY 14.920

19. 16-Tyler Bruening/Decorah, IA 14.933

20. 2b-Brady Smith/Solon Springs, WI 14.942

21. w56-Gary Webb/Bluegrass, IA 15.024

22. 6H-Nick Herrick/Kenyon, MN 15.041

23. 32s-Chris Simpson/Oxford, IA 15.062

24. 23-John Blankenship/Williamson, WV 15.096

25. 28p-John Provinzino/Hibbing, MN 15.133

26. 7c-Chad Chenoweth/Huron, SD 15.155

27. 18H-Dustin Hapka/Grand Forks, SD 15.158

28. 68-Mike Prochnow/Menomonie, WI 15.256

29. 18s-Sean Beardsley/Central Square, NY 15.435

30. 65-Lucas Peterson/Stockholm, WI 15.566

31. 24s-Justin Sass/Alma, WI 15.695

32. 7-Dennis Hillson/Blooming Prairie, MN 15.770

33. 35T-Tony Bloom/Grand Meadow, MN 15.795

34. 6J-Joe Isabell/Pennellville, NY 15.801

35. 177-Troy Brand/Winona, MN 15.835

36. 17J-John Winge/Rossville, GA 15.901

37. 11W-Mark Noble/Cedar Falls, IA 16.040

38. 40-Nick Kramer/Pine Island, MN 16.140

39. 35J-Jerry Bloom/Grand Meadow, MN 16.181

40. 33-Joe Ludemann/Grand Meadow, MN 16.273

41. 96-Doug Herrick/West Concord, MN 16.346

42. 00-Andy Altenburg/Truman, MN 16.372

43. 3u-Barry Underdahl/Cannon Falls, MN 16.453

44. 19R-Dustin Reeh/Rochester, MN 16.754

45. 3c-Chris Schroder/Ankeny, IA 16.890

46. 15c-Curt Schroder/Des Moines, IA 17.804

Heat No. 1 (10 laps – Top 4 Transfer): Francis, Clanton, Richards, Eckert, McKay, Provinzino, Webb, Beardsley, Winge, T. Bloom, Altenburg, Chris Schroder

Heat No. 2 (10 laps – Top 4 Transfer): Babb, Birkhofer, Lanigan, Fuller, Coffey, Isabell, Chenoweth, N. Herrick, Peterson, Kramer, D. Herrick, Curt Schroder

Heat No. 3 (10 laps – Top 4 Transfer): Eckrich, C. Smith, Frank, Chris Simpson, Hapka, Bruening, Sass, Brand, Underdahl, J. Bloom, D. Johnson

Heat No. 4 (10 laps – Top 4 Transfer): Mars, Hansen, Prochnow, B. Smith, Noble, Reeh, Foss, Blankenship, Chad Simpson, Hillson, Ludemann

B-Main No. 1 (12 laps – Top 3 Transfer): McKay, Provinzino, Coffey, Chenoweth, Webb, Isabell, Peterson, D. Herrick, Beardsley, T. Bloom, Kramer, Winge, Altenburg, N. Herrick (DNS) Chris Schroder

B-Main No. 2 (12 laps – Top 3 Transfer): D. Johnson, Bruening, Hapka, Blankenship, Noble, J. Bloom, Sass, Reeh, Hillson (DNS) Underdahl, Foss, Brand, Chad Simpson, Ludemann

USRA Modifieds

Feature – Tim Donlinger, Todd Scharkey, Jason Krohn, Jason Cummins, Bob Timm, Tommy Myer, Mark Noble, Steve Wetrzstein, Dan Bohr, Mike Sorensen, Patick Grahm, Joe Wernecke, Jacob Dahle, Neil Eckhart, Nate Wasmund, Les Duellman, jay Ihrke, Layne Meyer, Doug Hillson, Tom Paulson, Tyler Clark, Ryan York, Mick Glenn, Brad Waits

“B” Feature – Glenn, Ihrke, Eckhart, Duellman, Wernecke, Darwyn Karau, Jeff Rollinger, Don Gerritsen Jr., Greg Jensen, Dwaine Hanson, James Parker, Ted Marrs, Craig Scott, Bobby Swanson, Terry Timmerman, Todd Steinhart

Heat 1 – Timm, Scharkey, Clark, York, Bohr, Glenn, Scott, Swanson, Gerritsen Jr.

Heat 2 – Cummins, Wetzstein, Grahm, wasmund, Dahle, Eckhart, Hanson, Marrs, Parker

Heat 3 – Krohn, Sorensen, Donlinger, Noble, Meyer, Ihrke, Duellman, Jensen, Timmerman

Heat 4 – Waits, Myer, Hillson, Paulson, Steinhart, Wernecke, Rollinger, Karau