Dale McDowell celebrates after winning the World of Outlaws Late Model Series opener on Friday. (Photo by Jim Denhamer)
BARBERVILLE, Fla. – After being out of a race car for four months, Dale McDowell got to ring a triumphant bell at Volusia Speedway Park on Friday night – its meaning was twofold.
It was a bell ringing in a straw hat and checkered flag, signaling his win at the World of Outlaws Late Model Series season opener at the Sunshine Nationals. But also to further indicate his victorious battle against cancer.
McDowell, 55, of Chickamauga, Galif., was diagnosed with prostate cancer and wasn’t sure if he would ever race again. However, after surgery, support and four months of recovery, McDowell won. Returning behind the wheel of a super-late model, he proved to everyone – and to himself – that no speed was lost.
“I want to be tough,” McDowell said. “I realized you have to be tough. But it’s very emotional. I have to thank the good God above for letting me come back and do what I love because four months ago I didn’t know what was going to happen. I haven’t been in a car in four months.
“Hats off to my brother. Everyone who took care of me while I was sick and sat with us.”
He started the weekend qualifying third in Group A, behind rookie contender Kyle Hammer, who was fastest overall. He then won his Heat Race and took pole for the 30-lap feature.
When the green flag flew on Friday night to start the 2022 season for the World of Outlaws Late Models – after being postponed to Thursday night – McDowell blasted out in front of the solid field with outside pole sitter Devin Moran hanging from his outside. The two dueled side by side for the opening round before McDowell’s precision around the bottom lane took over.
When the black No. 17m up front found clean air, McDowell never looked back.
Four warnings teased his journey around the half-mile track, putting the hungry field of drivers on its bumper every time. However, none of the contenders stepping up to the plate could match McDowell’s speed.
Moran’s effort faded early when Chris Madden and Dennis Erb, Jr. managed to secure the second and last podium place respectively before the end of the third round. Madden held onto second for 10 laps with no progress on McDowell. After a warning with 18 laps to go, Erb beat Madden on the restart and made his way through the corner to push his blue No. 28 machine into second.
But like those before him, McDowell was unable to catch up and had to settle for a strong points streak to open the season.
“To get a good start here, we have about seven races or so (between Sunshine Nationals and DIRTcar Nationals). We need to make the most of it and come out of Florida with a good run in the points. To have a good start here is really good. Hopefully we can hold out here for the rest of the week.”
Behind Erb, reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson was on the move, making his way from 11th to the podium with 10 laps to go. He tried to challenge the Series veteran for second in the closing laps but remained third on the line.
The race also saw Fox Factory Hard Charger Hudson O’Neil on the move, working his way from 18th to fifth.
“Overall, I think we had a good race car,” said O’Neil. “To be able to drive all the way up was really good. We picked up most of our time on the reboot. I don’t know if our race car was great, we didn’t really pass a lot of people while racing, just restarting after mistakes and stuff. All in all, we’re happy with how everything went and we’re continuing to dig.”
For McDowell, the $10,000 win was his 13th World of Outlaws win of his career and his first with the Series since 2016. However, its importance will trump all other milestones.
“I just can’t tell you how ecstatic I am to be here,” McDowell said.
1. 17M-Dale McDowell; 2. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 3. 6-Kyle Larson; 4. 44-Chris Madden; 5. 71-Hudson O’Neal; 6. 25-Shane Clanton; 7. 1-Brandon Sheppard; 8. 111V Max Blair; 9. 16-Tyler Bruening; 10. 18-Chase Junghans; 11. 29-Darrell Lanigan; 12. 97-Cade Dillard; 13. B1-Brent Larson; 14. 8-Kyle Strickler; 15. 14M-Morgan Bagley; 16. 99B-Boom Briggs; 17. 11-Gordy Gundaker; 18. 81E-Tanner English; 19. 1R-Josh Richards; 20. 32-Chris Simpson; 21. 28M – Jimmy Mars; 22. 9-Devin Moran; 23. 20-Jimmy Owens; 24. 89-Ashton Winger; 25. 19R-Ryan Gustin; 26. 20RT – Ricky Thornton Jr; 27. 45-Kyle Hammer