Madness; Tennessean Slides Weiss to Win at Smoky Mountain!
by Jordan DeLucia - World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late
(March 7, 2020) Just like on the college basketball
court, Saturday night’s World of Outlaws Morton Buildings
Late Model Series race featured two of the best in the sport up
against each other with the pressure on the line and a big trophy
awaiting the winner. By the time 60 laps around Smoky Mountain
Speedway were complete, the packed grandstands had been treated
to an incredible race that saw home-state hero Mike Marlar regain
the lead after a late restart and bring it back to the checkered
flag for his first ever Tennessee Tipoff victory.
The 2018 Series champion made the winning move on 2019 Rookie
of the Year Ricky Weiss in a big slidejob for the lead with just
over two laps remaining to secure the victory, Weiss settling
for the runner-up spot. Josh Richards crossed in third after a
climb from 10th and strong presence inside the top-five all race
Polesitter Chris Madden, of Gray Court, SC, led the field to
the drop of the green with Brandon Sheppard and Marlar, from Winfield,
TN, on his heels as he pulled away to a nice gap before suffering
a reported power steering issue on lap 25, ending his night early.
By then, Weiss had made his way to the runner-up position from
eighth, picking off cars one at a time down low before inheriting
the lead from Madden’s misfortune under the caution.
Weiss, of Headingley, MB, carried the lead for three laps after
the restart until Marlar got a great run out of Turn 4 on lap
28 and drove it deep into turn one to take his first lead of the
night. Much like he had been doing the whole race, Marlar posted
his car up high and fed off the of the topside momentum.
“I definitely had it [set up] a little wrong for the bottom
so I needed to run the middle to the outside,” Marlar said.
“I felt like I was really fast, even in open track. But
when I caught the traffic, I don’t know but for whatever
reason, I was really loose.”
That discomfort up high in traffic for Marlar became very apparent
around lap 48, when Weiss had noticeably closed the gap Marlar
made for himself before hitting lapped traffic. Sticking to the
low side, Weiss got a great run off of Turn 4 and beat Marlar
to the stripe to regain the race lead.
“When we got to lapped traffic there, I was able to inch
up on [Marlar] and was able to get by him,” Weiss said.
“I knew we’d have a shot at winning it if it stayed
green, but of course we got a caution with about six or seven
[laps] to go.”
Weiss led for another five laps and could see the light at the
end of the tunnel, until the caution came out with just six circuits
remaining. Under the yellow, Marlar paced behind Weiss in his
special throwback car number 57, honoring he and his father’s
original racing number, and pondered about the move he knew he
had to make in an attempt to steal the victory.
“I was giving it everything I had. I had pretty good confidence
that I could do it, but there’s always that question mark.
But I went ahead and went for it and it all worked out,”
Just ahead of him, Weiss was making an equally difficult decision
on what to do – try switching to the high line to hinder
Marlar’s momentum or stick to his guns down low.
After a bit of careful thought under yellow, Weiss made his choice
to stay down low through Turns 1 and 2 in the hopes of defending
“It’s real tough, you can only look at your [crew]
guys so much,” Weiss said. “The bottom was really
good once we got rolling and once we got to lapped traffic because
no one could run down there.
“I knew with the momentum, [Marlar’s] line was quicker.
It’s just a tough decision to make whether to go up there
and leave the line you just took the lead on, or you go down there
and try to protect it.”
In the end, Weiss’ maneuverability down low just wasn’t
enough to hold off the high-flying Marlar. Out of turn two they
raced, bumper-to-bumper, Marlar with the speed into Turn 3. Marlar
threw a textbook slidejob on Weiss as they entered the corner
and took the lead away permanently with two laps remaining. Marlar
brought it all the way back to the checkered for his eighth career
World of Outlaws Feature win and first in the Tennessee Tipoff.
In retrospect, Marlar was glad it worked out that Weiss was instructed
to move up a bit to protect the lead, but also knows of the downsides
of crew signaling.
“When you’re running that outside and making ground
on them, you’re afraid that their crew will send them up
in front of you and cause a wreck,” Marlar said. “That’s
something you have to be aware of when you’re racing, is
the crews signaling the driver where to be… I wanted to
make sure they were sending [Weiss] up and I was going down.”
Looking back on it, Weiss said he might have considered trusting
the topside a bit more to defend the lead instead of sticking
down low, but also noted the bottom lane’s disadvantages
in the same regard.
“I knew I was really good in [Turns] 1 and 2, I could hit
the brown and take off,” Weiss said. “But with 3 and
4, I’ve been here enough times to know that the momentum
usually is quicker. But, when you get racing, sometimes the bottom
can be quicker, so it’s really hard to judge when you’re
in open air and there’s no lapped cars and you’re
on the point.”
Overall, a great finish for the young Canadian, who, with Saturday’s
finish, now trails Sheppard by just 58 points. Darrell Lanigan
also dropped out early, and sits third in points, now 112 markers
behind leader Sheppard.