Strickler and Nicely drop out early, Stewart hard charges 25th-to-6th
Nick Hoffman has won a lot of races at Volusia Speedway Park in his career. Just consult the golden gator farm at his home in Mooresville, NC, reflecting his unprecedented six-straight DIRTcar Nationals championships.
However, entering Saturday night, there remained one prestigious DIRTcar UMP Modified race he’d yet to win at the venue – the Emil & Dale Reutimann Memorial.
With some speed on the bottom and a good line in Turns 3-4, Hoffman was able to swipe the lead away from defending race winner Tyler Nicely in the early going and hold the field off the rest of the way for his first career triumph in Florida’s most prestigious Dirt Modified race.
“Everything they do – the Reutimann family, Volusia Speedway Park, everybody that puts this deal on – I can’t thank them enough,” Hoffman said. “This race has kind of eluded me. I’ve ran second, I’ve ran third… I’ve been close, just not close enough to win.”
“Tyler [Nicely] beat us up pretty good last year, but this year I was just a little bit more on top of my game.”
Starting fourth after a Showdown Feature win Friday night, Hoffman didn’t have to wait long for his shot at the lead. Nicely jumped to the early lead from the pole and led the opening circuits before the first caution was displayed with four laps complete. But Hoffman was all over him on the restart and drove it deep into Turn 3 with speed and completed the pass coming out of Turn 4.
“[Nicely] was pretty good there at the beginning, and then I just kinda bided my time to get to second,” Hoffman said. “I was all over him on that restart, so I just figured I’d try and get the lead and control the pace.”
By this time, Strickler had cracked the whip on his #00EH, normally piloted by Longhorn by Loenbro head and former DIRTcar Nationals champion Steve Arpin, and followed Hoffman around Nicely to take second. Now only a second behind Hoffman, Strickler pinned the throttle.
Through lapped traffic the two raced, weaving inside-and-outside in an exciting chase around the half-mile oval with a blistering pace.
“This place – when it widens out like that, you can pretty much go anywhere,” Hoffman said. “It was actually really fun to maneuver through lapped traffic. I was having a pretty good time just picking lanes and trying to carry as much speed [as possible].”
The chase soon reached a fever pitch, bringing spectators to the edge of their seats, until Strickler lost the handle on his car in Turns 3-4 and looped it by himself to bring out the yellow.
He had just tapped the inside retaining wall, which sent him around in a spin and left him with nose damage. He took it to pit road in an attempt to make repairs but retired to the pits after the restart from the persistent damage.
One lap later, Nicely – who inherited Strickler’s runner-up spot – slowed suddenly on the backstretch and brought out caution again. He took his #25 to pit road with an apparent air cleaner issue and was back out for the restart, but dropped out one lap later, done for the night.
“Strickler just pushed the issue really hard, really early,” Hoffman said. “I was running way harder than I wanted to be at that point in time. Once he had his issue, I was able to cruise.”
And cruise he did. Hoffman drove the remaining 26 laps unchallenged and led the field back to the checkers to collect the $7,000 check and his first tractor trophy as winner of the eighth annual Emil & Dale Reutimann Memorial.
“This is pretty unbelievable, the whole year we had,” Hoffman said. “From Summer Nationals, DIRTcar Nationals, everything we’ve done to get the DIRTcar national championship again… To get that ride with Scott [Bloomquist] and learn from him and run really well in the Late Model, that’s gonna catapult my career, I feel.”
Though he hadn’t raced at Volusia in 20 years, Victor Lee was thrilled to bag $3,000 for a runner-up finish to the #1-ranked driver in the country.
“We’ll take that as a win, for us,” Lee said. “There haven’t been too many people to beat Nick this year. He’s been phenomenal, he’s on his game, so hats off to him and his crew.”
The Danville, KY-native started third and kept his #4L inside the top-five the entire race while fighting mechanical issues throughout the night.
“At the end there, I was really hanging on,” Lee said. “I don’t know if I overheated the brakes and one started sticking on it or what. But when I rolled off the throttle, it wanted to turn dead-right without touching the brakes.”
Kenny Wallace crossed the line in third, improving on his best finish of 10th from his debut in the event last year.
“It was a great race for us,” Wallace said. “We started ninth and really didn’t know what to expect. This is my first year with an Elite Chassis, and I feel like I’ve been getting better all year long.”
Wallace, of Arnold, MO, steadily climbed through the top-10 over 50 laps and was battling for third with Chris Arnold before the final caution with 4-to-go. He hammered the throttle on the restart and powered around Arnold on the bottom to grab the spot, which he held for the final laps to bag a $2,000 check.
“I was really strong on the bottom,” Wallace said. “My car surprised me. I could really drive in hard on the bottom and I had to get used to that. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to drive in that hard on the bottom.”
2021 UMP Modified track champion Garret Stewart found himself in a challenging situation Saturday night after getting into a wreck the night before. He finished repairs on Saturday afternoon and arrived back at the track just in time, scooping a transfer spot from 12th in the first Last Chance Showdown. But he didn’t stop there – the Leesburg, FL-native climbed nineteen positions over 50 laps to finish the Feature 6th from 25th on the starting grid.
Reutimann Memorial Feature (50 Laps) 1. 2-Nick Hoffman; 2. 4L-Victor Lee; 3. 36-Kenny Wallace; 4. 99W-Chris Arnold; 5. 72-Todd Neiheiser; 6. 67- Garret Stewart; 7. 7G-Seth Geary; 8. 99-Justin Haley; 9. 00D-David Reutimann; 10. 13P-Rich Pratt; 11. 80D-Rich Dawson; 12. 24B-Dillon Buhr; 13. 8A-Austin Holcombe; 14. 205-Travis Varnadore; 15. 18-Eric Moon; 16. 44-Jeff Parsons; 17. 16C-John Clippinger; 18. 00-Buzzie Reutimann; 19. (DNF) 33C-Cody Overton; 20. (DNF) 1A-Steve Meyer Jr; 21. (DNF) 33M-Jeff Mathews; 22. (DNF) 2J-Troy Johnson; 23. (DNF) 25-Tyler Nicely; 24. (DNF) 11Z-Zane Oedewaldt; 25. (DNF) 00EH-Kyle Strickler; 26. (DNF) 39W-Brandon Wells; 27. (DNF) 84-Ryan Toole; 28. (DNF) 88-Cody Thornhill
Last Chance Showdown 1 (12 Laps, top-3 transfer) 1. 00-Buzzie Reutimann; 2. 18-Eric Moon; 3. 67-Garret Stewart; 4. 10-Dustin Thayer; 5. 80-Paul Shead; 6. 2L-Jake Leitzman; 7. 78-Troy Loomis; 8. 17-Patrick Vareika; 9. 7-Jason Fitzgerald; 10. 96-Matt Johnson; 11. 1P-Mike Phillips; 12. 11P-Charlie Phillips; 13. (DNF) 27S-Paul Schloss; 14. (DNF) 57P-Zach Permann; 15. (DNF) 17P-Robert Pitcher
Last Chance Showdown 2 (12 Laps, top-3 transfer) 1. 2J-Troy Johnson; 2. 88-Cody Thornhill; 3. 44-Jeff Parsons; 4. 8A-Austin Holcombe; 5. 11Z-Zane Oedewaldt; 6. 54-Jason Jack; 7. 51-Dalton Lanich; 8. 22-David Daughtery; 9. 7+7-Jeff Solinger; 10. 33-Kenny Mihalik; 11. 192-Tim McLeod; 12. (DNF) M41-Steve Maisel; 13. (DNF) 34P-Jim Passino; 14. (DNF) 96S-Slade Parsons; 15. (DNF) 4-Doug Penny; 16. (DNF) 6-Ryan Ayers