Chris Madden

GATOR SMOKE: Madden grabs DIRTcar Nationals win, Moran crowned Big Gator champion

Chris Madden wins at Volusia

Devin Moran wins “Big Gator” trophy by one point over Madden; earns second DIRTcar Nationals championship

Chris Madden knew he couldn’t play it safe Saturday night at Volusia Speedway Park. As the Gray Court, SC driver’s chances to win dwindled, he decided to seize an opportunity.

Madden ran fourth during the first 10 laps before taking a risk that led to reward. He thundered to the top of the Volusia clay, picking off Mike Marlar and Max Blair to get to second. That’s when he set his sights on leader Dale McDowell.

As the Chickamauga, GA driver moved to the middle to pass a slower car, “Smokey” dealt his final blow. Madden switched lanes through Turns 3 and 4, powering under McDowell to take control of the lead en route to winning the DIRTcar Nationals finale, while Devan Moran won the overall Big Gator Championship.

The choice to go to the outside was crucial in Madden’s 33rd career World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Models triumph.

“It was very important,” Madden said. “I thought we messed up with an adjustment, and when they dropped the green flag, I couldn’t keep up, and I was like, oh boy, I’m in trouble.

“The racetrack finally slowed down enough to where we were pretty good and [McDowell], and they caught lap traffic, so I had nothing to lose but step out there, and we found the groove and happened to get by right in time.”

Madden’s second career DIRTcar Nationals victory is the culmination of a consistent week for him and his team. He’s now at the top of the World of Outlaws CASE Late Models point standings—16 points ahead of McDowell.

“We’ve had a great car all week,” Madden said. “I’ve made some bad calls on restarts, picking the wrong line, and took myself out of a couple of wins this week. Overall, we’ve had a great week, my guys worked their tail off doing a great job, and I appreciate them.”

Mike Marlar, the 2018 Series Champion, crossed the line second. The Winfield, TN campaigner sat third for most of the race, getting by Rookie of the Year contender Max Blair on the final lap.

“I had a good car; I just couldn’t do much about it there,” Marlar said. “[Blair] was just in my line. I kind of waited until I thought I could pass on tires, and the last couple of laps, I just drove it a lot harder and got him. But I probably never would’ve gotten Madden.”

McDowell finished third after leading early in the race. “The Mac Daddy” felt he was a sitting duck once he caught the back of the field.

“I didn’t know where to go, and I went to the middle,” McDowell said. “That’s where I should’ve been, but [lap cars] moved out a little bit so [Madden] and them shot by me. Some days are your days, and some days aren’t.”

Max Blair, the Rookie of the race, slipped to fourth on the final lap. Despite making a mistake at the end, the Viper Motorsports team is happy to get its first top five of the season.

“Anytime you run fourth with these guys, it’s something to be proud of,” Blair said. “It sucks a little bit when you run second the whole race and then give it away on the last lap and fall back to fourth. But, with how this week went and everything, fourth is a lot better than 18th.”

The Centerville, PA driver leads the chase for Rookie of the Year after six races—10 points ahead of Tanner English.

He isn’t the only rookie who grabbed their first top five, as Kyle Hammer finished fifth. It’s momentum the Clinton, IL driver can take moving forward, on top of leading 20 laps during Thursday’s DIRTcar Nationals Feature.

“This is one of the hardest tracks we’ll probably hit on the schedule,” Hammer said. “I mean, look at all these guys. Ryan Gustin dominates one night and misses the Feature the next. We led half the Feature and missed the next night and take a provisional.

“It shows [Volusia] is a hard track no matter who you are, so I feel like we’ve got a huge confidence booster going into the rest of the year.”

While Madden did everything possible to win the Big Gator title, Moran took it home for the second straight year. “The Mailman” did just enough to win the DIRTcar Nationals championship—besting Madden by one point.

Big Gator Trophy Celebration

Despite not finding Victory Lane, Moran still made his way to the podium four times at Volusia. It capped off the end to a successful Speedweeks for the Dresden, OH driver.

It’s pretty cool,” Moran said. “We wanted to win so bad here this week, and I felt we had the car too.

“To come out here and get the big gator two years in a row after not racing a whole lot is a lot of fun. I can’t thank Wylie [Moran’s brother and crew chief] enough.”

Chris Madden proved that taking a chance at the right time can pay off on the path to Victory. It’s risks like Madden’s that led to a reward—and a chance to contend for a World of Outlaws CASE Late Models title.

UP NEXT: The Most Powerful Late Models on the Planet make their inaugural appearance at The Rev in Monroe, LA, March 11-12. FOR TICKETS, CLICK HERE.

CASE Construction Feature (40 Laps): 1. 44-Chris Madden[3]; 2. 157-Mike Marlar[5]; 3. 17M-Dale McDowell[1]; 4. 111V-Max Blair[2]; 5. 45-Kyle Hammer[7]; 6. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr[6]; 7. 8-Kyle Strickler[4]; 8. 28-Dennis Erb Jr[9]; 9. 39-Tim McCreadie[11]; 10. 46-Earl Pearson Jr[8]; 11. 16-Tyler Bruening[17]; 12. 9-Devin Moran[20]; 13. 76-Brandon Overton[14]; 14. 11H-Spencer Hughes[12]; 15. 81E-Tanner English[22]; 16. 130-Chase Osterhoff[19]; 17. 97-Cade Dillard[23]; 18. 1-Brandon Sheppard[25]; 19. B1-Brent Larson[24]; 20. 40B-Kyle Bronson[13]; 21. 11-Gordy Gundaker[29]; 22. 99B-Boom Briggs[28]; 23. 1T-Tyler Erb[21]; 24. 1R-Josh Richards[27]; 25. 89-Ashton Winger[18]; 26. 33M-Michael Norris[16]; 27. 19R-Ryan Gustin[26]; 28. 32-Chris Simpson[10]; 29. 3S-Brian Shirley[15] FOX FACTORY HARD CHARGER: Devin Moran [+8]

BLUE COLLAR MAN: Erb grabs first DIRTcar Nationals Gator at Volusia

Dennis Erb Jr. wins at Volusia

NASCAR Cup Series Champion Alan Kulwicki once said, “In every aspect of life, have a game plan and do your best to achieve it.”

Dennis Erb Jr. knew he had to master Turns 1 and 2 if he wanted a gator. He wasted no time executing hisgame plan, thundering past Frank Heckenast Jr. in the middle of the Volusia Speedway Park surface.

It’s a lead he’d never relinquish—fending off challenges from Brandon Sheppard and Chase Junghans to score his first World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Models win of 2022 Friday night at DIRTcar Nationals.

“I mean, we were able to get the lead and roll off through that middle on the start,” Erb said. “We kept going real good and had a good start. After that, the car was working good, and we just had to keep hitting our marks and keep the rest of them behind us.”

The path toward his 10th career Series triumph in his 250th start wasn’t clear for the Late Model veteran. Erb and defending champion Brandon Sheppard gave the fans at “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile” an epic battle for the lead around the Feature’s halfway point.

The reigning champion swung high while Erb held his ground on the bottom, gaining enough momentum to pull ahead as a caution came out on Lap 25.

“I saw him out there and started to get a little worried,” Erb said. “I started to try and carry a little more speed through [Turns} 1 and 2. I knew [Sheppard] was pretty much committed up there, so I knew if I could beat him on the bottom, we were in pretty good shape.”

Sheppard faded to fourth at the checkered flag. The four-time Series champion stated he stayed on the top side of the racetrack for too long after Erb pulled away.

“[Erb] was swinging out a little bit wider after he knew I was there,” Sheppard said. “I stayed out there a little bit too long after he got out there ahead of me. I should’ve moved down behind him and kept my left rear tire underneath me.

“Instead, I stayed a little too long, and then I overheated it. I was trying to move around, and it wasn’t as good. After a couple of guys got by me, I was able to get down there and cool my left rear tire off, and I drove back to them.”

Sheppard wasn’t the only driver who tried to dethrone Erb from the lead. Chase Junghans quickly closed on the top spot in the final laps but fell short.

The Manhattan, KS driver used patience early in the race before unleashing speed toward the end.

“I just bided my time and tried not to blow my tires off this thing and keep it under me,” Junghans said. “Those lap cars kind of got in the way at the end, but that’s how it goes. Luckily, we’re just up here getting interviewed.”

Once Junghans saw Sheppard’s line ahead of him, his decision to go to the outside paid off, leading to his first podium finish of the season.

“I saw Sheppard running the top, and I was like kind of pinching the corner on the bottom,” Junghans said. “So, I said screw it, I’ll go up there, and kind of follow him. I chose his line a little bit, but I’d kind of turn off the top and try to drive straight down the hill, and it seemed like that’s where I’d gain a bunch of ground.”

Three-time Series Champion Darrell Lanigan finished third for the second straight night. The Union, KY driver’s car came to life in the final 15 laps, leading him to another top three.

“We just gave it all we got,” Lanigan said. “We had a little bit of a chance there, and it was coming back to us a little bit. We just got up on the wheel and tried to make something happen.

“I just can’t run where I want to on the racetrack yet, and if we get our car right, I think we’ll be able to run up front.”

Dale McDowell, the leading World of Outlaws CASE Late Models winner in 2022, rounded out the top five.

Dennis Erb Jr.’s game plan worked to perfection Friday night, proving a good start can lead to glory on the racetrack. It’s a start that could position him toward a run at a championship at the end of the season.

UP NEXT: The battle for the “Big Gator” trophy ends Saturday night at Volusia Speedway Park in a 40 lap, $10,000-to-win finale. For Tickets: CLICK HERE. The Super DIRTcar Series will hand out a “Big Gator.”

Devin Moran leads the DIRTcar Nationals standings—37 points ahead of Chris Madden. McDowell and Sheppard are tied for third—54 points behind Moran.

Madden is currently the World of Outlaws CASE Late Models point leader—10 points ahead of Dale McDowell.

CASE Construction Feature (40 Laps): 1. 28-Dennis Erb Jr[2]; 2. 18-Chase Junghans[7]; 3. 29-Darrell Lanigan[4]; 4. 1-Brandon Sheppard[5]; 5. 17M-Dale McDowell[6]; 6. 44-Chris Madden[8]; 7. 16-Tyler Bruening[9]; 8. 71-Hudson O’Neal[17]; 9. 25-Shane Clanton[14]; 10. 9-Devin Moran[20]; 11. 99JR-Frank Heckenast Jr[1]; 12. 81E-Tanner English[11]; 13. 6-Nick Hoffman[22]; 14. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr[18]; 15. 11-Gordy Gundaker[30]; 16. 157-Mike Marlar[13]; 17. 111V-Max Blair[21]; 18. 99B-Boom Briggs[26]; 19. 1R-Josh Richards[27]; 20. 45-Kyle Hammer[29]; 21. 89-Ashton Winger[10]; 22. 46-Earl Pearson Jr[16]; 23. 3S-Brian Shirley[23]; 24. 25B-Mike Benedum[15]; 25. B1-Brent Larson[28]; 26. 11H-Spencer Hughes[12]; 27. 10-Garrett Smith[24]; 28. 76-Brandon Overton[3]; 29. 33M-Michael Norris[19]; 30. 19R-Ryan Gustin[25] FOX FACTORY HARD CHARGER: Gordy Gundaker [+15]

RETURN OF THE MAC: McDowell scores second World of Outlaws win of 2022 at Volusia

Dale McDowell wins at Volusia

Devin Moran grabs fourth straight podium finish, leads Big Gator points

Only one word describes Dale McDowell’s 2022 season—emotional.

Less than a month after the Chickamauga, GA driver opened the season with a win at Sunshine Nationals, he backed it up with another one Thursday night at Volusia Speedway Park.

McDowell outran Devin Moran and Darrell Lanigan in the final 10 laps to earn his first Gator trophy since 2018. Tears fell from the “Mac Daddy’s” eyes in Victory Lane, at a loss for words for his recent accomplishments—including his triumph against cancer.

“We came down here in January to see if we were worthy of coming back, and it’s been a dream come true,” McDowell said.

The veteran driver earned a $10,000 check and his 14th career World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series win, tying him for 14th all-time with Tim Fuller.

Despite his success in 2022, it’s a position McDowell never thought he’d be in after his off-track battle.

“I’ve been through a lot, and I have a lot of help behind me and support,” McDowell said. “It’s pretty emotional because I’ve been through a good bit, but I’m just happy to be here.”

While McDowell held the lead in the final 21 laps, Rookie of the Year contender Kyle Hammer led the first 19.

The Clinton, IL driver lost the lead to McDowell on a Lap 20 restart and dropped back to fifth before spinning in Turns 3 and 4, ending his night.

Even though he finished 27th, Hammer gained a boost of confidence racing against some of the top Late Model drivers in the country.

“We started really bad here in the beginning of the week,” Hammer said. “So, to be able to come where we were to here is just awesome for our team, a huge confidence booster.

“I feel like we actually know what we’re doing in the slick now.”

Devin Moran crossed the line second, earning his fourth DIRTcar Nationals podium. The “Mailman” leads the battle for a “Big Gator” trophy but wants a little gator to go with it. He stated he needed to start closer to the front to do that.

“We found some stuff in our Heat Race, and I felt like we were really, really good,” Moran said. “We’ll put that in our Qualifying setup tomorrow and hopefully start on the front row of the [Heat Race], and maybe we can start up front in one of these Features.

“We may not have passed the best car, but we’ve passed plenty of cars this week. We’ll just keep after it.”

Darrell Lanigan crossed the line third after starting 12th. The three-time Series champion stated he’s improving each night, especially in his ability to drive through the field.

“We’ve got our car close now,” Lanigan said. “It’s pretty balanced when we can drive in traffic.”

Chris Madden finished fourth, adding to his Series points lead—12 points ahead of McDowell. It’s the Gray Court, SC driver’s third top-five in four races. And 2021 World of Outlaws CASE Late Models Rookie of the Year Tyler Bruening rounded out the top five.

Dale McDowell’s 2022 season has been an emotional ride he never expected. “The Mac Daddy” is taking things one race at a time, embracing every win as it comes.

“I’m just completely blessed,” McDowell said.

UP NEXT: The World of Outlaws CASE Late Models return to Volusia Speedway Park for another day of action at DIRTcar Nationals along with the Super DIRTcar Series. For Tickets: CLICK HERE.

CASE Construction Equipment Feature (40 Laps): 1. 17M-Dale McDowell[4]; 2. 9-Devin Moran[9]; 3. 29-Darrell Lanigan[12]; 4. 44-Chris Madden[3]; 5. 16-Tyler Bruening[18]; 6. 58-Mark Whitener[5]; 7. 89-Ashton Winger[14]; 8. 81E-Tanner English[13]; 9. 1-Brandon Sheppard[15]; 10. 40B-Kyle Bronson[23]; 11. 39-Tim McCreadie[11]; 12. 157-Mike Marlar[17]; 13. 28-Dennis Erb Jr[16]; 14. 111V-Max Blair[29]; 15. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr[6]; 16. 25-Shane Clanton[20]; 17. 18-Chase Junghans[24]; 18. 11H-Spencer Hughes[21]; 19. B1-Brent Larson[27]; 20. 1R-Josh Richards[30]; 21. 99B-Boom Briggs[26]; 22. 46-Earl Pearson Jr[22]; 23. 11-Gordy Gundaker[28]; 24. 8-Kyle Strickler[7]; 25. 19R-Ryan Gustin[25]; 26. 10-Garrett Smith[10]; 27. 45-Kyle Hammer[2]; 28. 76N-Blair Nothdurft[8]; 29. 32-Chris Simpson[19]; 30. 76-Brandon Overton[1] FOX FACTORY HARD CHARGER AWARD: Max Blair [+15]

REDEMPTION RUN: Thornton Scores First DIRTcar Nationals Win in Dominant Fashion

Ricky Thornton Jr. Wins at Volusia Speedway Park

The Chandler, AZ driver, led all 30 laps en route to his first Volusia Speedway Park Victory

A year ago, Ricky Thornton Jr. seemed destined for his first DIRTcar Nationals win—until heartbreak struck. He lost the lead on a late-race restart, spoiling his chances for victory.

History didn’t have a chance to repeat itself Monday night. The Chandler, AZ driver took advantage of a caution-free Feature, leading all 30-laps to score his first DIRTcar Nationals win at Volusia Speedway Park.

Thornton jumped to the roof of his car in Victory Lane, raising two fists into the Florida sky and letting out a joyful scream—knowing he got his redemption and the $7,000 paycheck.

“I felt like we almost had one last year, and we gave it away there late in the race,” Thornton said. “This is pretty awesome.”

While Thornton dominated the event, he knew he had to be sharp at the start of the race. “RTJ” lined up next to Brandon Overton, who won the last DIRTcar Nationals Feature in 2021.

Thornton powered ahead of Overton on the outside lane, grabbing a lead he’d never relinquish off Turn 2. The outside was where Thornton wanted to go, allowing him to set his own pace in the early stages of the Feature.

“I actually preferred starting on the outside; that way, I could run into [Turn 1] as hard as I wanted,” Thornton said. “It worked out for us; I got a really good start and got out in front of [Overton].

“I was trying to distance myself as much as I could; that way, once we did get to traffic and I had to slow down, they wouldn’t get by me. The top never really slowed down all the way, so it’s pretty awesome.”

As Thornton drove away from the field, Chris Madden charged from his eighth starting position to finish second. The Gray Court, SC campaigner, took the opposite approach from Thornton, using the bottom en route to a runner-up finish.

Madden felt he could’ve had a shot at the win if he had a better starting position.

“We needed to start closer to the front,” Madden said. “We qualified good tonight, inverted back, and then started, I think eighth there.

“We had a really good racecar tonight. I’m really proud of my guys; I’m proud of our finish; I’m proud of our car and what we learned tonight. It was a great racetrack, and we had a fun race.”

Defending DIRTcar Nationals champion Devin Moran crossed the line third—his 13th straight top-10 finish in 2022.

The Dresden, OH driver felt he wasn’t good enough on the outside to contend with both Thornton and Madden.

“Ricky was checked out pretty good, and I think Chris [Madden] was a little better than us,” Moran said. “We were probably a third-place car, we were too tight to run the top, and we just need to work on it a little bit and get it ready for tomorrow.”

Pole-sitter Brandon Overton finished fourth, and Dale McDowell rounded out the top five.

Ricky Thornton Jr. didn’t back down from a second chance at winning his first Gator—giving him DIRTcar Nationals redemption. It’s a momentum that keeps his eyes on a larger prize—a “Big Gator” trophy on his mantle.

The quest for a “Big Gator” continues Tuesday night at Volusia Speedway Park as the Late Models return for their second night of action at DIRTcar Nationals. For tickets, CLICK HERE.

The Super DIRTcar Series and the Xtreme Outlaw Sprint Cars presented by Low-E Insulation will also join the racing card.

If you can’t make it to the track, watch all the action live on DIRTVision – either online on with the DIRTVision App.

Feature (30 Laps): 1. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr[2]; 2. 44-Chris Madden[8]; 3. 9-Devin Moran[6]; 4. 76-Brandon Overton[1]; 5. 17M-Dale McDowell[4]; 6. 16-Tyler Bruening[7]; 7. 1-Brandon Sheppard[3]; 8. 157-Mike Marlar[12]; 9. 25-Shane Clanton[11]; 10. 28-Dennis Erb Jr[13]; 11. 32-Chris Simpson[10]; 12. 29-Darrell Lanigan[5]; 13. 19R-Ryan Gustin[14]; 14. 18D-Daulton Wilson[17]; 15. 40B-Kyle Bronson[15]; 16. 99JR-Frank Heckenast Jr[9]; 17. 89-Ashton Winger[24]; 18. 58-Mark Whitener[18]; 19. 36-Logan Martin[21]; 20. 11-Spencer Hughes[16]; 21. 14M-Morgan Bagley[22]; 22. 31-Tyler Millwood[19]; 23. 97-Cody Overton[23]; 24. 11B-Stacy Boles[20]

FIVE IN FLORIDA: DIRTcar Nationals brings World of Outlaws Late Models back to Florida for five-Feature week

4-wide at Sunshine Nationals

Sunshine and palm trees await the World of Outlaws Late Models as they gear up for their second appearance at Volusia Speedway Park in 2022.

Gator hunting for The Most Powerful Late Models on the Planet goes from Feb. 16-19, but not before handling unfinished business.

The week kicks off with the 30-lap, $10,000-to-win Feature, postponed from Sunshine Nationals, on Wednesday afternoon. After that is complete, Qualifying begins for the first (of four) 40-lap, $10,000-to-win DIRTcar Nationals Features, in the quest for a “Big Gator” trophy.

Drivers will accumulate points through the four World of Outlaws Features and the two DIRTcar Late Model Features on Feb. 14-15 to determine a weeklong points champion. The Sunshine Nationals make up Feature during Wednesday’s program will not count toward the weekly total.

Last month, Dale McDowell, of Chickamauga, GA, opened the 2022 season with a heartwarming victory during Sunshine Nationals in his first race after beating cancer for four months. The “Mac Daddy” dominated the event, leading all 30-laps and holds the points lead entering DIRTcar Nationals. He also has a chance to go back-to-back, as he’ll start second in the held over Feature from Sunshine.

Dale McDowell wins at Sunshine Nationals

Atop the list of drivers McDowell will have to fend off is defending DIRTcar Nationals champion Devin Moran, who also picked up a DIRTcar Nationals Feature win last year. The Dresden, OH driver held off challenges from Bobby Pierce, putting together a consistent week to win his first “Big Gator” trophy.

While those drivers are hungry to find Victory Lane again, the World of Outlaws regulars will likely have something to say about it.

Four-time Series champions Brandon Sheppard and Josh Richards lead the World of Outlaws’ charge, hoping to escape the Florida sun with the points lead. They’re also on the cusp of history, as Richards leads Sheppard 78-77 in the race for most World of Outlaws wins.

Even though all eyes are on Sheppard and Richards in the epic battle for Series supremacy, a mix of veterans and rookies will try to keep them at bay.

Dennis Erb Jr. and Chris Madden are coming off top-five finishes in the season opener and hope to keep that momentum rolling into February. Max Blair, who leads the race for Rookie of the Year, is also off to a hot start with an eighth-place finish.

Tyler Bruening

Another driver to keep an eye on is 2021 World of Outlaws Rookie of the Year Tyler Bruening, who scored his fourth straight top-10 at “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile” in January.

Don’t miss out on the World of Outlaws Late Models as they make their final appearance at Volusia, Feb. 16-19, and hunt for the iconic Big Gator trophy. For DIRTcar Nationals tickets: CLICK HERE.

If you can’t make it to the track, watch all the action live on DIRTVision – either online on with the DIRTVision App.