By Jeremiah Davis
DAVENPORT – There’s just something about an Iowan winning a national dirt tour race in Iowa that’s special.
It’s not even necessarily about the individual driver – though in this case, it helped that Mount Vernon’s Chad Simpson is a favorite to fans and got the added emotional boost of his first World of Outlaws Late Models victory Tuesday night at Davenport Speedway.
What makes it special is what happens after the race.
During and after the formalities of the post-race interview with the series race announcer and the winner and podium photos, a crowd gathers. Without fail and no matter which Iowan it is who wins these national tour races, these fans that have worked all day and hustled to the track after aren’t subtle about offering their driver a handshake, a hug, congratulations and – maybe most important – often a cold Busch Light.
If that sounds like a commercial for something, well, it probably should be. Because it’s exactly what happened again Tuesday to Simpson, who led all 40 laps and held off a last-lap charge from Chris Madden to give the Simpson brothers two wins in two Davenport Speedway half-mile races this year.
“I’ve been trying for 15 years to win one of these Outlaw races with these guys,” Simpson said. “I’ve won a lot of heat races and set a lot of quick times, but never won the main event. To do this right here, in front of our home crowd, right here in Iowa, it’s where it should happen.”
— Jeremiah Davis (@jeremiahdavis10) July 25, 2018
The crowd around Simpson on Tuesday night stayed longer than most, too, for whatever reason.
It was probably a good thing World of Outlaws requires drivers to drive across the scales before rolling out to Victory Lane officially, because enough people surrounded the car it would’ve taken quite a while to get it back to the tech area.
The Davenport area showed out for this one, too. Photographer Mike Ruefer, who has been going to races at his hometown track for decades, said it was the “biggest crowd for a stock car race here in 20 years.”
They got to see a driver win from the pole – which, on the surface sounds a little boring, but came with three big challenges from two nationally relevant drivers in Madden and Mike Marlar, both of whom are fighting with Brandon Sheppard (who ran third the first half of the race before an expired engine ended his race) for the WoO Late Model title.
Decorah’s Tyler Bruening ran in the top five for the first 32 laps before a broken part in the right front sucked him into the outside wall, erasing a large lead for Simpson and giving Madden and Marlar a shot, as well as bringing his brother Chris into the picture.
On that restart, Marlar even pulled ahead briefly on the back stretch, unable to make a slick top groove work. Madden then mounted his charge on the final lap, saying afterward, “I should’ve pulled the trigger a lap earlier than when I did. I could be up there getting my picture made for winning this thing. I didn’t pull the trigger quick enough, he won and I didn’t.”
It would make sense for a driver, firmly in the lead most of the race, to almost panic when stuff like that happens. Chad Simpson’s ability not to was why he took home that $10,000.
“It’s tough when that happens,” Chad said. “I knew he was going to take a shot to the outside. I was just hoping I could roll the bottom and I was getting myself too slow around the bottom. I knew I was, but I knew I couldn’t afford to slide across the racetrack and if someone was underneath me they would’ve drove right by me off the corner.
“It’s definitely nerve-wracking at the end, especially when you get somebody up alongside you.”
Chad won ahead of Madden, brother Chris Simpson, Marlar, Rick Eckert, Frank Heckenast Jr., Shane Clanton, Chase Junghans, Tyler Erb and Brent Larson.
Chris Simpson, who started near the back of the field, said he hurried out to the front stretch after rolling across the scales himself to be able to come out to congratulate his brother on that first WoO win.
Chris won the MLRA race on the half-mile earlier this year, so he was a little disappointed to not be celebrating himself – “If we didn’t start back there I think we could’ve finished up farther,” he said – but still offered a nod to a brother who he simultaneously remains happy for but also wants so bad to beat.
“That’s cool for him,” Chris said. “They’ve been working hard all year, and we’ve both got good cars. It’s good to see him win. As long as one of us wins, that’s pretty cool.”
That crowd was there for both Simpson brothers at both races. Chad’s first WoO win was no small feat, and he soaked in the moment, embracing his wife and kids, accepting those cold beers and a victory cigar with a wide smile.
Iowans winning races like this in Iowa is special, and boy don’t those Iowans know it.
“There’s nothing better than winning right here in front of everybody,” Chad said. “It was way closer than I wanted. Mike got that run on me and they said Madden took a shot at the end, but I knew their only shot was (Turns) 1 & 2.
“That’s such a cool deal.”