ROSSBURG, Ohio — With the band back together, Jonathan Davenport and his crew played one of their greatests hits during Saturday night’s 47th annual World 100 at Eldora Speedway.
The Blairsville, Ga. driver — with former crew chief Kevin Rumley and company in tow — dominated the night by leading all 100 laps and took car owner G.R. Smith to a $50,000 payday, winning dirt late model racing’s most prestigious event for the second time in three years.
After starting from third, Davenport took the lead in the first two corners and went virtually unchallenged in becoming the first World 100 winner in 14 years to go flag-to-flag at the Tony Stewart-owned half-mile oval.
The last World 100 winner to notch a wire-to-wire performance prior to Davenport’s rout on Saturday night was Dan Schlieper in 2003.
Davenport’s victory seemed unfathomable just a few months ago, as the driver who swept Eldora’s Dream and World 100 in 2015 during a career season with the K&L Rumley Enterprises team was winless in dirt super late model competition through the first half of the year.
Leaving the Barry Wright Race Cars house car team the first week in August, Davenport ended up connecting with North Carolina transplant G.R. Smith, kicking off their partnership with back-to-back victories.
He added a $25,000 Hillbilly 100 triumph one week ago at Tyler County Speedway in Middlebourne, W.Va. before heading to Eldora with help from his former car owners — Rumley and his Hall of Fame engine-building father Lee Roy — along with crew member Bryan Liverman.
The hashtag #TheBandisBackTogether became the team’s theme of the weekend, and they struck a winning tune Saturday with Davenport’s dominating performance, buoying G.R. Smith’s operation in the process.
“I’ve just gotta thank G.R. Smith. If you only know our past, man, it’s so cool,” Davenport said with a laugh in victory lane. “Probably the first time we met one another, we was racing and, you know … I don’t know. I ran over him, and he ran over me, and we had a little altercation there. But anyway, it’s so cool for him to step out (of the car) and for me to be able to drive it.”
Davenport, the weekend’s overall fast qualifier and runner-up to Lanigan in Thursday’s opening preliminary feature, had a hard time believing he was standing on the Eldora stage after his season-long struggles.
“Just the year that I had … you know, I love Barry and Lance (Wright) to death. Things just didn’t work out over there,” Davenport said. “I have all the respect for them in the world, but man, just to be almost in the gutter for a half a year, then come here and win the biggest race there is … it’s an amazing turnaround.”
Davenport’s ride appeared flawless all race long. His only real scare came on lap 66, when the ailing car of defending World 100 winner Bobby Pierce slowed abruptly in front of him in turn two. Davenport steered away from that danger as a yellow flag appeared.
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