I had a great time helping out with the emcee duties at the 34 Raceway banquet in Burlington this past Saturday night. It has been twenty-eight years since I was last on the microphone for the track's banquet, my final year of announcing full-time at the speedway, and I forgot just how much fun it is to gather together with racing friends from multiple divisions during the middle of winter to celebrate the past and to look forward to the future. Even in this day and age of bashing and pot stirring on social media, it was obvious just how close knit the "racing family" at 34 Raceway is and you couldn't help but to be excited for the season ahead as Amy Laue hinted at some of the special events that will take place. I have to thank the Laues, the Parishes and the Bowlings for allowing me to once again be a part of that family.
I have often said that 34 Raceway offers one of the most diverse schedules in dirt track racing and, with today's release of that 2017 schedule, the track proves me right once again. They surprised me right off the bat with the return of the Deery Brothers Summer Series for IMCA Late Models on Saturday April 1st. This was the original home of the Summer Series and after being out for the past few seasons it will be great to have the IMCA Late Models back for what I would assume to be the series opener for 2017. Plus, to make it a can't miss doubleheader, the only other division in action that night will be the Shottenkirk.com Sprint Invader 360 Winged Sprint Cars.
The Wisconsin based IRA Sprint Cars will pull into 34 Raceway the following week, April 8th, with the Ninth Annual Slocum 50 for the Open Late Models set for April 15th. The event run in memory of Brent Slocum has grown to be one of the most anticipated in dirt late model racing here in the upper Midwest and with $10,555 going to the winner you can once again expect a stellar field to compete. Three more events for the Sprint Invaders also dot the schedule at the "home track" for the regional series and Sprint Car fans have to also be excited to see the first appearance here for Tony Stewart's Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions on Sunday June 11th. This comes just one night after the World of Outlaws run a two-night show at the Knoxville Raceway and, while series rules will likely keep the Outlaw regulars from coming to 34, you can bet that the weekend tripleheader will pull in some of the region's best to compete with the All Star regulars.
You can bet that I will be at 34 Raceway early, and often throughout the 2017 season.
Just like most of the racing world I was shocked by the announcement that Carl Edwards will be retiring from racing effective immediately. He came from dirt track racing roots here in the Midwest so I have always been a fan and you have to respect his reasons for stepping away. My selfish hope is that he might help out those grass root racers near his hometown by getting involved in the ownership or promotion of a dirt track near his Columbia, Missouri, home. While at the banquet Saturday night I was told that there were rumors that the Lake Ozark Speedway might come back to life. It would likely take someone like Carl Edwards to make it successful.
My point of view is admittedly jaded because I cannot stand the format of Group Qualifying and then start the fast guys in front, but I think even an objective race fan would have to agree that, overall, the racing has not been as good at the first three nights of the Wild West Shootout. Yes, there have been a couple of exciting heat races and the features have had some times of action, but when using the passing points system the racing was much better. The "big name" drivers bitched about it though, so the promoters made the change and guess what? Those drivers didn't come to the desert this year anyway!
With Bobby Pierce winning the first two nights from the front row (both his heats and the feature) he looked like a sure bet to collect at least some level of the Keyser Manufacturing bonus where a driver who wins all six events will collect $250,000, five wins gets an extra $100,000 while four wins still nets a hefty $50,000. Bonuses like this are often setup through something that is referred to as a "hole in one" insurance policy where the promoter, or in this case perhaps the sponsor itself, pays a premium upfront that is based upon the odds of someone actually earning the bonus. I have to wonder if the insurance provider was told that the lineup format had been changed this year from passing points to starting the fast guys in front as that would exponentially increase the chances of someone winning four or more races, thus increasing the amount of the premium that would be paid to purchase the policy. Insurance companies really frown against the chances of a payout going up without being told.
Billy Moyer, yes the same old guy that keeps saying that he is retiring, became the insurance companies new best friend last night when he won the main event eliminating the possibility of a quarter of a million dollar payout. Pierce apparently qualified poorly as he started his heat race from sixth, but still raced his way up to second. Too bad Bobby, that performance would have likely started you on the front row of the feature in a passing points system. The series concludes this weekend with races on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The first two nights of the Chili Bowl have offered up some new faces as the top three finishers each night lock themselves into Saturday's main event. To me at least, the last couple of years at the Chili Bowl have been a bit too predictable as to who would make Saturday's finale even with more than 350 drivers in action, but through the first two nights that is definitely not the case this year. Tyler Courtney took the win on Tuesday night surviving a charge from Kyle Larson where in true "wreckers or checkers" style, the now NASCAR regular got upside down while battling with Courtney for the lead. Larry Wight, a big block Modified driver from New York finished in the second spot while former POWRi Midget champion Zach Daum was third.
The trio of qualifiers from last night are even more of a surprise especially considering that the Wednesday night roster included multi-time champions Sammy Swindell and Rico Abreu. The Californians swept the top three as Travis Berryhill scored the win, Jake Swanson who started the race from 18th was second and Colby Copeland took third. Swindell had to race from the C to the B and on to the A-Main where he started 24th and finished seventh and Abreu was involved in incidents in both his heat and his C-Main putting him in a position where he will have to hustle on Saturday just to make the show. That is of course if they don't give a provisional to the defending champion. It will be interesting to see if this trend of new faces continues through the weekend.
Speaking of Abreu it would appear that his short venture into the world of NASCAR may be over as his truck team was not able to secure sponsorship for 2017. I must admit that this surprised me a bit because I thought that his performance was good enough to support his unique marketing possibilities although I do still think that he is more suited to be a dirt track hero rather than a NASCAR regular. Steve Kinser had a legendary career in Sprint Cars and a failed attempt at NASCAR. Donny Schatz continues to build upon his legacy with apparently no thought of moving to the so-called "big time". With his star power and his mash the gas mentality, Abreu could just be that next open wheel star so rather than looking at this as a setback he should instead take it as a confirmation of where he best fits the sport. I for one can't wait to see him on dirt more often in 2017.
For the first time in 27 years the annual Ice Bowl at the Talladega Short Track had to be postponed a week due to weather. Believe me, I know from experience that they have overcome challenges from Mother Nature before, but have somehow always prevailed, but last week's winter storm in the southeast was just too much. And of course, in true AWP fashion, there are idiots out there who are taking the track to task for not cancelling earlier in the week. When you are 27 for 27 you don't necessarily believe a forecast that is five days out, so here's hoping that "Preacher" and the crew at TST have some great weather this weekend and fill the pits to the max.
One thing that you have to say for Cody Sommer is that he doesn't cherry pick easy projects. The promoter of the recent Gateway Nationals at the dome in St. Louis has now announced that he will be putting dirt on the Mansfield Speedway in Ohio and running several special events there in 2017. Of course the question for many of you readers would be "what about another Gateway Nationals next December?" Well, even though there was a story discussing the possibilities with Sommer on Dirt On Dirt this week where the promoter stated that "the odds are strongly in favor" of a return engagement, he is not yet able to confirm that it will happen, but hopes to within the coming weeks. The majority of the fans who attended, and those who likely made a nice chunk of change along with the event, all say that it was amazing and they hope that it will return. But if what has been reported in regard to the purse structure is actually true, where non-qualifiers received nothing, that will surely drop the car count for the encore. Guess we will see what happens in a couple of weeks.
The Flint Creek Speedway in Colcord, Oklahoma, will return to action in 2017 after only staging practice nights in 2016. The Wagner Speedway has scheduled a drivers meeting to discuss the possibilities of a 2017 season at the South Dakota track that sat idle all of last season. And, as previously reported in Ed Reichert's "One Fan's Travels" the track in Sturgeon Hill, Wisconsin, is bouncing back to action in 2017. On the internet forums you will often see a thread titled "Another Race Track Closes" making it seem like they are dinosaurs headed toward eventual extinction. I should start actually keeping track because it seems to me that the net total, openings compared to closings, is on the plus side so far in this offseason, at least in our section of the United States.
They say that it will have no effect on the title sponsorship, but the sale of the Craftsman brand has to be a concern to the World of Outlaws. It figures, the Outlaws finally get a national brand to support them and then this.
NeSmith Crate Late Model sanctioned racing will be held at two tracks in Nebraska for the first time in 2017 as both the Junction Motor Speedway and the Lexington Speedway have signed on. The Salina Speedway in Kansas was the first in the Midwest to join the NeSmith ranks last year.
The Back Stretch National Dirt Late Model Points chase is underway with The Hangover from 411 Speedway in Tennessee and three nights of the Wild West Shootout in the books. You can enjoy plenty of racing this weekend on a pay-per-view basis!
|The "Back Stretch"|
|Dirt Late Model Points|
|1||.||Bobby Pierce||Oakwood IL||10|
|2||.||Chris Simpson||Marion IA||8|
|3||.||Billy Moyer||Batesville AR||4|
|4||.||Brandon Overton||Appling GA||4|
|5||.||Jimmy Mars||Elk Mound WI||3|
|6||.||Ray Cook||Brasstown NC||3|
|7||.||Mike Marlar||Winfield TN||2|
|8||.||Jason Cardwell||Knoxville TN||1|
|9||.||Ricky Thornton Jr.||Chandler AZ||1|