Sunday, February 26, 2012

Done On The Dirt In Florida

With Billy Moyer's win at Volusia Saturday night the dirt track portion of Speedweeks drew to a close and from all reports it sounded like the racing was pretty darn good over the two week period. It has been a long time since I have made the trip south in February and now that I am finished with writing tuition checks hopefully I can work at least a long weekend back into my budget in 2013. Definitely a trip that every race fan should set as a goal at least once!

I wonder if James Finch pulled Kurt Busch aside after the Nationwide race and reminded him that he doesn't have a Penske budget. A fifth-place finish and a car that can be used again is better then sending it to the scrap heap by trying to throw an ill-advised block on the final turn of the final lap. Finch groused about how many times Landon Cassill brought back a bent car last year, I wonder how many times Busch can destroy them until he is sent packing?

Looks like the 500 will be fighting persistent light rain today, but hopefully they can get it in as I think the racing has been fascinating there this week.

Here are the All Florida Late Model point standings following a great Speedweeks:

1 Steve Francis Ashland KY 25

2 Darrell Lanigan Union KY 22

3 Dennis Erb Jr. Carpentersville IL 20

4 Don O'Neal Martinsville IN 19

5 Scott Bloomquist Mooresburg TN 16

6 Billy Moyer Batesville AR 14

7 Josh Richards Shinnston WV 14

8 Rick Eckert York PA 10

9 John Blankenship Williamson WV 9

10 Shane Clanton Locust Grove GA 9

11 Jimmy Owens Newport TN 8

12 Austin Hubbard Seaford DE 7

13 Jonathan Davenport Blairsville GA 6

14 Mike Marlar Winfield KY 6

15 Shannon Babb Mowequa IL 6

16 Christian Augspurger Palm Beach Gardens 5

17 Devin Dixon Apollo Beach 5

18 Keith Nosbisch Valrico 5

19 Kyle Van Sickle Jacksonville 5

20 Ray Cook Brasstown NC 5

21 Dennis Franklin Gaffney SC 4

22 Mark Whitener Middleburg 4

23 Randy Korte Highland IL 4

24 Bub McCool Vicksburg MS 3

25 Chub Frank Sugar Grove PA 3

26 Clint Smith Senoia GA 3

27 Donnie Moran Dresden OH 3

28 Ryan Van Sickle 3

29 Tyler Reddick Corning CA 3

30 Eric Jacobsen Seacliff CA 2

31 Jack Nosbisch Jr. Riverview 2

32 Gregg Satterlee Rochester Mills PA 1

33 Jared Landers Batesville AR 1

34 Jimmy Mars Elk Mound WI 1

35 Kyle Bridges Moultrie GA 1

36 Pat Doar New Richmond WI 1

Just two more weeks until we go racing here in the upper Midwest as the Springfield Raceway kicks things off on March 10th with the rescheduled Turkey Classic. Just might see you there if my Panthers aren't playing for a state championship.

Monday, February 20, 2012

More Thoughts On Speedweeks

The best way to watch the ARCA race at Daytona is using a DVR. That way you can speed through the single-file green laps and the minor cautions until you get to the final lap. Although once again it appeared that nobody was even going to attempt to make a move to try to win the thing until leader Brandon McReynolds ran out of gas coming out of turn four and then the scramble was on. Bobby Gerhart, who was forced to start at the rear of the field due to an engine leak following qualifying, jumped to the outside groove and came from seventh to first to win for the eighth time in ARCA competition at Daytona. The veteran driver made what at the time looked like a questionable call when he pitted after just one lap to top off with fuel, a move that soon put him a lap down and in the middle of the always potential “big one”. But as it turned out, that extra splash of gas may have been what secured the win after all. The 43-car ARCA line-up this year was what at least I would call a “who’s who”, but not in the traditional manner of using that phrase. As the lineup scrolled across the screen before the start I found myself asking “who?” on at least 35 of the entries.

What the ARCA race lacked in excitement (until the last quarter-mile) the Budweiser Shootout definitely made up for up it, but not likely in the manner that NASCAR would have like it to. Can you say demolition derby? I wonder what the price tag was on the equipment that got trashed in that race! Pack racing is back, replacing the two-car tandems as new rules now causes the pusher in a two-car-tango to quickly overheat as you could see the overflow spitting on the M&M’s #18 as Kyle Busch made his move to pass Tony Stewart and win by one one-hundredth of a second in what definitely left those in attendance, and those of us watching from home, abuzz and ready for this Sunday’s Daytona 500. However, the drivers need to get together and remind themselves of what is meant by give and take this week, otherwise we may only have ten cars still on the track after 500 miles.

Everybody will remember that it was Jeff Gordon who took a hard barrel roll after sliding along oh his driver side for what seemed like forever, but the incident started when Gordon got into the back of Kyle Busch sending him for a spin. I got a chuckle on Sunday when Kyle quipped that Darrell Waltrip was a villain until Rusty Wallace dumped him, how many more times does he need to be dumped before the fans start feeling differently about him? Thirty-seven, Kyle, that might do it, but you need to cut back on dumping people as well.

I think that Steve Francis is really enjoying his role as the driver of the Barry Wright house car after taking the win East Bay’s finale for the Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series Saturday night, the second trip to victory lane of the week for the Kentucky Colonel who went a long stretch without a victory last season. Dennis Erb Jr. took the win on Friday night and has emerged from the week at the point leader on the Lucas Oil tour. I’m not sure if “The One Man Band” was planning on running the entire Lucas schedule, but you can bet that Erb will be at the next event on March 24th in Brownstown, Indiana. I thought it noteworthy that Scott Bloomquist was not in the top ten in series points leaving East Bay so I went to the series website to see just where the perennial championship contender actually ranked and found that they only have the top ten in points posted on their website as well. Odd.

Josh Richards was Friday night’s winner and Rick Eckert took Saturday’s finale as the World of Outlaws wrapped up their weekend at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala. Eckert’s win was not without some controversy as Mike Marlar tried to make a run at him on the outside going down the backstretch on the final lap only to end up in the outside guardrail. From watching the video it appeared that Eckert maintained the same line that he had been running for the past several laps, so hard to pin any blame on this one. Marlar later stated that he essentially has a win it or wear it mentality, but if he truly plans on running the entire World of Outlaws schedule in 2012 he may want to learn how to accept a second-place finish in a case like this for the extra points and purse money that goes with it rather than having a damaged racecar and 18th-place points. As it stands Marlar will move on to the next two WoO events this week at Volusia County Speedway ranked eighth in the standings, but he would have been in fifth just ahead of rookie contender Bub McCool if he would have settled for runner-up honors Saturday night. The three drivers with series wins so far this season rank one, two, three; Darrell Lanigan, Josh Richards and Rick Eckert.

Hulk Hogan who is a friend of radio personality and track owner Bubba Clem waved the green flag to start the main event on Saturday night and it sounded like the Hulkster had brought along one of his WWF buddies to serve as one of the two announcers as well. Also, Todd Turner of Dirt On Dirt reported that Larry Plummer Jr. of Warsaw Indiana who was listed as having “No Time” in Thursday’s qualifying list was actually a fictitious entry as the track wanted to have more than fifty cars on its first night of going head-to-head with East Bay. “Larry” actually made the count 51 on opening night. For the best of Dirt Late Model coverage on the internet make sure that you check out Dirt on Dirt.

Heading to Volusia here are how I rank the Late Models in Florida thus far:

1. Don O’Neal, Martinsville IN 15
2. Steve Francis, Ashland KY 14
3. Josh Richards, Shinnston WV 13
4. Darrell Lanigan, Union KY 12
5. Dennis Erb Jr., Carpentersville IL 10

Kenny Wallace picked up his third UMP Modified feature win of the week at Volusia and I believe that he has had cameras following his efforts both on the dirt and the super-speedway, so keep your eye on SPEED this week for that feature story. Michael Long finished fourth Sunday night to lock himself in to Monday night’s Gator Championship paying $5,000-to-win for the UMP Mods. I am hoping that somebody other than the drivers with NASCAR connections (Wallace, Schrader, Dillon) can take the big win and Long would be perfect! They ran the program that was rained out Friday on Sunday afternoon and Michael finished fifth in that one with other Midwest drivers Mike Harrison, Brian Shaw, Dave Wietholder, Gary Cook and Jeff Leka finishing fourth, eleventh, fourteenth, seventeenth and twenty-fifth respectively out of a field of seventy-eight cars.

In World of Outlaws Sprint action at Volusia Danny Lasoski repeated his success at Volusia with the win on Saturday night. “The Dude” is the all-time wins leader in the Sprint Cars on the Barberville clay. And on Sunday it was Donny Schatz during the matinee and Craig Dollansky in the nighttime program. Schatz, who failed to make the A-Main during the two All Star sanctioned events here last week leaves Voluisa with the Outlaws point lead by five markers over Sammy Swindell.

Open wheel fans are likely familiar with California phenom Kyle Larson who took the sport by storm last year posting several big wins in USAC midgets and non-wing sprint cars. It was announced today that Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates has signed the 19-year-old to its roster as a developmental driver. Looks like his first assignment is to drive a Super Late Model this week at New Smyrna Speedway’s annual World Series of Asphalt Racing on the fast ½-mile south of Daytona as Larson finished second to Kyle Benjamin in Sunday’s main event. Larson actually won in his first night out on the asphalt in a Late Model when he won the Pete Orr Memorial at New Smyrna.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Off and Running In Florida!

SpeedWeeks is in high gear down in the sunshine state and from reports so far it sounds like the racing has been very good in front of decent, but definitely not sold out crowds. For the first time in many years the Late Model fans have to choose the track, and the series that they want to watch this weekend as Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala has scheduled three nights of World of Outlaws action right on top of the final three nights of the traditional week at East Bay Raceway for the Lucas Oil Late Model series. The effect on the East Bay car count has been noticeable as in 2011 the six nights of racing on the “Clay by the Bay” averaged 61.7, but in the first three nights this year the average was just 43.3. And that was before the actual competition kicked in up north. On the first night of the two going head-to-head (Thursday) East Bay had 45 cars while Bubba had 51, a bit of a surprise for me as I thought that the Lucas series would outdraw the Outlaws.

Don O’Neal won the first two nights at East Bay, a track that usually suits his foot to the floor, knock down the cushion driving style. On the second night Shannon Babb, who finished second to O’Neal the night before, started outside of him on the front row and when O’Neal went for the cushion in turn one on the opening lap Babb was still there and ended up in the wall ending his evening. Later in victory lane O’Neal stated “Man I hated that, Shannon and I are friends. I got in there and we got together, I drove it in wide-open.” I wonder if “The Real Deal” will be as understanding when a pole-sitter drives into turn one wide open on the first lap when he is starting on the outside?

After a twelve-year absence Ray Cook found his way back to victory lane at East Bay on Wednesday night ahead of Clint Bowyer’s new driver for 2012 Jonathan Davenport and on Thursday night the fans were on their feet as Steve Francis shook off a long victory drought passing Austin Hubbard on the outside coming off turn four to the checkers.

A couple of drivers who are returning from some time off have caught my eye in the results from East Bay. Terry Casey out of Wisconsin has made the show all four nights thus far and has a sixth, seventh and eighth place finish in the books thus far. Another driver who is known for his cushion-slamming style, East Bay is typically a perfect fit for Casey and I am interested to see if he can crack the top five over the final two nights. It has been at least a couple of years since I have seen Duke Whiseant’s name in the Late Model results as I believe that he has been running a Modified lately near his Texarkana base, but on Tuesday night he posted a solid 8th-place run at East Bay.

Over in Ocala the powers that be with the World of Outlaws have to be feeling good with the stats for Thursday’s show where Darrell Lanigan backed up his win at Screven with another dominating performance. Former champion Josh Richards nearly pulled off a slider on Lanigan mid-race, but once he fought that off Darrell cruised to victory ahead of Richards, Shane Clanton, Mike Marlar and Gregg Satterlee. The surprise of the night for me though had to be in the sixth spot as Dillon Wood of nearby Daytona Beach held his own with the national stars. Wood had two runner-up finishes and fourteen top fives racing around Florida and southern Georgia with the National Late Model Series (NLMS) and the United Dirt Late Model Challenge Series (UDLMCS) in 2011, but this is the first time that I can recall him running near the front in a Super Late Model show.

Both tracks may struggle a bit with some forecasted rain on Friday and Saturday night, but hopefully both will be able to round out the weekend. Even though some fans may be grumbling a bit about the lower car counts, having the two shows at the same time is definitely putting more money into more drivers pockets and that just might lead to record-breaking car counts next week when the Late Models all converge on Volusia County Speedway.

Using our “All State” point system, here are the Florida standings through Thursday:

1. Don O’Neal, Martinsville IN 12
2. Steve Francis, Ashland KY 9
3. Austin Hubbard, Seaford DE 7
4. Darrell Lanigan, Union KY 5
    Kyle Van Sickle, Jacksonville 5
    Mike Marlar, Winfield KY 5
    Ray Cook, Brasstown NC 5
    Scott Bloomquist, Mooresburg TN 5

Volusia County is hosting the Sprint Cars and UMP Modifieds this week with excellent car counts thus far. Right around forty sprints have been on hand for the two All Star Circuit of Champions shows that have been won by Danny Lasoski and Craig Dollansky while the Modifieds broke a record with 78 of them checking in for Wednesday night’s program. Minnesota driver Dale Mathison surprised the Modified field on opening night and it has been NASCAR celeb Kenny Wallace in victory lane on Wednesday and Thursday. Quincy’s Michael Long is having a solid week so far running ninth on Tuesday, fourth on Wednesday and second to Wallace on Thursday night. The Sprint Cars switch over to the World of Outlaws for Friday and Saturday night while the Modifieds will run five more nights.

If you are a racer in southeast Iowa or northeast Missouri you will want to check out the Customer Appreciation Day at McDaniel Racing Enterprises north of Eldon on Saturday February 18th. Both Barry and I are planning to make a visit in the morning and we hope to get some bench racing in with several area competitors. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

More Pictures from the 1990's

Barry Johnson had some time this week to scan in a few more of the prints that I took while trying my hand at racing photography back in the early 90's. Here are a few and if you would like to see more please visit and "like" or page on Face book.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Shepp's Speedway Is No More

The owners of Shepp's Speedway in Alexander, Illinois, announced today that they will be closing the quarter-mile oval and that the property will become the new location for Sheppard Auto Sales and Salvage owned by veteran UMP Late Model driver Steve Sheppard Jr. The track has been in operation for the past three seasons offering Sunday night racing action.

This should just be another case study for those fans and drivers that think that all track owners and promoters are getting rich at their expense. Granted, the fact that Steve's son Brandon is a 19-year-old phenom who will be one of eight drivers competing for the Rookie-of-the-Year title on the World of Outlaws Late Model series in 2012 may have something to do with the decision. After all, as a father would you rather be home prepping and operating a weekly race track, or be out on the road helping your son as he builds his career? Unless that track is making some pretty big profits, the choice is obvious.

Shepp's had already indicated that they would be moving from Sunday nights to Fridays this year and that was part of the motivation for Quincy to go with UMP Late Models for their Sunday show. Quincy officials Jack Walbring and Doug Miller told me this past weekend that there was already a good deal of interest coming from the Springfield area and, with this announcement, it is a pretty good bet that you will be seeing both Late Models and Modifieds who used to race at Shepp's popping into Quincy on a pretty regular basis.

In the summer of 2010 Morgan and I made a bit of a detour on our way home from Haubstadt, Indiana, to stop at Shepp's for a Sunday night show. But when we arrived we learned that the start-time had been pushed back an hour due to very hot temperatures. Rather than waiting around for another hour, and then getting home another hour later on a night where we both had to be at work early the next morning, we decided to just catch a quick peek at the facility and then head home. It looked like a neat little race track, one that would definitely keep you on the edge of your seat all night no matter what division was in action. Both of us agreed that if not for the hot weather and the later starting time it would have been great to stay and watch and that we would make it a point to get back down to the facility again as soon as our schedule would allow. With today's announcement, I regret that we didn't stay and watch that night.

Shepp's joins the Central Missouri Speedway in Warrensburg as a closure for 2012 although owner Earl Walls still has that track on the market. As of right now it appears that the Lake Ozark Speedway in Eldon, Missouri may set idle this year, although the ASCS still has the annual two-day show on Labor Day weekend on the schedule, and 24 Raceway in Moberly is still looking for someone to buy or lease the place. And another track in Missouri, Butler Speedway, appears that it will be dark in 2012 as well.

If you take a line and draw it from Butler over to Alexander, all of those tracks are within about a fifty mile distance of that line. Not trying to draw any conclusion to that, I just find it interesting. Up north a little further, here in Iowa, there would have been a few people that would have taken the odds that there would be a few track closures up this way for 2012, but as of now that would not have been a good bet. And in fact, with Bloomfield resuming a weekly schedule under Chris Eggers, that offsets the fact that Memphis, Missouri, is backing off to a Specials schedule under the direction of Brandon Savage.

As we draw closer to the upcoming season it looks as though the roster is set and, as always, we wish each and every track nothing but success for the good of the racers, for the good of the promoters and of course for the enjoyment of the fans. Check the Specials Calendar and start mapping out the events that will add to your weekly show watching for your 2012 season today!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Not Enough Ice To Break; Hearts Are Broken

It was a unique promotion so it is only fitting that it is cancelled under unique circumstances. The “Break Ice, Not Hearts 50”, a dirt-track race scheduled for the Lee County Speedway on February 11th is the southeast Iowa town of Donnellson was to feature the Four Cylinder division racing for a top prize of $1,000 if the event drew more than thirty-five entries. Plus, Hobby Stocks were to be on the card as well.

Yes, I know that Farley ran the Four Cylinders in January, but that was an Enduro event where you put everybody out on the track at one time and you run them for 200 laps. The BINH 50 was going to be just like any other race night with qualifying heats, a B-Main or two and a 50-lap feature to be run “regardless of the conditions”. Well at least that’s what I remember the original press release saying. Racers and any crazy fans, like me, who would have attended this race would have known going in that it could possibly be freezing cold and possibly snowing, but with a frozen race track that would have just added to the fun. But the one thing that track promoter Dewain Hulett never envisioned was the unseasonably warm temperatures that we have had over the past few weeks.

So, with that, we have to my knowledge the first ever cancellation of a dirt race because the weather has been too nice!

Without much frost in the ground, and with the track and the pit area so soft following a week where the January thermometer reached into the 60’s, Hulett has been forced to pull the plug on the event despite the fact that this weeks weather is predicted to be more seasonal. Not only is he looking out for the drivers with the early cancellation, but he is also protecting the condition of the 3/8-mile oval for when the real racing season swings into action in April. A race on this track in its current condition would have torn it up and likely damaged many of the race cars as well. The decision to cancel may break the hearts of those who wanted to attend a race in Iowa in February, but in this case being a heartbreaker is a good thing. So the question now becomes, do they try it again next year?

The Sprint Car world was rocked late last week when two-time defending World of Outlaws champion Jason Meyers announced his retirement that will become official following a fourteen-race schedule in February and March of 2012. In an open letter making the announcement, Meyers states “events that occurred over the winter months have given me the opportunity to take a good hard look at where we are in life and where we want to be.” And with that he will now focus on being a Dad and a Husband rather than being a Sprint Car driver.

I don’t have the courage or the talent to be a sprint car driver and I am not sure how highly my wife and three kids would rate me as a Dad and a Husband, but I do know this. They are both titles that are to be cherished if given the opportunity and it is touching to see that Jason Meyers values them more than the two titles that he and his team have earned over the past two years.