Fast Talk: A look ahead to Labor Day weekend
Here's the latest edition of Fast Talk, a new DirtonDirt.com feature appearing each Monday. Staffers Michael Rigsby, Todd Turner and Joshua Joiner gather weekly for a roundtable discussion about who's hot, who's not and other issues regarding Dirt Late Model racing. Regular contributor Ben Shelton subs for Michael Rigsby this week. (edited for clarity and length).
Joshua Joiner: Lets get started with a quick look back at the past weekend’s action. It was probably the least busy race weekend we’ve seen since the spring with an already light schedule getting slimmer due to a number of rainouts.
Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn., hosted its annual Scorcher race for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Thursday night with veteran east Tennessee driver Billy Ogle Jr. topping the stout Lucas Oil roster for one of the biggest victories of his career. Ogle, last year’s Southern All Stars champion, has won plenty of regional specials throughout his career and earned another national touring series victory on the Hav-a-Tampa tour in 1998. With that in mind, how do you view Ogle’s performance Thursday night? Does it qualify as an upset like some are calling it?
Todd Turner: It's an upset to some degree, but Ogle is one of those regional guys who has always been stiff competition when the traveling pros come to town. And in this case, anybody paying attention Ogle's recent streak — two straight victories and a bunch of runner-up finishes over the past few months — knew he'd be in the mix at a high-banked Tennessee track, the kind where he's had success for more than 20 years.
An upset? Yes. A shocker? By no means.
Ben Shelton: I don't see it as an upset at all. Obviously Billy doesn't run a national tour on a full-time basis, but he long ago established his street credibility as a potential contender at any point in time. Then you throw in the fact that the touring guys rolled into his backyard, and it was a natural fit for him to take the big check. In my opinion the most impressive part of his performance was maintaining his composure after losing the lead late in the race to Bloomquist. It would've been easy to overdrive the car trying to get back to the front, but he kept his cool and took the top spot back. A great performance by a great driver.
JJ: Good point, Ben. That was what I found most impressive as well, that he recovered and moved back by Bloomquist. My first thought was that it was an upset, but the more you think about it and if you look back over Ogle's career and consider the top notch Blount Motorsports team, it's definitely not a huge shocker.
TT: Ogle has had an impressive career ... the kind that makes you wonder "what if" had he gotten a better chance to traveling more broadly. You can say that about a bunch of drivers, but he's among the top on that list. That Blount Motorsports team — crew chief David Bryant is a guy who makes drivers look good — is pretty solid.
Great race, for sure. People were still raving about it this weekend at Ponderosa and Lawrenceburg.
JJ: A weekend doubleheader for the World of Outlaws at Winchester (Va.) Speedway and Selinsgrove (Pa.) Speedway was among the weekend's washouts. Winchester, which was set to host the WoO tour for the second straight year, didn’t waste much time calling off Saturday’s program when it started raining, while Selinsgrove called off it’s first-ever WoO event only after sticking out a few hours.
Situations are obviously different from one rainout to another, but often we see some tracks that don’t hesitate to cancel with threatening weather in the area while others will wait it out as long as possible. Which approach do you all prefer?
TT: This is one of the reasons why I'm not a promoter — I'd fret over these decisions and try to please everyone, which is impossible.
Not sure which is the best decision, but tracks get the reputation for going one way or the other. In my observations over the past few years with a tougher economy, tracks are much more willing to pull the plug early and chalk it up to saving everyone the travel costs, which is no small thing.
JJ: A lot of that too probably has to do with the promoters not wanting to lose out on a lot of money if the weather leads to a small crowd. But, in my opinion, you can't blame a promoter very much if they stand to lose a ton of money because rain in the area cuts their crowd size in half.
BS: I'm probably a little biased on this question because I help promote a lot of races, and I know that these purses can be hard for tracks to turn into a profitable event at times. Even under perfect conditions it can be hard to put enough people in the stands. When the weather is threatening and you have a $25 grandstand ticket it's going to keep fans away. I always say it's better to back up and punt and try it another time than force a likely loser and never get to host another big event. Obviously the situation is different for everybody, but I won't like that I tend to err on the conservative side when I'm dealing with a $50k purse for a one night show.
TT: I'm forgiving on both counts ... to me anyone sticking their neck out there promoting races deserves more leeway than they usually get. By the same token, I think some tracks lean on it a bit as a crutch, as we saw with some tracks that cancelled for heat or drought conditions. Sometimes I think fans saw those as an excuse to not race, in all likelihood.
BS: I've been there and lived it many times, and it's no fun for sure. In those situations, there is no right decision.
JJ: We’ll make up for last weekend’s slim schedule with a busy holiday weekend ahead. Labor Day weekend always includes quite a few noteworthy events, so lets discuss a few of them.
Lets start by looking at one of the sport’s biggest annual regional events. Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway’s 23rd annual Prairie Dirt Classic puts $10,000 on the line Saturday night on a weekend that also includes Friday’s $5,000-to-win Prairie Dirt Shootout.
There aren’t a whole lot of annual regional events that have found continued success, especially on such busy weekends. But Fairbury’s annual year-ender always seems to draw good car counts and, of course, nice crowds every year.
Is it refreshing to see successful regional events like this one in a sport that seems to be getting more and more top heavy these days?
TT: If Michael Rigsby — or better yet, budding videographer Derek Kessinger — were participating, they'd wax poetic about how Fairbury is the racing mecca.
I don't go that far, but it's a great place with a great environment for racing, and that race always seems to ring in the endo of the regular season for me. It's a great way to end it as we all look forward to special events the rest of the fall.
Other Illinois tracks led into the Prairie Dirt Classic off-and-on over the years with Friday night events ... kind of nice that Fairbury gets the weekend to itself these days.
BS: First, as bad as I hate to admit it in writing (because Michael Rigsby will glow with pride) I absolutely love everything about Fairbury. It's one of my five favorite tracks in the country. In my opinion not only does the track produce consistently good racing, but the place has some of the greatest fans in our sport. Most of them are students of the sport, and they love everything about it. The PDC is one of the nation's best kept secrets every year. This format for the event is fan and driver friendly. We can only hope that the residual effect of Tropical Storm Isaac doesn't put the damper on what could be a phenomenal weekend for the bullring.
JJ: The Lucas Oil Series and the World of Outlaws are both set to sanction major events this weekend with Lucas Oil visiting Portsmouth (Ohio) Raceway Park for a $10,000-to-win Dirt Track World Championship preview and wrapping up the weekend with the $25,000-to-win Hillbilly 100 at I-77 Raceway Park in Ripley, W.Va., on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Outlaws visit Tyler County Speedway in Middlebourn, W.Va., for the Black Diamond 125 that includes a unique four-feature format Friday and Saturday.
The Hillbilly, one of the sport’s longest-running events, is back in its home state after last year’s scheduled race at Portsmouth was rained out, canceling what would have been the Carl Short-promoted event’s first foray outside West Virginia. After the uncertainty the race has faced in recent years, how do you think the Hillbilly will fair as I-77 gets set to host the race for the first time.
TT: I-77 had a nice preview earlier this year with Chris Garnes winning the World of Outlaws Late Model Series visit to the track, so that sets the table for the biggest race in track history. That gives them the local hero angle trying to battle the invading stars.
BS: Agreed, Todd.
TT: I'm looking forward to my first visit to I-77 ... looked like a pretty racy joint as I remember from that WoO video earlier this season.
JJ: Tyler County Speedway, which itself hosted the Hillbilly for a number of years, has attempted to carve out its on spot on the Labor Day weekend schedule with the Black Diamond entering its third year. The unique event kicks off with an $8,000-to-win tune-up race Friday night for the UFO Race Championship tour, then includes a pair of $10,000 WoO preliminary features Saturday and the $20,000-to-win finale.
How do you guys view this event? Is it still a “new race” trying to gain ground or do you think it’s a permanent fixture on the Dirt Late Model schedule?
TT: It's definitely gotten some traction, and having it's own local hero winner last year — Jared Hawkins — brought some added attention.
It seems like a pretty solid bet to be around for a while. Tyler County definitely has some creative promoting and formats going between its Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend events.
BS: After the success of this event last year paired with the success of the Bullring Bonanza at the facility earlier this year, I think that it's hear to stay. Car count looks to be shaping up to be real good for it again this year, and rightfully so with that insanely good payout, where a driver is just about guaranteed to make at least $1,000 there. It's really impressive, and I think the facility has definitely found a niche.
JJ: I have to admit that the format took a while for me to get used to. I remember thinking last year "what exactly is this, again?" But this year it's definitely more familiar, and still exciting.
BS: Sometimes change can be too drastic, but in this case I think it's just right, and that they've hit on something with it. I'll admit I had my doubts last year, but after seeing how it played out you had to like it.
TT: Easy for the drivers — just win, baby.
JJ: Good point, Todd. That simplifies it quite a bit.
Lets wrap up with some predictions. Give me the Prairie Dirt Classic winner, Black Diamond finale winner and the Hillbilly 100 winner.
TT: I like Brian Shirley at Fairbury, Darrell Lanigan at Tyler County ... and I-77? Hmmm… I'll go with Don O'Neal at I-77.
Hopefully Tyler County will produce an interesting winner or two in the prelims, if not the finale.
BS: I'll go with Moyer at Fairbury as well. I'll take Marlar at Tyler County, and I'll take Owens at I-77.
JJ: I'm going with Kevin Weaver for an inspiring PDC victory at Fairbury, Lanigan again at Tyler County and Eddie Carrier Jr. for the Hillbilly.
TT: Derek Kessinger just fainted. He's a huge Weaver fan ... and that'd be a popular victory there.
JJ: No doubt, which is exactly why I called it an inspiring victory.
BS: I was compelled to pick Weaver as well because he's enjoyed a great year, but I think it will be Moyer.