Fast Talk: Will 2012 mark a dirt racing era?
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. (edited for clarity and length):
Todd Turner: We’re winding down 2012 and this, one of our final gatherings of the year, might be a good change to reflect on how we’ll look back on the season in years to come. Besides the best drivers, new faces and series developments, what do you all see at some of the touchstones of 2012? Maybe some of the more intangible issues that are under the radar, or maybe things that you think will be more apparent further down the road. This might be tough, but let’s work with it.
Michael Rigsby: I think it was a year that didn't necessarily have one big overarching theme, and maybe that's the storyline itself. I know Owens late run, and Lanigan's dominance on the Outlaws tour seemed to be the main things people will take away, but different from years since DoD has started covering races heavily, 2012 lacked that one big spark, or crazy topic that everyone was completely fixated on in my opinion. We had more tire-cheating, more talk of the economy, and car counts that really stayed the same on the national level. This sport has a tendency to overcorrect itself, so I look for 2013 to be full of moments that we won't forget.
I guess if I had to sift through some moments that were more off-the-radar, I think the fact that 71 late models went to Arizona in January is just huge and surprising. We'll see how it plays out next month with the addition of some racing, but overall, that was still a moment I can't get over this year.
TT: I know we've been trying to end the Bloomquist-Moyer era for forever, so I won't try to bury them just yet. However, something eventually has to give when the top nine drivers in our final Top 25 rankings are all 40 or older. Surely in 10 or 20 years we can look back and there will be some type of era shift from the older, established guys to a younger core? Or maybe the thirtysomethings will merely take their place and veterans will remain at the top of the sport?
Joshua Joiner: I know I've said this before, but I really believe that five years from now, I think we'll look back on this year as the beginning of the end of the Bloomquist-Moyer era in Dirt Late Model racing. I'm not saying either of those guys are done winning races — I think they both have many more wins left in them — but the years of either one of them dominating the sport like we saw guy like Owens and Lanigan do this year, I believe, are over. Of course, I could be completely wrong, but it's something that's bound to happen soon. And whenever it is, it'll be a major detail in the overall history of our sport.
MR: Agreed that we have at least five years left of Moyer and Bloomquist winning races at a high level. That's a long time when you think about it, and not exactly the end times for those guys. Either way, neither one of them will ever really depart from the sport. They'll always be around in some capacity, and probably behind the wheel a half-dozen years or so.
JJ: Car counts is another detail that wasn't talked about as much this year as in years past. And I think that's a good sign for the health of our sport. The 2011 season produced a lot of doom and gloom talk because of continued down trends in car counts pretty much all across the sport. But for the most part, those drops either picked up or at least leveled off a bit for most events this year. We'll wait and see how car counts fair in the coming years, but I really believe they're headed back up from here. Not saying we'll ever see 200 cars at Eldora again, but I do think things are definitely getting better.
TT: We’re in the middle of trade show season with PRI at Orlando last week, and we’ll have the International Motorsports Industry Show starting Thursday in Indianapolis. The shows will be combined under the PRI banner next season in Indianapolis, where we’re sure to see a bigger Dirt Late Model presence. There wasn’t a single Dirt Late Model on display in Orlando, so there’ll be some pent-up demand for Late Models to shine at Indianapolis. Any thoughts from you guys on PRI’s final Orlando show for the foreseeable future?
MR: It was stark the lack of dirt presence. I walked more than 15 aisles on the opening hour without stopping to see virtually anything. Not because I didn't want to see things, there was just simply no pressing dirt track items or drivers or people of any kind. It was a little sad to see in the fact that on opening day back in 2007 we had more than 50 Dirt Late Model racers on hand, and fewer than 10 we saw this year.
Obviously Indy has a huge impact on that, so it wasn't terribly surprising, but I think this was really the short-track community saying: "Indy is where this show belongs.” It was a swan song for Orlando, but as someone pointed out to me, the likelihood that there will be a second trade show is very probable. There are already some contenders stepping up. I think PRI will be a massive, massive — did I mention massive? — show next year, but I think within two years we'll see another show pop up that many short track people will attend.
JJ: Personally, I'm glad PRI is moving back to Indy. From a short track perspective, the Midwest is simply a better fit for the sport's major trade show. The fact that there wasn't a single Dirt Late Model on the show floor and very few drivers made the trip this year definitely proves that Indy is at least the better location for the Dirt Late Model side of things.
TT: As had been reported earlier in the fall, and made official last week, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will indeed make a trip to Ohio’s Eldora Speedway in 2013, the first big-time NASCAR race on dirt in 43 years. DirtonDirt.com blogger Dave Argabright had a nice take on this last week, seeing it as an ideal opportunity for short track dirt racing to gain more fans. How do you guys see next year’s truck race at one of Dirt Late Model racing’s historic venues?
MR: I personally think it's awesome. Why would it not be? I've seen some dirt track fans grumble about it, but to me, it's one of those things that you just hear and think, "that's pretty bad ass.” Gotta give Eldora, Roger Slack, Tony Stewart, Larry Boos and everyone at that place credit. Another creative idea they've come up with that will be a big deal for Eldora.
I'm immediately more interested in the fact that a guy like Scott Bloomquist is going to race, and perhaps other Late Model guys as well. That gives it an Us vs. Them dynamic that dirt track fans will immediately embrace. Can you imagine if Bloomquist wins? His postrace interview will be one for the ages.
JJ: I agree with Dave, I think it's a great opportunity to draw in some new fans to dirt track racing. And if some Dirt Late Model drivers compete in the race, guys like Scott Bloomquist and Josh Richards quickly come to mind, I think that will also help get some attention to our sport, especially if some of those guys do well in the race, which I think they will. Personally, I'm excited about it just to see how the heavy stock cars — or trucks, I should say — handle the dirt. I don't think it'll be like ARCA on the mile tracks where it doesn't look much different from an asphalt track other than some dust in the air. I don't expect it to be anything like a Late Model race, but it would be cool to see the trucks get a little loose and sling some mud in the air.
TT: Jonathan Davenport’s stretch of ridelessness didn’t last long, just as we figured a few weeks back. The one-and-done Clint Bowyer Racing driver has connected with North Carolina-based AES Racing, where he’ll join Dennis Franklin as a teammate to what should become one of dirt racing’s most potent teams. Team owner Steve Cooke is still working out details on crew members and equipment and schedules, but the No. 2 and No. 49 should be worthy competition wherever they show up, right?
MR: They'll be very formidable. I can't help but think they'll have a bit of a chip on their shoulder as well, with something prove. Rambo, I think, has always felt a bit overlooked, and you know Jonathan, coming off a year that was a bit disappointing, will want to go out there and prove that he's still elite — which he is. I think the main thing is that these guys can go out there and just win races. They won’t, more than likely, get caught up in chasing points. It'll be on kill to win races, and that's it. No more, no less. I'm excited to see how it plays out.
JJ: This is a silly season move that I'm really interested to see how it works out. I know there are a lot of people who want to see this team run a national tour, but I think they'll end up running a more regional schedule with major events mixed in, much like Davenport did when he had so much success with Barry Wright.
I think both Davenport and Franklin can be very successful with a schedule like that, and it'll give time for Davenport to get his confidence back up and for the team to gel overall. Then possibly the following year they could be a legitimate contender in taking on a national tour.
Correction: Fixes sponsorship for NASCAR truck series.