Fast Talk presented by Out-Pace Racing Products
Fast Talk: Sorting out weekend's Easter basket
Our weekly roundtable sponsored by Out-Pace Racing Products takes a look at weekend results and a busy stretch coming up for the Lucas Oil Series (edited for clarity and length):
Was there anything about the Easter weekend special events and winners that stuck out to you?
Michael Rigsby, DirtonDirt.com co-founder and CEO: I’ve made it known before that I love these off weekends for national touring series, where guys really scatter to the wind. We got some of that this weekend, with guys like Tyler Erb and Devin Moran picking up wins near their home tracks, and various other guys bouncing all over to a variety of races. I liked that, but I especially like that in races he should probably win, Brandon Overton did just that. I made the statement early in the year that Overton was going to “clean up” on those $4,000- and $5,000-to-win Southeastern races, and he held true to form over the weekend with the sweep. I’ll even say this was more impressive because Ponderosa and Florence wasn’t even really what I had in mind when I made that declaration. This is just the beginning for Overton this year.
Kevin Kovac, DirtonDirt.com senior writer: I thought the list of the weekend’s special-event Super Late Model winners was intriguing — Jack Sullivan was the lone driver older than 40, with the rest a long parade of guys 33-and-under (Brandon Overton, Chris Simpson, Rodney Sanders, Chris Ferguson, Max Blair, Dave Hess Jr., Tanner English, Nick Hoffman, Tyler Erb, Will Vaught). It was another sign of the youth movement in Dirt Late Model racing. On the other hand, I was a little concerned with some low car counts — just 18 for the richest race at 34 Raceway and five shows (Eldora, I-30, Mercer, Modoc and Winchester) that didn’t top 21 — but I’m not going to set off alarm bells because it was Easter weekend, which prompts some racers to shy away from long trips or take a break altogether.
Robert Holman, DirtonDirt.com weekend editor: I did notice the absence of Lucas Oil and World of Outlaws regulars. With those two series taking a break, I thought a few more of their regulars may venture out and try to grab a win. Brian Shirley, Dennis Erb Jr. and Frank Heckenast Jr. all went over to 34 Raceway in West Burlington, Iowa, for the Slocum 50, while Billy Moyer Jr. stayed close to home and went to I-30 and Tyler Erb went to Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus, Miss., for the Mississippi State Championship Challenge Series. Erb was able to collect $2,500 at The Mag by winning the MSCCS race, so it was definitely worth the trip up from Texas. I guess the biggest factors keeping some of the other guys home was their proximity to available events, as well as knowing they are about to hit a pretty long season grind.
Alli Collis, DirtonDirt.com staff writer: How about Nick Hoffman picking up his first Late Model win on Saturday at Eldora? Hoffman has been ultrasuccessful in a modified, clinching last year’s Summit Modified Nationals among other accolades. While he’s had solid runs since climbing in a Late Model, transitions do take time. It doesn’t get much better than celebrating your first Late Model victory on Eldora’s stage. I’ll also give a nod to Chris Ferguson. Saturday’s win at Modoc had to mean a lot to him and his team.
Kelley Carlton, veteran series and race director: Brandon Overton. I feel sure this will seem like a lovefest for the Georgian, but in this case, after his two weekend wins, it is deserved. The thing that sticks out the most for me is Brandon’s maturity level. I was at Brandon’s first Crate race several years back so I have seen him race a lot. He has always been talented. But his maturity level has peaked just in the last 12 months. Just as he did at Virginia Motor Speedway last week, when he lost the lead at Florence on Saturday night he didn’t panic. He didn’t start overdriving the car. He just learned from his mistake, corrected it and took the lead back.
Offer some quick-hitting thoughts on Brandon Overton’s back-to-back weekend wins in Kentucky and Chris Simpson’s richest victory ever at Iowa’s 34 Raceway.
Holman: I think we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg as far as Overton is concerned. We knew the team was already phenomenal with veteran driver Randy Weaver behind the wheel. Adding Overton as the driver and shifting Weaver into the crew chief capacity seems to have made them even stronger. I liken it to depth on a basketball team. As long as everybody gets along, the more talent you have in the locker room, the more potent the team typically is. And they seem to be pretty talented. As for Simpson, I’m sure I’m not the only one who was wondering when he’d break through this season. He had such a great trip to Arizona, with so many runner-up finishes, you had to think he was long overdue for a big victory. The fact that it was a career-high, five-figure payday shouldn’t be a surprise.
Rigsby: There’s no stopping the season Overton is about to have. You’ve got a couple of key ingredients that he has that you can’t replicate. First, a very talented and very young driver eager to prove himself with a good team. Second, a highly motivated team owner (Chip Stone), team leader (Randy Weaver) and mechanical whiz (Vinny Guliani) are all on board, too, so they’re as well “put together” as anyone in the country in that regard. For Simpson, an Iowan winning the Slocum Memorial is a big deal, and I know it meant something to Chris. Like he said afterwards, there may have only been 18 cars there, but it was a damn good 18, so that win may not trip a lot of people’s triggers, but it was a good one.
Kovac: Overton is for real, folks. I see him as a perfect combination of confidence and humbleness, and the roll he’s now on (career-high $20,000 win April 8 at Virginia Motor followed by two Spring Nationals scores over the weekend) is just the start of what he’s going to accomplish with the Dream Racing team. What a talent Overton is — and what a savvy hire Chip Stone and Randy Weaver have made. As for Simpson, I believe his five-figure triumph over some of the Midwest’s top stars was a sign that he’s truly coming into his own. With his impressive start to ’17, he’s clearly reached the point where he can go from turning heads against strong competition to actually winning those races. I would be very surprised if he doesn’t capture a Lucas Oil or World of Outlaws feature this season.
Carlton: I think Overton will continue his tear deep into the summer months. His talent, combined with that team, is crazy good. Clear back to Arizona in January, everyone that contributes to DirtonDirt.com has talked about Overton’s potential and it turns out everyone was right on. That same group sung the praises of Chris Simpson and just how good he has been since Arizona. The win at 34 Raceway was certainly the first of many that everyone has been expecting for the other 32 car — and he outran the “other” 32 in that equation, Bobby Pierce, to get it. Also, kudos to 34 Raceway for hanging in and delivering the fans a show in less-than-perfect circumstances weather-wise.
Collis: Overton dominated on Friday at Ponderosa, but his Florence victory was hard-earned. He fought back Eric Wells, then Devin Moran, then Mike Marlar, in what I would deem the race of the year thus far. Slipping ever-so-slighly in the final laps of Florence’s feature, the race nearly went to Marlar, but Overton held on to sweep the weekend. As for Simpson, I think we all agreed that a big win was coming for him, especially after the success he’s had so early in the season. It’s kind of hard to believe that it marked his richest career payday, so congrats to him and his team.
Who was the weekend’s most notable feature winner not named Overton or Simpson?
Kovac: After a weekend that provided so many interesting victors to choose from, I’ll single out Chris Ferguson’s Ultimate-sanctioned Jack Starrette Memorial triumph at Modoc (S.C.) Raceway. Seeing Fergy win in the Southeast certainly isn’t a surprise anymore — though Saturday night was his first checkered flag of 2017 — and he’s now won the event honoring Starrette three years in a row, but there’s just something special about a driver winning a race that obviously means so much to them. It was Starrette, of course, whom Ferguson credits with getting him into Super Late Model racing, so those emotional ties provide a neat, built-in storyline when the North Carolina reaches victory lane in the event.
Carlton: Though it was done against a smaller field, I will give a nod to Nick Hoffman and his Sunoco American Late Model Series win Saturday at Eldora Speedway. Though there were only 15 cars in the feature, but that field was a quality one filled with grizzled Eldora veterans that the open-wheel modified ace made seemingly short work of. Many questioned if Hoffman would be able to make a successful leap to the full-fendered machines, and I think this win fully answers that. I will also be a bit of a homer and give some props to Chris Ferguson on his third consecutive Jack Starrette Memorial win at Modoc. He survived a challenging track surface and some worthy challengers.
Holman: Jack Sullivan’s Comp Cams Super Dirt Series victory at I-30 Speedway in Little Rock, Ark., was big for the Greenbrier, Ark., driver, especially if he plans to defend his back-to-back series titles. Sullivan beat Hunter Rasdon by a mere three points last season, so every point counts. Getting his second series victory of the season and yet another I-30 win (six of his 18 series wins have come at I-80, including one every season going back to 2012) definitely helps.
Rigsby: It’s cool to see Will Vaught get his first win of the season in his first race of the season. (Side note: How are his kids that big already?) Will is one of those guys that I think if he devoted a full-time career to Dirt Late Model racing he’d be considered one of the best younger guys in the country, but with family business, family itself, and so many other things, he’ll probably never go out on the road full time, and that’s totally OK. He’s on the “less is more” tour this year, so this was a cool way to start it.
Collis: Aside from Hoffman’s win at Eldora, it was Tanner English. The Benton, Ky., driver continues to click off solid runs and regional victories. Remember, it was just a couple of weeks ago that he was on the podium in Lucas Oil action at Duck River. At the rate he’s going, I expect English to keep picking up those regional wins as we head in to a busy summer.
After a rare weekend without a Lucas Oil or World of Outlaws event, name your favorite event on this season’s schedule that isn’t sanctioned by either of the national tours or held at Eldora Speedway.
Collis: Growing up at Richmond Raceway, the Paul “Butterball” Wooldridge Memorial was always the biggest race of the year. Named for the late Kentucky driver, it’s a race that just about any central Kentucky racer would tell you that they wanted to win. With the Iron-Man series now sanctioning the event, the purse has gone up from what it once was when I was a kid. But no doubt, some of the region’s top talent (and I) will be at Richmond on July 22.
Rigsby: This can go a lot of different directions. January’s Wild West Shootout is awesome. The Fall Classic at Whynot is for sure one of my favorites as that track is fantastic and always draws a good field. The other fall Mississippi race, the Cotton Pickin’ 100, will always hold a special place in my heart. But honestly, how can it not be the Gateway Dirt Nationals? It not only exceeded my expectations last year, but set a great standard for any “new” event. I don’t go to a single racetrack where people don’t ask me about it, and where they can order tickets for Year Two. It’s hard not to say Gateway.
Holman: The easiest answer, and one that could make me sound as though I’m talking in coach-speak or some other canned dribble, would be for me to say that my favorite one is the next one I get to go to. I really try not to look too far ahead, as corny as that may sound. With that being said, if you’re forcing me to pick, I’ll opt for the Cotton Pickin’ Magnolia 100 at Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus, Miss. I’ve always enjoyed going to both tracks in Columbus. I have some great memories of trips there in the early ’90s, as well as my five or six trips there in the last decade. I like the fall weather, and it should go without saying that the racing is excellent.
Kovac: My choice is coming up in just a few weeks: the inaugural Farmer City 74, a $20,000-to-win show on May 11-12 at Farmer City (Ill.) Raceway that carries sanctioning from the MARS DIRTcar Series and the Sunoco American Late Model Series. The two-day show (a $3,000-to-win feature kicks off the program) should produce an interesting field (sans WoO drivers who will be competing elsewhere) — and if the action is anything like Farmer City’s recent Illini 100, it should be a can’t-miss race. As an added bonus, the event is followed May 13 by the $10,000-to-win FALS Frenzy at nearby Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway, creating a spectacular springtime bullring weekend in the Land of Lincoln.
Carlton: My answers will seem cliche, but I have made no bones about the fact that I fell in love with the Wild West Shootout a few years ago. The schedule makes it seem almost like a racing vacation — the area, the scenery. But the racing is also worthy of the praise. It draws a unique and diverse field year after year, and to get to be a part of it again this year as an official really solidified my love for the event. In the same vein, how can I not say that the Gateway Dirt Nationals isn’t right there at the top of the list? So I will just call it a tie.
With the Lucas Oil Series headed on a four-race swing to Ohio, Maryland and Pennsylvania this weekend, submit the names of a couple local or regional drivers who you think could pull off an upset win on familiar turf.
Kovac: At Atomic, keep an eye on Doug Drown; he’ll be ready for the Lucas Oil invasion. At Sharon, don’t sleep on Dave Hess Jr., who will enter the event hot off a standout weekend (second at Stateline, first at Mercer) in the Suppa Racing Rayburn. There’s one guy I’d love to see steal the show at Hagerstown — the veteran Gary Stuhler, who just turned 62 — and with two wins there this month in his new Glenn Elliott-owned ride I think he could be positioned to make some noise. Jason Covert is also primed for a Lucas Oil checkered flag. And how about Jeff Rine at Port Royal? The perennial Selinsgrove Speedway champion is looking good this year with his Longhorn car, which he’s already driven to a win and runner-up finish at Port Royal this month.
Collis: At Atomic, Jackie Boggs and the Conley family drivers are always a threat to national series competitors. In Pennsylvania, I look for Jason Covert to have a strong run.
Carlton: There are three names that really come to mind. How about the Beast from the East Gary Stuhler? He has been nearly unbeatable since occupying the Hillbilly Deluxe Racing team seat for owner Glenn Elliott, and no one has more experience at Hagerstown than Stuhler. Jason Covert is always a threat as well and he has been really good the last year in that new XR1 Rocket; he could easily pull into victory lane at Port Royal. And finally, I say it’s a no-brainer that not only will Jackie Boggs be competitive at Atomic, but I say he is one of the five favorites to take the check.
Holman: If you’re looking for dramatics like last year’s Lucas Oil race at Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway, which featured a last-lap pass for the win by a relatively unheralded driver (Gregg Satterlee) over one of the top drivers in the history of the sport (Scott Bloomquist), don’t hold your breath. It could happen, but that’s a lot to ask for all at once. Would it still be an upset if Satterlee wins one of the four races? I’ll go ahead and take the Indiana, Pa., driver in a mild upset. But I’d like to add Doug Drown, Jackie Boggs, Austin Hubbard, Mason Zeigler and series regular Boom Briggs into my darkhorse pool. And don’t sleep on the ageless Gary Stuhler, who has won two races at Hagerstown this season, including this past weekend, which guarantees him a starting spot in the April 22 Lucas Oil show.
Rigsby: This would normally be Gregg Satterlee, but now that he’s moved himself into the “series category” we have to take him off that list. What’s interesting about this weekend is not only a four-race swing (which we rarely see), but it’s on a variety of tracks, sizes and disciplines. For Atomic, it has to be Jackie Boggs and the Conley clan. As they head East I like Jason Covert. He’s been another one of those hot XR1 drivers who’s turned it on this year and I can see him having a breakout weekend.