Dirt Track at Charlotte
Lowe's hosts WoO's grand finale tripleheader
By Kevin KovacWorld of Outlaws Late Model Series
The 2009 World of Outlaws Late Model Series season concludes with a blockbuster four-day meet at the Dirt Track at Lowe's Motor Speedway beginning on Wednesday with the postponed Topless Showdown by Hungry Man and continuing with the third annual World of Outlaws World Finals on Nov. 5-7.
With the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series also part of the World Finals, the 4/10-mile Concord, N.C., oval is the only track where fans can see the two WoO tours race together on the same program in 2009.
Thanks to Mother Nature washing out the Topless Showdown on its original Oct. 14 date, the World Finals has a thrilling dirt Late Model lead-in for the second consecutive year.
Wednesday night's Topless Showdown — the only WoO event this season in which teams will remove their cars' fiberglass roofs to give fans a clear view of the drivers working the steering wheel — will include a normal tour program of time trials, heat races, consolation races and a 50-lap feature. But there's a wrinkle thrown in that makes this show stand out from the crowd.
The race features a unique bonus program and starting-position draw. It offers a base purse of $10,000 for first place, but if the winning driver submitted an official entry form prior to deadline they will also receive a passing bonus in an amount equal to $1,000 multiplied by their starting position — a perk that could push the winner's take-home pay to as much as $30,000.
In addition, the heat-race qualifiers will participate in the draw that gives them a chance to play it safe or roll the dice in pursuit of the maximum $20,000 bonus prize. The draw will consist of five buckets holding four starting-spot pills each – positions 1-4, 5-8, 9-12, 13-16 and 17-20. When the drivers are called up to draw in the order of their heat finishes (winners first, etc.), they'll have the option of selecting a pill from any of the buckets. Essentially they can guarantee themselves a starting spot in the first two rows by staying conservative and sticking their hand in the first bucket — or they can go for a position further back in the field that would set them up to claim a huge paycheck if they win the Showdown.
After Wednesday's action gets fans heated up, the World Finals kicks off Thursday with time trials for both Late Models and sprints. Both tours will contest two separate rounds of qualifying — the first to line up Friday night's heat races, the second to align Saturday night's heats.
The Friday and Saturday cards will feature a full series of qualifying events and features for both divisions. The Late Model feature caps Friday's programs while the sprints headline Saturday's competition.
The points chase
After 37 WoO events, Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., holds a mere four-point lead over Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., in the battle for the $100,000 tour championship. Wednesday night's Topless Showdown offers only WoO show-up points, so the title will be determined in the pair of 50-lap, $10,000-to-win headliners on Friday and Saturday nights.
Defending WoO champion Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., is third in the standings and still has flickering hopes of repeating. But with a 92-point deficit to Francis, Lanigan can only make a miraculous comeback if both drivers in front of him experience major problems in each feature.
That leaves Francis, 43, and Richards, 21, in a one-on-one face-off for the points crown. A win is worth 150 points, second place is 146 and then each remaining position drops two points, so every spot will be critical.
Does one of the championship combatants have an edge at The Dirt Track? Not really. Both drivers have one career win at the speedway — Francis the 2008 Colossal 100, Richards last year's World Finals finale.
What's more, both drivers have performed well in the two previous World Finals. Richards preceded his victory last year with a 10th-place finish, and in 2007 he finished fifth and 11th in the two races. Francis, meanwhile, didn't take the green flag in last year's Friday-night feature because of a busted transmission during the pace laps, but that's the only time he's placed outside the top five in the World Finals. He was fifth in last year's Saturday-night 50-lapper, and in '07 he was fourth (from the 18th starting spot) on Friday and second on Saturday. Earlier this year, in the Colossal 100 at The Dirt Track, Richards finished third and Francis took fourth.
Big car counts
Big fields of dirt Late Models have been the rule for the World Finals and this year's edition figures to continue the tradition.
With more than 50 drivers pre-entered for the Topless Showdown and World Finals and many more with the events on their schedules, it's expected that the car count will approach, if not exceed, the turnout of the past two years. There were 82 cars signed in for qualifying in 2007 and 78 in 2008, and last year's Topless Showdown on the eve of the Finals drew a sterling 81-car field.
WoO champs convene
All five former WoO champions are entered in this week's action: Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark. (1988-89, 2005), Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn. (2004), Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y. (2006), Francis (2007) and Lanigan (2008).
Bloomquist is the only two-time winner in World Finals action after capturing the Friday-night feature in each of the past two seasons. McCreadie, meanwhile, scored a top finish of fourth in his lone Finals appearance in 2008, and Moyer is planning to run the event for the first time.
Preview of 2010?
Austin Hubbard of Seaford, Del., and Gregg Satterlee of Rochester Mills, Pa. – two rising young talents who have expressed interest in applying for Rookie of the Year status on the 2010 WoO – have filed entries for this week's race-fest.
Hubbard, 17, has entered more than half of this year's WoO events and owns three top-five finishes. He recently turned heads by qualifying for the World 100 and Dirt Track World Championship in his first crack at both events.
The 24-year-old Satterlee, meanwhile, has one top-five finish in his 14 WoO starts this season. He won 12 features in 2009 on the western Pennsylvania circuit.
Odds and ends
Other standout drivers expected to compete this week include 2009 UMP DIRTcar points champion Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill.; Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa; Dale McDowell of Rossville, Ga., Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn.; and 2009 Colossal 100 winner Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla. ... Fans and participants planning to travel to Concord through western North Carolina on I-40 should be aware that a portion of the highway is closed indefinitely by an Oct. 25 rockslide, which covered the highway at mile marker 2.6 in North Carolina, near the Tennessee state line. Travelers should take I-40 to I-81 North to Asheville. Take exit 57A to I-26 East. Exit to I-240 East, then take a left exit to I-40 East toward Statesville. ... The finale of the World Finals on Sat., Nov. 8, will air live on the Speed cable network beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. Shane Andrews and former Lowe's Motor Speedway short-track manager Roger Slack will provide the commentary. Fans who can't make it to the track can also watch all the action leading up to Saturday's Speed telecast on DIRTVision. Live video coverage of the Topless Showdown and first two nights of the World Finals through www.DIRTVision.comfor a special World Finals subscription price of $12.99. ... Tickets for Wednesday's World of Outlaws Topless Showdown are $25 for adults and $5 for children 12-and-under. Three-day passes for the World of Outlaws World Finals are $59 for adults and $19 for children 12-and-under, and single-day tickets are also available.