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Fast Talk: Looking ahead to Dream XVIII

June 4, 2012, 1:27 pm

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: Let’s do a quick review of the weekend, then spend some time on Dirt Late Model’s richest purse coming up this weekend for Eldora Speedway’s $100,000-to-win Dream XVIII.

The weekend’s Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series events had dominating winners at Don O’Neal (at Kentucky’s Florence Speedway) and Scott Bloomquist (at Tennessee’s Tazewell Speedway) ran virtually unchallenged in 50-lappers. While series points leader Jimmy Owens had a rare off-night at Tazewell — for him, seventh is almost like a DNF — those three guys continue to make life difficult and everyone chasing them on the series in claiming every victory but one since March 31. Without necessarily focusing on the points, which drivers do you all see having the most hope of breaking through that three-driver juggernaut to crack victory lane?

Michael Rigsby: Um ... no one? At this point, I'm having a hard time visualizing anyone outside those top three winning a Lucas Oil race. The three of them are excellent qualifiers, and when that happens, they're going to be out front, and are just so much better than everyone, it's almost impossible to reel them in. Not to mention when you look at the tracks coming up, they're all tracks where Owens, O’Neal and Bloomquist excel. You guys can have the field, I'll take the Big Three on the Lucas tour.

TT: I really thought Steve Francis was set to have a comeback year, especially considering how he got rolling with the Barry Wright house car team in Florida. And any other year, that might be the case, but O'Neal, Bloomquist and Owens leave the pickings pretty slim.

Joshua Joiner: That's so hard to answer, partly because Owens, O'Neal and Bloomquist have all been so strong, but also because none of the other series regulars can seem to find any consistency. I would have to say Tyler Reddick has the best shot among series regulars to break through and win. He's had some really bad nights that have buried him in the points, but when he hits on the setup and gets to a track he's comfortable at, he's been really strong, like we saw at the Show-Me 100, and a few weeks before that at Hartford.

TT: The World of Outlaws Late Model Series got a jump on the weekend last Thursday in Delaware with Darrell Lanigan cruising to victory in stretching his points lead. He’s got five victories overall and three of the last four and he’s gotta be licking his chops looking ahead to eight WoO races in the second half of June. I guess he’s a one-driver juggernaut.

MR: That points race is over. Done. Complete. Finished. Write him the check. No one is beating him. He didn't really have his best stuff at Florence Saturday, so I'll look forward to Eldora even more because of that — the Lucas Big Three, Moyer, and the WoO one-man wrecking crew.

JJ: There's no doubt Lanigan's way ahead of the competition on the WoO tour right now, and you know he has to be looking at those guys over on the Lucas tour and thinking “have fun racing each other over there guys. I'll stay over here and just rack up wins and the $100,000 championship.”

TT: For our last weekend in review item, what do you guys think about the Appalachian Mountain Speedweek presented by Harbaugh Amusement? There have been two first-time winners (Jamie Lathroum and Gregg Satterlee) so far and Winchester (Va.) Speedway drew a whopping 58 Late Models, making Satterlee’s victory all the more impressive.

That miniseries — unfortunately rain has cut it to five races this year — continues to impress in giving those regional standouts the perfect arena to shine for a week. (From an outsider's perspective, and with all the candidate tracks in the region, it’d be nice to stretch the tour nine races, which would give it four weekend events.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see five different winners, and perhaps Dan Stone, his first two charges falling short, might grab a checkered flag.

MR: Honestly, that series is one of the most underrated things going in dirt late model racing. From car counts, to quality of fields, to good racing, AMS has become one of the must-see weeks of the year on the East Coast. I'm thrilled that we've had expanded coverage of it, and honestly those guys out there are some of the most un-talked about best drivers in the country.

I like Satterlee to actually win a few races, but I can see where we'd have different winners every night. Overall it's just a great tour, and I'm glad it's off Dream-week, so maybe some of those guys who run well, will carry it over into Eldora Friday-Saturday.

JJ: It amazed me to see 58 cars at Sunday's race while the Lucas Oil race at Tazewell didn't get a full field with double the pay. I think that just goes to show how supportive of that series those regional and even national guys (Eckert, McCreadie, etc.) are of that series. And that's what makes it so successful.

Sunday's win was a big one for Satterlee. I just finished up my top 25 poll a little while ago and in the comment section I noted that against 58 cars and even some WoO regulars, that might be the most impressive regional event victory so far this season.

TT: We’ll chat the rest of the time about Eldora’s huge week, and we’ll let readers know to look for preview stories, VideoCasts and other information all week. Let’s start with the Feed The Children Prelude to the Dream set for Wednesday and televised live on HBO Pay-Per-View. What’s the big story? Tony Stewart winning again at his own track? Danica Patrick’s first Dirt Late Model start? How about sprint car stars getting into the mix with Steve Kinser and Donny Schatz?

MR: It's no secret Tony Stewart wasn't "on kill" the past few years. Look for that to change with him giving 100 percent "winning" effort. I'm interested to see how Schatz and Kinser do. Schatz tested in one of Lanigan's cars at Lawrenceburg, and I'm told he wasn't too overwhelming, so we'll see. And Kinser in a Late Model? I don't care what anyone says, seeing the greatest sprint car driver ever in a Late Model will be pretty damn cool.

JJ: Like it or not, the biggest story is Danica. I think everyone already has their expectations for what she'll do on the track, but that's not even what the story is about. It's just the whole hoopla surrounding her. If the Prelude drew the same crowd of fans as the Dream and World it would be a different story. But a lot of NASCAR fans show up at the Prelude and for some reason they've all made Danica the main storyline in NASCAR this year — or it least it seems that way. I don't keep up with NASCAR enough anymore to know a whole lot about it.

TT: Back to full-time Dirt Late Model folks, Saturday’s Dream seems to be shaping up to have favorites more than any other time in 10 years. There was a long stretch when Donnie Moran, Billy Moyer and Scott Bloomquist had a virtual stranglehold on Eldora’s biggies, but in the last 20 major events at Eldora — Dreams and World 100s — victories have been spread among 14 drivers and only three (Bloomquist, Moyer and Jimmy Owens) have more than one.

That said, it’s unlikely too many prognosticators will venture outside the Big Five of Bloomquist, Moyer, Owens, O’Neal and Lanigan. Not only have those five set themselves apart overall this season, they also all love Eldora, and love to win at Eldora. Do you guys agree — if anyone parks in victory lane other than those five guys it’ll be an upset?

MR: Yes. It's simple, if someone other than those five win, it will be a unique story. The one thing that we do possibly have to shake things up this weekend is that inversion wheel. While in the past I've made no bones that I'm not really pro-invert at Eldora, I find myself excited at the prospect of making these guys that are white-hot, and starting them sixth in a heat, and potentially 15th or so in the feature. We may have to have that for the Dream to not to be dominated by one of those five. So for the first time ever, I'm saying this — bring on the six-car invert!

JJ: It’ll be a major surprise. I don't know that I'll call it a major upset because anything can happen. I mean what if those five are among the top six in qualifying and there's a six-car invert for the heat races? As hard as it is for drivers to move forward in some of the heat races, that could open things up for someone unexpected to sneak in and win it.

TT: This will be new Eldora general manager and promoter Roger Slack’s first major Late Model event in an official capacity, and no doubt he’s helped bring in the format tweaks that includes qualifying races after time trials and the addition of “scrambles” following Saturday’s consolation races. That will both add more racing laps and provide drivers a chance for more money and UMP points. What one change do you think will make the biggest difference positively?

MR: From my time in the Midwest the last month, it's definitely the UMP points for those features on Friday night. Guys like Michael Kloos, Ryan Unzicker and others, it makes them take notice, and at the very least have to strongly consider coming. And of course what's the one thing we always hear from guys that complain about Eldora: "I don't get any laps.” Well, this year, they'll get laps, potentially a lot of laps.

TT: I think Joshua made a good point a few weeks ago that we all hope this extra racing doesn't mean too many laps on the surface. That said, I think the qualifying races have the possibility to really inject some excitement into Friday's action, especially if a big-time driver crunches the wall in time trials and has to come from the back, or an unsung driver catches the fancy of the fans with a strong run.

MR: Friday will really be fun. Let's be honest, there will be some really good drivers in those races, against some really good local and regional guys.

JJ: In trying to look at it from a driver's perspective, I have to say the qualifying races after time trials. Eldora can be an intimidating place, especially when you know you're going to get a limited amount of hot laps and your whole weekend can be determined by how well you qualify. I think the qualifying races and the scrambles to some extent will be attractive to drivers because they'll not only get more valuable track time at Eldora if they botch qualifying, but they'll also have a chance a making a little extra money.

TT: OK, now we move on to the ever-critical prediction portion of the roundtable. Car count (the event drew a race-low 91 cars last year and has dropped every year since 2005)? Winner? And just for kicks, the highest finishing driver under 30 years old (which knocks out our Big Five by 10 years or more)?

MR: Car count will be 97. Winner? Darrell Lanigan. Highest finisher under 30? Tyler Reddick (I say he comes to Eldora and gets the hang of it immediately).

TT: I’m also going with Lanigan as the winner — he's had the fastest car in two of the last three or four biggies at Eldora. For car count, I'll say 95, and Josh Richards will be the top finisher under 30.

JJ: I'm going with Don O'Neal for a repeat victory, 94 for car count and Klint Byars for highest finisher under 30. Byars was impressive at the last year's World 100 and is due a strong run after some bad luck this year.

TT: Maybe Michael is going for top finisher under 20?

MR: How amazing is it that Tyler Reddick says he's never even seen a picture of the place? How is that even possible? I'll still take him.

TT: I’m sending him a picture right now.

 
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