Fast Talk: Reviewing Birky's World 100 victory
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 Joshua Joiner this week (edited for clarity and length):
Todd Turner: We’ll focus primarily on Brian Birkhofer’s $50,000 victory in the 42nd annual World 100, where he led the final 65 laps at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway to post his second victory in Dirt Late Model racing’s most prestigious event, 10 years after his first. Although Scott Bloomquist was second, we didn’t quite get the dramatics of Birkhofer’s last-lap pass of Bloomquist in 2002. Birkhofer was just too good and suddenly has the makings of turning a season winless through late June into a special one.
Ben Shelton: Birkhofer’s season is a poster-child for what this sport is all about and just how humbling it can be. How often do we see drivers, who set the world on fire to start the year, but by mid-season they have gone MIA and can't even line up for a regional show. Birkhofer is doing the opposite of this, and after a miserable start to the year — by his standards — he has come out with guns blazing since July. He really has his program clicking and I don't think he's done with big wins this season.
I think it's interesting to note that his two big wins this season, I-80 Speedway’s Silver Dollar Nationals and now the World 100), were purely dominant as he drove away from the field. Very impressive.
Michael Rigsby: Except for Don O'Neal, Birkhofer clearly had the best car in Rossburg, Ohio, on Saturday night. When you can get dominating wins like that, especially in the sport’s biggest race of the year, everyone should stand up and take notice. I was just impressed with the fact that Birky hasn't had a ton of Eldora success the past few years, and all of that was wiped away with Saturday's dominance.
As for his year overall, I honestly think he could not win a race the rest of the year and be happy with the way June-September has gone. Then again, we've seen guys parlay Eldora success into more autumn success ... so this could just be the beginning.
TT: Not to take anything from Birkhofer, but it strikes me this year particularly how things really have to fall into place to hoist that globe trophy. Birkhofer caught a break when leader Don O’Neal broke a transmission. Fourth-starting Billy Moyer, a six-time race winner, was sidelined by brake problems. Birkhofer survived a tussle with Steve Casebolt in his heat race. And any number of potential contenders had problems, some starting with wall-bashing qualifying runs. There’s a fine line at Eldora between glory and dejection, isn’t there?
BS: It really is. Luck plays a huge factor there. However with that said you have to be good to take advantage of luck, and Brian was definitely really good on Saturday.
MR: I look at Eldora this way: Does it take luck? Yes, but on the other hand, how do the same guys — Moyer, Bloomquist, Owens, etc. — over and over again continue to finish near or at the top? I mean Scott Bloomquist has been first or second in the World 100 nearly half his feature appearances. Just a staggering statistic. Luck helps, but being good is more important.
TT: Indeed Michael, Bloomquist's second-place finish — for an amazing eighth time — is noteworthy in that no other driver has finished second more than twice, and there have been no repeat runners-up — zero — during Bloomquist’s streak of eight. I know there’s a huge difference between first and second, but he’s been in position to win way more than his three World 100 victories show.
MR: He's raced in 23 World 100’s, and he's been first or second 11 times. And as he told Ben and I after the race, "I should have made the race every time I've been here." Not to spend too much time on second place, but that's a crazy number.
TT: There were some unexpected good runs with Brad Neat’s 159-lap day en route to a third-place finish, Jason Feger sneaking in to get a top five and unsung Kentucky youngster Michael Chilton finishing 10th in a Revelution Race Car’s first-ever World 100 start. But I’d like to focus on Chad Simpson, the three-time Corn Belt Clash champion who really showed something. He ran in the top three until a broken axle forced him out, and he wasn’t just riding or catching lucky breaks. Plenty of unheralded guys have started up front and faded in the World 100, but he certainly looked as if he belonged, didn’t he?
MR: There are two kinds of "surprise starts" at Eldora. Either you start near the front and fade quickly, or you hang in there, show you can race in that event, and turn heads every lap along the way. That's what Simpson did. When you can start up front, and finish up front at that race, it says something about the kind of driver you are. Not that it's a shock, but Chad Simpson is a good driver.
BS: Chad is three-quarters of the way toward claiming his first major event win. We've seen flashes of success from him in events like the USA Nationals, Show-Me 100, Silver Dollar Nationals, etc. He is one of those unheralded, regional drivers, who doesn't get the respect that he deserves. However, he made big noise in his first Eldora start on Saturday night, and I would be shocked if within the next two years we aren't at some point talking about his first major victory.
TT: The flow of the weekend was disrupted by rain that drizzled during Thursday’s tech day and then Friday’s rain that appeared imminent but never washed things out until mid-evening (As an aside, isn’t it time we dump tech day when we’re dealing with 120-car fields and half the teams not arriving until Friday anyway?)ï¿½ That meant an all-Saturday affair that brought with it a different vibe. Other than exhausting all of us — UMP’s Sam Driggers joked that the drivers were so tired they weren’t even complaining — what did you all think about the condensed one-day affair?
BS: Of course, I know fans who didn't get to go to the race will react by saying "find a real problem you cry baby,” but Saturday was just way too much. Arriving at the track at 10 a.m. and not leaving until well after midnight. It made for a long and exhausting day, and you could see it in the teams and the drivers. Obviously Eldora Speedway had no choice but to do what they did with the hand that Mother Nature dealt them, but it was no doubt a grueling day.
With history and tradition being such a big deal at Eldora Speedway I would be more than shocked if tech day was eliminated. I predict it's here to stay whether there are 120 cars or 300 cars. It was interesting to note, though, how many drivers simply wait until Friday to show up because there's no urgency to be on site on Thursday.
MR: It was the most unusual World 100 I've ever been to from a Saturday standpoint. Looking around early in the day on Saturday, and seeing all of those people already in the building was just a different experience. I will say this, though: it was the most clean, efficient, and probably well-produced World 100 I've been to, and I've been going since '88. The Eldora staff handled that all day affair well, hats off to them. For Eldora hard-cores like me, it was just a unique vibe.
TT: We’re heading toward the autumn specials now as the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series both return to action this weekend. While the Lucas Oil drivers will have plenty of racing room at the half-mile Virginia Motor Speedway, the World of Outlaws guy are in for a rude awakening at one of the nation’s smallest tracks to host a weekly Late Model division. How do you all see the Photobilly 50 at the fifth-mile Belle-Clair Speedway, the $12,000-to-win event that honors the late track photographer?
BS: I see it as being an event, where a local guy could very easily send the national guys packing without a win. That place is no doubt a fan favorite, but for most drivers it's just a necessary evil. I think it will be an incredible show, and I can see a local guy standing in victory lane with a nice $12,000 payday on Friday evening.
TT: One of my favorite things about the sport is that drivers face the challenge of tracks of different size, shape, width, condition and character. It'll be great to see how quickly those WoO stars can adjust to a track that would be the star of "Honey, I Shrunk the Racetrack.”
MR: I predict they'll be more standing around looking at the race track before hot laps than ever before. You know that moment when drivers all park their four-wheelers at the entrance of a track, and sit around and BS about the place. This will be the top moment for that all year long. They'll be stunned when they get there and see how small it really is. Video and pictures don't do it justice.