Fast Talk: Arizona recap and offseason topics
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 and Eldora Speedway announcer Dustin Jarrett subs for Michael Rigsby this week (edited for clarity and length):
Joshua Joiner: Arizona’s January action is officially in the books, providing plenty for us to talk about in today’s discussion. Action started more than two weeks ago with a pair of events at Central Arizona Raceway in Casa Grande and wrapped up Sunday with Shane Clanton outdueling Billy Moyer for a $10,000 victory in the final of six races for Tucson International Raceway’s Winter Extreme miniseries.
Let’s start by looking at Arizona racing as a whole. Last year, with Tucson hosting six successful events that drew a total of more than 70 cars, it seemed like Arizona’s January action was on its way to becoming a permanent tradition in the sport. Changes at Tucson and the reopening of Casa Grande cast some doubt and uncertainty on that for a short period of time, but after the past two weeks, do you guys once again feel like Arizona’s January action is here to stay?
Todd Turner: Let's hope so. I understand how some of the uncertainty and changes made it less appealing for drivers to commit coming, so it'd be great if things are steadier as promoters plan for next year's races.
Even though the Wild West Shootout and Winter Extreme add to the "racing year around" deal that sometimes gets complaints, Arizona in January seems to be a natural fit that, when it clicks, works out great. It's one of my favorite events of the year, really.
Dustin Jarrett: I definitely think it's here to stay. If nothing else, they have a nice, core group of drivers that have been mainstays for the last few years. If nothing else, the miniseries gives guys an opportunity to test and tune a few new things before hitting the Georgia/Florida Speedweeks. I'd like to see some consistency with dates and tracks on the Arizona deal. I think that would help them out tremendously.
TT: Firming up the plans for 2014 quickly would help solidify Arizona's place in the schedule, for sure.
JJ: What about the racing at Tucson? Last year the track caught some flak when the track didn't produce its usual racy surface. Aside from a night or two, it seemed like the racing this year was pretty good, would you say?
TT: Definitely a step up from last year and really pretty satisfying overall. Nearly every one of the six features had some late-race drama, even one that might've been a runaway when Will Vaught made a late rally to catch Jimmy Mars, who was hampered by problems by his right-front.
In the finale there were some skeptics that the daytime surface would allow good racing, but a reworking of the track — and touching it up with the scrobbler in the low groove just before the Late Models hit the track — gave the surface two solid grooves, and there was racing all over it.
DJ: From my vantage point (watching the EXCELLENT coverage on DirtonDirt pay-per-view), it seemed like the track was in great shape. Wednesday night was a tad too heavy, in my eyes, but it still provided a dramatic A-Main with Will Vaught's late race, bonzai pass for the win.
TT: Agreed Dustin, the nighttime surface there can be wicked fast — and hard on powerplants, which is what you definitely don't want for drivers who travel that far to attend the six races.
DJ: Honestly, that was one of the things that stood out to me about the miniseries was the varying track conditions. It seemed to make it more interesting from a fan's point of view and, in a way, seemed to almost level the playing field. I was equally impressed with the daytime surface on Sunday. It was two-and-three-wide and made for a great show.
JJ: Shane Clanton was quiet for most of the Arizona action, but he came on strong in the finale by chasing down and passing Moyer. We talked last week about the success of Clanton’s Kennedy Motorsports teammate Tim Fuller. With what we’ve seen so far this season, which one, Clanton or Fuller, do you guys think will perform better in the WoO chase this season and are either or both capable of contending for the series championship?
TT: I don't have an official count, but it seemed like Clanton passed more cars than anyone all week, even though he didn't crack victory lane until the finale. He was rallying from the deep in the field for his other three top-five finishes.
I'd give him the edge over Fuller in the WoO points chase, but going back to his lone victory late last season, Fuller is in the best stretch of Late Model racing he's seen since his '09 hot streak. It's be neat to see those teammates battling Darrell Lanigan, Josh Richards and others for the WoO title.
DJ: I think both Clanton and Fuller have a lot to look forward to in 2013. They've each got just crazy talent behind the wheel. And sometimes, as we all know, it just takes the combination to get a driver or team back on track and in victory lane. I wouldn't be surprised to see each have a solid year on the WoO tour. Can they challenge for the title? Eh, too early to tell. I mean, I'd certainly like to think so. But, after Lanigan's season last year, it's hard to say right now. I think everyone wants to see guys like Clanton and Fuller come in and challenge for the title. We'll see.
Of course, I think also think about T-Mac's successful stint in Arizona last year and, of course, the disappointing season that followed. So, really, it may be too early to tell just yet.
JJ: Clanton and Fuller definitely look strong. I'm gonna step out on a bit of limb and make an early prediction that they both end up in the top five of the WoO standings this year with perhaps Clanton even making a serious bid for the championship.
DJ: Wow, predictions already! Go get 'em, Joshua! LOL
JJ: We’ve become accustomed to Moyer dominating at Tucson with the Hall of Famer winning three of six events in each of the past two seasons. His stranglehold definitely subsided a bit this season with just one victory in eight Arizona starts. Could this foreshadow a downturn in Moyer’s performance this season, or is that reading too much into the results of just a handful of races?
DJ: I just don't see Moyer slowing down ... like, ever. Seriously, I think that may be reading too much into the results. He's a last lap, last turn mechanic failure away from having a win and two second place finishes. The thing with Billy is, he's great at changing with the times. As the sport evolves, so does Billy Moyer and that's why he's still able to be a threat at every race he enters.
TT: Moyer was Moyer the last two races, so even without three victories — which no matter what the field is an impressive feat — he'd gotten things in gear by the end of the week.
I'm not going to be the first one to throw the first shovelful of dirt on Moyer's career (well, that's probably a little dramatic), because he seems to summon success just when everybody thinks he's going to wrap it up and ride off into the sunset.
With Moyer, he's just got so many laps, so much experience, that if his car is close, he's going to be the driver to beat much of the time.
DJ: I agree, Todd. He's not just a threat. He's usually one of the odds on favorites every time he pulls through the gates.
TT: I will add, however, that the DirtonDirt.com staffers did talk about after Sunday's finale about the surprise that Morgan Bagley tracked him down in traffic early in the race and made a pass for the lead. It seemed like one of those times when Moyer was in command, but Bagley quickly slipped past. Too much to read into one instance, but we've all seen Moyer outduel guys in traffic so long, it stands out when someone can get by.
JJ: With Arizona action wrapping up, we’ll finally have some time to talk about some of the sport’s offseason developments. Let’s start by talking about Eldora Speedway, which has been busy gearing up for some big changes for 2013. It seems like there’s plenty to be excited about whether it’s the changes to the Dream and World, the hosting of the first-ever dirt event for NASCAR’s Truck Series or other additions to the schedule, wouldn’t you say Dustin?
DJ: The buzz at the banquet Saturday night was bigger then any other Eldora banquet I have ever attended. Guys were talking about the format tweaks to the Dream, World, and UMP Nationals. The Truck race now has less than 600 reserved seats available. There's just so much going on - and there's weather's been so cold and miserable - it's hard not to get excited about the upcoming season.
TT: Eldora has definitely made significant changes over the course of Tony Stewart's ownership — safety improvements, video scoreboard, VIP suites and tons of other things we often overlook — but 2013 is coming together like no other season, perhaps in the track's history. As a dirt racing fan it'll be fun to see the NASCAR trucks show that asphalt crowd why we're so excited about playing in the dirt, perhaps in a way the Prelude couldn't quite do.
JJ: Plans for a new national miniseries were announced last week with Kennedy Motorsports owner John Kennedy unveiling the new National Dirt Racing League. The lucrative series plans four to six events this season, starting with a pair of one-day $20,000-to-win events at Paducah International Raceway and Federated Auto Parts Raceway @ I-55 March 29-30 and concluding with a revamped Pittsburgher 100 at Pittsburgh’s PA Motor Speedway that pays $10,000 on Oct. 11 and $25,000 Oct. 12.
That’s a lot of money on the line for these events. What’s your guy’s reaction to this new series?
DJ: This definitely caught my attention mostly because, in this day and age, something like that doesn't just fly under the radar and pop up out of nowhere like this did. Usually, I'm able to catch wind of things like this, but had no prior indication whatsoever that this was coming.
I love the idea behind of it. I worry a little about the Pittsburgher being shuffled back to the same weekend as The Ultimate at Hesston, but I also understand that there's only a select number of weekends to work with too. Could this slowly turn into something like the old Big Johnson Series was in the late 90's?
TT: I like the thought of focusing on dates that don't conflict with Lucas Oil and World of Outlaws in trying to draw the best drivers from some new (and in the case of the Pittsburgher, rejuvenated) races. ... and really the $20,000 payoff for the champ of just a five-race miniseries might be the biggest part of it.
If they catch good weather for that March weekend, it could be a big splash. And if 2013 goes well, it'd be interesting to see how this develops. Kennedy is definitely eager to give it a shot after developing a successful Dirt Late Model team with Clanton and Fuller.
DJ: I'm glad to see the Pittsburgher has been rejuvenated, as you put it, Todd. That purse increase was long overdue for that storied event. Well-deserved, in my opinion.