Fast Talk: Getting started at Speedweeks
Here’s the latest edition of Fast Talk, a DirtonDirt.com feature appearing each Monday and sponsored by Out-Pace Racing Products. 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 today (edited for clarity and length):
Todd Turner: We’ve got a busy night — and couple of weeks — coming up with Florida Speedweeks, so let’s get this show on the road. Let’s start with Josh Richards, the two-time World of Outlaws champion who was mostly missing last season while running on the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Spoiler alert: He’s back.
He ran a solid second in the WoO opener at Screven Motor Speedway, then won $10,000 the second night in Sylvania, Ga., while runner-up Shane Clanton threw everything but the kitchen sink at him. I doubt anyone thinks Richards would be the least bit rusty in his Dirt Late Model, but if there was any doubt he’d be a major factor in 2013, he’s put that to rest. Will WoO foes hope NASCAR comes calling soon?
Ben Shelton: I think Josh is a man on a mission more than ever this year. He looked more than impressive in the first two events. Not only is this good news for him, but it's good news for the WoO tour, which could very well see as many as three or four guys waging war for the title. All indications are a barnburner of a season.
Michael Rigsby: Everyone — and I do mean everyone —ï¿½ in the pit area at Screven was saying the same thing: "Josh is going to have a monster year." One driver even went as far to say “just write him the check for the championship now.” While I'm not ready to go that far, I will say he's the odds on favorite for sure. Not only does that car look spectacular, but it appears his time away didn't hurt him at all.
TT: Let’s not leave Clanton out. He’s duplicated the start of Richards with a victory and runner-up finish — they’re tied atop World of Outlaws points — and he’s the nation’s hottest driver, counting his $10,000 victory in Tucson, Ariz., last month. While Clanton has knocked down big victories here and there, it’s been a while since we’ve seen him on an hot streak. The Capital Race Car pilot has the opportunity for such a streak at Speedweeks, doesn’t he?
BS: Clanton has the potential to ruin Speedweeks for a lot of his foes. Not only does he have a fast hot rod, but he and his team have a lot of confidence. It's been a while since I've seen Clanton on kill the way he has been in Arizona and Florida so far. That team is a threat to win anywhere on any night, and this could truly be a career season for the Georgia driver.
MR: The Marshall Green bunch at Capital has to be smiling from ear-to-ear with the start they've put together. Not only with Clanton but other Capital cars running good as well. Clanton would be in my top five drivers in the country if I was doing a poll today (for those wondering, our next Top 25 comes after Speedweeks). But he's that good right now, and I can only see his year getting better and better.
TT: Hall of Famer Donnie Moran won his first Speedweeks event in six years at Waycross, Ga., although it was in unorthodox fashion. He was running a distant fourth with 10 laps remaining, but flat tires for the guys in front of him — including for race-long leader Eric Jacobsen with barely two laps remaining — gave Moran a victory largely thanks to tire management. Moran had a pretty solid Speedweeks last season. Think the 50-year-old has a last hurrah in him for another victory or two in Florida?
MR: I can see him picking up an East Bay win for sure. I felt bad for Eric first and foremost, as it really felt like a place, and a race that he should have won. He deserves a Speedweeks win, too. Moran I think will be a factor in Tampa at least a few days this week, with a chance to steal one away if things break right.
BS: Moran is one of those veterans, who whether or not you are a die-hard fan, you just root for him a little because of what he's done for this sport and what he has meant to it. We've seen many times before how a single win can propel a driver to more success. Moran has been good at East Bay in the past, and even though luck might have played a role in his win at Waycross, he still did what it took to win and that could definitely lead to more success down here.
TT: It’s not Fast Talk without a little chatter about car counts. And it’s a topic that can’t be ignored after two non-traditional Speedweeks events at Waycross (15 Super Late Models) and North Florida Speedway (16) didn’t even draw full fields. We’ve talked previously if 19 races in 16 days is too many — does this answer that question? The only piece of this puzzle that doesn’t fit is the crowds, especially a big one at Waycross, that hints that fans are more interested in extra races than drivers.
MR: It's concerning. I don't know if it's a full-blown four-alarm fire, but it's something that we'll need to keep an eye on in the early part of the year. Screven was down 15 or so cars as well. East Bay looks like it might hold steady, while Volusia remains to be seen. I think guys have finally sort of said “we just can't race 12 months a year,” and really that's what it's becoming anymore. Someone who's opinion I trust very much told me this week: "The rubber band only snaps so far, and it doesn't always snap back.” That might be the case this year.
TT: I guess I'm most perplexed by drivers leaving the starting money on the table at Waycross. A start-and-park was worth $500 ... not that we want to see that, but if you can't even draw drivers who have made the trip South to do that, it seems like there are simply too many races, or too many other more attractive races drivers are saving their equipment for.
BS: think these car counts help to blatantly prove our point that it's just too much this year for Speedweeks. Guys at Screven told me that they would've like to support the North Florida Speedway event, but that they needed a day off to lick their wounds and regroup. This won't be the last time we see it happen during Speedweeks as guys, who don't have to run for points, will take occasional nights off.
This isn't the UMP Summernationals and guys don't have to race every night, nor will they. I expect car counts will be done across the board at Speedweeks this year as some guys just decided to take a year away the annual trek south. Many people will jump to the economy scapegoat on decreased car counts, but I just think it was a trend for the year where many guys decided to take a year hiatus.
As far as the starting money, I agree Todd, but I don't think anybody foresaw only 15 cars. In hindsight, I'm thinking more guys would definitely show next time.
TT: East Bay Raceway Park drew nearly 40 cars for Sunday’s practice, and we’ll head to the Clay by the Bay tonight for the first of six Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series events. Any last-minute thoughts? I’m interested in seeing how modified ace Stormy Scott of Las Cruces, N.M., performs in a Bloomquist Race Car in his first-ever Late Model start. I’m also feeling that, with a different mix of drivers and perhaps some Lucas Oil regulars sitting out early in the week (points don’t count until Friday), that we might have some unheralded guys cracking the top five, and maybe even visiting victory lane. What about you guys?
BS: I originally thought that some guys would not race early in the week, but with car counts down across the board so far, I expect that just about everybody will run every event at East Bay. With that said East Bay always has a way of working new and interesting guys into the mix at least once. I very well think that Stormy Scott could be that guy this year. He's a very well-accomplished modified driver, and as we saw with Rodney Sanders earlier this year, that jump isn’t always so difficult.
MR: Stormy definitely jumped to the top of my most interesting stories list at Speedweeks. I’ve watched him race so many times in a mod, it will be fun to see how he does not only in a Late Model, but one that's come loaded to bear. Will he be a breakout star at Speedweeks this year? We'll see I guess. I also have an eye on Bobby Pierce. I think he's got a few top-five finishes in him before Tampa is over.