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DirtonDirt.com exclusive

Fast Talk: Wrapping up the Knoxville Nationals

September 30, 2013, 1:45 pm

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 Michael this week (edited for clarity and length):

Joshua Joiner: We’ll begin this week’s discussion with a recap of Knoxville Raceway’s Lucas Oil Knoxville Late Model Nationals, where Darrell Lanigan added to his stellar season and his impressive career resume with a $40,000 victory in the weekend finale. In doing so, he denied runner-up Josh Richards a sweep of the weekend’s three races.

There’s plenty to dissect from the weekend, specifically from the Lanigan-Richards angle, but let’s start with Lanigan. He may have struggled in the World of Outlaws points chase, but he’s really put together another amazing year. As he closes in on his second consecutive 15-win season, it’s hard to argue that he’s been one of the sport’s best drivers over the past few years.

Ben Shelton: Lanigan has definitely had a great career, but over the past few seasons he has really stepped things up a notch to prove that he belongs in the discussion of one of the sport's best drivers. If not for an unbelievably bad start to the year in Florida with wrecks, mechanical issues, etc., I really think he would be right in the thick of a third WoO title.

Todd Turner: I don't remember a time when Lanigan wasn't a contender, but I guess since his 2008 World of Outlaws Late Model Series title, he's stepped it up a notch. And maybe again these last two seasons by piling up all these victories. He's in the heart of his prime and doesn't appear ready to slow down any time soon.

JJ: It was pretty much a Lanigan-Richards show all weekend with the two World of Outlaws regulars going back and forth all three nights, including a run-in Friday that left Lanigan angry with Richards — so much so that he drove backwards on the track under caution and stopped his car in front of Richards on the front straightaway to show his displeasure.

What did you guys think of the contact between the two drivers? Was one of them to blame or would you label it hard racing?

TT: That specific incident seemed pretty minor to me. The bigger picture was the history between the two, especially going back to their scrapes at Volusia in February. Lanigan and Richards are on either end of the scale when it comes to racing contact. Lanigan would prefer to have none (and a spotless race car), while Richards is an aggressive driver who embraces rubbing, leaning and contact as part of the sport. Maybe that's not exactly right, but it seems like they definitely approach their views of these incidents from other planets.

BS: Todd probably can answer the question of the events leading up to the altercation because from the infield it was hard for me to see what happened on the front stretch leading to the turn one spin, but to me it looked like two guys racing hard for a prestigious win. I think there is a high level of respect between the two drivers, but at the same time neither is going to give an inch to the other. We saw it in Florida, we now saw it in Knoxville, and I wouldn't be too surprised if we see it again before the season is over. It's not a grudge, it's not dirty racing, it's racing to win.

TT: That they always pit together and that Lanigan is among the best customers of Josh's dad Mark Richards and Rocket Chassis adds to the complexity, for sure.

JJ: Another controversial run-in produced a worse outcome on Saturday when Don O’Neal’s slidejob attempt on a lap-96 restart came up short and sent fourth-running Jason Feger into the wall and upside down, ending Feger’s solid weekend on a sour note.

The accident ended up taking out four top 10 cars with Scott Bloomquist and Dale McDowell also getting caught in the mess. Like Richards, O’Neal is a driver known for his hard racing and bold moves, but was this one a bit too much?

TT: Clearly it's one O'Neal would take back. One thing Feger pointed out is that Knoxville pays some of the best money in the sport, and the third, fourth and fifth place guys cash some big checks. ... he and O'Neal were both in line for that, and wadding up some cars up front that late in the race hurts in a lot of ways, but in the pocketbook, too, at Knoxville.

BS: Again when you are racing for a $40,000 prize and one of the most prestigious wins of the year, I guess it's fair to say that whether or not something was too aggressive is a bit subjective. However, from my perspective it was too aggressive. You could see at the flag stand that O'Neal was not even thinking about lifting going into turn one. Add that with the fact that this was a move for the third spot and not the lead, and I think it was indeed a bit too much, but maybe that's why I'm a spectator and not a driver.

JJ: Before we move on, I want to give you guys a chance to touch on anything else at Knoxville that may have caught your attention. Were there any under-the-radar performances or noteworthy occurrences that are worth mentioning?

TT: Ryan Gustin had among the fastest cars all weekend, but he couldn't rise to the top like he did earlier this season at I-80 Speedway. Had he not been in the middle of a heat race scramble on Thursday, he might've been in the mix for a preliminary feature victory that night.

BS: I think that AJ Diemel deserves a big pat on the back. He definitely doesn't have one of the unlimited budgets that some teams do, and his 3rd place finish on Friday night was pretty awesome. Richards and Lanigan were in a different league all weekend. It's been a while since I've seen two drivers dominate a weekend like that. Ryan Gustin continues to impress in a limited number of Super Late Model starts.

JJ: One thing that stood out to me was the success of the World of Outlaws guys this weekend; not only with Richards and Lanigan, but also with Tim McCreadie having a couple solid runs. It wasn't that long ago that most people consider the Lucas Oil regulars to be maybe a notch above the WoO guys, but it really seems like that's kind of leveled off this year. It really seems like you can go down the list of regulars for both tours and they match up pretty close driver-for-driver.

TT: I'd go so far to as it's more than leveled off with the Richards-Lanigan juggernaut pushing WoO back ahead overall, for those who like to compare the rival national tours. John Blankenship's World 100 victory — a race on neither tour — was a feather in the Lucas Oil cap, but at Knoxville the best of the Lucas bunch were clearly struggling trying to keep up with Richards and Lanigan.

JJ: Let’s wrap up with another round of potpourri to recap a busy weekend on the regional level and to look ahead to another busy weekend coming up. Which winners over the past weekend stood out to you guys? Are there any races you’re particularly looking forward to this weekend?

TT: Jackie Boggs, another $5,000 winner, is carving out a pretty successful season in his part of the world. Let's hope he can give the national touring guys a run for their money at Portsmouth (Ohio) Raceway Park's Dirt Track World Championship next month. ... In his "other" ride off the WoO circuit, Rick Eckert clicked off another couple of wins in Paul Crowl's Rocket; think that tempts him to return to that chassis full time? ... The return of the Southern All Stars to East Alabama for the Alabama State Championship appeared to be a success with a solid field of drivers and a couple of big-time winners with Shane Clanton and Chris Madden.

JJ: Of course Gregg Satterlee stands out as one of the top regional performers yet again with his $10,000 victory at Hagerstown. He just continues to impress this season. ... Also, another great weekend for both Chris Wall and Dennis Franklin. Wall has been nearly unbeatable on the Mississippi State Championship Challenge Series this season and pretty much wrapped up his second series title with a $5,000 victory in Jackson Motor Speedway's All-American 50. Likewise, Franklin has dominated the Carolina Clash Series, winning half the tour's races. Both these guys are racing against some of the toughest regional fields you'll find, and winning with near ease. I'm looking forward to watching both drivers as the year winds down and they get a chance to race against tougher fields at some late-season special events. I have a feeling they'll be factors at some big races.

BS: Chris Wall's continued domination with the Mississippi State Championship Challenge Series with a win at Jackson Motor Speedway over one of the tour's best fields of the year really stuck out to me. Hope to see Chris at more national events in 2013. Rick Eckert was also impressive with a clean sweep of the Big Kahuna action.

I'm looking forward to getting back to Greenville Speedway for the annual Gumbo Nationals this weekend. That track and staff have been working hard over the past few years to build a nice facility and a nice event.

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