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Previewing Southern tours for the '12 season

March 15, 2012, 5:45 am
From staff, contributor and series reports

With spring just around the corner (or already here in many places), here's a look at developments on Southern Dirt Late Model tours for the 2012 season. The brief capsules, with information primarily from series officials, directors and publicists, focus on changes for the upcoming season and includes links to the series websites and schedule pages. As usual most series are concerned about fuel costs, the economy and need more sponsorship. With that said, welcome to 2012 (regional series preview home):

Battle of the Eastern All Stars Tour

2011 recap: None. The 2012 season is the first for a tour that's aimed at filling the void left by the closing of the Southern All Star East and the Clash South tours in recent seasons.

2012 opener: Cherokee Speedway April 21 for the $4,000-to-win Rock Gault Memorial.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): Four events at Cherokee anchor the tour’s 10-race schedule with Gordon Park Speedway, Carolina Speedway, Harris Speedway, Laurens County Speedway and Travelers Rest Speedway also hosting events. All races will pay between $3,000- and $5,000-to-win.

Rule/format changes: The biggest difference between the BEAST series and other regional tours in the Carolinas and Georgia is its tire rule. Most other tours call for spec tires from a single tire manufacture, but the new series will allow competitors to choose between a few compound options from Hoosier and American Racer Tires.

Expected regulars: It’s tough to say who will follow a new series, but with no conflicting dates with the Carolina Clash and only a few conflicts with the Ultimate Series, the BEAST tour should attract a good number of drivers from the Carolinas and Georgia to go along with Cherokee regulars like Johnny Pursley, Dennis Franklin, Chris Ferguson and more.

Key question: Is there a large enough void left by SAS East and Clash South for the BEAST series to be successful or has the Ultimate Series and Carolina Clash Series already closed that gap?

Odds and ends: The tour is co-promoted by Timmy McAbee and Clint Elkins. ... The tour may add a race at Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Ga., according to Mcabee. ... Along with the Gault Memorial, the Stick Elliott Memorial and the Hall of Fame Race are among Cherokee’s special events that will be BEAST-sanctioned this year. ... Gordon Park’s April 28 event is the second annual Jack Starrette Memorial. The race sanctioned by the Ultimate Series last season.

Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series

2011 recap: With two victories on the year, Dennis Franklin of Gaffney, S.C., capitalized on the tour’s Countdown to the Cup format to score his second consecutive series championship. Luke Roffers of Concord, N.C., led the standings for the majority of the season, but his title hopes were dashed after wrecking out of the third-to-last race.

2012 opener: Rebounding from his shortcomings in last year’s title chase, Roffers claimed the tour’s season opener March 10, winning the $4,000 Skyler Trull Memorial at Carolina Speedway in Gastonia, N.C.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): Along with the opener at Carolina, the tour’s initial schedule includes 13 events. All but one (the $3,000-to-win Shine 100 at Carolina) pay $4,000-to-win and at least $400-to-start. I-77 Speedway in Richburg, S.C., is the only track new to the tour’s schedule with its July 14 event.

Rule/format changes: No major rule changes other than some tweaking to the points structure. The tour will once again use the Countdown to the Cup format, although it’s changed names to the Chase for the Championship.

Expected regulars: Franklin is expected to be back for the majority of events in his new AES Racing entry. Roffers is also expected back along with other tour regulars such as Jeff Smith, Ricky Weeks and Kenny Compton Jr. Chris Ferguson and Johnny Pursley have expressed interest in running the majority of the tour’s events, while Austin Kirkpatrick of Ocala, Fla., has moved his racing operation to Mooresville, N.C., and plans to run for the tour’s Rookie of the Year Award.

Key question: With just 13 confirmed dates (the fewest in the tour’s 12-year history), will more drivers be enticed to follow the entire tour as series president Larry Lee hopes?

Odds and ends: Lee said it’s possible the tour could add up to three more races to the schedule, but he's got a 16-race limit. ... Fayetteville Motor Speedway will host the most events with four races scheduled at the 4/10-mile oval. ... The tour’s final five races dates make up the Chase for the Championship, including a to-be-announced event slated for Sept. 22. ... The Chase is sponsored by JE Pistons and Roush/Yates Engines.

Comp Cams Super Dirt Series

2011 recap: Reigning Rookie of the Year Brandon Smith of Floral, Ark., avoided a sophomore slump by scoring two victories on his way to his first series championship.

2012 opener: A March 23-24 doubleheader weekend at USA Speedway in Sterlington, La., Friday and I-30 Speedway in Little Rock, Ark., Saturday. Both events pay $2,000-to-win.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): The tour’s two biggest races are once again the Rockabilly 50 Sept. 7-8 at Northeast Arkansas Speedway in Harrisburg, Ark., and the Midsouth Dirt Track World Championship Oct. 13 at Riverside International Speedway in West Memphis, Ark. Payouts for the two events aren’t yet finalized, but they’re both expected to pay more than the tour’s traditional $2,000-to-win payout. Overall, the tour includes 24 races at 11 tracks with Diamond Park Speedway in Nashville, Ark., hosting its first series events April 14 and Aug. 11.

Rule/format changes: Most rules remain the same, although there are minor tire rule changes forthcoming to accommodate Hoosier Racing Tire’s amended production of its Spec 1600 compound. Drivers are allowed to run Spec 1600 tires through the end of July.

Expected regulars: Smith is expected to defend his title against series regulars Kyle Beard, Jon Mitchell, Jon Kirby, Curtis Cook, Keith Lawson, Ian Samuel, Shane Harris, and Johnny Virden. Newcomers to the tour for 2012 include rookie contenders Dale Armstrong, Chandler Petty, and Hunter Rasdon, along with veteran racer, Tommy Surrette.

Key question: With events spread from Louisiana and Arkansas to Missouri and Oklahoma, will the tour remain financially feasible for regional teams as gas prices continue to rise?

Odds and ends: Series officials attempted to create a more travel-friendly schedule for 2012 with the series slated to race approximately two weekends a month with almost every weekend consisting of Friday-Saturday doubleheaders. ... Memphis, Tenn.-based Comp Cams enters its second year as the title sponsor of the tour formerly named the Mid-South Racing Association. ... Wendell Wallace won six events on the tour in 2011, moving passed 2010 champion Bill Frye atop the series all-time win list. Wallace has 12 career victories to Frye’s eight.

Mississippi State Championship Challenge Series

2011 recap: Klint Byars of Carrollton, Miss., came seemingly from nowhere to win five races on his way to winning both the championship and Rookie of the Year honors.

2012 opener: A return to Columbus (Miss.) Speedway opens the season March 17 with the $5,000-to-win James King Memorial.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): The tour’s 15-race schedule is bookended by its two richest races. Along with the opener at Columbus, Greenville (Miss.) Speedway's $7,000-to-win Gumbo Nationals closes out the season Oct. 5-6. All other events pay either $2,000 or $2,500 to the winner.

Rule/format changes: None announced.

Expected regulars: With Byars planning to branch out nationally and two-time champ David Breazeale semi-retired, the championship could be wide open this season. Chad Thrash, Scott Creel and Leon Henderson are among drivers planning to compete for the title.

Key question: Will the return of the Columbus tracks, along with the addition of the King Memorial and Gumbo Nationals entice more regional drivers to follow the tour?

Odds and ends: The tour, limited to four Mississippi ovals last season, expands to six tracks this season with the return of Columbus-area tracks Columbus Speedway (for the first time since 2008) and Magnolia Motor Speedway (for the first time since 2009). ... Along with Byars and Breazeale, the tour could lose two more regulars after the two-car Speedway Collectibles Racing team ceased operations over the offseason. Former team drivers Steve Bryan and Brooks Strength aren’t expected to follow the tour with their own equipment.

Schaeffer Oil Southern Nationals Series

2011 recap: Chris Madden of Gray Court S.C., won three of nine races en route to his third championship in the seven-year history of the mid-summer tour.

2012 opener: July 16 at Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, Va., for the first of nine races over a 13-day stretch. The opener pays $3,500 to the winner.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): This year’s schedule matches last year’s with six races carrying the $5,300-to-win purse, including a four-race Georgia stretch at North Georgia Speedway, Swainsboro Raceway, Screven Motor Speedway and Rome International Speedway. The only new track currently on the schedule is Smoky Mountain Speedway in Maryville, Tenn., which replaces Carolina Speedway as the tour’s second stop.

Rule/format changes: Series promoter Ray Cook plans to keep the same rules and race format as last year. The only change is the addition of separate points funds for the two weeks of racing. The Old Man’s Garage Weekly Warrior Championship will offer a $500 bonus to the driver earning the most points during the first week of the tour and an additional $500 to the highest points earner during the second week.

Expected regulars: A lot could change before the tour kicks off in July, but Madden is expected to defend his title against a list of drivers that could include 2009 champ Tommy Kerr, Tony Knowles, Brian Reese, Vic Hill, Dennis Franklin, Casey Roberts, Randy Weaver and Dale McDowell, among others.

Key question: Can the mid-summer tour continue to attract solid car counts or will mid-week racing lose ground in the South?

Odds and ends: Schaeffer Oil is back for the second consecutive year as the tour’s title sponsor. ... One yet-to-be-announced date remains on the tours schedule for July 26. The spot would normally be reserved for the Cleveland (Tenn.) Speedway, but series promoter Ray Cook is waiting to see how Cleveland works out ownership issues that forced the track into bankruptcy in December. Cook has spoken with a number of Tennessee and Georgia tracks interested in the date. ... Though he may drop in for a few events, 2010 champion Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., won’t follow the tour this season because he's chasing the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Rookie of the Year Award.

Southern All Star Series

2011 recap: Winning three series races, Billy Ogle Jr. of Knoxville, Tenn., topped rookie contender William Thomas of Phenix City, Ala., by a just four points for his first series championship.

2012 opener: A shuffling of track ownership and management, forced Cleveland (Tenn.) Speedway’s Shamrock slated for March 10 to be postponed, but the $10,000-to-win race will still kick off the tour’s 30th season with its April 7 date.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): The tour’s other $10,000-to-win event will come in the season finale when the tour returns to Cherokee Speedway for the first time since 2008 for the Blue-Gray 100 Nov. 18. Other notable events include the $5,400-to-win Michael Head Jr. Memorial at Talladega Short Track July 28, a Mississippi doubleheader May 26-27 at Whynot Motorsports Park and Magnolia Motor Speedway and three $5,000-to-win events at Smoky Mountain Speedway.

Rule/format changes: Hoping to attract more cars, the tour is going back to a rules package that it last used in 2004. The rules allow all types of engines to compete with different weight breaks. The tour has also added a $3,500-to-win payout option to go along with its $5,000 and $10,000 events.

Expected regulars: Ogle is expected to defend his title against possible challengers in 2010 Champion Randy Weaver, David Payne, Brian Reese, Riley Hickman, Kayne Hickman and Todd Morrow.

Key question: Will rule changes and the addition of the lower payout race help the long-running series return to its former stature?

Odds and ends: Eight of the tour’s 18 scheduled events are slated to use the $3,500-to-win format. ... Along with the return of Cherokee, other former SAS mainstays returning to the schedule this year are Toccoa (Ga.) Speedway and 411 Motor Speedway in Seymour, Tenn. The tour returns to the Mitch McCarter-promoted 411 Sept. 21 for the first time since the track was converted back from asphalt to dirt in 2007. After a one-year hiatus Toccoa returns under new promoters Brad York and Andy Wilhite Oct. 27. ... Ronnie Johnson is the tour’s all-time winningest driver with 62 wins. Dale McDowell is second (40) followed by Chris Madden (39), Mike Head (24) and Scott Bloomquist (23).

Southern Regional Racing Series

2011 recap: Josh Putnam of Killen, Ala., scored just one victory on the season, but consistent finishes helped him run away with his first series championship.

2012 opener: The $3,000-to-win Jimmy Thomas Memorial March 17 at East Alabama Motor Speedway in Phenix City, Ala.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): The tour’s seventh season will include 21 events at 10 racetracks with all races paying $3,000 to the winner. The tour welcomes three new racetracks in 411 Motor Speedway, Sugar Creek Raceway and Volunteer Speedway. The inaugural Six Pack Challenge will include six straight nights of racing for the series June 28 through July 3.

Rule/format changes: The tour has done away with its driver loyalty program eliminated entry fees after drivers entered four consecutive series races. The program decreased the tour’s points fund too much, series director Rickey Tucker said.

Expected regulars: Series regulars could be sparse this year with Putnam, Jacob Grizzle and 2011 Rookie of the Year Chad Winkles the only drivers known to be planning to follow the tour. The tour loses 2010 champion and 2011 runner-up Anthony Burroughs, who has shut down his racing program to crew chief for Ronny Lee Hollingsworth.

Key question: Will drivers support six consecutive nights of racing during the summer?

Odds and ends: The six races preceding the July 4 holiday was expanded from three races ran around the holiday last season. ... Tucker would like to add up to three more events to put the tour at 24 races. ... Ray Cook tops the tour’s all-time win list with 13 victories. Byron Michael (9) is second follow by Ronnie Johnson (8), Randy Weaver (7) and David Gentry (5).

Southern United Professional Racing

2011 recap: Open-wheel modified ace Morgan Bagley of Longview, Texas, stormed onto the tour in 2011, picking up five victories en route the series championship and Rookie of the Year Award.

2012 opener: For the fourth consecutive year, the tour opened its season at the Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track in Fort Worth, Texas, with Jack Sullivan of Greenbrier, Ark., picking up the $3,500 victory on March 3.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): Aside from the opener, all events are slated to pay either $2,500, $2,000 or $1,250 to the winner. The tour wraps up Nov. 24 at Lone Star Speedway in Kilgore with the new Turkey Nationals.

Rule/format changes: None announced.

Expected regulars: The tour’s core group of drivers are expected to compete in most events, but it remains to be seen who will commit to the tour full time. Drivers will have to make a decision early with the season opener conflicting with the rain-postponed Pelican 100 at ArkLaTex Speedway in Vivian, La.

Key question: How will the 22-year-old series fare while operating without title sponsor O'Reilly Auto Parts for the first time in 13 seasons?

Odds and ends: Timothy Culp of West Monroe, La., was also a rookie contender on the tour last season. He picked up four victories in finishing second to Bagley in the final standings. ... Four tracks host four series events this year: Lone Star, USA Speedway, I-30 Speedway and Jones Motor Speedway. ... SUPR is the second-longest running Southern regional series behind the Southern All Stars. ... Series president and race director Greg Holmes is entering his 16th season with the tour.

Ultimate Super Late Model Series

2011 recap: In a tight points battle that came down to the final race, Chris Ferguson of Mount Holly, N.C., topped Georgia drivers Casey Roberts of Toccoa and Chip Brindle of Chatsworth for the tour’s inaugural $15,000 championship. Just four points separated the top three drivers entering the finale at Cherokee Speedway in November, where Ferguson finished one spot ahead of Roberts to claim the title.

2012 opener: March 24 at Cleveland County Speedway in Lawndale, N.C. for a $4,000-to-win event.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): A $10,000-to-win race May 19 at Virginia Motor Speedway is the highest paying race on the second-year tour’s 24-race schedule, which also features $5,000-to-win events June 9 and July 14 at Volunteer Speedway July 7 at Smokey Mountain Speedway and the Sept. 29 series finale at Screven Motor Speedway. The Carnesville, Ga.-based tour has expanded its reach in 2012 with eight new tracks hosting events. Those are: Screven; Boyd’s Speedway; North Georgia Speedway; 411 Motor Speedway; Smoky Mountain Speedway; 441; County Line Raceway; and Toccoa Speedway.

Rule/format changes: The series hasn’t made any major rules or format changes, but an announcement regarding the series tire rule may come before the start of the season, according to new series director Kelley Carlton.

Expected regulars: Both Ferguson and Roberts are expected back for another year, while Brindle likely won’t be back after parting ways with Bryson Motorsports. Other drivers who have expressed interest in following the series include Daniel Baggerly, Tony Knowles, Brian Reece, Bubba Russell and Lamar Haygood.

Key questions: Can the tour evolve into a true regional series in its second year with former Southern All Stars series director Kelley Carlton at the helm? How will the series fair without a single event at Cherokee Speedway? The 4/10-mile oval was the tour’s unofficial home base in 2011, hosting five of 12 series events.

Odds and ends: The tour’s champion will again earn $15,000 in 2012, one of the highest championship payouts among any regional series. ... The series was started by Fastrak Racing Series owner Stan Lester and Cherokee owner and promoter Lennie Buff last season, but the pair have parted ways with Lester taking complete ownership over the offseason. ... The tour’s initial 2012 schedule included 22 dates, but events at Gordon Park Speedway and Laurens County Speedway were dropped. Carlton hopes to have 24 dates once the schedule is complete. ... Among yet-to-be announced events is a late-season race in conjunction with the Fastrak Crate Late Models Grand Nationals. Series officials hope to televise that event.

United Dirt Late Model Challenge Series

2011 recap: Keith Nosbisch of Valrico, Fla., scored one victory on last year’s eight-race tour on his way to his first series championship.

2012 opener: The Florida-based tour’s fifth season got an early start with events in January and February. Kyle Van Sickle of Jacksonville, Fla., won the opener Jan. 28 at North Florida Speedway in Lake City, Fla., while Devin Dixon of Apollo Beach, Fla., won a Feb. 25 event at Hendry County Motorsports Park in Clewiston, Fla. Both winners earned $3,000.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): Bubba Raceway Park is slated to host six of the tour’s 10 confirmed races including the 17th annual Powell Memorial, which will consist of a pair of $5,000-to-win events June 1-2. UDLMCS sanctioning returns to the popular event after running unsanctioned last season. The other four visits to BRP will also be Friday-Saturday doubleheaders, with each event paying $3,000 to the winner.

Rule/format changes: None announced.

Expected regulars: Christian Augspurger, Mark Whitener, Kieth Nosbisch, Kyle Van Sickle, Ryan Van Sickle, Doug Watson and Johnny Collins.

Key question: Will car counts pick up after events at North Florida and Hendry Country drew just 19 and 11 entries respectively?

Odds and ends: The tour welcomes major sponsorship from Buddy’s Home Furnishing and Sunoco Race Fuels this season. ... Series officials hope to add more events to the tour’s schedule. ... Ivedent Lloyd Jr. of Ocala is the tour’s all-time winningest driver with 13 victories, followed by 2010 champion Mark Whitener (11), and Tyler Ivey (6), 2008 and 2009 champion Johnny Collins, Jacksonville (5) and Nosbisch (5).

Other Southern tours

The second-year United Super Dirt Car Series has combined with the National All Star Racing Association. Operating under the USDCS banner, the tour has yet to release its 2012 schedule, but plans are to add events at Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway, Mountain Motor Speedway in Whitesburg, Ky., and the paved Corbin Speedway along with a number of tracks it visited last season. ... Three Southern tours will not operate this season: the Chris Tilley-promoted Bluegrass STARS and Volunteer Racing Series and the PRO Dirt Car Series. ... The long-running Hedman Hedders National Late Model Series is set for another season, although the tour’s 2012 schedule hasn’t been released.

 
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