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Weekly Notebook presented by Bilstein Shocks

Notes: Minnesota racer a winner over six decades

July 2, 2020, 9:15 am
By Todd Turner
DirtonDirt.com senior writer
Tom Corcoran (speedway-shots.com)
Tom Corcoran (speedway-shots.com)

It was satisfying for Tom Corcoran to still be racing competitively in his 50th season last year. But the veteran East Grand Forks, Minn., racer had one more itch to scratch.

The 65-year-old had victories in the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s and the 2010s. Could he also score a victory in the 2020s?

“I guess trying to get wins in six decades was one of the main reasons I came back this season,” Corcoran said. | Weekly results

And while coronavirus restrictions delayed the opening of the season, Corcoran didn’t take long in accomplishing his goal. Starting on the pole at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks, N.D., on Friday, Corcoran led all 20 laps of the WISSOTA-sanctioned main event to complete his six-decade accomplishment and earn a spot in DirtonDirt.com's Weekly Notebook presented by Bilstein Shocks.

“I started the evening out, I came in the back gate with a terrible draw, started at the back of a heat race and was not very good in the heat race,” Corcoran said of his fifth 2020 start. “I got a break and got third in the heat and ended up in the point-average redraw, and started on the pole. It was one of those nights where things kind of fell together ... It doesn’t happen often and I’ve been on the other side of the coin enough times I’ll definitely take it.”

An appreciative crowd celebrated the graybeard racer’s success that started with his first victory in 1974 and continues in 2020. His previous win came July 8, 2016.

“Of course I had won fairly consistently through the 2000s, and I won in 2010, and things kind of dried up for a few years and I didn’t win again until 2016. The ’16 victory was kind of special because I was about two months out of having a hip replacement.”

Corcoran, who retired in May 2019 as maintenance tech for East Grand Forks Public Schools, was eager to pursue his six-decade challenge.

“Last season, we celebrated the 50th anniversary season, and got pretty competitive again. So early this spring, or late last winter, we sent the car back over to Jimmy Mars at MB Customs. We put the updated front end on it and I really kind of decided I was going to go after it this year.

“I’m reasonably healthy at — I’ll be 66 this next month — but it’s kind of nice, I retired from work about a year ago, so I’ve got time to devote to it, and as long as I’m competitive, I’m happy racing.”

He knows he’s in the rare breed of racers still competing when many drivers call it quits many years earlier.

“I think a lot of it’s individual. I think once you find something like this and experience some success, you continue to strive for it. Even through the tough times, you still have that desire to go fast,” he said. “Of course, any time you have a couple of down seasons in a row, you get down on yourself and you start thinking about, ‘Well, maybe it’s time to quit.’ But the overlying thought that I can still drive the race car and still be competitive always seems to pull me back through.”

Corcoran’s recreation has always revolved around racing and he was among co-founders of the Northern LateModel Racing Association, an upper Midwestern tour that just opened its 23rd season. Corcoran’s co-founders were Jon Bittner, Kevin Thompson and Greg Frokjer, and Corcoran went on to win five NLRA events and was the tour’s runner-up in 1999.

“It’s been a blessing for local racing up here,” Corcoran said. “When we did start that, we were on the verge of losing Late Model racing up in this area.”

Corcoran realizes he’s been fortunate to see a long stretch of Dirt Late Model racing from home-built machines up to today’s technology-focused machines.

“At this point in my career I’m kind of the missing link. Early in my career we were racing against (Hall of Famer) Rick Aukland and more recently it’s been (2018 World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series Rookie of the Year) Ricky Weiss.

“I guess my favorite era, outside of today, is probably the ’80s with the wedge cars. I was fortunate I’d bought a wedge car from Rick Aukland, and I think between 1984 and 1985, I probably won over 75 percent of the events I entered those two years. Those cars were absolutely fun to drive. And I realize why they faded away, but I can only imagine today how fast they’d be given today’s suspension technology.”

So what’s next for Corcoran? Staying behind the wheel until 2030 to add yet another winning decade to his career?

“Boy, that’s a long ways away,” he said with a laugh. “I’d love to say that I could go for it, but I know the clock is ticking.”

Weekly highlights

• Scoring a pair of $2,000 victories, Kent Arment of Aberdeen, S.D., won June 26 at his hometown Brown County Speedway and again June 27 at Miller (S.D.) Central Speedway.

Jason Johnson of Gresham, Ore., swept June 27-28 Late Model events at Coos Bay (Ore.) Speedway.

• New Richmond, Wis., racer Pat Doar had a two-victory weekend on June 27-28 at his hometown Cedar Lake Speedway and Gondik Law Speedway in Superior, Wis.

Jeff Rine of Danville, Pa., swept his regular weekly tracks June 26-27 with home-state victories at Bedford Speedway and Selinsgrove Speedway.

• Hometown driver Nick Deal rallied from his 10th starting spot June 27 at Shelby County Speedway to stay perfect with his fourth Late Model victory of the season in Harlan, Iowa.

First things first

First-time occurrences at the dirt track:

• Earning $2,512 for winning the Gene Van Meter Memorial, Dustin Mitchell of Pine Level, N.C., grabbed his first victory at Potomac Speedway in Budds Creek, Md., on June 26. Mitchell led all 35 laps in the Super Late Model special.

• Also at Potomac on June 26, 21-year-old Trevor Collins of Seaford, Del., collected his first career Crate Late Model victory. The former asphalt racer led all 20 laps.

• Winning one of two Limited Late Model features June 27 at Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway, Garrett Walls of Taneytown, Md., grabbed his first victory in the division. Tyler Emory won the other feature and a $1,000-to-win shootout among the top three drivers from each feature.

Weekly news briefs

North Alabama Speedway in Tuscumbia announced its Rock Hard Weekly Challenge for Crate Late Models during the track’s 20-lap weekly feature events. Front-row qualifiers will earn a $50 bonus if they elect to start in the rear of the field and a $1,000 bonus if they can start in the rear and win the main event. There must be at least 16 cars for the bonus, which is sponsored by Dowdy Welding & Fabrication and Rock Hard Wheel Covers.

Mike Fulp, owner of 311 Motor Speedway in Pine Hall, N.C., said he received death threats, lost sponsorships, employees and was forced to cancel June 27’s Stand for America race program for safety reasons after he drew scorn for a social media advertisement, according to the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record. Fulp, who apologized for what he termed a joke, drew national attention for offering to sell “Bubba rope” at the conclusion of the FBI investigation into a noose-tied garage door pull in the garage of African-American racer Bubba Wallace at Talladega (Ala.) Short Track. A YouTube video also showed Fulp discussing recent events with Black Lives Matter representatives who came to the racetrack. “It breaks my heart, man,” Fulp said, telling the newspaper he’s not a racist. “Because I see a lot of hate. I don’t want nobody to hate me. I’m not a bad dude.”

• Bedford (Pa.) Speedway and other Pennsylvania tracks mourned the June 26 death of Tom Gill, a longtime Dirt Late Model team owner and track supporter who died in an automobile accident in his Altoona, Pa., hometown at 78. “Tom, with (wife) Mary Ann alongside, was at Bedford each and every week, helping in anyway that he could,” according to the Bedford Facebook page. “He was a great friend to all who knew him. Tom will be greatly missed and we ask that you keep Mary Ann and their family in your prayers.” Gill’s No. 55 was driven by many drivers over the years including Larry Wright, Davey Johnson, Bob Wearing Jr., John Britsky, Andy Fries, D.J. Troutman, Rick Singleton and Shawn McGarvey

• A Limited Late Model jumped the wall and went through a fence and into the grandstands on June 27 at Laurens County Speedway in Laurens, S.C., injuring four people but none with life-threatening injuries, according to the track. Two victims, including a teen-aged female, were airlifted to a Greenville, S.C., hospital while two others went to local hospitals by ambulance, according to the Laurens County Advertiser.

• With Red Cedar Speedway in Menomonie, Wis., still dark because of coronavirus restrictions, Gondik Law Speedway in Superior, Wis., has added Red Cedar Speedway Night on July 10. Any resident of Dunn County will receive discount general admission ($10). “The two tracks, although competing regularly on the same night, have always worked well together for the betterment of the sport and it was very generous to think of the Red Cedar Speedway to show this support,” said Mark Thomas, president of the Red Cedar Racing Association. Six classes will be in action that night including Late Models.

• With the Covid-19 crisis halting East Bay Raceway Park’s plan for its March banquet, the Gibsonton, Fla., track has decided to scrap the celebration of the 2019 season. Prepaid banquet tickets will be refunded while points money and trophies can be picked up at the track office Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. starting July 7. Call (813) 677-7223 for details. The track is dark until August.

Weekly points chases

DIRTcar (Super Late Models): Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., has 263 points to lead Travis Stemler (262) and Rusty Schlenk (251).

IMCA (Limited Late Models): Through June 26, Matt Ryan of Davenport, Iowa, has 491 points with Logan Duffy (397) and Jeff Aikey (373) in second and third.

ULMA (Limited Late Models): Cole Henson of Russellville, Mo., has 654 points followed by Larry Ferris (652) and Tucker Cox (622).

DIRTcar (Crate Late Models): Brandon Eskew of Ashland, Ill., has 270 points with Torin Mettille (250) and Logan Moody (236) giving chase.

Fastrak (Crate Late Models): Michael Brown of Pageland, S.C., has 124 points to lead Corey Almond (100) and Cody Cubbage (94).

Crate Racin’ USA (Crate Late Models): Shannon Lee of Lumberton, Miss., has 199 points to lead Brad Skinner (197) and Sid Scarbrough (193).

Sweeney Chevrolet RUSH (Crate Late Models): Matt Hill of Georgetown, Del., has 552 points to lead Jeremy Wonderling (537) and Jeremy Pilkerton (534).

(WISSOTA has elected not to have an overall organization points chase for 2020 because of coronavirus-forced track and border closures)

Upcoming weekly specials

Among non-touring and independent special events coming up for Late Models at dirt tracks around the country:

Florence Speedway, Union, Ky. (July 2): The northern Kentucky half-mile oval gets back to action with a $5,000-to-win Super Late Model event live on DirtonDirt.com and FloRacing.

Jackson County Speedway, Jackson, Ohio (July 2): A Super Late Model special on the holiday weekend pays $1,776-to-win for a 30-lapper ($2,776 if there are 20 cars); $200 bonus goes to top-finishing steel-block entry.

Bedford (Ind.) Speedway (July 3): The Milt Miller Tribute pays $3,000-to-win for a 35-lap Super Late Model feature with Semi-Lates, sprints and mods on the undercard.

Duck River Raceway Park, Wheel, Tenn. (July 3): A seven-division program is topped with $2,000-to-win Super Late Models with Crates and Limiteds in action; fireworks scheduled for intermission.

Rockcastle Speedway, Mount Vernon, Ky. (July 3): The former asphalt oval hosts a $2,000-to-win Super Late Model event with Crates ($1,500) on the undercard of the rainout from June 27.

Crossville (Tenn.) Speedway (July 3): The J. Paul Smith Memorial pays tribute to the track founder with a $3,000-to-win event; steel-head engine Late Models are also in action.

Merritt Speedway, Lake City, Mich. (July 3-4): Friday’s $2,000-to-win tuneup for Super Late Models leads into Saturday's $10,000-to-win Allstar Performance Challenge Series event.

Chatham (La.) Raceway (July 3-4): Crate Late Models chase a $5,000-to-win purse; Mississippi State Championship Challenge Series Supers are in action on Saturday.

Beckley (W.Va.) Motorsports Park: The second annual Honor the Legends event pays $10,000-to-win for Super Late Models; the track is also running July 3 with Crates and fireworks both nights.

Dixie Speedway, Woodstock, Ga. (July 4): The 3/8-mile oval welcomes fans back for a $3,000-to-win event for Super Late Models; regular divisions are in action along with a demo derby.

Fort Payne (Ala.) Motor Speedway (July 4): The 13th annual Firecracker 50 pays $4,000-to-win for Super Late Models; the Red Clay Series for 602 Crates is on the undercard.

Elkins Raceway, Kerens, W.Va. (July 4): The track returns to full capacity and plans fireworks as part of a program with $2,000-to-win Super Late Models; Crates are among other divisions.

Lake Cumberland Speedway, Burnside, Ky. (July 4): A fireworks display is planned along with the Freedom 30, a $2,000-to-win Super Late Model event with four other classes in action.

Correction: Removes Late Model special in Superior, Wis.

Tom Corcoran file

Age: 65 (birthday July 27)
Hometown: East Grand Forks, Minn.
Occupation: Retired in May 2019 as maintenance tech at East Grand Forks Public Schools after nearly 30 years on the job
Family: Divorced with two married daughters, Kasey and Kari
Chassis/engine: MB Customs/CT 525
Sponsors: D&B Motors, Forks Finest Auto Body & Car Wash, S&S Transport, Greg’s Lawn Care & Landscape, Bruce Hart Fabrication & Repair
Late Model career: With more than 235 Late Model victories over a 51-year career, Corcoran has long been a successful driver as well as one of the co-founders of the Northern LateModel Racing Association. His first Late Model victory came in 1974 in a car purchased from former World 100 winner Ken Walton

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