Notes: Part-time racing, full-time skills
Missouri racer Payton Looney is looking at the 2023 season as one of a happy medium, where he can race enough to quench his competitive thirst while being at home enough for his growing family.
“I would like to race about 15 times,” Looney said Tuesday while previewing this weekend’s Lucas Oil Midwest LateModel Racing Association opening events at the 10th annual MLRA Spring Nationals presented by Arizona Sport Shirts.
The tour's season-opening doubleheader at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo., with a $5,000-to-win feature Friday and with a $10,000 prize Saturday is a chance for the 28-year-old from Republic, Mo., to compete near home and on his favorite racetrack with his family and friends cheering.
Looney won the Spring Nationals finale a year ago in one of a mere seven outings in his Atnip Enterprises Capital Race Car in 2022. He also raced only seven times in 2021 after a grinding 25-race campaign in 2020 in which he won the Show-Me 100, but fell just shy of the MLRA championship.
Those hours on the road, often taking him away from wife Emilee and two young children, is not something he wishes a return to. Son Baylor just finished his youth basketball season and is starting baseball and daughter Elliott is getting involved in gymnastics.
“I definitely miss racing, but I’m just not willing to travel up and down the road like I was before,” Looney said. “My oldest boy is starting sports and my daughter is starting gymnastics. I don’t want to miss any of that. If I can still race 10-15 times a year and still be a present father at home, that’s the goal.”
He's looking forward to balancing his competitive fire with the fun racing has to offer through good-paying events close to home, whether at Wheatland, West Plains or Lake Ozark. The schedule, expense and stress of chasing points, as he did in 2020, is something he doesn’t miss.
“It’s a lot more fun. It’s a lot less stress, I know that,” Looney said. “Really, just racing in general, now we just do it now for fun. We still love to do it. It’s not like it used to be when we had to do it every weekend and all that type of stuff.
“We’ve had a lot of success at Lucas over the years. We won the Spring Nationals there last year. Any time I can race, it’s a good weekend.”
Looney said that it doesn’t have to be in the top-of-the-line Late Model to put a smile on his face. He filled the seat in the Moon Brothers Limited Late Model last weekend at Lucas Oil Speedway as regular driver JC Morton was competing elsewhere. As he was advancing through the field, Looney’s car suffered a broken axle to end his night. Still, he called it a fun getaway to get to the track and only need 90 minutes to do so.
This weekend, his goal would be to win and have someone buy his race car. Looney has a new Capital on order, but needs to sell this one before completing the deal and taking aim at bigger events, such as the Show-Me 100 over Memorial Day weekend.
Looney knows he forever will be linked to the Show-Me, joining Terry Phillips as the only Missouri driver to win the crown jewel event.
“The Show-Me is one of my favorite weekends of the year. I love that event and have since I was a kid,” Looney said. “Being a past champion makes it even better. Really, I just love racing. Any chance I get to be there and race is fun.” — Lyndal Scranton
EXTRA CASH FOR WORKIN' MAN OPENER: April 11's Workin' Man Series opener at Volunteer Speedway leading into the rescheduled Spring Thaw at the Bulls Gap, Tenn., oval includes several bonuses along with the $10,000-to-win, $1,000-to-start purse. Among bonuses are the highest-finishing drivers with a non-open competition engine ($1,000, $500 and $250), bonuses for teams with open trailers ($1,750 split among three drivers), hard charger ($750), heat winners ($200 apiece) and long tow ($200). The Tuesday night event is the first of 15 races on an XR Events-promoted tour designed for non-professional racers.
POWRi ADDS LATE MODEL SANCTIONING: The Belleville, Ill.-based POWRi racing organization will sanction weekly Limited Late Model divisions at Bolivar (Mo.) Speedway and Callway Speedway in Fulton, Mo., with a few other events at Lake Ozark Speedway in Eldon, Mo., and Monett (Mo.) Raceway. Following rules similar to Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo., and the Dirt Track Bank Cash Money Super Dirt Series, POWRi has posted a $5,000 points fund for weekly racers with $1,500 going to the champion. Drivers must pay the $100 membership fee to be eligible for points funds and the organization's insurance policy. Bolivar's first event is March 31 and Callaway's opener is April 7.
LITTLE RIVER'S REOPENING DELAYED: While the Ronnie Powell-owned track continues improvements and awaits governmental permits, Little River Speedway in Modoc, S.C., likely won't run its first 2023 race until mid-summer, the track announced. "To quell any rumors, we will be racing in 2023," the track wrote on its Facebook page. "The county is not attempting to keep us from opening. We haven’t run out of money or interest in the track." Little River was scheduled to host the Ultimate Southeast Super Late Model Series on April 29, but that race has been removed from the schedule. The Modoc oval is scheduled to host that tour's finale on Sept. 23.
IMCA TIRE GROOVING RULE: IMCA officials have announced a clarification to the tire grooving rule for Late Models. Only the horizontal and/or the vertical line of the cross can be grooved. Grooving must be done with a No. 2 grooving blade only. “There have been a number of questions about how the NLMT3 Hoosier tire can or should be grooved," IMCA President Brett Root said. Visit imca.com for an image that depicts the allowable grooving positions.
FORMER ILLINOIS LATE MODEL RACER DIES: Former Dirt Late Model racer Ron Elbe of Augusta, Ill., died March 12 at a Quincy, Ill., hospital. He was 73. Elbe, a Vietnam veteran who operated used car businesses in Augusta and Macomb, Ill., competed for more than 35 years at the Quincy racetrack and other dirt ovals driving his No. 3 entry. His racing career began in 1977 and he moved into Late Models in 1983, competing through the 2015 season. Find a complete obituary at hamiltonfuneralhomes.net.
MLRA ROOKIE AWARDS: The six drivers chasing the Lucas Oil Midwest LateModel Racing Association Sunoco Rookie of the Year award — Kayden Clatt, Kaeden Cornell, Trevor Gundaker, Dustin Hodges, Johnathan Huston and Dillon McCowan — will be chasing an array of awards announced by the Missouri-based series. The top rookie earns $2,000 from Sunoco along with three drums of race fuel; a $5,300 set of shocks from Fox Shocks; four springs from Swift Springs; and product certificates from Behrent's Performance Warehouse, Earnhardt Technology, Fast Shafts, MD3 and Strange Oval.
ODDS AND ENDS: The purse for Lake Cumberland Speedway's Harold Hardgrove Memorial has been boosted to $15,000-to-win and $1,000-to-win start for the Aug. 26's Valvoline Iron-Man Racing Series event in Burnside, Ky.; the race was previously set to pay $12,022-to-win. .... Georgetown (Del.) Speedway has scheduled an April 4 practice ahead of April 13's Battle of the Bay event on the RUSH Late Model Series. ... Viking Speedway in Alexandria, Minn., has added its lone Late Model event of the season for July 15. ... Western Kentucky Speedway in Nebo, Ky., has dropped the 602 Crate Late Model division for 2023. ... The Hoker Trucking Series has removed the June 11 race at Benton County Speedway from the schedule and its sister Malvern Bank Super Late Model Series has cancelled the July 3 event at Off Road Speedway. ... Kentucky's Lake Cumberland and Ponderosa Speedways will have Crate Late Model divisions sanctioned by the American All-Star Series for 2023. ... Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway is planning for a $2 million upgrade that includes two new elevators and a restroom atop the frontstretch grandstands. The plan approved by the Marion County Fair Association will see construction begin this fall for completion before the 2024 season.