Dispatches: Weiss rerouts for Duck River visit
The latest notes and quotes from Dirt Late Model special and sanctioned events during Memorial Day weekend, including World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series action at Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Ohio and other events (look elsewhere for Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series coverage of the Show-Me 100 weekend):
WHEEL, Tenn. — Ricky Weiss expected to be racing Sunday in Tennessee. But the Headingley, Manitoba, native who now lives in Monterey, Tenn., planned to be competing on the east side of the Volunteer State rather than in Middle Tennessee. Following three nights of Show-Me 100 action with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series in Wheatland, Mo., Weiss was planning to head home and then continue to Tazewell (Tenn.) Speedway, another 130 miles from his shop.
When Sunday’s Valvoline Iron-Man South Series race at Tazewell was postponed because of a wet forecast, however, Weiss changed directions — somewhat — and headed for Wheel’s Duck River Raceway Park, a quarter-mile bullring an hour’s south of Nashville.
“Really our main plan was to try to get back to the shop and try to go to Tazewell because I’ve had really good success there and just really enjoy that place, the speed and the banking. I seen it was raining all night and actually G.R. (Smith) told me, ‘Hey, you know there’s a race at Duck River.’ The boys actually drove all night. They went back to the shop and got some tires. I drove the hauler here and yeah, you know, we unloaded.”
Weiss was one of two drivers who left Wheatland, Mo., Saturday night and competed elsewhere Sunday. Max Blair of Centerville, Pa., who trekked 880 miles to Pennsylvania’s Eriez Speedway, where he won the $7,676 Andy Kania Memorial for the second straight season, was the other. While it was a long haul for Blair, his victory — and knowing he was only 35 minutes from home — made the trip worth it.
Though Weiss didn’t win Sunday’s Schaeffer’s Spring Nationals finale — Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., led every lap — it was hardly a busted trip. Finishing sixth, Weiss earned $1,000 for his 100-mile detour, enough to help a little with his travel expenses.
“We actually found some damage from the first night at the Show-Me,” said Weiss, whose previous Duck River appearance was an eighth-place finish in the World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series Duck River 50 on March 6, 2020. “We just knew we were kinda stuck with what (setup) we had. We adjusted on the car throughout the night and we got better. It was a little bit my fault too. I stepped out (of line) once and could actually maintain with ’em and didn’t really push it too bad and when I did that it seemed like a couple guys punted the tires down (in the infield) and was starting to throw the dust across the track.
“I just wish I had stepped out a little bit sooner. I think I could have rolled a few guys. I don’t think I could have got up there to contend with those boys up front. But it was just tough you know. Qualifying in this sport is so big and if you get behind the 8-ball, it is what it is.” — Robert Holman
Feger at Fairbury
Jason Feger turned back the clock in more ways than one in Saturday’s 40-lap MARS Championship Series event at Fairbury (Ill.) Speedway.
The 45-year-old driver from Bloomington, Ill., not only won at the quarter-mile oval for the first time in more than a decade, he did it after a titanic throwback battle for the lead with his longtime friendly rival Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill.
“We’ve had some really good cars here, but it’s been a long time since we won,” Feger said after his $5,000 triumph in his Clements-powered Longhorn. “Boy, it feels good to get the monkey off our back here.”
Indeed, Feger’s last checkered flag at Fairbury came on Sept. 15, 2012 — a $10,000 victory in that year’s Prairie Dirt Classic, the last edition of the event before it was expanded into a 100-lap, mid-summer extravaganza sanctioned by the World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series.
Feger returned to the spotlight in front of the FALS faithful with style, too, outdueling his 49-year-old pal Babb for the trophy. He overtook Babb for the lead on lap 28, lost it to Babb on lap 33, then regained the top spot for good on the 34th circuit.
“It’s always great to race with Shannon,” said Feger, who moved into the MARS points lead with his victory. “We’re good buddies and we’re gonna race each other hard but clean and try to put on a great show for these fans that come out.”
Babb agreed after leading laps 12-27 and 33 but settling for a runner-up finish.
“It was a heck of a race,” said Babb, who took the lead from eventual third-place finisher Tommy Sheppard Jr., the leader of the first 11 laps. “Jason was really good, and it was a great track. We had a lot of fun. Even Sheppard here was really good, so when you can race like that with your buddies it’s enjoyable.”
Feger’s second MARS triumph and fifth overall triumph of 2023 left him sweating and breathing heavy. He worked hard to tame the Fairbury bullring.
“The cushion was definitely, like, real technical tonight, so it was really hard to run and pretty nerve-racking,” Feger said. “The car felt really good in the middle and down on the bottom, but I was trying to be patient because a lot of times when they work the track like that we’re really hard on our tires early. I was hoping those guys were gonna wear out their tires quicker than me, and if I was patient I’d have a real chance at the end.
“It took me forever to get by Kevin (Weaver) there (for third),” he added. “Once I got by him I’m like, I’m just gonna go to the top and make like the old days and give it everything I had and either mess up or make somebody pass me.” — Series and staff reports
Cook's grand turnaround
When Dalton Cook’s Memorial Day weekend race schedule took a turn for the worse during the XR Workin’ Man Series Throwback 50 at Cherokee Speedway on Thursday night, the Columbus, Ga., driver knew the only way he’d be able to continue with his plans is if he put in a lot of hard work.
Late in the race at Cherokee, Cook was turned in the middle of the track and was hit by several cars, leaving his Rocket Chassis with heavy damage. Cook, who was running fourth at the time, had to repair or replace his car’s rearend and deck, front bumper and nose and front suspension, including the rack. It was a tough — and costly — hit.
Fast forward to Saturday night and the Southern All Star Series visit to Thunderhill Raceway near Summertown, Tenn., where, after a long 36 hours, Cook managed a grand turnaround and was able to recoup some of his costly repair bill. Grabbing the lead 15 laps into the 40-lapper when fellow front row starters Dillon Tidmore and Jadon Frame made contact, ending the night for both, Cook led the rest of the way for a $5,000 victory, the second of his career with the Southern All Stars.
“I destroyed this thing at Cherokee two days ago,” Cook said. “We got home yesterday (Friday) at about 3 o’clock and I had me and a couple other buddies, Matt, Rodney, Robert, and we got started at about 3 o’clock yesterday and I went to bed about 2 (a.m. Friday) night. Got up about 7:30 (Saturday) morning and finished it up and got here in time.
“We put a rear end in there, a whole front end suspension, rack. I mean, I just kept finding bent stuff. But man, we just ain’t quit. That’s 44 Companies. We ain’t got no quit in us, and I’m glad I had the support to want to get it back together and come on over here and try it.”
Making his first-ever visit to Thunderhill’s high-banked, quarter-mile, Cook found it to his liking.
“It’s an awesome place,” he said. “I mean, you got a hell of a hell of a cereal bowl out here. This thing will get down. To be honest, it kind of reminded me a lot of Cherokee in the sense it’s gonna be a, you know, a lot of, a lot of endurance. I mean, everybody gonna run around here at Mach 10. We ain’t got no sense.
“But I kind of noticed how quick we caught lapped cars. I noticed how quick everything kind of tightened up and I was like, ‘Well, you know, really just kind of sit back and see if it pans out.’ I really didn’t even see what happened with (the leaders). That’s unfortunate for them. But you know, really, I take them —you know what I’m saying? — how I get them. I got a lot to pay for, you know what I’m saying?” — Series reports
Rose at Sharon
Sharon Speedway is becoming Ryan Gustin’s home away from home.
As the modified ace-turned-Dirt Late Model regular from Marshalltown, Iowa, beamed in victory lane after winning Friday’s 25-lap Battle at the Border feature at the 3/8-mile track in Hartford, Ohio, he couldn’t disagree.
Two years ago Gustin finished second to NASCAR Cup Series star Kyle Larson in his first-ever start at Sharon. Last year he returned and broke through for his first career World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series victory with a $20,000 triumph in the Battle at the Border finale.
Now two of Gustin’s four career WoO checkered flags have come at Sharon, where some well-timed lane changes during Friday’s headliner carried him to a $6,000 winner’s check in the final tuneup for Saturday’s 60-lap, $25,000-to-win finale.
Gustin, 32, led the 25-lapper from flag-to-flag off the outside pole, but his hold on the race appeared precarious when a high-riding Kyle Bronson of Brandon, Fla., moved in to challenge following a lap-16 restart. The Hawkeye State standout moved up the track in nick of time, however, to dull Bronson’s momentum, thwarted a slider attempt by Bronson and beat his fellow WoO regular and Rocket Chassis campaigner to the finish line by 1.291 seconds.
“I’m sure Kyle was ripping the top,” said Gustin, who rebounded from a ninth-place finish in Thursday’s 25-lap A-main (his worst run ever at Sharon). “My signal guy (and crew chief), T.C., (Taylon Center), was basically telling me when it was time to go. Once we went to the top … I mean, we were on a soft tire, which I think about everybody was, so we was kind of fading through that black (on the inside), so it was time to get up on it and do what we could do.”
The 32-year-old Bronson quipped after the race that he “needed to hit (Gustin’s) T.C. with one of them rocks over there to quit signaling him up” higher on the track, but he conceded that it was actually a low-side bid that doomed his chances.
“I was kind of too tight the whole race to run through the middle and I started making really a lot of time up top there,” said Bronson, who improved from his seventh-place finish in Thursday’s 25-lapper. “I felt like we had a really good car up top, a little snug there, but … I went to the bottom one lap there and followed Gustin and I thought he was gonna go to the top and I was gonna be able to slide him, but he wound up running the bottom too and that kind of cost me the race I felt like.”
Third-place finisher Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., meanwhile, mused after the checkered flag that he might have spent too much time running the bottom in pursuit of Gustin.
“I probably could’ve went to the top and made something happen, but I felt good down on the bottom and I felt good in the middle,” said Sheppard, who briefly overtook Bronson to run second for laps 7-12. “I was just really trying to feel my car out and I didn’t know how good the top was because Ryan wasn’t running up there. I definitely could’ve moved to the top and made some more speed earlier, but I was trying to to save my tires and then Kyle snuck around me there.
“When I was running in second I seen (Gustin) wasn’t running all the way up there so I was just trying to do something different and change my line up to maybe get up there to him. And apparently the top was the only way I could get up to him. I didn’t go up there fast enough.” — Series and staff reports
He’s still got it
Hall of Fame racer Billy Moyer’s long-predicted retirement was almost a thing late in the 2021 season and the early months of 2022. Then Moyer connected with veteran Illinois racer Tim Lance of Brimfield, Ill., making his first start in Lance’s equipment 363 days ago.
Suddenly, the now 65-year-old driver from Batesville, Ark., who co-owns and operates an RV and boat dealership in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., was back in action regularly at an age when most drivers have long hung up the helmet. Moyer wasn’t quite competing at the clip of his heyday, when an 80-race season was no big deal, but he’s made nearly 50 starts over the last year.
What was missing? A victory in Lance’s equipment. Moyer finally took care of that Friday at Farmer City (Ill.) Raceway, overtaking Bob Gardner on a lap-six restart and leading the rest of the 40-lap feature on the MARS Championship Series. His 849th career feature victory — among the highest totals in the history of Dirt Late Model racing — paid $5,000 as he won on the MARS circuit for the 24th time and first since 2018.
It was a satisfying victory for a team that endured a scary transporter fire last season and had finished better than fourth just once (a runner-up finish on March 11 at Boothill Speedway in Greenwood, La., on the Comp Cams Super Dirt Series) in 12 feature starts this season.
Moyer did nab a $3,000 victory driving a Don-Shaw-owned car in January’s Ernie Mincy Early Thaw at Central Arizona Raceway in Casa Grande, Ariz., but winning for Lance added yet another car owner Moyer’s won for in a career where the lion’s share of his victories came in his self-owned No. 21.
“It’s been a heck of a year for us. We’ve just kept our heads down and kept plugging away and we finally got the car underneath us, kind of what we’ve been looking for finally,” said Moyer, who had three of his 100 career DIRTcar Summer Nationals triumphs at Farmer City. “So just hats off to Tim that owns this stuff. And (longtime crew chief) Steve (Norris) and we’ve got a new kid helping me that just started this week. We’ve just been doing it by ourselves — Steve and myself and (girlfriend) Carla (Rayburn) — so we’ve got one more helper, and that’s helped trying to get the car prepared better this week.”
When Moyer was reeling off his sponsors — a list that includes Lance’s Digital Copy Systems, Karl Chevrolet Auto Group, Mesilla Valley Transportation, AccuForce, Sunoco Race Fuels, Eibach Springs, Carquest and Jack’s Auto Parts — he stumbled a few times trying to recall what decals were on his Clements-powered Longhorn Chassis.
“I know I’m forgetting somebody on here — I ain’t done this for a while,” he said with a laugh.
Moyer’s night didn’t start out very strong as just the ninth-quickest qualifier in his group with 32 cars in the pits. But he benefitted from a McKay Wenger-Mike Spatola scramble in his heat race to get the sixth starting spot in the main event.
Once he got past Gardner early in the feature, passing was at a premium on the track. Feature runner-up Wenger pressured the leader before Moyer settled into his winning groove, taking the checkers with the cushion of a couple of lapped cars.
“I was kind of licking my chops in second (and) I was trying to get a run on him before he caught it, and he just got to the rubber first,” said Wenger, a former Farmer City track champ. “But we had a really good race car. I think we started 10th or something and drove up through there.”
Moyer allowed that the track “got a little one-grooved there, but I think we had a good hot rod, no matter how it was, you know?” he said. “I passed some guys early in the race and it was still real racy. Anyway, I just couldn’t be happier.” — Series and staff reports
Mixed emotions for Ferguson
Carson Ferguson was happy after winning Friday night’s 40-lap Schaeffer’s Spring Nationals feature at I-75 Raceway in Sweetwater, Tenn. But he was also a bit sad.
As satisfied as the 23-year-old driver from Lincolnton, N.C., was with his third big victory in the month of May, he had a lot of empathy for his fellow racer Benji Hicks of Mount Airy, N.C., whose flat tire during the race’s pace laps forced him to relinquish the pole position starting slot.
Who benefitted most from Hicks’s heartbreak? Of course, it was Ferguson, who moved up one row from the third starting spot to first and took advantage of that break to lead the entire distance en route to the $7,553 winner’s prize.
“I really hate that for Benji,” Ferguson said in a postrace interview. “He’s put his heart and soul into building his own chassis (Double Nickel Race Cars) and he’s really came out here and performed and he’s been running really good.”
Indeed, Hicks was fast at I-75, setting fast time in his group and winning a heat race to earn the pole for the headliner. But he never had a chance to strut his stuff because a tire on his No. 55 went flat after the four-wide parade laps and the field took a few circuits at speed to blow off the racing surface.
With Hicks knocked from contention — he returned to the track for the start after getting a new tire but retired after four circuits — Ferguson dominated with his Paylor Motorsports Longhorn Chassis. He never faltered on his way to a winning margin of 3.065 seconds over Ross Bailes of Clover, S.C., who drove a Billy Hicks-owned Double Nickel car.
“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good and I think we were both tonight,” Ferguson said. “You gotta have stuff go your way and I guess that was the lucky break I needed.”
The triumph was Ferguson’s second in the last three Spring Nationals events, following his May 5 score at Tri-County Racetrack in Brasstown, N.C. He also has a May 19 Hunt the Front Super Dirt Series victory at Swainsboro (Ga.) Raceway on his ledger during the month of May.
Ferguson said he “started hitting on something” over the past few weeks — a hot streak he credited to veteran mechanic and shock guru Wesley Page, who works closely with Ferguson.
“Wesley Page, he’s the heart and soul of this deal, he’s the heartbeat, he’s like a dad to me,” Ferguson raved. “He’s really pointed me in the right direction and let me make my own mistakes at times. He just took me under his wing.”
Ferguson’s latest success slightly increased his Spring Nationals points lead over Bailes as he seeks a second consecutive title (worth $10,053) on Ray Cook’s regional tour. He will look to clinch the crown over the holiday weekend with the final two series events scheduled for Saturday at North Georgia Speedway in Chatsworth and Sunday at Duck River Raceway Park in Wheel, Tenn. — Series and staff reports
A victory (finally)
On one hand, Chris Madden entered Thursday’s opener of the Battle at the Border at Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Ohio, right where he would like to be: leading the national tour’s points standings. At the same time, the 48-year-old star from Gray Court, S.C., certainly wasn’t pleased with how he built his edge. He was, after all, winless through 10 series starts — not an acceptable statistic for the discerning driver known as Smoky.
So when Madden finally broke through with a flag-to-flag victory in the 25-lap feature at the 3/8-mile oval near the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line, he played the part of a relieved racer.
“It feels wonderful,” Madden said, awash in the glow of his 34th career WoO triumph but first since Feb. 4, 2022, at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla. (he wasn’t a tour regular last season). “We’ve struggled all year and I just want to thank my guys for not giving up on me, and all of our sponsors for not giving up on us as a team.
“We’re not quitters,” he continued. “We’ll work as hard as anybody and we have. We’ve been working extremely hard. I think we’re definitely on the right track now. You know, (with) more tuning here, I think we can be a little bit better than where we was tonight.”
Madden wasn’t seriously challenged as he piloted his Rocket Chassis to a winning margin of 2.570 seconds over Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill. He authored an almost flawless performance, winning his heat race and then roaring off the outside pole to pace the entire distance of a race that was slowed only by a caution flag on lap 13.
“We’ve been burying ourselves qualifying,” said Madden, whose wife, Stephanie, flew in Thursday to join him on the road (two days after Madden's 48th birthday). “We haven’t been able to qualify for nothing. We’ve been digging ourselves out of holes in heat races and making it into the top two for heat races, but we still haven’t been winning heats and drawing up in the top four, getting ourselves in position to win (main events). Today we was able to put a whole program together and we got ourselves in position to win.”
Madden has been consistent but far from spectacular all season in WoO competition, finishing outside the top 10 just once (a 15th-place finish) in the 10 races leading into Sharon’s tripleheader but never placing better than third (in Jan. 19’s season opener at Volusia). Four of his five top-five finishes were fifth-place runs.
What’s more, Madden has made only seven starts outside the WoO circuit this season. He has two victories in those handful of outings — a $5,000 win on Feb. 15 in a DIRTcar-sanctioned 20-lapper at Volusia and a $10,000 XR Workin’ Man Series checkered flag on April 16 at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn. — but hasn’t built up a whole lot of momentum away from the WoO grind.
Of course, Madden’s 2023 campaign hasn’t exactly had much rhythm to it yet. His only Georgia-Florida Speedweeks action came at Volusia, and he’s lost 16 scheduled races to rainouts already this year — a figure nearly equal to his 18 overall starts to date.
Perhaps starting off three straight nights of racing at Sharon with a victory is just what Madden needed to catch fire.
“You know, maybe we can get a big one this weekend,” he said, thinking of Saturday’s $25,000-to-win finale. — Series reports