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Performance Racing Industry Trade Show

PRI: Thursday's updates on the trade show floor

December 7, 2023, 5:22 am
From staff reports
Attendees pick up badges. (DirtonDirt.com)
Attendees pick up badges. (DirtonDirt.com)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 7) — The Indiana Convention Center doors open at 9 a.m. Thursday for the first of three days at 2023’s Performance Racing Industry Trade Show, where more than 40,000 attendees are expected to check out more than 1,000 companies over 750,000 square feet floor space making up more than 3,600 booths, many with a Dirt Late Model focus. Thursday’s blog-style notebook (complete PRI coverage):

4:53 p.m. | Doors closing soon

We're wrapping up our first-day coverage but rejoin us first thing Friday for more notes from the show floor, including some holdover notes from today's interviews. Kyle McFadden is also planning this weekend more information and reaction to the adjusted Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series playof format.

4:18 p.m. | Top Bandit

The Steel Block Bandits Late Model Series — now carrying Vision Wheel as a title sponsor following an announcement on Thursday afternoon — isn’t a tour that boasts a favorable schedule for Derick Quade of Mechanicsville, Md.

“Our average is probably six or seven hours on the road for each one,” Quade said of a series that in 2023 had one race in his home state and 13 others much farther away (Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia).

Nevertheless, Quade, 40, has found a home on the Jim Long Jr.-promoted series. He’s been a regular since its launch in 2021 and this season broke through in a major way, winning his first-ever feature and claiming the series points championship.

“The money they pay, the competition, it just all kind of adds up,” Quade said of his decision to focus on the far-flung series. “It makes more sense than running local shows. The division we’re in may pay a thousand bucks for a special show (close to home) where we can go race with (the Bandits) for $5,000 to win.”

Quade’s Bandits triumph came in July 29’s Free State 50 at Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway. He earned $5,000 for a flag-to-flag score in a race that drew a series-record field of 53 entries.

The checkered flag and subsequent points crown proved that Quade has come a long way in adapting to the circuit’s tracks.

“We just kind of started putting a package together at a lot of the tracks I guess we had kind of seen before,” Quade said. “When we first started (with the series) we struggled qualifying at new places but we started getting better and better. Going to all the different tracks kind of starts adding up.”

Quade made only roughly two dozen starts overall this season but he won five times, including a first-ever Super Late Model victory worth $4,000 in Sept. 3’s Huey Wilcoxon Memorial at Potomac Speedway in Budds Creek, Md. He’s planning a similar schedule in 2024 with his focus again on the newly-branded Vision Wheels Steel Block Bandits.

“Jim (Long is) really good with all that (sponsor) stuff,” Quade said. “We’ve supported him ever since he started it. He does a good job behind the scenes and they run a real tight program.”

3:42 p.m. | Learning the ropes

Joshua Joiner had already seen racing from plenty of different sides — fan, competitor, crew member, media member — before tackling his new role as director of his family’s Hunt the Front Super Dirt Series this year. Nothing, though, could prepare him for what he experienced during the regional circuit’s inaugural 18-race campaign.

“When you’re looking at, like, putting on the events, we’re talking about at a race, there are so many moving parts with so many people involved,” Joiner said. “It’s easy, when you’re at a race as a racer or a fan, to see it run smoothly and think that’s easy to do. You have no idea how many things can go wrong at a race to make that hard, or nearly impossible sometimes, to run a smooth and efficient show.

“I feel like, unfortunately, in year one, we experienced a lot of those things I never would have thought of, from the tracks having rain when it wasn’t supposed to rain and then it rains the day before the race and we have a track that you can hardly make a lap on … what do you do?

“Then you have tracks literally cancelling on us two weeks out. The Raceceiver issue with Dale McDowell at Rome (Georgia) — never in my life would I have predicted a situation like that would happen.

“What I learned is you gotta handle the situation you’re thrown into the best you can, because most of those situations are in the moment and you maybe have a few minutes to think about it,” he continued. “I’ve learned also that you gotta have good people to help you make that decision, and if you’re not the one making that decision you’re confident they’re gonna make the best decision they can.”

In that vein, Joiner singled out the assistance he received throughout 2023 from Travis Scott, who announced races during the season and has now been elevated to director of race day operations for the series; Logan Gibson, who produces the live streams for Hunt the Front TV; and his wife, Elizabeth, for handling the business side of the series.

“There’s just a lot of curveballs that could come your way,” Joiner said. “I think we handled them, we learned from them and we improved going forward.”

Now Joiner is looking toward the tour’s second season, which currently shows 24 events and boasts a greatly enhanced points fund that will pay $50,000 to the 2024 champion. He’s proud of a schedule that will take the series to eight different states.

“That is the hardest thing to do in this job — putting together a schedule that works with all your different tracks, works with the other series you have to work with and make sure you’re not scheduling on top of, and is one that drivers want to follow,” Joiner said. “I think that’s where a lot of regional series kind of miss the boat, where they kind of take the dates they can get and then it doesn’t make a schedule that is good for drivers.

“I think we really put a lot of time into working with the tracks and what else they’re doing. Me and (Schaeffer’s Spring and Southern Nationals promoter) Ray Cook worked together on our schedules to help make better opportunities for the drivers, and the World of Outlaws also with (director) Steve Francis, I’m really thankful they were willing to work with us so all of us together are gonna have great options for the drivers in our (Southeast) region.”

2:48 p.m. | Back together

Randall Edwards has been around racing long enough to know that no driver-crew chief pairing can ever be considered done forever.

The 49-year-old Louisiana native is living proof. Seven years after his single season turning wrenches for Brandon Sheppard, the two men are back together and looking toward a big 2024 with the Sheppard Riggs Racing-backed Longhorn Chassis house car team.

“It seems like everything kind of works its way around,” Edwards said while traipsing through the Indiana Convention Center on Thursday afternoon.

Edwards has great memories of his 2016 campaign spent with New Berlin, Ill.’s Sheppard, then a rising 23-year-old driving for the Best Performance Motorsports team that employed Edwards as head mechanic. The duo’s accomplishments included a $100,000 Dirt Track World Championship victory at Portsmouth (Ohio) Raceway Park.

Now Edwards is back alongside a driver whose stature has exploded following six years driving the Rocket Chassis house car and one with the Sheppard Riggs operation.

“Him being with (Rocket’s) Mark (Richards) however many years he was with him, I mean, I think he’s one of the best drivers out there now,” Edwards said. “He can still get up on the cushion when he has to, and when he don’t have to … he just takes care of his equipment a lot better than he did six, seven years ago.

“It’s going to be interesting. Me and him, we always got along great and respected one another, so I’m excited for sure. (At Longhorn) there’s definitely plenty of resources to try different things to try and be successful and move forward and just have an outstanding year.”

With Sheppard already earning a victory (October’s DTWC at Eldora Speedway) with Edwards, the returning crew chief believes he’s bringing a sense of calm to the superstar racer.

“He’s definitely got a lot of confidence back,” Edwards said. “Like the first race I was there (with him) was at the Dirt Track (World Championship), and it’s like, after the race, it was pretty neat … he said for him to be out there and look at me and have confidence about where I tell him he needs to be on the racetrack, he said that means a lot.”

1:58 p.m. | Fresh start

Donald McIntosh of Dawsonville, Ga., was happy to join the Billy Hicks Racing team midseason, but that made it a little bit of a whirlwind. The 30-year-old is glad to get a fresh start with the Mount Airy, N.C., team in 2024.

“I’m excited to start from the beginning of the year with him,” McIntosh said. “We get some time off to go over the cars and, like I said, start fresh. We’re going to go to Volusia (Speedway Park for World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series action) here at the end of January and kind of go from there.

“We really don’t know a schedule, per se, yet. Kind of hit-and-misss. With Hunt the Front (Super Dirt Series), with their purse increasing, we talked about trying to run them, and we feel like we can probably run (Ray Cook’s tours) too. That would be nice if we can do both.”

McIntosh said he “clicked pretty well” with Hicks and is hopeful an offseason reset produces success for a team that won once with McIntosh behind the wheel in 2023, a $7,500 Ultimate Southeast Series victory in Elkin, N.C., the home track of Hicks.

“We’ve kind of been able to take a breath and tear the cars down and (put them) back together. And organizing the trailer is a big thing. Because the trailer got to be a mess, springs where everywhere, shocks were everywhere,” McIntosh said,. “And it was just me and Billy (working in the shop). Hopefully, we’re trying to find some help, and it would be really nice, because right now it’s just been me and him and it’s a lot of work for two guys, for sure. He’s 68, and it’s pretty cool to me that he still loves it as much as he does and is passionate about it.”

McIntosh also said he’s pleased with the Double Nickels Race Car that Hicks’s nephew, Benji Hicks, produces.

“I really like it. It probably fits me better than any car that I’ve drove,” he said. “It really does fit my driving style, and they respond to change. Honestly, this day and age, a race car that will respond to change is good."

1:42 p.m. | Record setter

Dave Hess Jr. of Waterford, Pa., finds it quite astonishing that he ended the 2023 season tied with former racer Bobby Schnars as the all-time winningest Super Late Model driver at Eriez Speedway in Hammett, Pa.

“I actually struggled there early in our career, but once we figured it out it’s been good the last few years,” the 39-year-old driver said of the third-mile oval that sits just minutes from his home. “Actually three years ago I looked at those (all-time) numbers and figured there was no way we’d ever get there, and all of a sudden, two years later, we’re there.”

Hess’s focus on the weekly racing in his backyard — specifically Eriez and Stateline Speedway in Busti, N.Y. — has paid off for him in the record books. This season he won seven times among four local tracks, including four races that paid $3,500 or more, and he moved his career win total at Eriez to 56 to match Schnars.

With Hess planning to continue racing as a weekend warrior, it’s likely he’ll take control of that Eriez record and push it higher and higher.

“We kind of stick to our hometracks where I’ve got a lot of seat time,” said Hess, whose Longhorn Chassis machine is on display at the American Race Tires booth. “I think we’ll always run well at those tracks. We’ve sort of grown out of wanting to travel. I shouldn’t say I don’t want to hit new tracks, but I just know where we do well and try to stick to that."

Hess, whose overall victory count topped 20 in ’23 with his modified successes, owns two career World of Outlaws Case Late Model series triumphs (2013 at Wayne County Speedway in Orrville, Ohio, and ’21 at Stateline). He’d love to add a Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series checkered flag to his resume, but he’s “kind of become a realist” and understands that he it will be difficult to achieve that milestone “if we don’t get (a race) scheduled at one of my good tracks.”

The future for Hess also appeared to have plenty of family racing in it. He said his 9-year-old son, Jackson, is “getting really good in the go-karts”; his 6-year-old daughter “has been playing in the karts”; and he has a 12-year-old nephew and 16-year-old niece who also are into racing.

“I think I could make a good crew chief,” Hess said, looking down the road with a smile.

12:45 p.m. | Good ‘ol Budda

Larry Redenius — better known as Budda, although that single word doesn’t appear on his PRI name tag anymore — is 78 years old but he’s still as deeply involved in dirt-track racing as he’s ever been.

“I’m still getting around,” Redenius said while sipping from a super-sized gas station coffee cup he bought while on his way to Indianapolis from his hometown of Minonk, Ill. “Still kicking, but not quite as high.”

Redenius operates Budda Bert Transmissions Sales and Service, a business he’s run for decades out of a two-bay garage in Minonk that also boasts a self-service gas station. He first entered the racing game in 1963 and he can’t imagine walking away from it — even though he acknowledged that he probably should slow down his workload.

“I really need to get out of it,” he said of his transmission repair duties. “I need to get somebody in place to take over, because it’s kind of become overwhelming really. They send in ‘em from all over. We probably do 200, 300 (transmission repairs) a year.

“I tell everybody I’m retired, but I ain’t got brains enough to quit.”

Redenius, who spends most of his time during the PRI show at the Bert Transmissions booth where he chats with customers, said he’s deeply involved these days with such Illinois drivers at Bobby Pierce and Ryan Unzicker. But he “tries to help anybody and everybody,” and that’s why he knows so many people in the industry.

“It’s easy to have a friend if you’re a friend,” Budda reasoned.

12:22 p.m. | Feeling more comfortable

For a true weekly Super Late Model racer like Austin Berry of Mifflintown, Pa., it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and like a proverbial fish in the big sea among the halls of the Indiana Convention Center.

“First year, we had no idea what we were doing,” Berry said through a laugh. “We came out because everyone was like, ‘You have to go to PRI. You have to go to PRI.’ We came out and had no clue what we were doing.

“We were sitting out here in the front lobby at the roundtable and with the big map, circling the map where we wanted to go. We kind of learned how to go about it a little bit.”

Things are indeed a bit different now for Berry. He’s done everything in his power to professionalize his team that religiously races at Port Royal (Pa.) Speedway, wearing custom-made Austin Berry Racing polos and a black ball cap with his No. 86 and team logo stamped across the front. Two of Berry’s crewman that also journeyed to Indianapolis dressed in the same attire.

Berry’s fourth trip to PRI’s Trade Show this week is far better planned and thought out compared to his first experience at the bustling Indianapolis convention in 2018.

“We’ve stepped up our game a little bit,” Berry said. “A lot of what we got going on, especially on the first day, is we’ll go see the (supporters) we’ve already been working with. We give them professional, personal thank you statements written from our PR guy, Rich (Watts) at A2D. We’ve been on the phone with our supporters, thanking them for the year. And forming relationships to see what it’s going to look like for the coming year.”

Berry’s highlights from this past season include a third-place finish in June 9’s Appalachian Mountain Speedweek opener at Clinton County Speedway in Mill Hall, Pa., and May 14’s runner-up at Selinsgrove (Pa.) Speedway. He finished 10th in Port Royal’s weekly points chase, but that would’ve been better if not for hurting two engines that forced him to miss two races.

Berry is eager to give Jim Bernheisel’s AMS miniseries another shot in 2024 after finishing 11th in the points standings this year.

“It’s liked we’ve talked before — us living 10 minutes from Port Royal, it’s kind of hard to go anywhere else to race with the payout and then just the facility,” Berry said. “Hopefully we can finally get our engine gremlins off our back. I would like to hit the Firecracker or Pittsburgher, or something like that this year.”

11:57 a.m. | Comp-etition

When Jack Sullivan of Greenbrier, Ark., was a regular on the DIRTcar Summer Nationals a dozen or so years ago, most of the races were a half-day drive from his house, and some were much farther than that.

So Sullivan, who finished fifth in Summer Nationals points in 2011 and is a two-time winner on the series, is glad to see the Summer Nationals racing in Arkansas for the first time in 2024 with a week of action trending closer to the Comp Cams Super Dirt Series that Sullivan owns and promotes with his older brother Chris Sullivan. Riverside International Speedway in West Memphis, Ark., is set to host a July 3 event the day after a Summer Nationals race at Poplar Bluff (Mo.) Motorsports Park.

“Back when I was beating the concrete up, I sure wish they was a couple of hours of me because the closest I ever got was Granite City, Ill.," Jack Sullivan said while touring the PRI trade show floor. “So yeah, going over there to Riverside, that’s less than an hour-and-a-half from my house. I think it's pretty cool. I think it's good for them. It’s probably a little more travel for the (Summer Nationals regulars), but good for everybody to go somewhere different.”

The DIRTcar Summer Nationals has tabbed its fourth week as “Comp Cams” week, with series director Sam Driggers planning the races to be part of the DIRTcar-sanctioned Comp Cams tour, but Sullivan said details are still being sorted out if every race will be co-sanctioned or the events will be Comp Cams Series points races.

The Sullivans — Chris was absent from PRI while a broken right foot heals — hope to release the complete schedule for their Arkansas-based tour during the PRI show, but as of Thursday morning they’re still sorting out details.

Just like the Summer Nationals drivers will get a taste of tracks outside their region at Poplar Bluff and Riverside, Jack Sullivan said the Comp Cams circuit is looking at some first-time tracks with a tentative trip to Kansas in the works.

“It's good for us to go to different places also,” he said. “Everybody gets tired of seeing the same old places.”

11:40 a.m. | Robinson adds crew

Amid the wintertime period where drivers and teams are often changing and shuffling plans ahead of the new season, Ross Robinson isn’t going anywhere.

The Georgetown, Del., driver confirmed Thursday at PRI he’s indeed returning for a third straight year on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, a campaign he feels much more comfortable about as opposed to his previous two.

After coursing most of the Lucas Oil Series season with only his wife Amanda working alongside him, the Dutch Star Motorsports team has hired two additional full-time crewman for the 2024 season: Luke Eller, whose brother Mark works for Jimmy Owens, and Michael Roach, who served as Tyler Erb’s tire specialist at Best Performance Motorsports.

“That’s the plan. We hired two guys to be on the road full-time with me. It can’t not help,” Robinson said. “This year it was just tough with Amanda and I. We had Devin (Bishop) through Speedweeks before he moved back home. Then on out it was pretty much just Amanda and I through the end of the year.”

Robinson’s road crew growing from one of the leanest in the business to now classifying as robust puts the 33-year-old driver at ease.

“I’m excited about it,” Robinson said. “We have a couple other things, as far as support, in the background that are going to be really good for us in the long run. It’s going to allow Amanda to race more a little around home and let her try to work on building up the Stockley Speed & Supply business that we have at home — build it up into something for, when me and her aren’t racing however many years that could be down the road, we have something to fall back on. There’s a lot of exciting things. I’m looking forward to it.”

Robinson finished 13th in the series points this past year, posting only five top-10 finishes in 46 feature starts. Much of ’23 was spent acclimating himself in the transition to Rocket Chassis and away from the Longhorns he employed since the 2018 season. It’s Robinson’s second stint racing a Rocket Chassis, which had been his chassis of choice until 2015 when he switched to Capital Race Cars for two years.

“It’s been a really good partnership,” Robinson said of his second stint with Rocket Chassis. “I think it’s going to be good in the future. I feel more at ease going into next year than I’ve had the last two years. Any rookie is going to be nervous his first year. I just had a lot of worry and nerves about it. I feel like having more assistants this year will take the pressure off me and Amanda.”

Though they’re regional events, Robinson is hopeful he can leverage four straight runner-up finishes late in the season at Georgetown (Del.) Speedway, Lincoln Speedway in Abbottstown, Pa., and Delaware International Speedway and get pointed in the right direction upon the start of 2024.

“I’m grateful for everyone who’s stood behind me these last few years,” Robinson said. “Obviously it’s nowhere near what I want to accomplish. They’ve never backed away from their support of me and Amanda. To have the support that we do, you can’t buy that: All the friends and sponsors and family, to have that in your corner, no matter how bad things go, is always comforting.”

11:30 a.m. | Wilmoth’s role at Rocket

Paul Wilmoth Jr.’s second stint as an employee at Rocket Chassis is keeping him very busy.

Since late 2019, the 52-year-old from Clarksburg, W.Va., has spearheaded an in-house shock program at the Shinnston, W.Va.-based company, rebuilding shocks and offering technical assistance to customers. The endeavor has exploded to such a level that the longtime Dirt Late Model racer who owns multiple titles at Tyler County Speedway in Middlebourne, W.Va., has a hard time keeping up.

“I got a limit myself to usually about 20 to 25 (phone) calls (a day) because I'm trying to work on shocks too,” Wilmoth said while standing near the Wilwood booth in the Indiana Convention Center. “I tell guys, ‘Leave me a message, text me, I promise you I’ll call you back.’ It might be the next day, but it's just …”

There aren’t enough hours in the day for Wilmoth, who said the response to Rocket’s burgeoning shock program has been “overwhelming.”

Wilmoth first worked at Rocket from 1999-2012 in the sheet metal department. He had a job outside racing from 2013-15 and then started QuickTime Suspension, a personal enterprise that focused on shocks. After spending 2018 overseeing Joey Moriarty’s Dirt Late Model operation — which was based out of a shop on the Rocket compound that Moriarty rented from company co-owners Mark Richards and Steve Baker — he began talking to Richards and Baker about a return to the fold.

“Baker (initially) said, ‘Let's do some sheet metal work,’ and I don't want to do sheet metal work anymore,” Wilmoth said. “Then Mark and Steve and myself, we got together and sat down and talked about it, and I was doing shocks and they wanted someone to do shocks. At the end of ’19 and first of the ’20 we started doing the shock program and it was slow at first, but man, it’s just, it's overwhelming now. We never thought it would turn into what it did."

Wilmoth dissolved his own QuickTime Suspension business as part of his agreement to work for Rocket. He now works out of one of Rocket’s three buildings, rebuilding several different shock brands, including Integra, Fox and Afco, and talking — oh, he’s always talking — with customers, many of whom followed him from his own business to Rocket.

“It took about a year or two to get all that where my customers felt comfortable with everything and so I think we got probably 90-some percent of them,” Wilmoth said. “About ’20 we kind of went wide open with it and the past couple of years has been really, really good. It just picked up several new customers and it’s been really good.”

Wilmoth is enjoying the hands-on and interactive aspect of his role with Rocket.

“This is what I love to do,” he said. “And just deal with the people.”

10:21 a.m. | MARS discovery

Series owner Matt Curl and race director Jonathan Clayton are representing the MARS Late Model Championship series while walking the aisles at PRI, but if they were wearing shirts that said “grinders,” that would make sense too, Curl said.

Curl and Clayton are grinders in that they’re attentive to every detail of successfully operating a regional Dirt Late Model series and drawing solid, talented fields of drivers.

“I call us grinders because we go out and we're texting guys all the time,” said Curl, who purchased the series a year ago. “We almost know what our roster is going to be before (we get to the track) just based on who we know and how we work with them. So we know what the promoters (want) and when we need a little bump for ‘em.”

Curl and Clayton enjoyed a successful 2023 season drawing nearly 30 Late Models per event an on Illinois-focused series that had a solid list of winners including champion Jason Feger, Tyler Erb, Gordy Gundaker, Brandon Sheppard, Shannon Babb, Billy Moyer, Ryan Unzicker and more. Earlier this week MARS announced a 21-race schedule that takes the series to 15 tracks, all in Illinois except for nearby trips to Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 in Pevely, Mo., and Paducah (Ky.) International Raceway.

“With my past World of Outlaws experience, and same thing with Jonathan (on the DIRTcar Summer Nationals), we knew what it was going to take to gain traction on a really credible regional series,” Curl said. “We turnkey all the way from when we walk (into the racetrack) to the time we leave with our Late Model Series and the mods. Our partnerships with the promoters have been really strong because we've seen every angle and so we can kind of check all those boxes for them and take care of them. They love it. The promoters love it in our area because we can do that for them. We have a full traveling team that goes to every single race.”

What’s new for 2024? More of the same success, Curl hopes.

“We've just got to make sure that year after year we can continue to do what we're supposed to do at the highest level. And that's what we bring,” he said.

The series didn’t plan a formal banquet, but with 16 of the top 20 drivers in Indianapolis for PRI, Curl and Clayton are taking them to dinner at Drake’s restaurant (a sponsor of one of the tour’s modified drivers).

They hope the tight-knit circuit can keep drivers happy — and perhaps draw more — in 2024.

“The drivers really appreciated that we didn't drive all over creation for that series, you know?” Curl said. “Our motto is we want to run in Illinois and we want to nip the borders, and we did it this year, we’re at Pevely and Paducah. So it's just perfect for our guys.

"We really don't want to race weekday stuff, because we know that the regional stuff is for the working guy. We have a couple of nice little specials,” Curl added. “We have a really neat weekend in September, the Brownstown 100 (at the Brownstown Bulling in Illinois) and the World 50 (at Paducah). So that's a $10,000(-to-win) and $12,000 there. (Macon Speedway’s) Kerbystrong (100) is $10,000 and then our championship is $12,000 in Fairbury. So we’re keeping the ($5,000-to-win events) really strong. We have just a couple of little nice additions (of more lucrative races) that are on dates where our (regular series) guys are going to make that money. That's a nice thing. (The most lucrative events aren’t) on dates where both Lucas Oil and World of Outlaws are off and you're going to have (national touring drivers) coming in and snatching it. Which is nice.”

10:16 a.m. | Chasing Lucas Oil glory

Whenever Daulton Wilson of Fayetteville, N.C., finds himself in a conversation about racing, he knows what someone is likely to ask him.

So, Daulton, when are you going to win your first Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series feature?

“I wish that question was already answered for sure,” Wilson said while standing in the Indiana Convention Center’s concourse area as the show opened on Thursday. “But you know, we’re getting close, and hopefully it’ll come sooner than later. And once the first one comes, we can knock some off.”

The 26-year-old racer has shown steady improvement in his two years as a Lucas Oil Series regular driving for James Rattliff’s Campbellsville, Ky.-based team, going from six top-five and 15 top-10 finishes over 50 starts in 2022 to 14 top-five and 23 top-10 runs in 53 races this season. He also went from an eighth-place finish in the ’22 points standings to a seventh-place result in ’23.

But a victory has proven elusive for Wilson, who in 2023 registered seven runner-up finishes on the national tour: four in full-field events (East Bay Raceway Park’s finale, Fairbury Speedway, Tyler County Speedway’s Hillbilly 100, Knoxville Raceway prelim) and three in semifeatures (Lernerville Speedway, Muskingum County Speedway, Florence Speedway). He also led laps in seven A-mains this season.

Wilson is hopeful 2024 will be the year when his experience, speed and racing luck meet to produce that coveted Lucas Oil checkered flag.

“We just want to keep building on what we got,” said Wilson, who will continue running Clements-powered Longhorn cars on the Lucas Oil circuit next year. “It’s just experience. You’re just learning all aspects of it. It’s not just driving but being on the road traveling and building crews and just building a race team as a whole. We’ve come a long way in two years and hopefully we can keep on getting better.”

9:59 a.m. | PRI show tidbits

The show doors opened at 9 a.m. and there’s already a flurry of Dirt Late Model folks cruising the aisles. … One is Kenute Mausehund of Herscher, Ill., who has taken the role as technical director of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. He spent recent seasons filling a similar role on the DIRTcar Summer Nationals. “This marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter, and I am eager to contribute to the world of dirt track racing,” Mausehund wrote on Facebook while thanking God and family for his opportunity. “I want to express my sincere appreciation to everyone at DIRTcar for the invaluable experience gained throughout the years. My incredible colleagues have made a lasting impact on my professional growth.” Mausehund takes a full-time role vacated by Steve Francis in 2022 and handled by a variety of series staffers, including Ernie Leftwich of the Lucas Oil Midwest LateModel Racing Association, over the last 18 months. … Aero Tec Laboratories (ATL Fuel Cells) announced a merger of the United States-based company with its England-based company, a move the company says will improve customer experience and help grow product innovation and development. … Castrol FloRacing Night in America officials hope to have the series schedule nailed down before Christmas. … Overhead from two attendees walking through the Indiana Convention Center concourse. “Is there anything you really want to see,” one gentleman asked the other. “No, not really,” was the reply.

9:45 a.m. | Double divisions

Zach Milbee of Poca, W.Va., has proven himself as a Steel Block Late Model racer. In 2024 he’s going to seek similar success in the Crate Late Model division.

A 30-year-old who earned his second straight and third career Steel Block Late Model Series championship this season, Milbee plans to increase his activity next year with some Crate action.

“The Crate stuff pays so good,” Milbee said while coming out of the Indianapolis cold to enter the Indiana Convention Center on Thursday morning. “You can run for $5,000, $10,000 to win a couple times a month, so if we’re off with our Steel Block stuff we’re gonna go try to hit some of that stuff up.”

Milbee, who spent the first four years of his Late Model career running Crates, has concentrated on Steel Block competition in recent seasons. He won five features this season en route to the SBLMS title, which he’s failed to capture just once since its birth in 2021 (he finished second to Corey DeLancey of Parkersburg, W.Va., in ’22).

The all-time winningest driver on the SBLMS with 15 career victories, Milbee will continue to focus on the tour that in ’23 contested 15 events across tracks in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. He’s hoping to add a new Longhorn car to his stable so he’ll have his Mullins-powered machine for Steel Block races and a separate vehicle for Crate shows.

8:11 a.m.| Speaking engagements

Among Dirt Late Model-connected folks presenting or participating in panels at PRI. Check the PRI app for details on locations:

Mike Nuchols of Warrior Race Cars is discussing Advanced Technology in Dirt Late Model Racing (3 p.m. Friday) and regarding the Ultimate Dirt Late Model Setup (9 a.m. Saturday).

• Former Eldora Speedway general manager Larry Kemp is part of a session regarding Crate Engines (10 a.m. Friday).

Josh Holt of MyRacePass will be part of a discussion of Updates in Technology for Timing and Scoring (10:30 a.m. Thursday) and Understanding Your Website as a Marketing Tool (1:30 p.m. Thursday).

• Speed Sport executive director Chris Graner is discussing Streaming Video 101 for Promoters (2 p.m. Thursday), the State of Streaming Video from Grassrooms Streaming Productions (2 p.m. Friday) and Audio Engineering 101 for Announcers and Tracks (2 p.m. Saturday).

7:53 a.m. | Youngest WoO rookie

In an announcement the day ahead of PRI, 16-year-old Tristan Chamberlain officially committed as a rookie on the World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series in driving the No. 20tc Longhorn Chassis owned by Holly and Wayne Gibson.

“I didn’t think this would happen until I was at least in my 20s,” Chamberlain said. “It’s not a lot of pressure, but I’m nervous and excited. Not many 16-year-olds get the chance to race with the World of Outlaws. I’m definitely humbled and overwhelmed. But it’s cool, and I’m excited to go do it.”

Semi-retired racer Duane Chamberlain, Tristan's father, said he believes his son will "turn more heads once people see how talented he really is.”

Wayne Gibson emphasized the family atmosphere of the team.

“I think at 16 years old, we have a very mature, very talented young driver,” Gibson said. “From our standpoint, he’s a better kid than maybe even a race car driver. He’s got a maturity about him that we’re excited about. He’s got a passion we’re excited about. And the fact that Duane, his dad, who’s been a racer his whole life has decided to take his racing career and put it in the back seat for Tristan excites us.We’ve decided to do this thing in more of a family atmosphere and consider the Chamberlain’s part of our family.”

Chamberlain realizes he faces a learning curve, but knows he'll learn simply by competing regularly on the national tour, which opens its season next month at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., for the Sunshine Nationals. Gibson plans to give him whatever he needs to succeed.

“We can hardly wait to get down to Volusia,” Gibson said. “As good as Tristan is, there’s no illusion that we’re going to dominate in any form because we’re racing against the most professional and the best racers in the world. Our goal is to compete, and we believe Tristan will do that.”

Chamberlain is among WoO Rookie of the Year contenders along with big-block modified veteran Max McLaughlin of Mooresville, N.C., and former MB Customs house car driver Dustin Sorensen of Rochester, Minn. — Mike Warren

7:23 p.m. | MasterSbilt grooming Loudy

In an announcement the evening before the PRI show officially opened, MasterSbilt Race Cars has selected driver Kaede Loudy of Rogersville, Tenn., as the first driver in a newly-instituted MasterSbilt Chassis Development Program for the Crothersville, Ind., chassis builder in 2024, Loudy’s team announced.

The Tader and Jerilyn Masters-owned company has built race cars for more than 40 years and has had a close relationship the Loudy family with Kaede piloting MasterSbilts several seasons and his father Kirk Loudy, a World 100-winning crew chief and shock specialist who owns Envy Suspension, involved with MasterSbilt for nearly 25 years.

“You can’t tell people about the history of Dirt Late Model racing without talking about the impact that MasterSbilt has made in the sport, so to be aligned so closely with them is really special,” Kaede Loudy said in the news release. “I’ve been working with them the past several years, but this takes it to another level. Thanks to Tader, Jerilyn, and everyone at MasterSbilt for entrusting me to drive the Development Program car next year. I can’t wait to get started!”

Kirk Loudy will be an integral part of the Development Program that's designed to assist young folks in racing, helping develop their skills.

The younger Loudy, who plans to be at PRI, will pilot a Super Late Model as well as a Crate Late Model with plans to compete on a to-be-decided regional tour along with major events at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. The team is seeking sponsors. Contact Kaede Loudy at kaedeloudy26@icloud.com or (423) 754-2481. — Ryan Delph

7:04 a.m. | Hot spots

In making the rounds on a enormous show floor that fills up virtually the entire exhibit space at the Indiana Convention Center, DirtonDirt.com reporters frequent several spots where Dirt Late Model drivers are likely to linger (this is where we should say we miss the Keyser Manufacturing and Integra Shocks exhibit, a guaranteed hot spot. The company hasn't been at PRI since 2019.):

• DIRTcar and World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series (Booth 4923) is a good place to run across WoO and Midwestern racers, along with various organization officials.

• The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series exhibit is always popular, too. This year the exhibit is branded under MavTV, so look for Booth 4501.

• Veteran announcer and promoter Chris Stepan of FYE Motorsports plans to do interviews with WISSOTA-connected drivers at the WISSOTA Promoters Association exhibit (Booth 3029).

• With Keith Berner's Accu-Force Spring Smasher line sold to Virginia-based DRP Performance Products, there may be a stream of drivers checking out those devices (and catching up with Berner) at DRP's Booth 2125.

• Hoosier Racing Tire (Booth 3439) is frequented by drivers from all disciplines, but there's seemingly always a cohort of Dirt Late Model types hanging around.

6:49 a.m. | On the horizon

Among things DirtonDirt.com we'll be tracking at PRI:

• Among schedules traditionally released at PRI are for the DIRTcar Summer Nationals along with Ray Cook's tours, the Schaeffer's Spring Nationals and Schaeffer's Southern Nationals. We expect a 9 a.m. release for the Summer Nationals but we didn't get confirmation from Cook that his tour schedules are ready. The Comp Cams Super Dirt Series also confirmed it plans to release its schedule during the trade show.

• The highest profile racers without announced rides for 2024 are former World 100 winners Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., and Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla. The 48-year-old Clanton, who recently departed Skyline Motorsports, told DirtonDirt.com recently he doesn't have a ride yet while the 51-year-old Pearson, who saw Papich Racing shut down the team he'd driven for the past two seasons, is expected to be among drivers doing DirtonDirt.com video interviews at PRI.

• The lone national touring team from 2023 without a driver is for team owner Dave Steine, whose driver Ryan Gustin of Marshalltown, Iowa left at season's end to join the team of fellow Iowan and World of Outlaws driver Todd Cooney. We'll keep an ear to the ground for any developments with national touring teams.

• The Steel Block Bandits Dirt Late Model Challenge is expected to make an announcement at PRI early Thursday afternoon. We'll follow that news.

• A press conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at the Hoosier Racing Tire booth (Booth 3439), but Dirt Oval Product Manager Shanon Rush told DirtonDirt.com he didn't believe it would be specifically related to Dirt Late Models.

6:24 a.m. | Early morning at PRI

One reporter spent the morning wishing the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show was at one of its former homes, Louisville, Ky., which would’ve made hit commute barely 10 minutes vs. two hours, but alas it doesn’t appear the Indiana Convention Center will be giving up the show any time soon.

Follow DirtonDirt.com over the next three days for Dirt Late Model-centric news in the racing world with schedule releases, driver news, industry updates and more. Thanks for joining us.

Editor's note: Reporting by DirtonDirt.com staffers Kyle McFadden and Todd Turner along with other DirtonDirt.com contributors and staffers (some credited specifically); remote assistance from staffers Kevin Kovac and Aaron Clay.

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