Fast Talk: Reviewing the Silver Dollar Nationals
Here's the latest edition of Fast Talk, a new DirtonDirt.com feature appearing each Monday. Staffers Michael Rigsby, Todd Turner and Joshua Joiner will gather weekly for a roundtable discussion about what's going on in Dirt Late Model racing:
Todd Turner: The last few days marked a rare mid-summer weekend without either the World of Outlaws Late Model Series or Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series in action, but there was still big money on the line at the $25,000 Silver Dollar Nationals at Nebraska's I-80 Speedway.
I-80 has established itself with many regional series events each year, but this was its first time really jumping into the national scene with a rich race, the richest in Nebraska history. Michael, let's start with some of your impressions of I-80's race that drew a respectable car count and a nice mix of traveling drivers.
Michael Rigsby: Flat out fantastic. Easily one of the funnest weekends I've had in a long time, not to mention I've never been told "thank you" for coming to an event more times than I was this weekend.
Format? I loved. Racetrack? I loved. The staff, everything was great. The thing that really caught my attention was that you really don't think of the Great Plains as in the hotbed of late model racing, but those people really knew their stuff, and it was such a neat setting for a race. I have nothing but good things to say.
Plus I got to sit in the old seat where the TNN broadcasts were done!
TT: I thought the format was appealing. Nothing against the big national tours, but sometimes when you mix it up with a new venue, new format, a new race ... it injects a little freshness that's nice to see. It'd be nice to see that race get some traction and continue to be a success.
MR: You're 100 percent right. It felt fresh. I loved the format, and some national guys complained that they "wouldn't come back" unless they qualified, but if I'm I-80 I'd stand pat. You have something unique and fresh — stick with it. Let's say a big name...Driver X, Y, X goes to 80 races per year. Isn't qualifying 79 times enough?
And yes, the race will be back next year. Look for an announcement this week.
TT: I agree completely about the overuse of time trials. ... it's so engrained in the sport, especially in the South, partly because of NASCAR.
I never understood the fear of passing points. I mean, the gist of it is, if you're in a heat race, you need to pass as many cars as possible. Is that so complex?
Joshua Joiner: While some of the drivers may not like it, the second set of heat races instead of time trials sounds like a great thing for the fans who came out for Friday's prelims. For the fans, heat races are always more interesting than qualifying. They definitely get more for their money.
TT: I can't say I was surprised to see the Silver Dollar Nationals top 10 dominated by the touring guys, with not a single regional driver in the top five. I'll never forget asking Bill Frye, probably 15 years ago, why the local favorites have such a hard time hanging with national stars in big races. He said it was all about the extra laps.
Weekly drivers are accustomed to 25 or 30 laps, and even the regional tours often run 40 or fewer. So when you double the distance like I-80 did with its 80-lapper, or run a 100-lapper, that plays into the hands of those guys experienced in long-distance events.
In that vein, it's no surprise Iowa's Chris Simpson led 32 laps but ended up slipping out of the top five by the finish.
That's a bit deflating in some ways. I think the shorter races are one attraction of the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals.
MR: Chris Simpson has to be wondering what he's got to do to get a win out there. And on that topic, how much better has that guy gotten? I mean he's really improved a ton ... it's an impressive turnaround.
TT: Regarding O'Neal's victory, one thing that struck me is Larry Moring's Illinois-based team, which fields a car part time for O'Neal, has had a pretty solid season with three victories in limited starts. On the other side of the country the same night, another more or less part-time team won again with Steve Shaver driving Lee Roy and Kevin Rumley's No. 6 to victory at Virginia Motor Speedway.
In a sport where it's easy to run yourself ragged, these teams are certainly an argument for picking your spots and making wise scheduling decisions. To be sure, a full-time team obviously doesn't want to sit around all summer awaiting the perfect race, but there's something to be said for the success of the Moring and Rumley teams that are able to stay fresh, isn't there?
MR: I had an interesting conversation with Jason Feger after the Summernationals where he simply talked about racing too much. He has continued to say that he understood why guys like Moyer, Mars, and Birky have cut back, and he was definitely entertaining that idea. So to answer your idea, yes, there's totally something to be said for that. Focusing — and dialing in — inevitably leads to more success.
JJ: Picking and choosing the races that fit a driver or team best obviously helps, but you also got to consider how much more these "part-time" teams have to work on there equipment and program. The guys that are racing every weekend spend most of their extra time making repairs or just general maintenance.
I could see where having a few weeks off here and there can help a team make their program better. I know the Rumleys for one spend a lot of time on research and development and it's obviously paying huge dividends for their program right now.
TT: And we thought the Summernationals were over. The series had a last-gasp of excitement Saturday with the rain makeup at Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway, and we're not talking about the continued rivalry between Ryan Unzicker and Brian Shirley that saw those guys going at it again.
Fairbury had full-blown photo finish with Rodney Melvin on the low side and Jason Feger charging on the high side. Melvin was declared the winner, leading just the final two of 50 laps. The video from the backstretch perch looked like it was almost too close to call, and I can certainly see why Feger pulled off the scales and initially to victory lane. What did you guys think?
MR: Let me first say that I have no official idea of what happened, and that this is just an opinion based on what the video says. It's still hard for me to look at it and figure out how Rodney Melvin was declared the winner.
I understand that the video was at a slight angle, but there's an orange line on the wall just after the flagstand that's typically used as the "official line" there. If that's the case, then I certainly think Feger won, no matter what angle it's at. The bottom line is, however, that there should have been transponders used. It's 2011, and there's no reason not to have them.
JJ: I'm saying it's too close to call. And I'm thankful I'm not the person who had to make that call. And immediately I question why transponders weren't being used. If they were, then nobody would be forced to make that ruling. I agree, by now any major race, especially one paying $10,000 to the winner, should have transponder scoring in place. It prevents any questionable calls or controversies when it comes to scoring.
TT: The story about West Virginia Motor Speedway's delayed reconstruction in shortening the massive oval to 3/8-mile is a getting little tired, but it's increasingly looking like there won't be a single race at the track this year with the recent announcement that Carl Short's Hillbilly 100 is moving to Portsmouth (Ohio) Raceway Park.
Count me among those glad to see WVMS shortened, but it's not going to be easy for the track, which has now lost both the Hillbilly 100 and DTWC, to rebound, is it? I suppose now the best promoters can hope for is taking their time to make sure the new track is perfect and try to hit a home run with some early-season events in 2012 to regain some momentum.
MR: If there's one state, and one area that will support a comeback, it's West Virginia. Those people love racing and will have no issues jumping back on board, in my opinion. One thing I will keep a close eye on, though, is the Black Diamond at Tyler County. To me it leaves a bit of an opening for that event to grow in that state. While Tyler County is a bit limited by size, it'll be interesting.
JJ: I agree, the WVMS promoters just need to go ahead and focus on getting the reconfiguration done right and starting off 2012 with a bang. While missing a year of racing is obviously a downer, at least there should be a lot of anticipation from fans and drivers when the first event on the new configuration finally rolls around. Hopefully that race will be a success and will help to get the track's comeback going on the right foot.