Fast Talk: Putting the wraps on the DTWC
Here's the latest edition of Fast Talk, a new DirtonDirt.com feature appearing each Monday. Staffers Michael Rigsby, Todd Turner and Joshua Joiner gather weekly for a roundtable discussion about who's hot, who's not and other issues regarding Dirt Late Model racing:
Todd Turner: Let's break down the 31st annual U.S. Steel Dirt Track World Championship presented by Sunoco, starting with Jimmy Owens dethroning two-time Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion Scott Bloomquist by virtue of his runner-up finish.
The title chase turned out to be mostly anticlimactic during the 100-lapper — we'll talk more about how terrible the race was shortly — and Owens becomes one of just a few guys who can say they've topped Bloomquist in a championship battle. Dare I say that will look back at this as the moment the Bloomquist-Moyer era officially ended and the next era of our sport begins?
Michael Rigsby: I was thinking about that this morning. The only issue with that is, Bloomquist could easily come back and win next year's title, so it's hard to say the Bloomquist-Moyer era is "over." But I think perception-wise, and ceremoniously, yes, this was when the torch was officially passed. The other issue is, we're typically handing a torch to two to four guys, and I think Owens is about the only one taking it right now.
TT: Yes, Owens is one of those guys. I'd say the other sure bet would be Josh Richards, but with his asphalt aspirations, that may be a moot point. It may take a few years to see who else will be on top with Owens over the next five years or so.
MR: It really could be Don O'Neal. Lost in the shuffle of how good Owens and Bloomquist have been is O'Neal's season. People don't think of him as an up-and-comer, but he's on point right now.
JJ: There are probably plenty of people who believe the Bloomquist-Moyer era has ended. And as this year's points battle really began to take shape around midseason, I began to think that as well. But I'm not so sure it's really that time yet. I definitely believe Owens will be the guy to take over as the sport's top driver, but is it really that time yet? I mean, it's not like Bloomquist has had a bad year. In fact, he's really had a great year.
While the title and all of Owens's success this year goes a long way to establish him as probably an equal to Bloomquist right now, I think it'll take a decline by Bloomquist next year and another great year from Owens to officially say we're seeing the start of that transition.
TT: As Michael pointed out, in part because he was far out of the points chase, DTWC winner Don O'Neal has been sometimes overshadowed this season, even while earning his $50,000 victory this weekend at the newly renamed Atomic Speedway in Ohio. In reality O'Neal has posted his best-ever season with his $100,000 Dream, Silver Dollar Nationals, Knoxville, DTWC and overall near-invincibility in his part-time ride with Moring Motorsports.
I've heard lots of people say O'Neal's luck has turned in these 100-lappers, but from talking to O'Neal, team co-owner Tader Masters and crew members, I'd suggest they've been rewarded for putting a special focus on making the car and tires last when the big money is on the line. Not that O'Neal still isn't among the top throttle-smashers in the sport, but he's really added a new dimension to his success, hasn't he?
MR: Oh for sure. And O'Neal really touched on that in an interview after the Silver Dollar Nationals back in July, that Tader and Keith really pulled him aside and said, "Listen, you've got to be able to combine what you do best, with what we do best, which is make this car prepared to last 100 laps or more." O'Neal got that advice, and has sort of morphed — Darrell Lanigan may disagree — his style into one that is capable of winning these longer races now. Does he still mash? Oh for sure, but you can see in latter stages of races where he is saving stuff now, and I'm not sure he used to do that as much. That's a hard thing to pick up late in your career, and I commend him for doing it.
JJ: He really has. It's a bit weird to say he's had a breakout year because he's been around so long, but I think saying he's added a new dimension to his success is a great way to say it. Whatever the cause of his recent success and his new-found aptitude for long-distance races, I think you could say he's finally reaching his full potential, and it's good to see that.
And maybe it's not even his full potential we're seeing this year. Maybe he figures out how to run well consistently and joins Owens in challenging Bloomquist and Moyer at the top of the sport.
TT: Certainly the one-grooved track didn't match the level worthy of a $50,000 race deciding a series champion. No one was happy about it, obviously, but I think what might have turned people off the most is the apparent lack of effort — or desire? — to salvage the night.
Granted, officials were dealt a tough hand when Thursday's modified action was rained out to Friday, then more rain Friday didn't allow the Late Model prelims to even begin. In my mind, the race's fate was sealed Friday night when it was announced action would begin at 4 p.m. Saturday. That guaranteed three hours of cars on the track before sundown, obliterating the surface and leaving no time to rework it while cramming in a long night of racing.
A noon start Saturday and an afternoon session of prelims — with plans to rework the track before an evening session of Saturday's regularly schedule action — would've been preferable, but I'm not sure the track had that capability.
MR: I really don't want to sit here and hammer the track and conditions, as God knows, from the emails I've gotten, along with various other forms of electronic mediums (Facebook, Twitter, message boards), people are well aware of what the race was like. I'll just say this, I think what I was most disappointed in, was the fact that the momentum for the DTWC was totally back. The car count was a roaring success at 90, the crowd on Saturday was jam-packed, and the lid was about ready to come off the place with excitement. Obviously, the lid stayed firmly in place all night long. I just hate it for everyone really, as it was clearly the right choice to move the race back there from an event standpoint, but from a racing standpoint, people are going to say it was the wrong decision.
My issue with that is K-C is fully capable of producing great racing, as I've seen it with my own eyes. Josh Richards even said afterwards that he "loves K-C", just not the way it was Saturday night. I know they had tough issue with the weather, but the track twisting in the wind (literally) all day left a sour taste in a lot of people's mouths. I'll just say this: let's not overreact too much, and throw around the "I'll never be back" announcements. This was a problem, and you'd have to almost guarantee, it won't be like that next year.
JJ: It was a disappointment to say the least. It surely didn't live up to all the build up of the points battle and the race's return to Atomic. It's hard to say what could have or should have been done, but I feel in that situation you have to at least attempt to improve the track's surface. If the show runs late, then so be it. As someone who absolutely hates late nights at the racetrack, I can say I would have rather waited out a delay to rework the track than see a disappointing race in that situation.
TT: For many fans the DTWC marks the end of the season, but there's obviously another month or so of special events dotting the schedule. Joshua, you're going to Whynot this weekend, and we've got the season-ending World Finals for the World of Outlaws Late Model Series at Charlotte at the beginning of November. What races are you guys looking forward to this rest of the season?
MR: Obviously the World Finals is really the big capper of the season, and deserves a lot of respect for the event it's become in a short time. But for me, these Mississippi year-enders are picking up a ton of steam. Last year if you look at Whynot and Magnolia's lineups for these two races, it's staggeringly good. I like that the promoters down there have paired them together, put up bonuses for winning races, and really marketed well. Birky, Clanton, Moyer, and more will all be at both races, and they'll be great again.
JJ: To be honest, I'm looking forward to all of them. Whynot has always been one of my favorite tracks and of course there's something about the atmosphere at Charlotte that makes it unique. I'm even looking forward to heading East Alabama for the National 100 the week after Charlotte. Talk about a track taking the time to rework the surface, East Alabama does it every year. I always hate sitting through the two- or three-hour delay, but it always seems to produce a good race.
Correction: Fixes O'Neal's DTWC payday.