Fast Talk: IMIS redux, silly season, '11 wrapup
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. This will be our last Fast Talk of the year as we'll take a three-week break before resuming the Monday after Talladega Short Track's Ice Bowl:
Todd Turner: First off, let's wrap up trade show season by concluding what we discussed last week: the roles of Orlando's Performance Racing Industry show and the International Motorsports Industry Show in Indianapolis.
It looked like we were headed this direction when IMIS launched three years ago, and now it's crystallizing to some degree. You guys might have a different perspective, but here's what I hear from those familiar with both shows.
As far as companies having a presence, it seems PRI has a focus on manufacturers with a broader appeal and a more corporate connections. At IMIS there's a tighter focus on oval racing — and lots of Dirt Late Model touchstones — and vendors talked about reaching the "end user" (I think that means drivers and teams).
I thought it revealing that driver Ivedent Lloyd Jr. of Ocala, Fla., found it worthy to come to Indianapolis while skipping home-state PRI.
Michael Rigsby: IMIS has without question become the Dirt Late Model show. I figured there might be roughly 60 drivers there, and when more than 200 showed up, it sent a message loud and clear. If you're involved in Dirt Late Model racing, Indy is the place to be.
One thing I think you'll see next year, however, is that a few guys will matriculate to PRI, simply because they'll have such little competition there. There were only about 16 drivers down there, so you really could have a lot more one-on-one time there. Something to consider as we move forward. As for IMIS, it got to the point of ridiculousness with the amount of drivers there — everywhere you looked.
Joshua Joiner: I think Michael's less competition approach will lead to some drivers going to PRI instead of IMIS, but you just have to wonder when the companies that are mostly dirt racing specific stop going to PRI. Obviously, manufacturers and companies that have interests in other forms of motorsports are still going to Orlando, but will it be worth it for drivers and teams to go down there if the smaller, dirt-specific companies start only going to IMIS?
TT: We had several more developments with silly season with changes among drivers and teams. I'll ask you about your reactions to a few of these individually.
Let's start with former World of Outlaws champ Tim McCreadie. The New Yorker has cast his lot with Warrior Race Cars for his second chassis change of the year. Count me as a bit skeptical until it sticks. Warrior has appeared to be on the cusp of getting over the hump in recent years with Dale McDowell and then Mike Marlar, but the marquis names haven't stuck. How do you all see it?
MR: I actually think it will work for him — with a big but. The issue will be confidence. Right out of the box, it would be huge for him to get some wins, and get his confidence-meter pegged. It's a must early on in my opinion.
JJ: I'm not sure what I think about it yet. I think Warrior cars have proven capable of competing with the top brands, but I don't know if it's the best move for a national-touring driver like McCreadie. You look at who's successful right now on the national tours: it's Bloomquist, Rocket and MasterSbilt, the three brands whose builders are on the tour with the drivers at pretty much every race.
I believe that Sanford Goddard and the Warrior bunch build a great car, but I'm just not convinced they'll every find long-term success on a national tour when they don't have that support at each and every race throughout the year.
TT: Let's consider young Delaware driver Austin Hubbard's collaboration with Catlettsburg, Ky., car owner Tim Logan. You can't argue they don't match up well — both driver and car owner have run No. 11 in the past — but I'd question if Logan, who has typically fielded part-time teams, can carry Hubbard through the entire Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series schedule. I think it's more likely that Hubbard's family-owned equipment could be used during select series weekends to give Logan's team an occasional break, and that two-pronged approach might strengthen Hubbard's program.
Two more things: One, Hubbard will have his work cut out to match 2011's sixth-place in WoO points on the rival series. Two, it's interesting that Hubbard will be with his second consecutive ride previously held by Steve Francis, who preceded Hubbard with the potent Beitler Motorsports team that called it quits this season.
MR: For Hubbard, the deal so far is only guaranteed through Speedweeks, so before we jump into the rest of the season, there's nothing guaranteed beyond the end of February. If I had to guess, I'd say it's a tried-and-true format. If Speedweeks goes really well, Austin rides out the year in the Logan car. If not, they'll be piloting their own stuff. Either way, I don't think it matters that much.
JJ: This is another situation I'm skeptical about. After Speedweeks, I was convinced Hubbard was going to have a great season and compete for the WoO title in 2011. But it's almost like he regressed a bit this year compared to his Rookie of the Year season on the tour. Maybe it was all just part of a sophomore slump, but I can really see Hubbard struggling this year competing at new tracks on a series that's proven to be a bit more competitive lately. And then you add on the uncertainty of his ride with Logan vs. his family-owned equipment. I think he's going to have to work really this year to stay focused.
TT: Let's review the Terry Phillips-Jeremy Payne split. They were arguably Missouri's best team a few years ago, but challenges await both drivers now. Payne will focus on his own modified program while putting out feelers for a Late Model ride, while Phillips switches chassis for the first time in forever in going to Bloomquist Race Cars. Will these guys be factors in 2012?
JJ: I think it's going to be tough for Payne to find a ride right now, but maybe if he impresses in some early-season modified races something will come up. As for Phillips, when I first heard of the switch to Bloomquist cars, I really didn't think it was a good idea, but you look at someone like Shannon Babb, who was in a bit of a slump of his own. He switches to a Victory Circle for 2011, and found almost immediate success. Who knows, maybe the same thing works for Phillips.
MR: I think the Bloomquist car is a good fit for Phillips. And honestly, I can see him rattling off a bunch of wins. With Payne, it's pretty simple, if he's in a Late Model at all, I expect him to have a Payne-like season. If not, then he'll be a non-factor, simply because he won't be in a race car. (At least a race car we cover). Phillips is actually the first driver that has stepped into a Bloomquist that I'm really intrigued to see how it does — that'll be interesting.
TT: Because we'll be taking our holiday break, let's go ahead and look at USA Raceway's Wild West Shootout in Tucson, Ariz., again. (Full disclosure: DirtonDirt.com is producing live video from the final four races of the six-race miniseries next month).
We've made it clear Tucson is an attractive off-season racing destination — great weather, successful daytime racing, interesting mix of competitors — and judging from drivers planning to attend, it appears they'll see quite an increase from the 49-entry average from last January.
McCreadie, Don O'Neal, Shane Clanton, Darrell Lanigan, Chris Simpson, Jake Redetzke and Kevin Weaver are among the latest drivers to commit or strongly consider their first Tucson trips.
Is there a chance Tucson could draw as many cars as any of the February's Georgia-Florida Speedweeks tracks?
MR: I'd say on sheer numbers, yes, it could outdraw it. It won't have the depth of field that Florida Speedweeks has, but I'd challenge anyone to find a neater mix of drivers than you'll see in Arizona. East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, South, they'll be there from everywhere. If you're looking for something a bit different, you should check out Arizona.
TT: If the car counts are 10 or 15 cars over last year, there's going to be some real dogfights for the middle-of-the-road teams to even make feature races with some of the talent apparently headed that way.
JJ: I don't think it's going to outdraw Volusia, but it should still be a great week in Tucson with all the additional drivers planning to make the trip. As Michael said, it's always an interesting mix out there, and the extra drivers will make it even more exciting.
TT: OK, now time to put you guys on the spot. What's the final word on 2011? Your biggest takeaway from this season?
MR: I've thought a lot about this, and I've racked my brain, over and over and over, about that one defining moment of 2011. Quite frankly, I don't feel like there is just one, and maybe that's a story in and of itself, that there was no defining moment. If I had to choose the highlights, it's Don O'Neal's crown jewels, Jimmy Owens overcoming the Bloomquist-Lucas dominance, and overall, just more general malaise when it comes the economy, etc. More than anything. I'm ready for 2012, cause I really do think this is going to be a turnaround year.
JJ: My biggest takeaways from 2011 are the success of rookie drivers like Klint Byars and Mike Spatola and the disappointing seasons for veteran guys like Phillips and Earl Pearson Jr. You see all these young guys come out and find immediate success and you almost get the impression that the competition level has dropped, but then you see guys like Phillips and Pearson and even Steve Francis going winless.
I think that's what makes the sport so exciting, how much things can change so fast. It makes you wonder what new breakout drivers we'll be talking about this time next year and who we might be talking about on the other side of the coin. Either way, I'm looking forward to another exiting year in 2012.