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Previewing Midwestern tours for the '12 season

March 15, 2012, 6:00 am
From staff, contributor and series reports

With spring just around the corner (or already here in many places), here's a look at developments on Midwestern Dirt Late Model tours for the 2012 season. The brief capsules, with information primarily from series officials, directors and publicists, focus on changes for the upcoming season and includes links to the series websites and schedule pages. As usual most series are concerned about fuel costs, the economy and need more sponsorship. With that said, welcome to 2012 (regional series preview home):

Dart Challenge Late Model Series

2011 recap: Jake Redetzke of Eau Claire, Wis., won three races en route to the series championship as he topped Adam Hensel of Barron, Wis., by 32 points.

2012 opener: The $6,200-to-win Challenge Cup XII at Dakota State Fair Speedway in Huron, S.D.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): Besides the Challenge Cup, a three-race stretch from July 27-29 in South Dakota is among the series highlights with events at Brown County Speedway in Aberdeen, Huron and Casino Speedway in Watertown. The tour plans 13 races at 10 tracks in three states.

Rule/format changes: None expected.

Expected regulars: Redetzke, Hensel, John Kaanta, Marshall Fegers, Lance Matthees and other WISSOTA veterans are likely; no newcomers have announced intentions to run for rookie honors.

Key question: Will Jake Redetzke defend his title or branch out to more open-competition engine events?

Odds and ends: The 15 series races in 2011 were the most since 2008, also with 15 ... The series runs six races in 12 days during a buy stretch in late July. .... The series will make its second-ever appearance at Grand Rapids (Minn.) Speedway. ... Dakota State Fair Speedway promoter Orville Chenoweth plans a unique twist to the Challenge Cup; details will be announced soon. ... The series hopes to boost the winning purse for the season-ending event at Hibbing (Minn.) Raceway on Sept. 1. ... Jeff Olson, who formerly worked at Deer Creek Speedway, takes over as the director of the tour; he also serves as WISSOTA's public relations direction. "For me being the new director, I am really looking forward to this year's series," Olson said. "Jake Redetzke, Adam Hensel, Lance Matthees, these guys are some of the best Late Model drivers up in the Midwest running in this series, and it's just a dream come true to be a part of the Challenge Series." ... Olson replaces Rob Fogle, who spent two seasons with the series.

Dart Corn Belt Clash Late Model Series

2011 recap: Chad Simpson of Mount Vernon, Iowa, won seven races — all in the first half of the season — en route to his second straight championship during a 17-race season.

2012 opener: A $3,000-to-win event April 7 at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb., co-sanctioned by MLRA.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): The $5,000-to-win event Aug. 2 at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis., which opens the World of Outlaws-sanctioned USA Nationals weekend. The series is also part of a $5,000-to-win co-sanctioned event at Adams County Speedway in Corning, Iowa, on June 30.

Rule/format changes: The dash will be cut to six from nine entrants; dash winner will draw a pill between 1-6 for starting spot in the main event. Drivers can also accrue points in dash.

Expected regulars: Many of the same drivers from recent seasons including Simpson and his younger brother Chris, Jason Rauen, Denny Eckrich, Dave Eckrich, Justin Mitchell and more.

Key question: Can the series prop up the open-competition engine Late Models in a region where spec-engine cars proliferate?

Odds and ends: More money is up for grabs this season with a $150,000 increase from 2011 in total purses and contingencies as many new sponsors have been added. "Hopefully it's going to be a series worth following," founder Cam Granger said. ... Several first-time tracks are on the schedule, including: Davenport (Iowa) Speedway; Echo Valley Speedway in West Union, Iowa; Chilton (Wis.) Speedway; Lafayette County Speedway in Darlington, Wis.; Langlade County Speedway in Antigo, Wis.; and Peoria (Ill.) Speedway, where the series will co-sanction an April 14 event with UMP DIRTcar. ... Granger hopes the Peoria race can encourage Illinois drivers to drop in on some eastern Iowa events. ... The track generally tries to stay within 200 miles of the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area. ... Travis Cushion of Three Wide Media has joined the tour part-time to help with publicity.

IMCA Deery Brothers Summer Series

2011 recap: Ray Guss Jr. of Milan, Ill., edged Andy Eckrich by six points for his second straight championship; Guss won two of 18 events.

2012 opener: March 31 at Farley (Iowa) Speedway.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): The richest events are the $7,500-to-win show on Sept. 15 during Farley’s Yankee Dirt Track Classic and the $5,000-to-win show Sept. 1 during the Pepsi USA Nationals at 34 Raceway in West Burlington.

Rule/format changes: All series competitors will be required to use maximum 8,400 RPM rev limiters and a postrace minimum weight requirement of 2,300 pounds (50 pounds less than 2011); those changes are for all IMCA Late Models in 2012.

Expected regulars: Guss, Eckrich, Charlie McKenna and Colby Springsteen are among drivers expected back along with Darrel DeFrance of Marshalltown, Iowa, who has competed at every event through the series’ first 25 seasons. Newcomers will include Jeff Mitrisin of Oskaloosa, Iowa, IMCA’s North Central Modified Region champion in 1995.

Key question: Can Guss win a record-setting third consecutive championship?

Odds and ends: If weather cooperates, the 21 scheduled events would be the most races since '98. ... The series has held 384 events since starting in 1987, so barring a wet season, the 400th event will go into the record book. ... The series will run its 27th event at Hamilton County Speedway on April 14, but the first series visit since 2006. ... I-35 Speedway in Mason City, Iowa, is back on the schedule for the first time since 2009. ... Three $3,000-to-win events are on the calendar: April 7 at 34 Raceway’s Brent Slocum Memorial, April 21 at West Liberty Raceway and April 22 at Dubuque Fairgrounds Speedway. ... The minimum series purse is $2,000-to-win and $250-to-start. ... There are no two-day shows on the 2012 schedule. Both the 2010 and 2011 series ended with rainouts after the first night of two-day events were completed. ... Cash bonuses from Sunoco Race Fuels remain in place for drivers with perfect series attendance; $250 will be given at each event by Sunoco with another $2,000 to be divvied up after the series concludes. ... Perfect attendance bonuses will also be given at late-season events by Ideal Ready Mix and the Johnson family.

Lucas Oil Midwest LateModel Racing Association

2011 recap: John Anderson of Omaha, Neb., won three races over a four-race stretch late in the season that helped secure his second championship by 10 points over Al Purkey.

2012 opener: March 24 at Springfield (Mo.) Raceway in an event co-sanctioned with the MARS DIRTcar Series.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): Besides being part of Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series events at Lucas Oil Speedway ($30,000-to-win Show-Me 100 on May 25-26) and I-80 Speedway ($25,000-to-win Silver Dollar Nationals on July 21-22), the tour returns to Lakeside Speedway on Oct. 19-20 for a lucrative season-ending weekend after last year's event was washed out by devastating floods.

Rule/format changes: The passing-points tabulator has been switched to 1.76 points per position (instead of 1.5), adopting the format originated by Jim Wilson's NASCAR Busch All-Star Tour.

Expected regulars: Anderson, Jesse Stovall, David Turner and others; potential newcomers are Bill Leighton Jr. of Omaha, Neb., sixth in NASCAR Whelen All-America Series points last season, and Kevin Salter of Ankeny, Iowa.

Key question: Will Purkey be back to gun for an eighth championship?

Odds and ends: Rumors during the trade-show season were that MLRA might be for sale, but co-owner Harriett Chancellor wouldn't comment when questioned if there were any offers. ... She also put no timeline on how long she and husband Allen "Cowboy" Chancellor will continue operating the series they've owned since the 1990s. "With the quality of (staffers) I have now, I felt like they could run the show whether we're there or not," she said. "The only thing I want to say is I want (MLRA) to maintain its credibility, whether it's us running it or anyone else." .... Chancellor things the change in tabulating passing-points will be a good one. "I think it gives the guys in the back a little bit better chance," she said." ... The 19 races scheduled would be the fewest on the series since 2001, when the tour had 18 events.

MARS DIRTcar Series

2011 recap: Brad Looney of Republic, Mo., captured his first touring championship, edging Jesse Stovall by 30 points as he won his three series races consecutively in the first half of the 22-race season.

2012 opener: The tour opened the season March 2-3 at Clarksville (Tenn.) Speedway with first-time winner Tony Jackson Jr. and Jesse Stovall taking checkered flags; it goes back to action March 24 at Springfield (Mo.) Raceway in an event co-sanctioned by MLRA.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): The $12,000-to-win Sunflower Showdown on April 28 at the Great American Dirt Track in Jetmore, Kan.; also a pair of tripleheaders (May 31-June 2 and Aug. 23-25) for $5,000-to-win events in Highland, Ill., Paducah, Ky., and Pevely, Mo.

Rule/format changes: None announced.

Expected regulars: Looney, Jackson, Stovall, R.C. Whitwell, Leroy Johnson, six-time champ Terry Phillips and Rookie of the Year candidate Brandon Morton of Coweta, Okla., among others.

Key question: Is the door open for another first-time champion after Looney broke the Terry Phillips-Bill Frye strangehold in 2011?

Odds and ends: The inaugural Charlie Fulton Memorial at Thunderbird Speedway in Muskogee, Okla., is one of the best new additions to the schedule with the $5,555-to-win event honoring the late promoter. ... The 23-race schedule covers eight states. ... The series had three first-time winners last season and already one so far in 2012.

Michigan Dirt Cup

2011 recap: None; 2012 is first series season.

2012 opener: May 19 at I-96 Speedway in Lake Odessa, Mich.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): Hartford Motor Speedway hosts championship night on Sept. 22 for a $3,000-to-win event; both Mount Pleasant Speedway events pay $2,000-to-win.

Rule/format changes: The newly formed series follows UMP DIRTcar rules.

Expected regulars: Home-state racers Eric Spangler, Dona Marcoullier, Curt Spalding, Curtis Roberts, Brandon Thirlby, Dave Hartman, Phil Austra, J.R. Hotovy, Rich Neiser, Scott Baker, Tom Sprague Jr., Zack Olger and Sam Epling.

Key question: Will the Late Model version of the Michigan Dirt Cup start off as successfully as the modifieds did in 2011?

Odds and ends: The eight-race schedule hits five tracks with I-96 Speedway (May 19 and June 30), Mount Pleasant Speedway (May 25 and Aug. 3) and Hartford (June 20 and Sept. 22) hosting multiple events. ... Single-race tracks are Winston Speedway (June 29) and Merritt Raceway (Aug. 4). ... An outgrowth of the Michigan Dirt Cup modified series that averaged nearly 60 cars per race last season, the Late Model tour has minimum purses of $1,500-to-win and $200-to-start, but tracks are expected to boost the winning purse at some events. ... Allstar Performance and Lane Automotive are among series sponsors. ... Promoters are Andy Stebbins and Bill Long, self-described racing enthusiasts who want to give drivers a chance to tour the state. ... With most Michigan tracks following UMP DIRTcar rules, most home-state drivers should be legal to race at series events. ... The series doesn't plan to use provisional starting spots. ... The series points structure differs from regular UMP points, giving a boost to drivers who run consolation races but don't make the main event. ... The series points fund totals $11,400 over 20 places with the champion earning $3,000 (drivers must compete in 80 percent of events to earn points fund money); contingency awards and bonuses will be announced later. ... "We're really looking forward to a great year this year," Long said. "We're pumped."

National Championship Racing Association DIRTcar Series

2011 recap: Although winless on the 14-race series, Joe Kosiski of Omaha, Neb., won his first NCRA championship. Kelly Boen of Henderson, Colo., was the winningest driver with three victories, consecutively from July 16-Aug. 13.

2012 opener: June 26 at Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Neb., for a $2,500-to-win event.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): The Hutchinson Grand Nationals on July 13 at the Kansas State Fairgrounds and the 11th annual NCRA Late Model Nationals on July 14 at Mid-Nebraska Speedway in Doniphan.

Rule/format changes: None significant.

Expected regulars: Al Purkey, Steve Kempt, John Anderson, Bill Leighton Jr. and others returning from 2011.

Key question: In cutting back to four co-sanctioned events among 10 races, can NCRA draw solid car counts with three Kansas tracks running Late Models regularly?

Odds and ends: The 10 scheduled races for NCRA's 29th season would be the fewest on the series since 1985. .... “We decided we needed to take a couple of steps back and regroup,” said series president C. Ray Hall. “There are so many sanctioning bodies in this region and we were co-sanctioning with everybody we could and not thinking about those drivers from this area.” .... The four co-sanctioned races are all in August at Eagle (Neb.) Raceway and 81 Speedway in Park City, Kan., (MARS) and the King of the Hill Late Model Nationals at Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Neb. (MLRA).

Northern LateModel Racing Association

2011 recap: Ricky Weiss of Winnipeg, Manitoba, won four races — all during a week-long swing through North Dakota — en route to his first NLRA championship.

2012 opener: May 5 at Red River Valley Speedway in Fargo, N.D.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): Tony Stewart Night at Donny Schatz-owned Red River Valley pays $4,000-to-win on June 20; the series also runs a Thursday night show Sept. 6 at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks, N.D., that serves as the season finale and leads into the independent John Seitz Memorial weekend.

Rule/format changes: Following heat races, winners, runners-up, third place will all redraw in groups for feature starting spots. For instance, with four heats, heat winners would redraw for starting spots in the first two rows, runners-up in rows three and four, etc.

Expected regulars: Weiss, Mike Balcean, Brad Seng, Troy Schill, Joel Cryderman, Zach Johnson along with newcomers Shane Edgington, Chris Dunn, Dustin Strand and Lance Schill.

Key question: Can NLRA continue successfully providing a tour that allows drivers to race for three points funds — home tracks, WISSOTA and NLRA?

Odds and ends: The 18-race schedule includes a first-time visit to Buffalo River Race Park in Glyndon, Minn., a quarter-mile high-banked bullring. ... Other schedule highlights are the Canada Day Extravaganza on June 28 at Red River Co-op Speedway in Winnipeg (the first NLRA visit to the track since 2009) and the $1,500-to-win King of Dirt on Aug. 16 at I-94 Speedway in Fergus Falls, Minn., another first-time series track. ... NLRA didn't have any first-time winners in 2010, but four drivers (Jake Redetzke, Bill Mooney, Corey Seckerson and Adam Hensel) were first-timers in 2011.

Sunoco American Late Model Series

2011 recap: Jon Henry of Ada, Ohio, won two of 13 series races to earn his second series championship in three years.

2012 opener: April 13 at Moler Raceway Park in Williamsburg, Ohio, which shares the season-opening weekend with Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio (April 14).

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): The season-ending, $5,000-to-win UMP Nationals at Eldora on Oct. 5-6 and a three-race Memorial Day swing at Mount Pleasant (Mich.) Speedway, Oakshade Raceway in Wauseon, Ohio, and Eldora

Rule/format changes: None.

Expected regulars: Two-time champ Brian Ruhlman, Curtis Robert, Ryan VanderVeen, Jeff Babcock, Henry and Frank Heckenast Jr.

Key question: Will ALMS lose a number of Michigan drivers who elect to follow the first-year Michigan Dirt Cup?

Odds and ends: Last season's 13 races were the fewest since the series had 11 in 1996, its second season. ... Brandon Thirlby of Traverse City, Mich., was the only first-time series winner last year. ... Only three drivers have more than 20 career victories: Kris Patterson (36), Jeep Van Wormer (30) and Ruhlman (22). ... The May 18-19 weekend at Kankakee County Speedway in Kankakee, Ill., and Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway are co-sanctioned by the Northern Allstars.

Super Late Model Racing Series (Nebraska)

2011 recap: Travis Dickes of Madison, Neb., won two of 12 series events to capture his first touring title.

2012 opener: April 6 at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): The I-80 Speedway-based tour has added new tracks including Wagner (S.D.) Speedway and U.S. 30 Speedway in� Columbus, Neb., and the tracks will share the July 4-5 holiday week action. The season finale Cornhusker Classic at I-80 will pay at least $1,500-to-win, $500 above the normal winner's purse.

Rule/format changes: To keep an evening playing field, there may be minor engine rule changes for the series that allows a variety of engine packages.

Expected regulars: Many of the same drivers from recent seasons including Dickes, Leon and Justin Zeitner, Kyle Berck, Al Humphrey, Mike Wiarda, Jase Kaser, Bill Leighton Jr. and Robbie Anderson.

Key question: How much growing room does the series have?

Odds and ends: The series pays a unique purse of $1,000-to-win and $1,050 to the runner-up of most races. ...� The series points fund is expected to get a boost from 2011. ... The two highest non-qualified SLMRS drivers will continue to receive provisionals at I-80 Speedway for the Spring Meltdown, the Alphabet Soup Race, the Midwest TriFecta and $25,000-to-win Silver Dollar Nationals. ... Good feedback from first-time tracks in 2011, Dawson County Raceway in Lexington, Neb., and Riviera Raceway in Norfolk, Neb., led to return visits for 2012. ... Series founder Ed Kosiski won't be supervising the tour because he's serving a prison sentence for attempted sexual assault; under Dec. 22 sentencing, the 46-year-old Kosiski could be released on probation in four years.

UMP DIRTcar Summernationals

2011 recap: Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., won 10 races, including the final six points races consecutively, en route to his third Summernationals crown and first since 2006.

2012 opener: June 13 at Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway for a $5,000-to-win event that's the first of 29 races at 28 tracks in eight states through July 14.

Schedule highlights (complete schedule): A June 15-16 doubleheader the opening weekend at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis., the $10,000-to-win finale at Oakshade Raceway in Wauseon, Ohio, and the first series visit to Florence Speedway in Union, Ky., since 2003.

Rule/format changes: None expected.

Expected regulars: Babb, Dennis Erb Jr., Jason Feger, Ryan Unzicker, Brandon Sheppard, Donny Walden and Dillan White.

Key question: Can Jason Feger regain his 2010 consistency that carried him to the championship?

Odds and ends: Babb clinched last year's title early in racking up 18 top-five finishes in 22 starts. ... The series had two first-time winners in 2011 with Illinois youngsters Mike Spatola and Brandon Sheppard picking up two victories apiece. ... Brushcreek Motorsports Complex in Peebles, Ohio (July 11) is the lone first-time series track. ... Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track returns to the tour for the first time since 2002. ... This season marks the first that three Ohio tracks will host races. ... Brad Hockaday of Professional Motorsports Solutions will follow the series again to manage scoring and transponders.

Other Midwest tours

The Oklahoma-based Show-Me Racin' Series for Limited Late Models has five points races schedule and plans to add more, including at the new Black Gold Speedway in Bartlesville, Okla. ... No details were available on the Northern Allstars Late Model Series, which is expected to co-sanction the Tri-Track Challenge with MARS on May 31-June 2 at Highland, Ill., Paducah, Ky., and Pevely, Mo., and a handful of other events ... The Kansas-based MidwestDirt Late Model Series won't operate in 2012 with Salina (Kan.) Speedway, 81 Speedway in Wichita, Kan., and Caney Valley Speedway in Caneyville, Kan., running Late Models regularly.

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