Fast Talk: Autry's upset, Owens's status and more
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 (edited for clarity and length):
Todd Turner: Let's review a busy weekend starting with the rain-postponed Carolina Crown at Lancaster (S.C.) Motor Speedway, where Scott Autry pulled off a shocker with his biggest career victory. It was a long race with a dramatic ending as Autry outdueled Jared Landers late for the $20,000 payday.
Joshua mentioned it was among the liveliest victory lane celebrations he's seen. Always fun to see a happy bunch in victory lane like that.
Joshua Joiner: No doubt. That was one of the coolest things I've seen in Dirt Late Model racing, definitely one of the best victory lane celebrations I've ever seen in-person. We were talking about Cinderella stories a few weeks ago, and I would have to say the Autry's win definitely fits that description. And of course, everyone loves a Cinderella.ï¿½
It's great to see someone so excited to be in victory lane. At most big events these days, it seems like the guys winning almost expect to be there. It's refreshing to see someone get an upset victory like Autry did, then see he and his whole team really enjoy it.
Michael Rigsby: I tweeted right after that — "Scott Autry, Wow!" — and the most common response I got was "who?" And that's no disrespect to Scott at all, but that goes to the magnitude of how surprising it was to see him win a $20,000 race. There will be those that point out the small number of cars that finished, and that's certainly part of it, but he still was passing cars, and had to retake the lead from Landers after getting passed.
He certainly caught my attention with that performance no matter how many cars finished. I don't know if it's a Top 5 all-time upset, but it's certainly in the Top 10 to 15 conversation.
JJ: You're exactly right, Michael. Things definitely played into Autry's favor, but he did earn that win. That was an exciting battle between him and Landers in the closing laps. Landers definitely made him work for it.
TT: I'm not much on big tracks or long-distance races, so I didn't expect the Carolina Crown to be my thing. But the video was pretty compelling. The Autry-Landers battle — and some of the other tight action in the corners — was dramatic, and then you have the Chris Madden-Donald Bradsher feud (I got to see Round 1 at Waycross, Ga.) as well as Mike Gault's car flying out of the track altogether. Should we call it the Gault Vault? Kudos to Steve Gigeous for catching it on video, and great to hear Gault wasn't hurt or that his car wasn't destroyed. When I first saw it, though, it's among the scariest things I've seen at a dirt track — he just flew into the trees.
MR: The thing with Gault was not only really scary, but really weird. It happened so fast, that you barely realized what was going on until it was over. He's very thankful that he wasn't hurt.
TT: It happened so quick I had to rewind to make sure I saw what I saw.
JJ: It was definitely an exciting race pretty much all around (although it kind of dragged on with all the cautions). The back-and-forth battling between Landers, Jonathan Davenport and Chris Ferguson during the middle portions of the race was really good.
TT: I saw your notebook, but tell us more about Gault. How long did it take to get his car out of there?
JJ: It took them quite a while. They actually waited until after the race was over to go get it. Gault couldn't really see how bad the damage was in the dark of the trees — and whatever else was out there — so he spent the rest of the race thinking his car was demolished. He seemed quite relieved when they got the car back to his pit area and realized the damage wasn't nearly as bad as they initially thought.
TT: Autry wasn't the weekend's only surprise winner. Eric Cooley has been an accomplished Crate racer, but the $10,000 he earned at Green Valley Speedway's Junk Monkey Racing Crate Nationals was a career-high. We also had a first-time winner with SUPR as modified ace Shane Hebert won at Boothill Speedway, and Mike Murphy Jr.'s victory at 34 Raceway was only his second on the Deery Brothers Summer Series.
Then we have Jimmy Owens. Not a surprise that one of the sport's best won in Southern All Star action at Cleveland (Tenn.) Speedway, but it has been a while. This was his longest drought on the calendar since 2009, when his first victory came May 30. Anyone worried about Owens? Or anyone think adding a Barry Wright Race Car to the Mike Reece-owned team portends a switch from the Bloomquist Race Cars he's driven exclusively since 2007?
JJ: I'm not sure what to think about Owens at this point. First of all, it's not like he's been terrible this year. He had some good runs during Speedweeks, and is currently riding a streak of four consecutive runner-up finishes on the Lucas Oil Series.
As far as his new Barry Wright car, I really don't know what his reasoning is with that. I know Barry Wright's cars have been really good to start the season, but again, it's not like Owens has been running terrible. And if you look at the past few years as a whole, Bloomquist's cars have been some of the most consistent on the national scene, and he has elevated his status to one of the best drivers in the country exclusively driving Bloomquist cars.
To hear his team is even considering doing something different just really makes you wonder the status of Jimmy and Scott Bloomquist's relationship. It's no secret they're not the best of friends.
MR: If you look at Owens starts from years past, this really isn't all that different. If you look at his finishes since the middle part of Speedweeks, he's been in the top five all but one race, with one victory. He doesn't always roar out of the gates, so I'd say he's fine. Let's revisit that question at the end of May.
Regarding the BWRC, that did catch me off guard. Obviously his career has vaulted to another stratosphere when he hopped into a Bloomquist car, combining his talent with what is obviously a good piece. It's not a big deal now, but what if he goes out and wins two or three races in the Wright Car? Will he be tempted to use it in Lucas races? That'll be interesting to me.
TT: Any other winners catch your eye this weekend? I'll give a shout out to Eddie Carrier Jr., whose start to the season was delayed when he ruptured an Achilles tendon playing basketball, preventing him from going to Speedweeks. His Grover Motorsports race cars were pretty much ready to go two months ago, and after recovering from surgery, the Kentucky native rallied from 18th for a $3,000 victory Saturday at Florence (Ky.) Speedway. Could be the harbinger for another big season for the Salt Rock, W.Va., driver, who finished second in last year's World 100 while hitting double-figures in victories.
MR: Carrier for sure ... and Dennis Erb Jr. picked up another nice victory over the field at LaSalle, that really was good for a nondescript April race. Erb has quietly (as he often does) had a great start to the year. Also looked like Will Vaught drove a good race out at I-80 Speedway, where once again, that Greenwood, Neb., track never ceases to amaze me with car count.
JJ: Talking about winless streaks coming to an end, you have to mention Chris Madden's win in Ultimate Series action Friday night at Cleveland County Speedway. While Owens was consistent even while not visiting victory lane, Madden was a little up and down. A lot of that had to do with bad luck, but his program seems to be down a bit from years past. His weekend ended on a bad note at Lancaster, but maybe Friday's win was what he needed to start getting things turned around.
TT: Let's turn our attention toward the upcoming weekend and Virginia Motor Speedway's $25,000-to-win Commonwealth 100. The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series will mark the season's richest race so far. What are the storylines you're looking for? Safe to say that Madden and Steve Shaver are among the favorites as past winners at VMS?
JJ: I'm still wondering if Scott Bloomquist can get his program turned around in time to stay relevant in the Lucas Oil Series championship chase. He was second to Shaver in this race last year and won the Lucas Oil visit there in September. If his decision of whether or not to stick with the Lucas Oil tour for the season hinges on the possibility of winning the championship, he needs to turn things around now. With the way Owens and Don O'Neal have ran so far this year, Bloomquist can't afford another poor finish.
MR: It's funny you mention Madden and Shaver ... I'm not sure two drivers are more randomly associated with a racetrack that's not their "home tracks" than these two are with Virginia Motor. They'll obviously be favorites. A few things on VMS, if you've never been, it's easily one of the five best facilities in the country, as Bill Sawyer really has spared no expense making it top-notch. I'm looking forward to seeing this weekend again, where a lot like Lancaster, the Commonwealth 100 can be a marathon. If you've never been, get out there and check out VMS.