Fast Talk: WoO recap, Josh Richards 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. Regular contributor Ben Shelton subs for Michael this week (edited for clarity and length):
Todd Turner: Let’s start out by reviewing a World of Outlaws Late Model Series weekend that featured a couple of first-timer winners on a couple of high-banked tracks. How about Brad Neat running away with the victory at North Alabama Speedway?
Whenever you talk with drivers about Late Model cars and manufacturers, some will often say “they’re all just race cars,” and Neat’s proving that by continuing to win in an 8-year-old car that’s a hybrid of a car produced by B&B Racing of Buffalo, Ky., and Longhorn Chassis of Neat’s former Bobby Labonte Racing team. The Dunnville, Ky., driver’s car has more than 100 races on it, but it clearly still has some life in it.
Ben Shelton: Brad looked really good at North Alabama on Friday night. The car was extremely fast, and I even made the comment to a friend after heat race action that the only person that could beat Brad in the feature was Brad. While he flirted with disaster with the turn-two cushion on a few occasions he ran a smart race and got a deserving win.
Equally as impressive was Chub Frank, who looked to be revitalized in a new Rocket chassis. While he might've made some of the hometown fans in the stands ill with him after hard-nosed racing in the feature with local favorites Josh Putnam and Ronny Lee Hollingsworth, Frank looked as good on the track as I've seen him in a while.
Joshua Joiner: His victory at North Alabama has to be a big momentum boost after dropping of the Lucas Oil tour. We've talked about Dale McDowell, Ray Cook and Eddie Carrier Jr. being drivers that can carve out a successful place on a regional and national level with a selective schedule. Perhaps Neat has placed himself among that list. He could be in for a lot of success this year, judging by how he's started the season.
TT: Bub McCool of Vicksburg, Miss., led all 50 laps at Tazewell (Tenn.) Speedway to outrun Scott Bloomquist for his first-ever WoO victory. No doubt track conditions limited the passing at Tazewell but that’s a big boost to his Rookie of the Year hopes as he’s up to fifth overall in series points. Probably his biggest victory, too, isn’t it Ben?
BS: His biggest event before this one was a $7,000 triumph in last year's Gumbo Nationals at Greenville Speedway over a field of regional talent. Bub is on Cloud Nine right now, and he was pretty shocked by the win. For fear of possibly damaging their new car, the team unloaded their old car for Saturday night's event at Tazewell. Just more proof that sometimes old is better.
JJ: McCool has been up and down over the past few years as he's attempted to make the transition from regional standout to a legit contender on the national scene. After dropping of the Lucas Oil tour last season, to come back and run like he has so far this year has to be a big boost for him personally. To not only get your first WoO win, but to do it over Scott Bloomquist at his home track, again, that's a huge momentum boost for McCool as the WoO tour gets busy over the next few weeks.
TT: Coming off a weekend with two first-time winners, it might not be a surprise to see more of that this season. The last five World of Outlaws Series races have been won by non-series regulars, or in the case of McCool, a series newcomer, and with Josh Richards leaving the Rocket Chassis house car to pursue a NASCAR career, there are lots of potential victories up for grabs, don’t you all think?
BS: I spoke with WoO series director Tim Christman about this very topic before Friday's event at North Alabama Speedway. We were in agreement that right now the WoO tour is wide open with really 10 guys that could win on any given night. While I still think that Lanigan is the driver to beat for the championship, this could really be a season to remember with perhaps an eye-opening champion.
It's always good to see new guys and victory lane, and it's good to see wins spread among several drivers. I'm not sure what the record is for the most different drivers to win in a single WoO season, but I think that record could very well be in jeopardy this year.
TT: I agree Ben. Lanigan won the first two races, but I'd suspect the list of drivers with multiple series victories by the end of the season will be short.
JJ: I think that Lanigan and Eckert are far-and-above the leading title contenders with Lanigan probably the favorite. As for winning races, yes, it's definitely wide open right now. I could see Lanigan going on a few hot streaks and winning a lot of races, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are a few more first-time or surprise winners on the tour this year.
I'm not big on comparing talent among different tours, but if you look at Lucas Oil and WoO right now, one is dominated by just a few drivers while the other is like, we said, kind of up for grabs. I think it's great for the sport to have that mix between the two national tours. It changes things up and makes both tours interesting in different ways.
TT: I mentioned Richards and let’s talk about the 24-year-old's departure from full-time dirt racing. He’s expected this week to reveal details about the NASCAR team he’s joining, something we’ve expected since last season when he connected with Kyle Busch’s team for a part-time run on the Camping World Truck Series.
It’s been a wide gulf to make the move from big-time Dirt Late Model racing into the NASCAR ranks. Not knowing any more than we do now, what do you see in his future?
BS: I don't think there is any doubt that Josh has the talent to make a strong bid at a NASCAR career. All that worries me is that the NASCAR world is really full of a lot of pitfalls right now. There are more teams struggling than there are teams with stable budgets. Sometimes you have to compromise to get a ride, and before you know it you are pigeon-holed as being a start-and-park driver. While I'm not aware of the details of Josh's ride — and I'm definitely not saying that it is an underfunded team — I just hope that he gets the opportunity to let his skills shine.
JJ: Josh has great talent. And if talent was what determined who succeeds in NASCAR, I would say with confidence that he could successfully make the transition. Unfortunately, to make it to the top levels of NASCAR right now, you need money, money and more money. It'll be interesting to see what he has lined up for a ride. I would love to see Josh get the opportunity to race and develop with one of NASCAR's top teams.
Who knows if he'll ever get that opportunity. If not, there will be tons of Dirt Late Model fans welcoming his return to dirt.
TT: Tim Fuller has subbed in the Rocket house car the last few weekends with limited success. Who else would you all like to see get a tryout with the Mark Richards Racing team?
BS: You know that's a really good question. I think sometimes people assume that being in the house car is the most desired ride. However, many times the house car rides come with the most stress. I'm glad to see Tim in the ride now, but I would like to see somebody like Jared Hawkins to get a few chances in the ride in crown jewels as well as Austin Hubbard. Would be very interesting to see what those guys could do, given the chance.
JJ: If the Rocket house car team is going to remain full time on the WoO tour, I would like to see someone who creates interest in the series. A young, up-and-coming driver like Jared Hawkins, Brandon Sheppard or Jon Henry would be interesting to watch.
TT: While it's a capable ride, it's not like jumping in the seat is simple. There's some pressure to perform and you'd probably tend to hurry along the process of acclimating to the ride if you get the chance ... so maybe Fuller will get enough time to do that.
BS: I agree 110 percent, Todd.
TT: It’s always fun when the national tours hit the heart of good ol' UMP territory, and Lucas Oil is visiting this weekend at Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon Beach, Ill., and Paducah (Ky.) International Raceway. Any thoughts about the coming weekend?
BS: First I'm thinking that race fans and racers are just glad that Paducah isn't under water when it comes time for the Lucas tour to roll into town. Tri City might not have to face flooding, but if you look at their special events calendar over the past five years I don't think there is another track that has had to battle more rainouts and poor weather.
As far as the caliber of fields, I think you will see some of the most talented fields of the year this weekend when you throw in the Lucas regulars, some of the top, privateer national drivers, and the strong regional talent. Fans in that area are in for a treat
TT: Both tracks are good ones for Jason Feger, and this would be an ideal weekend to jump-start his season.
BS: Yes, the start to Jason year has been a little under the radar by his standards, but as we've seen in the past, he can go on a tear at any point.
JJ: Both of these races should get a nice mix of drivers that should make things interesting. Earlier I mentioned how the Lucas tour is mostly dominated by a few drivers, but this could be an opportunity for someone to sneak in and win. Obviously, Scott Bloomquist has garnered most of the attention on the tour lately, and it'll be interesting to see if he can keep his momentum rolling.
TT: To wrap up, I’ll open the floor for you all to plug local or regional teams or drivers that have caught your eye. I’ll start with the Raymond Childress-owned team in Louisiana that has back-to-back victories — and back-to-back 1-2 finishes — with drivers B.J. Robinson and Chris Wall on the SUPR circuit. I’ll also give a shoutout to Florida’s Mark Whitener, who has quickly rebounded from an early-season back injury suffered in a racing accident and won $3,800 at East Bay on Saturday. Between Whitener and Ivedent Lloyd Jr., they seem to win about every special in the Sunshine State.
BS: I think Kentucky youngster Tanner English is really about to have a breakout year.ï¿½ He's already found victory lane this year, and he set a new track record at Clarksville Speedway a few weeks ago. He would probably have more wins so far this year, if he didn't have his Dad, Terry, stealing the top spot on a few occasions.
Another regional driver who deserves a thumbs up is Indiana’s Chad Stapleton.ï¿½ Chad is an out-spoken polarizing driver for sure, but he is really showing improvement this year with three victories, including his first-ever triumph at Brownstown Speedway after a shootout with Kent Robinson.
JJ: Kentucky’s Josh McGuire has gotten hot all of a sudden in his home region. He topped Eddie Carrier Jr. (who has been plenty strong himself this year) in weekly action two weeks ago at Southern Ohio Speedway, then followed that up with a runner-up effort behind Carrier in Friday's Southern 50 at Southern Ohio. He added another weekly event victory in making the last-minute decision to race Saturday at Willard (Ky.) Speedway.