Fast Talk: Wrapping up Memorial Day weekend
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: There was a little something for everyone on Memorial Day weekend. Expected winners, surprise winners and everything in between — and definitely plenty of racing with special events seemingly everywhere besides the weekly action. Let’s tackle it all from the national tours down to some of the biggest regional events, starting with the World of Outlaws Late Model Series.
Let’s focus first on WoO’s biggest event of the weekend, Tyler County Speedway’s Jackpot 100 that capped the huge Bullring Bonanza day of raffles and prizes. At least on the racetrack, points leader Darrell Lanigan was the big winner, earning $25,000 for one of his two victories on the weekend.
From most accounts I hear, the event and race was well-received, too, and it’s really impressive they’ve stolen the mantle as the best Memorial Day weekend purse with a $2,000-to-start event that paid impressive amounts for third ($12,000), fourth ($10,000) and down the line.
MIchael Rigsby: So much attention was paid to the raffle beforehand, that I almost feel like the payoff went under-promoted to a degree. It caught me off guard when I read Kent Robinson's Facebook post that he made $6,000 for sixth — that's pretty impressive.
I know the night went way too late, but it looks like the racing was great, the raffle was a success, and I'm already hearing about bigger and better things next year in West Virginia for that event. As for Lanigan, what else can be said? He’s clearly the best driver on that tour right now, and one of the two or three best in the country this moment.
Joshua Joiner: First of all, that purse was incredible. I didn't realize the race was paying out so much, but when you look at the rundown and see that Steve Shaver finished seventh and still got more than $5,000, that's impressive.
As far as the racing, it seems odd to say this, but I was surprised to see Lanigan win there. I know he's most people's favorite where ever he races, but Tyler County doesn't seem like his type of track. To see him go to a bullring like that and dominate, that's scary for the rest of the WoO guys, and possibly all drivers as we look ahead to the Dream. I mean, we know he's good, but he is really, really good right now.
TT: While Lanigan also won WoO’s weekend opener at Wayne County, two-time track champ Chris Garnes of Evans, W.Va., pulled off a shocker with his victory in the first series visit to I-77 Raceway Park. We’ve seen surprising winners on national tours before, but he simply ran away from some of the country’s best drivers. He had trouble finding the words to describe his feat in victory lane, and I don’t blame him — neither he nor anyone else not wearing a Chris Garnes T-shirt expected that outcome.
MR: To me this one might even be more surprising than the Scott Autry upset earlier this year. Garnes is definitely respected in that area, but with the way Lanigan, Shaver and others have been running, I gave him little to no chance to win that race. And if you watch the highlights, you'll see the first part of the feature he had to race for it and get up on the wheel. This is one of those take-notice victories. If you didn't pay attention to Chris Garnes before, you have to now. I know I will.
TT: I know Garnes is one of those guys that always has the message boards humming, but I've never quite figured it out — he seems pretty low-key every time I've seen him. But he's got everyone buzzing after that performance
MR: I agree. Is there something about him I'm missing? He seemed down-to-earth, low-key and reserved? (Cue the emails from Garnes-haters). But I don't get it either ... seems like a likable guy.
JJ: The win by Garnes at I-77 is nice to see on a couple different levels. First, it's just good to see an up-and-comer like that get a huge win and really enjoy it. But what I like to see an upset winner every now and then just because it shows that the underdogs still have a chance in this sport. We've talked so much about the drivers at the top of the sport being so much better than everyone else that it almost makes then seem unbeatable.
Not that I favor seeing any driver win over another, but it's just cool to see that at any given race, there's still a chance for the local guy or an up-and-comer or any underdog to pull off an upset. I think it's good for the sport because I think it gives more of those mid-level and even weekly level teams hope, and thus reason to compete in the bigger races.
TT: Let’s move to the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and one of its premier events, the 20th Dart Show-Me 100 at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo., where Jimmy Owens nearly hit the wall seemingly every other lap in surviving for a repeat $30,000 victory.
You guys both had a bird’s-eye view of it being there, but watching the video, it looked like one of the trickiest cushions I’ve ever seen. A shorter race might’ve been bearable, but 100 laps of steering wheel-grabbing nerves must’ve have been brutal on those guys, especially Owens.
MR: This is the kind of race that I know drivers will complain about when it comes to track conditions, but every once and awhile, I like seeing a racetrack like this. Virtually every fan left there and loved it, and it was certainly entertaining.
Owens showed again that no matter what the condition, track, type, whenever or wherever, he's probably the best driver in the country right now. Jimmy can play interviews coy, but afterwards when Ben Shelton asked him if he was concerned, he cut Ben off and said — "Every dang lap.” Jimmy knows that a wrong bobble here and there, and it was over. Tricky? Yes. Fun to watch? Also yes.
JJ: One thing a lot of people don't know about Owens — I didn't know it until last year — is he drives predominantly with one hand. I would imagine that he had both hands on the wheel the majority of the time in Saturday night's race. It really was crazy to watch.
For the last half of the race, you were just sitting on edge, waiting for him to get over the cushion and get the wall or even spin out (there were a number of times in turn four it looked like he was about to). But he never back down and held on. It was impressive, especially with Erb and Blankenship breathing down his neck.
TT: What else jumped out at you guys at Wheatland?
JJ: Tyler Reddick and Jared Landers had very impressive runs before experience mechanical woes that took them out. I've always question Reddick as a legit contender on the national level, but after the way he ran with Bloomquist in his heat race and his performance in the feature, I think I've changed my mind on him. I know he's making a jump in my Top 25 poll based on that performance. And Landers, what can you say? From 26th to third in 18 laps? That's insane.
MR: You have to give the track crew credit for Friday night. They have struggled the past few years on Friday night, but this year, they more than got it right with great heat races. And honestly, I'm not so sure Tyler Reddick didn't have the best car, and may have won that race.
JJ: I think it's very telling of a young driver's maturation when Billy Moyer picks Reddick says he's watching him as a potential sleeper before the race, then Scott Bloomquist after the race says he had the best car and should have won.
TT: Besides the national touring guys, there were some other noteworthy performances on the regional level. Two-time Southern All Star champ Randy Weaver knocked off a pair of SAS-sanctioned Mississippi races (races both led by Klint Byars), Matt Miller steered the Rick DeLong-owned No. 3 to a pair of Sunoco ALMS events (including a repeat of his Johnny Appleseed Classic victory at Eldora) and George Lee — who ran well with the World of Outlaws at Wayne County — picked up a $5,000 home-track victory for Ohio’s Hilltop Speedway. You guys have comments on those or other performances?
JJ: All of those you mentioned, Todd, are impressive performances. I was really impressed by Weaver's sweep in Mississippi. Weaver's no slouch behind the wheel, but those regional and even weekly guys in Mississippi are tough at those two tracks. It's no easy task for him to go down there and win both races like that.
MR: Randy Weaver has established himself as a driver to be reckoned with now in that area of the country. That team is good, and getting better. Could Matt Miller be a factor at the Dream in that ride? And John Anderson is awfully good at I-80 Speedway isn't he?
TT: There are some off-the-track items swirling, too. Steve Casebolt of Richmond, Ind., who sat out the first part of the season in a semi-retirement, seems refreshed by the break in posting a couple of strong outings, finishing third in WoO’s Tyler County visit and second to Miller at Eldora. And the MARS DIRTcar Series handed down five-race suspensions to two Missouri drivers, reigning series champ Brad Looney and Will Vaught, for their parts in a postrace fight at Monett, Mo.
We’ll let the MARS story play out a bit — it was just announced this afternoon — but Casebolt’s return is interesting. And, as Michael noted, with less than two weeks before Eldora’s $100,000-to-win Dream, we’ve got two drivers who look like contenders — Casebolt and Miller — who appeared a few months ago more likely to be spectators than competitors.
MR: I'll just say it now — outside the Big Five, I'll be stunned if someone else wins the Dream. Owens, Lanigan, Bloomquist, Moyer, O’Neal ... if Miller and Casebolt can beat those guys, I will be impressed. Those guys are just on another level right now.
TT: I agree. Even to crack the top five — for drivers outside the Big Five — will be quite an accomplishment.
JJ: I do expect both Casebolt and Miller to run well at the Dream. I won't go so far as to pick either one to win it, but I could totally see them both making the show and maybe running in the top 10, which I imagine they would both probably be happy with considering they were looking at sitting the race out not too long ago.