Fast Talk: Props (gasp) to an asphalt track
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: Think some other asphalt tracks are considering getting dirty after Berlin Raceway’s success with the World of Outlaws Late Model Series-sanctioned Keyser Manufacturing Down & Dirty 100? The dirt-covered Marne, Mich., oval drew a huge crowd, beat the rain, and had some exciting racing with Lanigan rubbing past Billy Moyer with six laps remaining. As Lanigan said later, let’s do this at some other asphalt tracks. Could we see a trend revived a dozen years after Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway’s grand experiment?
Michael Rigsby: This was an event that I really had no idea how it would go, until it was over, and it's hard not to call it a big success for all the reasons you mentioned Todd. What really stands out to me, and I've watched the video a few times, is how the track raced. It was the first time in 4-5 years that I've looked at a track, and was really fascinated about he way it looked, raced and was setup. It was smooth yet fast. Wet, yet, slick. It had all the combinations of a track that are usually racy.
Big thumbs up to the track prep crew, starting Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park promoter Jeremie Corcoran and everyone part of getting it done. It was really cool, and they've already announced they're doing it again next year. Will others follow? Ehhh ... not sure about that. But this was pretty cool.
Joshua Joiner: I'm not sure it'll entice more tracks to do it, but it would be nice to see it happen. Like I said last week, it takes a lot of time and money to do something like that, so I would imagine it would be difficult for promoters to make that kind of investment and risk if it doesn't turn out as successful as Berlin's race.
That being said, I personally think it would be successful in most situations, especially as a one-time or once-in-while thing, where you have both asphalt and dirt fans who want to check out something different. It's great that Berlin's planning to do it again next year and maybe they can make it a successful event each year. I just don't know if you'll see the same turnout for something like that on a yearly basis after the novelty of it wears off.
TT: I’m with you Michael. One thing that shocked me from watching the video was how smooth and consistent the surface appeared, providing perfect slick conditions to allow racing all over the track. It’s impressive they can lay down 12 inches of dirt on the asphalt and just 10 days later host such a big event like the surface has been there forever. For all the rough tracks and subpar surfaces we see over the course of a season, they really made it look easy, didn’t they? I’m sure it’s not, but still.
MR: They called in the right people for the job ... that's for sure. It reminded me of another track, which I think we'll get to in a little bit.
JJ: Exactly. They called in the right people that knew what they were doing. Any pavement track thinking about going dirt should take notice and do the same thing to make sure it's done right.
TT: Obviously there are a million variables for getting a dirt track just like you want it. To hit it spot-on the first try? Amazing.
MR: That goes to show, and it reminds me of earlier this year with Jacksonville Raceway for the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals race when they got long-time Illinois promoter Bob Sargent to prepare the track for what turned out to be a great race. If you need help, don't be afraid to call and ask the right people. That doesn't happen near enough in this sport.
TT: Let’s talk about Lanigan’s winning pass as he made contact with Moyer in sliding by between turns three and four. It was clear the handling on Moyer’s car had gone away. I know things happen in a split second on the track, but it appeared like one of those deals where Lanigan could’ve easily passed him cleanly, perhaps even on the next lap. Was Lanigan’s move acceptable?
MR: There are some interesting statistics regarding 100-lap Dirt Late Model races this year, and overall, the lack of passing in those events, so maybe I'm jaded by that, but I have to say that overall, it wasn't that bad. Was it an elbow? Definitely. Could he have gotten him cleaner in a few laps? Probably. There's no way I'll convince the Moyer camp that it was clean, or the Lanigan camp that it wasn't. That's the beauty/nightmare of covering this sport. It was equal parts aggressive and fascinating. How about that? Ha!
JJ: Clean? No. Acceptable? I guess so. The line between hard racing and dirty driving seems to be getting blurry by the week these days. My thoughts are if some of the slide jobs we saw at Eldora were acceptable, then Lanigan's pass was also acceptable.
TT: Same ballpark as O'Neal-Owens at North-South 100, you think?
JJ: It's probably in the same ballpark, but I would put this one a little more on the dirty side than O'Neal's. That's just my opinion.
TT: Let’s move to the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway’s Jackson 100, where Jimmy Owens put on a clinic in dominating all the way for a $20,000 payday as he stretched his series points lead. Not sure if there’s much to stay other than Owens, even if he stubs his toe like he did at the World 100 a few weeks back, can be as dominant as anyone in the sport.
JJ: No doubt. Even when it looks like Owens is down a bit, he's capable of bouncing back with a dominating performance like that. It shows a lot about the mentality of the Owens and his team to be able to do that, because as with any sport or competition it's easy to get down on on yourself after a disappointing performance. To bounce back like that and not let it affect you is big.
MR: It's the year of Lanigan and Owens for sure. We talked early in the year about the Big Five — Lanigan, Owens, Don O’Neal, Billy Moyer and Scott Bloomquist — but really, the national tour points leaders have separated themselves from the pack as the Big Two. We should be talking about a big showdown in Knoxville this weekend, but with Lanigan not coming, it's disappointing we won't see it.
JJ: I don't know about a Big Two just yet. While he's not as consistent as Owens and Lanigan, I still think Don O'Neal might have an argument against that.
TT: There was a solid mix of regional events on this busy weekend, too, with Billy Ogle Jr. clicking off yet another Southern All Star victory, Luke Roffers extending his Carolina Clash points lead and Jason Feger winning $5,000 in Peoria, Ill. And how about Dale McDowell sweeping the Winchester 200 weekend to earn $15,000? He debuted a new MasterSbilt Race Car with Team Dillon Racing, a interesting development for that team. Any thoughts about McDowell or other weekend winners?
MR: McDowell has quietly had one of the better seasons in the sport, having won eight races. I always keep a keen eye on guys when they make a chassis switch to see if they get on a run as well. Feger has salvaged a rough early season with a great fall. Roffers is a classic under-the-radar guy that people probably only appreciate in his part of the country. He's also had a standout year.
JJ: The hot keep getting hotter, it seems like. It really is amazing how guys like Feger and Ogle can go from so-so during the first half of the year to almost unbeatable now. I was really impressed with McDowell. To debut a new car with a perfect weekend, that's really something else.
TT: Turning our focus to the upcoming weekend, Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway’s Lucas Oil Late Model Nationals is one of those races where lots of drivers can see dollar signs. There’s $262,000 on the line just for the Late Models, including a pair of $7,000-to-win semifeatures on Thursday and Friday before the $40,000-to-win finale. And the winner won’t be the only guy cashing a big check. The runner-up gets $20,000, fifth place gets $7,500, 10th place gets $5,000 and everyone in the 30-car starting field earns at least $2,500.
Of course, it’s not all about the money, as Knoxville has plenty to boast as the Sprint Car Capital of the World, a racy half-mile surface and a top-notch, professionally run event. There’s a lot to like about Knoxville, isn’t there?
MR: There's not a single thing to dislike. It's vaulted to one of my most, if not my most looked forward to weekend of the entire year. It's racy, the purse is unreal, it's really laid-back, and did I mention 10-car inversions in heat races that the drivers don't complain about? Yes, it's awesome.
JJ: Knoxville is without a doubt one of the top races of the year. While other races have lost some steam over the past few years as far as car counts and overall interest, Knoxville has kept on climbing. As a fan, I just really love that format. And I know most drivers love the extra money. Like Michael said, there's really not a thing to dislike.
TT: It’s funny, watching the Berlin highlights reminded me a lot of why I like Knoxville. I’m a short-track guy at heart, but those big tracks are most interesting when there’s lots of racing room and it’s slick top to bottom. Knoxville has had some hiccups in previous Late Model Nationals when the track was too fast, but usually the surface offers plenty of passing.
MR: It reminded me totally of Knoxville — slick, up to a wet cushion. That's the essence of what Dirt Late Model racing is supposed to be on big-tracks, and that was exactly what Berlin was, and Knoxville always is. If you get a chance, you have to go to Knoxville as a fan. So much racing, so much raciness, and just a really cool environment.
JJ: I'm in the same boat as you, Todd. I usually prefer short quarter- or third-miles over a half-mile track any day. But when the bigger tracks can slick off like that, it's usually fun to watch. Let’s hope that's what we see this weekend in Knoxville.