Quick Time: Breaking down Driver of the Year
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com managing editor
Take a quick lap around the proverbial dirt track with managing editor Todd Turner for a roundup of Dirt Late Model racing through the latest weekend of action along with some other quirks of racing (along with occasional ax-grinding). Quick Time, one of the newest features of our website, will appear every Wednesday at DirtonDirt.com:
Frontstretch: Drivers of the week
National: Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., continued his career assault on the sport’s crown jewels by leading all but one lap of the 32nd annual Red Buck Dirt Track World Championship at Portsmouth (Ohio) Raceway Park, the seventh victory of the season for the two-time Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion.
Regional: Mark Pettyjohn of Milton, Del., scored his biggest career victory at Winchester (Va.) Speedway, earning $8,000 in the unsanctioned Raye Vest Memorial.
Turn 1: Driver of the Year breakdown
The 2012 Driver of the Year mantle is a tricky one with both national touring champions, Darrell Lanigan and Jimmy Owens, in contention along with 15-race winner Don O’Neal (some might consider Billy Moyer in contention, too, but several of his 16 victories were against lesser competition). How do Lanigan, O’Neal and Owens stack up? Can early November’s Peak Motor Oil World Finals make a difference? Let’s take a look:
Lanigan: Sixteen victories in 48 starts with 37 top-five finishes.
O’Neal: Fifteen victories in 72 starts with 35 top-five finishes.
Owens: Eight victories in 53 starts with 31 top-five finishes.
The verdict: Lanigan’s .333 winning percentage gives him a clear advantage.
Lanigan: Dominated the points all season en route to his second World of Outlaws championship. He posted a series-record 15 victories in 38 starts with 31 top-five finishes.
O’Neal: Finished second in Oil Series points, but never threatened Owens. He had 11 victories in 43 starts with 26 top-five finishes.
Owens: Consistency led him to a second straight Lucas Oil title. He had seven series victories in 43 starts with 25 top-fives, including 11 runner-up series finishes.
The verdict: Even considering the higher competition level on the Lucas Oil tour, Lanigan by a sliver with O’Neal (more wins) and Owens (more consistency) a dead heat for second.
CROWN JEWEL PERFORMANCES
Lanigan: Earned $50,000 for his victory at Cedar Lake’s USA Nationals and finished no worse than fourth at Eldora’s big events. Skipped North-South 100 at his hometown Florence Speedway, Knoxville and Dirt Track World Championship.
O’Neal: Won North-South 100 and $50,000 after wrestling the lead from Owens. Not a factor at Eldora’s Dream, but briefly led World 100 before mechanical woes ended his night. Finished seventh at Knoxville and third at DTWC.
Owens: Failed to make the field at either Eldora event, but won the $50,000 Dirt Track World Championship along with the Show-Me 100 (not the crown jewel it once was). Finished second to O’Neal after leading most of the North-South 100 and had top-fives at Cedar Lake and Knoxville.
The verdict: Slight edge to Owens with tossup between Lanigan and O’Neal.
DIRTcar Winternationals at Volusia Speedway Park: Lanigan had a pair of runner-up finishes and never finished worse than ninth in starting all six features. O’Neal was second in WoO finale but had just two top-10 finishes in six starts. Owens had two top-five finishes in five opportunities; he failed to qualifying for one feature and skipped another.
Ralph Latham Memorial at Florence Speedway: O’Neal won over the second-finishing Owens while Lanigan, not driving his primary car, finished 11th.
Dream XVIII at Eldora Speedway: Lanigan finished third, O’Neal was 16th and Owens failed to make the race.
USA Nationals at Cedar Lake: Lanigan led all 100 laps while Owens finished second. O’Neal spun running second, then wrecked to finish 13th.
World 100 at Eldora Speedway: Lanigan finished fourth, O’Neal finished 27th and Owens failed to make the race.
The verdict: Lanigan’s clearly on top here.
PROS AND CONS
Lanigan: Pro? Winning one out of three starts and dominating WoO tour. Con? Skipping three crown jewel events, one within minutes and another within two hours of his shop.
O’Neal: Pro? Won the most races on the most competitive national tour. Con? Fourteen finishes 15th or worse (many of them DNFs).
Owens: Pro? Wasn’t threatened in capturing second title on tour that boasts O’Neal, Scott Bloomquist and Steve Francis among regulars. Con? Downfalls at Eldora and lack of double-digit victories.
Analyzing the breakdown, Lanigan’s memorable, career-best campaign rises above his contenders. A victory (or two) at Charlotte next month could cement his claim, helping critics forget he dodged races that could’ve made his coronation doubtless. A victory (or two) at Charlotte by Owens could give rise to more chattering by those same critics.
Turn 2: Unheralded at DTWC
The fifth-place finish by hometown driver Ben Adkins at last weekend’s 32nd annual Red Buck Dirt Track World Championship at Portsmouth (Ohio) Raceway Park is easily the best performance for a local, low-budget or non-touring team in the event over the past 10 seasons. Here’s a look at the top-finishing drivers meeting that general criteria over the past 10 seasons in the Carl Short-promoted event:
2011: Dustin Linville of Bryantsville, Ky., finished 17th at Atomic Speedway near Chillicothe, Ohio.
2010: Ryan Markham of Ashland, Ohio, was 20th at West Virginia Motor Speedway.
2009: Matt Lux of Franklin, Pa., was 24th at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway.
2008: Adkins was 18th at the former K-C Raceway (now Atomic Speedway).
2007: Josh McGuire of Grayson, Ky., was 17th at K-C.
2006: Chris Combs of Isom, Ky., in a Swartz car like Adkins in 2012, was 10th at K-C.
2005: Chad Hina of Nashport, Ohio, was 21st at K-C.
2004: Brad Hall of Knoxville, Tenn., was 10th at Bluegrass Speedway in Bardstown, Ky.
2003: Rick Corbin of Independence, Ky., was 16th at Bardstown.
2002: Corbin was ninth at Bardstown, the second-best finish to Adkins’ 2012 performance over the last 11 seasons.
Backstretch: Richest races by state
Which states have the richest races? We’ve compiled a state-by-state list of races hosting non-crate engine events paying $10,000 or more to the winner in 2012. Here’s the rundown:
10 - Ohio
9 - Illinois
7 - Georgia and Florida
6 - Tennessee
5 - Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina
4 - Missouri, South Carolina, Michigan, Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia and New York
3 - Wisconsin, Iowa, Maryland and Indiana
2 - Arkansas and Minnesota
1 - Kansas, Nebraska, Arizona, Louisiana, Texas, Delaware, North Dakota and South Dakota
Turn 3: Facebook posts of the week
A variety of reaction on Eldora Speedway’s Facebook page after announcing details about plans to expand the Dream and World 100 to three days of racing action at the Tony Stewart-owned track (edited for clarity):
Tim-Heather Cornett: Maybe more racing for the drivers. but it’s a lot more money for the fans is what it amounts to. Friday and Saturday should still be same price for admission to both days. I can see having to pay more for Thursday but for us if we want to come to Friday and Saturday like we have for the last 11 years it will cost us $52 more, shame on you, Tony.
Carl Post: But you're getting a lot more racing. ... If you can't afford to go every night, don't go. Before, the only racing on Friday night was the non-qualifiers’ races ... other than that it was just time trials.
Landon James Swartz: Why change a proven success?! Fans come from every state and I've never heard anyone complain that there isn't enough racing. Wait until Friday. It builds all the excitement. This will turn into NASCAR and lose fans and have empty seats. WWED. What would Earl do?
Danny Meckes: I bet drivers like Bloomquist will qualify Thursday night and Friday night and that's all just to get there qualifying time for Saturday and then load it.
Joseph Curtis Cross: It wasn't broke so why fix it? I don't care about not having races on Thursday or Friday. We use that time to drink and party and visit.
Turn 4: Turn back the clock
Five items from this week in Dirt Late Model history:
Oct. 26, 1980: Freddy Smith of Kings Mountain, Tenn., captures the Looney Chevrolet 100, the National Dirt Racing Series season finale at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn.
Oct. 22, 1988: James Cline of Oxford, Ala., win the season finale on the Southern All Star Dirt Racing Series at Talladega (Ala.) Short Track, his first career victory on the tour.
Oct. 29, 1995: Rick Eckert of York, Pa., in a battle for the runner-up spot until a dominating Bart Hartman exited with mechanical trouble, passed Todd Andrews on the 131st lap and held on to win $10,000 and the 21st annual Hub City 150 at Hagerstown Speedway.
October 2000: Columbus (Miss.) Speedway, back under the promotership of veteran driver Johnny Stokes, began undergoing a complete redesign and renovation for the 2001 season. More than 750 loads of red clay were scheduled to be added along with improved pit parking and new access roads in the pits.
Oct. 30, 2006: Edgar "Rock" Gault Jr., owner and promoter of Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, S.C., for more than 30 years, died at Brookview Healthcare Center in Gaffney. He was 77.
Checkered flag: Five fearless Magnolia predictions
• Two home-state drivers will crack the top 10 for the Southern Belle-sponsored Cotton Pickin' 100 at Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus, Miss.
• Billy Moyer will set fast time.
• The top five will have a Lucas Oil Series flavor.
• Ronny Lee Hollingsworth will win a heat race.
• The weekend’s Crate Late Model winner will be a former Super Late Model winner at the track.
(Last week: Two of five predictions correct)