Fast Talk: Ranking the winning streak of Owens
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: In wrapping up his 2012 season with his fifth victory in a row, Jimmy Owens remains the sport’s most popular topic of conversation. Several times in recent weeks we remarked how Owens could improve his Driver of the Year chances with a victory at each successive race, and each week, he simply continued to click off those victories.
Sunday’s victory in the 38th annual National 100 at East Alabama Motor Speedway was probably the most difficult accomplishment during the stretch, as Joshua reported. I guess that makes it all the more impressive that he was forced to a backup car, struggled in the first half of the 100-lapper and still gutted out a victory.
Joshua Joiner: That's what made this race impressive for Owens. There was multiple times throughout the weekend that it seemed he had no shot at winning, yet he kept going, had some things work in his favor and did what he had to do to win. In the end, the second half of the race looked a lot like every other race Owens has been in over the past month: the No. 20 car pulling away and dominating.
MR: Let's not call it the end of the year for him just yet. I'm hearing now he may run Cleveland next week, and why wouldn't he with as hot as he is? I don't have any more superlatives to describe Owens as this point. Shane Clanton told me at the World of Outlaws banquet that Owens might be one of the five or six best drivers in the history of our sport. I think that pretty much covers it.
TT: We won’t belabor the Driver of the Year battle between Owens and Darrell Lanigan — DirtonDirt.com’s year-end awards will be revealed in December — but a critical angle in considering that crown will be weighing the recent success of Owens vs. Lanigan’s hot streaks earlier this season, including reeling off a series-record six straight World of Outlaws Late Model Series victories. It’s tricky separating what’s immediate and what happened several months ago, isn’t it?
MR: To me you have to weigh them all about even. This isn't a playoff where guys knock each other out. A February run should count about the same as a November one. It just so happens, we're so trained by sports to weigh the end of the season more heavily based on what we've seen lately. We'll have our Driver of the Year award in December, but Todd is a great test-case. He's really beat the drum for Lanigan to be the guy. I'll be interested to know if he was swayed.
JJ: That's what I've been saying all along. You can't make the decision simply based on what's happened recently. Owens has been beyond impressive lately, but before any Driver of the Year votes are casts, I think it's important to step back, let the season cool off a bit, then look back at the whole year through the same scope.
TT: How about ranking the winning streak of Owens against the best all time? We’d have to do some digging, but I’m not sure anyone has won five races in a row that included the competition Owens faced as he pocketed more than $106,000 over a 23-day stretch. Also, three of the five paid $15,000 or more (including the $50,000 Dirt Track World Championship), and the $10,000-to-win World Finals events at Charlotte carry way more competition than the average five-figure race. It’s gotta stack up pretty well against any five-race winning streak for anyone in any era.
MR: The gold standard of my lifetime is still the 1995 Jack Boggs run from early August-October. Maybe I'm nostalgic about it, but the competition, what he did, where he did it. Just incredible. This one is impressive, but I'd need to pump the brakes on calling it one of the best of all time. It doesn't feel that way to me right now. The streak of Boggs, and a few others, are up there. Am I crazy? Should it feel that way?
TT: Thinking about this more, it's bizarre to even have to qualify a five-race win streak as “good” on different criteria. I mean, how many weekly drivers win five straight? How many five-race win streaks happen on any series? It's rare.
JJ: This is without a doubt the most impressive streak I've ever seen. Not just for the money Owens has won, but for the way he's done it and the fields he's done it against. He is literally unstoppable right now. Ray Cook and Scott Bloomquist both told me after Sunday's race that, basically, everyone else is racing for second right now.
MR: When Scott admits that, you know it's serious.
JJ: That’s exactly what I thought when he said, Michael.
TT: I think that Boggs got rolling in August through October gave him a meatier schedule, and it probably is more impressive. But I don't think he literally won five straight. Boggs had some near-misses that jumped out, too.
MR: When, as Boggs did, you win the USA Nationals, Jackson 100, World 100, DTWC — and a flat tire costs you the North-South — it trumps all I think.
TT: Joshua, you described that Owens caught some lucky breaks at East Alabama, including being allowed to switch to a heat race with lesser competition, and then having a timely caution flag save him from dropping several positions when he slipped off the backstretch in the main event. Were these simply breaks that any driver might’ve gotten or did he get favorable treatment most drivers wouldn’t expect?
JJ: Look, I've been going to East Alabama nearly all my life. I think anyone who's been there more than a few times and watches the races without any bias knows the deal. East Alabama is one of those tracks where the rules are intentionally vague to give officials some room to make calls the way they see fit. I could go on and on about the different issues of the weekend, but plain and simple, at most tracks, Jimmy Owens does not win that race.
And that's nothing against Owens. He took advantage of the situation just like any other driver would. But there were more than a few drivers unhappy with how the weekend played out.
TT: But Joshua, in reality, you wouldn't pick Owens as someone to be favored there necessarily? He's never won there and he's not a local by any means. I do tend to think big-time traveling guys can sometimes get a pass there, and I’ve seen my share of fuel-stop weirdness and other unpopular decisions that affected the outcomes of National 100s.
JJ: I'm not saying the track was playing favorites with Owens. I agree that there's really no reason for them to pick him out. One thing I always look for is consistency in calls. When you don't have consistency, it opens you up for criticism over favoritism from other drivers and fans whether it was intentional or not.
TT: Moving on, the weekend’s biggest winner other than Owens was Walker Arthur, who won the Ultimate Super Late Model Series-sanctioned Race for the Kids at County Line Raceway in Elm City, N.C. That’s two $10,000 victories over the past two months for the young Virginia driver. Pretty impressive for a guy who basically went through the school of hard knocks this year in entering many major events, several far from home.
MR: This is a prime example of where traveling all over the country can really pay off. This isn't a race Walker would've won a year ago, but as he told me on a VideoCast just last week, “We are so much better now than we were." It's pretty simple. You go out, you learn, you get better, and you come "home" and win races like this. He deserves it for a year on the road like he's had.
JJ: That's exactly right, Michael. Arthur challenged himself by hitting the road this year. He struggled but stuck with it and it paid off in the end. Good for him.
TT: Let’s look ahead to what’s a pretty busy weekend, considering it’s mid-November. Randy Weaver will likely wrap up his Southern All Star championship at Cleveland’s $5,000-to-win Gobbler and Cherokee’s $10,000-to-win Blue-Gray 100. Casey Roberts will wrap up the Ultimate title at Screven, which offers a weekend doubleheader. And there’s a couple of unsanctioned $10,000-to-win events, Super Late Models at Tennessee’s Duck River Raceway Park and Limiteds at Georgia’s Needmore Speedway. Let’s all pick something out that will be something fans should keep an eye on.
JJ: I've got my eye on Duck River. I've only been to that track once a few years ago, but it was great racing. I'm interested to see how a major event there works out. I've heard there could be a nice field of cars.
TT: Those are all good races, but Duck River probably intrigues me the most. It's a little track with lots of action and is a place where outsiders who win there — think Ray Cook, Ronny Lee Hollingsworth, Ronnie Johnson — always come back looking for more. But they'll face a tough bunch of locals and regional drivers, too.
JJ: Also, the SAS finale at Cherokee is the first series race there in a few years. When the tour's schedule first came out at the beginning of the year, I circled it on my calendar as a big one at the end of the year.
MR: Not only because we interviewed him this week, but I'd like to see if Chris Ferguson can put some demons behind him from this year, and past years at Cherokee, and get a win there. And you guys nailed it with Duck River. I talked to track owner Bob Harris this week and, not only is he excited, but he said, "it'll be the same Duck River fans have always loved." That field should be good. And how about simply the fact that there's so many races? For Mid-November, pretty wild.