Fast Talk: Wrapping up Volusia, Speedweeks
Here’s the latest edition of Fast Talk, a DirtonDirt.com feature appearing each Monday and sponsored by Out-Pace Racing Products. 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. World of Outlaws Late Model Series public relations director Kevin Kovac subs for Michael today (edited for clarity and length):
Joshua Joiner: It seems like forever ago that Georgia-Florida Speedweeks action got started with Screven Motor Speedway’s Winter Freeze on Feb. 8. But sixteen days and 19 races later, the 2013 version of Speedweeks wrapped up with Saturday’s UNOH DIRTcar Nationals finale at Volusia Speedway Park. | Out-Pace
Let’s start today’s discussion with a review of Volusia’s action, which featured three UMP DIRTcar races and three for the World of Outlaws Late Model Series. What were some of the highlights that stood out to you guys? Kevin, I’m sure getting pies to the face from Chub Frank and Rick Eckert ranked near the top for you.
Todd Turner: It was indeed a long Speedweeks. But the Volusia races were virtually all competitive and interesting — despite the track being perhaps too fast for drivers in some events. That made the wrapup of Speedweeks tolerable.
The highlights were the Josh Richards-Darrell Lanigan kerfuffle, WoO rookie candidate Eric Wells running so well, true rookie Stormy Scott running up front a few times, and Billy Moyer (again) extending his miniseries-leading victory total.
Oh, and that dramatic Wednesday finish with Tim McCreadie narrowly edging Lanigan and Moyer was quite a moment. It helped the event to be trending on Twitter, which the young folks tell me is quite impressive.
Kevin Kovac: Yes, I did get a little surprise at the end of the final RaceDay at Volusia. I thought something was a little strange when I saw World Racing Group PR Director show up and motion Ben to "stretch" the deal. I enjoy watching the tape, though, and seeing Chub Frank and Rick Eckert running up from behind holding pies. That's funny.
Anyway, there sure was plenty that went on during the six nights at Volusia. For starters, I think the racing was as good and exciting as it's ever been there. It seemed like every feature had something memorable happen — from Josh Richards charging forward from 10th and 11th to win the first two nights, to the incredible three-car finish with McCreadie, Lanigan and Moyer on Wednesday, to Scott Bloomquist's charge around Eric Wells to win on Thursday, to Billy Moyer getting it going to hold off Lanigan on Friday, to Lanigan outdueling McCreadie and Richards on Saturday ... whew, that's a lot of stuff, and I can't believe I remember it all.
TT: I think everyone was glad to see McCreadie running strong virtually all week. He's a personality and driver that adds a lot to the World of Outalaws, so it was great to see him rebound from his scary accident at North Florida.
JJ: There we definitely plenty of highlights. For me, the three-car, last-lap battle between McCreadie, Lanigan and Moyer was probably the most memorable moment. And I agree, Todd, it's definitely good to see McCreadie rebound from the accident at North Florida.
KK: Like Todd said, Eric Wells and Stormy Scott were pretty impressive. Wells was one of the guys pegged as being someone who would open some eyes during Speedweeks, and he certainly did. Leading two WoO features certainly showed this might be the year he comes into his own ... looks like he just needs a little more experience dealing with traffic and different situations that come up.
Scott had to be the unexpected surprise of Volusia. In his second week driving a Late Model, he gets a third-place finish and on Saturday night ran strong in the top five until breaking late.
TT: Oh, and as for the pies to Kevin's face, I did my best to stop it.
KK: I thank you, Todd, for all you did to prevent the pies-in-the-face. For some reason I think Rigsby is the one with shaving cream on his hands. I don't think I can get the receipts to prove it, but I think he might have purchased it ... well ....
JJ: Josh Richards and Darrell Lanigan rose to the top not only at Volusia, but also in most of the Outlaws and UMP action throughout Speedweeks. No big surprise there, considering most people expect a Richards vs. Lanigan showdown on the WoO tour this season.
We touched on this topic last week, but since you’re joining us today, Kevin, I wanted to ask again to get your thoughts: who between Richards and Lanigan has the upper hand so far, and is there anyone else on the WoO tour capable of consistently competing with those two?
KK: I don't think anyone at Volusia didn't realize there was something brewing between Richards and Lanigan. It pretty much boiled over on Thursday night, when Lanigan was knocked out of the WoO feature in a crash and then decided to pull his hauler — which, as it usually is, was parked next to Richards's — out of the pit area. When Lanigan came back on Friday after fixing his equipment, he drove right past his pit spot and decided to park in the lower Gator Pond -— basically all by himself, because that's where the big-block modifieds were.
Lanigan said he had to "get away" and do his own thing. It must have worked, because he won his first-ever WoO show at Volusia on Saturday —- and Lanigan was talking with Josh and Mark Richards on Saturday, so there isn't some unfixable fued between the two. But Lanigan knows he has a big-time challenge to meet with Josh's return, and that may mean he can't just roll down the road as a pal of Josh and Mark. Lanigan says he works best on his own, and he may be right.
Whatever the case, I think it's going to be interesting to watch the interaction between the Lanigan, Josh and Mark. There's going to be more heated moments between the two for sure.
TT: Richards is clearly ready to give Lanigan all he wants, and after eight races, those two are clearly going to battle for the winningest drivers honors with WoO — with Shane Clanton and Tim McCreadie doing their best to stick with them.
With Lanigan taking a shot at Richards over the PA (and pay-per-view) for his part in a pileup, and the Tuesday slide job that left them disagreeing over who caused the contact, there was some obvious friction between the two in the pits, as Kevin pointed out.
Publicly things seemed better after the finale — they exchanged congratulations, and Rocket's Mark Richards, Josh's father, was also quick to congratulate Lanigan in victory lane. There were rumblings of long-time Rocket stalwart Lanigan weighing a chassis switch, but I suspect all that stuff's in the heat of the moment.
That said, it wouldn't hurt the intrigue of the WoO points chase if Richards and Lanigan approached it as rivals more than buddies.
KK: As for who can stick with Lanigan and Richards, Clanton has clearly shown that he's for real. With six top-fives in eight races so far, he comes out of Florida just 18 points behind Richards. Clanton seems to be more focused than ever -- and with a well-funded team behind him, he has the goods to compete with Lanigan.
McCreadie showed he can run with them too. Unfortunately, he had a horrible start at Screven, which basically has him in a 100-point hole. He'll have more races this year to make up that difference, but he basically used up his mulligans in the season's first two shows.
And don't forget Rick Eckert. He had a sneaky-good start, just missing out on a couple wins at Volusia while dealing with the mental strain of thinking about his ailing mom (he missed the first two nights at Volusia to fly home and visit her) and being down to his last motor by the end of the week. If he can avoid any major mechanical trouble, he has the steadiness to challenge the top dogs -- and heck, he might be smart to stir the pot with Richards and Lanigan and keep the fire burning between those two guys, maybe take them off their rhythms.
JJ: Normally, we wouldn’t put too much stock into the points standings leaving Florida, but with eight WoO points races, we’ve had plenty of time for things to shake out. There’s really no major surprise among the top five with Richards leading Clanton, Lanigan, Eckert and McCreadie. But what do you guys think about the standings on back? Are there any surprises there? Are there perhaps any drivers capable of moving up after some bad luck at Speedweeks?
TT: That top five of Richards, Lanigan, Clanton, Eckert and McCreadie are going to be tough to crack. Lanigan and Eckert are probably the most consistent of the five while Richards has the ability to get on crazy hot streaks.
Clanton has been steady and should get a boost from Capital Race Cars having more capable drivers running the cars, helping improve the fledgling chassis, while McCreadie has to avoid those disappearing acts he sometimes had last season with a series of DNFs and finishes way back in the pack.
KK: Eight races — especially eight races in a tough environment like Georgia-Florida Speedweeks — pretty much establishes the hierarchy on the series, I think. But if anybody else might break up in there, I think it could be Tim Fuller. He ended Volusia with a fifth-place finish — his best-ever run there in a Late Model, believe it or not — and he has a strong team, so he might be finding his footing.
JJ: We’ll wrap up our discussion with a brief look at Speedweeks car counts, which were down for every Speedweeks event this year. Overall, just 107 drivers competed at Speedweeks compared to 147 last year. That’s a fairly significant drop, wouldn’t you guys say? Any idea as to what caused such a decline? And should we be worried about it?
TT: I'll steal Ben Shelton's thunder here. During Volusia's pay-per-view, he pointed out the nearly year-round racing that's developed in Dirt Late Model racing — including this year eight races in Arizona spread over two weeks.
With Arizona in January and lots of other late-season and early-season races, Speedweeks isn't like it was 20 years ago when it was a bridge in the middle of a three-month break in the season. Drivers have tons of other choices of when to race — some like Brian Birkhofer simply focus more on the regular season — so I think it's just spreading drivers thinner when it comes to Speedweeks.
In addition, you can't ignore the diesel costs above $4 a gallon, the dozens of tires chewed up by the abrasive Florida tracks and an economy that's still barely keeping its head above water for most folks. If you knock Speedweeks out of most annual racing budgets, that pays for a lot of races the rest of the season closer to home.
KK: One night back at the hotel after the races, WoO director Tim Christman sat down and looked back at some of the fields over the past few years at Volusia. It wasn't too long ago that Volusia went over the 100-car point once during the week, so we asked: Where are all those guys now?
Well, looking through the lists, I would say this year's Speedweeks wasn't lacking much in quality. What seemed to be missing were the lower-level guys, guys who would come down more to have fun and say they were part of the show. I think this shows up everywhere, really — with fuel prices higher, guys are more choosey about where they're going to race. They're not going to spend all that money to get to a track just to be part of the event ... they'll opt for the track or tracks they think they can do best at, and that might mean a trip to Arizona in January, a big show during the summer or just saving up their money for their weekly racing.
One thing to note about Volusia is that not many drivers left early. Last year there were high-70s car counts all week, but for the Saturday WoO show we were down to 54. It seemed like most of the guys who started the week this year were strong enough to finish it.
(Editor's note: this year’s Volusia finale drew 46 cars, a nine-car drop from the week’s highest car count of 55.)
TT: It's also cyclical. When Volusia drew nearly 90 drivers in all last year, that's a whole bunch of guys who didn't make feature events — and for those who didn't even make a single main event, it's a lot easier to make the decision to stay home the next year.
The same thing happened in Arizona with huge car counts in 2012, but back down to earth this year.