Fast Talk: Wrapping up the Show-Me 100
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. Regular contributor Ben Shelton subs for Michael in this Memorial Day weekend edition (edited for clarity and length):
Todd Turner: We’re running late after a race-busy Memorial Day weekend — with beautiful weather, for the most part — so let’s catch up on the latest happenings, starting with the 21st annual Lucas Oil Show-Me 100.
The gleaming Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo., has hosted this West Plains, Mo.-born race the past four seasons, and if they’re going to keep Jimmy Owens from robbing the race of drama, they might have to move it again (tongue firmly in cheek). Owens was the weekend standout from his victory in Thursday’s MLRA tuneup event, to leading 89 laps of the weekend finale in totaling more than $35,000 on the weekend. At least he left the manufacturers’ dash and Race of Champions scraps for others.
Owens looked simply effortless in handling whatever track condition was thrown at him — and there were a few — during the weekend. After three straight Show-Me victories, Are they already engraving next year’s trophy with the two-time and reigning Lucas Oil Series champion’s name on it?
Ben Shelton: Well, it seemed after a lap-one melee when Don O'Neal got sideways that Owens' streak at Lucas Oil Speedway might finally be over after he was caught up in the scramble. However, he received little damage, and except for a valiant effort from Chris Simpson on a late-race restart, Jimmy was once again in a league of his own. It's not like he’s outrunning slouches either. He handily beat one of the best Show-Me 100 fields that we've seen at Lucas Oil Speedway. Simply amazing.
TT: That reminds me. Amid the coronation of Owens, I’ll toss in a shoutout to Chris Simpson. He's had some noteworthy runs that might've been overlooked by tough critics this season, but finishing as runner-up in this race is solid (and Chad Simpson’s fifth-place run marks a rare crown jewel happening of two brothers in the top five).
JJ: They might as well be. And they might as well go ahead and engrave his name on some more big-race trophies for the rest of this year. There's something about Wheatland that fits Owens, and there's something about winning at Wheatland that gives Owens some major momentum. Just like he did the past two years, I totally expect this weekend's domination to be a sign of more to come for Owens in more major events. He clearly has his program in top shape right now.
TT: Much was made of three key improvements for this year’s Show-Me 100: (1) The complete Thursday night program replacing practice night, (2) $10,000 added to the purse; and (3) a $2,000-to-win non-qualifiers’ race (that might’ve been the most exciting five minutes of the weekend with Mike Marlar and Travis Dickes swapping the lead multiple times). In many ways this is a track trying to turn the corner in developing its own identity with a crown jewel event, slipping from the shadow of beloved West Plains Motor Speedway, which enjoys nostalgia-fueled, near-mythical status. Is a new tradition taking hold at a track which grew its car count by 17 entries over last year up to 72?
BS: I think Lucas Oil Speedway is definitely creating its own legacy. It's hard to move a crown jewel to a different track. If you even take a look at the Dirt Track World Championship, you'll quickly note how hard it is to move it around and not get slammed by critics. What Lucas Oil Speedway is doing is obviously keeping the race name the same, but now making it their own with different angles and incentives. Personally I love what they did with it this year to add the Thursday show and the non-qualifiers' event. I really believe that was a driving factor in the drastic increase in car count. It was an entertaining weekend, to say the least.
JJ: This was exactly what this race needed, something to shake it up a bit and catch it up with the times. Since the race moved to Wheatland in 2010, it's been pretty clear that the nostalgia that drew so many cars to West Plains every year just wasn't the same. I think you hit the nail on the head, Todd. Wheatland needed something to create its own identity as the home of the Show-Me 100, and I definitely feel like those changes were a big step in that direction.
TT: Let’s move to the World of Outlaws Late Model Series, where Tyler County Speedway drew a modest 34 cars for the two-race Jackpot 100 weekend in Middlebourne, W.Va. Points leader Josh Richards took the opener for his first Late Model victory in his home state — yes, we promise not to mention that ever again — and you get the idea that Richards believes he should’ve made it two in a row in finishing second to Darrell Lanigan in the $15,000-to-win finale. Is this one of those races Richards will wince about if the points chase comes down to the final lap of the season?
BS: Obviously if it comes down to the final lap of the season, Richards will reflect on this moment. However, his pure consistency honestly makes me believe that Richards is going to slowly continue to extend his lead on his way to his third WoO title. Darrell by no means is off his game this year, but between bad luck and a few struggles, Richards has been able to inch away from the field in the points chase. When the final checkered flag drops in November at Charlotte, I honestly don't expect that Richards will be second-guessing anything from the 2013 WoO campaign.
JJ: I've been waiting for Lanigan to pick up some momentum and do his part in giving us the Richards-Lanigan showdown we were all expecting when Richards returned to the series full time. Lanigan has had a bit of a slow start to the year, but I can't help but wonder if this was the run he needed to get on a roll. If it is, then, yes, Sunday's race could definitely be one that comes back to haunt Richards by the time we get to Charlotte.
TT: First-time WoO winners are relatively rare, but we had one Friday with Dave Hess Jr.’s victory at NAPA Wayne County Speedway in Orrville, Ohio. They say racers should stay on an even keel — not get too high, not get too low — but Hess surely was tested this weekend when he followed his $10,000 triumph with a near-disastrous flip at Stateline Speedway in Busti, N.Y., that sent him to the hospital for a checkup. He’s not seriously injured, but talk about highs and lows, right?
BS: I preach to my clients all the time to always enjoy the good times because there will be many more bad ones in racing, and the bad ones will always weigh on your mind more heavily. I'm guessing that Hess may be feeling that way today. He did a fantastic job at Wayne County, but then he destroyed a car at Stateline and got a little banged up. Hopefully after a day or two he will see the big picture and be able to enjoy his great accomplishment from Friday night. He's got more big wins on his horizon, for sure.
JJ: That's exactly the same thought I had, Todd, when I heard about the accident. You hate to see wrecks like that happen to anyone, but at least he's OK. The good news is, as quick as things went from high to low with his wreck Saturday night, they can jump back up on the end nearly just as quick with another big victory when he gets back on the track.
TT: With tons of regional races to consider, I’ll throw out a few noteworthy events, and you guys can comment or throw something else at me. Michael Rigsby couldn’t join us, but he (rightly) found it compelling that Travis Dickes and Tony Jackson Jr., spring-boarded to Sunday special event victories elsewhere after turning heads at the Show-Me 100. (Dickes impressed while missing a feature transfer by one spot in his heat, consy and non-qualifiers’ race; Jackson was a Missouri-best eighth in the 100-lapper after a top-five finish Thursday).
In other races, Jeff Babcock did what every Ohio Late Model wants to do: stand in victory lane at Eldora Speedway as he captured his first-ever ALMS victory. And it was a Pettyjohn brothers kind of weekend on the Three State Flyers circuit with Kenny winning at Hagerstown while Mark won at Winchester and Hesston. Kenny also led a portion race with the only non-Pettyjohn winner (Jeremy Miller) in Hesston’s nightcap of a double-feature program. And this: WoO sprint car star Donny Schatz winning in a Late Model in Williston, N.D.?
BS: This was my first time to see Travis Dickes race, and he impressed me from the time that he unloaded on Thursday at Wheatland. He is a hard-nosed competitor with a very fast car, and he's not intimidated by anybody. That guy can flat wheel a car. Not only did Dickes and Jackson Jr. win after leaving Wheatland, but Ryan Gustin did as well. There is some serious talent on the Dirt Late Model horizon. Not surprised to see Schatz win a Late Model event because he proved at last year's Prelude in his debut in one that he is a pure wheelman.
JJ: I was impressed to see Florida youngster Dillon Wood get his first Ultimate Series victory. I know his year hasn't gone exactly as he hoped it would when he set out with plans to chase the WoO rookie title, but he's shown that he's got talent and definitely has some promise for his future.
TT: Typically we look at upcoming national touring events, but let’s skip that in favor of previewing the Harbaugh Amusement Appalachian Mountain Dirt Late Model Speedweek that runs May 31-June 5 at two Maryland ovals (Potomac and Hagerstown), a Virginia track (Winchester) and three Pennsylvania circuits (Roaring Knob, Port Royal and Lincoln). It’s proven to be popular and successful week, an appetizer of sorts for the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals. Can Austin Hubbard be the first two-time points champ? Will Rick Eckert steer the Paul Crowl-owned Rocket to multiple victories? Isn’t it tailor-made for a Gregg Satterlee or Jason Covert hot streak? You can pick one question to answer, or answer them all.
BS: First and foremost, this regional series last year had purely amazing fields, which were arguably the best of the year with car counts above 50 on multiple nights with great racing. Hubbard is just in a funk right now, and if something doesn't change quickly, I just don't see him getting the championship this year. I can see Eckert winning at least two events, and you never can count out Satterlee or Covert, either. The beauty of this deal is that you never know who will show up to run some or all events. Fans in that area have a true jewel in their backyards with this series.
JJ: These races definitely have some compelling storylines to watch throughout the week. I could see Hubbard, Satterlee or Covert going on a streak on the series. The problem is, they all three have to deal with each other, and it's tough to say who's more likely to come out on top. There's definitely a lot of talent in that area, and with some of the WoO drivers dropping in, it should make for great week of racing.