Fast Talk: Dreaming about Big E's big event
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 (edited for clarity and length):
Todd Turner: With the busiest Dream week in history upon us, let’s briefly review weekend action before delving into all things Eldora Speedway with more than $300,000 up for grabs in total purse money at the legendary track in Rossburg, Ohio.
Tim McCreadie clicked off a couple of victories, including a World of Outlaws triumph in Delaware, while Shane Clanton captured Saturday’s WoO event at Stateline. John Blankenship won a wild Lucas Oil Series event at Tazewell, Tenn., while Vic Coffey and Jason Covert took the opening two nights on the Appalachian Mountain Speedweek minitour.
Anything about those races jump out at you guys? T-Mac’s got things going again, Blankenship has won two of the last three Lucas Oil events and the AMS points chase is shaping up to be interesting.
Michael Rigsby: I said in the VideoCast this week, the sport is better off when Tim McCreadie is running well. I think back to those '06 Outlaw days when he was really starting to make a Late Model name for himself and what an exciting period that was. If he runs good, and the way he drives, it's just flat-out more exciting.
Meanwhile John Blankenship is officially a guy to beat. Not just at Lucas Oil races, but everywhere now. I talked to him for a VideoCast this week, and we talked about how he's coming out of his shell as a driver and a person. He's laughing more, he's chatting more, and he's racing better. It all goes hand-in-hand I think, and there are many picking him to be a top-five — if not winning — car at Eldora this weekend.
Joshua Joiner: Blankenship's win was definitely impressive. We've already talked a lot about him this season and about how he's really reaching that "next level" in his racing career. At the rate he's going, he'll not only reach that next level but go on to the next one by the time the year is over. He really is having a great season, and he's proving each week that he's a force to be reckoned with on the Lucas Oil Series and in major events. I fully expect him to be among the contenders this weekend at Eldora.
And speaking of Eldora contenders, Shane Clanton is definitely headed to The Big E on a role.
On the regional level, it was good to see Vic Coffey get a win in the Appalachian Mountain Speedweek event. He's been due for a while now. Also, Casey Roberts is quietly putting together another solid season. His Ultimate Series victory at I-77 was his third of the season paying $4,000 or more and he's already well on his way to claiming another Ultimate title.
TT: High-banked Tazewell is a tricky — and potentially hazardous — place to race, as Bobby Pierce and others can attest after this weekend. Blankenship did an impressive job keeping Jimmy Owens (mostly) behind him.
JJ: Tazewell's not a track I would expect Blankenship to run particularly well at. It's definitely one of those "elbows up" type tracks, and he's always struck me as a more patient, smooth-type driver. But this year he's proving he can win on just about any type track against anybody.
Definitely hate to see that happen to Bobby Pierce. Unfortunately, that's what can happen at a tight, high-speed, high-banked track like Tazewell. Hopefully he gets regrouped in time for Eldora and has a solid debut there this weekend.
TT: Let’s talk Dream XIX for the rest of our time together, starting with our evaluation of the expanded three-day racing schedule that could potential bring 576 laps of racing with double programs on Thursday and Friday capped by double features. While Saturday’s program will be familiar with heats and consolations races preceding the 100-lapper, is there any danger the extra racing is too much of a good thing?
MR: I don't think in this case it's too much of a good thing at all. For a while now people have been calling for/wanting more racing at Eldora on these big weekends, and they're more than going to get it this weekend. Ben Shelton brought up a good point that a guy could literally get five years of traditional Eldora experience in one weekend now, as opposed to having to make various trips over several years to the half-mile. I'm really looking forward to those short sprints on Thursday and Friday night. I think it's gonna be go, go, go — and a lot of fun.
JJ: The too much of a good time thought has crossed my mind a time or two, Todd as I've thought about the Dream weekend, but I really think it's going to turn out to be a positive. There's definitely going to be a lot of racing Thursday and Friday, but I don't think it'll take away from the prestige or the excitement of the event at all. No matter what happens the first two nights, everybody's going to be amped up and ready to go by the time 7 p.m. Saturday rolls around.
TT: Does the double-feature setup with shorter races — and less cash on the line — mean we’ll see some surprising winners the first two nights? Or should we expect Eldora’s usual suspects to sweep Thursday and Friday’s action, too?
MR: For sure. I can see some guys grabbing wins on Thursday-Friday that are "surprises" to the traditional Dirt Late Model world, which, to me, is one of the best parts of the new format. Right now Dirt Late Model racing needs new blood. New winners, different guys on top, and just overall a shot in the arm of new blood. This could be the start of that. How cool would it be to see Andrew Reaume or a guy like that pop one of these wins the first two nights?
JJ: I think it'll be a mixture of both. You'll definitely see some of the Eldora veterans up front. But there will be some of those guys who might do some experimenting to see if they can find an extra advantage for Saturday, while others will simply take it easy and save their equipment for the big show. Meanwhile, the surprise winner candidates will be gunning hard all three nights.
TT: In a broader question about Eldora, consider the track’s improvements since Tony Stewart bought it, or even in the past few seasons. What strikes me most in recent visits is the attractive signage, maps and directions that vastly improve the organization of a track that hosts thousands of fans on a big-race weekend. The signs really add polish and professionalism to the place. What improvements are your favorites in recent years?
MR: It has to be the signage without question, and that's a direct nod to general manager Roger Slack, who anyone knows is big on things like that, and has done an excellent job of bringing that to Eldora. It's weird because I've been going to Eldora since 1988, and you don't even realize how much the signs help until you see them and go, “Oh yeah, this is a good idea.” Other little things include the Eldora Speedway sign on the painted white concrete wall in turn four, the addition of the "Eldora red" paint to the buildings in the infield and press tower, and of course the camping maps that I've heard people rave about. It's little things that continue to add up every time I go back.
JJ: I would definitely have to say the professionalism and organization as you pointed out, Todd. I've only been going to Eldora for the past few years, but it seems like each time I go, it's easier to get around there and there's more signage directing fans in the right direction. I love the laid-back and old school feel of some tracks, but a place that draws the crowds the size of the Dream and the World definitely needs that organization. And the Eldora staff does a good job with it. Now only if we could get some decent cell phone coverage. ...
TT: While there’s been three multiple Dream winners and Scott Bloomquist has five Dream trophies, we’ve seen different winners each of the last six seasons. However, those six drivers — Shane Clanton, Don O’Neal, Billy Moyer, Jimmy Owens, Scott Bloomquist and Steve Casebolt — are all worthy contenders this time around. Will the streak of different winners reach seven?
MR: I'm not sure if I'm supposed to give my pick now, but yes, I think we get a different winner again. But it's awfully hard to bet against Owens. I mean, I know that's a lame and cliched thing to say, but the guy is really good — and really good there.
JJ: If I had to pick three drivers I felt were most likely to win this year's Dream, all three of them are on that list. That definitely means it's likely to see a repeat winner, but you just never know. Anything can happen at Eldora.
TT: OK, guys, now we’re ready for your picks. In our media panel VideoCast preview, I’ve cast my lot with Josh Richards to break through for his first major-race victory at Eldora. How about a winner’s pick and a dark horse for you guys?
JJ: I’m going with Clanton to win it for a second straight year. There's something about Eldora that really fits him, and he's definitely on a roll right now. As for a dark horse, I'll take Chad Simpson. He was among the contenders at last year's World and was battling for second when he broke with less than 10 laps remaining. I'll definitely have my eye on him this weekend.
MR: I like John Blankenship to get his first ever Eldora major victory. And as my dark horse — I said it up top and I'll say it again — Canadian driver Andrew Reaume. I don't know if he can win it Saturday, but we'll hear from him before the weekend is over. Todd what about you?
TT: I throw Matt Miller out there as a dark horse ... a top-five finish for him with Richards winning.
MR: I'll accept that answer, although I'm sure my picks are more correct!
TT: We can only hope one of us looks good come Saturday night.