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DirtonDirt.com exclusive

Quick Time: Knoxville enjoys 10th anniversary

September 25, 2013, 10:40 am
By Todd Turner
DirtonDirt.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 (and the occasional ax-grinding). Quick Time, presented by PFC Brakes, appears throughout the regular season every Wednesday at DirtonDirt.com:

Frontstretch: Drivers of the Week

National: In his first Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series race since being injured in an Aug. 22 rollover accident, Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., captured the Jackson 100 for the fourth time at Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway, pocketing $1,500.

Regional: Continuing a resurgence after struggling in the first half of the season, Jesse Stovall of Billings, Mo., swept MARS-NCRA action at Salina (Okla.) Highbanks Speedway, earning $5,500 for back-to-back victories.

Weekly: David McCoy of Franklin, N.C., swept Limited and Crate Late Model features Sept. 22 at Hartwell (Ga.) Speedway.

Crate: McKean County Raceway dominator and track champ Max Blair of Centerville, Pa., captured Sept. 22’s RUSH touring series event, overtaking rival Mike Pegher Jr. with nine laps remaining for his 10th victory of the season at the East Smethport, Pa., oval.

Turn 1: Statistics at Knoxville

As the Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals celebrates a 10th anniversary, Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway blogger and tweeter Eric Arnold broke down some statistics of the previous nine events. Here’s a look at some of his insights:

Knoxville’s best: In trying to determine the event’s best all-time driver, Arnold assigned a points system (5 points per win, 2 points per top-10 finish, 1 point per top-five finish and 1 point per start in the 100-lapper). Home-state driver Brian Birkhofer came out on top with 34 points ahead of Scott Bloomquist (33), the only two-time winner. Billy Moyer (31), Brady Smith (29) and Steve Francis (27) round out the top five.

Lap leaders: The driver who has led the most laps in the 100-lap finale, Darren Miller of Chadwick, Ill., never won the race and isn’t expected to enter this weekend. Miller has led 125 total laps. Bloomquist and Moyer are tied for second with 115 laps led apiece while Brady Smith has led 110 laps.

Preliminary features: Birkhofer and Moyer have won three prelims apiece. Darren Miller, with two, is the only other driver with more than one preliminary victory.

Top-five finishes: Birkhofer, Moyer and Francis have each finished in the top five four times in the 100-lapper.

Top-10 finishes: Birkhofer leads the way with eight top-10 finishes; Bloomquist has six in the 100-lapper.

Other stats: Brian Shirley won in 2006, but he’s never cracked the top 10 otherwise. ... Five drivers led the inaugural finale in 2004. ... Moyer is the only driver to sweep all three nights. ... Earl Pearson’s Jr.’s 2008 quick time of 16.631 seconds stands as Knoxville’s Late Model track record.

Turn 2: Safety a moving target

Former NASCAR champion driver Randy LaJoie, who now operates The Joie of Seating and serves as a safety expert for all types of racing, keeps close tabs on Dirt Late Models. And he was the natural go-to interview while evaluating a spate of injuries during the 2013 season.

As always with LaJoie, I learned a lot more than I could use in my original story about what safety issues concern him most when it comes to full-bodied dirt cars. The good news? He says about 90 percent of competitors on the national tours have adopted full-containment seats that were rare 10 years ago. The bad news? There’s always more work to do with safety, which he called a “moving target” as racing evolves. Here are five items he mention that topped the list:

Egress: That’s a fancy word for getting out of the car, but it’s critical for drivers, especially in case of fire or fuel spillage. Dirt Late Model drivers have only a left-side exit, but LaJoie says dropping the interior sheetmetal so drivers could exit to the right would be worth the modest loss of aerodynamics. “I still believe Dirt Late Model really need to look at egress for these drivers,” he said.

Higher cages: LaJoie noted photos from the recent Topless 100 and said many drivers don’t have enough clearance with their roll cages. Even another half-inch cage height might help drivers, who should also be sure belts are tight (and not stretching) to keep them from striking their heads in case of a rollover.

Slide jobs: The 1-inch tubing at the rear of Late Models can be dangerous with some passing maneuvers, LaJoie said. “When I see guys do slide jobs, they’re putting a spear in the other guy’s door.”

Vision quest: The driver’s-side door is so high in some Late Models that drivers can’t see approaching competitors, triggering avoidable accidents. “You look at the Dirt Late Models with the left-side door,” LaJoie said, “and you talk to these drivers, and they say, 'I can’t see anybody coming.' ”

Hard hits: Most track have concrete walls or barriers, but precautions should be considered for particularly treacherous areas. “Soft” walls generally don’t work at dirt tracks, but if tire barriers or guardrails can be added, they can cushion a blow that would be more devastating against concrete itself.

Backstretch: Always avoid alliteration?

That’s a writing tip I’ve heard forever: always avoid alliteration. But if a tip violates its own rule, isn’t there something wrong with that? Anyway, you can’t stop from using alliterative names (for instance, each time I write the byline of myself or colleague Joshua Joiner). And here are my five favorite in Dirt Late Model racing:

• Pacer Popham

• Waylon Wagner

• Kenny Kizzar

• Derek Doll

• Wade Witherspoon

• Brandon Burgoon

Turn 3: Then there were 10 ...

With Iowa’s Ken Walton and Kentucky’s Steve Francis announced as 2014 inductees in the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame, 17 of 27 World 100 winners will be in the Hall. Here are the 11 winners of Dirt Late Model racing's most prestigious event yet to be inducted (drivers must be retired for have 30 years of competition to be considered; Joe Merryfield and Randy Boggs meet that criteria):

Year(s): Driver, hometown
1975: Joe Merryfield, Des Moines, Iowa
1987: Randy Boggs, Grayson, Ky.
2002, 2012: Brian Birkhofer, Muscatine, Iowa
2003: Dan Schlieper, Pewaukee, Wis.
2005: Dale McDowell, Rossville, Ga.
2006: Earl Pearson Jr., Jacksonville, Fla.
2007, 2011: Jimmy Owens, Newport, Tenn.
2008: Shane Clanton, Locust Grove, Ga.
2009: Bart Hartman, Zanesville, Ohio

2013: John Blankenship, Williamson, W.Va.

Turn 4: Turn back the clock

Five items from this week in Dirt Late Model history:

Sept. 26, 1981: Winning his lone race of a season when he was runner-up on the series, Freddy Smith of Kings Mountain, N.C., topped the National Dirt Racing Association field at 311 Motor Speedway in Madison, N.C.

Sept. 28, 1996: Roger Long of Fithian, Ill., took the lead from Randy Sellars on the 24th lap and held on for a 30-lap, $3,000 victory in the last of six feature races of the UMP Late Model Bonanza at Clarksville (Tenn.) Speedway. Other feature winners: Sellars, Tony Albright, Steve Ross, Randy Korte and Johnny Wheeler.

Sept. 23, 2003: Reigning Southern All Star champion Duayne Hommel of Newport, Tenn., suffered serious head injuries in a passenger-vehicle accident, ending his racing career.

Sept. 28, 2007: Mike Swims, who helped propel Dirt Late Model racing to a new level while directing the Hav-A-Tampa Dirt Racing Series through the 1990s, died at his Woodstock, Ga., home after a seven-year battle with intestinal cancer. He was 42.

Sept. 28, 2011: Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway hires Toby Kruse as general manager and promoter to replace legendary Ralph Capitani.

Checkered flag: Five fearless Knoxville predictions

• The 100-lap finale will have four leaders.

• One driver will post victories two of the three nights.

• A first-time winner will capture the finale.

• Two Iowa drivers will finish in the top 10 of the finale for the second straight year.

• John Blankenship will post his best-ever finish in the 100-lapper.

(Last week: Zero out of four predictions correct; one rained out)

Correction: Fixes that 10 World 100 winners aren't in Hall; adds Chub Frank as a previous inductee.

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