Fast Talk: Ranking Owens' third Lucas Oil title
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. We have two guest panelists today: Eldora Speedway announcer Dustin Jarrett and regular contributor Ben Shelton subbing for Michael and Todd (edited for clarity and length):
Joshua Joiner: With rain hampering an already light slate over the weekend there isn’t much on-track action for us to discuss. In fact, we’ll begin with what resulted from the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series not racing Sunday at Rome (Ga.) Speedway.
With Sunday’s rainout, Jimmy Owens unofficially clinched his third straight Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. He’ll carry an insurmountable 175-point edge over Steve Francis heading into the tour finale at the Dirt Track World Championship Oct. 18-19.
It seems like we’ve already given Owens nearly every accolade and compliment in the book with his success over the past few years, but a third consecutive national touring title is a rare feat for any driver. How much does this improve Owens’ credentials when we start talking about where his career ranks among the sport’s all-time greats?
Ben Shelton: With his accomplishments over the past decade he's clearly a top candidate for the best driver in the modern history of Dirt Late Model racing, and this only pads that stat. His consistency against many of the sport's best drivers is just phenomenal, and when you take into account how many years he has in front of him in the driver's seat it's really mind boggling to consider what he could really accomplish. Simply impressive.
Dustin Jarrett: I'm not sure another championship "improves" his spot in the list of all-time greats as much as it simply "solidifies" it. In a way, it was an abnormal year for Jimmy because he didn't go out and dominate the series from the get like he basically has the last few seasons. It seemed to take a little longer for the 20 team to find their rhythm and shake a little bit of bad luck. But after rattling off a few wins around midseason, he was clutch from there and "top five'd" 'em to death.
JJ: We’re getting to the part of the season when Driver of the Year talk begins to creep into the conversation. There’s still quite a few major events left on the schedule, but how do you guys see the debate shaping up at this point? With eight Lucas Oil victories but no other major event wins thus far, is Owens a contender? What about Darrell Lanigan and Josh Richards on the World of Outlaws side?
BS: His early year struggles somewhat overshadow Owens being a candidate in the driver of the year discussion even though he has had a strong second half of 2013. Lanigan also started the year with some struggles, but seemed to get things clicking faster, and is now on the fast track to an amazing end to the season. Richards with a couple of wins to end the year in big events could definitely muddy the water though.
DJ: For me, the top three are really close. So I think Owens has a chance, but he's also running out of time. It seems like Owens, Lanigan, and Richards have all gone on hot streaks, but they've all also had a struggle or two at some point in the season. When you look at the entire season and everything these three drivers has been the very best this year.
JJ: For me, I think it's really between Richards and Lanigan at this point with no clear winner between those two yet. But let's remember that last year most everybody was ready to hand the award to Lanigan before Owens went on his amazing run of five major victories in his final six races. With the Lucas Oil title secure, I wouldn't be surprised to see him click off a few more big wins and get back in the mix.
Chris Madden may not be in the Driver of the Year conversation, but he’s certainly putting together a solid season after scoring his third victory in five races with the Lucas Oil Series this season Saturday at Dixie Speedway in Woodstock, Ga. Few non-series regulars are capable of winning that many races on a national tour in a single season. With 11 overall victories, it’s been a pretty impressive year for Madden, wouldn’t you guys say?
DJ: In this day and age, 11 wins is great for anyone. Most of Madden's wins have been against some pretty solid competition even though he's maybe flown under the radar a bit.
BS: Madden seemed to be MIA for a few months earlier in the year as I really didn't notice him racing that much. However, when he did race he did well, and the past few months have been a great time for his team. He's one of those guys that is a threat any time he shows up with any series whether it's a national or regional tour. He could be a spoiler in some season-ending big races.
DJ: The thing with Madden is, he's always right there in the mix. If you're racing anywhere in the South and Madden is in the pits, he's a threat to win. I keep waiting for him to get a career-defining, crown jewel win.
JJ: In other Lucas Oil Series news, the series released its 2014 schedule last week with visits to five new tracks as part of the 47-race slate. Do any of those five tracks (ArkLaTex Speedway in Vivian, La.; Outlaw Motor Speedway in Muskogee, Okla.; Macon (Ill.) Speedway; Smoky Mountain Speedway in Maryville, Tenn.; and 201 Speedway in Sitka, Ky.) standout to you guys in particular?
DJ: I love me some 201 Speedway and I'm guessing the only one of us in this conversation who's been to 201. It's a great little 3/8-mile track that's literally tucked away in the hills of eastern Kentucky. It's typically fast and multi-grooved, and could potentially be a place where a regional driver such as Boggs, McGuire, or Carrier gets the win.
BS: A few of those really do, and to be honest they all do because it's always great seeing new tracks step to host national level shows. Ark-La-Tex will open a lot of eyes across the nation because as I stated in one of these discussions earlier this year that place tends to offer one of the best racing surfaces in the country. I've never seen a bad show there. The ultra-tight confines of Macon Speedway also fascinates me for a LOLMDS show, and finally I think the 201 Speedway event will be a fun one. That place has been progressively working toward mainstream Dirt Late Model racing with some really great shows over the past two years. Should be some good times.
DJ: If either of you go to Outlaw, get the barbeque sandwich. You won't be disappointed. Just sayin...
JJ: There weren’t a whole lot of regional races this weekend, but there were a few notable performances, including Mark Pettyjohn topping his brother Kenny for a $10,000 victory at Natural Bridge (VA.) Speedway and Bub McCool claiming Greenville (Miss.) Speedway’s Gumbo Nationals. Did either of those or any of the other regional performances standout to you guys over the weekend?
BS: Dennis Franklin getting a $17,000 win with Fastrak caught my eye as he has been phenomenal in regional super and crate competition this year. Bub McCool's impressive 20th-to-first run in just 25 laps at Greenville may have been overshadowed by his victory lane interview, but it was very impressive. Finally a big shout out to motocross racer turned Dirt Late Model competitor, Justin Asplin, who after a few years of struggling and paying his dues claimed his first career victory in the Super Late Model ranks with a Lucas Oil MLRA triumph at Lakeside Speedway over the weekend.
DJ: Pettyjohn's win was slightly unexpected and came against some pretty nice competition with Shaver, Eckert, Satterlee, Covert, and others. McCool's 20th-to-first rally was simply amazing — and the post-race interview with Ben was worth price of admission. Casey Roberts got a nice victory in the Tar Heel 50 over a field that consisted of O'Neal, Clanton, Clint Smith, Ogle, and others.
I agree about Rambo, Ben. He's really come on here in the second half of the season.
JJ: Let’s wrap up with a preview of this weekend’s two biggest events. The National Dirt Racing League wraps up its inaugural season with a two races during the Pittsburgher 100 weekend at Pittsburgh's Pennsylvania Motor Speedway in Imperial, Pa. Friday’s feature pays $10,000 the winner with $25,000 on the line Saturday. Down South, Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus, Miss., hosts the unsanctioned $20,000-to-win Cotton Pickin’ 100. What are you guys looking for forward to going into these two big events?
BS: After a few years away from the proverbial map it's awesome to see the Pittsburgher 100 seeing the money and prestige amped this weekend. With major money on the line, a great field of cars is looking to the historic, half-mile oval, and it could be fun to see three veterans like Moyer, Bloomquist, and Davey Johnson showing the youngsters how it's done.
The weather is looking amazing for Magnolia (which doesn't normally happen for this event), and the talent level is looking spectacular as well as one of the last, great unsanctioned races prepares to impress. Magnolia has a way of seeing surprise winners, and with an eclectic bunch of cars setting their sites on the event, I can't rule out one to take the checkers. With that said though I'll predict 2013 World 100 winner, John Blankenship, will have another major win on his credential list after this weekend.
DJ: I'm looking forward to the format of The Pittsburgher. Two complete shows and the potential for one driver to win $35,000. Having grown up not far from there, this was always one of THE premier races back in the day. As other big shows started making a name for themselves, The Pittsburgher somewhat fell on the back burner. But, this is race back and the buzz around it is bigger than it's been for a long time.
Of course (shameless plug), everyone can watch it LIVE here on DirtonDirt.com, and listen to Ben calling the action with myself doing the pit reporting.
The thing I always look forward to at the Cotton Pickin’ 100 is the mix of drivers that show up. The variety of local stalwarts, regional hotshoes, and national superstars make this a race that everyone should get to at least once. Magnolia usually stays pretty racey, so the possibility of someone rallying from the back to the front is always there as well.