Fast Talk: Will weekend's winners clash at DTWC?
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: Let’s jump first into the 25th annual Pittsburgher weekend, where National Dirt Racing League sanctioning returned the event to its heyday with $35,000 in winning purses up for grabs. Before talking about the victories by Jason Feger and Scott Bloomquist, who dominated the finale, let’s have Michael — Joshua and I weren’t there — fill everyone in about how the weekend went. Pretty much any race that features a Billy Moyer-Scott Bloomquist battle of the lead has something to hang its hat on, for sure.
Michael Rigsby: I had a friend of mine text me right before the feature started and said, "It feels like the 1992 Pittsburgher 100 with those guys on the front row." The weekend overall went really well. Several people made the comment that they hadn't seen that many people in the PPMS grandstands in nearly 15 years. From that perspective, it was fantastic. I think in general the Pittsburgh area is so rich in history and tradition, that for them to get to see that field of cars there again was important. Also random to see Jason Feger get a PPMS win. Didn't think that would ever mix — but it did.
Joshua Joiner: While the NDRL tour is the big new thing in the sport, it's premier weekend (or Saturday's finale, at least) ended up having a major throwback look to it with Bloomquist and Moyer taking the top two spots and Moyer wrapping up the title. It was definitely interesting to see those two guys stealing the spotlight at PPMS.
TT: That was a big stage for Feger to win on, for sure, and it continues a stretch he’s had this season of running particularly well on half-mile tracks — pretty good for a driver whose bread and butter has been Illinois bullrings. And Bloomquist could barely be touched in leading all but the first 10 or so laps, and he credited it to recent testing and this season’s switch to Penske shocks. It also sounds like he was answering the naysayers who wonder if his career — and his chassis — are as relevant as they’ve been in recent years. How did you all see it?
MR: I think Jason has quietly put together a really nice year, and been in contention in some major races. It's not been a typical year, but a really good one all the same for Feger.
JJ: Feger's win was a continuation of his improvement at bigger tracks and bigger events this season. Making the jump from the tight bullrings of the Summernationals and UMP country to the bigger tracks is something that many Illinois drivers struggle to accomplish. I can't help but think that the World Racing Group suspension for Feger might have actually been a good thing for him in getting him away from the Summernationals and his comfort zone this season and out to some new tracks. He really seems to have taken full advantage of that.
For Bloomquist, winning Saturday night was definitely a statement, much like winning the Dream in June was also a major statement. It really shouldn't be a surprise to see it, though. How many times have people in this sport started to write him off (often based on his own poor performance) and he suddenly comes back and wins a big race or goes on a great streak? It just shows that you really can't count him out no matter how poor he's running entering an event. He's still one of the best in the business.
TT: Down at Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus, Miss., Jimmy Owens led all the way in the unsanctioned Cotton Pickin’ 100 for yet another victory paying at least $20,000 — that’s four this season. With his third straight Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series title in his pocket, he can put points-chasing behind him and concentrate on winning some late-season races like he did last autumn. Makes you wonder what kind of success he’d have running an independent schedule, doesn’t it?
MR: I was thinking the exact same thing Todd, that if he went truly "independent" style, how many races he might win. But at the same time, we're probably overthinking that a bit. I'm more focused on now how last year could mirror this year as well. Last year we saw Owens take a backseat to Lanigan all year long, until Owens went on a wild hot streak to end the season and secure Driver of the Year. Could we be looking at that again? I'd say probably no, simply because of Lanigan's Knoxville victory, but interesting to keep an eye on.
TT: And Josh Richards definitely has a say-so in the Driver of the Year battle, too, along with Lanigan and Owens.
MR: Of course ... no doubt ... I just meant as it pertained to last year.
JJ: Jimmy actually talked about the draw of an independent schedule and the relaxation of not chasing points after Saturday's feature. Listening to him, you could tell that's something really appealing to him, but he knows the benefits of following a tour like the Lucas Oil Series is just too hard to pass up, especially when he knows he would likely run a large amount of those races anyway. He also has to look at it realistically and ask how much better he could do if he did run an independent schedule. While it might seem appealing for him to pick and choose his races, let's not forget that he has won four races paying $20,000 or more this season — and he's got a nice payday coming at the Lucas Oil banquet. With that in mind, would he really be better served by running an independent schedule? I don't know.
TT: We’ll wrap up talking about the 33rd annual Red Buck Dirt Track World Championship, but let’s first hit on some of the action from the weekend. What interests you guys? Tim Busha winning a rare 100-lapper at Talladega Short Track to wrap up the season on the Chevrolet Performance Late Model Series (or perhaps your thoughts on that new tour, which wrapped up with William Thomas as champion)? Chris Ferguson ending a two-year Super Late Model drought in Ultimate Super Late Model Series action at Dublin (N.C.) Motor Speedway? Upstart 20-year-old Matt Cochran notching $5,000 at Selinsgrove (Pa.) Speedway? Dustin Linville backing up his runner-up finish at Brownstown’s Jackson 100 with a career-high $5,000 payday at Ponderosa Speedway in Junction City, Ky.? Or something else?
MR: Fergy was definitely due as his luck had been horrible the past few seasons. I thought you nailed Linville on the head. He took that Brownstown runner-up and parlayed it into something even better. And how about another really solid car count at the Vic Hill-promoted steel-head Late Model race at Volunteer with 46 cars?
JJ: I've been impressed with the success of Chevy Performance Series this season. I really didn't expect a series exclusively for the 525 crate engines to take off very well, but it seems like the tour is starting to build up a solid following with 20 or more cars at all of its final four events. That's a nice way to the end the year for those guys, and I'm sure there will be quite a few teams in the Southeast that consider adding a 525 engine to their arsenal for next season to compete with the tour. While I don't expect the tour to become as big as some of the open-competition tours in the South, it does seem like there's plenty of room for the series to be successful.
TT: The Carl Short-promoted DTWC, the season-ending event on the Lucas Oil Series, returns to Portsmouth (Ohio) Raceway Park for the second straight year. The event was hampered by rain last year at Portsmouth, condensing the Late Model racing into a single day of action, so let’s hope weather doesn’t play a role this time around. What are the storylines you guys are looking for?
Is Owens a favorite to repeat? With both coming off big victories, is an Owens-Bloomquist showdown in the offing? Can Billy Moyer, who hasn’t been in a DTWC feature since 2005, repeat his success at Portsmouth from earlier in the season? Can Jackie Boggs put last year’s DTWC disappointment (and recent DNFs at Pittsburgh) behind him and challenge the top series drivers?
JJ: With both Owens and Bloomquist being fixtures on the Lucas Oil tour for the past few years, it's been rare to see them win at different events on the same night. That actually stood out to me when I looked at the headlines from this weekend. In doing so, I couldn't help but think that this was a nice way to play up up a showdown at the DTWC between those two drivers. With Moyer running well, there's a really strong chance those three heavyweights could be battling each other at Portsmouth.
MR: There was talk of a possible Darrell Lanigan appearance at the DTWC, and we didn't have that last year, and I'd love to see that again. I'm with you though Todd — it would be really nice to see Carl catch a break on the weather where we had an entire DTWC weekend with traditional fall weather. Oh, and one final Conley-Boggs clash at PRP, is that too much to ask?
TT: Any DTWC predictions from you guys? How about car count, race winner and top finisher under 30 years old? And just because I can, I’ll go first: 89 cars, Jimmy Owens and Dustin Linville.
MR: I’ll say 84 cars, John Blankenship, and Brandon Sheppard (who will be piloting the Rocket House Car).
TT: We generously left Bobby Pierce for you, Joshua.
JJ: I'll go with 91 for the car count, and I'm definitely taking Owens to win. And yes, I'll take Bobby Pierce for under-30 after a strong showing at Magnolia in another 100-lap event.