Quick Time: Silly Season produces mixed results
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.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: Silly Season gone right
Auto racing’s Silly Season is that time of year — we got an early start this year — when drivers switch teams, teams switch drivers, and the falling dominoes sometimes ripple through the sport. How the pairings turn out, nobody knows, but here’s a look at five Silly Season moves that panned out well:
Billy Moyer/GVS Racing (1996): The consummate independent driver, the Batesville, Ark., driver signed on with Baton Rouge, La.-based Gulf Valve Services Racing after Freddy Smith’s departure, and Moyer racked up more than 30 special-event victories in the first of three seasons. Other highlights were the 1997 Hav-A-Tampa Dirt Racing Series championship and a sweep of Eldora's Dream and World 100 in ’98.
Dale McDowell/Shaw-Vandiver Racing (2000): After 1999’s Hav-A-Tampa championship-winning, but relatively turbulent sponsorshipwise, season, the Chickamauga, Ga., driver connected with long-time chassis builder Larry Shaw of Batesville, Ark., and partner Ron Vandiver and found continued success with the team, frequently driving a Shaw-Rocket chassis with brother Shane turning the wrenches.
Earl Pearson Jr./Bobby Labonte Racing (2007): Labonte purchased Pearson’s existing World 100-winning Dunn-Benson Motorsports team for a pairing that stretches to the present season. Pearson notched two of his four-in-a-row Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series titles for Labonte along with major victories including the 2010 Dirt Track World Championship.
Jimmy Owens/Reece Motorsports (2007): After his tremendous modified success, the Newport, Tenn., driver found a comfortable spot in a Late Model with Frankfort, Ky.-based Harrod Bros. Racing before landing a ride with the Reece that launched his career into the stratosphere. The team has locked up three Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series titles, two World 100 victories and dozens of other big-purse triumphs.
Shane Clanton/Kennedy Motorsports (2012): After a long-time and successful collaboration with RSD Enterprises, Georgia’s Clanton became John Lobb’s teammate with John Kennedy’s team on the World of Outlaws circuit. The former World 100 winner had made a big change the previous off-season, too, in switching to the fledgling Capital Race Cars in a partnership with Marshall Green. The Kennedy connection was successful at Eldora with a Dream victory, and Tim Fuller joined Clanton, replacing Lobb.
Turn 1: Silly Season gone wrong
And here’s a look at five pairings that didn’t have staying power:
Donnie Moran/Toma Johnson (2001): The four-time World 100 winner from Dresden, Ohio, began the season in the Boss Chassis designed by his former crew chief, but the pair split shortly after struggling at Florida Speedweeks.
Don O’Neal/GVS Racing (2001): A deal that came together after O’Neal left the C.J. Rayburn house car post-Speedweeks was over almost before it began as O’Neal later landed with Cynthiana, Ky.-based Ware Motorsports for the remainder of the season.
Darren Miller/Diercks Motorsports (2011): An association that garnered part-time success late in 2010 for the Milledgeville, Ill., fell apart in the first half of the 2011 season.
Jonathan Davenport/Clint Bowyer Racing (2012): The Blairsville, Ga., won his first two starts for his new team, but went winless the rest of the season despite earning Rookie of the Year honors on the Lucas Oil Series. He was replaced by Steve Francis at season’s end.
Scott James/Warrior house car (2013): A connection that came together just before Speedweeks, early-season success and an attempt at following the World of Outlaws was short-circuited and eventually dissolved by August.
Turn 2: MasterSbilt candidates
While the jury’s still out on who will replace Don O’Neal in the MasterSbilt house car, there are plenty of potential candidates to consider for the Crothersville, Ind.-based team. Here are some thoughts about 10 drivers MasterSbilt could consider:
Ray Cook, Brasstown, N.C.: Serving as the de facto “Southern” MasterSbilt house car driver for many seasons, he’s the natural choice on paper. However, Cook’s promotional (Spring Nationals, Southern Nationals and Tri-County Racetrack) commitments, along with close family and church ties at home, wouldn’t allow for national touring.
Shannon Babb, Moweaqua, Ill.: He's had previous relationships with MasterSbilt, including a stint in the house car, and the idea of driving for another team could be attractive for a driver who has been hot and cold in his Victory Circle Chassis. But running something other than the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals would take him farther from home.
Mike Marlar, Winfield, Tenn.: Yes, he’s just starting with a new team, and yes, he’s primarily been in Rockets in recent seasons, but he’s among drivers who could jump on a national tour without missing a beat.
Donnie/Devin Moran, Dresden, Ohio: How about the elder Moran using a single season to show his teen-aged son the ropes, with Devin inheriting the ride the next season?
Brandon Sheppard, New Berlin, Ill.: He’s shown he can handle a house car, and without an opening on the Rocket team where he’s successfully subbed for Josh Richards, maybe B-Shepp could get a blessing from Mark Richards to give another house car team a try.
Chad Simpson, Mount Vernon, Iowa: Among the winningest drivers in a MasterSbilt in recent seasons, the talent fits but the proximity doesn’t.
Steve Casebolt, Richmond, Ind.: The location's right for the Spring Nationals champion who has frequently driven MasterSbilts, and currently fields the D&R Motorsports ride, mostly at events near the team’s Kingston, Tenn., base.
Ryan Unzicker, El Paso, Ill.: The MasterSbilt-driving Summernationals regular has scaled back his racing, but perhaps an opportunity with an existing team could change his course.
Ryan Gustin, Marshalltown, Iowa: The modified standout jumped into Late Models with four special-event victories, along with a stirring worst-to-first run at I-80 Speedway’s Silver Dollar Nationals before colliding with a slower car. He’s inexperienced, but developing a winner might be more satisfying than hiring an established driver.
Cody Mahoney, Madison, Ind.: A long shot, Mahoney works at MasterSbilt and previously served as O’Neal’s crew chief. What he lacks in big-time driving experience he makes up for in his built-in connections with touring drivers and crews.
Backstretch: Halloween costumes
Looking for a last-minute idea for your Halloween costume? You’ve come to the right place. Trying these quirky but workable Late Model-centric costumes may not win you any awards, but it’ll be memorable, no doubt:
• Carry a recently caught salmon in one hand, with a flashlight pointing toward it in the other hand. You’re light at the scales.
• Hold a steering wheel in both hands, but walk backwards the entire evening. You’re a backup driver.
• Wear a Sunoco Race Fuels sweatshirt, and walk around with your right arm extended, holding your palm up. You’re a fuel stop.
• Hold signs reading “Chase” and “Wells Fargo” above your head. You’re high banks.
• For males only. Paint the numerals “100” on your chest. After entering the Halloween party, remove your shirt. You’re the Topless 100.
Turn 3: Grateful for a ride
Multitime regional series champion Jason Covert of York Haven, Pa., is glad he’s landed a ride for 2014, set to pilot the No. 72 fielded by Pete Cameron along with Roland and Lisa Mann. But the 43-year-old Covert will miss driving for the team of car owner Barry Klinedinst, who has been involved with auto racing more than 50 years.
Klinedinst, who recently turned 70, has decided to fold the race team that, with Covert behind the wheel for eight seasons, captured 55 checkered flags along with three championships apiece on the Mid-Atlantic Championship Series and the Three State Flyers circuit.
“Everything changes … everything comes to an end,” Covert recognized, but “it's not going to be the same not seeing that yellow No. 43 around this area,” he added, grateful for his association with a team that also fielded cars for Bobby Goodling, Gary Snellbaker, Steve Smith Sr. and Tom Myers over the years.
“I was really honored, and it was a pleasure to drive for him,” Covert said. “The main thing is I got a really close friend out of it. That's more important than any of the racing.
“He gave me a chance … and I don’t know if anyone else would’ve. I’m going to miss being at the shop. He’s made me a better racer and a better man. I’m better for being with him.”
Turn 4: Turn back the clock
Five items from this week in Dirt Late Model history:
Oct. 29, 1978: Larry Moore of Dayton, Ohio, won on the National Dirt Racing Association at Tennessee’s Atomic Speedway, the first of 19 career NDRA victories.
Nov. 2, 1996: Peter and Patty Frank, owners of the South Carolina-based Frank Racing Team, purchased Volusia County Speedway, concluding several months of negotiations with its previous owners, Steve and Rhonda Ross.
Nov. 4, 2003: Doug Bland, owner of the Xtreme DirtCar Series, reached an agreement to purchase the Ohio-based Renegade DirtCar Racing Series and plans to continue series operation under the label Northern Xtreme DirtCar Series.
Nov. 1, 2007: Steve Francis crew chief Lee Logan of Ashland, Ky., picked up $1,000 for winning the Integra Wrench of the Race Crew Chief Challenge in Concord, N.C., on the opening night of the World Finals.
Oct. 29, 2011: Ronald “Woody” Burkhalter of Easley, S.C., a long-time crew chief for South Carolina dirt racers David Smith and Hot Rod Lamance, died after a battle with cancer. He was 59.
Checkered flag: Five fearless National 100 predictions
• A previous winner will take the checkered flag.
• John Blankenship will set fast time.
• Four or fewer home-state drivers will crack the feature lineup.
• The Crate Late Model winner will be a driver who has won a Super Late Model feature in 2013.
• ATVs will outnumber race cars 2:1.
(Last week: One out of five predictions correct)