Fast Talk: PRI recap and 2014 touring predictions
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):
Joshua Joiner: Our final roundtable discussion of 2013 will review all of the developments coming out of the past weekend’s Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis. Let’s jump right in with Silly Season moves we learned of over the weekend.
We’ll start with Shane Clanton, who in making his third major off-season change in the past four years, has parted ways with car owner John Kennedy to field his own team. The move will likely keep Clanton, who finished third in this year’s World of Outlaws standings, on the Outlaws tour instead of switching to the Kennedy-backed National Dirt Racing League. And he’ll stay with the Capital Race Cars he helped develop with Marshall Green.
While some of this year’s Silly Season developments have been expected or at least hinted at, Clanton’s move seems to have come as quite a surprise. What do you guys think of this move?
Michael Rigsby: When you're at a trade show (even more than the pits at a race), rumors move free-flowing and fast. This one was the one that certainly got the most "Rigsby, is this for real?” conversation going. I think we were all surprised to an extent, but when you talk to Shane you realize there were no hard feelings, and that he simply wanted to form his own team and go a different direction. But yes, as far as "developments" this one probably took the cake.
Todd Turner: For me it equaled the surprise of Billy Moyer's move to Longhorn Chassis last month. That Clanton would leave what appears to be one of the sport's most prolific team owners — he's still got two drivers in Tim Fuller and Max Blair — means Clanton really wanted to go a different direction than where he was headed with Kennedy. As far as Clanton's racing, as long as he can fund the operation, things shouldn't be much different for him in sticking with Green and Capital Race Cars. Kennedy said he'll expand Blair's planned role with Clanton's departure. You wonder if that team might make a switch away from Capital cars without Clanton in the fold.
JJ: In other Silly Season news, Jonathan Davenport will make his third offseason move in three years with his Steve Cooke-owned AES Racing team joining forces with Kevin and Lee Roy Rumley’s Rumley Enterprises team to field a Longhorn Chassis out of Bobby Labonte Racing’s shop in Trinity, N.C.
Davenport, who will replace Steve Shaver in the Rumley’s No. 6 ride, will return to national touring on the NDRL tour with his new team. How do you guys see this move working out, both for Davenport and the continued development of Labonte’s Longhorn Chassis?
TT: Longhorn made a change last off-season by adding engineer Kevin Rumley. This year the moves are more the on-track variety with the addition of Moyer and now Davenport. Earl Pearson Jr. struggled as the lone nationally touring Longhorn driver for a few seasons, but made strides last year in improving his consistency and ending his Lucas Oil winless streak in a car redesigned by Rumley. With Moyer and Davenport tripling the information Longhorn develops as nationally touring drivers, it'll be interesting to see what kind of strides that chassis makes. Moyer's arrangement with Longhorn is similar to that with Victory Circle, which started slow, built some momentum after a few seasons, then tailed off. It'll be interesting to watch.
MR: For Longhorn it definitely puts another feather in their cap alongside Billy Moyer to continue growing this year. Earl Pearson Jr. told me at one point during the 2013 racing season that they needed to take a step forward in 2014, and they're obviously trying to do that by adding Davenport and Moyer. I'm not great at predicting what rides will work out for what guys, so I'll withhold judgment on this until the season gets rolling, but you'd think Jonathan would be just fine in this new role.
JJ: Davenport was a big part of Barry Wright's rejuvenation in recent seasons with all his success as the team’s house car driver. Perhaps he can have the same effect with Longhorn's development.
Clanton and Davenport’s moves add to an already busy Silly Season. The two Georgians join other big-name drivers like Billy Moyer, Darrell Lanigan, Don O’Neal, Ray Cook and Jared Landers in making major off-season changes. Is it fair to say that things are going to seem a little different next year?
MR: I've been saying for the past month: we'll learn more about Dirt Late Model racing and have more to soak in in 2014 than we may have the past decade. About once every 10 years this sport has a way of resetting itself. The 2004 season comes to mind, and a decade later things are really getting shaken up again. From drivers in different cars, new chassis developments and multiple series ... 2014 will be a HUGE litmus test for this sport.
TT: That's a lot of changes among a lot of big names. They'll be under the microscope, particularly during Georgia-Florida Speedweeks, and teams and drivers that have a lot of success — or failure — will either get praise for making the right moves, or panned for making the wrong moves. In reality, we should wait until mid-summer to see how it's all turning out, but if next off-season is anything like this one, some of those same names may be on the list of team, driver and chassis changes for 2015.
JJ: Before we move on from PRI, I want to hear your guys’ thoughts on the show’s merger with IMIS and the move back to Indy from Orlando. Was a single show in Indy better than having two shows like we did the past few years?
TT: On the plus side, great to have a single nationally-focused show that allows exhibitors to focus on a single spot, not to mention saving travel and other associated costs. On the minus side, IMIS was more short-track centric and manageably sized, meaning now you've got to wade through all forms of motorsports before targeting the things you're most interested in. Likewise, with the Indiana Convention Center's main floor jam-packed, many exhibitors were banished to the side halls and meeting rooms. ... I heard lot of complaints from those folks.
MR: From the standpoint of "having to be at shows" ... having one show was definitely better. It brought everyone together and kept most vendors from having to set up at multiple places over multiple weeks. I also had one vendor (who has never missed a PRI show) tell me it was the best PRI show they've ever had. Even at the DirtonDirt.com booth, traffic was pretty heavy all weekend long. I prefer one show for sure, but it was MASSIVE. I think the hallway booths, and the side-room booths ... a solution for that may need to be figured out.
TT: Sounds like Michael and I were at the same show!
JJ: The national touring picture has become a bit clearer over recent weeks and at PRI with all of the schedules now out and many drivers declaring their intentions for one of the three tours. What are some of the notable developments on each tour that have stuck out to you guys?
TT: I think the big question everyone is asking: Are there 30 or more drivers at the national touring level who can be split among the three tours? It appears the rosters for WoO and Lucas Oil will be quite similar for 2013, so as NDRL's roster develops for its first full season, that'll help answer that question. I think the jury is still out but with NDRL, in essence, "losing" Clanton, they'll need to lure another big name or two, or put together an attractive list of guys, for sure.
Also, everyone will keep a keen eye on drivers who try to tackle the Lucas Oil and NDRL schedules, which don't conflict (rain dates can and likely will change that, obviously). Lucas Oil regulars John Blankenship and Steve Francis are adding a full load of NDRL events, and it seems such a schedule that might attract the tireless Dennis Erb Jr., too. Running two national tours will be biting off a whole lot, and you wonder that when push comes to shove those guys might skip an NDRL weekend when the equipment gets tired and the tongues of crew members are hanging out.
MR: It was good to get the WoO schedule at PRI, get our hands on it and comb over it all. They've got some attractive dates there. Of course I'll be the super-homer here and point out that the Prairie Dirt Classic pays $25,000-to-win this year! (shameless plug). But other events are great on there too. LOVE seeing the mid-season tour end at Cedar Lake. That's a fitting "send-off" for that tour. As for the other schedule developments, I think it'll be really interesting to see if Blankenship and Francis can pull off the double. I know they have the resources to pull it off, but that's a grind of Hell-Tour like proportions, so I'm interested in seeing how they manage the travel, miles, equipment, etc. It really will be fun to watch that.
JJ: I'm interested in seeing if having a third tour allows for an up-and-coming driver or a driver who's mostly been known as a regional competitor to have a breakout year. Depending on how things shake out, we could see the overall talent level drop a bit on each tour, would could offer those lesser known guys to breakthrough for some big wins and also make it easier for guys who aren't usually a championship threat to perhaps be a contender this year.
MR: Good call, Joshua. Is this a chance for a Kent Robinson-like driver to really take a step into a bigger spotlight?
TT: I agree Joshua, there's an opening for that type of guy to break through. The questions is: Who? I guess I'm saying that even though there are fewer NDRL points races (about 30), a team tackling that schedule will face a dramatically different travel log than they did regionally, not to mention potentially being forced to skip events close to home on some weekends.
MR: Everyone knows that I love as much "offseason" time as possible, but this is one year where I'm VERY eager to see how all of this develops. We can debate until we're blue in the face about who goes where, what happens if there's a rainout with Lucas Oil and who's committed to what. But we really and truly won't know until the season starts.
JJ: As you just pointed out, Michael, this is probably pointless at this point in the game, but let’s wrap up with some 2014 predictions. Who are your picks to win the championship on each national tour and which Silly Season move or chassis switch will produce the most success next year?
MR: Can't bet against Josh Richards on the Outlaws. ... Some guy named Owens I'm told is good on the Lucas Tour. ... And I’ll say John Blankenship wins his first national touring title with the NDRL. ... I'll also say Davenport has a hell of a year next season.
TT: My gut says Darrell Lanigan's chassis switch is seamless for him, and he'll be neck-and-neck with Josh Richards for the WoO title once again. As for Lucas Oil you heard competitors over and over at the Lucas Oil banquet praising three-time champion Jimmy Owens, and saying it was their goal to know him off next year. That's a daunting task. Knowing what we know now, I'll say Davenport wins the NDRL title — but please don't haunt me with this next year at this time.
JJ: I'm taking Owens for Lucas Oil, Lanigan on the Outlaws and John Blankenship on the NDRL tour (note: I also predict that as Owens starts to pull away in Lucas Oil points around midseason Blankenship will skip Lucas races to focus on chasing NDRL points). ... And I'll obviously take Lanigan's switch to self-built chassis as the most successful Silly Season move since I have him winning the Outlaws title.
JJ: We'll likely revisit these predictions around Speedweeks, so for now, let’s just enjoy the holidays and some time off.
TT: I'm hanging my stocking now ... ready for my lump of coal.
MR: You guys are officially crazy. ... My predictions are so on point I don't even think people should entertain the idea of reading yours.
TT: You clearly need some time away, Michael.