Fast Talk: Ice Bowl wrap and preview of Arizona
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: Hello? We’ve barely had enough time to come up with jokes about how short the off-season is and things are rolling again. Let’s get started with Talladega Short Track’s Ice Bowl XXIII, where home-state driver William Thomas nabbed $6,000 with his last-lap pass of polesitter Eric Cooley.
The 26-year-old Thomas has carved out a successful regional career in a variety of Late Model divisions — Crates, Limiteds, the CT525-powered cars cars — and this marks his richest Super Late Model victory. With his plans to follow the National Dirt Racing League in 2014, do we have our first nominee for 2014’s breakout driver?
Michael Rigsby: You stole the words right out of my mouth Todd. While we'll obviously want to see Thomas nab a win on a bigger scale (maybe in Tucson?), he's firmly put himself on the map as a "breakout" candidate for 2014. Not just because of what he's done, but what he's planning. William was always one of those kids that you felt like had something, but he was so comfortable racing around home we didn't know if we'd get a chance to see it — this year — we might get that chance. Also kudos to Eric Cooley for doing the interview with us; he didn't want to after that heartbreaking loss, but he did, and we appreciate that.
Joshua Joiner: Thomas is certainly setting up for a big year, coming off a successful season in 2013 and starting 2014 with a big regional win at the Ice Bowl. For Thomas, winning the Ice Bowl would be a big win in any season, but to get it done just as he's preparing to embark on his first national touring season, it's definitely a big boost for him his team.
He's proven that he's one of the most versatile racers in the sport by winning major Crate races and getting a jump on the competition in the new CT 525 ranks. It'll be interesting to watch and see how he adapts to all the new tracks he'll visit with the NDRL tour this season. I, for one, believe he's up to the challenge.
TT: Cooley’s Ice Bowl demise came, in part, because of a tangle with a lapped car that refused to give way and eventually triggered a frontstretch wreck involving Cooley. This brings up some of the tricky rulings officials face in dirt racing. Should the slower car be required to get out of the way with instructions from the flagger or via one-way radio? And should leaders — like Cooley — be restored to their positions if they’re caught up in a mess officials blame on another driver? This is why we pay officials the big bucks, right?
JJ: First of all, the tangle between Cooley and Tim Roszell wasn't simply a case of a lapped car not getting out of the way. Cooley clearly had a run on Roszell and he didn't give Cooley any room, and in fact appeared to come down the track just before the two cars made contact. I don't have a problem with lapped cars attempting to hold their position. After all, Roszell was running 10th, so who's to say if a caution comes out he can't pick up a few spots? There's definitely motivation for a driver to attempt to stay on the lead lap in that situation, but once the leader is clearly alongside you, it's time to let him pass.
As far as officials giving the leader his spot back when he's taken out by a lapped car, I'm fine either way, as long as a series or track is consistent with such calls.
MR: (This is where the officials perk up and say … "big bucks?!?") Honestly when it comes to lapped cars, I'm pretty ruthless. After 8-10 laps of following a lapped car, I'm all for the leader totally punting the lapper out of the way. If a lapped car can't realize what's up, they deserve to be punted. That being said, if a leader can't punt him without wrecking himself, should he get his spot back? Ehhhhhhhh ... tough call. I lean no, but can see it both ways. But nothing gets me going like a lapped car not moving, and the leader punting him.
TT: With much of the country in the deep freeze — it’s barely above zero here in Louisville and I know Amber spent Sunday shoveling the sidewalks and driveway for Michael in frigid central Illinois — let’s turn our attention to Tucson, Ariz., where forecasts call for 70 degrees for the first weekend of the six-race Winter Extreme. My fingertips feel warmer just typing that.
You both will be heading that way soon for events sanctioned for the first time by the National Dirt Racing League (with Championship Dirt Motorsports co-sanctioning). What's the single biggest thing that jumps out at you in looking toward Tucson?
MR: Let me just keep it simple. This is my flatout favorite week of the year. I obviously love the Hell Tour, etc.., but there's something about the non-pressure situation of Tucson (plus the awesome weather) that just make it fantastic. Plus, look at the field headed out there this year. Possibly the best ever.
JJ: For me, it's got to be the list of drivers heading out there. The early-season Arizona races always seem to attract an interesting mix of competitors, but I think this year's could be the best we've seen yet with most of the usual guys there and a big influx of drivers with NDRL.
TT: Among drivers expected at Arizona involved in 2013’s Silly Season changes, who will you have your eye on?
JJ: I think everyone will have their eyes on the Club 29 bunch to see how the new Darrell Lanigan and Ronnie Stuckey-built chassis looks. With Tony Jackson Jr. debuting one, and Lanigan possibly making some laps in one himself, it'll be interesting to see how the new cars perform in making their first competitive laps.
TT: I’ll keep an eye on Billy Moyer. Not only is he making his first laps in the Longhorn Chassis after his off-season collaboration with Bobby Labonte Racing, but he's back in action for the first time since his wall-banging wreck at Charlotte that left him with a concussion and broken ribs — not to mention hernia surgery before Christmas. If the 56-year-old Moyer is up to his usual success at Tucson, it'll be impressive.
MR: Hard not to say Billy Moyer. The King of Arizona will make the move to Longhorn Chassis and all eyes will be on him. But honestly, while he wasn't really part of any Silly Season changes, I'm watching Jimmy Mars. One of the best drivers in the country over the past few years is fired up for 2014, and I think he and his brother Chris will come out swinging in Tucson.
TT: With a wider and even more talented array of drivers appearing the head to the desert, likely rivaling the biggest-ever turnout in 2012 when 80 drivers made appearances, the competition to make the feature lineups will be fierce. Is it worth drivers making that long trip for some off-season action, even if it ends up being limited to heat and consolation races?
JJ: I think that depends on how you define "worth it." Is it profitable? For most teams, most likely not. But is it worth it to get a head start on the season and a jump on the competitors not going out there? For a lot of teams, especially the ones who made major offseason changes or who are making the jump from regional to national competition this year, I would imagine it's definitely worth it.
MR: One thing everyone will tell you about Arizona is that it's the ultimate "racing vacation” as opposed to Speedweeks which is so business-oriented (which I like, too). This is totally about having a good time, seeing some good racing, and hanging out in a place that's pretty rare in the Dirt Late Model world.
TT: There are a few changes in store for those who’ve been at Tucson before. While Sunday’s shows will retain the early afternoon start, Saturday’s action has been moved to late afternoon that will drift into the evening. And officials are also introducing hot-lap/time-trial sessions to set heat-race lineups (with inverts from three to six cars) while still using the passing-points system. Are these changes significant and welcomed?
MR: They tinkered with the idea of keeping the Saturday-Sunday shows both late, but I think it's 100 percent the right idea to at least partially keep them earlier. As we know, the locals in Arizona don't handle cold temps well (even worse than Joshua's Florida blood), so if it dips into the 40s, they are less likely to come out. Good move to keep it early. I think the hot lap/time trials should be fine. As long as it's swift and efficient, that shouldn't add any time to the show, so I think it'll be fine. I know that race director Kelley Carlton will want to run a quick show, and keep it moving. He's aware of that, and will be ready to rock this week.
TT: I’d be leery to tinker with a format that has worked in recent years. I hope the changes don't give drivers that feeling of being "punished" more than once in a single event with drawing a tough group, a tough heat invert and perhaps another tough draw among heat winners. Hopefully it'll remain as we've seen in the past where the worthy drivers seem to find their ways to the front.
JJ: I don't think the format changes make too much of a difference for the drivers. From talking to different drivers, I think most of them see race formats as either the traditional qualifying, heat races, etc. or "that passing points thing." When it comes to passing points and inverts, I think no matter how it's done, drivers know that the faster they go and the more cars they pass, the better their starting spot in the feature or a consolation race.
TT: Too soon for predictions? Give me two drivers that will reach victory lane at least once in Tucson.
MR: There's no way Moyer doesn't win at least one race ... I'll say Mars wins one, Pat Doar wins one ... we get two surprise winners this year, and Chris Simpson picks up a win as well. Who are the surprises? You'll have to turn in to dirtondirt.com live to see! You can check out all six events via pay-per-view.
JJ: It’s hard not to pick Billy Moyer to win at least once at Tucson. I'll also take Tim Fuller, who was solid in Arizona last year, to get at least one more Tucson win.
TT: You left me John Blankenship? I’ll take him. And Terry Phillips.