Fast Talk: Review of NDRL action at El Paso
Here’s the latest edition of Fast Talk, a DirtonDirt.com feature each Monday sponsored by Out-Pace Racing Products. Staffers Michael Rigsby, Todd Turner and Andy Savary gather weekly for a roundtable discussion about who’s hot, who’s not and other issues regarding Dirt Late Model racing. Regular contributor Ben Shelton subs for Andy this week (edited for clarity and length):
Todd Turner: Amid a flurry of plane trips home for a travel-weary bunch, we’re squeezing in Fast Talk this week to wrap up the National Dirt Racing League’s Battle at the Border at El Paso (Texas) Speedway Park.
Combined with NDRL’s previous six events at Tucson, Ariz., January saw eight winners in nine races in what turned out to be an advertisement for the sport’s parity. Competitionwise, the Western swing provided some good racing and a nice mix of winners, didn’t it?
Michael Rigsby: Overall you have to look at the winners list, and variety of winners, and say, “That was pretty good.” From guys shaking down new cars, to drivers in new rides, it provided a little bit of everything. In an era when so many think parity is dead, eight winners in nine nights speaks otherwise. I'll hold judgement until Florida, but right now it's shaping up to be a year with a lot of variety.
Ben Shelton: If you would've told me at the beginning that eight different drivers would've found their way into victory lane in nine events, I probably wouldn't have believed it. The level of parity in our sport was truly showcased over the past two weeks, and it's very encouraging. Seeing veterans like Moyer, Phillips, Fuller and Mars win along with relative newcomers like Gustin, Blankenship, and Moyer Jr. made for a really fun series of events.
TT: Let’s talk about El Paso’s winners, starting with Terry Phillips, who led all the way in Sunday’s finale. The Springfield, Mo., driver missed a couple of key chances for victories at Tucson, and he came through at El Paso for the first victory of his career in a Rocket Chassis. Before Sunday, he was probably leading the list of driver who should’ve won but hadn’t, right?
MR: He was the absolute, must-have, probable winner of the guys that hadn't won yet. He seemed pretty giddy about his work in the Rocket car over the course of the week too, just was bummed that luck hadn't been on his side. I think he'll have a hell of year, and it was only a matter of time before he won one out here. He always wins one out West in one way or another.
BS: Phillips definitely headlined a short list of drivers who I thought had a chance to claim their first win in the finale. He was a contender throughout the Tucson events but a mechanical failure paired with a wild ride on the backstretch kept him out of victory lane. El Paso was definitely a different story as he struggled the first two nights before rebounding for his final night win.
TT: Phillips denied a sweep by John Blankenship, who captured Friday and Saturday’s events before a solid 11th-to-fourth run in the finale. Blankenship, too, was fast at Tucson without much to show for it, but these victories show he might be ready to follow up what was already a career-best season in 2013, doesn’t it?
MR: It just looks to me like Blankenship is going to be totally on kill this year. He seems to be driving with such ease, and you can just sense that he's driving with so much confidence. He literally blew by a pair of really good drivers both nights he won races, and was the talk of the pit area. Regarding how "fast Blankenship was,” he's that good right now.
BS: John was very impressive throughout the two-week affair, but was bitten by the inversion the first two nights. He closed out things at Tucson with impressive runs and took that momentum to El Paso with a pair of strong wins. It's hard to say a guy is having a breakout year, when he just won the World 100 last year, but I think this year will very likely see Blankenship reaching double-digit victories with the possibility of several high-profile trophies dotting his accolade list.
TT: I’ll also toss a shoutout here to Kent Robinson, who had a pair of solid second-place finishes at El Paso, including Saturday when he did everything but officially take the lead from Blankenship. A good start in his new Club 29 car.
MR: K-Rob looked like the K-Rob from two years ago — and he's just a guy you want to be good as a fan.
TT: Last week’s Winter Extreme at Tucson continued what’s been a successful event over the years, but the additional and inaugural weekend in El Paso wasn’t as well embraced by drivers or fans. The Late Model fields were half as big and the crowds were light. On the plus side, El Paso’s surface provided some quality and mostly caution-free action — including good racing on dramatically different types of surfaces from one night to the next (hooked up on Friday, dry-slick on Saturday and Sunday). How did you all see El Paso?
MR: Absolutely have to touch on the racing at El Paso. I'm no expert by any means on track surfaces, but I had my doubts it would produce — but I was wrong. It really was racy all three nights, and had a unique way about it. As car counts and crowds, it's tough (as we know) to be on the road this long, especially when a lot of guys have to hit Florida in just under two weeks. It was about what I expected car-countwise, but the locals that didn't come out in El Paso missed some really good racing.
BS: I didn't expect much good racing at my first glimpse of the track at El Paso early in the week, but I'll gladly eat crow and say I was bad wrong. The first two nights were outstanding with two totally different track surfaces. I hate that fans and drivers didn't get behind the trio of races at the Texas oval, but I wasn't surprised as it seems that the right recipe for a January Dirt Late Model racing in the West is simply a 10-day stretch at Tucson.
TT: We’ll take a breather after a busy January — and quickly get ready for a busy February with more than 20 Super Late Model races scheduled for six tracks during Georgia-Florida Speedweeks. Pick out one thing you guys are looking for as the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series launch their seasons?
BS: To follow up on the Blankenship angle, I'm very interested to see if he can put together a series of wins during his Florida invasion. He definitely has momentum in his corner. Also with so many races I'm curious how the crowd and car counts will shake down for everybody. One thing for sure it all starts in a little over a week, so we will all know very soon.
TT: I think all eyes will be on Darrell Lanigan to see how he performs in his Club 29 car after Robinson (solid) and Tony Jackson Jr. (a bit shaky) debuted the Lanigan and Ronnie Stuckey-designed cars this month.
MR: I'll be interested to see car counts in Georgia and Florida. We've spent three or four years talking about tracks going head-to-head, tours going head-to-head, and it all has seemed to survive just fine. I think this year it soldiers through as well. For drivers, I wanna see how the "chassis-switch" bunch performs. Brady Smith, Tim McCreadie, Lanigan and all of them. How quickly do they adapt?