Login |
forgot?
Watch LIVE at | Events | FAQ | Archives
Sponsor 923
Sponsor 717

DirtonDirt.com

All Late Models. All the Time.

Your soruce for dirt late model news, photos and video

  • Join us on Twitter Join us on Facebook
Sponsor 525

National

Sponsor 743

DirtonDirt.com exclusive

Speedweeks preview? Ask the panel of experts

February 4, 2014, 8:31 am
From staff and contributor reports

February's Georgia-Florida Speedweeks for Super Late Models kick off this week in Georgia with 19 races at five tracks, two in Georgia and four in Florida (the panelists responded before Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Ga., cancelled two events, citing wet track conditions and an unfavorable weather forecast). DirtonDirt.com asked staffers and several panelists several questions previewing Feb. 6-22 Super Late Model action. The capsules are edited for clarity and length (complete Speedweeks coverage):

Kelley Carlton

National Dirt Racing League series director:

A busy Speedweeks includes 21 Super Late Model races at six tracks over 17 days. What’s your favorite Speedweeks track and why?: Though I love them all, Screven is my favorite. The racetrack is such a unique facility and offers a diverse racing experience all for one price. The food is second to none. And last but not least there is promoter Redd Griffin. Redd is by far one of the best men I know and he genuinely cares about every person that comes through his gates. He has been criticized some over the years, but I know that anything that he does is because he is looking out for the interest of his paying customers.

Which is more accurate: A driver’s strong Speedweeks performance sets the tone for a successful season, or Speedweeks has no particular bearing on how a driver’s regular season develops?: With the cost involved, I think a strong Speedweeks is almost essential nowadays. A bad few weeks down South can put a racer in a hole that they can never dig out of. That in turn leads them to struggle as the season gets going. In some cases it may even take them out of racing for a season or part of a season. I think it is a huge confidence booster to run well down there, too.

Which driver with big off-season changes — Darrell Lanigan debuting a new chassis, Ray Cook in the MasterSbilt house car, Don O’Neal joining Clint Bowyer Racing or someone else altogether — will you have your eye on, and what do you expect from them?: No question it will be Lanigan for me. He has had some mixed reviews on the Club 29 thus far. Kent Robinson looked pretty strong in Arizona and Texas while Tony Jackson Jr. clearly struggled. I will be curious to see which side of the spectrum Darrell ends up on.

Who will be the points leaders with the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series following each national tour’s Speedweeks events?: Tim McCreadie (World of Outlaws) and John Blankenship (Lucas Oil).

Pick a driver who will be a Speedweeks surprise: Clint Smith. It's no secret the Georgia driver has been having a tough couple of years on the road. The late-season pairing with Todd Wood and his equipment may be just what the doctor ordered to get Clint back to the form he had a few years ago.

The trip South typically provides an opportunity to seek entertainment away from the dirt track. What non-racing venue do you enjoy visiting?: When at Screven I try to get over to Savannah. They have fabulous restaurants and some great historical buildings and walks. I hope to get to Florida for a few days and make it back over to the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral.

Paul Fletcher

Late Model Illustrated staff writer:

A busy Speedweeks includes 21 Super Late Model races at six tracks over 17 days. What’s your favorite Speedweeks track and why?: Volusia Speedway Park, which boasts the highest car counts and most eclectic mix of drivers in recent seasons. Track prep, when it's right, is just that: right. Volusia produces a blend of fast, side-by-side racing, the thing that keeps us all going back.

Which is more accurate: A driver’s strong Speedweeks performance sets the tone for a successful season, or Speedweeks has no particular bearing on how a driver’s regular season develops?: I think Speedweeks is a long-enough affair on such a different variety of racing surfaces that much can be learned that will accentuate one's program throughout the course of the season. But in reality, there are so many other factors that play into a season, Speedweeks likely has no real bearing.

Which driver with big off-season changes — Darrell Lanigan debuting a new chassis, Ray Cook in the MasterSbilt house car, Don O’Neal joining Clint Bowyer Racing or someone else altogether — will you have your eye on, and what do you expect from them?: I haven't spoken to the other two, but I know Cook is excited about his deal. Lanigan is smart; he didn't make a move that would send him backwards. O'Neal, well, he's O'Neal. I'll be watching all three and expect to see decent performances from them all. And that includes a win, or a few.

Who will be the points leaders with the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series following each national tour’s Speedweeks events?: Darrell Lanigan with the Outlaws, Don O'Neal with Lucas.

Pick a driver who will be a Speedweeks surprise: This is difficult. I would love to throw Ryan Gustin's name out there, but he doesn't have Georgia-Florida scheduled. I'll say Brandon Sheppard. Although I don't know how much of a surprise it will be should he win.

The trip South typically provides an opportunity to seek entertainment away from the dirt track. What non-racing venue do you enjoy visiting?: New Smyrna Beach, Ocala Golf Club, Terrace Hill Golf Club, Silver Springs Restaurant, someplace quiet, and any side road that looks like it might be hiding a good secret.

Dustin Jarrett

Eldora Speedway announcer:

A busy Speedweeks includes 21 Super Late Model races at six tracks over 17 days. What’s your favorite Speedweeks track and why?: East Bay has always held a special place in my heart simply because I went there for so many years and anchored all the live netcasts. But recently, my eyes have been glued to Volusia simply because of the racing and because of DirtonDirt's flawless coverage (shameless plug). It's a big, fast track that has shown us time and again it's more than capable of producing two-and-three wide racing all night long.

Which is more accurate: A driver’s strong Speedweeks performance sets the tone for a successful season, or Speedweeks has no particular bearing on how a driver’s regular season develops?: I used to buy into the fact that Speedweeks sets the tone for the season but, if you take a close look, there's really nothing to back up the fact that either a strong or disappointing Speedweeks performance is an indicator of what's to come for drivers. We all know there are certain guys who get around certain places better than others, especially the tracks on the Speedweeks circuit. Likewise, just because a team starts strong there's no guarantee they'll stay strong all year long. Sure, it's a nice shot in the arm, but not an solid indicator by any means.

Which driver with big off-season changes — Darrell Lanigan debuting a new chassis, Ray Cook in the MasterSbilt house car, Don O’Neal joining Clint Bowyer Racing or someone else altogether — will you have your eye on, and what do you expect from them?: It sure is hard to go against Lanigan as far as someone to keep an eye on. And, let's be real here for a minute, it's not really like he's doing something completely unfamiliar here. He spent countless hours tweaking a wide variety of components on Rockets (for himself and others) for quite a while now, so this isn't a totally new gig for him — just a slightly different wrinkle. He'll adjust just fine because that's what Darrell Lanigan does. As for the others, Cook transition into the MasterSbilt house car seat should be flawless given their history. The O’Neal-Bowyer pairing is the one that intrigues me the most. On the surface, it seems like a match made in heaven, but only time will tell.

Who will be the points leaders with the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series following each national tour’s Speedweeks events?: On the WoO side, I can definitely see Rick Eckert coming out of the gate strong. He has a history is being quietly consistent during Speedweeks and, with Richards being out and Lanigan in a transitional phase, he might take advantage of the opening. As for Lucas, given his strong runs out west with the NDRL, I'll go with John Blankenship.  He just seems to have so much going for him right now.

Pick a driver who will be a Speedweeks surprise: Bobby Pierce, although I'm not sure we can call him a surprise anymore. Actually, it may be a surprise of the "Smooth Operator” doesn't get a win during Speedweeks. As of right now, he's planning on hitting every race he can, so I would expect to see the driver of the 32 on the podium at least a few times.

The trip South typically provides an opportunity to seek entertainment away from the dirt track. What non-racing venue do you enjoy visiting?: The beach. You're in the south in the winter, so a trip to the sandy shores has to happen at least once, right?!?

Kevin Kovac

World of Outlaws Late Model Series publicist:

A busy Speedweeks includes 21 Super Late Model races at six tracks over 17 days. What’s your favorite Speedweeks track and why?: My favorite Speedweeks track will always be Volusia Speedway Park. I love the atmosphere and energy you can’t help feeling there because of its proximity to Daytona Beach — plus, my personal history with the place makes it a special place. I’ll always remembering going to Volusia as a teenager with my parents back in 1986 and ’87 to spend a week watching our DIRTcar Big-Block Modifieds from the Northeast (and getting what was really my first exposure to big-time Dirt Late Model racing). I’ve spent a week at Volusia every year since 1998, and not only does being there always bring back memories, but I get a rare opportunity to see the big-block modifieds that I grew up watching racing on the same program as the Late Models.

Which is more accurate: A driver’s strong Speedweeks performance sets the tone for a successful season, or Speedweeks has no particular bearing on how a driver’s regular season develops?: I don’t think Speedweeks performance is a be-all and end-all for a driver’s prospects the remainder of the season. You'll see plenty of drivers who struggle during Speedweeks go on to have successful years. But there’s no doubt that if a driver is strong during Speedweeks, their odds of transferring that to the regular season are pretty darn good. If a driver can shine against the top-quality competition you always see at Speedweeks, you’re going to see their name in headlines throughout the rest of the campaign.

Which driver with big off-season changes — Darrell Lanigan debuting a new chassis, Ray Cook in the MasterSbilt house car, Don O’Neal joining Clint Bowyer Racing or someone else altogether — will you have your eye on, and what do you expect from them?: Ray Cook’s move to the MasterSbilt house car doesn’t seem too intriguing to me — there isn’t any chassis change involved there, Cook is already very familiar with the MasterSbilt gang, and hooking up with a solid, well-equipped team should allow Cook to better balance his racing and track-series promotional activities. I can see it being a pretty seamless transition for Cook.

As for Lanigan and O’Neal, those are two guys who definitely bear watching. I think Lanigan has the requisite experience — he’s been running Late Models now for what, 25 years? — and confidence in himself to pull off a change to a self-built chassis. But let’s not forget that he has won 27 World of Outlaws features and the Knoxville Nationals over the past two years with his Rocket cars, so he has an extremely high standard to live up to. Can Lanigan simply pick up where he left off or will there be some growing pains with his new chassis? It will be very interesting to watch.

Same with the O’Neal/Clint Bowyer Racing pairing. Could a combination of two veterans — O’Neal and Steve Francis — unleash the full potential of Bowyer’s team? Will a fresh start with Bowyer revitalize O’Neal after a rough 2013?

Who will be the points leaders with the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series following each national tour’s Speedweeks events?: The shocking announcement that Josh Richards will miss Speedweeks due to medical issues certainly changes the World of Outlaws landscape. He would’ve been my choice to leave Florida with the points lead, but now everything has to be recalibrated. In that vein, I’m going to say Tim McCreadie comes out strong with his new Sweeteners Plus Rocket machines and heads home with the WoO points lead, reestablishing him as a championship contender. I’ll go with Steve Francis as the Lucas Oil points leader, by a narrow margin over Jimmy Owens and John Blankenship.

Pick a driver who will be a Speedweeks surprise: I have a feeling that Texas driver Morgan Bagley might turn some heads in Florida this year. Much like Eric Wells parlayed some standout runs at Volusia last year into the best season of his career, I think Bagley, with a year of traveling the WoO tour under his belt, will come out of the gate strong and have at least a couple nights where he gains some notice.

The trip South typically provides an opportunity to seek entertainment away from the dirt track. What non-racing venue do you enjoy visiting?: Well, with my Florida trip this year consisting of nine consecutive nights of racing, the only chance I’ll have to visit a non-racing venue for entertainment will be if there’s a rainout. That being said, if the opportunity presents itself, the Oyster Pub or the Ocean Deck in Daytona Beach would be my destination for a night away from the track. You walk into either of those bars and you’ll feel like you’re in the pit area of a racetrack with all the racers hanging out there.

Tim Lee

Late Model Illustrated editor:

A busy Speedweeks includes 21 Super Late Model races at six tracks over 17 days. What’s your favorite Speedweeks track and why?: I like Golden Isles, because of its proximity to great barbecue restaurants.

Which is more accurate: A driver’s strong Speedweeks performance sets the tone for a successful season, or Speedweeks has no particular bearing on how a driver’s regular season develops?: I'm sure a successful Speedweeks is great for a team's confidence, assuming they don't tear up or break a bunch of equipment. But drivers say all the time that the tracks down there aren't similar to much of anything they'll see the rest of the year. Still, racing the same track for multiple nights can help a team get familiar with what changes do what on a new car. So, I guess my answer is: yes.

Which driver with big off-season changes — Darrell Lanigan debuting a new chassis, Ray Cook in the MasterSbilt house car, Don O’Neal joining Clint Bowyer Racing or someone else altogether — will you have your eye on, and what do you expect from them?: I talked to Lanigan and Stuckey in Arizona, and Darrell's very confident in the new cars. He said they tested at Volusia once already, and planned to test again before the Outlaws season kicks off. He's good at Ocala, so I don't think he'll take long to get up to speed.

Who will be the points leaders with the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series following each national tour’s Speedweeks events?: Tim McCreadie (World of Outlaws) and Don O’Neal (Lucas Oil).

Pick a driver who will be a Speedweeks surprise: Ryan Gustin, if he makes the trip.

The trip South typically provides an opportunity to seek entertainment away from the dirt track. What non-racing venue do you enjoy visiting? Southern Soul Barbeque on Georgia's St. Simons Island.

Michael Rigsby

DirtonDirt.com CEO and co-founder:

A busy Speedweeks includes 21 Super Late Model races at six tracks over 17 days. What’s your favorite Speedweeks track and why?: I think in my position I'll refrain from saying I have a “favorite,” but there are things about all of them I like. Golden Isles is fast. Screven is tight. Ocala has a tendency to provide wild finishes. East Bay is a classic. And Volusia has lap-for-lap produced the best racing the past three or four years. A political answer, yes, but correct nonetheless.

Which is more accurate: A driver’s strong Speedweeks performance sets the tone for a successful season, or Speedweeks has no particular bearing on how a driver’s regular season develops?: We've seen it go both ways half the time, so it's hard to say either is right. I do know this though: if you're a driver, 10 times out of 10 you want a good Speedweeks. Confidence and money-wise, it can set the tone up for a special season.

Which driver with big off-season changes — Darrell Lanigan debuting a new chassis, Ray Cook in the MasterSbilt house car, Don O’Neal joining Clint Bowyer Racing or someone else altogether — will you have your eye on, and what do you expect from them?: It's hard not to say Lanigan. By leaving Rocket (a car he's had a ton of success in), he'll be judged against that pretty quickly. But I think he's probably up to the challenge. Conversely, with Brady Smith and Brian Shirley making the move to Rocket, I'll also have an eye on them.

Who will be the points leaders with the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series following each national tour’s Speedweeks events?: With Josh Richards out of action, I'll take Tim McCreadie leading the Outlaws points ... and how about Steve Francis leading the Lucas points. (I'll also take Francis for three Speedweeks wins).

Pick a driver who will be a Speedweeks surprise: Brian Shirley. A driver who doesn't often go to Georgia-Florida I think will make some noise. Joining Riggs Motorsports he’s got some serious horsepower, and I think he'll surprise.

The trip South typically provides an opportunity to seek entertainment away from the dirt track. What non-racing venue do you enjoy visiting?: I'll be "that guy" and say Disneyworld. Mickey, Minnie, Todd, Amber … what could be better?

Andy Savary

DirtonDirt.com business operations:

A busy Speedweeks includes 21 Super Late Model races at six tracks over 17 days. What’s your favorite Speedweeks track and why?: Volusia tops the list for me. Car counts tend to reach their high mark (in large part thanks to the lack of conflicting events) and driver patience tends to reach its low mark. That combination always provides a nice recipe for entertainment on Volusia’s high-speed half-mile. If something is brewing at Speedweeks, it always finds a way to culminate at Volusia.

Which is more accurate: A driver’s strong Speedweeks performance sets the tone for a successful season, or Speedweeks has no particular bearing on how a driver’s regular season develops?: It can go either way, but I tend to lean towards the latter. A strong start never hurts, but setting a tone is one thing and maintaining it for the rest of the season is entirely another. On the other side, a guy like Jimmy Owens, for example, has never been particularly outstanding in Lucas Oil action at East Bay, but that hasn’t seemed to hold him back for the remainder of his racing seasons.

Which driver with big off-season changes — Darrell Lanigan debuting a new chassis, Ray Cook in the MasterSbilt house car, Don O’Neal joining Clint Bowyer Racing or someone else altogether — will you have your eye on, and what do you expect from them?: Adding Billy Moyer and Billy Moyer Jr. to the stable paid immediate dividends for Longhorn Chassis out west and I’m curious to see if the chassis brand can parlay that into more a couple thousand miles away in a totally different environment. Will Jonathan Davenport and Earl Pearson Jr. stack up equally as well as the Moyers did straight out of the box? Nobody does Speedweeks quite like Billy Moyer, so the Longhorn camp has a chance to make a real splash. Additionally, I’m all in on the Ray Cook-MasterSbilt pairing and wouldn’t be at all surprised if they make a trip or two to victory lane.

Who will be the points leaders with the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series following each national tour’s Speedweeks events?: No driver ended 2013 stronger than Rick Eckert, and I like him to pick up where he left off to kick off 2014 with the World of Outlaws. Eckert still somehow flies under the radar at times and many people forget just how much success he has had in his career. The 2011 WoO champ knows how to get it done at both WoO Speedweeks venues, winning Ocala's finale just two years ago and claiming seven career victories at Volusia. On the Lucas Oil side, Jimmy Owens parties like it’s 2008 at Golden Isles, wins one for good measure at East Bay and starts off a wire-to-wire campaign for his fourth straight series title.

Pick a driver who will be a Speedweeks surprise: I’m not sure it really qualifies as a surprise after his breakout 2013, but I’ll take Bobby Pierce to not only win an East Bay Winternationals feature, but also take the weeklong points crown.

The trip South typically provides an opportunity to seek entertainment away from the dirt track. What non-racing venue do you enjoy visiting?: Wherever DirtonDirt.com videographer Derek Kessinger goes, entertainment follows, so I deferred to him on this one. His response? “Daytona Beach, no doubt.”

Ben Shelton

Long-time announcer and publicist:

A busy Speedweeks includes 21 Super Late Model races at six tracks over 17 days. What’s your favorite Speedweeks track and why?: I always enjoy Bubba Raceway Park because it's such a neat shaped place with the dogleg in the backstretch. The turns one and two end of the track are shaped like a 3/8-mile oval and turns three and four are shaped like a quarter-mile. It's a true driver's track because there's no true setup that is going to handle well at both ends.

Which is more accurate: A driver’s strong Speedweeks performance sets the tone for a successful season, or Speedweeks has no particular bearing on how a driver’s regular season develops?: Speedweeks is its own season. What does or doesn't happen down there just seems to have little or no bearing on the rest of a driver’s season.

Which driver with big off-season changes — Darrell Lanigan debuting a new chassis, Ray Cook in the MasterSbilt house car, Don O’Neal joining Clint Bowyer Racing or someone else altogether — will you have your eye on, and what do you expect from them?: I'm really curious to see how Don O'Neal performs in Clint Bowyer's Barry Wright entry. After several years in a MasterSbilt, this is a total change of pace for the driver, who is not afraid to mash the gas pedal through the floorboard of any car he driver. It will be exciting to see O'Neal testing new waters in his new ride.

Who will be the points leaders with the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series following each national tour’s Speedweeks events?: Darrell Lanigan ended the 2013 season on fire, and he is exceptional at both Ocala and Volusia, so I expect him to leave Speedweeks with the WoO lead. In the Lucas Oil ranks, until someone proves to me that they can outperform Jimmy Owens on a consistent basis, I'm going to ride into battle with him as being the points leader when February draws to an end.

Pick a driver who will be a Speedweeks surprise: John Blankenship is riding a lot of momentum exiting Tucson and El Paso, and I think he could open a lot of eyes as a serious contender for the 2014 Lucas Oil championship by claiming as many as three wins during his Speedweeks excursion.

The trip South typically provides an opportunity to seek entertainment away from the dirt track. What non-racing venue do you enjoy visiting?: Who has time to seek entertainment away from the track? Not this short guy. I have a race filling up pretty much every nook and cranny of the calendar for an 18-day stretch. If someone has time to do something other than race down there (with the exception of a rainout day), then they are either slacking or perhaps not a true race fan.

Chris Stepan

Veteran announcer and promoter:

A busy Speedweeks includes 21 Super Late Model races at six tracks over 17 days. What’s your favorite Speedweeks track and why?: East Bay Raceway Park hands down. East Bay has never disappointed when it comes to hammer-down, elbows-up, side-by-side racing, and you never know whats going to happen until the final checkered flag falls. The tide is always a factor as well. Plus, the strawberry shortcakes are yummy.

Which is more accurate: A driver’s strong Speedweeks performance sets the tone for a successful season, or Speedweeks has no particular bearing on how a driver’s regular season develops?: A strong Speedweeks performance definitely sets the tone for a successful season. Drivers that leave Speedweeks on a high note after winning a few races and with some extra cash in their pockets typically have a brighter outlook on the remainder of the season.

Which driver with big off-season changes — Darrell Lanigan debuting a new chassis, Ray Cook in the MasterSbilt house car, Don O’Neal joining Clint Bowyer Racing or someone else altogether — will you have your eye on, and what do you expect from them?: To be honest, all three of them, but Lanigan maybe the most since he has been in the hunt to win the WoO title in each of the last four years. Will this year be a testing, R&D season, or will he be up to speed right out of the box?

Who will be the points leaders with the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series following each national tour’s Speedweeks events?: Shane Clanton (WoO) and John Blankenship (Lucas)

Pick a driver who will be a Speedweeks surprise: Frank Heckenast Jr

The trip South typically provides an opportunity to seek entertainment away from the dirt track. What non-racing venue do you enjoy visiting?: Clearwater Beach is always a good spot in Florida for non-racing fun. Otherwise it's racing, racing, racing!

Todd Turner

DirtonDirt.com managing editor:

A busy Speedweeks includes 21 Super Late Model races at six tracks over 17 days. What’s your favorite Speedweeks track and why?: Going back to more than 20 years of February trips, East Bay feels like the consummate Speedweeks track. It doesn’t race quite like it used to, but some races at the Clay by the Bay rank among the most exciting I’ve seen anywhere.

Which is more accurate: A driver’s strong Speedweeks performance sets the tone for a successful season, or Speedweeks has no particular bearing on how a driver’s regular season develops?: I’d suggest it works both ways. Especially for drivers who won’t begin racing regularly until April or May, a successful Speedweeks is a great bridge for improving from one season to the next. Likewise, if a team has a lousy Speedweeks, it’s easy enough to chalk it up to unusual racing conditions (and rugged competition) that will rarely be seen again during the regular season.

Which driver with big off-season changes — Darrell Lanigan debuting a new chassis, Ray Cook in the MasterSbilt house car, Don O’Neal joining Clint Bowyer Racing or someone else altogether — will you have your eye on, and what do you expect from them?: Lanigan has to top the list. No one doubts his skill, talent and abilities (along with Ronnie Stuckey) to design a successful chassis. But everyone wants to know if he’ll hit the ground running or have a few speedbumps along the way.

Who will be the points leaders with the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series following each national tour’s Speedweeks events?: Darrell Lanigan with the World of Outlaws and Steve Francis with the Lucas Oil Series.

Pick a driver who will be a Speedweeks surprise: I think Earl Pearson Jr., benefitting from his new Longhorn association with Billy Moyer, will be in the hunt for victories at more than one track.

The trip South typically provides an opportunity to seek entertainment away from the dirt track. What non-racing venue do you enjoy visiting?: Races are scheduled for all 17 nights of my trip, but if we catch a rainout, I’d enjoy venturing into Ybor City if we’re at East Bay, or perhaps St. Augustine if we’re at Volusia. We traditionally stay at Jekyll Island during trips to Golden Isles, and a quiet beachside stay is a nice break from the usual motel room off the interstate.

 
Sponsor 1179
 
Sponsor 728