Fast Talk: Weighing in during busy Speedweeks
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 (edited for clarity and length):
Todd Turner: We’ve got a lot to cover at the midpoint of Florida Speedweeks after a full week of Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series action at East Bay Raceway Park near Tampa and Bubba Raceway Park’s three-race World of Outlaws Late Model Series set in Ocala.
Let’s start with Tampa’s finale where Pennsylvania Davey Johnson’s seemingly turned back the clock with his first East Bay victory in 13 years, outdueling Jimmy Owens and Scott Bloomquist before turning back Earl Pearson Jr.’s dramatic high-side charge. Johnson, connecting with crew chief Austin Hargrove along with veteran shock developer Mike Farr of Genesis Shocks, is making a renewed effort this season at age 52. Simple question: Will we hear more from Johnson in 2014, or will be this a high-water mark?
Michael Rigsby: There's no doubt I think Johnson and Hargrove will be heard from more in 2014. You can tell that both have an extra bounce in their step, almost wanting to prove on one hand that Davey J still has some tread on the tires, and that Austin, no matter where he goes can make that team better. It was just cool to be part of a victory that was really popular, in the stands and in the pit area.
TT: To me, this is the kind of team that can really pick its spots in competing at — and winning — some big races near and far from home, not confined by points chases. There are some drivers who, every year or so, feign a rededication to their careers and it doesn't pan out. Johnson has clearly been hit-and-miss for many years, but he seems serious in taking another shot at success. Farr told me the other night he's seeing the Johnson of 20 years ago — and wouldn't have joined him if he didn't believe he could do it.
MR: I totally agree Todd. They don't need to gear up for a series run. Instead, pick your spots, get ready for big shows, qualify well, and be in the hunt for wins.
Andy Savary: It's really hard to say without knowing what The Juice has planned schedule-wise, but I certainly think they'll be in contention on a regular basis this season, whether that be on a national level or a regional level. I heard more than a few compliments in the pit area throughout the week about their race team seemingly taking a big step forward this year and they seemed to vindicate those compliments in victory lane Saturday night.
TT: The next East Bay driver I want to talk about is the first one that caught everyone’s eye — Monday’s winner Eddie Carrier Jr. His first full Lucas Oil campaign left him as an also-ran most of the time, but Carrier’s East Bay week was among the best of anyone (and came after a runner-up finish at Golden Isles). He’s probably the driver, for me, who raised his stock most in Tampa. Who is that driver for you all?
MR: I think Carrier is a fair pick. He said to me before he left, "I'm just smiling cause we have a car in one piece, we're OK in the points, and I couldn't be happier." Is it too lame to pick Billy Moyer? I mean he's in a new piece, and appeared to be the fastest car there (on average) the entire week. Easy choice, but how is it not Moyer?
TT: For me, Moyer's stock is raised so high it can't be much higher — it's unbelievable what he's doing at 56 against drivers who will otherwise be in their virtual rocking chairs at that age.
AS: Excluding Moyer, Carrier was the biggest winner of any driver for me, as well. With that said, I think Gregg Satterlee deserves some East Bay props, too. He made his first trip to the Clay by the Bay this year and had some really nice moments, including a runner-up finish in Saturday's daytime event. East Bay is not an easy place to get around and for a first-timer to pick it up on the fly like Satterlee did. It was very impressive.
TT: Let’s wrap up East Bay by tossing out other thoughts on the week. The importance of MavTV’s live show for the sport? The slight increase in car count? Or Bobby Pierce bailing Andy’s prediction out with a Saturday afternoon victory after struggling most of the week? Or other drivers that caught your eye. Let’s hear it.
AS: We obviously didn't get a chance to see the live show as we were all at the track, but those watching at home seemed pretty satisfied with the production. The live race took a little while to get going, but when it did, Billy Moyer and Dennis Erb Jr. did their best to entertain.
And yes, big thanks to Pierce for bailing me out with his Saturday victory. I knew he had it in him.
MR: I think the MavTV show was just flat out cool. I really got a look at the inner workings of the live truck, the setup, etc., and they really did a fantastic job overall with it. I think you'll see a few more this year or next down that avenue. Do I think millions are racing to watch Dirt Late Model racing because of it? Probably not, but it was important. Kudos to Ritchie Lewis, Rick Schwallie, and everyone at Lucas and MavTV for pulling it off. Erb victory for Rayburn was a special moment, and the car count being up surprised me a bit. It will be the only Florida Speedweeks event that will be able to say that, for sure.
TT: Moving on to Ocala, the 3/8-mile trioval had three drivers share victory lane with Brady Smith, Brandon Sheppard and Darrell Lanigan grabbing victories. Let’s first tackle how Sheppard, subbing for the ailing Josh Richards in the Rocket Chassis house car, has really answered the bell so far in a situation that could potentially put pressure on a young driver. He set fast time three times and contended each night. He’s clearly racing for one of the sport’s superior teams, but he’s performing well in a seat where critics might pounce if he struggles. How do you all see it?
MR: I thought Ben had a great question of Brandon yesterday when he asked him how much pressure he's under. I mean, let's not forget this is really the team in all of Late Model racing. So for him to come in, and perform as well as he has, speaks volumes to the kind of kid and driver Brandon is. It's not easy to perform well when the world expects you to perform well.
AS: While many see Sheppard in a situation with a lot of pressure, I actually see it more as him being in a situation nothing to lose. He's on a top-notch team with top-notch equipment and all he is asked to do is go out there and wheel the car as best as he can. So far, he is doing a whale of a job with that and the Rocket team is on the podium every night. He was bad fast every time he hit the track at Ocala and off to a great start.
TT: The list of people who predicted Brady Smith to leave Ocala with the WoO points lead is pretty short, especially if you’d been told that Lanigan and Sheppard would win two of the three races. Smith wasn’t a factor at Golden Isles but finishes of first, second and third at Ocala are a big boost to his program, aren’t they? Plus he’s headed to Volusia, where he’s been traditionally strong.
MR: He's a guy that came into the Rocket switch not sure what to expect, as I could tell he was just antsy to get out on the track, and "get to work" as he put it. And now the position he's in, does he consider a run at the Outlaw title? Obviously a lot has to go well at Volusia, but as good as he's running, an if he's up there in the points, why not?
AS: His program was on kill every night at Ocala. Brady might be faced with an interesting situation when he departs from Speedweeks. He's never really been a points racer, but you have to wonder if he would continue with the Outlaws for a while if he was in a favorable points position exiting Volusia. It's hard to see Smith not in the top three or four in Outlaws points following Speedweeks, so I guess we'll find out.
TT: Let’s briefly look ahead to Volusia Speedway Park, where DirtonDirt.com launches the first of six pay-per-view programs Monday of UMP DIRTcar and World of Outlaws actions that will wrap up Speedweeks. Volusia’s program wrapping up its sprint car action had some incredible storylines — the retiring Steve Kinser won on his farewell tour and Austin Dillon nabbed a modified victory the same day he landed the pole for the Daytona 500. Toss out a Late Model-related scenario that could match that big night?
MR: I still think we're missing that one Lucas Oil-WoO battle on the track that basically has four or five guys (Owens, Sheppard, Lanigan, Francis) all battling it out in some wild finish. Not even in a "heated rivalry" sense, just in the context that Volusia really is one of the few places that you get to see all these guys together. Is that too much to ask? I think not.
AS: I agree that a Lucas-WoO dogfight would be fun, and any Billy Moyer-Scott Bloomquist battle for the win would do the trick, too. Moyer showed us at East Bay that he'll likely be up for the job. Let's see if the Zero team can raise its game and give Moyer a stiff challenge.