Fast Talk: Where does Madden go from here?
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 Kevin Kovac 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: If you’ve feel like you’ve heard the name Chris Madden a lot so far this season, you’re right. And you might be hearing even more of it.
Let’s start off talking about the South Carolina driver, whose $12,500 NDRL victory at Smoky Mountain Speedway’s Tennessee Tipoff gives him three victories in seven 2014 starts. He’s finished worse than sixth just once this season and, going back to late 2013, Madden has won eight of his last 15 feature starts.
Any chance Madden carries his early-season success into a season-long run with NDRL?
Michael Rigsby: I'll go ahead and say that I've elevated Madden to No. 1 in my DirtonDirt.com poll this week based on his performance the last two weeks. With that said, I think Chris will have to think long and hard about it. I mean, he's got a possible $65,000 payday at the end of the season should he choose to chase the national tour’s points — but with Madden, you always know he'll be drawn to those regional shows, etc. that he does so well at throughout the course of the year. Will he run it? I'd say it's crossing his mind, but nothing has been set in stone at all for sure.
TT: It’s tough to make a season-long commitment, but it'd be neat to see him stick with it long enough to make it a tougher decision for him. On the other hand, the earlier he bails out the easier the decision will be, so maybe that's the wiser choice.
Kevin Kovac: I think he has to seriously consider it. As I've said before, I see Madden as perhaps the top driver out there who's never run a full national tour. Back in 2007 he ran with the World of Outlaws until early June when the premature birth of his son and other factors forced him off the road, but that's the extent of his extent national points-chasing. Whether he believes his program is strong enough to go out on the road with the NDRL, he'll have to determine that. The great start he's had financially this year, though, could give him that incentive to go after it.
TT: Kevin had a couple of nice pieces last week about Smoky Mountain’s ambitious special-event schedule, and Michael, you also had a good interview with co-promoter Casey Moses. Seems like the Maryville, Tenn., got the weather turned around just in time to enjoy a successful weekend, and it was also a boost for the NDRL tour that’s had some growing pains in its first full-time season. Turned about to be a pretty good marriage, didn’t it?
MR: You ask any promoter in the Dirt Late Model game, and they'll tell you great March weather is worth it's weight — or wait? — in gold. If you can hit the weather just right in March, especially in the Southeast, you can't recreate that any other time. On the flip side, if the weather is miserable, it can go the other way in a hurry. Congrats to Casey, Dustin and everyone at Smoky Mountain. They got the weather, ran a great program and the first hurdle for their "big year" of scheduling has been cleared.
KK: When a track hits on a really nice weekend for a season-opening show in March, the potential for a blockbuster is definitely there. Smoky Mountain management had the weather on their side and, not surprisingly, it appeared they hit a home run. Good for them — the ownership group there has really stuck their necks out this year to put together a truly special-show schedule, and they got off to a roaring start. And by all accounts the NDRL presented an efficient show, which gives them some early-season momentum.
TT: How about a shout out to Dale McDowell, too, who captured Smoky Mountain’s Friday night feature. I really enjoyed talking with him at Speedweeks about his multiple racing roles: driver, mentor at Team Dillon Racing, driving school instructor and now co-owner of Boyd’s Speedway in Ringgold, Ga., along with David Duplissey. I’m not sure he’ll race forever, but you get the feeling the 47-year-old McDowell is one of those drivers who still has a lot of victories left in him, don’t you?
MR: None of us our supposed to play favorites, but it's hard not to love Dale McDowell. From his grace in victory and defeat, to his willingness to truly explain what happened in a race (win or lose), to his steady personality, he's just such a likable guy. And yes, he's got some magic left in him when it comes to victories Todd. I particularly think at Eldora, where his style is 100 percent conducive to win a big event there before his career is over. This year maybe?
KK: Dale is always one of the best guys in the pit area to chat up, and he has a manner about him that just makes it clear he has things together. He doesn't race all over the map like he used to, but that's because he's thinking about the future with all the racing-related business interests he has. When he does climb in the cockpit, though, he's still tough to beat — that's especially true this year. It seems like he's pretty confident with his program.
TT: In reviewing other weekend specials, chime in, if you wish, about one or more of these. Riley Hickman notching his first MARS victory at Clarksville, Tenn., as he proves again he’s lifted his program up a couple of notches the past few seasons; Morgan Bagley getting a home-state victory in a SUPR race at Texas Motor Speedway where the surface offered dramatic racing action; and don’t forget the folks out West where Clay Daly notched a victory in Las Vegas on Wednesday, then Bobby Hogge IV won the following West Coast Shootout event in Bakersfield, Calif. What caught your eye?
MR: Obviously at Clarksville they battled weather issues all weekend and tried to get a race in on a track that still had snow on its infield and around its edges outside the track. Hickman's Friday night win was another great regional notch in his belt, while I'm sure the Bagley team had to be thrilled after struggling a bit out of the gate to start the year. For them to not only win a race, but win it on a track that offered a lot of racing had to make them feel a March-turnaround could be coming.
TT: Hickman has really stepped up his game. I stopped him in the aisles at the PRI show in December and he was quick to give credit to his crew chief Brad "Urkel" Carvin. It's definitely a combination that's clicking on all cylinders.
KK: Good win for Morgan Bagley out at Texas Motor Speedway. I'm looking at Morgan as a driver ready to take a big step this season after chasing the World of Outlaws schedule for the first time in 2013, and winning that SUPR show is the kind of thing a guy with aspirations for national success is supposed to do. He did it after crashing pretty hard in practice on Thursday and pretty much having to rebuild his car at his shop, which was a good test for his crew.
Clay Daly's win out at Vegas got my attention, too, because, well, his car is owned by Pete Van Iderstine, a guy whose name takes me back to my Northeast big-block modified roots. Pete lives in California but is originally from New Jersey, and he was the guy who effectively launched the career of New Jersey big-block modified star Brett Hearn. Hey, I can’t help finding a big-block connection.
The rain-induced situation with Clarksville's Toilet Bowl Classic — was Brian Shirley the winner of a nine-lap feature, or wasn't he? — also was a big deal over the weekend. It looks like everything is resolved now with Clarksville promoter William Scogin's decision to continue the race to completion on March 15. Check back here on DirtonDirt.com in a little bit for the details of all that went on with the Toilet Bowl event.
TT: Let’s look ahead to next weekend, starting with the opening weekend on the Ray Cook-promoted Old Man’s Garage Spring Nationals with a doubleheader at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn. The second-year tour absorbed Volunteer’s long-running Spring Thaw and, as we’ve already noted, east Tennessee can be fertile territory for early season races. What should fans look for?
KK: Chris Madden, Chris Madden, Chris Madden. Volunteer Speedway's doubleheader is on his schedule, and that's a place where he runs well. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him add some more cushion to his racing bank account this weekend.
MR: This is the second year of Ray's Spring Nationals and it was wildly successful last year. The Spring Thaw was such a natural place for it to start, and I'm sure we'll see Bloomquist, Owens and many top drivers in the area take the opportunity to race this weekend at what is one of their favorite racetracks. And as Kevin pointed out, is there any doubt Chris Madden is the favorite? It has to be him right? Did we mention Chris Madden? He might be a favorite?
TT: Further south, ArkLaTex Speedway’s Pelican 100 is set for this weekend as the track in Vivian, La., continues to expand its Late Model resume (the track hosts the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series in April and another Comp Cams Super Dirt Series event in May). Outside Batesville (Ark.) Motor Speedway’s Topless 100, this has quickly become the region’s biggest race. Only one “home state” driver — if you count Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana — has won the race with Louisiana’s Ray Moore grabbing the inaugural event in 2011. Can any locals get it done this year?
MR: First off, this is one of the best-kept secrets in Dirt Late Model racing. The track is racy with close-quarters action and the surface stays a good combination of slick/tacky all night. It always produces good racing. As far as a local, I guess it depends on how you define that. I think that Billy Moyer Jr. has to be a favorite the way he's running, but is he a "local"? If so, then yes, a local can get it done. I'll take 21jr for the win.
KK: The level of competition has been building each year in that event, so that makes it tougher for the “locals" to come out on top. But someone from that neck of the woods could certainly pull off a win. I'll put my money on Morgan Bagley being that driver. He’s coming in hot off his Texas Motor Speedway victory, so maybe that confidence boost will propel him.