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Quick Time: Surveying talent through the ages

March 12, 2014, 3:02 pm
By Todd Turner
DirtonDirt.com managing editor

Take a quick lap around the proverbial dirt track with managing editor Todd Turner for a roundup of Dirt Late Model racing through the latest weekend of action along with some other quirks of racing (and the occasional ax-grinding). Quick Time, presented by PFC Brakes, appears throughout the regular season every Wednesday at DirtonDirt.com:

Frontstretch: Age breakdown

In a sport with a wide window or reaching a prime age, it’s common to consider the importance a winner's age, especially when a teen-ager enjoys his first success, or when a driver north of 50 continues to collect big paychecks. Splitting drivers by decades, who are currently the top five drivers in each age range? Here are my choices with ages listed for each driver:

Ages 10-19

Bobby Pierce, Oakwood, Ill. (17): Far and away topping this age group, Pierce has a few years to take a crack at Brandon Sheppard’s record as the youngest UMP DIRTcar Summernationals champion.

Devin Moran, Dresden, Ohio (19): Already with a Lucas Oil victory at his home track, Devin should only get better with Hall of Fame dad Donnie edging toward a crew chief role.

Chase Junghans, Manhattan, Kan. (18): Promising performer getting mentorship from Shane Clanton that should make him better.

Payton Looney, Republic, Mo. (19): Following the tire tracks of successful father Brad, he was second in ULMA points in his first full-time Late Model season.

Collen Wineberger, Corbett, Ore (18): Nine-time Crate winner in 2013 stepping up to Willamette Speedway’s top division.

Honorable mention (alphabetically): Robbie Emory, Georgetown, Del.; Tyler Erb, Magnolia, Texas; Michael Lake, Uniontown, Pa.; Adam Yarbrough, Denver, N.C.

Ages 20-29

Josh Richards, Shinnston, W.Va. (26): Out of action with an undisclosed medical condition, Richards is no longer the youngest, but he’s among the best of any age.

Brandon Sheppard, New Berlin, Ill. (21): Last year’s UMP DIRTcar weekly and Summernationals champion gets boost with seat time in Rocket Chassis house car.

Gregg Satterlee, Indiana, Pa. (29): Slipping in under the wire at 29, Satterlee’s last two seasons elevated his status with a Three State Flyers title and two WoO victories.

Eric Wells, Hazard, Ky. (25): Last year’s WoO winner at Duck River continues to show improvement.

Kent Robinson, Bloomington, Ind. (26): Injuries and personal setbacks have stunted his quick blossoming into the Late Model driver he’ll eventually become.

Honorable mention (alphabetically): Morgan Bagley, Longview, Texas; Max Blair, Centerville, Pa.; Klint Byars, Carrollton, Miss.; Jacob Hawkins, Fairmont, W.Va.; Jared Hawkins, Fairmont, W.Va.; Frank Heckenast Jr., Frankfort, Ill.; Jon Henry, Ada, Ohio; Justin Kay, Wheatland, Iowa; Dustin Linville, Bryantsville, Ky.; Billy Moyer Jr., Batesville, Ark.; Jeremy Payne, Springfield, Mo.; William Thomas, Phenix City, Ala.; R.C. Whitwell, Tucson, Ariz.

Ages 30-39

John Blankenship, Williamson, W.Va. (32): Once a twentysomething who had an air of disinterest, Blankenship has come into his own and last season became the youngest World 100 winner in six years.

Shane Clanton, Zebulon, Ga. (38): Twice a big winner at Eldora, he’s still looking for his first WoO title and isn’t afraid to make bold career moves in his effort to get it.

Chris Madden, Gray Court, S.C. (39): Currently the sport’s hottest driver, he’s been solid since bursting on the scene 15 years ago. He has what it takes to win at Eldora for a career-making victory.

Jonathan Davenport, Blairsville, Ga. (30): He's rebounded from the head-scratching lack of success with Clint Bowyer Racing in 2012 and intent on making his second go-round with the Rumleys unforgettable.

Jason Feger, Bloomington, Ill. (35): A tough call picking him over McCreadie, Marlar, Shirley and others, but his maturation in 2013 signals more big-race success is in his future.

Honorable mention (alphabetically): Steve Casebolt, Richmond, Ind.; Tony Jackson Jr., Lebanon, Mo.; Mike Marlar, Winfield, Tenn.; Tim McCreadie, Watertown, N.Y.; Bub McCool, Vicksburg, Miss.; Casey Roberts, Toccoa, Ga.; Brian Shirley, Chatham, Ill.; Chad Simpson, Mount Vernon, Iowa; Chris Simpson, Oxford, Iowa; Brady Smith, Solon Springs, Wis.

Ages 40-49

Jimmy Owens, Newport, Tenn. (42): A relative latecomer to Late Models after a dominating modified career, he’s in his prime with three straight Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series championships

Darrell Lanigan, Union, Ky. (43): His steady climb to stardom has reached its peak with two World of Outlaws titles and the reputation for clicking off double-figure victory totals every season.

Steve Francis, Ashland, Ky. (46): A steady driver who seems like he’s been around long enough to be older, Francis isn’t always in the limelight but he’s always in the mix.

Brian Birkhofer, Muscatine, Iowa (42): Had ups and downs between his World 100 victories, which were separated by 10 years, but many drivers do lots of winning in their 40s.

Don O’Neal, Martinsville, Ind. (49): On the cusp of 50, O’Neal started clicking off crown jewels with regularity. His throttle-mashing can still leave youngsters in his dust.

Honorable mention (alphabetically): Shannon Babb, Moweaqua, Ill.; Ray Cook, Brasstown, N.C.; Rick Eckert, York, Pa.; Dennis Erb Jr., Carpenterville, Ill.; Jimmy Mars, Menomonie, Wis.; Dale McDowell, Chickamauga, Ga.; Earl Pearson Jr., Jacksonville, Fla.; Terry Phillips, Springfield, Mo.

Ages 50-59

Billy Moyer, Batesville, Ark. (56): Six-time World 100 winner competed more successfully into his 50s than any other driver in Dirt Late Model history.

Scott Bloomquist, Mooresburg, Tenn. (50): Can the flashy driver who arrived on the scene with flowing locks and immense talent really be 50? We’re all getting older, and Bloomquist is still getting it done.

Steve Shaver, Vienna, W.Va. (50): His under-the-radar career stacks up better than his press clippings suggest, and he’s planning to make more noise in a Troy Baird-owned ride.

Ronnie Johnson, Chattanooga, Tenn. (58): Most of his racing is in Limiteds and Crates these days, but the two-time DTWC winner can still get it done.

Davey Johnson, Latrobe, Pa. (50): The three-time champion on the old STARS series going for it again in his 50s.

Honorable mention (alphabetically): Dick Barton, Ashville, N.Y.; Darrel DeFrance, Marshalltown, Iowa; Chub Frank, Bear Lake, Pa.; Vic Hill, Mosheim, Tenn.; Donnie Moran, Dresden, Ohio; Kevin Weaver, Gibson City, Ill.

Turn 1: Madden’s decision

With Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., winning two of the first three National Dirt Racing League events — and finishing second in another to grab the points lead on the second-year national tour — speculation immediately began on whether Madden would chase the tour’s $65,000 championship.

It would be Madden’s first national tour run, and quite a different path for the 38-year-old driver whose successful points-chasing has been limited to the Southeast with the Southern All Stars (titles in 2005-’06) and Schaeffer Oil Southern Nationals (titles in 2007-’09, ’11-’12).

In reviewing national touring records over the past 20 years, it’s rare for a driver to become among the first multiple-points race winners and not stick with the series all year long. Most drivers who became the first multiple-race winner in events (not counting February’s Speedweeks events) were tour regulars.

But if Madden elects to skip a full-time run in NDRL events, it wouldn’t be without precedent. Six times in the past 13 seasons drivers who didn’t stick with a series for entire season were the tour’s first multiple-race winners beginning with March races. Here’s the list:

2009: Brian Birkhofer (Lucas Oil)
2008: Billy Moyer (World of Outlaws)
2007: Shannon Babb (World of Outlaws)
2006: Scott Bloomquist (Lucas Oil)
2004: Don O’Neal (Xtreme)

2002: Scott Bloomquist (UDTRA)

Turn 2: Five key chassis switches

The move of reigning and three-time Lucas Oil champ Jimmy Owens to Darrell Lanigan’s Club 29 Race Cars follows some key off-season chassis switches and, considering that stature of Owens and Lanigan, could go down as among the biggest switches in Dirt Late Model history (One caveat: Owens plans at continue to field his Bloomquist Race Cars in some events).

Other recent switches are notable — Don O’Neal moving to Barry Wright Race Cars from MasterSbilt’s house car, and Billy Moyer’s late-career change to Longhorn Chassis from Victory Circle — but history will decide the import of those moves.

Plenty of drivers over their careers “changed chassis like underwear,” said historian Bob Markos, who contributed to this post, so switches among drivers who have bounced around aren’t as significant. But here’s a list at five key chassis switches that turned some heads:

1982: Hall of Famer Charlie Swartz switches among Indiana chassis builders, making the move from Rayburn Race Cars to Bullitt Race Cars.

1992: Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., left the Larry Shaw Race Cars house car and showed up at Florida Speedweeks with a Rayburn Race Car he eventually switched to full time.

1993: After dramatic early-career success with MasterSBilt Race Cars, Scott Bloomquist goes to Warrior in '93 and the next season lands in the Barry Wright house car ride that catapulted him to Hav-A-Tampa Series domination.

1998: After tremendously successful seasons in the GRT house car through the 1990s, Bill Frye of Greenbrier, Ark., switched briefly to a Rayburn then landed in a Warrior, winning his sixth start in that chassis.

2007: After a few years of switching among chassis, Billy Moyer jumps into a California-based Victory Circle Race car that propelled him to a rejuvenation, including stellar 2010 campaign.

Backstretch: Slick nostalgia

After catching the video of Morgan Bagley’s recent victory at Texas Motor Speedway’s Dirt Track, then stumbling onto You Tube video from the 1997 Hav-A-Tampa Series action from Chatham, La. (thanks for the Facebook tip, Kevin Gundaker!), I suddenly how much I miss slick-track racing.

Sure, I get a dose of a slicked-over racing surface now and again, but watching SUPR drivers struggle to find traction near Fort Worth (where for my first few visits the brutal surface was anything but slick) and then seeing the Hav-A-Tampa drivers slip and slide around Super Bee Speedway was refreshing.

I realize there’s a wide gulf between me, a lover of dry-slick racing, and fans that relish the hooked-up, high-speed action of a heavy racing surface. But the increased traction and slipstream aerodynamics of today’s cars means we see the latter more than the former.

My first tastes of dry-slick racing came in the heyday of Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway and I satisfied my thirsts with many trips to West Plains (Mo.) Motor Speedway. Nostalgia grips us all, now and then, but I wouldn’t mind a trip back (or back in time?) to a super-slick West Plains one day.

Turn 3: Tweets of the Week

Kyle Heckman ‏@kyle_heckman: Got to meet my hero today @ClintBowyer and talk a little dirt racing. Darn nice guy. Hoping to see more of him in the @peakauto #PeakSCD

Dirt Racing ‏@dirtracing_97: I love the sound of a Dirt Late Model! #dirtlatemodel

Alyssa ‏@ahsx3:Truck pulls, county fairs, dirt car racing, and bonfires. ... I'm getting so excited for this summer.

Turn 4: Turn back the clock

Five items from this week in Dirt Late Model history:

March 11, 1984: All-time winningest Southern All Star driver Ronnie Johnson of Chattanooga, Tenn., raced to victory at Green Valley Speedway in Glencoe, Ala., the first of his career on the B.J. Parker-founded tour.

March 15, 1997: Increasing his earnings to $60,000 in eight trips to Cleveland (Tenn.) Speedway, Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., pocketed $10,000 in topping Dale McDowell at the Shamrock 100.

March 12, 2001: Wellman S.M. Lehman, 73, an original investor and board member of Wayne County Speedway in Orrville, Ohio, died following a lengthy illness. He served as the track’s promoter from 1971-’84.

March 7, 2005: Rob Mapes, owner of Beech Creek Racing that has fielded cars for Pennsylvania racer Scott Haus for many years, died. He was 48.

March 13, 2009: The announcement was made that Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix, Ariz., would close within a month’s time. The historic track opened in 1951 and was among the West’s most famous dirt ovals.

Checkered flag: Five fearless weekend predictions

• One driver will sweep both Old Man’s Garage Spring Nationals features at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn.

• An Arkansas driver will capture ArkLaTex Speedway’s Pelican 100.

• Carolina Speedway’s Skyler Trull Memorial will go to a driver with five or fewer Carolina Clash Series victories.

• Fewer than half of 23 starters will return for the final 31 laps of Clarksville (Tenn.) Speedway’s Tuckassee Toilet Bowl Classic, halted by rain with Brian Shirley leading after nine laps.

• Casey Roberts will nab a victory in the Ultimate Series opener at Lavonia (Ga.) Speedway.

(Last week: One of three predictions correct; two rained out)

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