Fast Talk: Newsmakers win at Bulls Gap
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: The two drivers making the biggest news in Dirt Late Model racing shared victory lane over the weekend in Old Man’s Garage Spring Nationals action at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn.
Chris Madden, the nation’s hottest driver, and Jimmy Owens, who made his debut in a new Club 29 Race Car, grabbed victories, and let’s start with talking about Owens. He’s been tremendously successful for car owner Mike Reece in piloting Bloomquist Race Cars for more than seven seasons, but the Newport, Tenn., driver felt a move to the Darrell Lanigan-Ronnie Stuckey chassis was necessary to keep his program going forward. Were you all surprised by the move?
Michael Rigsby: Not surprised by the move, and not surprised that he won the first night out. I certainly don't want to be a wet blanket or anything, but it was Jimmy Owens at Bulls Gap. I'm pretty sure Owens could have take an old Pinto out there and won from outside the front row at his home track! That’s obviously no dis-respect to Owens or the Club 29 cars, but when you put Jimmy on that track ... I thought to myself before the race, "Of course Owens will win at least one at Bulls Gap." Not a shocking result at all, no matter the chassis.
Kevin Kovac: Not really. From everything I've always seen with Owens, he's obviously never been a guy attached at the hip to Scott Bloomquist at the track. You don't see him parking right alongside Bloomquist all the time … you see him talk with Bloomquist, but he's always seemed content to stay on the periphery and do his own thing. In that vein, even with all the success he's had in Bloomquist cars, it shouldn't be surprising that he would look elsewhere for a possible boost to his program. With Lanigan, Owens probably has found a chassis builder who's really more like him personality-wise.
TT: Let’s now look at Madden, the Gray Court, S.C., driver whose $10,000 victory Saturday gives him a nation-leading four five-figure paydays early in the 2014 season. His recent success has come at tracks where he’s had big victories before — East Alabama, Smoky Mountain and Volunteer. Are we seeing Madden simply take advantage of a friendly stretch of scheduling? Will his hot streak end when he’s at less familiar ovals, particularly if he decides to continue with the National Dirt Racing League, where he’s leading the points?
MR: I think those are both the million-dollar questions. Obviously we all know that Madden is really good. He's one of the best drivers in the country. But obviously these three wins have come at tracks Madden is maybe better at than anyone. My answer to that? Who cares. The fields at those races were really good, so it doesn't really matter if they were on Alaska, he got the job done. He's white-hot, the best driver in the country right now, so let's just call it that … damn impressive.
KK: Yeah, he's been winning at tracks where he's obviously comfortable. But it's not like he's grown up racing at any of the four tracks on a weekly basis … a few times a year, yes, but he's never been a regular at the places. The way I see it, it's incredibly hard to win four five-figure races anywhere in the span of just over a month. That Madden was able to do it signals that he will be hard to beat wherever he goes. Bottom line: he's just good.
TT: Let’s move down to Louisiana where the relatively unheralded Timothy Culp notched a home-state victory in outdueling Hall of Famer Billy Moyer at ArkLaTex Speedway’s Pelican 100. That was a sterling performance in a lengthy side-by-side duel for Culp, who has some nice regional victories to his credit but raised the bar with his $5,000 payday. Were you all as impressed as I was?
MR: Once again props to Ark-La-Tex for nailing the track surface and making it racy. Secondly, how excited was Culp? "This was like winning Daytona.” I’d say that's excited! He's shown he's got some moxie the past few years, and this was his biggest career Late Model win, which happened to be over Billy Moyer. Oh, and it was in the slick! Very impressive.
KK: What a performance by the youngster. He just stayed smooth on the bottom of the track, refusing to get intimidated running with Moyer. He kept digging and digging, and finally pulled ahead — and stayed there even through a series of caution flags. He did it with a brand-new Pierce car he just picked up too — great for Culp, and great for Pierce Race Cars. Last week we chatted here about a “local” who might be able to pull off a win at ArkLaTex. Who would have thought it would be Culp?
TT: One other thing about ArkLaTex’s action was some nice proactive schedule shuffling when Saturday’s weather forecast looked ominous. Instead of forging ahead with Friday preliminaries and praying they’d complete the program Saturday, promoter Gene Boyter scrapped the original plans and scheduled a $5,000-to-win Friday and $5,000-to-win Saturday (later they scrapped Saturday racing altogether). That really salvaged the weekend and made the most of drawing more than 50 race teams, a whopping number in that region for sure. What did you all think?
MR: Smart move. It made the weekend exist without the mystery of weather hanging over everyone's head. I know it's not the perfect solution for every promoter, but in this case, it 100 percent worked.
KK: Great move by the promoter, who really showed he was thinking about the race teams. Making Friday night a full show certainly tested his track's ability to get the word out quickly to the fans and racers, and judging by the turnout on both sides of the fence it was a successful call. I'm sure the racers were happy to at least salvage one night of racing to earn them a paycheck.
TT: Anything else catch your eye since we last met? Ryan Unzicker’s sweep at Clarksville, including the conclusion of the Tuckassee Toilet Bowl Classic? Weekly openers won by Rick Eckert in Hagerstown, Md., or Joe Janowski in Brownstown, Ind.? The cancellation of Kentucky Lake’s reopening NDRL special?
KK: Returning to Clarksville to finish off the Toilet Bowl Classic was a good choice for Unzicker. Considering he was sitting in second place when the race was stopped by rain March 8 and he knew leader Brian Shirley wasn't coming back, the door was wide open for Unzicker. He took advantage of it. He picked up $2,700 for leading the remaining laps of the feature on Saturday, and added another $1,000 for winning the regularly-scheduled UMP feature that followed.
MR: Does Rick Eckert ever do anything but win when he's in Paul Crowl’s No. 7 Rocket? Nice start for Unzicker in one of the most under-the-radar makeup events of all time. Tough to see KLMS get the plug pulled, but any of us that perused that legal hearing video online had a feeling that event was going to be tough to get in.
TT: Speaking of Brownstown, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Indiana Icebreaker highlights the upcoming weekend’s action with a race that’s become the Midwest’s traditional season opener. The tour is back in action for the first time since Florida Speedweeks with Earl Pearson Jr. in the points lead. What are you looking for at the historic quarter-mile oval?
MR: It's time for the Dairy Queen Classic! (Wait, I had a flashback to 1996 ... what an era!) It has been just a miserable winter, so I think if the weather cooperates this weekend the turnout will be huge. I'll be interested to see how the track races. Steve Barnett told me today that you can no longer "get off" the backstretch, and wheel back on. I've never seen Brownstown like that, so I'm looking forward to that. As for drivers, I'll take Pearson for the March win.
KK: The thing that will once again give the Icebreaker some extra pizzazz is seeing some of the Midwest's top guys race for the first time this season. Will guys like Babb and Feger be there to take on the Lucas travelers?
If we're making Brownstown picks, I'll go with the Hoosier, Don O'Neal, to keep the money in state and get his first win with Clint Bowyer's team.