Fast Talk presented by Out-Pace Racing Products
Fast Talk: The success of Bloomquist, Pierce
Amid the blistering early-summer heat, our weekly roundtable sponsored by Out-Pace Racing Products takes a breather to consider on and off the track happenings in Dirt Late Model racing (edited for lengthy and clarity):
Scott Bloomquist — more driven in overcoming controversy or more driven by big purses?
Kevin Kovac, DirtonDirt.com senior writer: That big money definitely energizes Bloomquist — I mean, he’s spoken many times about how important it is for a driver to knock off the richest races if they expect to make racing their living. But I believe there’s something to the theory that controversy gives him a little extra push. I sort of equate it to a superstar athlete going into an opposing team’s stadium or arena and reveling in shutting up all the rival fans lined up against him. When Bloomquist everyone is questioning him and/or talking smack on him, it’s like his focus cranks up another notch because he wants to just show everybody how good he is — like he did at Lernerville’s Firecracker 100.
Alli Collis, DirtonDirt.com staff writer: I think the answer is both. Regardless of everything that unfolded with the suspension last week, Bloomquist would have been focused coming in to the Firecracker weekend. After all, it’s a $30,000-to-win race and he entered the event a two-time winner. He really needed a big performance after failing to make the Dream starting lineup. But then you throw in the controversy. Bloomquist is one of those guys that knows how to feed off of it, from his post-race comments to his domination in the final laps of the feature. Him winning isn’t really all that surprising.
Matt Prieur, World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series announcer: Scott Bloomquist is one of the most driven competitors in history. It doesn’t matter what’s going on around him. But the feeling is that he took on a special persona this past weekend at Lernerville and you could just tell he was focused. Even the eyes inside the skull on his car were red this past week. “Making a statement” was his answer when asked about the graphics change. He then went out and did what he does best — deliver in big money shows. He’s one of the best ever to climb behind the wheel of race car for a reason, and this past weekend just adds to that.
Michael Rigsby, DirtonDirt.com co-founder and CEO: When the entire suspension news came down, and we then found out Scott would appeal and race at Lernerville for the Firecracker 100, there was only one thought in my mind: He’s going to win this race. Bloomquist has made a habit in his career of winning the biggest races during/after an immediate drama that happens in his racing world, and this was exactly that. From the "stick a banana in it" comment, to the focus you could tell he had all weekend, he came to Pennsylvania with a purpose. And regardless of what you think about the tire scandal that's swirling him right now from Eldora, there's no doubt that he was going loaded for bear to the Firecracker. This is one of the least shocking developments of the year. By a mile.
Todd Turner, DirtonDirt.com managing editor: Both? Bloomquist is one of those drivers — definitely the Dale Earnhardt mold — where, when his back is against the wall or the stakes are highest, he performs his best more often than not. So Lernerville was a perfect setup for him with $30,000 up for grabs, the tire controversy looming and his subpar Dream performance. He’s one of a kind.
Your best takeaway on the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals after two weeks of action.
Kovac: That those racers in our DirtonDirt.com drivers’ survey who voted Bobby Pierce as the most overrated Dirt Late Model driver earlier this year couldn’t be more wrong. If you haven’t gotten a chance to check out how hard Pierce has been driving over the past week-and-half to win five of the first nine Hell Tour events, then head on over to our video archives now and click play. He’s been super-impressive — most definitely not an “overrated” driver. I truly believe that Pierce got 15-or-whatever percent of the “overrated driver” vote because those guys are simply jealous of him for being a good-looking, well-spoken son of a well-known former racer and current chassis builder. There is no reason whatsoever to consider Pierce overrated. He’s just damn good and getting better — a fact he’s showing by putting together a dominant Summernationals performance reminiscent of guys like Billy Moyer, Shannon Babb and Don O’Neal (none of whom were anywhere close to being a teenager when they had their big winning seasons).
Rigsby: Until Fairbury on Saturday night (which drew a ridiculously high 50 cars a year ago), a sneaky statistic that no one was talking about was that car count was up at every track on tour. It wasn't up by a wide margin, but it was still up. I think people take a look at the numbers and may not think it's a lot, but the counts are headed the right direction, and that's a good sign. Maybe new tire rule. Maybe pod-system for points, but either way, it's a positive. Also, I can't help but look at that second week of the tour as the meat-week. Car counts in the 40s for most of the week, and that Spoon River, Tri-City, Fairbury stretch where the tour really hits its stride. Not a bad idea to consider starting the tour with that week in the future?
Turner: As far as drama goes, we’re getting to the point where the most excitement might be to see if Pierce can take a run at Shannon Babb’s record 15-victory season in 2005 (truly a tall order). He’s only missed the top five once, so something major is going to have to happen for someone to track him down in the points. I’m looking forward to Thursday’s race in Springfield, Mo. — it’ll be fun to get that MARS regulars in the mix at a first-time series track.
Collis: I made the trip from Lernerville to Haubstadt on Sunday, and wow, was it worth the drive. I made my first visit to Tri-State last year and have a huge fan ever since. Sunday night proved why. Bobby Pierce and Brandon Sheppard were giving it all they had in a wild battle for the lead. I don’t think either driver had much of right-rear quarter panel at the race’s end. Had the rain not started to fall, who knows how that one could have turned out. Sunday was a real display of what the Hell Tour is all about.
Prieur: Bobby Pierce is on a mission to repeat as the tour champ. Five wins already in nine races held so far shows that he is the man to beat once again on the grueling tour. The two races just about everyone is looking ahead to is the head-to-head battles with the World of Outlaws at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 and Lincoln Speedway. The 19-year-old already has the Northern Kickoff and Heartland Tour titles and a monster points lead overall in the Hell Tour. If he’s going to grab that elusive first-ever WoO win, this is the perfect opportunity.
With time to digest the Dream tire-cheating scandal, provide the freshest perspective you can muster.
Turner: Frankly, it wearies me. Lab tests. Denials. Uncertainty. Denials. Lab tests. It’s the most unsavory thing in our sport and that the top drivers haven’t formed a coalition to put a stop to it is a disappointment. It appears we may be in an endless cycle of chemicals that can beat the tests for a time until the tests catch up, and round and round we go. It wearies me.
Kovac: I don’t think I’ll be alone in saying that I hate the whole deal — just absolutely, positively hate having it as an issue hanging over the sport that we have to report on. It just absolutely sucks having to write about situations like this. Honestly — and we’ve had some DirtonDirt.com conversations about this — in controversies like this you talk to the drivers, crewmen and team owners implicated and you feel like what they say makes so much sense and there’s no way they could have illegally altered their tires. Then you talk to a lot of their rivals in the pit area and you hear things that make you say, “Jeez, maybe at least some of them did do something.” It’s just so darn confusing, and I hope, one way or another, the tire-cheating issue somehow goes away and we just can focus on writing about great racing. And anybody who really is really illegally doctoring tires? Well, shame on them.
Prieur: I'm over it myself. I know it had to be addressed throughout the week at various points at Lernerville when two of the drivers involved pulled into the pits for the weekend. But otherwise, I’m so over it. The on-the-track action is what is most important, not the off-the-track stuff. That’s all I have to say about that deal.
Rigsby: Mine is pretty simple. I'm over it. I'm tired of it. If I never had to hear the word tire again in my life it will be too soon. If you're looking for me to give you some fresh take you've probably come to the wrong spot. I'm tired of the he-said, she-said tire BS in our sport, and I flat-out want it to stop. I'm not presenting an opinion other than ... when stuff like this happens, and tire scandals are all we talk about, it's not good for anyone. It's flatout exhausting and ridiculous, and I wish we never had to write another word about it. But I feel like that's probably never going to happen.
Collis: At this point, it is what it is. The tests showed what they showed, suspensions were handed out and appeals were made. Going over it again and again, arguing that someone is guilty or isn’t guilty, won’t change that. We’ll see how the appeal process works out and things will go from there. But I doubt that we’ve heard the last of this story.
Your best under-the-radar tidbit of the weekend?
Collis: How about that race at Richmond? I consider myself a Florence homer, but if we’re getting technical, Richmond is my home track. I loved seeing Chris Tilley and the Yantz family have such a great event! Many have often commented that Richmond is a one-groove racetrack, but cars were really able to move around Saturday night, both high and low. The track just keeps continuing to improve. And that marked Zack Dohm’s richest career payday, which makes it even more special.
Turner: Jeff Rine’s 100th victory at Selinsgrove (Pa.) Speedway. He’s been among the steadiest weekly racers anywhere the last 10 years, and to reach a milestone like that at your home track has got to be satisfying.
Prieur: While Scott Bloomquist won the big money and Josh Richards left the week having not finished worse than second over four WoO races, what got overlooked was the fact that 2015 Rookie of the Year, Brandon Overton finally scored that elusive first career WoO victory at Lernerville. Not only that, but he beat Richards and Bloomquist to do it. The Evans, Ga., driver has been strong all season long and you knew it was only going to be a matter of time before the 25-year-old would finally score that first major victory. The emotion in victory lane afterwards cemented the fact of how special this truly was for him.
Kovac: I’ll point to last Saturday night’s Crate Late Model action at Senoia (Ga.) Raceway, where 19-year-old Dylan Knowles won the evening’s feature less than one week after his father and crew chief, Scott Knowles, died at 44 in a motorcycle accident. Talk about an emotional scene — with his car sporting a color and graphics scheme that his late father used on his Dirt Late Model nearly a decade ago, Dylan won one for his dad. There was no victory lane in which more tears were probably shed than Dylan’s last Saturday night.
Rigsby: With the Firecracker, Hell Tour at FALS, great race at Richmond, etc., Chris Ferguson's rally at Dublin might get lost in the mix, but its worth noting. No shock Fergy likes the high line and he navigated it perfectly on the way to $5,000. From the accounts of everyone there he was "dead in the water", and pulled one of the better top-side runs we've seen in a long time. I'm trying to find some video of the event, because it sounds like it was worth watching. That's his first win in the new XR1 Rocket, too, so I'm sure he's glad to get that behind him.
Asphalt tracks covered in dirt — yea or nay?
Rigsby: I'm all in on it. I say all the time in our sport that we are void of good ideas, and neat stuff that we can latch onto. This week in Rockford (and previously at Bristol and Berlin) will be a lot of fun. I know the buzz up there is huge right now, and I'd expect that it'll be a hell of a crowd for both the sprints and the Late Models. But to answer the original question, as long as the racing's good, I don't care if the dirt track is on Mars, if it races, it races. So yes!
Prieur: This is a wonderful idea. Having had the privilege of co-calling the WoO race at Berlin in 2012, it’s a really neat deal. An outside the box idea that works. The anticipation for the Outlaw Clay Classic is through the roof with the sprints coming in on Wednesday and then to come right back with the Late Models on Thursday. The crowd is going to be unbelievable both days. Thankfully, I will have a seat on Thursday night. May have to stand on Wednesday, though.
Kovac: A resounding “yea” from me — provided, of course, there’s experienced track-prep people to oversee the application of the surface and its conditioning. There are a lot of really nice pavement facilities across the country, and turning them into dirt tracks for special events creates races that are true happenings because they’re such a novelty. Those WoO shows at Michigan’s Berlin Raceway were always interesting, and I’m sure Rockford will be this week — especially since it’s the smallest track yet that’s been covered with dirt. I say do it to more tracks. After all, every time I see an asphalt track and say to myself, “I’d love to see this place with dirt on it.”
Turner: The pros? Typically top-notch facilities, new-race excitement and the drama of the unknown. The cons? It ain’t easy to toss dirt on an asphalt track and be certain it’s going to be flawless. That said, let’s hope Rockford’s big race Thursday turns out to be a good one. It’s a shame it’s not a combined World of Outlaws-Summernationals to spice the fun even further.
Collis: I don’t think I can answer this question yet, because this week’s Rockford event will mark my first time ever attending this type of race. It’s definitely a fun idea and brings something new to the program. The World of Outlaws have had success with the dirt-covered Berlin Raceway in the past, so I don’t expect anything different from Rockford.