Fast Talk presented by Out-Pace Racing Products
Fast Talk: Who will deny Richards, Sheppard?
The sparklers are already starting to fizzle a bit, but our Out-Pace Racing Products-sponsored roundtable has summoned the energy to power through the Fourth of July weekend in reviewing all the action (edited for clarity and length):
Is an Ohio sweep inevitable for Josh Richards?
Michael Rigsby, DirtonDirt.com co-founder and CEO: I had heard rumblings the past few weeks that Josh had found something, and not only his switch back to Durham Engines would benefit him, but that I should expect him to turn things around. It looks like he found whatever that something was. So to answer your question yes, he's about to win tonight at Muskingum County for a Lucas Oil sweep of Ohio. It has been odd to sort of see Josh muddle through the past few months without getting on one of those streaks he's accustomed to. I think the muddling is over, and he's back on point. All while his former Rocket House car ride with Brandon Sheppard seems to be hitting stride as well. Be interesting to see if they continue to stay hot at the same time.
Alli Collis, DirtonDirt.com staff writer: I could see this going both ways. As good as Josh Richards has been the past two nights, there’s no doubt that he’s capable of a weekend sweep. But with the series traveling to Muskingum County tonight, I’ll have my eye on Devin Moran. That is is home track after all, and he’s got more laps there than just about any other driver. If anyone is going to stop a Richards sweep, I think Moran is the one to do it.
Kevin Kovac, DirtonDirt.com senior writer: Nothing is inevitable in racing, but Richards would seem very well positioned to complete a sweep. He has the ability to win races in bunches — and, while he’s a quiet guy, he’s also extremely driven, and I have a feeling that his innate desire to win is showing through right now. I think everybody sort of forgot about Richards a little over the past month because he sat out the Dream and Firecracker 100 — he raced just once in June, which, in this business, is out of sight, out of mind — but he spent that down time with the Best Performance Motorsports team gearing up for a big summer push. He’s an all-time talent, remember, and he’s proved it with this outburst. And now he’s right back in the battle for the Lucas Oil championship.
Kelly Carlton, Ultimate Series race director: Not only do I think Josh will sweep Ohio, I believe he is about to go on a summer tear which I believe will propel him to the top of the Lucas standings. Being comfortable in a race car and knowing what to expect from it is such a big key to success. With everything being fairly equal technology wise to these upper tier teams that can be the deciding factor. We know Josh is comfortable with his chassis but the addition of Andy Durham Engines is big plus for Josh’s comfort level. And that can spell trouble for his fellow Lucas travelers.
Kyle Symons, DirtonDirt.com contributor: Richards has found some speed lately after suffering through a period where they weren't contending for wins. The struggles came as a surprise because even though Richards is in a brand ride with Best Performance Motorsports this season, they came out of the gate in Florida firing winning races, only to slow down as the season wore on. If I had to guess though Richards is back. He looked dominant at Portsmouth and picked up another victory at Mansfield with the Lucas Oil series, and with the solid history that Richards has with Muskingum County Speedway, the same money would be on him winning tonight.
Who will halt Brandon Sheppard’s successful Summernationals drop-in?
Kovac: I have to imagine that the Summernationals regulars are muttering, “OK, enough, Brandon. Thanks for visiting.” Three straight wins with two different cars? Man, he’s showing why he’s getting votes as the No. 1 driver in DirtonDirt.com’s Top 25 poll. It’s going to be tough for anyone to beat B-Shepp until he heads back out with the World of Outlaws, but, if I have to pick one driver to snap his streak, I’ll go with the obvious choice and say Bobby Pierce. The two-time and defending Hell Tour champion hasn’t tallied the wins like he did on last year’s series, but he’s regularly been in contention so he’s due to break through.
Symons: Can anyone stop Sheppard right now? He has dropped in on the Summernationals tour and after picking up wins at Plymouth and Lincoln along with a victory at I-55 that was co-sanctioned with the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series, Sheppard looks close to unstoppable. It doesn't seem to matter either whether he's in the Rocket house car, which in my opinion is the best car in the country right now, or his family-owned No. B5 machine, Sheppard is tough to beat wherever he unloads. With that being said though I think his streak ends tonight. Bobby Pierce gets back in victory lane at Quincy on the Summernationals tour.
Carlton: Brandon is just too good right now. He has confidence, speed and great race cars. Add to that the fact he is racing at these tracks where he has so much experience and I am not sure anyone will stop him until he heads back on the World of Outlaws Late Model trail. But if I am forced to pick someone — and I know the easy answer is, of course, Bobby Pierce — I am inclined to think that Billy Moyer gets back to the win column.
Rigsby: How about the fellow Rocket guy that's traveling all the way through the Prairie Dirt Classic with him, Kyle Bronson. The Floridian will be on the road for over a month, and has been really fast since he's unloaded and if not for Sheppard might have won Sunday at Lincoln. Obviously, I still think Bobby Pierce has some wins in him, but in these short sprints, Bronson is going to be tough to beat at least a few times on the road.
Collis: How about Tyler Erb? It was just a week ago that Erb picked up his first Summernationals victory at Tri-State. He’s been right up front in the past few events, from Plymouth on Thursday to last night at Lincoln. Brandon Sheppard is going to be tough to beat, but I think Erb is capable of getting another Hell Tour victory before heading west for the next World of Outlaws swing.
What’s another holiday weekend highlight?
Carlton: Easy one here — Clint Smith winning the Michael Head, Jr. Memorial at Senoia Raceway. I know Clint Smith about as well as any driver in the country. Clint and Mike Head both raced many years with me when I was with Southern All Stars. So I know the relationship Clint has with Mike and the Head family. I also know how much he has coveted a win in this race since its inception. Clint was about as emotional as he gets in victory lane so there is no doubt this will be one of his most special wins. The fact that he won the race at his home track made the victory all the more compelling.
Collis: It had to be Saturday’s Summernationals feature at I-55. While Brandon Sheppard held a solid lead out front, there was nothing but chaos behind him, with Brian Shirley, Bobby Pierce and Tyler Erb throwing sliders and trading position for second. That battle all came to a wild end with less than 10 laps remaining when they all piled up in turns three and four, propelling Eric Wells and Rick Eckert to a podium finish. That’s not something that you see very often.
Rigsby: It was neat to see Clint Smith get his first Southern All Star victory since 2009! And not only win the race, but do it at the track near his Senoia shop in the Michael Head Jr. Head Memorial. Clint is still a guy I like to talk racing with, and while he may not travel nationally anymore, he's still competitive as hell, and this was a "racing win" as I like to call them for the Cat Daddy. A couple of bonus ones: Derek Doll gets his richest win ever ($7,000) at Tyler County Sunday. Terry Phillips sweeps Salina (an awesome track, by the way) to the tune of $8,000 total, while it took a Rickman in Mississippi to halt Jack Sullivan's attempt at the weekend sweep. Should we be surprised that it was a Rickman? It almost had to be that way.
Symons: It's definitely off the radar, but how about Kyle Berck picking up his 70th career victory on the Malvern Bank Super Late Model Series at Junction Motor Speedway? Since the series inception in 2008, Berck has racked up an impressive victory total, albeit to little fan fare. What's even more impressive is the spread between him and his next closest competitor on the all-time win list. Bill Leighton Jr. is next on the win list with 12 career series victories. That's a spread of 58 victories in just nine seasons. Incredible.
Kovac: I also enjoyed seeing Clint Smith win Saturday night’s Michael Head Jr. Memorial at his home track, Senoia (Ga.) Raceway. It was his first Southern All Star Series win since 2009, but, more notably, he seemed truly thrilled to capture a race run in memory of former Dirt Late Model great Mike Head’s late son. He spoke of Mike Head being his racing hero (“I consider him one of the best, if not the best, drivers in the United States at any point in time,” Cat Daddy said), growing up with Michael Head Jr. and experiencing grief when the younger Head passed. You could tell how special the victory was for Smith.
A holiday weekend driver who caught your eye?
Symons: Trever Feathers of Winchester, Va. Feathers was the dominant winner of the Independence Day Summer Classic event at his hometown track, and he's been the hottest driver in the Mid-Atlantic region lately with several victories at Winchester and Hagerstown Speedways. What even more impressive is how he's doing it. He's been absolutely dominant in his Barry Wright race car leading every lap of almost every event. He also led many laps of the Appalachian Speedweek event at Hagerstown before giving way to eventual winner Rick Eckert. Look for even more big things out of Feathers before the season is over.
Rigsby: Jared Miley had himself a two-win weekend that totaled over $7,000. Miley to me is the forgotten guy in Pennsylvania who turns in consistent performances each and every season. Because he doesn't venture past the Ohio Valley much, he's probably a little under-valued overall. A guy like him is going to make his year on winning those $3,000- and $4,000-to-win shows, so it's good he cashes in when he has the chance. He comes from "racing stock" if you will, so I know he doesn't take his Late Model success for granted.
Collis: Terry Phillips had a solid weekend. He picked up a pair of MLRA-MARS victories in the Salina Highbanks doubleheader and ran fifth in Sunday’s stop at Monett. Another standout is Michigan’s Dona Marcoullier, who scored his fourth Ethanol tour victory on Sunday at Merritt after finishing second in Saturday’s show at Thunderbird.
Kovac: How about Jared Miley? The Pittsburgh driver won ULMS-sanctioned shows at Thunder Mountain Speedway in Knox, Pa., and Eriez Speedway in Hammett, Pa. — a pair of checkered flags worth a combined $7,100. Coming soon after Miley ventured out to run the first stretch of Ernie D’s Appalachian Mountain Speedweek (and registered two top-fives), the wins provide evidence of Miley’s development into a solid regional driver.
Carlton: How about Dona Marcoullier getting yet another win at Merritt Speedway on that American Ethanol Tour. The Houghton Lake, Michigan standout has been nothing short of remarkable this year. In seven events he has four victories. The other three races? Second. He hasn’t finished worse than second against some solid competition. Honorable mentions to Jared Miley with his double-victory weekend and Vic Hill, who broke out his recent self-proclaimed slump at Tazewell.
What’s the best plan and/or timing for fireworks in a race program?
Kovac: I say a promoter should hold off the fireworks display until the very end of the show — but they have to also make sure that the racing program doesn’t drag on for hours. A holiday event with fireworks provides a track the opportunity to draw casual, and even new, fans — people love fireworks, you know — so a promoter better make damn sure the product they display on the track is top-notch. That means an extremely quick, program, one that shouldn’t even last three hours so that the new faces in the stands (certainly including more families, and thus kids, than usual) have to watch the racing to its conclusion but won’t get bored doing so. You don’t see fireworks shot off in the middle of a baseball game, so it shouldn’t happen at a race. Save the holiday fireworks attraction for last so you can possibly interest your new customers in your racing, too.
Collis: If track prep is required between preliminaries and features, a fireworks show is a good way to keep fans entertained during that 20-minute break. But if the show is rolling right along, I think it’s probably best to do it after racing is complete to keep the momentum going.
Rigsby: Man, do I need to be careful here. Now that I've become the unofficial-official gatekeeper for time management in Dirt Late Model racing, my knee-jerk reaction is: Never! But I get it with the Fourth of July races To me it's pretty simple that you run them at the end of the night. You run your efficient three-hour program — see what I did there?! — and then when that's done you shoot fireworks off until you're blue in the face.
Carlton: If it is longer than a couple of minutes or requires the lights to be turned off I think waiting to the end of the program is always best. However if you have a well-managed program that provides for a 30- or 40-minute break that is normally your intermission, that may be the best time to do it. The fireworks will certainly be more entertaining than just telling folks about the concession stand. We utilize a short display on our parade laps — nothing to hold up the show, but a little something that adds a little pizzazz.
Symons: Personally, I'm not a big fan of fireworks at the races, but I understand why you have them, especially over the Independence Day weekend events. But they need to be done right. Either do them after the show so people who don't want to stick around don't have to, or if there is going to be a 15- or 20-minute intermission anyway, that’s the best time. Usually that's right before the start of the features.