Mike Marlar and his Ronnie Delk-owned Dirt Late Model team had a very productive 2017 that including wins on the World of Outlaws Late Models Series, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, the Summer Nationals and a number of other events. Those feature wins also included a second consecutive triumph in the prestigious $40,000-to-win Knoxville Late Model Nationals event in Knoxville, Iowa.
Marlar’s travels took him all over the country to race in big events often far away from his Winfield, Tenn. home. And all that racing allowed his team to grow and improve at their craft.
“We’ve had a lot of fun,” Marlar declared in an interview with InsideDirtRacing.com. “We got a new hauler this year, not a brand new one but an almost new one, so it was a lot nicer about travelling and all the amenities are better when we’re gone. That was a big help right there and we have to thank Ronnie for helping us travel a lot better. But yeah, we went out and raced all over the place and a had a good year. We said this year that we wanted to race a lot and we got that done for sure. And through that we’ve had a lot of good finishes and good runs. We learned a lot. Our race team is better now than it was a year ago.”
Winning any crown jewel race is special for a driver but to turn around and follow up one of those victories with a confirming second triumph provides even more to savor. Marlar’s Knoxville Nationals win did exactly that for his Tennessee-based outfit.
“Oh yeah, that’s definitely a special deal to win,” the 39-year-old racer stated. “It’s tough to beat a field like that, and especially to do it twice. It was definitely a great accomplishment to do that and the rest of the year we had a lot of great finishes in a lot of different parts of the country.”
And to further confirm his talent and the ability of his crew, Marlar scored wins in a variety of settings. As mentioned earlier, his wins came on both national tours, the Summer Nationals, and the Southern National Bonus Series(including a $15,000 win at Ponderosa).
“I think we won with Ray Cook(Southern Nationals Bonus) this year too and I don’t know what all else,” Marlar pointed out. “Every week we want to go to the biggest race that we can get to. That’s our goal as a race team. We want to be good at it so we want to race against the best competition. We can’t always do that but logistically if we can pull it off that’s what we try to do so a lot of the races we go to are the toughest ones.”
Marlar and the No. 157 crew will expand on that in 2018 as they take on the World of Outlaws Late Model Series on a full-time basis. The past season’s experience of racing in various parts of the country and on a variety of track types will no doubt aid in the team being competitive in the races they take on. For a racer who has turned the majority of his laps on the red clay of the South, that experience should prove to be invaluable in the coming year.
“The stuff out in the Midwest and the northern part of the country is really racy,” Marlar explained. “You can move around in a lot of different lines. But growing up on the dirt we have here in the South it puts a lot of discipline in you too because you’ve got to nail it every lap, you have to hit that little mark every lap. A lot of the time qualifying comes down to hundredths of a second where in the Midwest a guy might set the pole by three or four tenths. This racing down here makes you a more disciplined driver and when you go up there you’ve got to use that discipline and learn to run different lanes. On a lot of those tracks up there you might run the top for part of the race, and the middle for a part of the race, and the bottom for part of the race. You can be all over the race track in a 50-lap feature.”
So was there a particular track that he visited for the first time that left an impression on the veteran driver?
“I’ve always watched the videos from Deer Creek, Minnesota and thought it was somewhere I’d want to go race and we went there and came from 22nd to 2nd in the feature,” Marlar beamed. “It was everything I hoped it would be. That was definitely a track I thought would be cool and it was. But all the racing is good, it’s just different in different parts of the country.”
But there was also one that got away. And as a regular on the WoO Late Models circuit, Marlar will have an opportunity to make amends this season.
“The USA Nationals at Cedar Lake, I thought we were going to win that race,” Marlar said. “There was a lapped car who kind of made it a mission to keep me behind him and it really cost me the race. I’m still a little bit bitter about that one. It was a $50,000-to-win and it would have been the most money we had won in a race. I ran third there a couple of years ago then came back this time and I’m leading it and about ran over a guy and ended up losing the race because of that. That was a stinger for me. This stuff will make you strong and make you tough.”