*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideDirtRacing.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the dirt racing topics of the day from east Tennessee and beyond.
Richard: Just in case there’s anyone out there who had not yet realized, Mike Marlar is a tremendous talent behind the wheel of a race car. Those of us in the east Tennessee region have seen the Winfield, Tenn. driver do his thing on the dirt tracks around our area for some time and knew of his abilities. And on occasion the driver of the No. 157 machine had shown off his skills by winning noteworthy events such as the Hillbilly 100 and the Clash at the Mag.
But this season, Marlar is announcing in a loud and clear way to everyone in the dirt racing world, no matter what region of the country, that he is very good at what he does.
On Saturday night Marlar claimed his second Knoxville Nationals victory on the famed track in Knoxville, Iowa. Not only did he earn a $40,000 paycheck but he also earned even more respect as a driver than he already had after achieving an outstanding weekend that saw him win the Friday night preliminary feature as well as the crown jewel main event on Saturday.
And not only has he won this race outside of his home region but Marlar has scored victories in Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and World of Outlaws Late Model Series feature races in 2017. To further add to the magnificence of this season, the No. 157 even rolled into victory lane following a Summer Nationals race in Farmer City, Illinois.
Mike Marlar is no longer just a regional guy who can knock off the big stars when they come to his home area is he?
Michael: Marlar is probably one of the most underrated and under appreciated drivers today. I think a big part of that is he doesn’t drive for one of the big teams and he doesn’t run a particular series. Because of that, I think he goes a bit unnoticed until he comes away with one of these big wins.
The odd thing about Marlar is he lives in Winfield, but really cut his teeth mostly in Kentucky. I think that’s one of the reasons he runs well there as well in other tracks in the Midwestern part of the country. I remember when I first heard of him, I thought he was from the Midwest because he mainly raced there. Once I found out he was from just up the interstate, I wondered why he didn’t race in this area more often. I guess that’s one thing that’s made him so versatile in the types of tracks he has success on.
Like Jimmy Owens, he got his big start running in open wheels, then moved to late models. The fact that most people don’t know where he’ll show up from week to week is one reason he runs under the radar. Heck, he doesn’t even have a web site.
Richard: I agree. If Marlar ran one of the big series or drove for one of the well known teams he would be a household name all over the country among dirt racing enthusiasts. With many more wins like this, he will be anyway.
Also, Marlar is one of the nicest and most approachable guys in the pit area. He is easy to root for.
To turn the conversation more toward local topics, the weekly shows around the area have had an opportunity to shine over the past few weeks. Attendance at the shows I have recently taken in at 411 Motor Speedway, Tazewell Speedway and Volunteer Speedway has been good and car counts have been quite solid.
September doesn’t have a lot of “big shows” in east Tennessee so this is the time for the local tracks and racers to show their stuff. I have been more encouraged about weekly racing over the past few weeks than I was maybe a year ago or so. How about you?
Michael: The fall months are typically the time for the big money shows in other parts of the country. Like you said, there aren’t many of those in our area these days. If folks want their racing fix, it will have to be at one of the weekly races.
I will say this. The racing in the higher classes seems to be really competitive at a number of these tracks. I really think that helps with attendance. If the same driver(s) is winning every week, I think a majority of fans would rather go somewhere else or stay at home. Kudos to the tracks that have good competition.
Richard: It never hurts to have good competition.
Another thing I’ve heard from the racers, especially in a video interview I recently did with Sportsman regular Jed Emert, is that the tracks seem to be making a more concerted effort to unify their rules for the different classes. That’s something we have talked about numerous times in this forum and I believe it is a big part of the increased competition levels you mentioned.
I once had a principal who would remind teachers to finish each year strong. “How you finish this year is how you will start the next.” I think that’s good advice for race tracks as well. If they are finishing this year strong, and it appears as if they are, then they are setting themselves up for a good 2018.
That brings me to another point, and that is the question of when to end the season. Obviously, if things are going well you hate to stop. At the same time, there is competition with high school, college and pro football as well as cooling temperatures.
Some area tracks will be shutting down for the season soon but others plan to go well into the fall. It’s a tough call, isn’t it?
Michael: Well, it’s a tough call for some. Others seem to know how long they can race or know when to stop. One thing that has always driven me nuts is a track adding a race or two this late in the year. Seems like some tracks don’t know when to put out a schedule and stick to it.
I’ve always been the believer of having your final points race some time in early September, run a few special events in the fall, and then call it a season. But as we have seen, several tracks have good success in November. There’s no magic formula. It comes down to being able to read your fan base and realize when they’ve had enough. I do worry about burnout because of the schedule that has become year-round. Everybody needs a break.