Richard: All I have to say is WOW!
What a silly season it has already been and indications are that it is going to get even sillier as the next few weeks roll by. Drivers changing rides and changes in leadership on the major series have already been made known. And there will almost certainly be a wave of chassis changes, scheduling changes, and sponsorship changes as well.
Just to re-cap a few of the things we already know:
Jonathan Davenport and chassis setup guru Kevin Rumley have been reunited under the banner of car owner Lance Landers. The team will use Longhorn Chassis and will race on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series tour. That pairing achieved the greatest season in Dirt Late Model history back in 2015 and it appears as if the pieces and parts are in place for them to make another strong run in 2018.
Earl Pearson, Jr. has left the Dunn-Benson Motorsports ride and will take the reins of a Black Diamond Chassis in the Stuckey Enterprises house car on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series in 2018.
Donald McIntosh was one of the first to make a move as the 2017 season drew to a close when he announced that he was departing from southeastern-based Blount Motorsports. We now know that veteran racer Casey Roberts will take over in the Larry Garner owned Rocket Chassis car.
Longtime racer and champion Steve Francis has announced that he is retiring and will now serve as the technical director for the LOLMDS.
Matt Curl, the former leader of the popular Fairbury American Legion Speedway in Illinois, has been named as the new series director for the World of Outlaws Late Model Series while previous director Chris Dolack takes on the role of Director of Marketing for the World of Outlaws organization.
All of this and most schedules for series and tracks have not been released yet and rumored news of more driver and team shakeups haven’t yet come to fruition.
Which of these moves has most caught your attention so far?
Michael: That’s a tough one. Since most of these were known for a time before they happened, I guess my pick is Pearson leaving Dunn-Benson. I hadn’t heard anything about that until the announcement came out.
I guess my second choice would be change atop the World of Outlaws leadership. I suspected Chris Dolack would not be in it for that position over the long haul after taking over for Tim Christman, who stepped aside earlier this year. Dolack was in the area last week talking to the folks with Smoky Mountain Speedway. I figured he was remaining in that role.
The Steve Francis news only surprised me in the fact has quit driving and has taken a position with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. My initial thought was he would race more regionally and get off the road. He was in play for the Blount Motorsports ride. I suspect once Francis was informed he was not their choice, he decided to step away from driving for good and accept the Lucas position.
Richard: Like you, more than one of these moves intrigues me. However, if I had to pick one thing that I believe will be the most newsworthy over the long haul I think I would have to go with the Davenport-Rumley reunification.
After the 2015 season they put together in the K&L Rumley No. 6. fans are going to expect big things right away for this Landers team. No matter how it plays out, it will be a story. It would be almost impossible to replicate what they did together two seasons ago. Seeing one driver and team capture all of those big race wins and a series championship may very well be a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
That said, if the duo can find anywhere near that same kind of magic, it could still be an incredible year. On the other hand, if the magic isn’t there this time around, it will still be a story as fans and media alike are left to ask what happened.
Kind of along that same line, the Steve Francis to the Lucas Oil Series as an official intrigues me as well. It was widely reported that one thing that soured Rumley and caused him to move in a different direction shortly after the 2015 campaign was the implementation of new rules by the LOLMDS that he believed were aimed directly at his team. Having a guy who is fresh out of the driver’s seat as the series technical director could result in a bit more understanding of the racer’s point of view on various mechanical and technical matters.
Michael: I would think and hope Francis could provide more insight on the new cars, what works, what doesn’t work, and what is too expensive to implement in this type of racing. I think it’s important to have someone like that involved with making and enforcing the rules.
I didn’t mention the Davenport-Landers team because it was widely known by many people that was happening. But it certainly is big news as they have gotten the band back together for a full season. It will be the team to watch as the 2018 season starts.
Richard: Back to your point about the new leadership with the WoO Late Models. I’m interested to see how Matt Curl does running an entire series now as opposed to one track. Under his leadership, the Fairbury track had become a bucket list type destination for dirt racing fans all over the country. If he can bring anywhere near that level of excitement to a national touring series it would be a big boost for the World of Outlaws.
The folks at World Racing Group know him well in that WoO Late Models has sanctioned the famed Prairie Dirt Classic at Fairbury over the past few years so they must have faith in his abilities.
Michael: I hear a lot of good things about him. Going from track promoter to running a national series doesn’t involve the same challenges. But people that are well organized and have good people skills can do about anything in this sport.
The biggest thing the Outlaws need at this point is some stability. There always seems to be some sort of change somewhere with them. The schedule they keep is grueling, so that is understandable. Tim Chistman was pretty popular with many of the promoters. Chris Dolack did a fine job filling in for him. It will be up to Curl to build upon what those two have done.
Richard: A little closer to home, the news officially coming out that Casey Roberts will fill the vacant seat at Blount Motorsports was certainly noteworthy. Donald McIntosh won a number of races in that car and I see no reason why Roberts won’t do the same.
You and I have discussed before that the BMS team provides one of the best regional rides in the country. Roberts has proven himself to be a very worthy wheelman. The only issues will be how long it takes the driver and team to get in sync and how quickly can Roberts will get used to the Rocket Chassis after spending the past several seasons in a Longhorn.
Do you see this as being a winning combination?
Michael: I certainly do. Roberts has shown to be one of the best drivers in the region. He proved that when he won the Lucas race at Smoky Mountain Speedway a couple of years ago. He’s also very good with his equipment. I don’t expect that to change going to a new ride.
The only adjustment I see for him and that team is running all the tracks in this area on a more regular basis. There are a few he doesn’t have a lot of races on. But as good as he is, I don’t think it will take him long to be fast on those as well. With David Bryant as crew chief, it won’t take any driver very long to take to an unfamiliar track.