The Masters golf tournament is going on this weekend as it is held each spring at the Augusta National Country Club in Augusta, Georgia is essentially an invitation only contest in which the top players from around the globe come to play on one of the world’s elite golf courses for one of the sport’s truly great prizes. At the same time, The Masters is steeped in tradition. And while those players who have won significant tour events over the past year are invited to play, many of the legends of golf who have previously won this particular tournament are welcomed back to participate.
What if Dirt Late Model racing had an event like The Masters? In other words, what if there were an invitation only race that brought in the top names in the sport for a showdown that offered up a big purse and an even more prestigious trophy(or Green Jacket)?
Yes, I know there are major events on the Dirt Late Model calendar such as the World 100, the Dirt Late Model Dream and numerous others. But those races aren’t invitation only affairs.
If there were such a race, who would receive the invites? The first several names are easy to rattle off. Bloomquist, Moyer, Richards, Owens, etc. flow immediately out of the brain. However, when it comes to filling in the remaining spots, especially if there were to be a limit of 24 put on the field, it can get tricky.
Here is a list of drivers I have compiled that could likely be on the list of 24 racers invited to ‘The Dirt Late Model Masters’, if there were such a thing.
Place no significance in the order in which the drivers are listed as there is no seeding.
- Scott Bloomquist- Not only is the Mooresburg, Tenn. driver one of the sport’s all-time legends, but he is one of the most dominant drivers still out there today. Among his many accomplishments, the defending Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion had one of his best seasons in 2016. Inviting Bloomquist to ‘The Masters’ would be an obvious choice.
- Billy Moyer- The Batesville, Ark. driver has so many World 100 globe trophies that they can’t be counted on one hand. And, he’s still more than capable of winning races even though he has trimmed his schedule back for the 2017 season.
- Jimmy Owens- This driver from Newport, Tenn. has won just about every big race there is to win. And though he has not had the type of seasons he and his many fans have become accustomed to over the most recent couple of years, the multiple-time Lucas Oil champion is still thought of as a contender anywhere he shows up.
- Josh Richards- After a couple of experiments in NASCAR, the Shinnston, WV driver appears to be back in a Dirt Late Model for the foreseeable future. As one of the sport’s true hard-chargers, this multiple-time World of Outlaws Late Models champion has jumped to the Lucas tour on a full-time basis now and continues to show his dominating style.
- Brandon Sheppard- A former winner of the Dirt Track World Championship, the New Berlin, Ill. driver now pilots the Rocket Chassis house car since the departure of Richards from his father’s operation. Sheppard looks as if he is a solid favorite to win the WoO Late Models title in 2017.
- Tim McCreadie- The Watertown, NY racer is another former WoO Late Models champion who has jumped to the Lucas tour. He placed third in that series’ standings in 2016. The former Knoxville Nationals and Topless 100 winner is experiencing a bit of resurgence since becoming the driver of what is essentially the Longhorn Chassis house car.
- Darrell Lanigan- Here is yet another former WoO Late Models title holder who now does his business on the Lucas circuit. Since joining the stables of NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer, the wins have not come as frequently as some might have thought for the Union, KY racer. However, he is a former national touring series champ and the winner of multiple Dirt Late Model crown jewels.
- Don O’Neal- This driver from Martinsville, Ind. has won the Lucas Oil title and is also a former winner of crown jewel events. During the early parts of the 2017 season, this driver and his Clint Bowyer-owned team have shown signs that they are ready to emerge from the slight slump they have experienced since winning that Lucas crown.
- Jonathan Davenport- The Blairsville, GA driver had what is probably the greatest season ever for a Dirt Late Model racer in 2015. And even though the wins haven’t come as frequently as they did during that campaign while driving for Kevin and Lee Roy Rumley, the former Lucas Oil champion remains popular with many fans and is considered a threat to take home the trophy from any track he visits after reuniting with Barry Wright for the 2017 campaign.
- Shane Clanton- One of only a handful of drivers to have won both the Dirt Late Model Dream and the World 100 at the famed Eldora Speedway. The resident of Zebulon, GA has plenty of credentials on his resume worthy of an invitation to this fictional race. The former World of Outlaws Late Models champion serves as the front runner among those who compete in Marshall Green’s Capital Race Cars.
- Rick Eckert- One of the original ‘Dirty Dozen’ on the World of Outlaws Late Models tour, the York, PA pilot has piled up almost three dozen wins on that series. The former series champ has also garnered victories in two of the biggest events in the sport, the Dirt Late Model Dream and the Dirt Track World Championship.
- Earl Pearson, Jr.- This Jacksonville, Fla native has seen his career go through some highs and lows since winning four consecutive Lucas Oil titles between 2005 and 2008. However, this former winner of the World 100 and the Dirt Track World Championship seems to be back on the upswing after already notching a LOLMDS win in 2017.
- Dennis Erb, Jr.- This longtime national touring series regular scored the biggest win of his career in 2016 when he beat the field to the finish line in the Dirt Late Model Dream to earn a $100,000 payday in a season in which he also captured the National 100 at the East Alabama Motor Speedway to add another $20,000 to his account. The Carpentersville, Ill racer has become a fixture in the top-10 of the Lucas Oil tour over the past several seasons.
- Steve Francis- The Ashland, KY racer is a former WoO Late Models title winner who has been elected to the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame. The winner of multiple crown jewel events and a four time national touring series champion has won races literally all over the globe after competing during several winters in Australia.
It is at this point, when stepping away from those drivers who have competed for numerous years on the national tours, that the choosing becomes more difficult. It can be difficult to judge the achievements of one driver who typically competes on a regional basis in one part of the country against the accomplishments of another star from an entirely different section of the nation. While there are some of these racers who are virtual locks in terms of being invited to the make believe ‘Masters’ event, those final few invitations call for some serious consideration.
- Brian Shirley- While the former UMP Summer Nationals champion has recently raced on national tours, he is best known for his exploits in the Midwest. The Chatham, Ill driver has also won a UMP National Points Championship and dozens of feature races during the course of his career.
- Chris Madden- For a number of years the fans of this Gray Court, SC driver have wanted their favorite to take on a national tour. In 2017, those backers are getting their wish as this multiple-time Southern Nationals champion is racing full-time on the WoO Late Models circuit. Madden has won a number of national series feature races over the course of his career.
- Bobby Pierce- Not only has this Oakwood, Ill driver made a name for himself as a Dirt Late Model racer but he has also earned a reputation as a fierce NASCAR competitor when the Camping World Truck Series has visited the Eldora Speedway. In 2016, Pierce established himself as someone who will long be remembered as a winner of both the prestigious World 100 and the North/South 100 events in the same season. Of all regional competitors, the ‘Smooth Operator’ is the most definite of the drivers to deserve an invite to this fictional event.
- Dale McDowell- The veteran racer from Chickamauga, GA has long been considered a threat to bring home the checkered flag from any race he attends. That has proven to be the case in the sport’s most lucrative race as a former winner of the Dirt Late Model Dream. Now racing under the banner of his brother’s Shane McDowell Racing team, he has already picked up a win in 2017.
- Mike Marlar- The former winner of the Hillbilly 100 and the Clash at the Mag, scored the biggest win of his career in 2016 when he took the Knoxville Late Model Nationals. The Winfield, Tenn. racer also has multiple national touring series wins during his time in racing.
- Shannon Babb- The Moweaqua, Ill. racer is always a threat to win when he races, with “when he races” being the key phrase. The former Dirt Track World Championship and Topless 100 victor has 90 career wins on the UMP Summer Nationals ‘Hell Tour’ throughout the Midwest.
- Chris Simpson- While he may not have a crown jewel win to his credit, the Oxford, IA driver has picked up numerous checks valuing at least $10,000 from tracks all across the Midwest in a variety of regional series. He seems to always be in contention in major races.
- Brandon Overton- Since pairing with the team co-owned by Randy Weaver and Chip Stone, the Evans, GA racer has quickly established himself as a serious contender for race wins. Victories in the $10,000 Gobbler at Boyd’s Speedway in the fall of 2016 and in the season opening LOLMDS race at Golden Isles Speedway confirmed the “arrival” of this driver and team as a force to contend with.
- Casey Roberts – In 2015, the Toccoa, GA racer won two highly regarded championships when he captured the season-long Ultimate Super Late Model Series crown and the Southern Nationals mini-series title in the same year. The No. 101 car has also pulled into victory lane in national touring series races as well.
- Chris Ferguson- The Mt. Holly, NC driver has won big races such as the $10,000-to-win USA 100 at Virginia Motor Speedway and World of Outlaws Late Models events. Always fast, Fergy’s name can often be found at or near the top of the list following qualifying at any event in which he competes.
So there you have it. If there was such a race as the Dirt Late Model Masters and I were in charge of sending out the invitations, those are the 24 drivers who would receive an envelope in their mailbox.
In making out my list, I had to leave off several racers who could make a strong case to be included. Three-time Southern All Star champion Riley Hickman, World of Outlaws Late Models regular Billy Moyer, Jr., Midwestern star Jimmy Mars, rising stars Devin Moran and Donald McIntosh were also among those who had to be left off but were worthy of serious consideration.
Whenever invitations are handed out for such events as the NCAA Basketball Tournament or College Football Playoff, there is always going to be debate regarding those who were included and those who were left off. If such a race as this existed, that would be no different here.