The tendency for many of us as each year comes to a close is to look back on the past twelve months and recall the most memorable events to have taken place. That is certainly no different in the world of dirt racing. Granted, every year has its big stories, but it seemed as if 2014 had more than its share of major announcements and huge happenings.
In no particular order, here are some of the biggest stories to have captured my attention during the past season. There were no doubt many others, but these are the ones that came to my mind.
Michael and I already did a pair of Turn 2 Blog write ups in which we recapped the biggest local racing stories of 2014( Drivers & Events ) so this report will focus more on national and regional events.
Chassis Changes: If driver retirements weren’t the story of the year in Dirt Late Model racing, then the number of chassis changes made by drivers and teams may have been. There seemed to be new announcements of drivers switching from one brand of car builder to another on a weekly basis throughout the year.
In particular, it appeared as if newcomer Club 29/Black Diamond and newly revamped Longhorn were the big winners in terms of grabbing headlines in 2014.
World of Outlaws Late Models star Darrell Lanigan announced his intentions at the end of 2013 to part ways with Rocket Chassis and pair with Ronnie Stuckey to build a new car. The cars built in Lanigan’s Kentucky based shop are called Club 29 while those from Stuckey’s Louisiana facility are called Black Diamonds, although both employ the same design.
The new car proved highly successful on both the WoO and LOLMDS circuits as Lanigan scored 17 wins and a WoO series championship while Jimmy Owens earned a total of 15 overall victories and a second place in the LOLMDS standings.
Longhorn Chassis, manufactured by Bobby Labonte Racing, also caused a stir throughout the 2014 season. Perhaps most notable in this region was the success of Randy Weaver. Just after switching to the brand, he reeled off a streak of six consecutive wins in the Kevin Rumley engineered cars.
Other drivers such as Casey Roberts and Dennis Franklin scored wins in Longhorns in the southeastern region during the past season as well.
Of course, familiar brands such as Rocket Chassis and Bloomquist Race Cars had their share of success, but it did seem as those cars had their advantage over the pack reduced, if not completely erased.
Chris Madden overcomes adversity to post excellent season: If it had been said at the beginning of the season that Chris Madden would win the Southern Nationals championship and would also score several big victories throughout 2014, the news would have come as no surprise to most fans. And the Gray Court, SC driver did exactly that during this past season.
However, there was one piece of unexpected news that almost derailed Madden’s efforts during the year.
In the days and weeks leading up to the Southern Nationals mini-series, which began in July, Madden had been forced to miss almost a significant amount of time behind the wheel due to health issues that had plagued the driver since a crash at Smoky Mountain Speedway in April. As a matter of fact, Scott Bloomquist followed Madden to the first two stops on the Southern Nationals tour at Wythe Raceway and 411 Motor Speedway to reportedly relieve the hurting driver if necessary.
Eventually, Madden recovered completely and completed a highly successful campaign.
In all, Madden collected ten wins in 2014. Among those victories were Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series wins at Golden Isles Speedway and Dixie Speedway, a $17,017 win in the NDRL sanctioned Bama Bash at East Alabama Motor Speedway as well as a $12,500 NDRL win at Smoky Mountain Speedway in March. And the Super Late Model star capped off his season with a $20,000 Crate Late Model triumph at the Swainsboro Raceway.
Jimmy Owens gets a new car owner: Few owner/driver combinations in the history of Dirt Late Model racing have enjoyed more success than did Jimmy Owens and Mike Reece in the seven years they were together. Three Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series championships combined with wins in such prestigious events as the World 100, The Dirt Late Model Dream, the North/South 100, the USA Nationals and the World of Outlaws World Finals were all claimed during their impressive run together.
However, rumors began to swirl late in the 2014 season that the pair might be ending their time together. Finally, that news was made official in early December when it was announced that the Newport, Tenn. driver would join forces with Oklahoma-based Rowland Racing in 2015.
Owens declared in the press release that came with the announcement that little will actually change on his end. He will still race out of Newport with the very same cars, equipment and crew members he employed last season.
Don O’Neal wins LOLMDS championship: Late in 2013 it was announced that Don O’Neal would join Clint Bowyer Racing in the upcoming season, and immediately, expectations were high for the new pairing. In the end, O’Neal and Bowyer delivered as the Martinsville, Ind. driver collected his first Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series championship by beating out three-time and defending champion Jimmy Owens in a close season-long battle.
O’Neal won a total of eight features in 2014(7 LOLMDS wins). His biggest wins included the $30,000-to-win Show-me 100, a $25,000-to-win race at I-77 Raceway Park and a pair of separate lucrative wins(LOLMDS & NDRL) at Magnolia Motor Speedway.
Darrell Lanigan destroys the World of Outlaws Late Models competition: While there was a degree of drama in determining the LOLMDS championship in 2014, no such uncertainty existed in the World of Outlaws Late Models Series this past season. Darrell Lanigan posted a season for the ages in that series when he won a record breaking 17 feature races(19 total wins) on his way to his third WoO championship.
Lanigan made big news during the 2013-14 off-season when he broke away from Rocket Chassis to form his own car building operation, known as Club 29. His success combined with that of Jimmy Owens and other drivers in the new chassis made its debut season a good one.
Among the Kentucky native’s biggest wins in 2014 were a $15,000-to-win victory at the Berlin Raceway and a $12,000 triumph in the World Finals in Charlotte.
Josh Richards misses virtually all of the 2014 season: For as big of a story as Lanigan’s dominance on the WoO Late Models tour was, there was just as big news regarding a driver who was not a part of the series in 2014. Josh Richards, a three-time WoO champion, was sidelined for virtually the entire racing season with what was eventually described as a “nerve issue” that affected the feeling in the driver’s hands.
Richards has won 49 WoO features over the course of his career, including the $50,000 USA Nationals back in 2011. After brief attempts in both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Richards returned to full-time Dirt Late Model racing in 2013 to post a stellar championship season and expectations were for another great year in 2014. However, the disclosure of his illness was made before the season kicked off.
Richards was eventually cleared medically and came back to make a few starts late in the season. The Shinnston, WV driver is expected to be back at full speed in 2015.
Check out ‘A Recap of the Biggest Dirt Racing Stories of 2104(Part 1)’