Acceptance of Chase format may require patience by the Lucas Oil Series

Jimmy Owens(20) and Jonathan Davenport(49) have a combined 7 championships under the old format

The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series has made a radical change in the way it determines its overall champion for the 2023 season. During the off-season, the national touring series announced that its crown would be awarded by the use of a playoff type format that has some similarity to that used by NASCAR. The new system will guarantee a close championship battle that will most likely not be determined until the checkered flag waves over the final race of the 2023 season.

Of course, the mere mention of NASCAR will immediately draw criticism from dirt racing purists. The primarily pavement racing series is seen by some as an adversary of dirt racing despite the fact that many of the big stars from that form of motorsports have begun to show greater interest in the racing that takes place on clay surfaces.

The Big River Steel Chase for the Championship will initially take the top-15 in the standings following the Show-me 100 held at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri on May 27th. After the Diamond Nationals at Lucas Oil Speedway on July 15th, three drivers will be eliminated from contention creating the Summit Racing Equipment Super Twelve. Another cut of four drivers will occur after the Rumble by the River at Pennsylvania’s Port Royal Speedway on August 26th leaving the UNOH Great Eight to do battle and then the Big River Steel Big Four will remain in contention following the event at Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway on September 30th.

Ultimately, the four drivers who have survived those cuts will be entered into the final round. The racer who finishes highest in the Dirt Track World Championship at Eldora Speedway on October 21st will be crowned as the champion.

People often resist change because it is, well, change. And that seems to be especially true of the dirt racing industry and its followers. For that matter, the Chase for the Championship was not warmly received by many when NASCAR first introduced the plan in 2004 so it would not be out of the realm of possibility to think at least some will voice their opposition in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series plan.

Being completely honest, when I first heard the idea of NASCAR’s Chase two decades ago, I thought it was the craziest idea I had ever seen in racing. But over time, I have grown to enjoy the entertainment value of the knock-out format. And for those who cringe at the word “entertainment”, that’s what sports are. Still, I get it when purists make the argument of the Chase(or NASCAR Playoffs) not being true sport because it is, deep down, a gimmick designed to contrive a close finish.

This website and others like it have said for a while now that live streaming has and will continue to bring changes to the sport of dirt racing as we know it. Dirt Late Models would most likely not have returned to Bristol Motor Speedway had it not been for live streaming. The Eldora Million of 2022 was given greater probability because of that type of coverage. And the ramping up of purses everywhere has been, to some degree, influenced by streaming.

That said, live coverage has to have played a role in the development of a Chase system in Dirt Late Model racing. In NASCAR, the Playoffs are a made-for-television spectacle and on some level that will true for this form of motorsports as well. Playoffs are meant to keep people interested right to the end.

Furthermore, the individual races will always mean something no matter what points format is in place. Does anyone go to the North-South 100 or the Topless 100 deeply concerned about how those races will impact the points? The answer to that is largely no in that fans and competitors alike are there because those are crown jewel races that carry a great deal of prestige with them. The points can settle out somewhere else.

This is a sport that in some ways is similar to professional golf in that winning the major tournaments(or races) is more important to some than winning a season-long championship.

But because it is a significant change in the way things are done, it will take some time for many fans and even competitors to get used to it although the competitors will have an easier time adjusting when the checks with large dollar amounts are handed out.

Perhaps there will be some blowback in the first year or two in which this system is used. But like other things, most will either grow to like or at least tolerate it. The key will be for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series to have patience while everyone wraps their minds around the change.

NASCAR has stuck with it and has had some great moments such as the Ross Chastain last lap maneuver in Martinsville that got more air time and social media attention than any other sports moment on that particular weekend. Maybe something will happen this year that will create a buzz in the motorsports world about Dirt Late Model racing.

As someone who writes stories about dirt racing, I am willing to watch it play out to see what happens.

Please consider also reading:

Turn 2 Blog: What to expect from the Lucas Oil Series in 2023

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Also, NASCAR and pavement racing fans can check out InsideCircleTrack.

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