There’s no question that the sport of Dirt Late Model racing is very different now than it was one year ago. The 2022 season has featured more big money racing than ever before. And that’s not just because of the Eldora Million. There have been new events added to the racing calendar that have paid handsome purses while at the same time some of the traditional races in this form of motorsports have offered significant bumps in the amount of money paid out.
Racers have recognized the change in the sport and have largely been supportive. As a result of the increased payouts across the board, many of dirt racing’s biggest stars have altered their schedules so that they might participate in as many of the higher paying features as possible.
Some who have previously competed with either the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series or the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series on a full-time basis have instead opted to run a so-called “outlaw” schedule in which they also mixed in events sanctioned by the Castrol FloRacing Night in America Series and the XR Super Series as well as some unsanctioned by high paying contests.
Although drivers branching out was the case with such stars as Jonathan Davenport and Jimmy Owens, the national tours did increase the incentives for remaining loyal as additional money was added to their points funds and many of their feature races.
In interviews with InsideDirtRacing.com, drivers Bobby Pierce, Chris Madden, Dale McDowell and Ricky Thornton Jr. offered their views on the current state of Dirt Late Model racing with a full season of more lucrative shows now in the books.
Pierce has won numerous races this year with a $30,000 MARS Racing Series feature and a pair of $22,022 triumphs with the FloRacing Night in America Series.
“There’s been a lot of big money racing and still a lot more to go,” Pierce stated. “It’s great for Late Models. It’s the sport I’m doing that we’re able to go and race for all that money. It’s been pretty good for me this year because I think I’m on like 17 or 18 wins now and I’ve had some pretty big ones here and there. It’s been a good year and we’re just trying to cap it off and end it on a good note with a few more wins so we’ll see how it goes.”
The number of races offering huge payouts has caused followers of other motorsports disciplines to take notice. National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame member McDowell believes those races have put more eyeballs on the dirt tracks. The ‘Mac Daddy’ collected $50,000 from an XR Super Series race at the Bristol Motor Speedway along with a $22,022 win in the FloRacing Night in America feature at Tri-County Race Track.
“I think the awareness of our sport has grown,” McDowell pointed out. “We’ve introduced a lot of people to our sport through all these big events. I do wish, I’m not a huge fan of all the purse money being on the top, so that is one thing I wish they could change up a little bit. We have raced for a lot of money this year even though it has cost a lot. There has been a lot of money out there to race for with the addition of these events. I think we’re in a good place.”
Thornton ran the full season with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series finishing third in the final standings scoring two victories on the tour. Bigger purses have allowed him to actually race less during the 2022 season while still earning money. But the Arizona native has his concerns.
“Personally we’ve raced less this year than we normally have,” Thornton explained. “I would say outside of the Lucas stuff we really just pick and choose the ones we really want to go to and know we can be really competitive. I think as far as moving into next year, if they keep paying the purses they’re paying now it’s going to be really good but I think at some point it’s probably going to slow back down. We won’t have the big, prestigious events paying $50,000 or $75,000 or $100,000. I think personally that they should pay $30,000-to-win then from second on back gets a lot more instead of the winner getting it all.”
Like Thornton, Pierce has enjoyed the flexibility provided by the better payouts in the races he does choose to take part in. But the Illinois native has traveled outside of his region when he felt it appropriate to do so.
“We don’t have to travel very much,” the Smooth Operator claimed. “I have traveled a lot but that’s more because we race a lot. I definitely wouldn’t have to if I didn’t want to make these really long hauls. It’s been a great thing with all the series, whether it’s Lucas and WoO, Flo or XR or whatever it might be. And then, there’s all sorts of other series on top of that.”
The desire to see greater payouts throughout the field is common among racers. McDowell echoed the comments made by Thornton on that topic,
“I just feel like the purses need to be balanced out back through the fields more to make more than just one guy happy,” McDowell stated. “I know they have put good money up and the top-three pays more but I really think that’s what I would like to see from this point forward.”
Madden believes that what has happened this year could very well snowball into the future. The South Carolina star has won eight events that have paid $20,000 or more over the course of the 2022 campaign.
“I think it’s just set the bar a little higher than it’s been,” Smokey declared. “These guys now realize that it can be done. I think you’re going to see more of that next year. Hopefully it will grow with some of the bigger series to step up now and have some bigger races. I think you should see some of these $10,000s and $7,500s go away and they turn into $15,000s and $20,000s. That’s our goal for our sport to keep growing.”
Madden says the jump in purse money has been a long time in the making. He recently discovered evidence to back up that claim.
“I was looking at some newspapers I’ve got at home and my dad and grandfather raced in the early 1980s and they paid $10,000 every weekend somewhere around my house. I think the engineering side, the race car side of it, all of our side has grown tremendously and our expenses have gone through the roof. And you’ve got to have help now, you can’t do it by yourself or with one or two people. It’s tough to go week in and week out with just one or two guys. I think our series need to step up to the plate and start putting some money back into the sport.”
Thornton seemed to sum up the general feeling of most involved in this form of motorsports regarding the current state of Dirt Late Model racing after this lucrative season.
“I would say it’s better. I feel like everyone’s a lot closer now than it has been in a long time as far as the competitiveness goes. I think as long as that stays how it is, it will just keep getting better.”
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