It wasn’t so long ago that Dirt Late Model racers were scrambling to find enough tires and other assorted parts and pieces just to make it through a weekend. As a matter of fact, that was only about one year ago. But times seem to have certainly changed over the past 12 months as teams are criss-crossing the country to compete at a record pace.
Using various driver websites for reference, it is easy to see that this was a busy year for dirt racers, especially those who run a national schedule. A few even hit triple-digits in numbers of events entered during the 2022 season. While many of the drivers who did run a high number of races this past season may not have intended to do so at the beginning of the year, circumstances such as the amount of money available and the close proximity of big events to each other opened that door.
Shane Clanton entered a total of 93 races in 2022. As he pointed out in a piece posted to this website earlier this year, he found himself in a position in which it was difficult to stop because of the money available and how well his team was running at the time.
“Anytime you’re running good you want to go to the next race,” Clanton pointed out. “When you’re struggling, those weekends off don’t come fast enough. When you’re running good, you want to keep the momentum going and go on to the next race.”
The champions of both the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series and the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series did more than just race on their regular tours, much more.
WoO champion Dennis Erb Jr. participated in 93 races this year while Lucas Oil trophy winner Tim McCreadie played a part in 91 Dirt Late Model shows apart from a few Big Block Modified and Midget races he ran. Often times, drivers from those two series were able to compete with the Castrol FloRacing Night in America Series and the XR Super Series as those two sanctions ran a number of midweek races that were many times scheduled relatively close to the where the two more traditional national touring series shows were being contested.
Going into the 2022 campaign, Jonathan Davenport had stated that he and his Lance Landers-owned team planned to race less than they had in previous seasons. And, to a degree, they did exactly that but not by much. The No. 49 machine entered a total of 81 events according to the driver’s website compared to the 89 races he competed in back in 2021. So while he did race less than last year, it was not by very much.
In a story posted to this site back in March, Davenport detailed the decision-making process that he and his team employ when decided whether or not to enter certain races. In a season that saw more money offered than ever before, the driver who would ultimately claim the Eldora Million in June pointed out that money is a major factor in determining where he will run.
“For the rest of the year, when I leave home we’re going to race for 20 grand or more,” Davenport told InsideDirtRacing.com back in March. “That’s what our sport has come to, which is awesome. We can take off a week or two to prepare for the $50,000, $100,000 and $1,000,000 races and really focus on those.”
The three-time Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion opted for what some call an “outlaw schedule” not directly associated with either of the two traditional national tours. Likewise, four-time Lucas Oil title winner Jimmy Owens did the same managing to enter 97 events in 2022.
Shannon Babb is one of the top regional racers in the sport. The Midwestern ace is known for running a limited schedule at tracks located within close proximity of his Illinois home. However, that changed to an extent in 2022 as he, like Davenport and Clanton, was drawn further away from his shop by the lure of handsome paydays.
“This year, there’s so much money out there it gets you off the couch and makes you want to go race again,” Babb said in an interview with InsideDirtRacing.com back in August. “You can actually pay the bills with the car if you do good. Anytime there’s an opportunity to make some money, you want to go racing.”
While Babb’s 59 races entered may not match the number posted by the others, it is a significant number for the former DIRTcar Summer Nationals champion.
In a major announcement made as the 2022 season was coming to a close, it was revealed that Hudson O’Neal would be taking over the driver’s seat in the Rocket Chassis house car directed by Mark Richards. As was the case this past season, expect to see the son of Hall of Fame driver Don O’Neal race frequently in 2023.
Last year while driving for the Roger Sellers-owned Double Down Motorsports team along with a few starts with his new team, O’Neal was entered in a total of 91 events compared to the 73 of one year ago. The Rocket 1 Racing team rolled through the gates a total of 97 times with then regular Brandon Sheppard and the previously mentioned efforts with O’Neal behind the wheel.
While at least some of the issues regarding the price of fuel and the availability of parts may still be a factor in Dirt Late Model racing, those obstacles were apparently not enough to keep the drivers mentioned in this piece from entering large numbers of racing. And hopefully, some of those potential pitfalls are slowly but surely dwindling away. But even with there being enough components to race this often, there could be other factors at work.
The human toll has to be a great one. The amount of travel, the long hours of intense labor in bone chilling cold or scorching heat, and the emotional ups and downs that come with racing almost certainly will wear even the most dedicated down. Just how many seasons can be carried out at this pace remains to be seen. The whole process will be starting over again next month.
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