Richard: East Tennessee can boast a significant number of national touring series championships with those collected by Scott Bloomquist and Jimmy Owens. And now, another name can be added to that list as Winfield’s Mike Marlar secured the World of Outlaws Late Model Series title following a weekend of competition in the World Finals at the Dirt Track at Charlotte.
For those of us from this part of the country, Marlar’s championship comes as somewhat of a confirmation of his talent. For the rest of the country, the title serves to establish him as a top talent in the sport.
Marlar has long been known as a strong regional racer. But over the past couple of seasons his reputation has grown as he added consecutive wins in the prestigious Knoxville Late Model Nationals to his list of accomplishments. And now, he holds one of the top titles in racing as well.
Many in this region had wanted Marlar to get the opportunity to compete on a national tour because they believed he could do great things. East Tennessee racing fans are not surprised, are they?
Michael: No, they are not. Marlar has flirted with running a national tour in the past, but something would come up and cause him to drop off. Probably the thing that is more surprising to fans in this area is that he and his team made it through the whole season. And with that, they were rewarded with a championship. Few ever doubted his talent and ability.
Marlar rarely gets mentioned as one of the top talents from east Tennessee. As he was cutting his teeth in the open wheels, then later moving into late models, he ran most of his races in Kentucky. He has raced more in this area the last few years than in years past. Maybe that connection to area fans is finally complete.
Richard: As you mentioned, Marlar seems to have never found himself in a situation that had the kind of longevity necessary to win a season-long national touring championship. And even after finally achieving that goal, he finds himself in a similar situation as he and team owner Ronnie Delk will be parting ways.
Based on reports, it looks as if Marlar has a plan in place for next year as he has told DirtonDirt.com that he will “have a nice opportunity to race and have nice stuff.” Winning a national title and proving that he can score crown jewel wins has likely set Marlar up with even bigger opportunities.
From the looks of things, it appears as if east Tennessee will have three top contenders vying to earn national honors once again in 2019 and perhaps beyond, doesn’t it?
Michael: I agree on 2019, we’ll have to see about beyond. Bloomquist is making changes to his program to get back on top. As he gets into his mid-50’s, how much longer before time starts winning on a person’s body, even though the mind says otherwise. Owens is with a good team and still wins big races. It seems every year there are always the rumors that he is going to scale back. What year does that actually happen?!? I’ll be interested to see where Marlar ends up. The comment about having “nice stuff” is interesting.
As someone that covers the sport, we try to stay neutral on our reporting and not show any favoritism. Marlar is one of the nice guys in the sport and it’s always good any time one of the nice guys comes out on top.
Richard: To change the topic a bit, the World Finals held this past weekend at The Dirt Track at Charlotte certainly lived up to expectations. In saying that, I’m not just talking about the racing. The folks at that track definitely know how to put on a show and how to entertain a crowd.
As we have discussed before, just simply saying “Let’s swing the gates open and have a race” is not good enough to be successful in today’s world of dirt racing. There has to be an element of entertainment, especially when tracks host special events that might attract fans who are not regular dirt track attendees.
This weekend featured very little dead time as the show moved along with the few lulls filled with music, interviews, giveaways and more. While very few tracks have the budget of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. there are many things that can be done to improve the quality of the show.
While traditionalists may not agree, the old mindset is going to have to change if this sport is going to survive and thrive going forward, isn’t it?
Michael: I certainly agree with that. As we have discussed in this space before, new ideas (or even borrowed ones) and a new approach need to be used in today’s promoting. There are just too many options for fans to use their money in other places.
One of the biggest problems I see with regional and weekly shows is the amount of down time. Whether it’s the amount of time line up cars for qualifying or just time between one class to another. I’d like to see tracks and series get tougher on competitors that are holding up the show. If a driver or two can’t get lined up to qualify while other drivers have been in line for 3-4 minutes, close the gate and keep the show going. That’s one of the biggest complaints I hear from fans.
Here in east Tennessee, there is just too much qualifying. I have seen tracks that qualify 6 classes. Fans come to see racing, not time-trials.
Richard: I think that those of us who are around racing all the time are guilty of often times taking ourselves too seriously. We tend to forget that sports, including racing, are all about entertainment. If fans aren’t entertained and feel as if their time is being wasted they won’t come back.
As you pointed out, there are just too many things out there for people to do. As much as those of us who are over 40 don’t want to acknowledge it, the world has changed greatly since we were younger. Things that entertained us often won’t work for today’s kids.
If the sport doesn’t change with the times, it will fade away. The Dirt Track gets that. Hopefully others will soon.
Michael: One thing I would recommend for any promoter is to go to one of these big events and see how things go with those programs. Whether it’s the World Finals, Eldora, or the North/South 100, promoters should check out these programs to get some ideas to boost their shows and make them more efficient.