The World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series has already conducted five feature races in 2021. But with what seems to be a significant number of races so early in the calendar year, it will have been 22 days since the series last took a green flag when it takes to the track on Saturday night at the Smoky Mountain Speedway in Maryville, TN. In that time span it seems likely that some of the storylines from the early part of the season might have been forgotten.
One of the most intriguing stories from the Sunshine Nationals held at Florida’s Volusia Speedway Park in January and then the DIRTcar Nationals staged on that same race track in February was the performance of former Modified standout Kyle Strickler. After establishing himself as a top Super Late Model competitor in 2020 with multiple big wins, the driver of the No. 8 linked up with Craig and Shannon Sims for an apparent run with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.
Strickler ran the Sunshine Nationals with his own Longhorn Chassis and won a feature before returning to Florida later in the month in the Sims-owned PCC Motorsports Rocket Chassis machines to run with the LOLMDS. After struggling at All-Tech Raceway and then at East Bay Raceway Park, the team opted to park their Rockets in favor of absorbing Strickler’s Longhorns into the fold.
After doing so, Strickler returned to his previous form and picked up another World of Outlaws Late Model Series win at Volusia. Eventually, the Mooresville, NC resident found himself leading not only the WoO Rookie of the Year standings but the overall points as well.
The question now is one of whether or not Strickler can maintain his early season pace on a national touring series for Late Models now that the grind of the “real season” has commenced. After switching chassis brands to suit his needs, it certainly appears as if PCC Motorsports is willing to go the extra mile to contend against the likes of Brandon Sheppard, Ricky Weiss, Scott Bloomquist, Darrell Lanigan, Dennis Erb, Jr. and the other regular stars on this series.
And speaking of Sheppard, the driver of the Rocket Chassis house car certainly has to be counted among the top stories from the early part of the season. Fans of this form of racing have grown accustomed to the No. 1 machine piling up feature wins and points in February forcing his competition to then play catch-up for the remainder of the campaign. However, that scenario has yet to play out for the New Berlin, IL driver and his powerhouse team.
Out of five WoO Late Models starts so far, Sheppard has yet to win a feature. But far more surprising than that is the fact that he has not even scored at top-5 in the series to date. As a result, the three-time and defending champion currently sits sixth in the standings going into this weekend.
Sheppard did earn better results in DIRTcar Late Models and Lucas Oil competition during SpeedWeeks, but those are not the sites of his full-time gigs. While the finishes everyone is used to from this team haven’t come yet, it would seem hard to imagine that the Mark Richards-led organization won’t be back on top its game at some point in the near future.
But the question revolves around just how long that will take and how much distance others can put on Sheppard in the standings before the almost certain eruption occurs.
One of the top stories to come out of the winter of 2020-21 was that of WoO Late Models regular and championship contender Ricky Weiss parking his Team Zero Race Cars in favor of his own creation. The Sniper Chassis made its debut adorned with the Canadian driver’s familiar No. 7 earlier this season, and despite some early struggles, has carried its pilot to a ranking of third in the current standings with one top-5 and four top-10 finishes in the first five series features.
The question hovering over the driver and team that has placed second and third in the overall standings at the end of the the past two seasons is whether or not Weiss and crew can avoid the almost inevitable pitfalls typically associated with the development of a new race car over the course of a long season. If that indeed proves to be the case, this driver could go a long way toward achieving his goal of entering the final weekend of the campaign in contention for a title.
And finally, a storyline that many have to be considering as the World of Outlaws Late Model Series rolls into east Tennessee is whether or not National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame driver Scott Bloomquist can return to the form that has allowed him to collect more than 600 feature win trophies over the course of his career.
Bloomquist showed signs during SpeedWeeks that a return to prominence could be in the offing as he scored a runner-up finish behind Strickler on the second night of the Sunshine Nationals at Volusia. Strong qualifying efforts and a heat race win were the highlights of his all-important preliminary efforts while in Florida.
If the Mooresburg, TN driver is to return to the status of ‘Dirtrax Dominator’, there would be no better place to kick off a strong run than on his home clay in east Tennessee.
There are just some of the storylines worth following when the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series returns to action on Saturday at Smoky Mountain Speedway.
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