*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideDirtRacing.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the dirt racing topics of the day from east Tennessee and beyond.
Richard: Well, the so called off-season is officially coming to an end this weekend as the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series hits the track at the Golden Isles Speedway just outside Brunswick, GA. As has increasingly been the case over the past few years, this tour promises to be loaded with many of the major stars in Dirt Late Model racing. And like last season, the competition for the series title is expected to go right down to the wire at the Dirt Track World Championship finale event in October.
No less than eight drivers who have won at least one national touring series title over the course of their careers are committed to follow the entire series this season. Add to that several other drivers who have won regional championships and crown jewel races.
Defending champion Josh Richards will enter the season as one of the favorites but he will be challenged by the likes of Scott Bloomquist, Jimmy Owens, Tim McCreadie, Don O’Neal, Darrell Lanigan, Jonathan Davenport, Earl Pearson, Jr., Dennis Erb, Jr. and Bobby Pierce.
There’s no shortage of star power here is there?
Michael: No there isn’t. The return of Richards was big enough as many thought he would return to the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series. Davenport is back with Kevin Rumley once again turning wrenches for the 2015 champ. Now add to that, Bobby Pierce teaming with Dunn-Benson Motorsports gives the series some of the top names in the sport competing against each other at every race.
Richard: I think the thing I’m most interested in seeing play out this season is just how big of an impact the newcomers will have. While the World of Outlaws Late Model Series(which we will preview next week) may have more drivers who are new to the series this year than does the LOLMDS, the addition of Davenport and Pierce has the potential to be a real game changer.
Of course, we already know what Davenport can do considering that he is not really a newcomer but is really just returning to the series after a brief absence. And as you point out, he has been reunited with Kevin Rumley which opens the door for another run of success.
And more, Pierce has long been considered by many as that guy who, if ever given the right opportunity, could go onto a national tour and stir up some major waves. Well, this appears to be that opportunity.
We know that Richards, Bloomquist, McCreadie, Owens, O’Neal and Lanigan are going to be tough to beat week in and week out. But adding two more such formidable competitors just deepens the talent pool that much more.
It really is going to be a major accomplishment just to win one of these races, isn’t it?
Michael: On paper, that seems to be the case. But it’s a long season and all of these drivers hit stretches where things do go their way.
The one move most people will be watching is the Pierce-Dunn Benson pairing. That team has shown some flashes of strong runs. But one has to question whether the team wasn’t quite up to par with other teams or whether Earl Pearson, Jr. has seen his better days as a driver.
The other side of that is Pierce has won a lot of races, mostly in the Midwest, driving for his family-owned team. As he ventures out of that region, there will be some tracks he’s never raced at before, much like the situation with Richards last year. Pierce flirted with running Lucas a few years ago, but pulled off when the Summernationals cranked up. Pierce is a great talent. How he fares on the tour will be as interesting as the title chase and the Davenport-Rumley return.
Richard: No doubt, the Pierce and Dunn Benson pairing is one that the Dirt Late Model world will be watching.
As for those of us in this area, there are other things we could be interested in. Ryan King and his Knoxville-based Warrior Race Cars team have announced their intentions of at least starting the 2018 season as a part of the Lucas Oil Series. How they perform and whether or not they are able to remain on the tour will certainly be something for us to watch.
Another racer of local interest who has announced plans to follow the LOLMDS is Donald McIntosh. The Dawsonville, GA native drove for Maryville-based Blount Motorsports and developed a significant following in this area. We have seen McIntosh win the Hangover here at 411 back in late December but his operation is running a somewhat unknown engine and chassis combination so they will be worthy of early season attention in our area.
Of course, east Tennessee drivers Scott Bloomquist and Jimmy Owens are expected to be major players on the LOLMDS in 2018. So there will be plenty of reasons for us to watch.
Michael: There seems to be a number of people watching McIntosh this year to see what he does. He has always been fast at most places he has raced during his time with BMS. Doing it week in and week out against that caliber of competition is what people will be looking at as the season progresses.
It would be nice to see King have some success and get Warrior back on a national platform. They used to be up there with the best chassis builders of the sport. Any kind of success King has should get them some higher caliber drivers, something they’ve not had in a while, aside from Dale McDowell’s stint just a few years ago.
Richard: With all of that said, it’s time for us to go out on a limb and try to predict the future.
Last year’s Lucas Oil championship battle was an epic one with three drivers going into the final weekend with a shot to win. I’m sure the series would love to replicate that sort of drama again and with the driving and crew talent on hand, they just well might. As a result, picking a championship winner is not an easy task.
So here goes. I am picking Scott Bloomquist to win the series title in 2018. I believe the addition of Shane McDowell Racing in Mooresburg will prove to be a benefit for Team Zero that will provide him with the consistency needed to take home the big trophy at the end of the season.
I believe Josh Richards will still be very much of a force on the tour and will score the most Lucas Oil wins on the season with Jonathan Davenport, Jimmy Owens, Tim McCreadie and the two Clint Bowyer Racing cars of Don O’Neal and Darrell Lanigan also winning features and asserting themselves in the series standings.
Michael: I’m going with Josh Richards to make it back-to-back titles followed closely by Bloomquist and then the Bowyer duo of Don O’Neal and Clint Bowyer. I think both of those drivers will have really good seasons this year.