Turn 2 Blog: Are dominant drivers good for a racing series?

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*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.

The latest edition of the Turn 2 Blog is presented by the American Crate All-Star Series.

Richard: We have just finished up another edition of the Schaeffer’s Oil Southern Nationals, and as usual, the Ray Cook-promoted mini-series provided plenty to talk about.

As many might have expected, the midsummer tour was dominated by two drivers. Brandon Overton came into the 2020 version of the Southern Nationals as the defending champion after having spent most of the current season ranked among the top-three drivers in all of Dirt Late Model racing according to DirtonDirt.com. The Evans, GA native had already scored nine feature wins across multiple series before the tour even began.

Chris Madden entered as a five-time Southern Nationals champion and the tour’s winningest driver over its 16-year history. After having parted ways with Scott Bloomquist Racing, the Gray Court, SC racer landed with Millwood Motorsports in a ride that has to date been listed as a temporary situation.

As it turned out, the dominance of those two drivers was complete. Overton scored a total six wins in the twelve contested events along with the overall championship with Madden earning four checkered flags. Only what were essentially home track wins by Cory Hedgecock at I-75 Raceway and Dakotah Knuckles in the finale at Tazewell Speedway prevented these two from amassing all of the trophies.

With all of that said, one thing I thought about throughout the series is whether or not it is a good thing for a series to have one or two guys who just totally dominate or is it better to have more variety in victory lane?

On the one hand, having domination by a single driver or two drivers certainly generates interest. People tend to either jump on the bandwagon and root for those particular drivers to keep on winning while others will take the opposite view and hope to see an underdog unseat the dominate players.

Either way, however, attention is drawn to the series in question because of that domination.

But on the other hand, it could be said that variety is the spice of life and it is more interesting to the viewer to go into a race knowing that any one of a number of competitors could end up taking the checkered flag. That degree of uncertainty provides for a more entertaining experience for some.

There is very little a series can necessarily do to artificially create either circumstance. Often times, these things just happen naturally.

In your view, which is it? Is it better for a series to have one or two major players or is a wider variety best for promotion?

Brandon Overton won six of the twelve Southern Nationals features

Michael: I can see it both ways. Some fans, and even drivers, may see it as a foregone conclusion that one or two drivers will be racing for the win. A common complaint for any series or any track is that of the same people winning all the time.

On the other hand, it certainly divides the crowd if one driver is very popular or a driver is polarizing. We certainly saw plenty of those examples as the Southern Nationals went through the final weekend of the schedule. The tangle between Madden and Ross Bailes at Crossville led to Madden making a comment about going back to the trailer park. A good number of fans did not like the comment and showed that when Madden won the race at 411 and was greeted with booing and heckling. At the same time, there were almost as many cheers as well.

Richard: I have always been of the opinion that having a dominate driver in a series is good up to a point. You and I are old enough to remember when Bill Elliott was winning everything on the NASCAR Cup Series back in 1985 and we all certainly recall Jonathan Davenport’s great 2015 Dirt Late Model campaign. Both of those situations drew interest to those forms of racing because some wanted to see how long the winning could continue while others wanted to see when it would end.

If the winning by one particular driver or team goes on for too long, however, I think it can have a harmful effect. Many fans claim to have been turned off from NASCAR when Jimmie Johnson was piling up race wins and championships about a decade ago. As you say, a feeling that the outcome is a foregone conclusion can lead people to believe there is no need to watch or buy a ticket.

A situation very similar to that is currently taking place on the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series. It’s almost shocking if someone other than Brandon Sheppard wins one of their features. For that matter, as the Rocket Chassis house car team showed in this past weekend’s Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series-sanctioned Silver Dollar Nationals, it’s a common sight to see the blue No. 1 machine pull into victory lane wherever it shows up no matter what series sanctions the event.

Again, it isn’t the fault of any series that domination by one team happens and that team certainly isn’t at fault for winning. But at the same time, might such a situation cause car counts to drop on national, regional, or local levels when this sort of thing occurs?

Michael: A series really can’t, or shouldn’t, have any control over those types of things. It’s up to the competition to figure out where they are getting beaten each week and they try to improve on that. We saw that a couple of years ago when Longhorn seemed to be the top dog in the sport. Teams have figured out what they were doing and now Rocket is the dominant car.

Going back the the Southern Nationals, I really thought the close points battle between Overton and Madden and Madden’s comments at Crossville on Thursday would lead to more ticket sales for both 411 and Tazewell. While they both had good crowds, it was not what either track saw there last year for the same events.

Chris Madden (44) won four events on the 2020 Southern Nationals tour

Richard: On a final note about the Southern Nationals, I find it interesting that seven drivers were able to complete the entire 12-race schedule this year. In a year with coronavirus causing all the issues it is causing and the economy going through all sorts of ups and downs, it’s remarkable that these drivers and team members, most of whom are not full-time racers, were able to take two weeks away from jobs and families to complete all of these races.

In my mind, the solid car counts are largely due to the work put in by Ray Cook and his team. This is a well run series and as I have said on many occasions, it is one of my favorite times of the year. Due to a medical procedure I had to have done I was only able to make it to two of the races this year. That’s something I hope to change in 2021.

Michael: Ray is a class act and almost every one in the sport respects him and what he does. Fans outside the area bemoan the format of the races, nicknaming the series the Front Row Nationals. More races paid over $10,000 to win this year, those races used heat races to set the entire lineup. Still, the other races this year were not the typical pole sitter dominated events. One thing fans need to understand is Ray tries to take car of the racers by keeping down the number of laps for the $3,500 to win race. The race teams respect that.

Moving ahead, I think those $3,500 to win races will need to be bumped up the $5,300 to win races to draw more cars for these midweek shows. But that also puts the promoters in the bind since midweek races in this area usually do not draw great crowds. It’s an interesting dilemma that will need to be looked at very soon. Otherwise, Ray had a successful campaign this year.

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