*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 All-Star Pro Late Models Presented by PPM Racing Products
Despite the fact that it is early December, there were two big Dirt Late Model events this past weekend with each having great crowds. What does that say about the health of the sport?
Richard: From an exposure standpoint and a popularity standpoint, Dirt Late Model racing has never been bigger.
The high paying races held over the last couple of years along with the involvement of NASCAR drivers and the streamed live events have put this type of racing in front of more people than ever before. Going forward, big events are going to continue to draw large crowds.
It certainly didn’t hurt attendance that the Gateway Nationals were held inside a domed stadium and the Sunshine State 50 XR Super Series event was contested in Florida. Weather proved not to be a factor for either one. A bad forecast, or even just an iffy one, is probably the number one killer of race day attendance so when that element is removed, it always helps.
And more, both events offered something to cause fans to want to show up. The Gateway event is a spectacle unlike any other in racing due to its nature of being inside an enclosed football stadium with a highly charged atmosphere and the XR race featured big stars such as Jonathan Davenport, Brandon Overton and Tim McCreadie.
All that said, I think that from the aspect of exposure, the sport has never been in a better position. Now from the standpoint of other factors such as rising costs for competitors and promoters, there may still be issues to work out.
Michael: It shows races can be run in December if the venue is unique or in a warm climate. Very few people want to sit in 20 and 30-degree temperatures to watch a race. Having these races in a warm climate or a domed stadium is a good way to start off with a successful event.
And the thing about those two events were each one offered something different. Having one on a very small track inside a football stadium appeals to certain fans. And if fans preferred a more traditional style of racing, the XR race provided some big names on a 1/2-mile track. Both events were also very well promoted.
Speaking of those big events in December, late race passes determined the winners of both events. Popular winners combined with great competition can only help, right?
Richard: Ultimately, the key to success in race promotion comes down to how good the racing actually is. If a fan attends a show that features great competition and intense action, that fan is far more likely to come back to that venue at a later date.
Tyler Erb made a late pass on a restart to secure the lead, and eventually, the win in the Gateway Dirt Nationals while Jonathan Davenport made a pass with just five laps remaining to earn victory in the XR Super Series finale at All-Tech. Both features offered up excellent action.
So yes, great competition always helps. No matter what the sidebar entertainment may be, if the feature proves to be a “train race” it will be difficult for the track in question to overcome that in the future.
Michael: One way to kill an annual race is to have boring race. The Gateway Nationals is on such a small track it would take a monumental mistake to have a track there with no passing. All-Tech has been sneaky good with a lot of their races this year. Some have said they think it may replace East Bay during the WinterNationals if that track is still shutting down. I don’t know if they could have good racing for 6 nights in a row. But they’re putting on some good shows for these two-day event.
Did you ever think you would see a driver earn $2 million in a single season?
Richard: Had this question been asked a few years ago I would have said no way. But with the escalation of purse money that we have seen over the past two seasons, it was almost inevitable. Of course, for it to happen there had a to be a $1,000,000 race somewhere along the way.
Looking back on 2021 when Brandon Overton earned almost $1 million with his three Eldora wins and all of the other victories, the possibility of a seven-digit season became apparent. Knowing Jonathan Davenport’s ability to win features in bunches, it became at least a possibility that he could accomplish such a feat after he secured the big payday from the Eldora Million.
His $40,000 triumph on Saturday night at All-Tech Raceway pushed Davenport’s season-long earnings just over the $2 million mark.
With so much money now on the line in this form of motorsports, any dominant driver and his team has an opportunity to make large sums during the course of a season. There was a record number of races in 2022 that paid more than $25,000. I’m not sure what the record number of $100,000 events is, but I’m guessing we will see that broken in 2023 from the looks of the schedules already released.
My prediction is that whoever the dominant driver is during future seasons from now on, that pilot and his team will earn at least $1 million. Should there be more $1 million events, the possibility of doing what Davenport has done this year will always be there.
Michael: Winning the Eldora Million certainly helps and we have only seen two of those. Still, Davenport won so many of these high paying races and didn’t have to chase a series in addition to it.
You have to wonder how much more money Davenport would have won had Chris Madden not won a lot of these early season races that paid $50k or more to win. In several of those races, Davenport finished second. There were four $50k races at Bristol and Davenport didn’t win any of those.
Despite a crew chief change, Davenport is still the one to beat in most of these big money races next year. It’s going to be interesting to see if anyone, and who will it be, can challenge him next year.
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