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
Should there be a win-and-advance element to the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series ‘Chase for the Championship’?
Richard: There is no denying that the closing laps of the NASCAR Cup Series race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval was highly intriguing. There were multiple scenarios that could have played out depending on who finished where in that NASCAR Playoffs race. But is dirt racing ready for something like that?
Simply having a ‘Chase for the Championship’ to determine the 2023 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion has been a hot button issue since it was first announced, especially as Ricky Thornton Jr. has enjoyed such a dominating season. Throwing in a win-to-advance scenario such as NASCAR has for series regulars might be a bit much for fans already reluctant to embrace this new and radically different format.
As I said in a piece I wrote last week, I believe the Chase format has done exactly what it was meant to do in terms of creating drama and stirring interest. However, the series has to be careful not to go too far too quickly and risk alienating long-time fans. But of course, these things are being done to sell streaming subscriptions so that will always be the determining factor.
Still, I would suggest that the series allow fans to become used to one big change before considering another overhaul.
Michael: There hasn’t been a lot of talk about this format until the last couple of weeks. In reading and listening to all the comments on the subject, most people that follow the sport are against this format.
I’ve also read the comments where people support it. The common theme among those folks is all teams knew about this format before the season started and agreed to it. It makes a runaway season, like this one, more interesting. I see both sides of the issues.
My issue with the format is it does penalize someone who has had a dominant season like Ricky Thornton Jr. has had this year.
To have over a 500-point lead and not win the championship is a travesty even if all the teams knew the pitfalls coming into the season. This format would be great had there been a tight battle among a few drivers going into the Dirt Track World Championship like a number of years ago when Josh Richards, Scott Bloomquist, and Tim McCreadie all had a chance to win. The hype around that race would have been unbelievable. There won’t be the hype this year because many believe Thornton is the true champion and the rest is noise. Maybe Thornton will finish higher than the other three and this becomes a moot point.
Should the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series consider adopting a Chase type format?
Richard: I don’t think points championships have meant as much in the grand scheme of things in dirt racing as they have in NASCAR, at least among the fan base that is. Of course, championships have always meant something to the drivers and teams but I believe fans have largely gone to dirt races in the past just to see their favorites race or to watch guys they had only heard about before. But as we have discussed on here so many times in the past couple of years, streaming is changing everything about this sport.
It used to be that fans in a particular part of the country would only hear about the likes of Scott Bloomquist, Billy Moyer, Donnie Moran or Freddy Smith by reading about them in some racing-themed paper or magazine. They would only have an opportunity to see those guys a couple of times per year when a big race brought them to a nearby track. Since whatever series that sanctioned that race was not one that was part of the landscape in their section of the country, there was little need to keep up with the points standings.
Now, however, Jonathan Davenport, Brandon Sheppard, Bobby Pierce and Ricky Thornton Jr. can be seen on a live broadcast multiple times each week throughout the season. Those streaming broadcasts, in turn, constantly remind the viewers of the standings and how much each driver involved has gained or lost in recent races. As a result, points have become more of an issue for the average fan.
All that said, since the standings provide another means of promoting the next broadcast and close battles are very much valued by the streaming services, Chase type formats may become the way of things in the future. I have little doubt that the World of Outlaws for both its Late Model Series and its Sprint Car Series along with their broadcasting partner DirtVision.com have been watching and will be watching to see how the Lucas Oil Series and FloRacing.com do in terms of subscriptions sold.
I’m not saying the World of Outlaws should or shouldn’t adopt a Chase, but I am saying that if it is profitable for one tour, the others will certainly take notice.
Michael: I have said for some time Dirt Late Model fans and most teams are more interested in who wins races than who wins a series championship. There were a few years where Brandon Sheppard was dominating the Dirt Track World Championship and that was more of a story than who won the Lucas Oil Series championship that year.
I don’t think the World of Outlaws will adopt anything like this. It keeps them different from the Lucas series and that’s something needed. I also think this might be a good selling point for the series to recruit drivers for their series of those that don’t want to participate in a playoff-type format.
What regional drivers have had the best 2023 seasons?
Richard: There have been several drivers who largely run a regional schedule who have turned in very solid seasons in the Dirt Late Model ranks. When considering this question, I had a few of them to come immediately to mind.
Ashton Winger of Senoia, Georgia won a Hunt the Front race on Friday night last week then came in second in the weekend finale on Saturday evening. He has been winning for much of the year including a championship with DIRTcar Summer Nationals. Although he has spent time on tracks in more than one region of the country(Midwest & Southeast) I would still consider him to largely be a regional star.
The winner of that $23,000 payday in the Hunt the Front event on Saturday at the Swainsboro(GA) Raceway was another of my top regional racers for 2023 in the person of North Carolina’s Carson Ferguson. The Paylor Motorsports driver has scored a number of wins throughout the season as well as the Schaefer’s Oil Spring Nationals championship.
Another driver who just seems to keep winning and winning on the regional level is Loudon, Tennessee ace Cory Hedgecock. Just this past weekend he picked up a $10,000 paycheck from an American All-Star Series feature at the Lake Cumberland Speedway to go along with many other triumphs. Also remember that he defeated the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series regulars when they attempted to invade his home turf at 411 Motor Speedway earlier this season.
Finally, Illinois racer Jason Feger is another of those guys who, every time I look at the results from the weekend, seems to have won at least one race. The veteran driver has pieced together a very solid career but this seems to be one of his best campaigns yet.
Michael: Even though he’s not a regional driver, Dale McDowell has had a year for himself. He does primarily stick to the Southeast when he races but does venture out to other areas from time-to-time. He started off by winning $100,000 at the XRSS Spring Thaw at Volunteer Speedway. He also won the Topless 100, Lil’ Bill Corum Memorial, and a number of other $10,000 to win races.
You have already mentioned Cory Hedgecock. He continues to win races at various tracks in various series. I believe one could argue he’s the top driver that currently races in East Tennessee.
Please consider also reading:
Also, NASCAR and pavement racing fans can check out InsideCircleTrack.com