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
Who is the Dirt Late Model ‘Driver of the Year’?
Richard: Drivers such as Hudson O’Neal, Brandon Sheppard, Jonathan Davenport and Dale McDowell have done some great things this season by winning big races and even a championship for O’Neal. However, in my mind there have been two who have accomplished so much that they are the only ones who can be seriously considered.
Both Ricky Thornton Jr. and Bobby Pierce have had dominant seasons with each exceeding 30 feature victories, including some of the most prestigious and highest paying events. The ‘Driver of the Year’ has to be one of those two aces. From June to now, there has been little doubt as to who would be considered a favorite to win any given race when the haulers for either or both of these two rolled into a pit area.
One thing Pierce has going for him is that he did win a championship as he was just crowned by the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series following the World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. Thornton was, of course, one the four drivers to compete for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series title at Eldora Speedway in the Dirt Track World Championship but lost out to Hudson O’Neal.
On the other hand, Thornton had more wins that paid $50,000 or more than did Pierce. RTJ scored five of those lucrative victories while ‘The Smooth Operator’ racked up three. The XR Super Series finale weekend at All-Tech Raceway and the features at The Dome at America’s Center will also offer up nice paydays so there are still big races to run.
Even with that, I would have to cast my vote for ‘Driver of the Year’ to Thornton but it is a very close call.
Michael: I have thought about this the last month or so. If I had cast a vote then it would have been for Pierce. But after thinking about it more I would give it to Thornton.
I think many felt like Thornton’s season wasn’t as good because he didn’t win the Lucas Oil championship because of their format to determine a champion. I think that mindset is unfair to Thornton. From May through the middle of summer, Thornton was almost unbeatable. Pierce never had any stretches like that. As you pointed out, the amount of big money races he won this season is the difference maker in my mind.
Is the fact that there seem to be fewer Super Late Model shows going to open the door for other classes to headline special events?
Richard: I have been thinking about this virtually all year. Where it used to be that in the east Tennessee area fans could see either a nationally or regionally sanctioned Super Late Model show on a weekly basis at the various tracks around the region, that is not always the case now. Those numerous $5,000 and $7,500-to-win races are being replaced by fewer $20,000 or $50,000-to-win races which leaves a bit of a void for those not willing or able to drive four or five hours to watch bigger races on a week-by-week basis.
There could be openings for other classes to step in and fill that void, but to do that, tracks might have to be willing to work with each other to keep each division healthy and fully stocked rather than diluted among multiple facilities racing on the same night.
Whether it be Limited Late Models, Crate Late Models, Modifieds or some other type of cars, there could be an opportunity to build something that could thrive on those ever increasing weeks when there isn’t a Super Late Model series race in the region.
Michael: I’m anxious to see the schedules for this year to see how things shake out both regionally and nationally. Just in our area in east Tennessee we would see Super Late Model races on a regular basis. Those numbers have been dwindling for various reasons. Now, with the really big purses, it seems like our area and most of the Southeast is being left behind.
There are a lot of Crate Late Models in this region. One would think those shows would be beneficial to track owners but it appears as if the fans haven’t warmed up to those races.
It looks as if Limited Late Models are on a bit of a comeback. I think the opportunity is there for that class to grow even more and for tracks to see if the fans respond more to those races.
How important is the announcer to a good racing show?
Richard: I just came from an event in which three of the best announcers in the sport were calling the action in the World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. And absolutely, the announcer is important to a good racing show. And that is especially true in this era of streaming broadcasts.
I enjoy hearing announcers who have developed their own personal style and can deliver information about what’s going on but can also be entertaining while not being obnoxious. Keeping fans engaged is a key aspect of what announcers of any sport do. But racing offers the unique challenge of having to work around the noise of 20 roaring engines. Understanding when to talk and when not to is a skill that the best track announcers have mastered.
Those who call the races for the major series such as James Essex of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and John Gibson with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars are skilled professionals who have spent years honing their craft. But the local track announcer who works a regular job then has to hustle to the speedway on a Friday or Saturday night can be just as effective.
I was at race earlier this year when a bank of lights went out. While the track workers labored to get the lights back on, the track announcer did a great job of keeping the audience entertained when he came out of the press box and worked among the crowd for several minutes.
To me, the best announcers are those who have a good personality and develop a unique style around that personality. There is much more to it than just telling people to go to the concession stand. Besides they know to do that anyway.
Michael: There are a lot of announcers in racing that are copycats or think they are calling a wrestling match. I know some fans do enjoy those styles, but many do not. A very good speaking voice makes for the best ones. Bret Emmerick was one of the best. I don’t know if he previously had a background in radio, but he has one of the great voices in any level of racing.
If an announcer is annoying or seems to not know much about what is going on, I’m quick to tune them out. I think a lot of other fans do the same.
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