*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: It feels like we just ended the 2021 season(and in reality we did) and here it is time for the 2022 campaign to kick off. The World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series will kick off its schedule this weekend with a trio of $10,000-to-win races to be held at the Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida. On the following weekend the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series will join the Georgia-Florida SpeedWeeks fray with its own three-pack of events at the Golden Isles Speedway near Brunswick, Georgia.
SpeedWeeks used to be a February happening but now things get going even earlier as the Dirt Late Model racing season continues to expand. As we have discussed on here before, with this sport in the process of transitioning from being almost solely dependent on in-person attendance for its survival to a streaming television-based economic model there is a need for more and more races. And with each major series locked into its own streaming deal, there is a constant need for more content to make it worthwhile for fans to subscribe.
With that being the case, great pressure being placed not only on the teams but also, as we saw last year, on the suppliers who provide the necessary parts and equipment to keep Dirt Late Models rolling. That, in turn, leads to shortages and higher prices.
There are some significant questions that will have to be answered as the early part of this season plays out, aren’t there?
Michael: I’m waiting to see how many teams go to these events and what the tire supply will look like. The tire companies say they have built back up some of their inventory with racing slowing down after early November. But that’s only two months.
The series that only allow one brand of tire to be used in their races could see a downturn in car counts if the tire issue continues. I know these rules are in place because they have a tire deal with X tire company. I wonder if this will hurt them if this supply problems continue through the early months of the season.
Richard: I’ve been following dirt racing since somewhere around the 2008 season and I have noticed one significant thing going into 2022. In previous seasons, almost every driver who has a website would have posted their entire racing schedule for the upcoming season by early January, especially those drivers who intend to compete on one of the national tours. But leading into 2022, I see that hardly any of the top stars have done that.
I believe part of the reasoning behind that, as you mentioned, has to do with the shortages of tires and other necessary items. But more, I also think some drivers and teams are playing a wait-and-see game regarding the upcoming Georgia-Florida SpeedWeeks.
Perhaps more than ever before, those thought to be serious title contenders might be planning to measure the worthiness of pursuing a season-long championship based on what their position is on a particular series following the first few races. If they come out of Florida in a good position, they may very well opt to stay with whichever series they have done well with. However, if they find themselves buried deep in the standings, they may opt for a Plan B.
Last year, I referred to the sudden interest in dirt racing by fans who had not previously followed that form of motorsports as the ‘Kyle Larson Effect’. Furthermore, the sudden desire by drivers who have been tied to just one form of racing to try out new things also fits into that category.
Going into this year, the somewhat non-committal scheduling by some has led me to apply a new name to a new phenomenon. The ‘Brandon Overton Effect’ may have caused some racers to look at the success enjoyed by Overton last year as he followed a pick-and-choose schedule and wonder if they might be able to employ such a tactic. While no one can expect to earn the kind of money the Wells Motorsports team did last season, there are still purses to be won. And more, going by a schedule of you own choosing could open the door for a few breaks throughout the year and for shorter travel distances away from home.
Such a schedule could also make it easier to land and keep crew members, which are in almost as short of a supply as tires.
Do you think drivers are holding back on their commitments because of supply chain issues, a desire to have more control of their schedule, or some other reason?
Michael: I believe a lot of it has to do weighing their options whether to follow a series for the whole season or chase the money and race where they want to. With the XR Super Series expanding their schedule, expanding their reach into the regional tours, and offering some big purses with some big bonus money, it may prove to be a real attractive option, especially for those who didn’t get off to a good start once the racing has finished in Florida.
I have to say I’m surprised at the number of Rookie of the Year contenders for the World of Outlaws heading into the season. Of the three series, their regular purses are lagging behind what the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series has to offer. But we know just because they many have expressed their intentions doesn’t mean they will stick with that once they all come out of Florida.
Richard: Like you, I tend to believe that some are going to weigh their options at the end of February and SpeedWeeks. If they feel like they have a legitimate shot at a championship or even a high finish in the standings they will probably hang with that particular series, but if not, they may try to hit some of those XR races along with the Castrol FloRacing Night in America events along with other hit-and-miss options.
But let’s take this in a different direction.
Most regional tours do not typically have very many drivers to run their full series. More often than not, especially once the season gets into full swing and some drivers fall off, these regional races must rely on “drop-ins” to fill in the field. And if a promoter gets lucky, his/her regional race might fall on an off weekend for one or both of the national tours which might allow a well known driver such as Jonathan Davenport or Jimmy Owens or even Kyle Larson to run a one-off race on that particular night. If one of those type drivers lets it be known early enough, attendance for that race could greatly benefit.
But now, with so many big payouts being offered by FloRacing and XR on those off dates, the possibility of a promoter getting to advertise a couple of days or so in advance that a fan favorite will be in a regional touring race are probably diminished.
Do you see the possibility of such an impact on regional races with the influx of so many five-digit shows now on the schedule?
Michael: I think this year is a big turning point for many of the regional series for the reasons you stated. There are also going to be some other factors in play as well.
As we are working on this blog, news came out the XR group has purchased Southern All-Stars. That group has bought several regional series and could add more. So there’s a bit of an unknown there. The other is many tracks are feeling the pinch of the regional series being streamed online. Many of those are directly blaming that as a downturn in attendance. We have seen one track decide to do their own streaming and others may follow suit. Still others are not scheduling races with certain series that have all their races streamed. It’s going to be an interesting wrestling match as tracks want to protect their gate and the regional series try to expand their exposure.
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