Turn 2 Blog: DTWC Reactions & The Legitimacy of O’Neal’s Championship

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

There was plenty of talk going into the Dirt Track World Championship, so now that it’s over, what are your reactions?

Richard: Weather issues aside(or maybe those issues contributed), the first Big River Steel Chase for the Championship conducted by the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series did exactly what it was supposed to do. This format was created for the purpose of producing drama for not only the fans in attendance but also for the streaming audience. There is no doubt it did that.

The debate as to whether this type of format is true to the sport or not can go on forever. This sort of discussion has been a focal point in NASCAR since the Playoff-style system was first introduced in 2004. And yes, entertainment is the intended byproduct of having a ‘Chase’ scenario play out on our screens. It’s just part of the evolution of things.

As far as the race was concerned, I enjoyed it. And having spent all day at Eldora Speedway on Saturday, I can tell you there was a higher level of excitement and enthusiasm in the pit area than is usually the case, even for a major event. Obviously, the weather conditions on Friday and Saturday dampened(pun intended) the excitement level during the delays but once the engines began to fire, that intensity returned.

The weather made it difficult to judge. The crowd was reduced on Sunday, the track was rough, and attrition was high. But even considering all of that, the drama of the championship and the race winning battle playing out separately for much of the 100-lap distance then ultimately coming together late made for quite a story.

I would say the format and the event itself needs more time to be allowed to play out under more normal circumstances before definite judgements can be made.

Brandon Sheppard won the $100,000 DTWC

Michael: It’s a shame the weather played such a big part in what went on all weekend. The heats, B-mains, and the feature were all ran on the same day. That left little time to do any extra track work. Still, the track was going to be rough either way and that was only one of the storylines of the night, especially when Ricky Thornton Jr. hit the wall and basically ended his chances of a race win and a championship.

And with a diminished crowd, there’s no way to tell if a bigger crowd would really add to more of the excitement. I talked to Carl Short a couple months ago about the DTWC moving to Eldora. He said even though Eldora is a great venue, he was concerned whether the hype for the DTWC would come close to the hype the World 100 and The Dream has. That question is still unanswered.

Having said all of that, the race had so much drama from start to finish. That’s easily the best DTWC in some time.

Do you consider Hudson O’Neal’s 2023 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series championship to be a legitimate one?

Richard: This is another argument we have seen and heard in NASCAR for years. Some will argue that Jimmie Johnson’s seven championships should not be counted in the same way as Richard Petty’s and Dale Earnhardt’s titles. And for years, I will admit that I was one of those who thought that. But times change and this is an example of that.

So the answer for me is that yes, it is a legitimate championship. Everyone knew when the season began what the format would be. This was not something made up halfway during the campaign and just because Ricky Thornton Jr. was having a great season doesn’t mean it makes Hudson O’Neal’s season less worthy.

And it was because of the format that the four drivers involved in the championship battle were able to earn unprecedented amounts of money. That, in turn, got big stars such as Jonathan Davenport and Brandon Overton, who had been running pick-and-choose schedules, to stick with the tour throughout the season. Their guaranteed appearances helped promoters and the series because their fans would want to come to the track to watch their favorites.

O’Neal had to beat out some of the very best in the business to win the title in the same way that Johnson beat out stronger and deeper fields of competitors than did Petty and Earnhardt. Those factors, in my mind, legitimize the championship even if the format is not a popular one among some.

Hudson O’Neal is the 2023 Lucas Oil champion

Michael: It is legitimate under the rules the series set forth before at the start of the season. As you mentioned, everyone involved there was a risk, and unfortunately for Thornton, his huge lead in points and 20+ wins doesn’t net him a championship. The chronic complainers online will just have to deal with how things played out.

If I could add one thing, I think the series’ lucky dog rule needs to be revised. If there is going to be such a rule, they need to fix the situation with a driver not getting it more than once in a race. I actually like that part. Drivers don’t need to be getting it over and over. The part I don’t like is if a driver is in line to get it a second time, it should not be given to the next driver a lap down. That’s allowing a driver to pick up a position under yellow without doing anything. If the same driver is in line to get the lucky dog a second time, just don’t give it to anyone. It should be up to the other drivers to pass that driver to be in position to get it themselves.

Could drivers and teams be more helpful when it comes to promoting Dirt Late Model events?

Richard: This question comes as a result of my preparation for going to Eldora and it is not meant for every driver because many do an excellent job. When I prepare to either watch or attend a race I will try to figure out what drivers will be there, I look through websites and social media for conformation.

I know that some of this comes from the fact that the national touring series drivers probably have someone who does it for them, but some of the regional drivers do not do a great job of making it known where they will be racing and that can hurt the promotion of a race due to the fact that fans want to know who will be there.

Everyone knows where the national guys will be going when the two major tours are racing. It’s the regional drivers who are often the unknown whether it be in a national race that is coming close to their area or, perhaps more importantly, regional series races near their shop.

With regional tours and tracks in need of all the help they can get, it would benefit all involved if drivers would let promoters and fans know they are coming to a particular event. That, in turn, would let the track and the regional series sell the fact that those cars will be in competition.

Drivers and teams often complain that promoters don’t do enough. While it’s not their sole responsibility to do the promoter’s job for them, the promotion of the sport is something we all need to do a better job of. Letting everyone know where drivers intend to race on a given weekend would be one way to do that.

Michael: It would be nice if the regional drivers get on social media to let everyone know where they will be racing. I don’t think they need to be spending thousands of dollars a year for someone to do that for them. Most of them don’t race for a living.

In some ways, I miss the old days when you didn’t know who would show up from race to race. There was some anticipation to see who would roll through the gate. In other ways, I’d like to know who’s going to be at most races. It makes it easier for people like us to decide which race we want to cover.

Please consider also reading:

Brandon Sheppard wins wild DTWC; Hudson O’Neal claims Lucas Oil title

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