*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.
Richard: Well, there has been no shortage of news since we last did one of these Turn 2 Blogs. Notably, we are coming off a monster past couple of weeks as Newport’s Jimmy Owens finally scored a victory in the $50,000 USA Nationals at the Cedar Lake Speedway in Wisconsin, the Southern Nationals staged another memorable mini-series that ran right through the heart of our area, Randy Weaver went on an incredible tear, and it looks as if we might have two track re-openings in the very near future.
Let’s start off with Jimmy Owens. The popular driver and three time Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion had won just about everything there was to win in Dirt Late Model racing except for the prestigious crown jewel event at Cedar Lake. Now, he can scratch that off his ‘to-do’ list as he beat out Bobby Pierce and Jimmy Mars in a thriller on Saturday night.
It is really amazing how ‘The Newport Nightmare’ has been able to maintain such a high level of performance over these years, even with a major chassis change at the beginning of this season. And he only seems to be getting stronger.
Michael: Most people do not realize that Owens has driven one chassis or another since going to late models full time over 10 years ago. Most people just associate him with the Bloomquist chassis because he was in it for so long and won so much in it.
Owens is one of these guys that could drive a school bus and probably win in it. He’s that good. I remember some of the 4m.net haters that would rag on him all the time because he was mainly winning a bunch of $3k and $5k races early in his late model career. But with all the championships and big money wins, I dare say those haters have been eating a lot of crow the last several years.
Richard: No doubt about that. At 42 years of age, Owens has already put together a Hall of Fame career so whatever else he manages to accomplish from now on is just gravy as far as his legacy is concerned. And at the rate he’s going, I’d say there’s still a lot more yet to be accomplished.
And speaking of drivers making career type accomplishments, how about the recent run of success by Randy Weaver? The Crossville driver went on a tear that saw him collect six consecutive victories in three different series’ on six different tracks. And it’s not as if he was just eeking out most of those wins. I saw four of them personally, and each of those was complete domination.
It seems as if Weaver’s recent change to the Labonte brothers owned and Kevin Rumley engineered Longhorn chassis has suited his driving style perfectly(although one of those recent wins was in his GRT chassis). It seems as if this season has been filled with guys going on impressive runs in new cars.
Michael: Weaver is a very accomplished racer that probably doesn’t get his due on a national level because he’s only run a partial national schedule. People in this area and in the Southeast know how good Weaver is. I find it amazing he was winning as much as he was in recent years in a GRT. The GRT team has lost touch with today’s racing and the low number of drivers running their cars is proof of that. Weaver was as loyal for as long as he could be. I think he found out on the Lucas tour how far behind his equipment was.
I was told by someone who knows Weaver very well that the biggest reason for the change to Longhorn was the amount of engineering being put into those cars. That’s where the NASCAR influence comes from in dirt late model racing. Weaver has definitely hit on something. We have seen this out of him before.
Richard: On the topic of Weaver’s success, the Southern Nationals have come and gone again, and much of that mini-series played out right in front of us. Weaver won three of those races(411, Rome and Boyd’s), but he did not win the title since he didn’t compete in all ten events.
This year’s Southern Nationals has to be labeled a success due to the good car counts and outstanding attendance at most of the races. I attended five of the races and saw evidence of both the car counts and attendance first hand. Boyd’s and 411 had the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen at those tracks. And in terms of the car counts, the SoNats had 30+ cars multiple times and even had 25 drivers to sign in at Tazewell, which was more than for the Lucas Oil and World of Outlaws races held there.
Ray Cook and his team do a good job of getting that series organized and drawing cars to the tracks. And again, Chris Madden proved to be a force by winning his fifth series championship.
I believe the key to success for the Southern Nationals Series is that it gives regional drivers a chance to shine on a somewhat bigger stage and it gives tracks an opportunity to bring a touring Super Late Model event in without the high purse cost of a Lucas Oil or WoO event.
Michael: This year’s Southern Nationals started off with a lot of fan fare and was able to carry it until the final weekend. Ray and his entire crew did an excellent job this year. I feel that Weaver’s dominating win streak added a lot of buzz to the series this year despite him only running 4 of the 10 races.
It would have been interesting to see how things would have turned out had Weaver ran the whole series. I know his dad’s health is a concern and he doesn’t want to travel too far for any length of time. That makes the 4-day stretch into South Carolina and Georgia a tough one for him. And Tazewell is low on his list of tracks he wants to race on. Still, I’d like to see him make a run at it once.
This year was one of those rare years with the Southern Nationals having so many drivers run every race. That helped a lot with attendance. In recent years, at least 1/3 of the drivers would have fallen off by the latter part of the final week. That helped the promoters advertise which drivers would be there.
There has always been a question of attendance for these mid-week races. 411 and Boyd’s showed that with the right promotion to create some excitement, the fans will turn out.
Richard: And as we said at the beginning, there are a lot of topics to address this week. So lastly, it appears as if the area may be adding two new tracks.
Facebook has been buzzing with photos from both the I-75 Speedway(the old Murphy Speedway), which is being brought back to life by the Kyle family and of the Cleveland Speedway, which seems to have been saved from closure by investor Al Chapman and Chad Elliott.
It’s always exciting when a new track comes on line, or in this case, when old ones are restored. However, it will interesting to see how all of this plays out. Counting Doug Sopha’s I-40 Raceway, these will make the second and third additions to a local racing scene that is already stretched thin in terms of cars and fans.
I applaud anyone who is willing to take the risk of opening and running a race track. At the same time, my hope is that new ideas and promotional tactics can be employed to make all of them successful. As you said above, mid-week racing can work when it is done right. And there can always be agreements between track officials to not schedule over each other and to share certain classes.
Hopefully all will work out well for those involved.
Michael: I will be interested to see how this all plays out in the coming weeks and the start of next season. The hope is opening new tracks will either get some people back into racing who had quit when their favorite track(s) closed or get new people started into racing. The key is generating enough interest to get new people into racing both as fans and as competitors. What we see now is the already existing group of tracks fighting over the same fans and the same drivers. My fear is adding new tracks to the mix will only thin it out even more, especially regarding the drivers. The other problem I see is when these newly opened venues bring in people from previously failed ventures to be a vital part of their operation.
Cleveland already has their core group of fans and drivers. I think they will be fine as long as they run a fair program. I-40 has had trouble drawing cars and they are re-evaluating their situation. I-75 will be the wild card. They built a new track inside the old track. It’s much smaller and is relatively flat. They plan to run on Saturdays and can draw from a wide area with their location. They will probably start out strong. The key for them is whether they can maintain the strong start. Only time will tell.
Richard: Whew! That was a lot of stuff to cover in one sitting. But when you live in east Tennessee, there is always going to be plenty of dirt racing news.