Richard: In my opinion, the sport of Dirt Late Model racing has reached one of those watershed type moments from which people will look back on and claim that the sport either moved forward to a better place or backward into a decline based on what is about to happen at this weekend’s running of the North/South 100 at Kentucky’s Florence Speedway.
The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, the sanctioning body for the event, has announced that it will hand out fresh, unaltered tires to competitors prior to the running of the prestigious $50,000-to-win race. Specifically, the right rear tire will be provided by the series with no cutting, siping or buffing being allowed. After qualifying and heat races have been completed, the cars will be rolled into the infield where the new tire will be mounted onto the machine under the watchful eye of series officials just before driver introductions for the main event.
I said above that I believe there are two possible scenarios that could play out here so let me offer a brief explanation of each.
First, this experiment could prove to be a huge success among fans and competitors alike as everyone involved is assured that the winner of one of Dirt Late Model racing’s crown jewels is legitimate and no cheating in regard to tires took place. As a result the LOLMDS and other series may decide to implement a similar system in most of the major races to insure that same legitimacy. And ultimately, the right rear tire becomes the only piece or part of the car that any series official ever lays hands on.
Or the second scenario could be that teams realize they may no longer be able to work on their tires so they begin to try other things to get a “competitive advantage” over the rest of the field. As a result, the series then attempts to step up their efforts to control cheating and begins handing out various other pieces and parts such as shocks, springs or other components. Before you know it, drivers are racing in cars essentially built by the sanctioning body. If you think that can’t happen, just look at NASCAR.
Should the first of my two scenarios work out, I’m fine with it. However, if dirt racing starts to head down the same slippery slope that NASCAR has chosen to follow, I’m completely against it. Hopefully the first works out.
What are your thoughts?
Michael: I have said for many years the only way to eliminate tire cheating is to hand out the tires at the track. I wasn’t sure how to implement such a rule. But you can tell that Lucas has really put a lot of thought into a plan to make sure this is no monkey business. It should make Saturday’s race interesting for the race itself and the future of the sport.
I don’t think this will lead to a similar path that NASCAR has taken where they’re basically running spec cars. The tire rule in place for doping tires is for two reasons. One, it’s cheating because the rules prohibit it. Two, there are health concerns involved with the substances the teams are using to alter their tires. While many fans and some competitors say to just let them do whatever they want, it is a health hazard to breathe in these substances. That’s why they’re banned. It doesn’t have anything to do with competition or they would just allow it. Sadly, like many things in life, a higher authority has to save people from themselves whether it be rules or laws. This is just a step to keep people from some serious health problems. I think that gets overlooked quite a bit when this subject comes up.
Richard: I certainly hope you are right about this not being a step toward a NASCAR-like spec car racing league. However, I believe it is important to throw that warning out there. I bet the folks in Daytona Beach didn’t foresee a day such as what they have now back a couple of decades ago. And as I said, if this all works out for the best and stops right here, then it will be for the best.
Another concern I have about any rule change is cost. Many people are under the impression that more rules equate to less expense for teams. Once again, NASCAR proves that theory wrong. The tighter the rule box is made to be by sanctioning bodies, the more engineering it takes to find an advantage. That’s why the teams of Gibbs, Penske and Hendrick win so many races. They can afford the engineering that smaller teams can’t pay for.
As you pointed out, there are many folks in the grandstands who aren’t particularly worried about whether or not the tires are doped just like there are fans of other sports who don’t care if the athletes are using steroids as long as their team is winning. And yes, there does have to be some degree of protecting people from themselves.
And for the record, I have much more faith in the leadership of the LOLMDS than I do in that of NASCAR when it comes to the management of a racing series. The packed grandstands at Lucas events compared to the half-empty stadiums at the tracks that host NASCAR events demonstrate that.
Michael: I agree with that. I think the main reason NASCAR has gone the way they have over the years is because of influence from the manufacturers. If one manufacturer had an advantage over the others, the others would complain. Now, we have spec bodies so no manufacturer has an advantage over the others regarding the bodies.
Dirt Late Model racing has no manufacturer support. The biggest complaints those teams have are tires, expensive suspension modifications, etc. The question I see being asked over this tire rule is if it becomes permanent, who will foot the bill for the tires handed out at the track. As it stands for this weekend, the series is basically giving them away. That will not stay that way if this becomes a permanent rule and is expanded to more than one tire. Then you have drivers on these different tire programs where some pay almost full price, some much less, and some get them for almost nothing. I guess the series isn’t worried about that as they will let each driver and the tire makers sort that out.
Richard: Excellent point on the tires and the various deals each driver has with the tire companies. I think many fans don’t realize that not everyone pays the same amount(if they pay at all) for the tires they use.
Speaking of manufactures, while dirt racing doesn’t really have much involvement from the auto manufacturers themselves, chassis manufacturers are a big deal in the sport. And one driver is making news by switching his brand of manufacturer mid-season.
Indications are that three-time LOLMDS champion Jimmy Owens will be debuting a new Rocket XR-1 chassis this weekend at Florence. Since switching away from Bloomquist Race Cars and parting with former car owner Mike Reece, the Newport, Tenn. driver has lacked consistency in terms of posting strong finishes week after week like he once did.
Granted, Owens has won races in both the Club 29 car he campaigned previously and the Barry Wright Race Car he drove during the first half of 2016. But his trademark in years past was that when he wasn’t winning, he was finishing in the top-3. That has not been the case of late.
If this indeed proves to be the case, Rocket would seem to be a more proven brand when it comes to being able to run consistently. There are so many of these cars out there that there should be no shortage of information available. And no doubt, Mark Richards and his team will benefit from having Owens in the fold to join house car driver Josh Richards as well as the many other racers in that brand.
On paper at least, this looks like it can have the making of a good move for Owens once the kinks are worked out. Would you agree?
Michael: I guess the jury is still out whether some of Owens’ magic is gone because of the cars he’s been driving or the departure of crew chief Chris Fox a few years ago. All of that happened at the same time, so it’s really hard to tell. The new Rockets are really good and I would expect Owens to be very competitive. The Lucas series is so competitive that it’s hard to get back on top once a driver has slid back a bit.