*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: We’re very early into 2016 but there has been no shortage of news surrounding the sport of dirt racing in this area and beyond. If things continue at this rate, we’ll have no problem keeping the pages of this website fresh throughout the year.
To begin with, the Hangover at 411 Motor Speedway on New Year’s Day was by all accounts a tremendous success. Over 200 cars raced in the seven classes on display that day in front of an enormous crowd that filled both the grandstands and the pit area. No doubt, track owners Mitch and Tanya McCarter were pleased with not only the success of that one event but also with the exposure the race, which basically has the dirt racing news cycle to itself, gains for the track nationally.
After six years now, the Hangover certainly appears to have provided the track with what its owners hoped for, hasn’t it?
Michael: It certainly has. Since the addition of the Super Late Models to the event, the goal has been to make it one of those unique events like the Ice Bowl. Judging from the amount of cars, number of people in the pits, and the huge crowd on a day when it was cold and the University of Tennessee was playing a bowl game, I think they have reached that goal.
I thought the car counts would be pretty good based off last year. I really didn’t expect the crowd they had given how cold it was and UT was on TV in a bowl game. That part really surprised me.
Richard: To me, the size of the Hangover crowd and the high car count indicate two pretty significant things. First, the fact that so many people came out for the the race on, as you say, a day that offered very chilly temperatures and the Volunteers playing in a big game on television shows that people in this area love their racing. Even as much dirt action as we are exposed to in this area with so many great tracks, the fans seem to never get enough. With the economy improving and gas prices sinking lower, that almost certainly has to bode well for the upcoming season.
Secondly, the fact that there were so many cars on hand indicates that the sport is as strong as ever in this region. Many drivers and teams spend virtually all winter getting cars prepared for the spring, which serves as the traditional beginning of the racing season around here. That so many cars from the Super Late Models down through every class had that many machines on hand shows that drivers are looking to race. It would have been easy to simply declare that they couldn’t get their cars ready in time and skip the Hangover. Instead, it appears as if many expedited their efforts because they wanted to be on track.
It appears that the state of our racing union in east Tennessee is strong.
Michael: Most of these races that are at different times of the year work because there is no competition from other events. My fear is others will see the success of the Hangover and decide to run their own event. Soon, race season will be year-round, except for December. I think that’s too much. It wears out equipment and wears out people going to these races. Having a couple sprinkled in to start the year is the right amount. I will be interested to see what the crowd and car count is like when the Super Late Models return to 411 in late February.
Richard: Yes, someone attempting to copy success is something I worry about as well. Over saturation could be a problem if that starts to take place.
Speaking of unique events, the Ice Bowl has just been completed and it too had solid car counts. And further, east Tennessee drivers ran well. Jason Manley of Loudon won in the Limited Late Model class while drivers such as Jimmy Elliott and John Ownbey scored top-5 results in the Crate Late Model class. Donald McIntosh(who drives for Maryville-based Blount Motorsports) and Ethan Hunter posted top-5 finishes in the Super Late Models.
As always, there will be no shortage of talent racing in our area during the 2016 season in all classes of Late Models and otherwise.
Michael: Some of our area drivers haven’t had the best of luck down there in recent years. Glad to see some good performances this year.
Kudos to Talladega Short Track for being able to put on their event in the wake of the scoring tower burning down a couple of weeks ago. They were determined to not let that stop them.
Richard: To completely change gears, Jimmy Owens is on the move(sort of) for the second time in as many seasons. On New Year’s Eve, the Newport driver announced that he and Rowland Racing were parting ways. He will be driving for R&W Motorsports in 2016 with Custom Race Engines under the hood of their Barry Wright Race Cars. After a season in which the ‘O Show’ did not pile up the wins like we are accustomed to seeing, the three-time Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion must have felt like a change away from the Club 29 Race Cars had been using was a necessity.
Perhaps the bigger picture is that whenever a driver such as Jonathan Davenport runs the table as he did last season, it puts tremendous pressure on others to find whatever they can to step up their games. We’ve already seen it earlier this off-season with the Clint Bowyer Racing team making a move to bring in Darrell Lanigan and Club 29 after parting ways with former driver Steve Francis.
Will these types of moves succeed in the end?
Michael: I think it depends on how the rules changes, and if any other series also adopt the Lucas Oil rules, has any negative effect on Jonathan Davenport. He’s tearing it up again in Arizona at the Wild West Shootout. But those races aren’t using the new Lucas rules. But last season was such a huge season that any other season will pale in comparison.
Any time someone like Davenport crushes the competition like he did last year, other drivers are going to change to something similar to what Davenport has or go in a completely different direction. Drivers are always happy with their equipment when they are winning. As soon as they stop winning as much, they move on to something else. I think Owens is in the same boat.
Richard: Davenport did indeed prove to be the big winner over the past couple of weeks in Tucson. But as you point out, the real test may be coming in a couple of weeks when the LOLMDS begins competition at Golden Isles Speedway in Georgia with their new rules in place. I’m hearing that the driver and his K&L Rumley team are more determined than ever to prove they can dominate after having what they perceive as rule changes specifically targeting them put in place.
Another test of the topic we have addressed will be coming soon as well. The annual Cabin Fever race will be taking place at Boyd’s Speedway on January 23. I am anxious to see if that track can follow up on the success experienced by 411 on New Year’s Day. I expect the car counts at Boyd’s to be good, as they always seem to be, and the fans will no doubt be ready for more action as well.