*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
Dirt Late Model racing lost a great friend this past weekend with the passing of Rick Eshelman. It was a sad day for the sport, wasn’t it?
Richard: The sport of dirt racing lost one of its great characters with Rick’s passing. And more than that, those of us who were lucky enough to have known him lost a great friend. It was devastating news to hear.
Rick was one of the funniest people I have ever met. He was always quick with a joke and loved to make people laugh. And he was able to incorporate that quality into his announcing style. The one-liners he was able to slip into a World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series broadcast on DirtVision or over the track’s PA system were legendary. Yet he was able to insert those comedic lines without trivializing the racing action.
But he was much more than just a funny guy. Few followers of the sport could match his knowledge of Dirt Late Model racing. Further, he kept those watching and listening informed and entertained at the same time and that’s a rare ability. He was also a master at keeping the fans at the track engaged during breaks in the action by offering interesting tidbits, trivia questions, and quips.
As all good announcers do, he was great at including others. He always brought track announcers into the DirtVision broadcasts and was always looking to pull the pit reporters into the show so that they could contribute as well.
Deservedly so, Rick was inducted into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame prior to the most recent North-South 100. The last time I spoke with him was to congratulate him on that honor a couple of weekends ago at Boyd’s Speedway and he seemed to be the same ole Rick I had always known.
We never know what others are going through on the inside. Outwardly, Rick Eshelman was one who had a way of always making others feel better. I guess there were things going on inside that he felt unable to deal with.
Michael: It was devastating to hear the news about Rick. Both of us just saw him last weekend at Boyd’s Speedway. He seemed like his usual self. I never imagined he’d be gone a week later. His loss will be felt across the World of Outlaws for a long time.
It sounds like none of us knew of the issues he was facing. It’s probably like that with a lot of people who face something similar. All I can say is if anyone is dealing with internal issues and feel there is no hope, there is hope. Reach out to someone and let them know.
The rain outs of the past weekend mean that the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series has only two races remaining. What have been the key storylines from this season?
Richard: This has very much been a season of transition for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. In one way, there have been significant increases in feature purses and the overall points fund. But at the same time, there has been an overall increase in the amount of money available in Dirt Late Model racing across the board among each of the tours.
There is not much doubt that the XR Super Series and the Castrol FloRacing Night in America Series have caused many competitors to rethink the way they schedule races and that has impacted the LOLMDS as well as the World of Outlaws.
As a result of the spreading of wealth, several of the top drivers have chosen not to follow a particular tour. Jonathan Davenport, Jimmy Owens, Kyle Bronson, Devin Moran and Mike Marlar are among those who opted for more of a pick-and-choose schedule in 2022. But even with that, this series has plenty of star power, especially after the addition of Brandon Sheppard and the Rocket Chassis house car team.
And another key aspect of the Lucas Oil season is that it looks as if it’s going to be a second consecutive championship for Tim McCreadie barring some major problem. The 48-year-old driver is working his way further up the ladder of Dirt Late Model racing history. Last year, he joined Josh Richards and Scott Bloomquist as the only drivers to win championships with the LOLMDS and the WoO Late Models and now he is about to become a multi-time champion on one of those tours.
I am anxious to see the 2023 schedule as I believe there will be even more money on the line for feature wins and perhaps the points fund as well. At the same time, I wonder if there might be fewer races which might make following the series more appealing to racers.
Michael: The biggest series storyline for me is the addition of Brandon Sheppard to the series. That decision was actually made around the halfway point of the season. The series had suffered from numerous rain outs and Sheppard was still leading the points. But as surprising as that was, Sheppard losing the points lead and not contending for wins once he switched series was a bigger surprise. I guess that shows what many have said is the Lucas Oil Series is the most competitive of the national tours.
Having several drivers drop off the tour was another surprise. The World of Outlaws suffered from the same issue. That leads me to wonder how both series will fare next season because XR and the FloRacing series aren’t going anywhere. This will be one of the more interesting off-seasons for the Lucas Oil Series and the sport in general.
Kyle Larson won another big Dirt Late Model race this past weekend when he took the Hillbilly Hundred. Is his impact on this form of motorsports as great as it once was or have fans and competitors become accustomed to his presence?
Richard: Despite how he may make it look, make no mistake, what Kyle Larson is doing in racing is not easy. We haven’t seen a driver with the ability to crossover into other types of competition and have success like the Elk Grove, California native is having since the likes of A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He is a rare talent.
So to answer the question, I don’t think it is possible to become accustomed to what we are witnessing. I tell my sons all the time that they may never see anything like this again in their lifetimes. And the fact that he has taken to Late Models so quickly speaks volumes of his talent level.
For comparison’s sake, Donny Schatz is one of the greatest Sprint Car drivers of all time but he has never approached the kind of success Larson is having in Late Models when he dips into that form of racing. Jimmie Johnson is one of NASCAR’s all-time greatest stars but look at how he struggles in IndyCar. Crossing over is difficult, even for the greatest.
One thing that has impressed when the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion shows up to race on dirt, whether it be in a Sprint Car or a Late Model, is how the other drivers are so quick to accept him. You would think that there might be some sort of resentment toward him, and there may be among a few. But overall, he seems to be thought of as “one of us” by most dirt racers.
I don’t think Larson’s impact on the sport is diminishing. Rather, I think the surprise people may feel when he achieves another win is diminishing because we have come to expect him to succeed at everything he does.
Michael: A.J. Foyt was the most talented drivers I have seen until Larson came along. When I was growing up, Foyt was winning all kinds of Indy Car races, but was also winning some races in NASCAR. I saw him race several times in Atlanta in the Cup Series. I think he was pretty much done with dirt racing, but his success is legendary.
Larson’s background was in Sprint Cars and Midgets. Moving to NASCAR seemed like a natural progression just like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart had done. He never had much interest in Dirt Late Model racing until he was suspended from NASCAR in 2020. The fact that he has so little experience in these cars but is winning races is something else. He’s not winning weekly races or regional series races. He’s winning races against the best in the business.
I can’t say if fans are getting more accustomed to Larson’s participation and success. I know the Rumleys get all kinds of tweets and direct messages asking if Larson is racing, when is next race is, etc. Judging from that, the interest is still there. I think any time he races in a part of the country where fans rarely get to see him in person, he will attract the crowd.
I do think a lot of fans expect him to win every time he climbs into the seat of the No. 6 car. That may not be fair. But Thursday’s showing was impressive because he hadn’t been in a Dirt Late Model in a few months before Tuesday’s Flo event. I can see where the fans are coming from.
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