Turn 2 Blog: Parity at Volusia, Track Conditions, and Uniform Rules

*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: Last week we reviewed the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series portion of Georgia-Florida SpeedWeeks. And now, it’s time to take a look back at all that transpired while the DIRTcar Late Models and the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series were in action at Volusia Speedway Park during the Gator Nationals.

As we discussed, predictable winners Brandon Overton, Devin Moran and Brandon Sheppard took multiple checkered flags away from the Lucas Oil shows. During a portion of the season that almost always produces at least one surprising winner, the biggest surprise might well have been that there were no surprises in those races. However, the same cannot really be said about the events held at Volusia.

Parity was the order of the week as seven different winners climbed onto the stage for post-race accolades at the Barberville, Florida facility. With the exception of a mildly surprising victory by Ryan Gustin, there were no shocking winners but there were a lot of them. Overton, Dale McDowell, Dennis Erb Jr., Chris Madden, Ashton Winger and Ricky Thornton Jr. each collected a winner’s paycheck over the six-day period. For fans of variety, there was plenty of it.

On the flip side, Sheppard struggled at a track where he is often quite good. And aside from his one win, Overton was not the dominate force we have become accustomed to seeing. I have to admit, I was a little surprised at how things played out last week.

How about you?

Dale McDowell was one of several winners at Volusia

Michael: The results from each night were a mixed bag for sure. There would be a driver dominate one night, then have to use a provisional to make the race on the following night. That has a lot to do with the competition but I also think the track surface really threw off a bunch of people.

Back in January, the track surface at Volusia was very rough. It stayed that way for the first night of the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car action. They got rid of the roughness but the track would rubber up, especially in the lower line through the corners. It looked like if you hit it right one night, you were very good. If not, you were running in the back or missing the show. This has to be one of the oddest Gator Nationals I have seen.

Richard: The flip in regard to competition, to me, was the biggest story of the time in Volusia. Like you, I am sure track conditions and the level of competition each played a role in bringing about the jumble we saw in victory lane. At the same time, however, I am surprised that some never seemed to get caught up. In particular, the Rocket house car team just never quite seemed to be a factor and that’s a team that never seems to get caught off guard.

It’s often said in NASCAR that the restrictor plates they used to employ and the pack-racing at Daytona and Talladega are the great equalizers which allow for the occasional surprise winner such as a Trevor Bayne or a Michael McDowell winning the Daytona 500. But more often than not, the bigger teams prevail.

I believe track conditions can serve that same purpose in dirt racing. If every track was in the same condition every night, the top teams and drivers would dominate each event. But since that is not always the case, an occasional surprise happens which tends to ultimately be good for the sport.

In my opinion, that is why we didn’t simply see a repeat of the earlier couple of weeks in which Overton, Moran and Sheppard won multiple races. In the long run, it’s good for the sport that more than just a select few left Florida feeling good about themselves, isn’t it?

Michael: I think a lot of times it depends on who is doing the winning, especially if one driver can show dominance.

Look at the Gator Nationals that Jimmy Owens had in 2020. He won several races during that week and there seemed to be a lot of buzz about it in the racing community. Owens is a popular driver. Contrast that with Brandon Sheppard’s dominance at East Bay a few weeks ago and there wasn’t a lot of buzz for that. Some of that could have been the fact Sheppard isn’t a Lucas Oil regular.

I think most fans were particularly happy to see some of the drivers who actually won last week. You had Dale McDowell and his story of recovering from prostate cancer. There’s Dennis Erb Jr. who most fans like since it’s mostly just him and crew chief Heather Lyne. Ashton Winger is also a popular driver that doesn’t have a lot of haters at this point in his young career.

Richard: Another thing of interest to me during SpeedWeeks, and this is not just from Volusia but the entire time, was the unified rules implemented by the two national tours. During the past off-season the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series announced that they would streamline their rules to simplify things for competitors. I’ll add here that I applaud the series because this was a great move.

That said, however, I wondered if there would be any problems during the first few races of the season. And almost immediately, there were a few issues.

Brandon Overton and Earl Pearson Jr. each had qualifying times erased on the first night of competition for the LOLMDS at Golden Isles Speedway because their cars did not conform to the so-called ‘Droop Rule’ during tech inspection. Later on, Garrett Smith had a heat race win taken away when it was found that his rear spoiler was too tall.

But all in all, I felt like things went fairly smoothly on the tech front. I know a lot of fans and competitors like to hate on the Droop Rule but if it’s the rule then the teams need to learn how to deal with it. Overton laid no blame on the rules follow his qualifying DQ saying that he had simply forgotten to account for the regulation after making shock adjustments to his car.

I think as time goes on, we are going to hear about the rules unification only on rare occasions when someone either makes a mistake or gets caught trying to get away with something. As with most rules changes, the buildup prior to SpeedWeeks was overblown.

What are your thoughts?

SSI Motorsports crew chief Anthony Burroughs looks on as the “Droop” is checked on the car of Ricky Thornton Jr.

Michael: I really have no opinion one way or the other on the Droop Rule. I’m in the camp that if one series is going to do it, they all should. Not only are they doing it, but most regional series are using it as well. There are a few exceptions and we’ll see how things go with those particular events.

I was more enthusiastic for the new body rules. We were seeing cars getting way out of hand with the bodies. I’m glad to see those being reigned in and looking better. I have already noticed the back ends, especially the right-rear quarter panels, are looking better. The bottom is line any rule put in place needs to produce good racing.

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