*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 discussed the national dirt racing scene last week so now it’s time that we focus our attention on the events of 2015 that took place on the local and regional scene.
There was lots to see and talk about in this area during this past racing season but one thing that seemed to be a frequent part of dirt racing in our area was the weather. Although it didn’t really rain in excessive amounts in this region as compared to other years, Mother Nature seemed to have an amazing knack for sending precipitation at exactly the wrong time each week.
Numerous races around east Tennessee fell victim to ill timed showers during 2015. From the constant interruptions of Ray Cook’s Spring Nationals tour, which saw five of its races fall victim to rain, all the way to the annual ‘Scorcher’ Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event at the Volunteer Speedway in August, weather proved to be an annoyance at best and a heart breaker at worst for fans, promoters and competitors alike.
However, when things did get rolling, there was some great on-track action in our area.
From my point of view, Super Late Model racing in the region had two distinct segments to the season. Randy Weaver dominated the early part of the year as he piled up numerous wins, capped by an Ultimate Super Late Model Series win in Virginia that paid $20,000 and his Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series triumph at Smoky Mountain Speedway. The Crossville, Tenn. native began the season by scoring wins in his first eight consecutive starts.
But when the second half of the year came around, Chris Madden emerged from a three month long hiatus to take over as the dominate force in the region. The Gray Court, SC pilot ended the season with a run of seven wins in twelve starts that included a $25,000 win at Ponderosa Speedway in Kentucky and a $12,000 victory on his home track, the Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, SC. The No. 44 machine finished out the campaign by collecting $10,000 for winning the Gobbler at Cleveland Speedway.
These two guys made it tough on the competition in our area this year, didn’t they?
Michael: They sure did. I think a number of drivers came into some of these races thinking they were running for second place. I still remember Casey Roberts winning the Spring Nationals race at SMS then thanking Weaver for not racing that night. While he was joking, I’m sure there was an element of truth to that. Because of that domination, I felt like some of the late-season races suffered from some lower car counts.
I believe attendance also suffered a bit at some of these same races. Some fans aren’t willing to hand over their hard-earned money if they already know who is going to win before they show up.
On the other hand, other tracks saw some exciting races with some surprise winners. It’s no secret Weaver does not like to race at Tazewell Speedway. It’s been several years since he last showed up there. That opened the door for some other drivers to claim big wins. Billy Ogle Jr’s win in the World of Outlaws race was one of the more exciting races in 2015.
Richard: You are right to bring up the WoO Late Models race at Tazewell. That was quite possibly the race of the year in east Tennessee. And part of what made that event stand out was the fact that it was won by a regional driver rather than a national touring star like Josh Richards(who was passed on the last lap by Ogle) or Shane Clanton. Anytime a local hero can top the biggest stars in the sport, it makes for a good story.
And this region has plenty of guys capable of providing those good stories. Apart from Weaver, Madden and Ogle, who we have already mentioned, there were several Super Late Model pilots to have turned in solid performances.
Donald McIntosh may be from Georgia but he drives for east Tennessee owned Blount Motorsports. He started the year of in a big way by scoring a win in the season opening Hangover at 411 Motor Speedway then going on to capture five more checkered flags before a late summer crash at Eldora Speedway badly damaged the car that team had campaigned so well.
You mentioned Casey Roberts earlier as well. He pulled off somewhat of an amazing feat by taking championships in both the Ultimate Super Late Model Series and the Southern Nationals in 2015. Also, Riley Hickman earned his third consecutive Southern All Stars Dirt Racing Series crown this year along with picking up several wins in Crate and Limited Late Model competition.
There is no shortage of talent in the SLM class right here in east Tennessee and our neighboring areas, is there?
Michael: No, there is not. And add to that Cory Hedgecock who also was an almost automatic at SMS in Limited Late Model competition, Ruben Mayfield with several wins at I-75 Speedway, and Matt Henderson with several wins outside of the area in crate competition.
It was great to see some guys get a win that haven’t seen many wins in recent years. Mark Douglas winning the Carolina Clash race at Volunteer and Bobby Giffin winning a LLM race at SMS come to mind.
Then there are other drivers such as Josh Collins, Jason Trammell, Trevor Sise, Terry Poore, Dakotah Knuckles, Brian Courtney, and others that had a number of wins this season. And Kyle Courtney picked up a late season win in his dad’s crate car. That’s one driver to watch in the future.
Even though this discussion primarily focuses on Late Models, drivers such as Chris Rickett and Jamie Witt had strong years in Street Stock-type classes, Philip Thompson dominating in Classic cars, and the previously mentioned Kyle Courtney in Four Cylinders all had big years.
Richard: You took the words right out of my mouth, or off my keyboard. Apart from the Super Late Model racing we saw in the area over the past year, there was plenty to get excited about in all the other classes that compete on our local tracks.
Your mention of Hedgecock is an appropriate one. The Loudon, Tenn. driver continues to impress with wins in both the Crate and Limited Late Model divisions. He also picked up a Super Late Model victory during 2015 as well. I’m sure there are many more in store in all classes coming in the future for this driver.
Trammell’s win at Tazewell this year in the Charles Trammell Memorial race made for a great story in the Limited Late Model division. Also, we saw drivers such as Brad Hall and the previously mentioned Giffin, Collins and Douglas re-emerge as serious threats to win over the course of the season.
Aside from the great support class performances you mentioned above, we got to see Kurt Owens place himself in Victory Lane multiple times this year in both the Four Cylinder and Modified Street classes while Thompson and Rickett were truly dominant in Classics and Street Stocks respectively.
Another thing worthy of mention would be the performances of local drivers on the Crate Late Model tours. The ageless Ronnie Johnson of Chattanooga claimed yet another NeSmith Dirt Late Model Series title while Seymour’s Ryan King earned Rookie of the Year honors by finishing just behind ‘The Chattanooga Flash’ in the overall standings. Loudon’s Matt Henderson also placed in the top-5 of that series as he won multiple features during the course of the season.
A number of local favorites made a splash in the inaugural season for the United Crate Racing Alliance, including eventual champion Jake Teague, Anthony White and Rusty Ballenger.
All in all, it was a great racing season in east Tennessee despite Mother Nature’s best efforts to spoil the party.