Turn 2 Blog: Southern Nationals Recap & Sheppard vs Pierce

The latest edition of the Turn 2 Blog is presented by the American Crate All-Star Series.

*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: The 2019 edition of the Schaeffer’s Oil Southern Nationals is now in the books and it proved to be quite an interesting two weeks for the midsummer tour. Brandon Overton came away as the big winner after being crowned as the series champion and the only driver to score multiple victories as he picked up three wins out of the nine contested features. The Rum Runner Racing team with veteran crew chief Harold Holly calling the shots were certainly prepared as they proved to be consistent front runners throughout most of the races with only a couple of hiccups along the way.

With his aggressive driving style and hard charging nature, a short series such as this seems to be well suited for Overton. Last year, he scored five triumphs out of nine races while driving for a different team. The Evans, GA driver missed out on the series title in 2018, however, due to poor finishes when he wasn’t winning the events.

And more, the style of track doesn’t seem to matter to Overton as he picked up wins on the big, fast ovals such as Wythe Raceway and Smoky Mountain Speedway but also pulled into victory lane on the tighter Crossville Speedway and secured the championship with a runner-up effort at the even tighter Tazewell Speedway.

As was pointed out in a piece on DirtonDirt.com, Overton’s style demonstrates similarities to that of drivers Chris Madden and Jonathan Davenport who also had runs of dominance on the Southern Nationals.

To me, it does not seem the least bit inconceivable that Overton could follow in the footsteps of those two drivers to even bigger and better things and his Joey Coulter-owned team seems to be one that would have the resources to move up the ladder at some point. Do you see it that way?

Brandon Overton drove to the Southern Nationals title

Michael: I find it interesting they chose not to follow the World of Outlaws tour, something Overton has done in the past. Maybe they wanted to see how this year goes before doing anything on a bigger scale. But whatever they decide to do in the future, they have one of the best young talents in Overton. I think it could be a powerful combination as the driver and crew continue to get to know each other.

Given Overton’s past success with other teams, the Southern Nationals seem to be well suited for him. He can win on any given track.

Richard: Another driver who impressed me during the Southern Nationals was Jake Knowles. Here is a team that typically runs a schedule dominated by Crate Late Model events but he made a very good accounting of himself by winning the feature in Crossville and taking the points battle with Overton right down to the final race.

Knowles is the type of racer who is consistent enough and talented enough that he could make a few waves if he were to run one of the regional Super Late Model regional tours.

What are your thoughts on Knowles or any other driver from this year’s Southern Nationals?

Jake Knowles was very consistent throughout the Southern Nationals

Michael: Knowles was one of the top up-and-coming super late model drivers 10 years ago. He outdueled Don O’Neal at Cleveland to win a Lucas race there about 10 years ago. Since then, he has primarily run crate and 525 races. To come in and go toe-to-toe with Overton was impressive.

I was also impressed with Tyler Clem. I only got to see him in person at 2 races. But for his age, he is not intimidated one bit. And I noticed he will do a fair amount of work on the car himself.

Richard: During the drivers meeting prior to the Southern Nationals finale at Tazewell Speedway a number of the series officials, led by Chris Tilley, honored Ray Cook for his diligence in making this midsummer series into what it has become. No doubt, 15 years ago there were many who would have never guessed this two-week festival of Dirt Late Model racing would evolve into the major highlight of the racing season that it has.

Two pieces of evidence that this series has grown into a major event on the dirt racing calendar are the car counts and the purses offered by the various tracks.

I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by the numbers of cars that some of the races had. A total of 26 cars at Tazewell was an example of just how well these races were attended. And that was without the entry of any of the big name national drivers as they were far from the area where this series races during much of the time the Southern Nationals were taking place.

In all likelihood, the purses offered by the tracks for these races was a big reason for the car counts achieved. When Cook first established the series there were $3,500-to-win races and $5,300-to-win affairs with more tracks opting for the smaller sum. This year almost half of the events paid $10,000 to the eventual victor.

This thing has come a long way hasn’t it?

Ray Cook

Michael: Ray and his staff have done a great job with the series and are a great bunch of guys to work with. The Schaeffer’s Oil people are some of the best people to deal with in the sport. Increasing the weekend purses have given those races a shot in the arm. As you said, Tazewell drawing 26 cars was indeed a surprise. And there were a few regulars that weren’t there due to vacation, car trouble, or some other issue.

I am a bit concerned with the midweek races based on the car counts. It’s harder for racers to get to the track for a midweek race, I get that. But I have to wonder if the $3,500 to win purse is as much a factor as anything else. You and I have discussed this in person, it’s really a break even exercise even if you win one of those races. At the same time, the track promoters would be taking a big risk with any bigger purse. It’s something Ray and the promoters will have to look at as he makes his schedule for 2020.

Richard: And finally to step away from the Southern Nationals briefly, the finish of the World of Outlaws Late Model Series-sanctioned Prairie Dirt Classic at the Fairbury American Legion Speedway was one that will be remembered for some time to come. If you haven’t seen the video, Brandon Sheppard used a slide job pass on Bobby Pierce in the last turn of the last lap which resulted in the two cars making significant contact and ultimately giving Sheppard the win while Pierce ended up third after being passed by Mike Marlar as they dashed toward the finish line.

I guess the real question has to be that of whether or not the move was a fair one. Or for that matter, when is contact between two cars acceptable and when is it not.

From my point of view, this is a very subjective issue. Circumstances have to be taken into account. Simply taking a guy out is never acceptable but an incident that occurs as a result of hard racing is another matter. And more, there is a big difference between racing for the win in the Prairie Dirt Classic and a $5,000-to-win feature.

As I saw it, Sheppard’s move to win that race in that highly charged atmosphere was an acceptable one. And furthermore, Pierce agreed with that point of view in his post-race interview. The stakes were high and so was the intensity. When those two things combine, craziness will often be the end result.

What are your thoughts?

Michael: The Pierce-Sheppard incident was pure, hard racing for a big win. I think Sheppard must have thought he was more clear than he was. It would have not been such a big deal by the fans had Sheppard pulled off a clean slide job. I can see why Pierce fans would be so upset. But that makes it two weeks in a row Pierce has been involved in some on-track incident that saw somebody’s car getting damage. It certainly keeps fans talking.

Respond to this post on Twitter by following @RichardAllenIDR and @MichaelRMoats or by liking the InsideDirtRacing.com Facebook page. 

Also, NASCAR and pavement racing fans can check out InsideCircleTrack.

Comments are closed.