*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 Crate All-Star Series.
Richard: I thought for this edition of the Turn 2 Blog we would wrap up SpeedWeeks by employing a bit of a Clint Eastwood theme. With the now almost month-long racing journey to Florida in the rear view mirror, let’s take a look at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from the time spent in the Sunshine State by the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series.
Starting off with the Good, there were several drivers and teams who performed exceedingly well throughout their time in the southeastern corner of the country. Because there wasn’t necessarily that one or two drivers who left Florida as the clearly dominant star of either one or both of the national touring series, I believe the parity we saw is one of the first things to fit in the Good category. There was never an overwhelming favorite to win going into any of the races held.
That said, three drivers did leave positive impressions with their performances during SpeedWeeks. Brandon Overton, Devin Moran, and Hudson O’Neal each won features in the Sunshine State but what struck me most is they were each competitive throughout by qualifying well on most nights, making the main events through heat races rather than B-mains, then avoiding trouble in the features.
Those three drivers currently make up the top-3 in the LOLMDS standings and each was competitive in the DIRTcar Nationals portion of the racing schedule which primarily featured WoO Late Models competition.
What or who stood out to you on the Good side of SpeedWeeks?
Michael: Aside from the ones that you mentioned, I would add Kyle Strickler to the mix. He won two of the World of Outlaws races in January and February and left Volusia with the points lead. He was contemplating running for Rookie of the Year for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, but is now going to run for the same title in WoO.
Even though his results were up and down, Bobby Pierce fared well. He has various issues that knocked him out of a few races. But he ran well at East Bay and Volusia. Looks like crew chief Cody Mallory has Pierce all tuned up.
Richard: Kyle Bronson and Brian Shirley are also guys who showed strength. Bronson won one feature back in January and was constantly near the front, particularly in qualifying and heat races. Shirley seemed to always be near the top of the qualifying charts and had some good heat race finishes but could not translate that to the features, often due to bad luck.
While I don’t like to call anyone’s performance bad, there were some guys who would probably admit that they would have liked to do better.
After he won three features in the Wild West Shootout in Arizona, I thought Jonathan Davenport would have more success during SpeedWeeks. Instead, however, the former LOLMDS champ often found himself qualifying further down the charts then having fight his way into main events through B-main races. No wins and only one top-5 finish were the result of nine features entered.
In the years in which he has won his championships, Davenport has roared through the early portion of the season and forced other competitors to play catch-up. Now he is the one having to do that.
Jimmy Owens got red hot at the end of 2020 SpeedWeeks then carried that momentum through the season on his way to a LOLMDS title. With four top-5s to his credit, his time in Florida was far from a disaster, but obviously, he would have liked to score some wins.
Another driver who did not get off to the start that has most often been the case was Brandon Sheppard. But in reality, if you look closely at his results, he actually wasn’t bad at all in Florida. He had more top-10 finishes than any other driver aside from Moran and Overton. It’s just that the expectations for this driver and team are so high that it’s easy to say that they did not do well even when they were better than most.
Did anyone surprise you on the negative side?
Michael: Other than Davenport, I would put Chris Madden and Josh Richards into the category. It’s not that Madden ran terrible, he was never much of a factor for a win except for one night. East Bay and Volusia are kind of different deals than racing in other parts of the country. The way Madden finished 2020, I would have expected more.
As for Richards, he always runs well at East Bay and Volusia. Like Pierce, he had some good nights ruined by other people’s issues. But there were a lot of nights, especially at Volusia, where he struggled. Maybe it’s case of higher expectations for both of these drivers than where they are right now.
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Richard: As far as the ugly is concerned, I hate the fact that the Valvoline Iron-Man Series races at North Florida Speedway and the Southern All Stars/Ultimate Super Late Model Series double-header scheduled for Screven Motor Speedway were cancelled because of weather. Those were going to be big events for each series as well as for the tracks.
And of course, the finale night of the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia was also lost due to rain.
But on the really ugly side, Tyler Erb’s actions at East Bay when he slammed into the car of Mason Zeigler on the cool down lap following a heat race were unnecessary. Erb is, first of all, a very talented driver. But at the same time, he has been involved in situations in which his emotions have gotten the better of him. This particular time, it resulted in a disqualification from that night’s action. But after last year’s run-in with Bobby Pierce and now this, there may come a time in which the reaction could be more costly for him and his team.
He is currently suspended from events sanctioned by the World Racing Group which is why he was not at Volusia.
Michael: Erb needs to get his emotions under control when he’s behind the wheel. Drivers are going to get mad. But don’t be hitting each other’s cars. If you have a problem, go “chat” with them about it. Some of these younger drivers might react differently if they were the ones to have to fix these cars.
Also, NASCAR and pavement racing fans can check out InsideCircleTrack.