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: Well, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series portion of the 2020 version of Georgia-Florida SpeedWeeks has now come and gone. With eight races in the books there are perhaps some early trends that we can see emerging that might give us some indications as to how this season will play out.
One thing we definitely have seen is that it doesn’t matter which series they are running, the Rocket Chassis house car team of driver Brandon Sheppard has picked up right where it left off in 2019. Taking the early races held so far in New Mexico into account and the fact that there were no schedule conflicts between the two tours in February, the No. 1 machine currently sits at the top of both his regular World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series and the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.
Sheppard collected three wins during the week spent by LOLMDS at East Bay Raceway Park. And more, he came into SpeedWeeks having won three features in Arizona during the Wild West Shootout driving for his family-owned team.
After a season in which they won a WoO Late Models title in 2019, piled up scores of feature wins, and collected three checks valued at $100,000 or more, there is little reason to believe this team isn’t set for another monster year is 2020 is there?
Michael: It’s hard to argue with where this team is right now. You have to wonder if them continuing to race is helpful on keeping the momentum up or they are continuing to improve on what they already know.
I saw a topic on 4m.net asking how Sheppard is doing this. His wins at East Bay weren’t from the front row as some might expect. I fully believe Sheppard is hitting his stride as a driver. He won a couple of races in Arizona in his family-owned car. Put a driver with that kind of talent on a team like the Rocket house car team and it’s proving to be a lethal combination for the competition.
Richard: It would be hard to imagine that Sheppard and his crew won’t win double-digit numbers of features again this year.
Another thing we learned is that it didn’t take long for Tim McCreadie to find the groove with his new team. After years of driving the Sweeteners Plus car he moved to a new operation owned by longtime racer Donald Bradsher. They won right out of the box in the Lucas Oil season opener at Golden Isles Speedway then added another victory at East Bay.
He currently sits second in the LOLMDS standings which actually puts him first among the drivers who intend to race full-time on this circuit.
Granted, there are a number of pieces still in place for T-mac that have always been there considering that he is driving what is considered to be the Longhorn Chassis house car just as he has over the past couple of seasons. That said, however, word around the pit area has it that the New York driver has more resources at his disposal than has previously been the case.
Is McCreadie the most likely threat to challenge three-time champion Jonathan Davenport’s dominance of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series in 2020?
Michael: At this point, I would say yes. McCreadie was the most consistent driver of the Lucas regulars during Speedweeks. Devin Moran showed good speed all week, but I don’t know if that team has the resources to challenge Davenport for a whole season in a points chase.
Back to McCreadie, I have always felt like he was one of the better drivers outside the Rocket crew and the Bloomquist brigade. He’s won on different types of tracks, has won several crown jewel races, and is a fierce competitor.
As we mentioned in an earlier blog, I would caution fans not to get too excited or too depressed over their driver’s performance this week. East Bay is a different animal. We won’t know where most teams stand until they hit different tracks for several weeks in a row. A lot of drivers really need a change of scenery when it comes to getting out of East Bay.
Richard: You’re right in that East Bay is a unique sort of track. Many claim that the rising and lowering of the ocean tides can impact the ‘Clay by the Bay’. But one thing it did throughout most of last week was provide for some great racing.
Sadly, track owner Al Varnadore will retire in 2024 and has already agreed to sell the property to the Mosaic corporation which already owns much of the adjacent land. That property will be folded into that company’s already existing refuse dumps and other operations at that time. Obviously, the longtime home of the Winternationals will be no more.
That, of course, means that the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and the various other racing bodies that stage races at East Bay will have to find a new home for their February activities.
In 2020, a new facility was brought into the LOLMDS fold as All-Tech Raceway in Lake City, FL joined the fray. From my vantage point watching on Lucas Oil Racing TV, that seemed to be a nice facility. One has to wonder if that track might be in the running to take on a larger role in the coming years. And further, if Lucas Oil can make an agreement with another party, if they might go ahead and move their February races even before the 2024 deadline.
Michael: The racing at All-Tech was interesting. The surface looked very slick for most of the night until the later stages of the feature. Even then, it was a challenge to drive.
Having said that, we don’t know how the track would fare holding several consecutive nights of racing. Not many tracks are suited for it, East Bay and Volusia Speedway Park manage to do a great job with it. It remains to be seen if this is a viable replacement for East Bay.
It’s a shame there were/are too many questions about the ownership of Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala to keep it on the schedule. That track is unique and provides some good racing. Maybe things will get sorted out with it before East Bay closes for good.
Richard: One final thing is that we didn’t see the type of dominance during these early races that we have grown accustomed to from Jonathan Davenport. Much of that can be attributed to bad luck such as on Wednesday night at East Bay when he seemingly had that race in hand only to catch a bump in the track in just the wrong way that it folded the nose under which led to a big crash involving him and Kyle Bronson.
While I don’t think he is as dominant over the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series as Sheppard is over the WoO Late Models, I do think he remains as the top dog with the others still looking to catch up.
Is bad luck the only thing that might derail Davenport from a third consecutive title or did you see something that might lead you believe he and the No. 49 team are in fact beatable?
Michael: I think a number of teams have really done their homework during the off-season in an effort to catch Davenport. All teams have tried to play catch up, but it seems like the fellow Longhorn teams are the ones that have made strides. It was odd to see Sheppard perform the way he did, but the other Rocket drivers were up and down.
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