Richard: One of the topics that came up as I talked with a few people in the pit area during my recent trip to the Golden Isles Speedway was that of the growing influence of NASCAR in dirt racing. As is pretty well known, NASCAR drivers Clint Bowyer and Bobby Labonte are team owners for drivers who compete on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. Some feel that the added exposure they bring to the sport because of their high profiles within the racing world is good for dirt racing. However, others believe that the amount of money those owners are able to spend serves as a detriment to the sport by simply allowing them to overpower the competition.
Of course, NASCAR did indeed bring a great deal of exposure to the dirt racing world last year when its Camping World Truck Series raced at the Eldora Speedway in Ohio. That race was one of the highest rated television broadcasts in the history of the series, which put many sets of eyes on dirt racing.
What are your thoughts on the ties between dirt racing and NASCAR?
Michael: I can see where some people are coming from regarding more money being spent by team owners from NASCAR. They are certainly going to have the best of everything.
I think, overall, it’s good for them to be in the sport. If dirt late model racing is going to grow from where it is now, it needs more fans. And one way to get more fans is to have NASCAR people involved. NASCAR fans may see those names attached to the sport and decide to take a look at it.
I do think it remains to be seen how much of an impact the Camping World Truck Series will have on dirt racing. The trucks are nothing like the prominent dirt racing machines, which are late models, sprint cars and modifieds. Some people might tune in to it, see something totally foreign to them, and not give it a chance.
Richard: I agree that the more eyes on the sport, the better. And as much as we in the dirt world think of names such as Scott Bloomquist, Jimmy Owens and Billy Moyer, those drivers are relative unknowns compared to NASCAR drivers. So getting those names out into the broad public arena can only benefit dirt racing.
One aspect of racing in which NASCAR is definitely having an influence on dirt late model racing in a positive way is in the realm of safety. Virtually every dirt racing driver now uses HANS Devices, gloves and fire proof racing shoes. Just a few short years ago, that wasn’t always the case. Also, I noticed in the pit area at Golden Isles that racing seats and restraint systems have taken great strides forward in that they are built in a way to better contain the driver.
And after some pretty wild wrecks such as the one in the 2013 Nationwide Series race at the Daytona International Speedway, I believe track owners and promoters will be forced to take a longer look at things such as walls and catch fences to better protect fans.
These advances, often stemming directly from NASCAR to other forms of racing, help all levels of dirt racing from the touring late models down to the support classes at our local tracks.
Michael: That’s a good point. Safety gains in NASCAR naturally trickle down to other forms of racing. We got to see safety in action on our area tracks several times in 2013. Bobby Pierce’s flip at Tazewell, Mark Rosner’s barrel roll at Cleveland and Don O’Neal’s wild ride at Volunteer resulted in each driver walking away, although O’Neal did suffer some neck problems and had too skip the following LOLMDS race.
Getting back to ownership, a number of NASCAR drivers own World of Outlaw Sprint Car teams and there doesn’t seem to be an issue from other teams. The sprint car teams are hiring the best drivers in the sport and they’re winning those races and championships. Conversely, the dirt late model teams owned by the NASCAR folks aren’t winning all the championships and major races like you see in sprint cars. In the dirt late model world, you don’t see Scott Bloomquist, Jimmy Owens, Billy Moyer and Josh Richards driving for those teams and they’re the ones winning the bulk of the races and the titles. Unless something unusual happens, I don’t think you’ll ever see Owens or Richards(since they’re the youngest of the group) driving for one of those teams.
Richard: Another aspect of NASCAR involvement in dirt racing is that of technology being brought into the sport. A tour through a dirt late model pit area reveals names such as Roush Yates Engines, Earnhardt Childress Engines and Penske Shocks. That technology makes cars go faster, but it comes with a price that only a few can afford. And some of the names you mentioned above are those taking advantage of the products supplied by these NASCAR related suppliers.
During my visit to Golden Isles, I witnessed the Rocket house car team of Brandon Sheppard changing one of their RYE power plants in the parking lot of a truck stop. One driver remarked to me that “They changed one $45,000 engine for another $45,000 engine. That’s not something all of us can do.”
Michael: When people talk about taking dirt late model racing to the next level, there is a price for that. As you stated, bringing in these shock specialists and other folks from NASCAR makes it to where only a few can afford these things. I feel that lessens the chance of a good-sized regional or local team from being competitive in the big events and touring series. After several years of that, you wonder where the next teams come from that will take that step up. I don’t think Mark Richards, Clint Bowyer or the Masters brothers are going to be fielding 5 and 6 car teams in the future. That’s where getting more eyeballs and sponsors involved plays a part.