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: We have just barely started 2020, and hard to believe as it may be, the first major racing weekend is already behind us. And a big racing weekend it was as several big storylines came out of the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series action at New Mexico’s Vado Speedway Park.
When it was announced about a month ago that Drydene Performance Products was throwing its support behind Scott Bloomquist Racing teammates Scott Bloomquist and Chris Madden along with fellow Sweet-Bloomquist Race Cars driver Ricky Weiss, it was thought by many that the dominance shown last season by Brandon Sheppard and his Rocket Chassis house car team would be under direct assault.
And indeed, that appeared to be the case as Madden scored a win on the first night of action on Friday then Weiss collected the winner’s trophy on Saturday. Both of those triumphs were worth $5,000.
Cade Dillard, in an MB Customs Race Car, earned $15,000 on the final night when he pulled into victory lane at the desert southwest facility.
But even with their early success, Sheppard still emerged from the weekend as the WoO Late Models points leader as he pieced together three consecutive runner-up finishes. And that’s where the challenge will lie over the course of the long 56-race season on the tour for anyone planning to challenge the two-time champion for his title.
While it is true that Sheppard scored 18 wins in 41 WoO starts in 2019, the truly impressive statistic was the fact that he had 37 top-5 and 39 top-10 finishes over the course of the campaign. The simple fact is that the No. 1 machine is remarkably consistent and it is always near the front.
Unseating that team and driver will be difficult, even with the talent pool that is now attempting to do so, because of that consistency.
Granted, we only have a 3/56 sample size but what did you think of the first volley of shots fired in the Sweet-Bloomquist vs Rocket battle?
Michael: There’s no doubt Sheppard will be more challenged in 2020 than in the previous few seasons. I don’t see him duplicating the win total from 2019. But that consistency is what makes that team a strong championship team that will be difficult to knock off.
Just look back at the Sunday night race where Madden started up front then had some kind of mechanical issue that relegated him to the back. He was never a factor for the win after that but he did manage to get an 8th place finish. It seems like the Rocket team rarely has those types of issues. Maybe they are due for a few, but the other teams can’t be giving them chances to pull away early on.
Richard: Apart from the chassis battle, one thing that was refreshing to see regarding the first weekend of national touring series races was two drivers picking up their first wins on the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series.
Despite having been the series Rookie of the Year in 2019 and being a former North-South 100 winner, Ricky Weiss had never been victorious in a WoO Late Models feature until Saturday night. The Canadian driver certainly figures to play a significant role in 2020. This seems like one of those instances of a driver breaking the ice which will lead to many more race wins in the not-so-distant future.
And that was not all in terms of new winners. Cade Dillard had been very competitive throughout most of the second half of 2019, but like Weiss, had not been able to find that breakthrough win. On Sunday night he found that in a major way by passing Sheppard late in the going and earning $15,000 in the process. Again, this feels like it could be the start of something much bigger.
It never hurts to inject a little new blood into victory lane, does it?
Michael: New blood keeps the sport fresh, that goes for most sports. The World of Outlaws could use an injection of new blood in the winner’s circle.
With as many races Weiss has won in the states, it was easy to forget he had never won a WoO race before Saturday night. His win in the North-South 100 is still fresh in my mind even though that was in 2018.
I saw a handful of WoO races late in the season and was more impressed after each race with the improvement in Dillard. He had a good race at 411 and that kind of sealed it for me that he’s going to be able to handle his own on the national tour.
Richard: On another note, the Ice Bowl ran this weekend at Talladega Short Track. A couple of things seem to have played out in the event’s favor this year.
First, the weather appeared to be pretty good. This race has often battled that element with cold and even precipitation playing a role during at least some part of the weekend. Sunny skies with temperatures in the 50’s prevailed which was no doubt welcome news by fans, competitors, and promoters alike.
Further, it appears as if the show ran in a timely manner. With several classes running that is always a challenge for any event.
As far as the competition goes, car counts were quite good. There were 34 Crate Late Models in the pit area along with 35 Super Late Models. Those would be considered solid car counts for just about any race paying in the ranges of these features.
Michael Page certainly has a lock on the Ice Bowl as he grabbed his fourth consecutive win at the Alabama track. At the same time, Jimmy Elliott made it two in a row in the Crate Late Model division.
It seems as if things couldn’t have worked out much better at Talladega.
Michael: They certainly caught a break with the weather. But a number of people who were there talked about how muddy the pits were even on the final day. Still, I remember years where the infield was completely flooded and other times the race was snowed out.
I wonder if they should start increasing the purse to get the car counts back up. It’s hard enough to get a good field of cars for a $5,000 to win race when it’s just a one day show. You don’t see any big name drivers enter that race like in years past. Then again, not knowing what the weather will be like and whether the pits will be a mess are probably a couple of things drivers consider when deciding to enter the race or not.
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