Turn 2 Blog: Who will emerge to challenge Davenport and Madden?

*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.

Smoky Mountain Speedway brought a huge event to east Tennessee this past weekend. What were your overall impressions?

Richard: My history in the sport of Dirt Late Model racing doesn’t go back all that far but this was definitely the biggest race in our home area that I remember. I appreciate the fact that Roger Sellers and his team at Smoky Mountain Speedway were willing to take on the risk of bringing a $50,000-to-win event to the area. It made for a very enjoyable weekend.

Even though the national tours don’t have quite as many star regulars as they have had in the past, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series still carries a lot of clout when it comes to a particular track. And more, a $50,000-to-win race is always going to draw the top stars of the sport.

As the race played out, those stars rose to the top with Chris Madden, Jonathan Davenport and Brandon Overton fighting for the Moonshine Mountain Classic victory and its unique trophy. Whether one of those drivers is your favorite or not, fans couldn’t have asked for much more in terms of witnessing the best in the business decide the issue.

Car counts for the Super Late Models were good as officials were hoping for and expecting 40 entries but actually got 45. A couple of the support classes were pretty good in their numbers as well.

Fans turned out well on Saturday as the grandstands, tier parking, and pits were near capacity. However, the Friday turnout was a bit disappointing which might have been attributed to the thunderstorms that were scattered around the area just before race time.

But all in all, I thought it was a great weekend. From my perspective, the most important aspect of any race event is the competition. Always popular Jimmy Owens won one of the features on Friday and, as I said earlier, three of the hottest entities in dirt racing were at the front and battling for the win on Saturday. That made for a good weekend of racing action, in my opinion.

Chris Madden was the big winner at Smoky Mountain

Michael: It was interesting that the two hottest drivers right now and the hottest driver from last year were the ones to finish in the top-3. It doesn’t always it happens that way.

From what little I have read, fans seemed to like the format of having two preliminary features the first night and the main event on the second night. That has been a trend in Dirt Late Model racing the last few years, especially races sanctioned by the Lucas Oil series.

As you said, the Friday crowd was not good for the amount of money that was to be paid out. I watch a lot of these multi-night events and that seems to be par for the course – the crowds are low for the preliminary nights. I’m sure the weather played a part in the attendance and the availability to watch it on a streaming app. I think another factor was that most fans couldn’t afford or justify going both nights, so they opted to go on the second night. One has to wonder if this is a viable format for the tracks with so much money to be paid out on the final night.

Overall, the event went well. With a couple of tweaks, I think it can be better and will be an event that will be around for some time.

Right now, it looks as if Jonathan Davenport and Chris Madden are in position to completely dominate the 2022 season as the really big races approach. Who are the most likely drivers to challenge them?

Richard: Yes, Jonathan Davenport and Chris Madden have emerged as the two strongest drivers this season. And if anyone is going to catch them, it is going to take some work. But as we know, there are always some in dirt racing pit areas who are willing to put in the work and to come up with the next great idea. For that reason, I believe someone will in fact emerge.

Brandon Overton is obviously the first to come to mind as one who could challenge the top-two, and this past weekend at Smoky Mountain, he kept pace and even looked as if he might have the fastest car over the final laps. I won’t be the least bit surprised if he takes one or more of these big events coming soon.

Although he doesn’t race as much as some, Chris Ferguson has been very solid this season winning at Bristol Motor Speedway and the Show-me 100. Reigning Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion Tim McCreadie has looked to be on the cusp much of the season. And of course, Brandon Sheppard and the Rocket Chassis house car team can never be counted out although they do seem to have been in a slight slump of late.

As a matter of fact, if I had to pick one as the most likely to threaten the dominance of Davenport and Madden, it would be Sheppard because of the depth of that team and the might behind them.

Brandon Sheppard(1) and Hudson O’Neal(71) are among those chasing Davenport and Madden

Michael: I believe a lot of people are like me and are waiting on Sheppard to break out and start winning more races. I say this jokingly, maybe they should get some information from Madden and his team.

At this point, I don’t really see another driver breaking the stronghold on Madden and Davenport. I think a few drivers will get a win here and there, like Ferguson, McCreadie, Moran, etc. When it comes to these large paying races, it’s going to be Madden and Davenport for a while.

This will seem to be off topic but here’s a comparison between professional golf and Dirt Late Model racing- The rivalry between the PGA Tour and the newly formed LIV Golf is forcing players to choose one tour or the other. Could such a thing ever happen in dirt racing?

Richard: The reality is that something along these lines has been going on in dirt racing for years, particularly at the local levels. While it has not been as common as it used to be, some tracks were known to structure their rules to be just different enough from nearby tracks that their drivers in certain classes would not be able to easily race anywhere else.

But on a higher level, there are now four series that could be considered national tours. The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series are established as they have been around for years. But over the past couple of seasons, the emergence of the Castrol FloRacing Night in America and the XR Super Series has shuffled the Dirt Late Model landscape.

Up to this point, the four entities have tried to interfere with each other as little as possible. Obviously, there are going to be some occasions in which the schedules conflict and that’s where the entanglements could occur. But as far locking drivers and teams into just one series, and like in golf, suspending those who race elsewhere would likely prove to be a death sentence for that series.

Quite honestly, there just isn’t enough depth in the ranks of Super Late Model racing to start trying to lock some down and lock others out. I don’t foresee any series attempting such a thing anytime soon, but they all do offer significant point funds and bonuses to those who remain loyal.

Michael: As you said, the depth isn’t there for any of them to lock in drivers for their series only without paying some type of contract that states that. Even if one of them offered that, I doubt there would be many takers. I could see tracks dropping sanctions just to make sure those drivers would come because they wouldn’t be violating contracts.

I’m of the opinion that four is too many. FloRacing is different because those races are midweek races and are held close to other events making it easier to attract drivers. XR has been cooperative with Lucas and vice-versa. At this point, it looks like WoO is the odd man out. With Sheppard and Madden leaving them, they have very little star power. That’s no offense to the drivers running that series now. I’m basing it off what I read from fans.

If the economy continues to get worse in the coming months, I think national and regional series will have to do some soul searching on scheduling, payouts, which tracks can sustain bigger payouts, or even to stay in existence. That’s not to paint a negative picture. We saw this in 2008-09 when the economy took a nosedive causing a lot of drivers to quit racing and that had a negative impact on racetracks and series. Not to mention, the fans will only have a certain amount of income too. I’ve spoken to a lot of people the last 2-3 weeks and nearly everyone agrees there is short-term concern.

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