The Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly often serves as the season opener for a number of nationally known Dirt Late Model drivers and teams. As a result, the mid-January event that features multiple races over the course of a little more than one week can provide a bit of a sneak peek into the upcoming campaign.
An example of that came in 2021 when Jonathan Davenport and Tyler Erb each won multiple features when the Shootout was held at Arizona Speedway on their way to finishing first and second respectively in the final standings. After returning east, both drivers went on to win double-digit numbers of races with each also earning big paydays throughout the year and top-5 finishes in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series standings when all was said and done.
It wasn’t just because they did well in the Wild West Shootout that those drivers went on to have great years. The early season event did provide an indication that each had speed and would be a threat to win more races as everything played out.
Perhaps the 2022 version of the Wild West Shootout held this year at New Mexico’s Vado Speedway Park may also provide another glimpse of things to come throughout the rest of the year.
Here are some possible indicators:
Mike Marlar– The Winfield, Tennessee driver earned his second Wild West Shootout championship along with two feature victories. He earned those wins in the final two events held on Saturday and Sunday at Vado which included the $25,000-to-win finale. Marlar and his Ronnie Delk-owned team are now employing Longhorn Chassis after switching to that brand late last season and it certainly appears as if it did not take long for the veteran driver and his crew to get a handle on their new ride.
As stated above, this mini-series can serve as somewhat of an indicator of things to come. Marlar won the WWS title back in 2018 and then went on to claim the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series championship. If his time in the desert is in fact any indication, there could be a great season in the offing.
Another thing that might work in the favor of the “Winfield Warrior” going into this season is that, with so many big events on the 2022 racing calendar, this could be a year in which more drivers and teams opt for a pick-and-choose type of schedule. Even though he did win that WoO championship in 2018 and followed the LOLMDS throughout most of 2021, Marlar has always seemed to be at his best when he is doing his own thing. It looks like a number of competitors may be looking hard at that kind of a season, especially after Brandon Overton had so much success with it last year. And that seems to be well suited for the driver of the No. 157 machine.
Earl Pearson Jr.– For the past couple of seasons, racing has been a bit of a struggle for Earl Pearson Jr. as the four-time Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion has had difficulty finding victory lane or even the podium at the end of the night. However, that appears to be in the process of changing for the veteran star and his efforts in the Wild West Shootout offered proof of that.
Since joining forces with driver/owner Jason Papich near the end of the 2021 season, “The Hurricane” has shown great speed and has been highly competitive. And not only has the new owner and team provided a spark but Pearson’s reunification with Longhorn Chassis seems to have also led to better results.
Pearson did in fact find the podium at the end of each night during the final three contests at Vado. Two runner-up results along with a third-place effort carried him through the weekend. But the No. 46 machine also showed strength early in the night as the Jacksonville, Florida native earned four heat race wins out of six nights.
With sponsorship from Lucas Oil on his car, Pearson intends to run the full Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series schedule in 2022. It certainly looks as if a return to victory lane will be a strong possibility for this driver who has been there many times already.
Ricky Weiss– The Canadian driver took a bold step at the end of the 2020 season when he decided not to follow the rest of the Dirt Late Model crowd and buy one of the well-known chassis brands. Instead, he opted to build his own race cars and put those machines into competition. As a result, the former World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series Rookie of the Year spent much of 2021 refining the Sniper Chassis in hopes of finding an edge over the competition.
If the Wild West Shootout is any indication, it appears as if Weiss and his team have found some speed in their No. 7w machine. In the six contests held in New Mexico, the 2018 winner of the North-South 100 qualified in the top-3 of his group four times and set the overall fastest time on one of those occasions. He also never finished outside the top-3 in heat racing action garnering two preliminary wins.
With the exception of the finale in which he and several other drivers were involved in a crash, Weiss placed in the top-10 each night. Furthermore, he even earned a $1,000 bonus for setting the quickest qualifying lap for the entire week.
Even with a year of going essentially on his own in a new car, Weiss still managed to finish 5th in the final WoO Late Models standings in 2021. Provided he runs a full series in 2022, it would seem as if the speed is there in his cars to move even higher and perhaps win a few races.
Garrett Alberson– It never hurts to race close to home and that’s what Las Cruces, New Mexico driver Garrett Alberson did during the Wild West Shootout. And the hometown driver made the most of his home court advantage by running well virtually all week.
Alberson had plenty of speed in his Black Diamond Race Car as he set fast time in his qualifying group on four of the six nights of competition. He set himself up well for the features by winning three heat races and finishing in the runner-up spot twice.
But the big payoff came in the Wednesday night feature when the No. 58 car was in position to take advantage of a last-lap tangle involving Bobby Pierce and Mike Marlar and score the win. In all, Alberson ended up on the podium on three separate occasions. Unfortunately, he was a victim of circumstances in the $25,000 finale when he slid into an accident not of his own making.
All in all, Alberson acquitted himself quite well during the Shootout. We will see if that sets him up for greater success as the season plays out.
There will be another post on this website coming soon which will go into one more aspect of the Wild West Shootout and that will be the ongoing battle between the chassis builders.
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