Will fans warm up to the Lucas Oil ‘Chase for the Championship’ over time?

Tim McCreadie(39) and Jonathan Davenport(49) could be among the four championship finalists

This past weekend in the ‘Rumble by the River’ at Pennsylvania’s Port Royal Speedway, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series cut its list of season-long title hopefuls down to eight. The UNOH ‘Great Eight’ drivers were issued monetary rewards along with the opportunity to race their way into the group of four competitors who will have a shot of being crowned champion at season’s end.

Those drivers who survive the final cut, which will be made following the series penultimate race at Pittsburgh PA Motor Speedway, will enter the season finale Dirt Track World Championship at Eldora Speedway on equal ground with a chance to claim the season title and the $200,000 prize that goes with it. To make that final cut, a driver has to be ranked in the top-4 of the series standings at the end of the Pittsburgher.

Currently, Ricky Thornton Jr., Hudson O’Neal, Jonathan Davenport and Brandon Overton are raked in the top-4 positions in the standings with Tim McCreadie and Devin within striking distance.

The purpose of the Chase for the Championship system is to draw attention to the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and its supporting sponsors while at the same time rewarding the drivers and teams. The format is also designed to bring an element of excitement to points racing due to the fact that championships are sometimes decided well before the season finale.

Obviously, the drivers will enjoy the opportunity to race for more money. And perhaps as many as three of them will relish the opportunity to snag a championship that, under the old system, might have been out of reach by that time. But on the other hand, are fans all that concerned with how a title is determined?

A recent poll posted on my @RichardAllenIDR Twitter(X) account reveals that many fans have not paid all that much attention to the Chase for the Championship:

Just over 58% of the 338 respondents in the highly unscientific measure reported that they have paid very little or no attention to the format. At the same time, 22.8% have given the Chase some of their attention while 18.9% have dedicated ‘Quite a Bit’ of their Dirt Late Model thoughts to the contest.

Joe Brom(@josephb2112) added the reply, “I voted “very little” but tbf I watch dirt races for the races. I could really care less about points in any series.” to his vote while @Doug112 stated, “I’m just not a fan of chase or playoffs in racing.

Follower Eric Feagley(@EricFeagley) agreed with Joe Brom by saying, “I don’t follow the points. That’s for the drivers and teams to focus on. But, I do follow the Lucas races themselves very closely.” Finally, Bill Moffett(@BillMoffett11) added, “Could care less about points. All want to see is good clean hard racing.

Based on those replies, it seems as if Dirt Late Model fans are pleased with the product the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series puts on the track on a race-by-race basis and do not really concern themselves so much with the series standings. Nothing can take the place of witnessing a great race. My sons and I attended the recent North-South 100 at Florence Speedway and greatly enjoyed the competition. Nothing was said on the ride home about how that race might impact the points and it sounds like that is true of many observers.

I wrote some time ago that the LOLMDS would have to be patient with this new formula for deciding its championship. When I first heard that the NASCAR Cup Series was going to employ a ‘Playoff’ type format beginning in 2004, I thought it was the craziest idea I had ever heard. Since then, the NASCAR Playoffs have grown on me.

It will take time for this idea to settle in with fans who have been accustomed over the years to caring more about individual races than the season as a whole. That was true for NASCAR when they changed their system and now the notion of the NASCAR Playoffs has become accepted by many. To verify that, this has been, to this point in the campaign, the most watched Cup Series season since 2017.

One reason why a Playoff format can work for NASCAR is that fans have the ability to watch every race and not just the ones close enough to them that they can attend in person. Now because of streaming, fans of dirt racing can watch every event on the schedule and not just the ones in their area. What this allows is for people to build an attachment not only to the series but to the individual drivers.

What the ‘Chase for the Championship’ format also does is allow four drivers to enter the final weekend with a chance to win the title rather than the one or two that a season-long points accumulating format would most likely allow. That, in theory, should cause more people to watch that final broadcast on FloRacing as each driver has his own contingent of dedicated fans.

While the interest may not necessarily be high now, it will be interesting to see if that changes going into the Dirt Track World Championship at that race’s new venue. The excitement level will likely be high, especially with four drivers going into that race with a chance of emerging as the champion.

Then a much clearer picture may come about during the second season of this format if that excitement can be built upon in 2024.

Please consider also reading:

Turn 2 Blog: Has the old Brandon Sheppard returned? & Buzz around the ‘Chase’

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Also, NASCAR and pavement racing fans can check out InsideCircleTrack.com

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