NASCAR Race Weekend Central
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Thinkin’ Dirty, Vol. 1 – 2021 Tulsa Shootout & Hangover Races

The A-MainChristopher Bell made some noise, but 2021 was a year for first-time driller winners, with Claremore, Okla.’s Chris Carroll, Camp Verde, Ariz.’s Mason Keefer and Raisin, Calif.’s Mitchel Moles all scoring A-main wins in the Tulsa Shootout in the Wingless Outlaw, Mini Mod and Winged Outlaw classes. However, it was another first-time winner in Pipersville, Pa.’s Brian Carber that stole the show, following up his first driller win in the Stock Non-Wing class an hour or so later with a win in the Winged A-Class, becoming only the sixth driver in the 30-plus year history of the Shootout to win multiple features on the same night.

The B-Mains – Pigeon Forge, Tenn.’s Pierce McCarter won the headline event of what nearly became the 24 Hours of Seymour, winning the $5,000 “Hangover” super late model feature at 411 Motor Speedway. An event that went more than 11 hours to contest all eight divisions, McCarter was one of only five cars in a starting field of 22 to be running at the finish on a surface that proved treacherous all day long.

Veteran competitors Troy Foulger and Jim Pettit IIย opened the IMCA modified season in California with feature wins at the Stockton Dirt Track and Antioch Speedway.

As is custom, New Yearโ€™s enduros dotted the schedule this weekend, with Mesa, Ariz.โ€™s Richard Benett (Arizona) Roaring River, N.C.โ€™s Victor Durham (Friendship) and Norwich, N.Y.โ€™s Harold Humphrey (Penn Can) scoring $1,000 wins. The biggest winner, however, was Longview, Texas’s Matt Ryan, who won $2,500 in the inaugural New Year’s enduro at Alien Motor Speedway.

Drivers Who Accomplished Something

With the Chili Bowl only two weeks away, there is no dirt racer in America riding a bigger wave than Carber. An aspiring sprint car driver that shocked the midget world after turning down a free Chili Bowl ride with the powerhouse Keith Kunz Motorsports team to instead take a check to refurbish his own race team, Carber soon found himself the beneficiary of a crowd-funding effort that got him a KKM ride for the biggest show in Tulsa. Owner Keith Kunz, who was openly respectful of Carber’s decision, now has in his stable the hottest driver in the Bowl field as his team seeks a return to victory lane after Kyle Larson snapped their five-year winning streak last January.

Ransomville, N.Y.’s Austin Susice gets credit for winning the nationโ€™s first โ€œfeatureโ€ of 2021, taking the checkers in the V6 division of the Hangover Gets a Double Shot enduro race at Land of Legends Raceway, but the driver of that race was arguably Penn Yan, N.Y.โ€™s Jimmy Grant. Grant, a street stock regular at LoL, made up nearly two laps on track after finding the fastest way around the muddy oval was to drive over the top of the banking in the corners to gain traction. Had he not lost his clutch under a lap 38 red flag, Grant had the race won.

Jackson, N.J.’s Aidan Borden forfeited a spot in the last-chance qualifiers at Tulsa to drive home and see his brother off to deployment with the Marine Corps. A rare example of perspective to start 2021. Respect, gratitude and safe travels to the Borden family.

Prunedale, Calif.’s Pettit II held off the defending track champion on two late-race restarts to win the season-opening IMCA modified feature at Antioch on the weekend of his 25th wedding anniversary at the track he met his wife at. I get the feeling that win was worth more than the $1,000 purse.

Lastly, a shout out to the Rutherfordton Rocket, Ricky Weeks, who opted for retirement and family time after holding off a furious charge from COVID-19. Anyone familiar with the racing scene in the western Old North state has likely heard of Weeks, who spent nearly 40 years behind the wheel and won four Carolina Clash late model titles during my college days out that way. Godspeed and best wishes for a continued recovery.

Drivers Who Accomplished Nothing

No, missing lugnuts are not a penalty in Tulsa like they are in NASCAR, but thereโ€™s a reason to put a lug on each stud. Lubbock, Texas’s Braxton Wilson learned that the hard way in his last-chance qualifier in Tulsa.

Flips aplenty are expected in micro competition at Tulsa. But the full-sized racecars in California gave them a run for their money this weekend. Rio Linda, Calif.โ€™s Randy Lindeman caught a rut during his modified heat race and barrel-rolled his No. 22 car at Stockton, while Oakley, Calif.’s Jeff Browne did the same in a heat at Antioch. San Jose, Calif.’s Rob Gallaher added to the carnage when he flipped his stock car on the second lap of Antioch’s feature race.

All three drivers walked away.

The only silver lining at Stockton was a track sponsor put $140 in a โ€œrollover fundโ€ that went to Lindemanโ€ฆ which was more than finishing 11th-15th in the 20-car main would have paid.

Oklahoman Tony Penickโ€™s Tulsa Shootout ended before it started. After losing an engine in practice Tuesday, Penick and his team were able to raise funds at the Expo Center to buy a replacement engineโ€ฆ only to see it fail to work. Penick missed all three of his scheduled heats Wednesday. Of course, speaking as an experienced Metro rider in metropolitan D.C., that reliability is what Iโ€™d expect from a Kawasaki power plant.

Frontstretch Regulars

Sprint Cup regular Bell made the most noise of the NASCAR boys in Tulsa over the weekend, qualifying for three A-mains and finishing top 10 in all three, including runner-up in the Stock Non-Wing class and going from 24th to sixth in the Non-Wing Outlaws.

The last two Truck Series champions were both present in Tulsa, but both Brett Moffitt and Sheldon Creed failed to advance beyond B-mains or take a checkered flag in any class.

Part-time ARCA racer Chase Cabre qualified for the A-main in the Winged A-Class but finished a distant 18th. Cabre did win a B-main in that same class, but arguably his most memorable moment of the weekend came during heats on Wednesday:

Fanning the Flames

Across four days and 295 race frames, the Tulsa Shootout never spent more than 20 minutes on track rework unless it was tied to a dinner break. But the break between the penultimate modified feature and the final winged feature lasted more than 45 minutes, despite the event having already run more than 10 hours. In terms of reaching a climax, I now know what a hooker at work must feel like.

In that same vein, hereโ€™s the happy ending. Aside from that painful doldrum, the organizers at Tulsa put on a clinic of how to run an efficient show, keeping a field of over 1,200 cars moving from event to event like clockwork.

This is the first time Iโ€™ve watched any prelims at Tulsa, be it the Shootout or the Chili Bowl, but one night in I was absolutely over โ€œpassing points.โ€ Case in point, Bellโ€™s A-Class heat Wednesday night. Because Lawton, Okla.’s Cooper Sullivan failed to follow race control instructions in lining up for the heat, Bell started sixth instead of eighth and was only able to earn 125 points for winning his heat instead of 135. Having drivers capable of earning differing points totals regardless of how well they drive based on a pill draw is ridiculous. The ability of a driver racing from ninth to third to score more points than a driver leading a heat from flag to flag is ridiculous. Having to watch heat races with a matrix and a calculator is ridiculous. Tulsa Expo Raceway is an impeccable dirt track that allows for passing at all times. This gimmick is not needed.

One more note on โ€œpassing points.โ€ If youโ€™re using decimal points in standings like the ASCS rules call for, youโ€™re doing it wrong. NASCARโ€™s playoff points algebra is easier to follow.

Speaking of doing it wrong, the stars and stripes on the infield flagpole at Stockton Dirt Track was more rag than flag, and during the national anthem an American flag on the back of a pickup truck was dropped in turn 4. I know itโ€™s California, but come on guys, gotta do better.

The weather seemingly gave 411 Motor Speedway a win to start the year; with Cochran Motor Speedway preemptively cancelling their New Yearโ€™s Bash crate late model feature, Saturdayโ€™s Hangover became the richest posted purse of New Yearโ€™s Weekend. Thank God for small favors, given the stinging news that their Lucas Oil Dirt Late Models date in April is now competing directly with the World of Outlaws Late Models as they tackle Bristolโ€ฆ.

But how much of a win it was is up for debate. If all hangovers lasted as long as the track’s racing program did on Saturday, Alcoholics Anonymous would cease to exist, as sobriety would reign supreme. It’d be easy to point the finger at 411 and blame them for the comedy of errors that the event became, and there is no doubt mistakes were made. Insisting on time-trial qualifying over 200 cars despite already being shortened to a one-day show that ran heats anyway was stubborn as a mule. Refusing to take a hint that within the first hour of hot laps that multiple late models were damaged or destroyed in single-car events directly attributable to track conditions was stubborn as a mule.

And any doubt as to whether the racing surface merely posed a challenge to drivers or a roadblock to passible racing was confirmed when 17 of 22 super late models failed to finish the feature event, the vast majority of which were not a result of crashes. Cochran’s decision to cancel a few hours south was utterly vindicated.

The promoters at 411 did address the matter on their Facebook page early on Sunday, but waffled between owning up to a failed event and chalking it up as a product of dirt racing.ย Right and wrong best sums up the weekend, however, as at day’s end the competitors, not 411, still opted to put their cars on the track. The fans, not 411, still opted to sit in the stands for an entire day, and by night’s end McCarter left with a $5,000 check that left him the winningest driver in the country after the first weekend of dirt racing in 2021. Push forward withย what can be done now or wait for favorable conditions to do what everyone wants to see is the tug-of-war dominating our lives right now.

Returning to Bristol, between more than 1,100 entries being filed for the Nationals in March and both World of Outlaws touring series hosting doubleheader weekends, NASCARโ€™s most notorious bullring has become the hottest dirt track in America, and part of that is credit to the BMS promoters. Their efforts marketing the spring Cup race have been an abject failure the past few years, but announcing the Bristol Nationals and attaching a whopping $50,000 purse to the super late model feature was a home-run move. So was getting the WoO sprint cars on the schedule in April, as I’d estimate 80% of the fan comments on the initial Bristol Nationals announcement were along the line of โ€œwhere are the sprint cars?โ€

But as great as this event could be, letโ€™s not kid ourselves. The Bristol Nationals exist solely to learn all the hard lessons about the clay surface in advance of NASCARโ€™s Cup Series tackling it. Bristol hasnโ€™t hosted a dirt race in nearly 20 years, and the surface is a major question mark as it is at any temporary circuit. Piling dirt on existing high banks is not a sure-fire recipe for success. Just take a look at Clay Valley Speedway, the dirt reincarnation of Lonesome Pine Raceway that lasted less than two months thanks in part to a surface that made even grandstand viewing difficult. And thereโ€™s also what David Reutimann had to say in a now-deleted Facebook post.

The Bristol Nationals could be great. But be real, both fans and competitors alike will be guinea pigs that week in March.

Doesnโ€™t matter that itโ€™s pavedโ€ฆ all Southeastern race fans are still reeling from the news that Southside Speedway is closing after 60 years, a tenure almost as long as 411โ€™s Hangover race this weekend that insisted on time trials even for its FWD class. I love single-car time trials, but if youโ€™re just dumping cars into heat races anyway whatโ€™s the point?ย 

Fortunately, dirt fans have several resurrections to look forward to in 2021. Alabamaโ€™s Moulton Raceway will be running for the first time since 2017 when the Winter Breeze takes to the track next month. The Bloomsburg Fair in Pennsylvania is rebuilding a dirt track to host auto racing for the first time since the mid-1980s, with Grandstand Director Brian Waworski stating โ€œwe need to find ways to continue giving the people what they want and they pay the bills and we think itโ€™s motorsports.โ€ย 

The undisputed coupe de gras of returning dirt ovals, however, goes to the West Virginia Motor Speedway, which has literally been brought back out of the ground after being closed since 2013:

Two things to say on WVMS. One, the tiered grass stands are sexy as hell. Two, for the all the work put into restoring the track to the point it can be the โ€œnext Eldoraโ€ as promoter Cody Watson told Outside Groove, the smartest move they made was securing a deal with Flo Racing to livestream every event on the 2021 schedule.

Inside Dirt Racingโ€™s Richard Allen provided a good high-level look at the ever-growing proliferation of dirt racing streaming growing almost as fast as OnlyFans during the 2020 season, and there is no doubt that there are details of the business that need to be worked out. Most dirt tracks are not Knoxville or Eldora, much less a NASCAR Cup Series venue, and are heavily dependent on gate revenue. Whether the potential revenue from streaming outweighs the risk of keeping fans at home on their couch is not going to be a one-size-fits-all answer.ย 

Having said that, Iโ€™m all in on dirt racing getting online at as many tracks as possible as often as possible. If nothing else, streaming is a necessary evil because the election didnโ€™t end the COVID pandemic. Dirt hotbeds California and New York still face major obstacles to return to racing normal in 2021, and as the organizers of the Allentown Indoor Race learned in Pennsylvania last month, more hospitalizations means more restrictions even in โ€œopenโ€ states. Streaming doesnโ€™t replace the gate, but it can keep the lights onโ€ฆ Outlaw Speedway promoter Tyler Siri and Short Track Super Series promoter Brett Dayo both highlighted web streaming as a profitable revenue stream in 2020, with Dayo noting to Area Auto Racing News that PPV made up for lackluster midweek crowds during his tourโ€™s Cajun Swing this past fall.

To echo one of Allenโ€™s findings, streaming is not the same as being at the track, and it never will be. More dirt races were streamed in 2020 than ever before, yet crowds were not lacking anywhere. From the racing purist perspective, streaming also means wider exposure for a motorsport that features over 500 tracks nationwide. Want to keep weekly racing relevant? Making it more accessible coast-to-coast means more opportunity for a diamond in the rough to get noticed, even if they canโ€™t afford to jump to a touring series.

And perhaps most important of all, schedule congestion makes streaming a necessity for dirt fans. Saturday, January 16, the Chili Bowl Nationals, Wild West Shootout and WoO Sunshine Nationals will all be racing A-mains on the same night. Come 2022 when God and Pfizer-willing Iโ€™m able to be back in the stands at Volusia, I damn well better have the option to watch the Chili Bowl on my phone.

Speaking of our friends in the peopleโ€™s republics of California and New York, many of the dirt tracks out there have invested in track-specific pay-per-view channels (this weekend the Enduro at Land of Legends Raceway and the IMCA show at Antioch were streaming). I know nothing about the fields at either track, but paid for the Antioch broadcast in a show of support. For those still financially able to take in racing as entertainment, Iโ€™d encourage you to explore new tracks online this season.

I hate to close on a pandemic note, but this is not a parody tweet. Until the Chili Bowl actually takes the green flag, if youโ€™re going to be within a thousand miles of Tulsa over the next two weeks, Wear. A. F***ing. Mask.

Numbers Game

* Note for our readers. Dirt racing doesnโ€™t have a neat and tidy racing-reference.info. Just about everything featured here is a best estimate. If weโ€™re wrong, let us know.

9 – number of dirt tracks that hosted events this weekend

526 – number of dirt tracks currently confirmed by Frontstretch intending to host oval-track racing in 2021 (kart tracks are not counted in this estimate)

1,220 – number of cars entered at Tulsa Shootout, by far the largest car count of the week nationwide (to be fair, it is a micro event).

$5,000 – largest posted purse this weekend, the super late model feature at 411 Motor Speedway.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll kickoff 2021 with three tall Nine Bands Brewing T-Town lagers. Carpin made the Tulsa Shootout a feel-good story and the season-opening modified races in California were competitive. But regardless of how good Flo Racing does, 40 hours of micro racing in Tulsa and the Hangover that wouldn’t end has me feeling a bit, hungover.

Up Next: Full-fendered late models down South take center stage this weekend at both Cherokee and Talladega, with coverage on DirtVision and Flo Racing, respectively. Thanks for reading, and to all dirt fans out there, remember that wearing a mask, staying six feet apart and even web streaming are no reason you canโ€™t think dirty.

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