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Thinkin’ Dirty, Vol. 9: 2021 Xtreme DIRTcar Series at Lake View

The A-Main: “The Boss” Ross Bailes pounced on a wounded Matthew Nance after a lap 26 pileup and drove away to a $7,000 win Saturday at Lake View Motor Speedway in Nichols, S.C., marking his first career win on the Xtreme DIRTcar tour. 

On a night where the track at Lake View proved near impossible to pass on (the field saw multiple ringers, including all-time Xtreme tour winner Chris Madden and current World of Outlaws Late Model Series points leader Kyle Strickler unable to climb from the back of the top 10 over the course of 40 laps), Nance was looking unstoppable out front for 25 laps. It all went to hell on lap 26, when Nance misjudged his closing rate coming up on the lapped car of Pelican, S.C.’s Kale Green and made contact, smashing his nose up and collecting then second-place Bailes in the pileup (more on that later). The track scored the caution to the lapped car, allowing both Nance and Bailes to restart 1-2, where Bailes took advantage of Nance’s nose damage to make the race-winning pass on lap 34 of the 40-lap feature.

The B-Mains

Gray Court, S.C.’s Madden led all 40 laps of Sunday’s Xtreme DIRTcar feature at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, S.C. to score a $5,000 victory, weathering a rash of late-race restarts thanks to tire failures throughout the field.

World of Outlaws regular Carson Macedo also found the front of the field a cursed place to be Saturday night at Keller Auto Speedway in Handford, Calif. Macedo jumped the curb while leading with less than five laps to go, allowing a hard-charging Shane Golobic to swoop in and take the $3,000 season opener for the King of Thunder 360 winged sprint cars. 

Needmore Speedway is well north of Florida, but it was a pair of heavy hitters from Speedweeks that dominated the weekend. Norman Park, Ga.’s John Baker dominated Saturday’s Southern Clash Late Model season opener, but ended up disqualified for failing post-race inspection at the scales. That handed the $2,589 win to Middleburg, Fla.’s Mark Whitener.

Aliquippa, Pa.’s Tim Shaffer proved untouchable up front in Saturday’s USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour feature at Southern Raceway in Milton, Fla., snookering fellow Pennsylvanian and series ringer Mark Smith on several occasions to take the checkers. This writer was not able to take in Sunday’s USCS feature for technical reasons (more on that below).

As this article is submitted, results are not available rega $4,500 super late model feature of the Bama Brawl at Fort Payne Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon.

Drivers Who Accomplished Something

It’s unlikely that one would look to an 11-car IMCA Sportmod feature to be among the highlights of a dirt racing weekend, but that’s what happened Friday night at Cocopah Speedway in Arizona. It’s also unlikely many folks realize that Casa Grande, Ariz.’s Bo Partain leads the nation in feature wins thus far in 2021 wheeling said IMCA Sportmod. Partain was runner-up on Friday night to Rock Springs, Wyo.’s David Pitt, who was a non-factor at Cocopah for the entire month of January only to hold the hottest driver in the state at bay for the last 10 laps, driving an inch-perfect line that stymied every line of attack Partain could muster. It’s a shame this program took more than seven hours to get to thanks to an hour-long mid-race break for track work and yellow fever gripping the mini-dwarf features… there likely weren’t more than 11 people watching by the time this one went green.

Milton, Fla. local Josh Howell had about the most spectacular second-place finish anywhere in America on Saturday night. Howell spun midway through Saturday’s pure stock feature on the Southern Raceway frontstretch, sliding through the lake that had seeped beyond the frontstretch wall at Southern (see photo below) and backing into a pile of dirt in the turn 1 infield. Despite doing that and the car’s engine steaming profusely from the water dump, Howell kept her running and got back to second in the closing laps.

We made it!

Posted by Carson McCarl Racing on Saturday, February 20, 2021

There’s always something to admire about an underdog, such as Ash, N.C.’s Jason Floyd taking the step up to make his Xtreme DIRTcar debut Saturday at Lake View. 

But the question has to be asked…

Drivers Who Accomplished Nothing

If one shows up to a super late model feature with a 604 crate engine under the hood, does the debut make a sound? Floyd came nowhere close to making Saturday’s field.

Nance was the fastest qualifier at Lake View on Saturday and was on a tear until the lap 26 damage. That damage cost him the race win Saturday, and despite the team working overnight to repair the car, the speed was gone. Nance was near the bottom of the charts in qualifying at Cherokee on Sunday and finished a distant 10th in the feature.

It may not have been as glaring a mistake as Braxton Wilson went through at the Tulsa Shootout when his crew was filmed failing to tighten lugnuts before his wheel failed off, but the result was the same. On the pace laps of Saturday night’s micro sprint feature at Southern Raceway, Alpharetta, Ga.’s Bob Trapino lost a front wheel on the pace laps. Trapino was towed off the track and failed to start the feature.

Frontstretch Regular

Truck Series regular Stewart Friesen headed directly from the Daytona road course Friday night back behind the wheel of his super late model. Friesen scored a top-five finish in the DIRTcar feature Saturday at Lake View, a career-best in super late competition. Friesen won the last chance qualifier for Sunday’s DIRTcar feature at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, S.C., finishing fifth in the event.

Fanning the Flames

There is always a drop-off in feature races after Florida Speedweeks concludes, but that was exacerbated this weekend with The Day After Tomorrow literally occurring in the state of Texas. Big O Speedway and the Dirt Track at Texas canceled racing programs while the entirety of the IMCA Lone Star Stock Car Tour was axed this week, as Texas fans, promoters and first responders alike all have more important matters to tend to. All of us at Frontstretch send warm thoughts and prayers to those affected. 

Maybe it’s because I had Texas on the brain, but it was a striking image to see a crowd at Southern Speedway show up with a full-size propane tank in the stands to power their portable heater. Having attended races at the Talladega Short Track in person, I’ve seen my share of crazy stuff hauled into bleachers, but sitting next to a stranger with a full-size tank of flammables may be one of those rare instances where I’d excuse myself to another seat.

There were plenty of Texans with newly-restored electricity taking advantage of the USCS sprint car feature at Southern Raceway being streamed for free on Facebook Live. Problem is, there were hundreds of fans, this writer included, that had paid for this coverage as a pay-per-view event. Due to poor reception in the area, that stream failed, and Just Dirt Productions opted to take their coverage to Facebook Live. Problem was, this message, and details for those that spent their hard-earned cash, were never once communicated to the viewers watching on Saturday night, leaving the associated Facebook pages littered with hostile comments and some abandoning even the Live stream out of frustration. It was enough of a PR snafu that the USCS tour itself posted an apology on its Facebook page, with series driver Smith even trying to address fans through the comments page during Saturday night’s stream. 

From USCS…I would like to personally apologize for the fact that, due to technical difficulties, Just Dirt Productions…

Posted by USCS Racing on Saturday, February 20, 2021

After sleeping on the experience, I can say Sunday that Just Dirt did the track and fans a favor going this route, and they did notify me this morning that I was being refunded fully for the failed stream. However, like so many other things this column has addressed in 2021, only one chance at a first impression. I’ll be back, as covering dirt racing is my job. Gotta wonder how many others not in that boat won’t come back.

Credit to Lake View Motor Speedway for drawing a very large crowd in unseasonably cold Carolina weather, but a track surface that stayed one-groove all night long left passing at a premium and plenty of room for officials to make a mess of things. Which they did. 

It started in the Mid-East Street Stock Tour main event, where a dominant Andy Howard was penalized post-race for jumping the final restart as the car was rolling towards the infield victory lane. The call came that Howard had jumped the final restart, and as such was penalized a position in the final running order. The declared race winner Ricky Greene affirmed that he had heard Howard warned on several occasions by race officials prior to the final restart about jumping the gun. That begs two questions. First, why was Howard not penalized earlier? And more importantly, if the leader jumped the start, why did the race stay green? If the call is subtle enough not to throw the yellow and nullify the start it’s not big enough to justify essentially disqualifying the race winner after the fact. (Note: The Mid-East Series adamantly defended their call in Facebook comments on the Lake View Speedway page Sunday.)

CONGRATULATIONS to the competitors that #ParkedIt in the Pop Hahn Veterans Memorial Victory Lane at Lake View Motor…

Posted by Lake View Motor Speedway on Sunday, February 21, 2021

There was more controversy in the Xtreme DIRTcar feature. As previously stated, the track attributed the caution flag that collected both leaders on lap 26 to the lapped car, and as such despite both cars being involved in an accident and stopping on track under the yellow to have their sheetmetal massaged, both Nance and Bailes got to restart 1-2. 

Far as I can tell, the rules were correctly enforced. I’m questioning the rule itself. For one, as much as there was a lapped car with a problem on track, Nance messed up dealing with said lapper on track. Bailes, his fault or not, got involved in said incident. That both drivers essentially got away scot-free because there was a lapped car to blame made no common sense. And on a night with such a narrow track, such a bailout literally decided the race. I can’t help but feel for Lake View. Despite all the lipstick they put on the track facility this offseason, the season-opening races have been pigs.

Note to the Western States Dwarf Car Association. Hosting a dwarf car nationals event on a half-mile like the Cocopah Speedway is the equivalent of racing Cup cars on the Brickyard. You can do it, but why? Small tracks for small cars please.

After watching the season opening race at Keller Auto Speedway this weekend, there’s no ifs ands or buts about it, it’s time for California to allow racetracks to re-open their grandstands. Why? Because as so many other tracks in California have figured out, all they had to do to get their stands occupied again “legally” was to make said stands part of the pits and sell the equivalent of a “cold pass” to non-competitors. As a result, the stands at Keller had a more than healthy crowd in attendance Saturday night. Compliance to the letter, rather than to the spirit, but to quote Cool Hand Luke, “when it comes to the law, nothing is understood.” What should be understood is that the goal is singular; to stop the spread. Giving tracks an avenue to devise their own distancing plans and open for business rather than gaming the system accomplishes that goal.

One item to Keller’s fans and staff. If you’re going to live stream events, work on mask compliance. See out here on the East Coast not that long ago, we had a large crowd of people film themselves thumbing their nose at the government. Ask them how well that turned out.

Call me petty, call me unprofessional (trust me, you won’t be the first) but by the time the racing program at Southern Raceway got to their 602 sportsman feature I was actively rooting for driver Jesse Enterkin not to win the event. Coming into Saturday I had no idea who Enterkin was, nor what the hell his fans were describing when they flooded the Facebook Live feed’s comment page with #HTF. #HTF it turns out stands for Hunt the Front, a collection of late model drivers vlogging their racing exploits on Youtube. I’ll give HTF credit, they have a following; viewership of the racing program at Southern dropped by more than 60% after Enterkin’s race ended.

So what was gridding my gears? As it seems with any popular driver, Enterkin’s fans were obnoxiously celebrating every lap their driver lead from the pole during Saturday’s feature. Of note, they were also celebrating just how much air Enterkin (and everyone in the field) was getting traversing what became a literal canyon in the turn 4 racing surface. That is, until eventual race winner Taylor Jarvis found a line through turn 4 that avoided the bump. And within two laps of finding that line, Jarvis passed Enterkin and drove off to victory. Suddenly the tenor on the live feed changed, with fans cursing the track conditions and making every excuse possible for why their driver didn’t figure out the same line Garvey did to keep their car settled on track.

That’s not Enterkin’s fault, and I honestly felt bad clapping when Jarvis took the checkers. But this is a problem I’m used to seeing in big-league NASCAR and their flavors of the week, not crate late model racing. Being passionate about drivers is a huge part of what makes racing great. Being delusional about their abilities and failings is not. To social media, the cause of and solution to all of racing’s problems.

Numbers Game

9 – number of dirt tracks confirmed to host oval track events this weekend.

10 – number of racing programs canceled across the state of Texas this week.

168 – largest car count of the weekend, seen at the Cocopah Speedway on Friday.

$7,000 – largest posted purse of the weekend, to win the DIRTcar Xtreme Series feature at Lake View on Saturday.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): Two warm Budweisers that have been languishing in the concession stand since last season ended, and that’s being generous. The first weekend post-Speedweeks felt like amateur hour from coast to coast, and not in a good way.

Up Next: The way this winter is going who knows? Headliner shows are supposed to dot Texas this coming weekend, with the World of Outlaws and the USMTS modified tour scheduled to contest multiple $10,000 to win shows. Up north, the 410 sprint car season will again try to kick off with the Icebreaker at Lincoln Speedway having been pushed back to Saturday. Assuming Texas and the rest of the country has begun to thaw by then.

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