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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty, Vol. 11: 2021 Tennessee Tipoff at Smoky Mountain

The A-Main – Aptly nicknamed “Smokey,” Chris Madden rebounded from a mechanical failure in this race one year ago, leading all 50 laps of the Tennessee Tipoff at Smoky Mountain Speedway in Tennessee to win the $12,000 World of Outlaws Late Model feature Saturday night (March 6).

Maintaining momentum that saw him capture his second consecutive Xtreme DIRTcar Series points title a week ago at Modoc Raceway, Madden bested polesitter Jonathan Davenport on the initial start and never looked back, proving adept in lapped traffic during a feature event slowed by only two yellows and that ended with a more than 40-lap green-flag run. Though both Davenport and Mike Marlar each got to within a bumper of Madden in the closing laps, neither mounted a serious challenge for the win.

The highest finishing WoO LM regular in Saturday night’s feature was Brandon Sheppard in a distant eighth place. 

**Note: Race winner Madden was scheduled to contest Sunday’s March Madness event at Cherokee Speedway, but was unable to attend due to illness.

The B-Mains

The World of Outlaws made two different returns to the state of Florida this weekend. Less than a month removed from Speedweeks, Carson Macedo used a sweeping move through Turns 1 and 2 with five laps to go to win Friday night at Volusia Speedway Park, besting an otherwise untouchable Sam Hafertepe Jr. Saturday night marked the first time in nearly 40 years that the WoO returned to East Bay Raceway Park, and it was a memorable one, with series rookie Aaron Reutzel scoring his first career WoO win in dominating fashion (more on that later).

The weather in the Lone Star State finally cooperated enough for the United Modified Touring Series season to kick off. Both Springfield, Mo.’s Terry Phillips and Woodward, Okla.’s Derek Ramirez scored $10,000 feature wins in the Texas Spring Nationals at RPM Speedway in Crandall, Texas in an event that drew the largest car counts anywhere in the country this weekend.

In arguably the best race of the weekend, St. Augustine, Fla.’s David Showers Jr. was crowned the $10,000 winner of Friday night’s rescheduled Harvest 100 pure stock race at All-Tech Raceway in Lake City, Fla. on Friday after the tech shed disqualified Cinderella story Tim Goforth. More on this story later.

Brandon Overton led all 60 laps of Sunday’s March Madness super late model race at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, S.C., on Sunday, netting $10,000 to win the season opener for the Southern All-Star Series. Overton benefited from starting on pole, as the track’s high side never came into play all race long despite the best efforts of runner-up Davenport.

Also of note for fans looking for a demolition derby, that crown this week also goes to Cherokee for Sunday’s 604 late model feature. Race favorites John Ruggiero Jr. and Logan Roberson took themselves out on the first lap (more on that later), Lynchburg, Tenn.’s Jim Gray ended up all but upside down, and race leader Carson Ferguson appeared to have something break coming out of Turn 4 on the final lap, triggering a nasty five-car pileup that blocked the track coming to the checkers. Several teams involved in the wreck also tangled in a post-race fight that Speed51’s cameras missed, but that had the track’s PA announcer telling those in victory lane to get out of the way “because the po-po needs to roll” to Turn 2.

Aromas, Calif’s Justin Sanders swept the weekend’s Silver Cup sprint car features at the Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, Calif., pocketing $5,500. Jackson, Ohio’s Brandon Harris scored $3,000 to win the latest enduro race at Friendship Motor Speedway in Elkin, N.C., a race that drew 65 entries.

Drivers Who Accomplished Something

Reutzel is experienced for a WoO rookie, given that he’s a multi-time champion on the All-Star Circuit of Champs tour, but his performance at East Bay on Saturday was arguably the most jaw-dropping on a touring series since Kyle Larson obliterated the LOLMDS at All-Tech in January. Reutzel decided early in Saturday’s race to drive all four tires over the cushion at East Bay, and he made it work time and time again, leaving even defending series champ Brad Sweet powerless to contest him for the win. 

The No. 83 was in a league of its own Saturday.

Having been to Pennsylvania’s Lincoln Speedway in person, I can attest both that a) the track knows how to run sprint car races and b) that the first two weeks of the 2021 season have been a far cry from the track’s best offerings. That’s not unexpected, given that cold temperatures and heavy precipitation have left the fields the last two weeks mired with a heavy track surface that won’t widen out. None of that has mattered for Aliquippa, Pa.’s Tim Shaffer, who last week was the hard charger of the race by a country mile, and followed that up this week with a commanding win. 360 or 410, Shaffer has been fast in anything with a wing thus far in 2021.

Davenport failed to reach victory lane this weekend, but after finishing third at Smoky Mountain and second at Cherokee in super late model competition, he’s got to be the most relieved man in dirt racing. After following up a Wild West Shootout points title with a disastrous Speedweeks, the No. 49 team looked like the contenders they’re expected to be all through the South. With Bristol looming and Kyle Busch joining the roster, being back on their A-game couldn’t come at a better time.

The 100-lap pure stock race at All-Tech was the hidden gem of this weekend’s dirt races, and the gem of that event was Albany, Ga.’s Tim Goforth. With great track position courtesy of a heat race win, Goforth found the preferred line early at All-Tech and did not miss it over the course of 100 laps, holding off strong challenges from local veterans Showers and Mark Whitener multiple times during the feature. Though Goforth did get a lucky break when the caution flew after a lap 98 restart that saw him lose the lead to Showers, he capitalized on the next one and scored his first feature win in three years in one of the biggest pure stock races anywhere in the South. That was cool enough, but Goforth made a fan out of this writer when he emerged from his car, cigarette in mouth, too choked up and teary-eyed to speak. It was as real a victory lane as could be asked for.

Drivers Who Accomplished Nothing

But, it was all a dream. Goforth would find himself disqualified later that night for what the track deemed “illegal front end parts and alternations” [sic]. More on this story later.

We can't say enough about the support we received for our Inaugural Harvest 100 presented by Positive Impact Motorsports…

Posted by All-Tech Raceway on Sunday, March 7, 2021

He waited until the feature race this time, but Royersford, Pa.’s Steve Buckwalter flipped his 410 sprint car between Turns 1 and 2 at Lincoln Speedway for the second straight week.

Live Oak, Fla.’s David Markham Jr. got a literal last-minute phone call to drive a 602 late model at All-Tech on Friday that he may wish he’d have let go to voicemail. Markham spun twice during his heat race and finished 17th of 20 cars in Friday’s feature after suffering a severe tire failure that all but destroyed his car.

Robeline, La.’s Cade Dillard raced a brand new into Saturday night’s WoO late model feature at Smoky Mountain, but lasted only seven laps before a backstretch incident involving Fort Payne, Ala.’s Sam Seawright left Dillard with a pulverized front-end. 

79-year-old Buzzie Reutimann became, to the best of my fact-checking abilities anyhow, the oldest racer to take a checkered flag in 2021 when he won his UMP modified heat race at Volusia Friday night. However, Reutimann appeared to blow an engine during Friday night’s feature and retired early at East Bay the next night with mechanical issues as well. 

Frontstretch Regulars

Camping World Truck Series regular Stewart Friesen fell two spots short of qualifying for his first career WoO Late Model start Saturday night at Smoky Mountain, but rebounded to qualify for his first Southern All-Stars tour feature in the March Madness event at Cherokee Speedway Sunday. He finished fifth.

Former NASCAR Cup Series regular Kasey Kahne continues to keep the seat of his race team’s No. 9 sprint car warm until regular driver James McFadden can return from Australia. He qualified for both WoO A-mains this weekend, finishing 13th at Volusia and eighth at East Bay.

Former Cup Series regular Ken Schrader won a heat race and finished second in the USCS Outlaw Modified tour feature at Chatham Speedway in Louisiana Saturday night.

Fanning the Flames

I’ve been involved in several pointed debates with fellow Frontstretchers over the current state of one of my former stomping grounds, the ARCA Menards Series. Longtime readers of our site know just how much I used to love covering that tour. But given that it’s now become a spec car series that can’t even handle live pit stops, I’m not exactly missing it.

How’s this tie into dirt? In viewing a throughly enjoyable Harvest 100 at All-Tech Raceway Friday night, I was struck by the irony that a 100-lap dirt race was more open to pit strategy than most minor-league asphalt races are in 2021. Despite a race distance that put the pure stock racecars on the edge of their fuel capacity on Friday, race organizers employed no scheduled cautions and let 100 laps play themselves out. As a result, the feature had comers, goers and some of the best late model drivers in the state of Florida jumping into pure stocks to race. Talk about a breath of fresh air.

The only sour note to Friday’s event was seeing feel-good winner Goforth disqualified. Multiple Facebook posts from prior to the track’s official statement on the DQ attributed Goforth’s disqualification to the use of screw-in ball joints in lieu of press-ins. I did a check of All-Tech’s rulebook, and based on said rulebook I can’t argue the merits of the DQ. I can and will, however, question whether such a prescription in the rulebook needs to be there. I’m no mechanic, but I have a really hard time believing that such a difference in ball joints is what put Goforth in victory lane. Page 10 of the pure stock rulebook at All-Tech reads “it is stated in the rules above what you can do to your car. Anything else will not be allowed.” Let’s DQ language like that in any racing rulebook moving forward.

In another episode of rulebook gone wild, it’s hard to know which was worse about the 604 crate late model feature at Cherokee on Sunday; what the rulebook said was supposed to happen when Ruggiero Jr. and Roberson were involved in a first-lap spin, or the call that actually got made. Though one could argue that the way the race ended trumps my concern:

First turn, first lap, Ruggiero and Roberson both spun out and stopped on the track. As asinine as I believe this to be, the track rulebook posted to the Cherokee website reads “MULTI-CAR WRECK ON FIRST LAP: All cars get their spot back.” Instead, Roberson and Ruggiero were both sent to the rear of the field. Now logically, that makes perfect sense to me. Doesn’t matter if bad racing or bad racing luck strikes on lap 1 or lap 100, racing incidents can and should have consequences. But such a call is also in direct contradiction of the posted rulebook. The only possible explanation I can find for such a call is that the Southern All-Star late model tour was on premises, and their rulebook reads much differently, stating that “cars that were directly involved in an on-track incident and come to a stop on the race track [sic] will be sent to the rear of the field.” Maybe the feature of the day governs all races? As much as I agree with the call, it worries me that the track appears to have used the super late model rulebook to govern the crates. 

The World of Outlaws never made the explicit statement that they made their upcoming sprint car race at Bristol Motor Speedway an invitational for safety reasons, but fans arguing that they made the right call (they didn’t) insisted that such safety measures were needed. Those same safety advocates were awfully silent this weekend when the WoO allowed multiple sprint cars fielding undersized 360 engines to contest their features, including one run on the high-speed half-mile at Volusia Speedway Park (fortunately those cars ran the equivalent of dirt track start-and-park). I’ve got no issue with 360 sprint drivers showing up for big money … they qualified, they race. The end. But let’s not kid ourselves that in both cases the WoO is operating with nothing but money on the brain.

Speaking of having money on the brain, I had a hard time not rolling my eyes during the invocation at Smoky Mountain Speedway Saturday night when the track PA announcer complimented fans for packing the grandstands and pit area with nary a mask in sight, then 15 seconds later started praying that several local racers get over hospitalizations for COVID-19. There’s an important place for prayer in this life. There’s an equally important place for taking action in this life. Want to get biblical? You reap what you sow.

The car counts from coast to coast speak volumes as to how popular enduro races are these days. I get that they’re special events that inspire a lot to get involved, both because of anything goes rulebooks and wide variety in cars entered. Having said that, the Big Chill 250 enduro event at Heart o’ Texas Speedway this weekend had me scratching my head for three reasons. One, if you’re going to run an enduro, why do it using cars that racers actually have to build instead of just digging out of a junkyard? Two, why would anyone encourage racers to build a field of the ugliest car the world has seen since the Homer?

Congratulations!

Posted by HOT Speedway on Saturday, March 6, 2021

And third (and I will acknowledge I had to use a 2020 copy of the track’s purse for reference), the purse for this monstrosity of a race was posted at $11,980, with $2,500 going to the winner. For perspective, the track pays out $2,260 to it’s weekly IMCA modified racers. All 24 of them. It’s hard to stomach seeing drivers fielding full-size modified cars getting paid $50 for a top-10 finish when enduros are paying 50 times that.

Gonna end this week with a request. Having paid a ridiculous $32.99 to subscribe to Racin’ Dirt for the weekend’s USMTS modified events, the value of DirtVision’s $39.99 monthly subscription came into real clear focus. I’ve been very hard on the World of Outlaws the last few weeks, so I’ll take the opportunity here to praise DirtVision for the high production value it brings and for how organized WoO programs are. Heavy lies the crown, and there’s no doubt few do dirt races as well as the the WoO.

Having said that, DirtVision needs to provide replays of its programs immediately a la Flo Racing. Now. It was only through sheer dumb luck that I was able to switch between the late model program at Smoky Mountain and the sprint car program at East Bay on Saturday without missing a lap, and that still involved missing the sprint car dash. 

Instant replays. Please?!

Numbers Game

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

71 – largest single-class car count of the weekend, contesting the USMTS touring modified event at RPM Speedway on Friday night.

180 – largest car count of the weekend, contesting the Friday night program at RPM.

$12,000 – largest posted purse, to win Saturday night’s World of Outlaws Late Model event at Smoky Mountain Speedway.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give this weekend four and a half strong pulls of Prichards’ whiskey. The car counts were a bit off for the WoO in Florida and the USMTS show was more laborious than I’d hoped, but strong performances by Reutzel and Goforth meant the weekend had features worth watching.

Up Next: The modifieds take center stage this coming weekend, with the USMTS competing another $10,000 to win feature at the Humboldt Speedway and the Short Track Super Series returning to the Georgetown Speedway in Delaware for $10,049 to win. Coverage will be available on Racin Dirt and Flo Racing, respectively.

The World of Outlaws will return to the deep South for a second try after being frozen out last month, with a $10,000 to win feature slated for Magnolia Motor Speedway and The Rev in Louisiana. Coverage will be on DirtVision.

As for the late models, it’ll be a interesting weekend. The Comp Cams Late Models will tackle Boothill Speedway for a rescheduled $7,000 to win event, but there will be plenty of big money races available in unsanctioned races at Florence Speedway and Volunteer Speedway.