DirtonDirt this week printed what everyone that follows dirt late model racing has had on their brains at least once this season: that the best driver in the country wheeling a super late model isn’t running for a points championship in 2021. At least not yet.
Move over World of Outlaws Late Models. “Big Sexy” Brandon Overton is running a true “outlaw” schedule in 2021, cherrypicking big-money races regardless of sanction. And having capped the previous weekend with a flawless flag-to-flag win in the 60-lap, $10,000 to win season opener for the Southern All-Stars Tour at Cherokee Speedway, the boisterous PA booth at Cherokee weren’t out of line calling Overton the hottest driver nationwide in dirt racing.
That’s not to say that Overton doesn’t have competition. Jonathan Davenport has won more money this far into 2021, and his No. 49 team returned to form the past weekend (Davenport finished runner-up to Overton at Cherokee on Sunday). Chris Madden, it could be argued, proved equally hot over the weekend, dominating the World of Outlaws Late Model feature at Smoky Mountain Saturday night (a race where Overton finished 11th) only a week off winning the Xtreme DIRTcar points title. Only illness kept Madden from challenging Overton at Cherokee on Sunday.
Even with the competition though, Overton is turning heads for good reason. Subtract the Saturday night showing at Smoky Mountain where the No. 76 team struggled in qualifying and never recovered on a track surface that never widened out, and Overton has won his heat race and feature in the last three events he’s contested. Events that criss-crossed three different tracks in three different states under three different sanctions.
Having that kind of success across the diversity of the schedule is what makes Overton’s 2021 campaign stand out so far. Davenport started the year out smoking hot by scoring three wins at the Arizona Speedway in January’s Wild West Shootout. He hasn’t visited victory lane since. Highly touted rookie Kyle Strickler proved all but untouchable at Volusia Speedway Park, but away from those friendly confines the season has been a mixed bag.
Only perhaps Tyler Erb, who scored multiple race wins on both the high-speed Arizona Speedway and the tight East Bay Raceway Park bullrings could point to such a variety of success. But when Erb returned from the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series hiatus to run at Cherokee this past Sunday, he was a complete non-factor in doing so.
Yes, I am arguing that Overton, the “outlaw” in the super late community, is having a run of form that tops the nation’s leading money winner in Davenport, the WoO LM points leader in Strickler and a driver in Erb that was the storyline of Speedweeks when the LOLMDS took residency at East Bay.
Agree or disagree with my case, so be it. Even if race fans don’t agree with the case, no one can argue the notion that Overton is the nation’s hottest driver with fenders isn’t at least credible.
And that’s the best possible news that dirt racing can ask for.
There are so many positives to take. Overton currently leads the LOLMDS points, yet has not committed to running the tour full-time. His own web page currently has a nice big gaping hole for the month of March after this weekend’s races at Cochran Motor Speedway, leaving the No. 76 team with two tantalizing options – to keep following the LOLMDS points and head to Brownstown, Indiana, or to load up and head to the Bristol Nationals for a shot at a $50,000 payday, the biggest-paying super late model race of 2021 thus far.
Why is this a good thing? Two reasons. One, the very nature of dirt racing is not conducive to points chasing. With the average super late model national schedule running 50-60 events a year, each race rivals a Major League Baseball game in terms of its overall worth to the season title. And unlike the MLB, where home fans will see enough home games to make following the standings a worthwhile exercise, dirt fans, if they’re lucky, will see a national tour at their track a couple times a season. I can safely say when I’m at my home track on super late model night, I’m not there to see Trevor Feathers stroke it for a fifth-place finish, I’m there to see him go to-to-toe with the Satterlees of the world and win one for Winchester. Virginia that is. We don’t do asphalt here.
Which comes back to Overton. A driver with the nickname “Big Sexy” damn well better have talent, and he’s got it in droves. Watching talent go for wins without the constraints of points to worry about makes dirt racing exciting. Just look at what Kyle Larson was able to do when we he was able to race without the overhead of points racing last season. Though this isn’t a uniformly held opinion here at Frontstretch, I’m proud of what Larson has achieved in 2021. But I also can’t be the only dirt fan hoping something brings him back to dirt tracks full-time. The sport’s so much better with him in it on the regular.
I said there were two reasons that Overton’s outlaw schedule were of benefit to dirt racing, and the second ties into being able to pick and choose as a driver. Why does that matter? Because it puts serious power back into race promoters’ hands. Without the monopoly that has kept NASCAR racing’s schedules as stale as peppermint bark in February, dirt promoters have an open playbook to spend money and get creative as a means to draw cars and fans.
Just take a look at the rest of this month for dirt racing. The LOLMDS will run only twice this month. The WoO late models, only three times. Yet despite the national sanctions being remarkably quiet, there’s big money races abound.
$5,000 to win the Toilet Bowl at Clarksville. $5,000 to win at Cochran. $12,000 to win the MARS regional tour opener at La Salle. $20,000 to win in the inaugural event of Flo Racing’s mid-week super late model tour at 411 Motor Speedway. And yes, that $50,000 behemoth at Bristol.
Call it free market, call it open competition, call it whatever you like: it’s all good for dirt racing. Drivers picking and choosing their shots diversifies fields and creates unique competitions. The suspense of not knowing until the gates open which drivers are going to show up for race day creates palpable tension for both fans and competitors alike. Before COVID, at my home track, there’d be race days I’d make a point to park my truck as close to the pit gate as possible … because watching the haulers enter and jotting down a makeshift entry list was as suspenseful as heat racing often was.
And again, about those promoters. Having big-name drivers unencumbered by points or regular status means they can do whatever is in their power to put on a successful race. Appearance fees? No problem. Bigger purses? Do it. Promoters’ provisionals? OK, I hate that one, but it just goes to show that dirt racing is the land of opportunity for all involved.
Anyone that regularly has been reading our dirt content here at Frontstretch (thank you) or has been around long enough to remember that I used to write the NASCAR version of Thinkin’ Out Loud here (break the cycle of abuse, come to the dirt side) will notice that Thinkin’ Dirty no longer has a “What’s the Points?” section in it.
There’s two reasons for that. One, because who cares? I haven’t taken math since freshman year of college and I like it that way, thank you. And two, because drivers like Brandon Overton are making such considerations irrelevant. Running an outlaw schedule makes dollars and trophies all that matters.
So is Big Sexy coming to a track near you? Admit it, not knowing based solely on the sanctioning body hosting the race makes race week anticipation all the more sweet.