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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty, Vol. 12: 2021 Gobbler at Cochran

The Main Event: It was a race that took nearly five months to run, but Brandon Overton’s momentum from the 2020 season has only intensified in 2021, and that left “Big Sexy” in position to obliterate the field in Friday night’s rescheduled Gobbler super late model race at Cochran Motor Speedway in Cochran, Ga. Taking the lead from Kyle Bronson on lap 6, Overton led the remaining 70 laps of the race, easily taking home a $20,000 paycheck.

Overton, who unofficially became the nation’s leading money winner in 2021 courtesy of his Gobbler victory, said in victory lane that his No. 76 on Friday was “one of the best cars he’s ever driven.” Overton’s dominant victory was the highlight of a banner weekend for the Overton family in Georgia; Brandon was arguably the fastest car in the 604 crate late model feature that same night, going from 18th to sixth in the final running order, while younger brother Cody Overton won the 602 late model feature. Brandon followed that up by winning a $5,000 super late model feature at Cochran Saturday night.

The B-Mains

Both World of Outlaws features as part of their deep South swing were decided in the closing laps. Friday night saw Sheldon Haudenschild capitalize on Logan Schuchart’s troubles with lapped traffic, diving for the lead in turn 4 with five laps to go to score the $10,000 win at Magnolia Motor Speedway in Mississippi. As for Saturday, David Gravel emerged victorious in a thrilling back-and-forth battle with defending series champion Brad Sweet in the inaugural WoO race at Revolution Park in Monroe, La., a race that saw the lead change at least a dozen times. Easily the best sprint car race of 2021.

Robeline, La.’s Cade Dillard finally got the 2021 monkey off his back and grabbed a win, scoring the $7,000 Ronny Adams Memorial race to cap the season-opening weekend for the Comp-Cams Super Dirt Series at Boothill Speedway in Greenwood, La. Saturday night. Dillard’s win was all but handed to him after an ugly lap 19 incident that saw Billy Moyer Sr. wreck Timothy Culp from the race lead coming down the frontstretch. Defending Comp-Cams points champion Logan Martin won the $3,000 preliminary feature at Boothill on Friday night.

The Southern All-Star Series looked anything but with a pair of wreck-filled events at the Southern Raceway in Milton, Fla. On Friday, Kannapolis, N.C.’s GR Smith used a power move that he deemed a “chess move” on local hero Joseph Joiner inside of 10 laps to go to grab the $3,000 win. Saturday night saw another battle between Joiner and Smith, but for second and third. The $5,000 win Saturday instead went to a dominant Rusty Schlenk, who led 50 laps flag to flag.

In the closest thing to a Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event this weekend, LOLMDS rookie Ricky Thornton Jr. got the best of defending series champion Jimmy Owens to score a wildly entertaining $10,000 win in the annual Spring 50 at the Florence Speedway in South Carolina. In a race contested on a track surface rougher than being related to the royal family, Thornton pounced on a dominant Owens on lap 44 when Owens’ No. 20 car caught a bad rut in turn 2 and jumped entirely airborne, allowing Thornton to grab the track’s only preferred lane that was clear of potholes.

That Saturday’s race had only three yellow flags despite the track conditions was a testament to the talent in the field.

Stewart Friesen stole the $4,049 Melvin Joseph Memorial race win for the small-block center-drive modifieds Friday night at the Georgetown Speedway in Delaware on the last lap. Capitalizing on Rick Laubach’s failure to navigate lapped traffic in the closing laps, Friesen revved up on the track’s high side through 1 and 2 and literally drove off the backstretch to set up a race-winning pass in turn 4. Friesen led the opening 28 laps of Saturday’s Short Track Super Series race from the pole at Georgetown, but was eventually bested by Matt Sheppard to score the $10,049 paycheck for the big block modifieds.

Benton, Ky.’s Tanner English broke the track record at Crossville Speedway and led flag-to-flag to win the super late feature of the annual Toilet Bowl race, scoring $5,000 and arguably the most unique trophy in racing this side of a grandfather clock.

Chandler, Az.’s Tim Ward won the $3,000 IMCA modified headline event of the Southern Stampede Thursday night at Southern Oklahoma Speedway. Powder Springs, Ga.’s Randy Weaver scored the $3,000 Shamrock Race win at Boyd’s Speedway in Ringgold, Ga. on Saturday, this time in far less contentious fashion than his Cabin Fever win in January. Rock Hill, S.C.’s Ben Watkins led flag-to-flag to win the $5,000 Rose City Rumble feature with the Carolina Clash Late Models at the Lancaster Motor Speedway.

410 sprint cars were plentiful this weekend outside the World of Outlaws sanction. Loomis, Calif.’s Max Adams scored a $3,000 win in the USAC CRA sprint car opener at Kern County Raceway Park, though his win was arguably upstaged by the wild ride eight-time series champion Damion Gardner took in the opening laps:

Fayetteville, Pa.’s Lance Dewease scored the $5,000 season opening 410 winged sprint car win at Port Royal Speedway Saturday afternoon. Gettysburg, Pa.’s Danny Dietrich won a wreck-filled 410 winged spring feature at the Lincoln Speedway as well. Closing out the weekend in Pennsylvania was Salfordsville, Pa.’s Freddie Rahmer, who won the $5,500 season opener at Williams Grove Speedway.

Success Stories

His dominance at Cochran on Friday night has already been discussed. This author wrote on Thursday that Brandon Overton was the hottest super late model driver in America. Thanks to “Big Sexy” for making this writer look smart.

Thornton drove far from a perfect race at Florence on Saturday, as his car went nearly as airborne as Owens’ did on several occasions navigating the part of turn 4 that the track announcers deemed “the hole.” Had the lap 33 caution flag not waved, there was no chance anyone was catching Owens. But the yellow did fly, and for Thornton, as a super late model rookie, to show the adaptability he did in figuring out a line to avoid the potholes and best one of the South’s top drivers in a major-money race was a coming-out moment. Thornton’s for real, folks.

A tip of the cap to WoO regulars Gravel and Sweet for putting on easily the best sprint car race of the 2021 season at Revolution Park Saturday night. This writer has previously labeled a January super late battle at Arizona Speedway between Tyler Erb and Thornton as the race of the year. Saturday night’s WoO feature was the sprint car equivalent. Seeing the two drivers congratulate each other post-race was icing on the cake after seeing two of the best at their best.

Lastly, in the hidden gem of the weekend, another tip of the cap to all involved in the first Comp-Cams B-main event Friday at Boothill. Watch the tape and enjoy.

Vexxed, Villains & Victims

Schuchart was pitching a perfect game at Magnolia during Friday’s WoO program, having posted fast time in qualifying, won his heat race and the dash while leading the first 25 laps of the feature. To end up losing said feature due to dilly-dallying with lapped traffic was a major failure for a driver that’s been a series standout thus far in 2021.

It’s hard to tell what was more painful for Coldwater, Miss.’s Brandon Carpenter after a wreck tipped his late model on the frontstretch at Southern Raceway on Friday…the wreck itself, or the impact when the infielders that rushed to his car pushed the thing back onto its wheels by dropping the car rather than waiting for a wrecker.

This one started as a simple case of a victim and a villain. Moyer wrecked Culp from the race lead midway through Saturday’s feature at Boothill. Villain. Victim. But any sympathy card Culp had to play went out the window courtesy of his antics after the wreck Saturday. Culp had every reason to be angry, and opting to pull his damaged car in front of Moyer’s to block his exit from the track for a few minutes was a measured response. However, Culp pitting to get fresh tires, then re-assuming the race lead on the track and refusing to go to the rear despite the Comp-Cams Super Dirt Series rulebook being crystal clear that cars stopped on track as part of an incident must do so.

After race control threatened to black flag Culp for failure to yield, Culp opted to fake a return to pit road and run another lap on track before falling in line, only to pull his car off the track. It was the equivalent of a temper tantrum. And while I admire Culp’s willingness to take it to his enemies per his social media postings, I don’t understand or condone his decision to loop Moyer’s son, fellow super late driver Billy Moyer Jr., into this. Dirt racing’s Noah Gragson?

Finally, everyone unfortunate enough to field a car in the 604 late model class at Revolution Park Saturday night. Four yellows to get one lap done in the first heat. Four hard wrecks in the opening two laps of the feature. Whether there are enough crate late models left to field a weekly class for the obviously race-hungry fans in Monroe remains to be seen after Saturday night’s massacre.

Frontstretch Regulars

Cup Series rookie Chase Briscoe finished fourth in Wednesday’s wingless micro sprint feature at Millbridge Speedway in Salisbury, N.C.

Former Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed led the first 25 laps of Wednesday night’s wingless micro sprint feature at Millbridge, but his shot at victory went out the window on lap 26 when Denver, N.C.’s Brent Crews threw a slide job on Creed that slammed his No. 74 into the turn 4 wall and flipped the car. Creed was uninjured but his race was over.

Former Truck Series regular Tyler Dippel scored top-fives in both major modified features at Georgetown this weekend.

Truck Series regular Friesen proved that he remains the undisputed king of center-drive modifieds with a race win Friday night at Georgetown that was pass-in-the-grass worthy.

Though Friesen was bested Saturday by Sheppard, his drive to victory Friday was the highlight of the Georgetown weekend.

Truck Series regular Tanner Gray was reported to have flipped over on lap 8 of Wednesday night’s wingless micro feature at Millbridge, though he landed right side up (the Speed51 cameras did not catch the incident). Gray failed to complete the feature.

Former Cup Series regular Kasey Kahne won the hard charger award in WoO competition Friday night at Magnolia, going from 23rd to fifth after struggling to make the feature in the B-main. Kahne’s hot streak carried him to a heat race and dash win Saturday night at Revolution Park in Louisiana, but he quickly fell from the lead in Saturday’s feature. He finished sixth.

2012 Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski finished dead last in his “consi” race Friday night at Cochran (all 27 cars at the track started the feature, so no idea how they called it a consi), but caught on enough to finish 12th without incident in the crate late model feature.

2018 Truck Series champion Brett Moffitt suffered a mechanical failure and failed to finish the wingless micro sprint feature Wednesday night at Millbridge.

Fanning the Flames

Two thoughts watching a Truck Series champion in Creed literally getting flipped over by a teenager in a mid-week micro sprint race. One, as emphasized by Keselowski in an interview he did with Flo Racing at Cochran this weekend, I can fully understand why car owners insist on contract provisions limiting, if not prohibiting, their big-league drivers from playing around on short tracks.

Two, while I give Creed all the credit in the world for shaking the incident off (the Speed51 cameras captured him laughing it up with some of the go-kart drivers in the pits just minutes later), it’s not like he had a choice… the driver that wrecked him is a literal minor. Creed was done amply wrong by Crews in the race… three laps before the flip, Crews had already put Creed in the wall with another over-ambitious slide job. Had Creed wanted to give Crews a piece of his mind, he had ample ground. But, because it’s adult vs. minor, Creed ultimately is left with no choice but to grin and bear it despite his racecar being destroyed. As I’ve written previously this season, no wonder entitlement’s running wild these days.

I couldn’t help but notice during victory lane interviews Friday at Cochran that the track’s catchfence featured signs that said “no profanity.” As much as such signage would tempt me to drop an F-bomb the same way it’s tempting to emphasize the word “bomb” on an airplane, I’m going to give that effort a thumbs up. Even pleas for basic decorum are too rare these days.

I’m going to give another fanbase down South a well-deserved shoutout this weekend. Upon announcing that the entirety of the World of Outlaws program Saturday night in Louisiana went through every lap they ran, from hot laps to the checkered flag, without a single yellow flag flying, the sold-out grandstand erupted in unanimous applause. Good luck getting that reaction in NASCAR-land.

While we’re in Monroe, La., the most fortuitous decision race officials made all weekend was to reorganize the program and run the sprint cars before the crate late model support feature. Sprint car winner Gravel thanked the track for doing that because it prevented the track from taking rubber, but let’s be real… this decision was made because the 604 crate late model class embarrassed itself with its showing during heat races. That the crate feature later that night resembled a demolition derby further validated the call.

The Georgetown Speedway in Delaware is close to where they filmed The Blair Witch Project, so it’s not surprising the facility’s lack of lighting made it look like The Blair Witch Project. And that the audio feed from lap 29 on Saturday night sounded like The Blair Witch Project.

In all seriousness, I’m thrilled that the Short Track Super Series has moved from Dirt Track Digest pay-per-view to Flo Racing, but between the track’s everlasting darkness and weekend-long camera and audio challenges, it wasn’t a great debut from a technical perspective.

Cup champion Keselowski accomplished what he wanted to in a crate late model at Cochran Friday night, but he also was a literal non-factor in the event, finishing off the lead lap in 12th. The fact that Flo Racing covered said late model feature in a way that highlighted the drivers deciding the race and left Keselowski all but invisible throughout the broadcast is a credit to their work. After watching the Chase Elliott lovefest NBC turned the Rolex 24 into back in January, maybe someone ought to gift the networks a Flo subscription and a notepad.

Go back and watch the replay from the lap 14 yellow in the Spring 50 at Florence when Hudson O’Neal turns into the track infield. Now repeat after me: There should never be children allowed in a live pit infield of a working dirt track. EVER.

Prior to Friday night’s rescheduled Gobbler super late model race at Cochran (a race where the heats had set the field way back in November), Brandon Overton scored about a dozen laps of track time immediately prior courtesy of a 604 crate late model consi feature. Immediately prior to Thursday night’s IMCA Sportmod feature at Southern Oklahoma Speedway, Boyd, Texas driver Dean Abbey ran the track’s pure stock feature, a race that saw the track’s high side come into play in a big way. The common denominator? Both drivers turned that track time into dominance; Overton laid waste to the super late model field at Cochran, while Abbey had the Sportmod feature win sewed up by using said high-line until he incurred a penalty inside of 10 laps to go for spinning a lapped car.

Double duty is a tricky devil for dirt tracks. On the one hand, if big-league NASCAR has taught race fans anything, it’s that creating a situation where big names and teams are both incentivized and necessitated to pursue double duty for the sake of seat time, it’s not going to bode well for the lower ranks. And frankly, Brandon Overton, the nation’s leading money winner after scoring a $20,000 payday on Friday, has no business racing in a crate late model these days. On the other hand, given the ever-growing expense of racing in any class, car count matters at all racetracks these days, both from a fan perspective and a promoter’s pocketbook:

Atten Drivers…You can run in two different classes as long as you have two separate cars and buy two pit passes….

Posted by Boyd's Speedway on Saturday, March 13, 2021

It’s handled different ways across the country, with some tracks outright prohibiting racers from contesting more than one class on a given night. Unlike the great Cup/Xfinity Series debate, in dirt land the answer to this question isn’t black and white.

We’ll finish this week up staying in southern Oklahoma. As mentioned, Abbey lost what was likely a sure race win after incurring a penalty for spinning a lap car. Per the track PA, the penalty was incurred thanks to a track rule prohibiting said contact. I was not able to find that citation in the track’s online rulebook, but again, being that this is dirt tracking, I can’t say that I’m opposed to such a rule.

Given that I spent my time as a NASCAR commentator consistently advocating for officials to get out of the way and let drivers police themselves, such a stance may seem a flip-flop. I’d argue instead it reflects an understanding that dirt racing is different. The weekend’s program at SOS was not a touring series, where the same drivers race each other every weekend and thus have the ability to keep each other in check on the track. Rather, Thursday’s program at SOS was an IMCA special event that saw entries from New Mexico to Minnesota converge in Oklahoma. Without such a rule in place, there’d be nothing stopping traveling drivers from running roughshod over the field for major events. And that’s before considering the fact that the average dirt racer isn’t a Cup team that has 20 cars in reserve should they tear one up. After railing against the rulebook last weekend, I’m siding with it for this one.

Numbers Game

0 – number of caution flags thrown during the entire World of Outlaws program at Revolution Park Saturday night. The track’s crate late models more than made up for it.

59 – number of dirt tracks scheduled/reported to host oval-track events this weekend.

211 – largest total car count, reported at Georgetown Speedway on Friday night.

$20,000 – largest posted purse this weekend, to win the rescheduled Gobbler super late model race at Cochran.

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 five Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ales in honor of the rescheduled Gobbler and the giant turkey sandwich I ate watching it. Best sprint car race of the year, big money late model shows abound and Friesen making me pay attention to a center-drive modified race was a solid weekend showing for the dirt racing world.

Up Next: The Bristol Nationals, or the first and best of all the dirt events that will tackle America’s newest dirt track. The only way to watch is to get an RaceXR+ subscription. Racing starts tomorrow.

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