NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty, Vol. 14: 2021 Jason Johnson Classic at Lake Ozark

The A-Main: Defending World of Outlaws series champion Brad Sweet had a car that navigated the bumps of Lake Ozark Speedway better than any other car in the field, and that was what he needed to run away from Sheldon Haudenschild to comfortably win the $15,000 Jason Johnson Classic Saturday night (March 27). Sweet and Haudenschild were running on top of each other at the race’s midway point, but Sweet was able to slice through lapped traffic faster and cruise to victory.

Besieged by heavy rains earlier in the week, the Lake Ozark surface was bumpy all night long, though drivers in both the WoO and 305 sprint car support class told DirtVision during interviews trackside the track was not as treacherous as the bumps made it look. Despite that, after Jacob Allen went for a tumble on lap 7 after nearly flipping the lap before on the same bump, series officials opted to shorten Saturday’s feature from 41 laps to 30. It was a controversial decision, one that was audibly booed by the packed house in the grandstands (more on that later). Of note, the field ran the entire feature under green following Allen’s wreck.

The B-Mains

The story of the World of Outlaws Late Model Series twin-25s at Cherokee Speedway Friday was tires. In the first race, defending Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion Jimmy Owens finally broke into the win column by capitalizing after race leaders Chris Madden and Chris Ferguson made contact in the opening laps, damaging Madden’s car. Both Madden and series points leader Kyle Strickler succumbed to flat tires in the closing laps, losing top-five finishes.

Tires also decided the second 25-lapper that night, with Brandon Sheppard able to run down Dale McDowell on the high side with two laps to go thanks to running a harder right-rear tire during the race. 

McDowell, who finished second, told DirtonDirt, “we felt a [softer] 1350 [tire] would be OK on the right rear, and it was for 23 laps.”

Texas modified competitor Carlos Ahumada Jr. won his first career USMTS modified tour race Friday night at Humboldt Speedway in Kansas, holding off an extremely potent 2-3-4 running order of USMTS points leader Terry Phillips, Rodney Sanders and LOLMDS regular Ricky Thornton Jr. to score the $5,000 win. A field of more than 90 cars contested Friday’s program.

Saturday saw two more major-money features tackle Humboldt. Springfield, Mo.’s JC Morton made his case for hard charger of the weekend, coming from 20th on the high side to take the $10,000 Battle of the Bullring B-modified feature. Raymond, Miss.’s Brooks Strength then led 60 laps flag-to-flag to score the $20,000 King of America USMTS event, rebounding from a late-race penalty in Friday’s feature for taking out Phillips in turn 4.

A tip of the cap goes to the track prep crew at Bridgeport Motorsports Park, N.J. for prepping one of the best surfaces anywhere this weekend. Despite their efforts, Mike Maresca took the race lead after leader Oley, Pa.’s Duane Howard had an engine expire early and never looked back, dominating the $6,000 Kingdom of Speed in his center-drive modified.

Lake City, Fla.’s Wayne Risner won the $5,000 Sport Compact Dirt Racing Association four-cylinder feature at All-Tech Raceway in Florida. And, in the race of the weekend, Verona, Ky.’s Josh Rice won a wild $5,000 super late model special at Florence Speedway in South Carolina. More on this gem later.

Success Stories

Rice for showing no mercy through the lapped cars at Florence, and runner-up Tyler Erb for continually trying aggressive moves and picks using lapped cars that, while unsuccessful, kept the action up front spicy. More on this one to come.

Sweet and Haudenschild for showing the rest of the field at Lake Ozark Speedway on Saturday how to handle a bumpy track and still put on a show worth watching.

Ahumada, for scoring a first career USMTS win in style. Holding off a driver the caliber of Phillips, Sanders or Thornton is a job in itself. Holding off all three at once definitely earned a $5,000 check.

Lastly, we’ll let the caption speak for itself. A big congratulations to Harrisonville, Pa.’s Scott Sipes.

Scott Sipes parks it in victory lane for first time in 15 years! He takes the Hobby Stock Opener! 🚗💨🏁1. 15-Scott…

Posted by Hagerstown Speedway on Saturday, March 27, 2021

Vexxed, Victims and Villains

Cullman, Ala.’s Kevin Thomas Jr. was running in the top three in the annual No Way Out 40 wingless sprint car race Saturday night at Brownstown Speedway when he got clobbered out of the way on a mid-race restart. Thomas fought his way back, and when defending USAC Sprint Car champion Brady Bacon had a breakdown on the race’s final restart, it was Thomas that drove off to the $7,000 victory. Why did this not classify as a Success Story? Because after watching Thomas’s recent antics, those that believe in karma will need to reevaluate a bit.

Jacob Allen, who has now flipped while running in the top five in two consecutive WoO features. More on that later.

Strength redeemed himself with a $20,000 win Saturday, but on Friday, his display on track was anything but a show of strength. After a mid-race slide job that saw veteran Phillips best Strength exiting turn 2 on a restart, Strength bulldozed into Phillips in turn 4 during the same lap in what was easily the most brazen on-track incident the USMTS tour has seen in 2021.

We’re going to end this section with a couple of true victims. First, the good news. The indomitable Red Farmer and his wife were unhurt by a tornado that ravaged their community earlier this week. Here’s the bad news: Farmer’s race car didn’t fare so well (Farmer did not compete at Talladega Short Track on Saturday).

Red and family are ok….race car and hauler took a direct hit.

Posted by Talladega Short Track on Thursday, March 25, 2021

Lastly, a get well soon to Jonestown, Pa.’s Bryan Bernheisel after he endured a savage crash at Williams Grove Speedway in his late model Friday.

Despite the tweet above, DirtonDirt reported that Bernheisel was set to undergo surgery Sunday to stabilize a neck fracture sustained during the crash. All of us at Frontstretch send best wishes for a complete and speedy recovery.

Frontstretch Regulars

Former Truck Series regular Tyler Dippel went behind the wall barely a third of the way into Saturday’s Kingdom of Speed center-drive modified feature at Bridgeport. He finished 27th out of 29 cars.

Former Cup Series regular Ken Schrader won both his heat race and the IMCA modified feature Saturday at Legit Motorsports Park in West Plains, Mo., topping a feature field of 22 cars.

Fanning the Flames

No, I don’t plan to watch the Food City Dirt Race. Or the Pinty’s Dirt Truck Race. We have 35 other writers on staff that’ll yak your ears off about them. I will, however, credit our friends at Port Royal Speedway for having the most constructive suggestion for improvement at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Rain delay at Bristol.

Posted by Port Royal Speedway on Sunday, March 28, 2021

The success story of the weekend when it comes to dirt tracks goes to the crew at the Cherokee Speedway, which reconfigured its entire racing surface after seeing the Southern All-Star Series season-opening race turn into a single-file parade a few weeks ago. 

As a result of the reconfiguration, Friday night’s WoO LM doubleheader proved far more competitive, with Sheppard’s ability to run down McDowell in the closing laps one of the highlights of the weekend. That’s the beauty of dirt tracks: they work when you work them.

Despite that success, even the mighty Cherokee Speedway wasn’t immune to the weather gods lashing out at dirt racing this weekend. Mother Nature forced a postponement of the $20,000-to-win debut of the Flo Racing midweek racing series at 411 Motor Speedway, the $10,053-to-win Spring Nationals at I-75 Raceway, the $12,000-to-win MARS late model tour season opener at La Salle Speedway, and above all, the $40,000-to-win Rock Gault Memorial at Cherokee. I can’t remember the last weekend that saw the four biggest dirt races in the country rain out. Here’s hoping this memory fades.

Old Glory should never be allowed to fade. Revisiting the first edition of this column, Stockton Dirt Track finally took care of a glaring problem.

Thank you to Sam Solari for bring your lift out to repair our flag pole & hang our new flag ❤️💙🤍

Posted by Stockton Dirt Track on Saturday, March 27, 2021

There’s no getting around it: having the late Jason Johnson’s son Jaxx in victory lane to celebrate with the victor of the Jason Johnson Classic race is about as cool a celebration as can be found in American motorsports. Jason, all of us dirt fans out there still miss seeing you on track.

What was not cool, at all, was the officiating of said Jason Johnson Classic at Lake Ozark on Saturday night. Yes, the surface at Lake Ozark was bumpy when the feature took the green. It was also bumpy during the LCQ. And the dash. And the heat races. And the 305 sprint car feature that ran before the WoO feature went green. Yet despite the races going off without any abnormal spate of crashes or damaged cars (the only unusual occurrence was seeing Parker Price-Miller have to be checked out on track after a chunk of mud damaged his rock screen during the LCQ, and he opted to stay in his car and continue), as soon as Allen flipped in turn 2 early in the feature, it wasn’t 60 seconds before the WoO cut the feature length from 41 laps to 30. 

There is no good explanation for this decision, period, and it speaks volumes that I had to pull a Tweet from an unofficial Twitter account to document it… because the actual WoO Twitter feed did not make such a posting. The safety argument here just does not hold water. If the track was unsafe, the feature should not have gone green, period. 30 laps of sprint car racing is still all the time in the world for something bad to happen.

Seeing Allen flip is also no good explanation for this move. First of all, flips are not uncommon in WoO competition, regardless of track conditions. Second, flips are not uncommon to Jacob Allen. In fact, this was the second straight WoO feature that Allen has flipped in, and his flip last week at Cotton Bowl had nothing to do with a bumpy track. What’s more, go back and watch the replay of Allen’s last lap before his flip. He took the exact same run into turn 2 and nearly flipped his car. A driver hitting a bump, struggling with his car, then proceeding to do the exact same thing the very next lap is not proof of a bad track, it’s a driver driving over his head. Just like when Allen wrecked himself while leading last week at Cotton Bowl.

Never mind the fact that the best racing of the feature came 10 or so laps later when both Sweet and Haudenschild navigated the EXACT same part of the track side-by-side with no issue. Never mind that the one driver asked about shortening the feature in DirtVision’s post-race interviews, third-place finisher James McFadden, in no way, shape or form commended the move. Instead, he lamented how much better his car was getting on the long run at feature’s end. Never mind the fact that, sans Allen’s flip, the entire feature went caution free despite the bumpy track.

The fans at Lake Ozark roundly booed the announcement of the feature shortage. They should have. And while I know this call likely wasn’t Lake Ozark Speedway’s fault, I will point out I’ve been to exactly one dirt track event in my time where it was announced after I paid for my ticket and took a seat in the grandstand that the feature length was being cut. That was Hagerstown Speedway in 2011. Despite the track being only 45 minutes from my house, I haven’t been back since.

Rant over; instead, let’s end on a positive note. Saturday’s super late model special at Florence had the look and feel of when ARCA racing used to be fun. Track conditions as rough as the old Salem Speedway. Lapped cars so slow when compared to the leaders that putting cars a lap down looked like Goose and Maverick chasing down the Red Baron’s biplane. And the few cars that were the class of the field found themselves slicing and dicing with each other when the lappers weren’t in the way. 

I wrote last week that the inaugural Eldora Speedway NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race was one of the most electric environments I’ve ever been in. The 2008 Carolina 500 ARCA race at Rockingham was another, highlighted by a shirtless man sitting a few rows down from me who screamed “ROCKINGHAM” every time the leader drove past… until he strolled down to the catchfence and tried to climb it. How does this relate to Florence? Midway through Saturday’s super late race, the track PA had to ask the grandstand crowd to return to their seats, as a fan was reaching over the railing, egging on the racecars. That’s always a sign of a damn good show.

Numbers Game

26.8% – the length Saturday’s WoO feature at Lake Ozark was shortened after the green flag dropped.

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

200 – largest car count this weekend, seen at Humboldt Speedway Friday night. Had the B-mods not been split the way they had across the weekend, this number would have been higher.

$15,000 – largest purse contested this weekend, the WoO feature at Lake Ozark Saturday.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): This weekend gets two lukewarm Michelob Ultras. Weak sauce officiating and rain everywhere makes a watery low-calorie beer an appropriate metaphor. Though we’ll tack on a strong pull of Maker’s Mark for the late model show in Florence, Ky. being so damned good.

Up Next: Modified fans can turn their eyes to the USMTS modified Spring Challenge at 34 Raceway in West Burlington, Iowa. The $10,000-to-win feature will be streamed on RacinDirt. 

The World of Outlaws will headline the sprint car scene with a pair of $10,000-to-win features Friday and Saturday night at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 in Pevely, Mo., both of which will be streamed on DirtVision. 

As for the late models, Saturday night has a pair of major-money events. The World of Outlaws Late Models will run the annual Illini 100 at the Farmer City Raceway for $20,000-to-win while the Iron-Man Late Model Series will tackle Tennessee’s Tazewell Speedway for $21,000-to-win. Streaming will be provided on DirtVision and Flo Racing, respectively.

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Tom B

Yes, it seems like Dirt Sprint Car Racing is doing very well. I remember back when it looked like 410 Sprint Cars were dying off. About the same time the Indy 500 only had 30-33 entries from 40-50 entries. We all thought the World of Outlaws was done after Kinser, Swindell and Wolfgang quit running full time.

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