The A-Main: David Gravel swept the World of Outlaws Bristol Throwdown on Sunday (April 25), winning the $25,000 finale feature in a green-white-checkered finish over Donny Schatz. Gravel took the lead on lap 24 after pole sitter Logan Schuchart led the first 23 laps, only for Schuchart to break on the backstretch and bring out the yellow flag as Gravel was heading to the checkers.
It may be dirt covered concrete but this weekend….Bristol was covered in Gravel. pic.twitter.com/TmbC0L7Tdv
— Ross Wece (@RossWece) April 25, 2021
Gravel’s weekend peaked after he pitched a perfect game Friday night on the same Bristol high banks, posting fast time, winning his heat race, the dash and the $10,000 opening night feature. Gravel did catch an assist on Friday, however, as a late-race yellow derailed the momentum Aaron Reutzel had on the high side that had him running down the race leader.
High speeds kept passing to a premium at the temporary dirt track. All 12 heat races, dashes, last-chance qualifiers and features that the WoO sprint cars ran this weekend at Bristol were won from the front row. That said, the speeds were jaw-dropping; Schuchart’s pole-winning run Sunday averaged more than 142 mph around the half-mile facility.
The Super DIRTcar Series also played host to a sweep this weekend at Bristol, though its races were far more competitive events. Stewart Friesen came from eighth to first to win Friday night’s $6,000 feature, then came back Sunday afternoon and put on a show, besting veteran Mike Mahaney in traffic with 15 laps to go, then holding off a strong charge from Demetrios Dellos to win the $10,000 race. Friesen has won the first three Super DIRTcar events in 2021.
With one race still to go Sunday night at the time of this writing, the USAC national sprint car tour’s “Keystone Invasion” in Pennsylvania was chock full of firsts. Points leader Brady Bacon scored his first win of 2021 Thursday night at Grandview Speedway. Rookie Tanner Thorson scored his first career win Friday at Big Diamond Speedway. Then Saturday, CJ Leary scored the win at BAPS Motor Speedway, marking the first win for a Ford engine in the series since 2011.
.@CJ_Leary_ withstood a bevy of bombs fired at him for the lead down the stretch of Saturday's USAC @AMSOILINC National Sprint matinee at @bapsrace, which marked the first series victory by a Ford engine in a decade.
— USAC Racing (@USACNation) April 25, 2021
Devin Moran, for the second time in three weeks, bested even big-money Jonathan Davenport for the biggest late model prize of the weekend, leading flag-to-flag to win the $22,000 Fireball 50 Thursday night at Atomic Speedway in Ohio. Davenport challenged Moran on several occasions and was in position to assume the lead inside of 15 to go when a caution flag flew and bailed out Moran, as Davenport was never able to regain momentum.
After winning last Saturday at Hagerstown with a last-lap pass, this time Tim McCreadie led flag-to-flag to win Friday night’s 40-lap World of Outlaws Late Models feature at the Richmond (Ky.) Speedway. Passing proved at a premium all night in the series debut at the Kentucky bullring, leading the track to issue a post-race statement addressing the track conditions.
Rocky Warner led the 40-lap Montgomery County Open center-modified race flag-to-flag to win $12,000 at Fonda Speedway in New York, as well as lock into the Fonda 200 field later this fall. Finally, Ross Bailes grabbed a $6,000 super late model win on the Carolina Clash Late Model tour at Lavonia Speedway on Friday night.
While much of the coverage in this column has harked on the ongoing duel of Davenport and Brandon Overton at the top of the nation’s super late model ranks, both Moran and McCreadie are riding hot streaks of their own. In the last three weeks, Moran has now posted two $20,000-plus victories at Bristol and Atomic, while McCreadie has scored wins on both the WoO LM and Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series tours in a span of six days.
It wasn’t easy or pretty, just as all of 2021 has been, but defending LOLMDS champion Jimmy Owens still managed to score a top-five finish despite finding the wall in his heat race and incurring damage in an early-race incident at Atomic on Thursday.
It’s noteworthy enough that USAC sprint car rookie Thorson scored his first career win at the Big Diamond Speedway in Pennsylvania Friday night, but even more so is the list he joined in doing so. Current Cup Series regular Ricky Stenhouse Jr., former USAC national midget champion Cole Whitt and defending USAC national midget champion Chris Windom all scored their first career USAC sprint car wins at Big Diamond.
East coast crate late model racing got a double dose of giant killing this weekend. Defending Potomac Speedway champion Jeremy Pilkerton bested Kyle Hardy a week after Hardy swept the RUSH Crate Late Model Series “Battle of the Bay” competition, while Cody Pritchett snapped a major streak down south at Lavonia.
Shane Gobolic scored convincing wins in 360 winged sprint competition at both Ocean Speedway on Friday night and Petaluma Speedway on Saturday. Gobolic wasn’t the only NoS-sponsored driver to score a sweep either on the weekend (more on that later).
In what was easily the race of the weekend, Murphy, N.C.’s David Payne narrowly bested Tennessee ringer Cory Hedgecock to win Friday night’s Schaeffer’s Spring Nationals super late model feature on a very racy Tri-County Racetrack in Brasstown, N.C. Payne’s race-winning pass came courtesy of Hedgecock making contact with a lapped car. However, the defense he put on in the closing 10 laps to hold the win was worthy.
Vexed, Villains & Victims
Speaking of Hedgecock, who had the fast car at Tri-County Friday night, for as vexed as he was to have one bad corner with lap traffic cost him a win, credit to him for a very classy and composed post-race interview.
Richmond, Ind.’s Steve Casebolt spun twice during hot laps and slammed the turn 2 wall during his heat race Thursday night at Atomic. He failed to qualify for the Fireball 50, though that wasn’t the most spectacular miss of the evening (more on that later).
Grain Valley, Mo.’s Brian Brown‘s climb from sixth to first to win his heat race Saturday night at Knoxville was the highlight of the evening. Unfortunately, the night literally went up in smoke when his engine expired while leading Saturday night’s 410 sprint car feature.
The way Sebastopol, Calif.’s Geoff Ensign was driving his 360 sprint car at Petaluma on Saturday, someone oughta get him a car with some fenders. Ensign physically cut across the nose of Sacramento’s Justyn Cox on the race’s first restart, then saw his race end early when he rear-ended race leader Golobic hard enough to ruin the front end of his car.
Sadly, the ARCA Racing Series wasn’t the only division to see a driver endure serious injury this weekend. Midget racer David Raq was hurt in a crash at the Merced Speedway in California this weekend.
All of us at Frontstretch wish both Derrick Lancaster and Raq a speedy and complete recovery.
Former NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Cale Conley finished 13th in the 410 sprint car feature at Attica Raceway Park in Ohio Friday night.
Former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular Tyler Dippel put his experience at Bristol to work, finishing second in Friday night’s Super DIRTcar Series feature, a career-best finish on the tour. Dippel followed that up with a sixth-place result at Bristol on Sunday.
Former NXS competitor Chad Finley lasted less than three laps in his super late model heat at Atomic Speedway in Ohio Thursday night before he jumped the curb on the track’s backstretch and slammed into the wall, destroying his car’s rear end.
— FloRacing (@FloRacing) April 22, 2021
Truck Series regular Friesen capitalized on his Bristol experience all weekend, using the high side of the track to come from eighth to win Friday’s 40-lap Super DIRTcar Series feature at Bristol, then using the cushion to prevail on Sunday as well. Friesen also posted the top qualifying speed and won his heat race on Friday night.
Cup Series regular Kyle Larson was among the raciest of the sprint car drivers at Bristol on Friday, climbing from 12th to fifth in Friday’s WoO feature on a track that was hard to pass on.
Current Xfinity Series competitor Brett Moffitt finished fourth in wingless micro sprint competition at Millbridge Speedway in North Carolina Wednesday night.
Former Cup Series regular Ken Schrader finished ninth in modified competition at the Boyd’s Speedway in Ringgold, Ga. on Friday night.
Former fixture of ARCA Series racing at Pocono Dale Schweikart finished 15th in 305 sprint car competition Friday night at Clinton County Speedway in Pennsylvania.
Cup Series regular Stenhouse swept a pair of USCS sprint car features at the Talladega Short Track on Friday and Saturday night.
Three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart won a heat race and finished fourth in USCS sprint car competition at the Talladega Short Track Friday night.
Fanning the Flames
Sprint car veteran Danny Dietrich went on a very public diatribe a few weeks back about the high speeds of competition at Bristol, discouraging competitors from contesting the Bristol Throwdown race. Dietrich was right. Last month, Area Auto Racing News published a 38-car expected list for the WoO event. Only 29 showed up. The speed of the track and the destruction it has brought on every dirt car field it has hosted aside, the “invitational” approach taken by the sanctioning body really sucked the life out of these events.
That may be all subjective analysis on my part, so let’s look at the on-track stats. As mentioned above, all 12 events contested by WoO sprint cars at Bristol this weekend were won from the front row. Add that to what the WoO late models did at Bristol two weeks ago, and you’ve got 91.67% of events being won from row one; that number jumps to 100% when including the first two rows. Dirt racing gave Bristol the old college try. We had our experiment. But the vast majority of us know better than to keep dropping acid after graduation.
One last dunk on Bristol. The officiating. First heat, first lap on Sunday. Things that make you go hmm…
— Carter (@carterasahl91) April 25, 2021
Then, there was the caution that triggered Sunday’s GWC finish. Yes, Schuchart was broken and slowing on the backstretch. However, the immediate replay after the yellow flag saw Schuchart exit the racing surface to the pits with plenty of speed to spare. I empathize with Schatz, who saw any shot he had at catching Gravel coming to the checkers evaporate thanks to what appeared a trigger-happy yellow.
As exciting as Brian Brown’s impressive heat win at Knoxville was Saturday night in his Casey’s-sponsored sprint car, I was more excited to see the gas station across the street from turns 1 and 2 still boasting old-school Casey’s General Store signage. I love Casey’s pizza and gobble it down every time I’m in the Midwest, but no one will convince me that the company’s new logo is anything more than a bastardized Wendy’s ripoff.
Note to the producers at Dirt Track Digest TV. Please stop using the turn 3 backstretch camera. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Georgetown, Del. or Fonda, N.Y., the only consistent impact use of said camera has had in 2021 is to add static to the screen every half-lap.
Sunday’s feature at Bristol wasn’t quite as egregious an example of this problem, but it was darned close. Bill Balog was in turn 4 coming to the checkered flag of Saturday’s IRA sprint car feature at Beaver Dam Raceway in Wisconsin when a car that had slowed on the backstretch brought out a yellow flag. By rule, Balog then had to navigate a GWC restart to claim the victory. That’s a little too NASCAR overtime for my taste. Especially considering that sprint cars lack starters, which already leads such races to feature cautions that any other class of car would avoid having since drivers have more control to get their wounded cars off the racing surface. Fortunately, Balog won a race that he flat dominated from green to checkers. But if you’re going to throw a yellow coming to the checkers, that should be all she wrote.
It’s exam time for many students across the country, so I’ll ask, does anyone remember doing proofs that end “QED” (and thus is proven?) Because the Thunder Bombers at Lancaster Motor Speedway this weekend conclusively proved that while you can’t win a race on the first lap, you can certainly lose one. And in synchronized fashion, to boot.
As previously discussed in this column, I experienced significant issues last month with a smaller pay-per-view company that stemmed from poor broadband availability at the Southern Raceway in Milton, Fla. That’s one thing. This weekend, said issues hit the big dogs. Wednesday night’s micro sprint feature that Speed51 (attempted to) stream at the Millbridge Speedway had so many issues that, at one point, the track PA announcer had to tell the crowd not to stream the races from their phones on site. And Sunday, the mighty Flo Racing had to make an announcement alongside USAC that live streaming the USAC sprint car race from Path Valley Speedway in Pennsylvania wasn’t going to be an option.
Tonight's race is all part of your FloRacing subscription & will be uploaded ASAP after the conclusion of the event. pic.twitter.com/AriJo4VlVE
— USAC Racing (@USACNation) April 25, 2021
It’s not that these issues are overly surprising, given so many dirt tracks are located in rural areas. That problem isn’t going anywhere as long as racetracks across the U.S. continue to get attacked by residents. It’s the 21st century version of moving into an area knowing that a racetrack is present only to start bitching about noise as soon as they shack up.
But these streaming issues remain a serious problem. Major touring series that need to demonstrate value to sponsors can’t reliably think that grandstands are going to get it done in this day and age. I’m not tech-savvy enough to know the solution, but streaming slowdowns are something dirt racing needs to solve.
44 – largest single-class car count, the sportsman at Albany-Saratoga Speedway in New York Friday night.
179 – largest total car count, at Kennedale Speedway Park in Texas Saturday night.
$1,016 – winning 50/50 share at Volusia Speedway Park Saturday night. Not bad for a non-Speedweeks race.
$25,000 – largest posted purse of the weekend, to win the Bristol Throwdown Saturday night feature.
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 the weekend semi-chilled three Keystone Lights. The early weekend late model races were the best the dirt had to offer, but short of Stewart Friesen’s nearly single-handed efforts to make Bristol competitive, there were a lot of parades to snooze through.
Up Next: This coming weekend is highlighted by the World of Outlaws Late Model Series Hawkeye 100, to be run for $30,000 to win Saturday night at Boone Speedway. Coverage will be available on DirtVision.