NASCAR’s stars create Thursday Night Thunder, a rainy Friday that won’t end, and title contenders tighten their grips across disciplines on Saturday night.
Our Feature Spotlights
Thursday, May 27
Spotlight: 2021 K-C Classic (FAST Sprint Car Series)
Where: Atomic Speedway – Chillicothe, Ohio (streamed on Flo Racing)
Why We Chose It: At $20,000-to-win, Thursday’s highest-paying race
Kyle Larson dispatched of Cale Conley near the halfway point of Thursday night’s FAST series feature at Atomic, driving off to a $20,000 win that was his second in a 410 sprint car in 2021. Thursday night’s program ran late after a wreck on the opening lap of the fourth sprint car heat race dropped a massive fuel spill on the frontstretch, leading track officials to red flag the race and literally burn the spilled methanol off the racing surface.
He is headed to the work area. pic.twitter.com/JSFLfMezoS
— FAST Series (@FASTseries) May 28, 2021
Fuel spillage would again catch on fire on the track during the evening’s second sport mod heat race.
Friday, May 28
Late Model Spotlight: 2021 Cowboy Classic (Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series)
Where: Lucas Oil Speedway – Wheatland, Mo. (streamed on MAVTV Plus)
Why We Chose It: At $6,000-to-win, Friday’s highest-paying late model race
Tim McCreadie’s red-hot spring continued on Friday night, as he led all 45 laps of the first LOLMDS feature race in Missouri. Though McCreadie faced an early-race challenge when Brandon Sheppard got underneath him in turn 2 on lap 5, the result of the race (rescheduled from Thursday night) was never really in doubt.
Of note, the LOLMDS ran a second racing program at the Lucas Oil Speedway on Saturday morning, though this writer was unable to stay awake… when it’s 12 a.m. the same day as a 12-hour shift and the heat races haven’t even started, well, it’s bedtime. Josh Richards prevailed in the second $6,000-to-win feature for the tour in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
Open-Wheel Modified Spotlight: 2021 Rapid Rumble (United States Modified Touring Series)
Where: Rapid Speedway – Rock Rapids, Iowa (streamed on Racin’ Dirt)
Why We Chose It: At $10,000-to-win, Friday’s highest-paying race.
Once polesitter Trevor Anderson spun in the first turn on the first lap of Friday night’s feature, the result was academic. Arizona’s Jake O’Neil, riding a wave of momentum from recent victories at the Arizona Speedway back home, led all 40 laps of the A-main in dominating fashion, building a 9.6-second lead and then driving away from modified powerhouse Rodney Sanders after a caution erased that lead with eight laps to go.
Said O’Neil of how his car got so fast, “We accidentally found something after the heat race… that turned out to make the car bad-ass.”
Sprint Car Spotlight: Upper Midwest Sprint Series
Where: I-94 Speedway – Fergus Falls, Minn. (streamed on Dirt Race Central)
Why We Chose It: Apparently the only sprint car race available to stream in America that wasn’t rained out Friday night.
Dirt or paved, Bryan Roach is no stranger to victory lane at I-94 Speedway, and he visited it again Friday night in UMSS competition. Roach, who owns multiple track championships in late model competition in an era where I-94 was a paved oval, took the lead on lap 6 from polesitter Jeremy Kerzman on the low side of turn 2 and never looked back, winning $500 in a 25-lap feature that went caution free.
Though Roach won comfortably, credit goes to runner-up finisher Cam Schafer, who pulled a Carl Edwards-esque hail mary slide job in turn 3 on the last lap trying to catch the leader. The move had no chance of succeeding, but looked awful good. Fortunately, Schafer kept his wingless 360 sprint car off the wall.
Saturday, May 29
Late Model Spotlight: 2021 Show-Me 100 (Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series)
Where: Lucas Oil Speedway – Wheatland, Mo. (streamed on MAVTV Plus)
Why We Chose It: At $30,000-to-win, the highest-paying race of Memorial Day weekend
Title contender Hudson O’Neal took advantage when race leader and LOLMDS points leader McCreadie hit a rut in turn 2 on lap 68, seizing the lead and driving off to the biggest win of his young career, taking the first “crown jewel” trophy of the 2021 dirt late model racing season.
HUDSON O’NEAL WINS THE 29TH ANNUAL SHOW-ME 100! pic.twitter.com/AzhW41qwqb
— Lucas Oil Speedway (@lucasspeedway) May 30, 2021
O’Neal, who was visibly crying in victory lane, made the O’Neal family the first father/son duo to both win the Show-Me 100. Defending LOLMDS champion and four-time Show-Me winner Jimmy Owens led 28 laps but faded to eighth when the checkered flag flew. Tyler Erb flipped his car in turn 4 on lap 57, but got back into the car and finished the race despite having obvious suspension damage.
Lee Greenwood was the race’s grand marshal and gave the command to fire engines.
Open-Wheel Modified Spotlight: 2021 Southern Minnesota Spring Challenge (United States Modified Touring Series)
Where: Deer Creek Speedway – Spring Valley, Minn. (streamed on Racin’ Dirt)
Why We Chose It: At $10,000-to-win, Saturday’s highest-paying modified race.
Texas’s Sanders dominated what became a Sunday morning race (the USTMS feature went green at 12:05 a.m. local time), leading all 40 laps without a serious challenge for the race lead. The win marked Sanders’s second of the 2021 season and the 109th USMTS win of his career. Friday night’s winner O’Neil finished in the top five.
Sprint Car Spotlight: Knoxville Hospital Night (weekly racing program)
Where: Knoxville Raceway – Knoxville, Iowa (streamed on DirtVision)
Why We Chose It: At $5,000-to-win, Saturday’s highest-paying sprint car race that wasn’t rained out.
With the World of Outlaws rained out this weekend, a healthy number of the series regulars made their way to Knoxville for a test and tune session ahead of this summer’s Knoxville Nationals. And just as they did sweeping through Pennsylvania earlier this month, the Outlaws took the Knoxville locals to school, sweeping the podium positions as defending WoO champion Brad Sweet took the $5,000 win.
It’s an Outlaw podium sweep at @KnoxvilleRaces!
— World of Outlaws (@WorldofOutlaws) May 30, 2021
In what could be considered bad news for the rest of the field, Sweet, who has already won nine WoO features in 2021, told the Knoxville crowd from victory lane that his Kasey Kahne Racing team had figured something out for their half-mile configuration that had been lacking thus far this season (teammate James McFadden finished third). Consider Sweet the favorite for this summer’s Nationals.
Richards won the second preliminary LOLMDS race in Wheatland on Friday night (well, Saturday morning) and finished in the top five in all three features contested by the tour this weekend.
West Virginia’s Conley’s schedule has taken him away from his regular competition at Attica Raceway Park, and his results have improved. In his last two features, he finished second at West Virginia Motor Speedway and then led laps and finished third in Thursday’s star-studded FAST feature at Atomic.
For as prolific as the USMTS modified car count has been all season long and continued to be this weekend, the supporting B-modified class at Deer Creek met that challenge with 60-some cars showing up to race. No one in that field had anything to stop Jim Chisholm, who scored his seventh consecutive feature win in the class.
Stewart Friesen picked up right where his wife left off last weekend, grabbing a $6,000 modified win at the Orange County Fair Speedway in New York on Thursday night and then sweeping the twin 22-lap modified features at Fonda Speedway Saturday night.
🏁 Stewart Friesen wins GoSunoco Modified feature 2! pic.twitter.com/WmhXDDOnWM
— The Fonda Speedway (@thefondaspdwy) May 30, 2021
He ended up parking his late model only 30 laps into the feature, but credit to Chad Simpson for turning down a $2,500 payday after winning the Show-Me Challenge last chance qualifier race, instead choosing to start 32nd in the feature event.
Vexed, Villains & Victims
In perhaps the most egregious example of inexperience marring a race since Anthony Esberg’s Chili Bowl exploits, Jarret Dotson knocked Adam Kates out of a transfer spot in Friday night’s USRA modified B-main at Lucas Oil after jumping the cushion in turn 2. The rub? Dotson was driving a full-fledged modified in his first race ever. Of any kind. And this is after Dotson spun on his own in his heat race after falling 16 seconds behind the leader in the first four laps. I get that the ability to race was a gift for college graduation, but putting a greenhorn driver in a full-throated modified is like teaching a child to shoot with a .50 caliber rifle. Be smarter than that.
Struggling through a first full WoO campaign that has seen the No. 3Z team tear up just about everything they own, Brock Zearfoss got dealt more bad news that will keep him out of his sprint car for at least two weeks. All of us at Frontstretch wish Zearfoss a swift and complete recovery.
📸: Paul Arch pic.twitter.com/Ss8Kn4SjV7
— #FIMotorsports (@FI_MOTORSPORTS) May 28, 2021
Wyatt Steenhoven was leading the sportsman feature at Rapid Speedway Friday night with only four laps to go before he jumped the cushion and cut down a right-rear tire. Steenhoven’s hopes of charging back up front in the closing laps went out the window when he cut down another right-rear two laps after the restart.
The Racin’ Dirt broadcast didn’t show the slide job that the track PA announcer attributed the squabble to, but in a battle of two veterans, Phillips clearly emerged the victor over Hughes. For one, said slide job resulted in Phillips beating Hughes to the checkers (for eighth place). And when the cameras picked up the two trading paint on the cool-down lap, Philips not only appeared to land the better blows, but managed to drive his No. 75 away as Hughes spun his No. 12 out in turn 2 trying to turn him.
Erb gets his wheelman merit badge for getting right back in his car after flipping it and finishing the Show-Me 100, but between missing the Cowboy Classic A-main and having to take a provisional to make the Show-Me field, it was an underwhelming weekend for the LOLMDS young gun. Especially considering 20-year-old O’Neal won the whole thing.
Gio Scelzi weathered an engine change prior to the start of heat races at Knoxville and actually led the first seven laps of the 410 feature Saturday before spinning himself in turn 2 shortly after losing the lead to Sweet. Despite his speed, he finished a distant 12th.
Fanning the Flames
My goodness, but I-94 Speedway is about as photogenic a dirt track as can be found in this country. Definitely adding a trip to Fergus Falls onto my track chase list.
Speaking of fellow track chasers out there, make sure to find time to get down to the Oglethorpe Speedway Park between now and September, because it was announced this week that the season finale race on September 10 will end the track’s existence.
While there are plenty of local race fans that are understandably upset about losing their home track, I’ve got to question the sentiment of a number of said fans that have taken to social media to slam those that complain/whine about perceived shortcomings at the facility. Such posts are hardly unique to Oglethorpe, and I really question whether such complaining is ever truly to blame for a track’s hardship. Car counts are objective. Ticket prices are objective. Officiating is an issue from the arcade go-kart track to the Cup Series. Living two hours from Port Royal Speedway, arguably the hottest dirt track in America, if there’s one thing I know about dirt racing, there’s always something that can be improved. Nobody likes a whiner, but being able to take criticism from patrons and competitors alike is a necessary exercise.
I don’t care if this makes me sound old, Ohio Dirt Track Podcast host Jacob Hord was spot-on with this nugget from Thursday night at Atomic.
Having an on-track redraw at 10pm on a Thursday night show, much like a cornhole match, is not the move.
— Jacob Hord (@HordRaceWatcher) May 28, 2021
Catching up on my periodicals this week, Area Auto Racing News had an interesting read from last week about how sprint car drivers relying on newly-developed automotive OEM-sourced engines were having real issues both with obtaining replacement parts as well as improving their powerplants. Specifically, AARN noted that Giovanni Scelzi, who campaigned a unique Toyota OEM engine at Florida Speedweeks back in February, has not been able to replace that engine after it expired in a race at Volusia, while longtime sprint car veteran Donny Schatz has chalked up his 2021 campaign to R&D, as his new Ford engine (which showed real speed in the winter months) is proving short on parts and a struggle to keep at pace when tire wear sets in. Given the push within the auto industry to electrify their fleets (Ford Motor Company unveiled an electric F150 in the last two weeks), is there any surprise 410 sprint car engine development isn’t a priority?
I’m not sure how it jives that the UMSS series, which brands its non-wing races as “traditional sprint cars,” officiates said races with a red and white checkered flag. Maybe it’s just because thinking back to my last days in NASCAR and their damned green checkered “stage” flag gives me PTSD, but the checkered flag is sacred. It should be black and white.
Scotty Johnson made use of every square inch of Knoxville’s retaining wall in Saturday’s Pro Sprint feature. Brady Bacon must wish that Terre Haute had such walls after his wild ride earlier this week.
— DIRTVision by Drydene (@dirtvision) May 30, 2021
Nicholas Cage once famously asked the world, after stating there were enough guns on the planet to arm 1 in 12 people, “how do we arm the other 11?” In a similar vein, at the time I’m writing this passage I’m tracking 158 dirt races with full-sized racecars that haven’t been rained out scheduled across the U.S. this Saturday, with 30 available through streaming services. The real question is, “how do we stream the other 128?”
4 – flip count during Saturday night’s sprint car program at Knoxville.
7 – career wins for Sweet after taking the 410 feature at Knoxville Saturday.
400 – career wins for Matt Sheppard after taking the big-block modified feature at Land of Legends Raceway in New York Saturday night.
Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans, with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): The weekend gets three chilled Michelob Ultras, since the wet stuff was so plentiful this weekend. After seven straight days of instant classics, a rainy Memorial Day weekend was a bit more pedestrian.
Up Next: Memorial Day weekend is chock full of big money races, but none bigger than Sunday night’s $29,000-to-win sprint car feature for the All-Star Circuit of Champions at the Palace of Speed in Port Royal, Pa. Coverage will be available on Flo Racing.