NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2021 Historic 100 at West Virginia Motor Speedway

The Headlines

The All-Star Circuit of Champions’ NOS-fueled bender, a bumpy debut in Indy and country roads take Superman home.

Our Feature Spotlights

Thursday, June 3

Spotlight: All-Star Circuit of Champions
Where: Fairbury American Legion Speedway – Fairbury, Ill. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Why We Chose It: At $5,000-to-win, Thursday’s highest-paying race.

Series points leader Tyler Courtney had to fend off defending IRA sprints champion Bill Balog on his home turf, but proved up to the challenge, leading all 30 laps of Thursday night’s feature and besting Balog on a restart with three laps to go to score his fourth win of the 2021 season.

Courtney, who scored his first career ASCoC win scarcely a month ago, has been on a red-hot streak that continued on Friday (see below).

Friday, June 4

Late Model Spotlight: World of Outlaws Late Model Series
Where: Circle City Raceway – Indianapolis, Ind. (streamed on DirtVision)
Why We Chose It: To support late models invading open-wheel addicted Indiana.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and that’s what the WoO late model tour was on Friday night. After both qualifying and the heat races were marred by a track surface bumpier than I-69 after a harsh winter, Friday night’s feature ended up playing out like Florence’s Spring 50… full of bumps that fortunately didn’t destroy any racecars. As a result, Dennis Erb Jr. scored his biggest win of the 2021 season, prevailing over Ryan Gustin thanks to a No. 28 that managed to maintain speed on the low side of the track, bumps be damned. 

Said Erb, who is celebrating 30 years of dirt racing this season, of the surface at Circle City, “I’ve been to some rough places, but this may be the roughest.” 

Points leader Brandon Sheppard finished second and extended his lead over Chris Madden, who finished ninth and was vocally critical of the track surface (more on that later).

Open-Wheel Modified Spotlight: 2021 River City Rumble (United States Modified Touring Series)
Where: Park Jefferson Speedway – Jefferson, S.D. (streamed on Racin’ Dirt)
Why We Chose It: At $10,000-to-win, Friday’s highest-paying modified race.

Arizona’s Jake O’Neil proved untouchable at the front of the USMTS field Friday night, leading all 35 laps of the feature without a serious challenge for the lead despite a rash of late-race yellows for tire failures. Though Tyler Wolff, who snapped a four-year losing streak on the tour Sunday at Upper Iowa, got to within a couple of car lengths of O’Neil with 10 laps to go, he had nothing for the No. 0 on any of the four restarts for cautions that checkered the last seven laps of the event.

For the second consecutive race, the points lead changed for the USMTS tour, as Derick Ramirez’s third-place finish bested Rodney Sanders in sixth and put the No. 4 back on top of the heap. Ramirez’s reaction to Friday’s result was more relief than rejoice, as the driver expressed disbelief that his right-rear tire held up to the checkered flag. 

Sprint Car Spotlight: All-Star Circuit of Champions
Where: Wilmot Raceway – Wilmot, Wis. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Why We Chose It: At $6,000-to-win, one of Friday’s highest-paying sprint car races that wasn’t rained out.

Another ASCoC race, another Courtney rout. The series points leader started the feature on pole and ran away on Friday night, easily winning his fifth race of 2021 and continuing a scorching hot streak for the Clauson Marshall Racing team that has seen the No. 7BC sprint car win five times and score nine podium finishes in the last 10 tour races. 

Continuing to make headlines as he returns to the Wisconsin tracks that he used to run roughshod on, Balog won the hard charger award on Friday, going from 24th to sixth in the feature after being forced to the work area during the feature’s pace laps. 

Saturday, June 5

Late Model Spotlight: 2021 Historic 100
Where: West Virginia Motor Speedway – Middlebourne, W.V. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Why We Chose It: At $25,000-to-win, the weekend’s richest race.

The rejuvenated WVMS has hosted three super late model races in 2021, and Jonathan Davenport has won all of them. Sweeping the weekend at WVMS, Davenport took the lead on lap 35 of the 50-lap feature Saturday when leader Devin Moran blew a tire in turn 2. What’s more, Davenport did it all Saturday while feeling under the weather.

Davenport, who has made a habit of winning major-money races this season, has cleared $43,000 in winnings in his three starts at WVMS. 

Open-Wheel Modified Spotlight: 2021 Webster City Wrangler (United States Modified Touring Series)
Where: Hamilton County Speedway – Webster City, Iowa (streamed on Racin’ Dirt)
Why We Chose It: At $10,000-to-win, Saturday’s highest-paying modified race.

After taking four years between USMTS wins, Wolff was one set of corners away from his second in as many weeks on Saturday. But under heavy pressure from Tanner Mullens, Wolff overdrove turn 3 and slapped the wall on the final lap, leaving Mullens to drive clean away to the win. The win was long overdue for Mullens, his first in 13 starts in 2021, after winning four races on tour a year ago. (No video replay was publicly available at the time of this posting, which is a damned shame, especially considering that the Racin’ Dirt subscription costs almost as much as DirtVision without any of the social media presence).

Ramirez brought some stability to the points race with a top-five run, capitalizing on a night that saw Sanders spin in traffic and blow a tire late in the going. The 35-lap feature was marred by nine yellow flags, eight for single-car incidents.

Sprint Car Spotlight: World of Outlaws
Where: Granite City Motor Park – Sauk Rapids, Minn. (streamed on DirtVision)
Why We Chose It: At $10,000-to-win, Saturday’s highest-paying sprint car race.

David Gravel took advantage of a chaotic restart on lap 15 of the 35-lap feature Saturday, squirting to the lead and then holding off a determined charge on the high side by Sheldon Haudenschild to score his fifth feature win of the 2021 season; only current series points leader Brad Sweet (who finished fifth) has won more. 

Of note, the feature Saturday night featured only 19 cars, the shortest field of the season and the first time the WoO took the green flag with a short field since their hastily-scheduled Florida swing back in March. 

Success Stories

For those looking for some NASCAR flavor, the modifieds were the place to be Saturday night. Stewart Friesen scored yet another win at the Fonda Speedway in New York, while former Cup regular David Stremme grabbed a feature win at Hagerstown Speedway in Maryland.

Courtney, not just for his exploits Thursday and Friday as discussed above, but for continuing that success Saturday with a heat race win and top-five run at Plymouth that marks 10 top fives in 11 races. 

Balog also continued his Thursday and Friday exploits by winning his first career ASCoC feature at Plymouth. The crowd speaks for itself.

Davenport was one bobble on his second qualifying lap Saturday at WVMS from a literally perfect weekend. He was fast qualifier on Friday, won heats Friday and Saturday, and took home $35,000 for winning features Friday and Saturday. The nickname Superman doesn’t do this man’s 2021 season justice the way it’s going.

Logan Schuchart finished sixth despite suffering through two engine changes that left him with no real track time other than the few laps of his heat race he was able to complete before the first power plant went sour.

Tyler Erb. Aka Cole Terbo. Bringing throwback style to dirt tracking.

Spencer Bayston has wasted no time acclimating to the ups and downs of sprint car racing. Subbing for the injured Jason Peck, Bayston scored a strong fourth-place run in ASCoC competition at Plymouth on Saturday, which was a welcome rebound…

Vexed, Villains & Victims

After Bayston flipped in the first corner of the first lap of Friday’s ASCoC feature at Wilmot.

From what I’ve read on social media, Frank Heckenast Jr. is anything but a dirty driver. He’s still making an appearance in this section, because there’s no getting around the fact that he ran over Shannon Babb to win Thursday’s super late model feature at Fairbury. 

Rewind back to Speedweeks, and Kyle Strickler was leading the WoO late model rookie of the year standings, the series standings, and the first driver on tour to win multiple feature events. Now, Strickler is out of a ride and was nowhere to be found when the series hit Circle City on Friday. There’s no driver in America that’s been through a bigger roller coaster of a 2021.

Moran led the opening 34 laps of Saturday’s feature at WVMS and proved capable of keeping Davenport at bay in clean air before suffering the most dramatic tire failure of the night while leading the race. As fast as Davenport was, the No. 49 may not have been the fastest car on track.

Fanning the Flames

10-time World of Outlaws champion Donny Schatz’s quest for win number 300 is starting to feel like Jeff Gordon’s drive for five. Up in the northern lands he calls his home, starting the feature on the pole among the weakest field of sprint cars to contest a WoO feature in 2021, Schatz still proved unable to bring home the W, with Aaron Reutzel besting him on lap 1 and the rest of the race seeing Schatz battle with Haudenschid over a podium spot no one really wants. 

It’s not often that interviewing a driver who’s transferred to a feature from a heat race gets, well, heated, but that was the case Friday when Madden had some harsh words to say about the WoO late model tour’s decision to add Circle City to their slate for 2021. It didn’t take a trained eye to see that the surface was struggling with the full-rendered cars during preliminary action… qualifying featured some of the ugliest laps run in 2021, and that was out of necessity for drivers to miss character bumps all over the track. 

Madden’s got a point… the track surface was woefully unprepared when the cars took to the track for hot laps on Friday, and while it’s always good to see a major touring series tackle new tracks, there’s a difference between tackling a track that’s new to the series and a track that’s new, period. Of course, it was Indiana… maybe the goal was to make late models look bad? With as much track work as went into Friday’s show, it’s doubtful there were any new full-fendered fans made.

I don’t want to dunk on new tracks too much, but let’s take stock of the evening’s program at WVMS. Hot laps were scheduled to start at 6:30. They started at 7:29. The first heat race went green at 8:58. By comparison, the entire World of Outlaws Late Models program at Plymouth, with a bigger car count, was done with their feature before the heat races at WVMS were done. Even going off of a start time of 7:30 as opposed to 6:30, four hours to contest a two-class program with maybe 40 cars had me feeling “older than the mountains.” And yes, I know that’s not how the song goes.

Let’s stick with WVMS for a minute. In the spirit of their “throwback” weekend, here’s a Tweet that had me going “how ‘bout no, Scott?”

Ignoring the fact that imposing a minimum speed at a track that couldn’t fill their super late model field despite offering a $25,000-to-win purse is a bad business decision, the reality is WVMS is as wide as the lanes of I-77 that run parallel to the campus. There’s ample room to clear lapped traffic.

Whoever the track PA announcer at Park Jefferson is, they spent the better part of heat races moaning about not being “fit to call anything but small cars” every time they had to give the mic up to Racin’ Dirt’s crew when the USMTS modifieds hit the track. If it was a joke, the tenor was way off, but that would be consistent with a painful night of commentary that saw every victory lane interview in the support classes disintegrate into jokes about old age, baby mommas and how illegal the winning cars were. Last year I wrote an article titled “Bury NASCAR’s Heart at Park Jefferson.” Any PJ fans that want help burying their PA crew, let me know. I’ll bring the shovels. 

Want to turn kinds into race fans? Do this even when there’s not a rain delay.

Friday the 13th is cursed, even if it’s not the 13th. Despite racing in two different states some 460 miles apart, both the World of Outlaws and ASCoC took to the track Friday with No. 13 race teams fielding substitute drivers; Dominic Scelzi took his first laps driving the No. 13 for the still-recovering Mark Dobmeier before the WoO program at River Cities Speedway was rained out Friday night, while Bayston endured a nasty wreck filling in the No. 13 car for the concussed Peck at Wilmot in ASCoC competition. There’s a reason racers are a superstitious breed.

I know that the whole streaming model is still in relative infancy, but on Saturday’s broadcast of the Historic 100 on Flo, most all the ads I’ve seen are tied either to remittance apps for foreigners in the U.S. or Macy’s. Missing the target audience much?

Numbers Game

4 – number of cautions in the final 10 laps of Friday’s modified race at Park Jefferson.

5 – open spots in the World of Outlaws field when the green flag dropped at Granite City Saturday night.

43 – entries for the USMTS race at Hamilton County Saturday. Whatever they’re doing with their rulebook is working.

59 – minutes late hot laps started at the WVMS on Saturday. Yes, it was hot and sunny. It’s also West Virginia in June…

$7,910 – the winner’s share of the 50/50 at WVMS Saturday night.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six beer cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give the weekend three and a half PBRs. Saturday’s races all had some storylines, but a few dramatic moments don’t make up for some overall lackluster features. 

Up Next: Thursday and Saturday at Eldora. Two Dreams. Two super late model shows paying six figures. If you don’t have Flo Racing, subscribe, now.

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