NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2021 Firecracker 100 at Lernerville

The Headline(s)

An Aussie takes Minnesota, a Georgian invades Pennsylvania and a Frontstretch writer gets dirty.

Our Feature Spotlights

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Spotlight: 2021 Jackson Nationals Opening Night (World of Outlaws)
Where: Jackson Motorplex – Jackson, Minn. (streamed on DirtVision)
Why We Chose It: Because the Firecracker 100 prelim program was two hours in before I could sit down to watch a race.

After an early-race flip forced nearby Dakotas-native Donny Schatz into a backup car, the 10-time WoO champion provided some fireworks by going from ninth to third in his heat race to transfer into Thursday’s A-main.

Said Kerry Madsen, “hold my beer.”

Driving the team car to Schatz, Madsen stormed from 14th to second in the opening eight laps, eventually passing Logan Schuchart in lapped traffic with five laps to go to win the opening night of the Jackson Nationals. 

As was stated by the DirtVision booth post-race, it’s always a good race when the driver that wins the “hard charger” award goes to victory lane. Madsen would go on to win Friday night’s second preliminary feature as well.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Spotlight: Kids ’n’ Karts Night
Where: Dixieland Speedway – Elizabeth City, N.C.
Why We Chose It: My first race attended in person since the 2020 Daytona 500. 

A $700-to-win late model feature may seem out of place in this column, but to this writer, it may as well have been Dream weekend again. 

My first visit to a racetrack in person since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic canceled my planned trip to Atlanta Motor Speedway last March, Friday night’s All-Star late model feature at Dixieland started with all the makings of a classic, as front-row starters John Staton and Hunter Bailey ran side-by-side for the lead for nearly the entirety of the opening 10 laps. 

Unfortunately, the classic was short-lived. Staton, who adeptly used lapped traffic to take the lead on lap 9, started smoking on lap 12, was passed for the lead visibly slowed on the track on lap 13 and then brought out the yellow flag on lap 14 when his car got stuck trying to exit to the infield in turn 4.

From there, Bailey ran off unchallenged to score the win, the headline event of a five-feature program that saw the Dixieland race surface in pristine condition after early-afternoon rains fell. 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Late Model Spotlight: 2021 Firecracker 100 (World of Outlaws Late Models)
Where: Lernerville Speedway – Server, Pa. (streamed on DirtVision)
Why We Chose It: At $30,000-to-win, Saturday’s highest-paying dirt late model race.

Fresh off sweeping two Dream features at Eldora to the tune of over $270,000 earlier this month, “Big Sexy” Brandon Overton smacked around the WoO regulars at Lernerville, taking the lead from current series runner-up Chris Madden on lap 41 and never looking back, easily winning the Firecracker 100 Saturday night at Lernerville. 

Overton, who won Friday’s preliminary feature as well, scored $30,000 for the victory as well as some raucous applause from the Lernerville crowd, who fully recognized over the three-day Firecracker program that the No. 76 has come a national powerhouse on the dirt late model circuit.

Madden, who finished second in the feature, actually gained ground on series points leader Brandon Sheppard, who finished fifth. Darrell Lanigan earned the hard charger award in fine fashion, climbing from 21st to fourth in the feature.

Open-Wheel Modified Spotlight: 2021 Land of 10,000 Lakes 10K
Where: North Central Speedway – Brainerd, Minn. (streamed on Dirt Race Central)
Why We Chose It: A rare $10,000-to-win feature for IMCA modifieds

An impressive field of 88 modifieds turned out to this event, including Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series regular Ricky Thornton Jr. and former NASCAR Xfinity Series competitor Steve Arpin (who won a heat race). But, as of 12:30 a.m. ET, the B-mains for a field that required nine heat races worth of modifieds haven’t even started, and the “short rain delay” graphic on DRC has been on screen for more than 60 minutes as track equipment keeps making laps. Sorry to the modified fans out there, but this writer has a date tomorrow with a lawnmower full of bad gasoline and has gone as far as he can staying awake.

Sprint Car Spotlight: USAC Silver Crown Series
Where: Eldora Speedway – Rossburg, Ohio (streamed on Flo Racing)
Why We Chose It: Because it’s Eldora racing after the SRX circus clowns get out of Dodge.

All-Star Circuit of Champions points leader Tyler Courtney shed the wing and still shred the field at Eldora, leading all 50 laps in cruising to a USAC Silver Crown victory in Rossburg Saturday night.

The $8,000 win came among a 30-car field, the largest for the Silver Crown tour in its history at Eldora.

Success Stories

Kerry Madsen has won consecutive World of Outlaws features, won Thursday’s feature by laying waste to literally half the field of sprint cars, and is flat outracing 10-time WoO champion and teammate Schatz not far from his home turf. Even with owner Tony Stewart off playing IROC with the geezers, the No. 14 sprint car is smokin’.

Not wanting to be outdone by his brother Dave, Dale Blaney took the opportunity to return to victory lane at Sharon Speedway in a sprint car as well Saturday night.

DirtonDirt’s Kevin Kovac had an excellent interview with Overton leading into Saturday night’s Firecracker feature that described how the Georgian was still coming to terms with his elevated national profile after sweeping Dream weekend at Eldora. 100 laps later, Overton has his second career Firecracker 100 win and has supplanted Jonathan Davenport at the top of the national super late model ladder. Of course, it helps that Davenport fell victim to a Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series rainout this weekend.

Hunter Bailey jumped the turn 2 cushion at Dixieland twice during hot laps and again during qualifying. It’s always satisfying to see a driver that’s visibly putting everything he’s got into the gas pedal score the win, and that’s what happened in Friday’s late model feature. Well-earned win.

Nick Hoffman won at Sycamore Speedway on Friday night. For those keeping count, he’s now won the first seven modified races of the 2021 Hell Tour. DIRTcar, can you say “bounty?”

It’s not often that a driver can classify saving a car during qualifying a success story, but Carl Vaughn falls into that category. Vaughn, who was coming up to speed during late model qualifying at Dixieland Friday night, spun himself out exiting turn 2 and avoided hitting anything… because a hauler trying to leave the track infield was blocking the backstretch while the track was under green-flag conditions. Save of the weekend goes to Vaughn.

Vexed, Villains & Victims

The racer responsible for this faux pas was one Christopher Ivy, who at least was contrite in addressing his fellow competitors in a social media post.

Scott Bloomquist is a three-time Firecracker winner, but his race team’s Saturday at Lernerville was an unmitigated disaster. Bloomquist himself lost an engine prior to heat races and was so rushed that the team had to field a backup car that didn’t even have a number painted on it to make their heat. Once feature time hit, Bloomquist’s teammate Kyle Strickler ended up losing a lap shortly after a lap 23 restart after an extended pit stop that saw his No. 8 car fall off the jack without the rear tires secured to the car. Bloomquist would make several trips to pit road himself over the course of the feature before parking early, finishing 22nd. Strickler finished 24th.

The last-chance qualifiers for the RUSH crate late models at Lernersville appeared to be mistaken for demolition derbies. It’s never good to hear race control exasperatedly telling the field “guys, let’s settle down” in a preliminary race with four wrecked racecars. To their credit, the RUSH field showed some serious chops in averting disaster when Max Blair spun in front of almost the entire field running third in the opening laps.

The current Rookie of the Year points leader for the Lucas Oil MLRA late model tour, Mason Oberkramer fell victim to a freak accident away from the racetrack, and that has his season on hiatus. All of us at Frontstretch wish Mason a swift and complete recovery.

Fanning the Flames

I got some less than pleasant looks for wearing a mask, and there were some definite rough edges to the racing program at Dixieland Speedway Friday night. Having said that, being at the track and seeing laps turned in anger in person for the first time in 521 days was as good as I’ve felt in a long time. That the concession stand had Eastern Carolina barbecue available, that I was able to find a seat with some space to myself and that the late model racing had some stellar laps was all just a bonus. Making the five-plus hour drive to the track through multiple rainstorms that had me convinced the night was going to be a wash, if I’ve learned anything over the last year, it’s to take the opportunity to get to the track whenever you can. In terms of a sporting experience, there’s still nothing that can top racecars at speed. And we can’t be sure of when the next opportunity will come.

Having been re-introduced to all the sensations of being at the track in-person, this tweet jumped off the page at me, especially as someone who has consumed as much racing through streaming platforms as probably any race fan in America the last year.

Streaming races is like working from home for many. The genie’s out of the bottle and it ain’t going back in. I’ve said this countless times in this column, but I will say it again… it is in every dirt track’s best interest to find a viable way to stream their events. Leaving streaming to the big dogs like Eldora just means those not at the track are just going to watch racing at said big-dog tracks. And given just how good the in-person experience is, racetracks need not fear the stream. 

Besides, after all the “noises” heard in the background trying to listen to the broadcast coming through DirtVision of the RUSH crate late model feature at Lernerville Saturday night, there will be a breaking point for all internet streamers where they’ll head to the short track just to give their ears a break. I’ve heard more pleasant sounds coming from a dentist’s office.

It doesn’t take a trained eye to see how much talent it takes to drive a USAC Silver Crown car. It does take a trained eye to figure out which car is which and which driver is in them. I’ll admit part of it is my lack of familiarity, given that I choose to cover World of Outlaws and super late models over USAC racing programs most weekends, but seeing Tyler Courtney in a car not sponsored by NOS, Kevin Thomas Jr. in a wingless sprint not sponsored by Dr. Pepper and not being able to read the number on probably 80% of the cars in the field, it just feels like USAC is really missing the mark on branding both their racers and their race teams. Then again, I think all sprint cars should have wings and starters…

There’s no doubt that the RUSH crate late model promoters at Lernerville had good intentions for an extended program that included both a feature and a non-qualifiers feature, but after watching the three LCQs for the series prove more destructive than a Miami Beach sinkhole, one has to wonder whether the extra winnings made available to crate racers will out-value how many torn-up racecars left the track Saturday night.

Getaway traffic and navigating white-out monsoons on my way to Dixieland Friday meant that I missed the drivers’ meeting, so I don’t know what instructions were given to drivers as to what they were supposed to do when they saw the blue move-over flag. I do know that the track rulebook reads that cars displayed the blue flag should move to the low side of the track to allow the leaders past. That exact practice employed during the four-banger feature nearly took out the race leader when a lapped car pulled a “lift and left” move that would have been appropriate for the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience, not a live racetrack. There are a lot of dirt series that don’t both with a blue flag, and having seen this on Friday night play out in person, I’m on the bandwagon. The beauty of dirt tracks is that exploring the entire racing surface is a necessity, not an option. Abrupt instructions to lapped cars, especially at this level of racing, are a recipe for disaster.

Mike Benedum scored a slam dunk, turning down a $2,000 check for winning the Uncle Sam 30 preliminary race at Lernerville Saturday night to instead start shotgun on the field for the Firecracker 100 feature. Sadly, the alley-oop he gave NASCAR transplant pit reporter Hannah Newhouse to get the crowd’s thoughts on whether to take the check or the starting spot was completely flubbed. Example No. 892 how dirt racers puts on a better show…

Standing in line to buy a t-shirt at Dixieland Friday night, the lady running the souvenir stall dropped what she was doing and turned her back to the line, standing at attention towards the American flag through the stall window as soon as the national anthem started playing. There’s hope for us yet.

Numbers Game

7 – miles by which an early-evening monsoon missed the Dixieland Speedway on Friday night.

49 – total car count at Dixieland Friday night.

$8,656 – winner’s share of the 50/50 Saturday night at Lernerville.

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 five cold Mountain Dews, as I don’t drink beer when I’m at the track taking notes. None of the races I streamed or saw in person this weekend were anything to go down in the annals, but getting to return to a live racetrack was a special experience and a highlight of 2021 thus far.

Up Next: Sprint cars at Circle City, sprint cars at Grandview, sprint cars everywhere the eye can see dot this midweek’s upcoming shows. Flo Racing will give you plenty to watch. And of course, the World of Outlaws have a Sunday night, $50,000-to-win feature now on Sunday night after the Jackson Nationals finale was rain-delayed Saturday.

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