NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2021 Silver Dollar Nationals at I-80

The Headline(s)

Tyler Erb shows Florida-form on the plains while Florida-man Kyle Bronson scores a career breakthrough in Saturday’s Silver Dollar Nationals finale.

Our Feature Spotlights

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Spotlight: 2021 Silver Dollar Nationals (Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series)
Where: I-80 Speedway – Greenwood, Neb. (streamed on MAVTV Plus)
Why We Chose It: At $30,000-to-win, by far Thursday’s highest-paying dirt race

After a white-hot start to the 2021 season that saw New Waverly, Texas’s Tyler Erb score two wins at East Bay Raceway Park (as well as get parked for on-track antics with Mason Zeigler), the driver known as Terbo stormed back to relevance on the LOLMDS circuit, backing up a $7,000 preliminary win Wednesday with a flag-to-flag victory in the 53-lap feature Thursday night. The win paid a cool $30,000, by far Erb’s biggest of 2021.

Erb in victory lane remarked that he felt that national late-model powerhouse Brandon Overton had let them have a win in prelim action on Wednesday, and it seemed a bit like Overton on Thursday got caught conserving too much in the early laps of a feature that would go caution-free. Overton’s car was clearly strong in the feature’s second half, allowing him to deprive Spencer Hughes of a podium finish on the last lap despite a career-best LOLMDS performance by Hughes.

Both LOLMDS points leaders Tim McCreadie and Jonathan Davenport proved irrelevant to proceedings Thursday, with Davenport unable to move forward from the back of the top 10 while McCreadie finished 12th in a backup car.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Spotlight: 2021 Teen Night
Where: Ararat Thunder Raceway – Ararat, Va.
Why We Chose It: For this writer, lifetime track No. 96, and my first visit to a new venue in more than 17 months.

Ararat, Va. – For all the classic rock that blared from the PA speakers at Ararat Friday night, “Bad Moon Rising” was conspicuously absent. Under a full moon, Saturday night’s 602 crate late model feature denigrated into a demolition derby, with eight cautions and a red flag marring a 20-lap feature that hosted Ararat’s biggest late model field this month.

Posted by Ararat Thunder Raceway on Saturday, July 24, 2021

In the end, it was Elkin, N.C.’s Joey Johnson that scored the win, successfully repelling a low-line challenge from Walnut Cove, N.C.’s Chris Joyce on each and every restart to score the $500 win. Both Johnson and Joyce started on the front row and were lightyears ahead of the rest of the field, with both completing the race without incident even as incidents proliferated. Joyce was never able to sustain enough momentum on the low side to pass Johnson, though he did manage to get alongside Johnson at the start/finish line with three to go (it was unclear from the turn 4 hill who led the 17th lap). 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Spotlight: 2021 Silver Dollar Nationals (Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series)
Where: I-80 Speedway – Greenwood, Neb. (streamed on MAVTV Plus)
Why We Chose It: At $53,000-to-win, the weekend’s highest-paying dirt race.

A run of top-five form over the last month finally produced a win for Bradenton, Fla.’s Kyle Bronson, who passed Manhattan, Kans.’s Chase Junghans with a steamroller run down the frontstretch on lap 48, leading the last 32 circuits to win Saturday’s crown jewel event at I-80, the largest win of his super late model career as well as his first LOLMDS tour win of 2021.

Bronson won the event by more than 10 seconds, with the MAVTV crew accurately noting that Saturday marked arguably the most dominant performance the series has seen since Kyle Larson annihilated the field in the season opener at All-Tech Raceway back in February. Said Bronson in victory lane, he’d better make the DirtonDirt top 20 power rankings this week.

Saturday’s event also marked a major shift in the points race, with current points leader McCreadie scoring a runner-up finish. His closest challenger, Davenport, had a horrible night, dropping from seventh to 13th in the opening 16 laps before bringing out the first yellow of the night on lap 23 with a blown engine. Davenport finished 27th. 

Success Stories

Both Bronson and Erb gave their 2021 seasons major shots in the arm with dominant performances at I-80 this week. Both drivers have been fast all season long, but be it tire management or bad luck, both have had trouble closing races out. That each were able to do so winning major five-figure feature races bodes well for the rest of their respective campaigns.

While Mooresville, N.C.’s Nick Hoffman has made the points race on the Hell Tour modified circuit academic, all-time Hell Tour modified wins leader Highland, Ill.’s Mike Harrison became the first driver on tour to defeat Hoffman on track in 2021, taking the feature win at the Tri-City Speedway in Illinois Friday night and breaking Hoffman’s 15-race winning streak.

Hoffman wasted no time taking command back, winning Saturday night’s tour feature at Clarksville Speedway and re-tying with Harrison for the all-time Hell Tour wins crown.

Johnson and Joyce were in a league of their own racing the 602 crate feature at Ararat Saturday, but Johnson deserves plenty of credit for winning a feature that saw him have to navigate nine restarts.

Several NASCAR regulars found victory lane away from their day jobs on Saturday, with Stewart Friesen scoring his 10th modified feature win of the season at Fonda Speedway in new York and Christopher Bell scoring a win on the All-Star Circuit of Champions tour at Lake Ozark Speedway.

Lastly, congratulations to Byhalia, Miss.’s Dale Howard for winning the ASCS National Sprint Car Series race at Batesville Speedway in Arkansas Friday night, his first ASCS win in 21 years. For perspective, the driver he bested to win Friday’s feature wasn’t alive the last time Howard won.

Vexed, Villains & Victims

Murray, Neb.’s Curt Drake spun himself out battling for the lead, then got involved in a nasty wreck that involved a required check-up in the track ambulance over the course of the first stock car B-main at I-80 Thursday. Of course, maybe that wasn’t a huge surprise given that his car was in a No. 55 NAPA Auto Parts paint scheme.

The only car at Ararat capable of keeping eventual UCar feature winner Daniel Wright at bay belonged to the No. 0 of Shawn Peche, but he ended up bringing out a yellow with three to go in the feature and pulled off the track.

LOLMDS rookie Ricky Thornton Jr. may not fit the definition of villain, given that Ridgley, W.V.’s Matt Cosner did make contact with him in the previous set of turns. However, there’s no denying that Thornton literally ran over Cosner in turn 1 during the second B-main Saturday at I-80, wrecking Cosner’s No. 66 to maintain the final transfer spot.

It’s hard to remember any super late model race where Davenport and Overton were both irrelevant, but that’s what happened Saturday at I-80. As previously noted, Davenport’s engine expired, while Overton missed being lapped by only a couple circuits.

Some local fire flared up during Saturday’s Hell Tour late model feature at Clarksville. Long and short, Benton, Ky.’s Tanner English, who earlier this year won Clarksville’s banner “Toilet Bowl” race, used up defending track champion Joe Denby in lapping him. Denby took exception to that, and retaliated under caution.

Denby was immediately disqualified for the on-track antics, but that was news to his crew, who scrambled to repair the No. 27 up until a DIRTcar official stuck his head in the cockpit and told the driver to shut his engine off. 

Fanning the Flames

DirtonDirt did well to report on the enormous purse paid out during the weekend’s Silver Dollar Nationals, but that positive tone was easily picked up on from just about any driver racing at I-80 this weekend. $53,000-to-win certainly makes the Silver Dollar Nationals a crown-jewel caliber race, but it’s the start money ($5,300 to every driver that took the green in Saturday’s feature) that made this race stand out. Fortunately, the field was stout as a result, with regulars from the World of Outlaws late model tour showing up in the field as well as defending Hell Tour champion Brian Shirley taking hiatus from that schedule to contest the week’s events at I-80. Even more fortunate, the I-80 grandstands were packed on Saturday.

This.

I’ll apologize in advance if I’m incorrect here, but I do believe that Ararat Thunder Raceway is the first track I’ve visited in my home Commonwealth of Virginia that offered walking tacos on its concessions menu. That such is a rarity on our short tracks’ menus is a crime… even if we do have a collection of fine bologna burgers.

By now, those of us smart enough to have a Flo Racing subscription are fully aware that a bonehead announcer at Kossuth County Speedway in Iowa made waves for some questionable remarks regarding the NFL’s 2021 pregame plans. That the track made a point to say he won’t be returning to his job is where this story should end. 

Of course, it’s 2021 and that’s not the case. In no time flat, plenty of national media members were jumping on the social media outrage train, so much so that Flo Racing has now removed the entirety of last Thursday’s race program from their video archives (Flo later added a video of the IMCA stock car feature back online). Translation: the 54 race teams that contested that program outside the stock car division, as well as all the sponsors on those 54 racecars, lost a race week’s of exposure. All because a crowd of fans and writers that show up to pontificate to the unwashed masses of short-track racing the second they smell racism but disappear the second said short tracks start racing went nuclear.

I don’t blame Flo Racing for doing what they did. The more measured response would have been to edit the 67 bad seconds of video out of the taped race program at Kossuth County and left the rest for race fans to enjoy. But given the power of the mob in 2021 (it wasn’t even a Flo Racing employee that made the idiotic remarks), they did what they had to. To the mob responsible for this mess, remember the true cost of an unhinged response; 54 race teams lost a night of return for sponsors and a record of accomplishment on the racetrack. To those out there solving the world’s problems on social media, is it too much to ask that you hunt with a sniper rifle instead of agent orange?

Bear Lake, Pa.’s Boom Briggs had me torn, when after winning the non-qualifiers race at I-80 Saturday night he opted to pocket the winnings, “grab a Busch light” and watch the feature rather than starting at the back of the Silver Dollar field. On the one hand, Briggs had a solid case to make for not making the start; the non-qualifiers race paid $5,300 to win, the same as he would have earned finishing last in the Nationals feature. Plus, as Briggs told the crowd, he came to Nebraska with one car and an ailing motor, which likely would have translated into the team parking their car early in the 80-lap marathon.

On the other though, it seems a defeatist stance to take, even if the crowd applauded the idea of settling in with a beer to catch the race. One early-race incident, especially with such a purse for those even in the back of the field, and the payday gets bigger even if the motor requires parking early. Regardless of where one falls on Briggs’s decision, it was the first race I can remember in 2021 where a non-qualifiers winner opted not to start the big show.

The majority of the pit area at Ararat is down a hill behind the track’s backstretch, which makes it completely out of sight for those anywhere other than the turn 4 pit area. Having said that, even though I couldn’t see the incident that spurred literally dozens of people and multiple vehicles to sprint down the hill even as the late model feature was being contested, it sure looked like a fight had broken out. Assuming, worst case, that it was an altercation, I’ve got to question why so many track staffers on ATVs were driving faster than the late models through the pits to get there. Fighting would be safer for all involved.

Numbers Game

4 – number of starts it took to score a lap in Friday’s 602 modified feature at Ararat.

10.4 – margin of victory, in seconds, for Bronson at I-80 Saturday night.

32 – total car count at Ararat Friday night.

73 – number of steps to the top of the I-80 Speedway grandstand.

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 four cold Busch Lights in honor of Mr. Briggs. Saturday’s headline feature at I-80 was arguably the best of the week, though far from a classic, and it’s always great to visit a new venue.

Up Next: The midweek sees a return to open-wheel racing, with the Super DIRTcar Series in action at Weedsport on Sunday and the All-Star Circuit of Champions sprint cars making several starts across the Midwest. Coverage will be available on DirtVision and Flo Racing, assuming the Twitter police don’t get outraged and force more purges from Flo’s video library.

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