NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2021 Wood Tic at Merritt Speedway

The Headline(s)

A horrendous weekend for DirtVision, an instant classic to open Knoxville festivities and Rusty Schlenk wins the $33,000 Wood Tic, arguably the best-kept secret in late model racing.

Our Feature Spotlights

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Spotlight: 2021 Sunflower State Showdown (United States Modified Touring Series)
Where: 81 Speedway – Park City, Kan. (streamed on RacinDirt)
Why We Chose It: At $10,000-to-win, Thursday’s highest-paying dirt race.

Despite a snarling top-five pack that included Texas modified powerhouse Rodney Sanders and title contender Dereck Ramirez, rookie Cole Traugott of Woodward, Okla. held serve on a restart with four laps to go, leading all 40 laps to win Thursday’s $10,000 feature, his first career victory on the USMTS tour.

Traugott, a regular in weekly racing at the 81 Speedway, said in victory lane that he wasn’t sure whether he was more worried about the pressure of winning or simply avoiding a spinout, winning a major race that he was debating not running as of Wednesday night.

Arguably the tights points battle in any form of dirt racing in America remained tight over the weekend, with 1-2 in the standings both scoring victories on the tour later this weekend; Jake O’Neil won Friday night’s feature at Humboldt Speedway in Kansas, while Ramirez took Saturday night’s race in Wheatland, Mo.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Spotlight: 2021 World Race of Champions
Where: West Virginia Motor Speedway – Mineral Springs, W.V. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Why We Chose It: A $10,000-to-win super late model show and a $5,000-to-win 410 sprint car program for an undercard? Yes please!

Dresden, Ohio’s Devin Moran was three tenths faster than the field in hot laps, a half-second faster than the field in time trials, led flag-to-flag in his heat race and easily led all 30 laps to win the $10,000 super late model feature at WVMS Friday night, never remotely being challenged up front.

The super late model program Friday night was marred by two hard crashes in turn 4. The second heat race saw Parkersburg, W.V.’s Freddie Carpenter hit a rut in turn 3 that folded the nose of his racecar in and sent it nose-first into the turn 4 wall. The feature event then had a red-flag fly on a mid-race restart when Jonestown, Pa.’s Jim Bernheisel spun into traffic in turn 4, triggering a three-car pileup. Hometown driver Corey Galbreath would have to lay down on the racing surface after exiting his wrecked car; the driver later reported on his Facebook page that he was OK.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Spotlight: 2021 Wood Tic (Sunoco American Late Model Series)
Where: Merritt Speedway – Lake City, Mich. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Why We Chose It: The highest paying of the half-dozen five figure payouts for super late models on the weekend that didn’t require a PPV purchase on top of an annual subscription (editorial – there was no reason for any super late model fan in America to buy the USA Nationals this weekend… more on that later)

Polesitter Rusty Schlenk disappeared for much of the annual Wood Tic feature Saturday night, but he resurfaced when it counted. Capitalizing on a caution inside of 10 laps to go that cooled his tires off, Schlenk ran a handful of inch-perfect laps on the high-side cushion of the track, threading a needle through turn 4 to best Eric Spangler for the race win by .012 seconds.

Rusty Schlenk / Rusty Schlenk Racing shocks the crowd at Merritt Speedway with a last corner pass of Eric Spangler to…

Posted by Horsepower Happenings on Saturday, August 7, 2021

Schlenk, who admitted in victory lane that he had missed on adjustments pre-race and was tight all race long, ranked the victory, the highest-paying race in the history of the Merritt Speedway, at “the top of the charts.” High praise from a five-time series champion.

The victory, worth $33,000, somehow failed to draw any big-name interlopers into the Great Lakes, leaving longtime veteran Schlenk and Sunoco Series regulars to duke it out for the largest prize in late model racing not under the World of Outlaws sanction this weekend.

Success Stories

Wooster, Ohio’s Sheldon Haudenschild swept the weekend’s World of Outlaws features at I-55 Raceway in Missouri, capping the weekend with a $20,000 win in the Ironman 55 Saturday night. Besides the obvious accomplishment of winning consecutive events on the bullring, Haudenschild became the first driver to sweep the Ironman weekend in the history of the event.

So much good stuff to be said here. For one, Giovanni Scelzi’s commitment to his line on the Knoxville Raceway won him the $15,000 finale of the 360 Nationals, no questions asked. 

Now, as you can see from the replay, the lapped No. 64 car of Ian Madsen played a major role in deciding this race. The No. 64 did nothing wrong, holding his line for the entirety of the leaders’ battle. That was not lost on veteran sprint car racer (and runner-up) Daryn Pittman, who conceded that Scelzi bested him fair and square with nary a word said about lapped traffic. 

Kokomo, Ind.’s Parker Price-Miller enjoyed a strong debut in relief duty behind the wheel of the Roth Motorsports No. 83 car in place of the suspended Aaron Reutzel. Posting the fast time in qualifying both nights at I-55 Raceway this weekend, PPM posted a top-10 finish in Friday night’s Prelude feature.

Vexed, Villains & Victims

What’s more, PPM was leading Saturday’s Ironman 55 before running over debris on lap 16 and flipping in turn 4 (more on that later). 

WVMS was unkind to the locals, with both Carpenter and Galbreath suffering hard crashes.

Overland Park, Kan.’s Luke Howard scored some serious distance with his flip in Saturday’s POWRi midget feature at I-55, the most spectacular wreck of the weekend clearly belonged to Bondurant, Iowa’s Nate Mills in Saturday’s C-main at Knoxville.

Fanning the Flames

I don’t care what they tell you, they call the Ironman 55 the “Ironman” because anything less than an iron will means a race fan won’t be able to stay awake or interested long enough to make it till feature time. Obscenely long pre-race and track prep for a two-class program.

So I will admit, I forgot the fine print that made clear the USA Nationals late model program was not included in the DirtVision Fast Pass that Frontstretch purchased earlier this winter. As angry as many DirtVision subscribers were about that fine print (as well as their completely valid observations that the new app release is spotty with logins, less functional and identical in appearance to seemingly every other dirt streaming service out there), this was not a fast one. It is, however, an abject failure to have points races as part of the World of Outlaws Late Model Series not covered as part of an annual subscription to a streaming service owned by the sanctioning body. The USA Nationals are a big event. They’re not big enough to be a PPV on top of an annual subscription. Fix this for 2022.

While on the topic of DirtVision, technical difficulties (the production crew said they had a breaker blow out in the tower) meant that all but a handful of the laps of Friday’s World of Outlaws show at I-55 Raceway in Missouri was shown without audio courtesy of a rotating drone.

To everyone on Twitter complimenting that presentation of the feature, kindly shut up. No race broadcast should require Dramamine to view.

In the interest of fairness, Flo Racing had its own share of technical issues as well, with numerous blackouts during its telecast at WVMS on Friday and audio issues all night long during the Wood Tic at Merritt. I’m going to give them a pass, however, as I admire their willingness to tackle unsanctioned events at venues that are off the beaten path, even by dirt track standards.

Watching Anthony Macri choose to stay on track during his heat race at WVMS Friday night despite losing his front wing, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Pennsylvanian thought he was running sportsman class at BAPS Motor Speedway for a minute.

I’ll openly admit I’ve never worked on a racecar in a live pit area, but I have worked on cars on a dirt surface before. Based on that experience, I cannot to this day fathom why dirt car crews show up to racetracks in cargo shorts. Besides the obvious risks posed to knees, this seeming insistence on the unofficial uniform of the dirt track leads to some rather unfortunate observations.

Credit to Lake View Motor Speedway in South Carolina for building a turn 1-2 guardrail after the challenges of early-season races that saw cars go off the banks into oblivion. It’s a shame that despite that, Saturday’s Sandra Miller Memorial was nothing worthy of being remembered, chock full of yellow flags and a red-flag period to allow for drivers to clean their visors due to muddy conditions. 

The WoO Late Model Series made headlines earlier this week by choosing to ban the use of light sticks by track crews to signal to drivers on the racetrack (for those unaware, dirt cars do not have two-way radios for spotter communications). According to a report by DirtonDirt, the decision to do so stemmed from concerns from track officials that race crews were venturing into high-risk areas near track fences to signal to drivers. Given that in the same report series officials conceded they have no way of stopping teams from putting team members in grandstands or in other areas to use hand signals and colored shirts to signal to drivers, this policy seems to accomplish nothing but bailing out track and series officials from having to actually police large swaths of their facilities. Story of dirt track racing in recent years.

The incident that cut down Price-Miller’s tire while he was leading Saturday’s WoO feature was compounded by the fact that the crew chief of his Roth Motorsports No. 83 car had reported debris on the track laps prior to the flip. 

I’m sure the No. 83 team was frustrated (the DirtVision broadcast alluded to the fact that track crews found some debris but obviously not all of it), but considering they were still allowed to race after what they got busted for this week I’m not overly sympathetic.

With the USA Nationals and Wood Tic both drawing large fields of late models with larger payouts, it’s perhaps not surprising that WVMS’s super late field on Friday was less than full. But with Carpenter and Galbreath enduring very hard accidents and only six cars finishing Friday’s feature, the track’s reputation for being harsh on equipment isn’t going anywhere. It’s a good thing this track already locked up a Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series race date for 2022, because it’s hard to see the needle moving on car counts here without a sanctioning body driving it.

Numbers Game

2 – flip count in Saturday’s Ironman 55 at I-55 Raceway.

5 – number of spins incurred in the first group of qualifying hot laps at 81 Speedway Thursday night for the USMTS modifieds.

57 – modifieds entered in Thursday’s USMTS race in Kansas.

9,500 – estimated seating capacity of the renovated West Virginia Motor Speedway.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): This weekend gets three lukewarm Budweisers courtesy of the WoO racing at Ken Schrader’s track in Pevely, Mo. Two classic finishes at Knoxville and Merritt weren’t enough to make up for wired features at 81 and WVMS and technical glitches seemingly anywhere I tried to stream races.

Up Next: The midweek has races every day of the week, including a USAC Silver Crown show airing from Selinsgrove on Flo Racing Sunday. But the highlight of the midweek comes Wednesday night with the kickoff of the Knoxville Nationals. Coverage will be available on DirtVision, assuming it works and that you paid for an annual membership.

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