NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2021 Mr. Dirt Track USA at Lebanon Valley

The Headline(s)

Mr. Dirt Track USA is crowned in a violent uprising at Lebanon Valley, while the premier late model tours in the country bog down in the mud.

Our Feature Spotlights

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Spotlight: 2021 Rock Gault Memorial (World of Outlaws Late Models)
Where: Cherokee Speedway, Gaffney, S.C. (streamed on DirtVision)
Why We Chose It: At $40,000-to-win, the richest purse of Labor Day weekend came early for dirt racing.

Kyle Larson led the opening 37 laps of Thursday night’s feature, but the race ended up being a battle between the two titans of dirt super late model racing in 2021. Jonathan Davenport, who blasted past Larson to win the Bristol Nationals in March, undercut Larson’s No. 6 entering turn 3 on lap 38, but proved unable to keep a blistering challenge on the high side of turn 3 from Brandon Overton at bay, leaving “Big Sexy” to lead the final 11 laps of the Rock Gault Memorial and score his second major victory at Cherokee in 2021.

The feature went 47 laps green, but was interrupted by a rash of late-race tire failures that brought out five yellows in the last 13 laps. The tire failures erased top-five runs for both Tim McCreadie and Chris Ferguson. 

The kickoff of the WoO late model tour’s Southern swing saw current runner-up Chris Madden make up significant ground on points leader Brandon Sheppard, who finished outside the top 10 and was never a factor. That momentum shift did not last, however (more on that later).

Friday, September 3, 2021

Spotlight: 2021 Skagit Nationals (World of Outlaws)
Where: Skagit Speedway – Alger, Wash. (streamed on DirtVision)
Why We Chose It: The first WoO race to tackle the Pacific Northwest since 2019.

James McFadden scored a home-state win for Kasey Kahne Racing Friday night, leading all 30 laps of the opening night of the Skagit Nationals to score his second tour win of 2021. McFadden’s win didn’t come without drama though, as Sheldon Haudenschild caught McFadden on the white-flag lap, but was left unable to throw a slider for the race win after scrubbing the wall in turn 2 and gutting his momentum.

McFadden’s win came after the No. 9 team had to change engines earlier in the evening’s program. The race marked the first for the World of Outlaws on the West Coast since 2019.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Spotlight: 2021 Mr. Dirt Track USA (Super DIRTcar Series)
Where: Lebanon Valley Speedway – Lebanon Valley, N.Y. (streamed on DirtVision)
Why We Chose It: At $25,500-to-win, Saturday’s highest-paying dirt race

Sheffield, Mass.’s Andy Bachetti used his elbows to bump Stewart Friesen exiting turn 2 on a lap 92 restart, driving away and surviving a green-white-checkered finale to win the Super DIRTcar feature at Lebanon Valley Saturday night, re-securing the victory in a feature he dominated, leading more than 70 of the 101 laps run.

The muscular finish was not universally popular with the Lebanon Valley crowd, as the PA announcer had to admonish the crowd not to throw water bottles as Bachetti staged for victory celebrations on the frontstretch. The series points chase remained largely static after Saturday, with second-place Matt Sheppard finishing second in the race, one spot ahead of points leader Friesen.

Success Stories

On the same night as the richest race ever run at Cherokee Speedway, it was a 10-lap thunder bomber feature that proved the highlight of Thursday. The tape speaks for itself.

Friday night’s Todd Shaffer Memorial at Williams Grove was a snoozer. Had Danny Dietrich and Knoxville Raceway regular Brian Brown not waged a solid side-by-side battle for second in the middle stages of the feature, I’d have passed out.

The move that Overton used to best Davenport to win $40,000 at Cherokee on Thursday night was very reminiscent of the move that Davenport used to best Larson at Bristol in March. Davenport has still had a banner season, but there’s no doubt heading into fall that Big Sexy is ahead of Superman in the super late model pecking order.

Even if Lancaster, S.C.’s Ben Watkins hadn’t gone on to win his first career WoO late model race at Lavonia on Friday night, he still would deserve a shoutout for making the save of the year, in any type of car, on lap 24. Watch the replay from 1:30 on to see for yourself.

Considering how violent a summer Zeb Wise has had in terms of wreck, for him to emerge from the All-Star Circuit of Champions Attica Ambush doubleheader with a win and a runner-up finish, especially considering how two heat races into Friday’s program the ASCoC had already seen a sprint car ramp jump and a literal Big One, was a major turning point.

Kasey Kahne the driver has been largely invisible during the WoO return to Washington, but the race team he owns has been the exact opposite, with McFadden and Brad Sweet respectively sweeping the first two nights of the Skagit Nationals.

Defending WoO late model champion Sheppard may well have ended the series title chase this weekend, recovering from a woeful run at Cherokee Thursday night to not only finish way ahead of challenger Madden in the points at Lavonia the next night, but further to best Madden to win Saturday night’s “Scorcher” race at Volunteer Speedway, doing so with a damaged racecar. And while on that note…

Vexed, Villains & Victims

There is no doubt that this weekend will go down as a major missed opportunity for Madden. Scoring a major blow in the points against Sheppard at Cherokee, Madden lost nearly all of the ground gained at Lavonia the following night, then got involved in a major incident at the start of Saturday’s race at Volunteer that left him unable to challenge for the race win. Home-field advantage squandered by the No. 44 team.

Love him or hate him, Bachetti roughed his way to the Super DIRTcar victory at Lebanon Valley on Saturday night. It may not have been a dirty win, but it certainly wasn’t clean.

Mt. Holly, N.C.’s Ferguson was among the hardest luck drivers of the weekend, suffering a tire failure inside of 10 laps to go while running in the top five at Cherokee Thursday night, then wrecking his primary car in qualifying at Lavonia on Friday. The weekend went so poorly for the No. 22 team that Ferguson pulled out of racing the rest of the holiday.

Lake Elmo, Minn.’s Brent Larson had a rough trip down South, missing the show at Cherokee Thursday night, wrecking out at Volunteer on the first lap and earning a best finish of 19th at Lavonia. 

There’s no doubting that Allison Park, Pa.’s Colton Flinner endured a wicked hard crash on the first lap of his ULMS late model heat race at Port Royal Saturday, but I’ve watched the replay three separate times and I still don’t know why he went to the trouble he did to flip off Max Blair on the racing surface… because Flinner definitely turned into Blair to trigger the incident.

Aaron Reutzel did make his return to 410 sprint car racing on the All-Star Circuit of Champions circuit after losing his Outlaws ride with Roth Motorsports for forging an inspection sticker on an illegal chassis. That’s about all that Reutzel was able to accomplish, finishing 17th in the Friday night feature at Attica while missing Saturday’s A-main. The No. 83 his new ride is not.

Fanning the Flames

The program at Cherokee didn’t go as long as I expected on Thursday, and thankfully my Labor Day vacation started on Friday, meaning I was able to sleep in after a long night watching Overton’s victory. Having said that, another trip down South, another ridiculously bloated program for a touring series visit. It is ridiculous that a weeknight racing program hasn’t started heat racing by 9 p.m., not to mention that the WoO feature ran enough parade laps to make a feature all its own. I’ve said it more than once before… if a track can’t make a touring series race solvent with one support class running, either dial back the purse or stay off the tours.

The least DirtVision could do would be to update their late model video montages. After all, they did ban the use of signal sticks.

Last year, the World of Outlaws saw their finale at the Dirt Track at Charlotte turn into a disaster, a Dust Bowl that would have made John Steinbeck blush. That track surface has been fixed, but it now seems that the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series may have their own disaster of a season finale brewing… not because of dust, but because the tour’s first 2021 visit to Portsmouth Raceway Park was a literal disaster. 10 yellow flags in a 50-lap feature left series points leader McCreadie unmolested up front in a feature that felt like a thunder bomber race gone bad. If that’s what Portsmouth has to offer, the series would be better off praying for a merciful rainout come October’s finale at the track.

I’m not sure which was more impressive in the Attica infield on Friday… DJ Foos’s landing a monster-truck jump in a sprint car, or the evasive action of Flo Racing’s photographers to get out of the way of Foos’s sprint car.

The decision not to throw a yellow flag for Josh Richards’s flat tire at the end of Thursday’s feature at Cherokee was the right call in the sense that Richards was not in a position on track to justify stopping the race, but it was also woefully inconsistent when compared to the other yellow flags thrown on the night for drivers with flat tires. I hate seeing dirt racing throw as many yellows as they do for any car that’s even slightly off the pace, but that’s the reality of cars racing without mirrors or spotters. It’s just like any other sport, if you’re going to officiate in a tacky-tack manner, so be it, but that has to apply just the same on lap 58 as if it’s lap 8.

I’m really torn on Thursday night’s program at Cherokee Speedway. Overton’s race-winning pass on Davenport was masterclass, and the finish of the Thunder Bomber feature was about as exciting as stock car racing gets. But having said that, for all the efforts that have gone into reconfiguring the racing surface there, and for all the big-money and car counts the track has produced in 2021, the on-track product just hasn’t measured up. 

It almost feels as if the romance of the place and what it’s supposed to be creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. But, case in point, even the rough and tumble Thunder Bomber finale produced only posturing and cursing, rather than actual fisticuffs, at the “Place Ya Momma Warned Ya About.”

Numbers Game

$1 – reportedly the only type of bill that Lebanon Valley Speedway’s concessions stands will take. Do I get a lap-dance with my fried dough?

4 – start attempts it took to score the first lap in Saturday’s WoO late model feature at Volunteer Speedway.

80 – car count across all four classes run Thursday night at Cherokee.

$1,284 – winner’s share of the 50/50 Friday at Attica.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): Two days into my Labor Day holiday, we’ll give the racing three and a half pulls of Sugarland Shine. A Southern swing of dirt-track racing brought some fireworks, some thrilling passes, and a swathe of long nights and caution flags. And while Lebanon Valley is far from the South, seeing drinks flying from the grandstands felt like Sweet Home Alabama.

Up Next: Labor Day festivities mean this midweek is chock full of major events. Sunday night will see the Hillbilly 100 take to Tyler County for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, while the World of Outlaws continue their Northwest swing Monday night at Gray’s Harbor Raceway. Coverage can be found on MAVTV Plus and DirtVision, respectively.

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Mike Kalasnik

Agreed on Cherokee. I used to go there 4-6 times a year. I like the joint, but they lost the top groove years ago and never got it back. When the big motor series come in, the top is there early, but then its all bottom. By race time, everyone wants the very very bottom. You’ll get 1-2 guys try the top, but it becomes a bottom feeding race. Its 10x worse in the winter when they run those big SLM races there. Track is hard and has no moisture. I will say Carolina Speedway has finally figured their track out and its way better then it has been. But most all of the big SLM races go to Cherokee.

…and yes, it is a bit odd you can only use $1 bills at Lebanon Valley. But the food is good and cheap. Beats Stafford that now charges $16 for a burger and onion rings.

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