NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2021 Billy Whittaker Cars 200 at Oswego

** To all our readers, my apologies for the day-late submission of this entry. As was mentioned in the last edition, I had wedding responsibilities over the weekend, and let’s just say those responsibilities grew by the hour. In the immortal words of Otto the bus driver, “sorry dudes, party hearty equals tardy.” Look for Thinkin’ Dirty to resume its regular schedule this week.

The Headline(s)

Mat Williamson completed a dominant invasion of the state of New York with his second consecutive win in the Billy Whittaker Cars 200, the pinnacle event of Super DIRT Week.

2021 Billy Whittaker Cars 200: How it Happened

Williamson fell one spot short of a DIRT Week sweep after finishing runner-up to Stewart Friesen in Saturday’s Salute to the Troops 150 small-block modified feature, but he scored the trophy that counted on Sunday, surviving a restart with two laps to go to score his fifth win in a week, taking home the $50,000 check to cap Super DIRT Week.

Williamson led the final 50 laps of Sunday’s event, capitalizing on a lap 151 incident that saw race leaders Tyler Dippel and Peter Britten take each other out dealing with the ruts in turn 4. 

A feature plagued by yellow flags saw the first 100-plus laps Sunday devoid of any long green-flag runs, and that played right into the hands of polesitter Britten. With yellows flying every few laps for flat tires and broken shocks throughout the field, Britten drove away from the field on every restart until the competition caution flag flew on lap 103. Until that point, the only headline of the event was that of Anthony Perrego, who brought out three unassisted yellow flags with repetitive suspension issues (more on that later).

The race’s second segment started much like the first, with Britten weathering multiple restarts, though Larry Wight proved able to keep up with Britten on a lap 123 restart that saw the lead under actual threat for the first time of the race.

Britten’s picture-perfect drive up front came to an end on lap 151. With a hard-charging Dippel underneath him, both Britten and Dippel got out of shape through turn 4, with the exchange culminating when Dippel violently corrected his car on corner exit and body-slammed Britten into the turn 4 wall.

With the DirtVision crew reporting angst throughout the pit area towards Dippel for the incident (more on that later), the stage was set for Williamson’s dominant DIRT Week run to continue. Williamson ran the remainder of the 200-lapper up front, executing a picture-perfect restart with two to go to score the win after the caution flew on lap 195 when Tim Sears Jr. stopped on the backstretch.

Success Stories

Mat. Williamson. In barely a week, he won the $20,000 Fulton Outlaw 200 October 2, the Demon 100 on Tuesday at Brewerton, the DIRT Week Kickoff Wednesday at Weedsport, the Hurricane Harvey 75 Wednesday at Brewerton, and the $50,000 Billy Whittaker Cars 200 on Sunday. They call him “Money Mat” for a reason.

Blairsville, Ga.’s Jonathan Davenport swept the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series tour of Georgia this weekend, winning at the Dixie Speedway Friday and Rome Speedway on Saturday. Evans, Ga.’s Brandon Overton finished second in those respective features. Home field advantage is real on the red clay.

Both of the World of Outlaws winners at Port Royal this weekend were notable stories in their own right. Friday night saw Kerry Madsen, making his first start in a 410 sprint car since the Knoxville Nationals, lead flag-to-flag in the 25-lap opener of the Nittany Showdown, holding off Pennsylvania Posse juggernaut Lance Dewease in one of the closest finishes of the 2021 season to do it … and then egging on the partisan Pennsylvania crowd that booed him in victory lane.

As for Spencer Bayston, who made headlines last week with the announcement that he’ll be running for WoO rookie of the year honors in 2022, scoring the $15,000 feature win at Port Royal on Saturday was a big-time statement for a driver that’s now scored his first career wins on the two premier sprint car tours in the country this season.

David Gravel’s strong top-five finish at Port Royal on Saturday was remarkable in several ways. One, it was a big points grab on series-leader Brad Sweet that keeps the 2021 championship in play with five races to go. Now, making up 92 points on Sweet in five races is a stretch, but Gravel’s run Saturday was more remarkable in what it said for 2022. Friday saw Gravel’s No. 2 team out to lunch and lacking their trademark qualifying speed, which had them playing catch-up all night long. The very next day, Gravel was rocket-fast in time trials and ran top-five for the whole feature. The No. 2 team will be a force to reckon with next year.

Stewart Friesen did manage to snatch a $20,000 trophy away from Williamson’s grasp on Saturday, in the process scoring his first career win in the small-block modified portion of Suprt DIRT Week competition. However …

Vexed, Villains & Victims

Friesen’s self-inflicted spin two-thirds of the way into Sunday’s feature may well have cost him a $50,000 win. With Dippel and Britten taking each other out of contention, Friesen vs. Williamson would have been a clash of the titans coming to the finish. Given how ugly a feature Sunday’s was, this duel was sorely needed.

Let’s get into the defining incident of Sunday’s race. There’s no getting around it, Peter Britten got the short end of the stick in the deal, seeing a stretch of 150 laps led going out the window courtesy of contact with Dippel. And the replay from the camera looking down the frontstretch made it look very much like Dippel took Britten out (pick up the incident at 3:10).  

But that’s not the whole story. Go back and watch the DirtVision telecast in the moments leading up to the wreck (watch the video starting at 3:05). Both Britten and Dippel hooked bumps in the track, and both were out of shape before the final contact. No doubt Britten was a victim this Sunday, but I’m not ready to label Dippel a villain here. Even if race winner Williamson even took a shot at Dippel in victory lane. And boy, did Britten unload.

Well… at this point I don’t even know what to say. Our super dirt week Sunday WAS going to plan. Seemed we had the right…

Posted by Peter Britten Racing on Monday, October 11, 2021

Larry Wight had a similar experience on Thursday night at Brewerton Speedway, leading the first 71 laps of the Hurricane Harvey 75 feature for the 358 modified class before he cut a tire four laps short of the finish … handing the lead to Williamson. Deja vu?

Anthony Perrego’s weekend was about as rough as the Oswego racing surface, as the modified driver brought out three yellow flags for suspension issues during Sunday’s feature, as well as enduring a violent wreck in the small-block modified feature Saturday night.

Scott Bloomquist may be the all-time winningest driver in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, but his return to the series this weekend at Dixie Speedway in Georgia looked like 2021 and not his storied past, with the No. 0 retiring after breaking less than 10 laps into Friday’s feature.

Another name that’s seen better days had a rough one at Port Royal. WoO regular Kraig Kinser lost a top-five run in Saturday’s feature when his car abruptly lost power barely a third of the way into the race, while Kinser wrecked after a spin in his heat race Friday.

Perhaps the only driver with rougher luck at Port Royal in the WoO ranks this weekend was home-state driver Logan Schuchart. Schuchart has been a terror on the half-miles in 2021 and was running down race leader Madsen in Friday’s feature before a spinning Curt Stroup left Schuchart with nowhere to go. In the span of one corner on lap 11, Schuchart’s car was sent spinning and his chance for the win gone (pick up the video at 0:40).

Fanning the Flames

Where to start with the disaster that was Sunday’s Billy Whittaker Cars 200? For one, the race needs to pickup sponsorship from Proactiv for 2022. With craters that size on the racing surface, serious prescriptions are needed.

As previously mentioned, I was at a wedding this weekend, so I’m not 100% up to speed on what the weather was like in the hours leading up to Sunday’s feature. Regardless of what the weather was, the racing surface was atrocious. There weren’t divots on the low side of turns 1 and 4, there were canyons. And that was before the feature even went green. First question … with a racing surface that distressed, who the hell decided to run 125 laps of feature races BEFORE the 200-lapper that everyone actually came to see?

Second question … given the absolute plethora of rock solid dirt tracks that dot the New York landscape, why the hell is arguably the state’s biggest race of the season being contested on a temporary dirt track (400 trucks of dirt were brought in to cover the asphalt surface of the Oswego Speedway for the DIRT Week events)? Yes, I know the “Moody Mile” at the Syracuse Fairgrounds was demolished, and I’m assuming the deal that first brought Super DIRT Week to Oswego in 2016 is still in effect (DIRT Week will also be returning to the track in 2022). 

Granted, the Fonda and Brewerton racetracks of the state may well struggle with the crowds and car counts that Super DIRT Week brings with it. There’s no doubting how big an event it is — the one time I attended the 200 at Syracuse, I had to walk a literal half-mile to get to the ticket stand from my car. But the racing product has to mean something. And the product as Oswego was shockingly bad.

Those that read this column regularly know that I was openly critical of the decision to build a competition caution into the 200-lap finale. Now fast forward to Sunday’s race, where the competition caution flew … and not a single, solitary car actually came to pit road to take fuel. The DIRTcar folks should be embarrassed. Rather than letting the race play itself out (and given that eight caution flags flew before the competition yellow, it wasn’t a surprise that no one pitted at the schedule break), the 200-lapper was literally stopped for no reason. Competition cautions in a nutshell.

One more note on caution flags. It is ridiculous that Anthony Perrego was able to bring out three yellow flags in the first 75 laps of Sunday’s feature for what appeared to be the exact same suspension issue and be allowed to pit without losing a lap and keep struggling along. The decision to allow teams to remain on the lap that they pitted on to reduce speed and improve safety in the pits is one that I will actually applaud, as it made sense for crews that do over the wall stops once a year. But along with that carrot for race teams should come a stick: three unassisted yellows and done.

Starting 41 dirt cars on a 5/8-mile oval is pushing it for any form of dirt racing. Starting 41 cars on a track in the state Oswego was in on Sunday was criminal. And low and behold, a half-dozen cars apparently “start-and-parked” in the opening 10 laps of the feature. A field that size made sense back when the DIRT Week finale was run on a mile-track at Syracuse. Cut the field down to 32 cars for 2022, and put the money back into the purse. I’d feel very comfortable wagering that a 32-car field paying $2,000 to start and $4,000 to finish in the top 10 would draw as many cars as currently show up for the event. And that purse change could be made without adding a dime of expense to the current payout.

At the conclusion of Friday’s LOLMDS feature at Dixie, the PA announcer told the crowd, many of whom were heading for the exits, to stick around because the track had five or six more features to run. There’s no business on the planet that can overstay its Saturday night welcome like a Southern dirt track.

Numbers Game

3 – penalties assessed for jumped starts during Friday’s World of Outlaws program at Port Royal.

6 – cars parked in the opening 10 laps of Sunday’s Billy Whittaker Cars 200 feature at Oswego.

17 – yellow flags that interrupted Sunday’s 200-lapper at Oswego.

62 – feature laps led by Jonathan Davenport in sweeping the weekend’s LOLMDS races.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): I tried to give this weekend a score, but by the time I got my beer home, driving over all those divots left me with nothing but foam. That’s like trying to rate a pizza without trying the crust. Needless to say, if you made it this far you know full well I thought Sunday’s Billy Whittaker Cars 200 was a cluster of an event worthy of neither the payday nor the prestige associated with it.

Up Next: The midweek gets busy this time around, with Flo Racing Night in America bringing super late models to the 411 Motor Speedway in Tennessee Tuesday night and the IMCA Stock Car World Championship kicking off four nights of racing in Batesville, Ark. on Wednesday night. Coverage is available on Flo Racing and IMCA TV respectively.

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