NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2021 Dirt Track World Championship at Portsmouth

The Headline(s)

The Dirt Track World Championship was stolen by the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Rookie of the Year, while Stewart Friesen grabbed his second 200-lap modified win of the season at Port Royal Speedway.

Our Feature Spotlights

Spotlight: 2021 Dirt Track World Championship (Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series)
Where: Portsmouth Raceway Park – Portsmouth, Ohio (streamed on MAVTV Plus)
Winner’s Purse: $100,000

No one would have been surprised to hear that Brandon Overton and Jonathan Davenport would spend the closing laps of the DTWC battling it out. Many would have been surprised to hear that battle was for second. Instead, a lap 82 restart saw newly crowned LOLMDS Rookie of the Year Ricky Thornton Jr. best Overton, taking a lead that he’d never relinquish to score the $100,000 win, his second on the tour in 2021 and by far the richest of his career.

Saturday’s feature was notable in the trouble that former champions found on track. Three-time DTWC winner Scott Bloomquist was running in the top five early before heavy contact with the lapped car of Devin Gilpin derailed his run at the one-quarter mark of the feature. Even more notable was defending DTWC champion Brandon Sheppard being disqualified before the race even started after his crew got into a scuffle with the crew of Chris Ferguson following heat-race action (more on that later).

Spotlight: 2021 Speed Showcase 200 (Short Track Super Series)
Where: Port Royal Speedway – Port Royal, Pa. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $50,000

Stewart Friesen proved to be in a league of his own Saturday night at Port Royal, battling from a 15th-place starting position to take the lead for good on lap 126 of the 200-lap feature and weathering a flurry of yellow flags to score his second 200-lap win in a center-drive modified in 2021.

Friesen, who took the lead for the first time on lap 74 and kept the point until the race’s halfway break, was never seriously challenged for the win in the race’s second half, though the yellow flags may have played a role. Bridgeport regular Ryan Godown, who also contended for the feature win on Thursday night at Port Royal, was running down Friesen in lapped traffic inside of 10 laps to go before the yellow flew on lap 192 for a stopped car in turn 4.

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The points lead for the Southern Region of the STSS took a turn on lap 78, when current series runner-up Anthony Perrego retired from the race with an apparent mechanical issue. Meanwhile, current regional leader Mike Mahaney finished sixth after winning Thursday’s Speed Showcase feature.

Success Stories

Even before Saturday’s DTWC feature went green, Tim McCreadie was crowned the 2021 LOLMDS champion, and boy, was it deserved. McCreadie has been the model of consistency but also ended 2021 on a hot note with multiple feature wins. Perhaps more notable, though, has been the constant maturity that McCreadie has shown all season long in understanding what’s happening on track and in the pits, be it his harsh words for Tyler Erb’s antics at East Bay in February or his composed response to pressure from youthful drivers late this summer. The No. 39’s driver was a force to be reckoned with in 2021.

Not all youth is bad though. Case in point, Thornton’s performance on Saturday. Despite enduring an up-and-down season (Thornton started the season red hot with a feature win at the Wild West Shootout in January, but scored few checkered flags this season after winning 40-plus races as a modified/stock car driver last year), the move he put on Overton, the No. 1 super late model driver in America, to win Saturday’s feature was master class. Thornton remarked in victory lane that he always dreamed of being a late model driver. Mission accomplished.

Dallas, N.C.’s Jeff Smith wired the 40-lap Carolina Clash super late model feature at Lake View Motor Speedway in South Carolina on Saturday, going literally unchallenged for a $4,000 win.

Stewart Friesen’s win on Saturday was Friesen doing Friesen things, but it also marked a turnaround after enduring two nights at Port Royal that were anything but what is expected for the Halmar Racing team. Stewart broke during Thursday’s feature while running in the top 10, while Jessica Friesen also suffered mechanical woes on Thursday and Friday, missing Thursday’s feature after falling out of the B-main. Yet, by race’s end Saturday, Stewart was $50,000 richer on the back of a dominant effort, while Jessica made the 200-lap feature and finished on the lead lap in 19th.

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Robstown, Texas’s Steven Whiteaker Jr. won the first crate late model race ever run at the Texas Dirt Track on Friday night, driving the same Exide paint scheme that Jeff Burton ran to win the first Cup race at the Texas Motor Speedway a stone’s throw away back in 1997.

Vexed, Villains & Victims

First things first, Chris Ferguson and Brandon Sheppard’s crews getting into a fracas at Portsmouth that got them both disqualified from the DTWC, one of only two races all year for late models that pay six figures to the winner, was the epitome of boneheaded behavior. Coupled with the fact that they pulled these antics at a LOLMDS race, the same series that parked Tyler Erb within minutes of his post-race contact with Mason Zeigler at East Bay back in February, the question has to be asked … were these teams ready to pack up and take a few weeks off before Charlotte?

But, having said that, I’m going to take a shot at Sheppard’s crew … because the slide-job that Ferguson threw on them to win their collective heat race Saturday was not dirty or uncontrolled. It seems very clear from the replay that Ferguson simply got the best of the defending DTWC winner. Maybe something was said after the heat was over, or maybe there were some unspoken tension between the teams I’m not aware of. Either way, getting into a scuffle before a $100,000 race that Sheppard was a favorite to win was as big a failure as a race team can architect.

Bilgerville, Pa.’s Billy Dietrich led the opening seven laps of Saturday’s season finale sprint car feature at the Lincoln Speedway, but a lap 8 yellow that saw a spinner in turn 3 led to the race leader running over a lapped car, flipping his own machine and triggering a fire. Dietrich was unharmed.

Odessa, Texas’s Philip Houston had the hometown crowd cheering (literally) for his Texas Terry throwback scheme in Friday’s crate late model feature at the Texas Dirt Track, but he took the throwback a little too seriously. Much like Terry Labonte wrecked his No. 5 Corn Flakes car to win the 1995 Bristol Night Race, Houston won his heat race Friday as his engine was grenading coming down the frontstretch. 

Not only did Mike Maresca fall out of Saturday’s Showcase 200 within striking distance of race leader Stewart Friesen, that proved to be his second mechanical malady of the weekend at Port Royal. Thursday night saw him endure one of the more catastrophic engine failures one will see at any level of racing.

Fanning the Flames

Hometown late model legend Bo Feathers told me more times than I count on my fingers when he was re-roofing my house two winters ago that I had to make a trip to Port Royal Speedway. This Thursday, I finally did and will admit that the “Palace of Speed” lived up to the hype. What a facility. Photogenic, well-organized and with a superb racing surface, there’s a reason seemingly every racer that shows up raves about the track. Plus, the views available to race fans from the turn 2 infield pen are about the best $10 to be spent at any racetrack, anywhere. I’ve been to 99 racetracks as I’m writing this, and Port Royal is near the top of that list.

Having said that, I’ll let this tweet speak for itself.

I’m not jumping on the hashtag associated with this tweet, because based on every account I’ve heard, Tyler Erb’s suspension for using his racecar as a weapon during the 2020 USA Nationals was well-deserved. 

But, I can’t help but wonder … if Brandon Sheppard’s crew had gone after a LOLMDS regular team rather than Ferguson’s, would they go so far as to ban the 2021 World of Outlaws late model champion? 

I’m not usually a fan of overhead shots to cover racing, be it via a drone or the Lucas Oil helicopter, but given how dusty the Portsmouth surface was for Saturday night’s opening B-main, thank God the chopper was there. How a surface could go from rain-inundated to desert-esque the way PRP’s did was mind-boggling.

The Dirt Track Digest TV coverage of the closing laps of Saturday’s 602 sportsman feature at Port Royal was an abject failure. The booth crew spent the entire last two laps describing how second-place was within striking distance of the race win, yet the cameras spent all but the last corner of those laps focused on a mid-pack battle. This was repeated with around six laps to go in the modified feature as well. Mid-pack racing has a place to be shown, the middle of the race. Inside of 10 to go, if the lead’s in question, the lead should be on screen. Period.

Chase Allen had a great paint scheme for Texas Throwback weekend, as did just about every racecar that showed up with a throwback scheme. But there is something very wrong when the “best paint scheme” award pays as much as both crate late model features did combined at Texas this weekend. 

It wasn’t two weeks ago that I wrote conceding the need of dirt tracks to throw proactive yellow flags in the event slow cars still in motion are on the racing surface. Had I not already been convinced of that, I would have been after visiting Port Royal. Because driving back from the track Thursday night, driving a Mustang at 65 mph down PA-75 only to come across an Amish buggy with a tiny red light on it that may as well been a bike light was about as close a metaphor for a racecar driver trying to avoid a limping machine as I’d care to experience.

Numbers Game

$6 – cost of a pumpkin funnel cake at Port Royal. Best money spent all weekend.

13 – late models that started Saturday’s Carolina Clash feature at Lake View.

16 – yellow flags that slowed Saturday’s Speed Showcase 200 at Port Royal.

228 – total car count at the Dirt Track World Championship at Portsmouth.

Where It Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): This fall weekend will get four cold Yuenglings. A pleasant first visit to Port Royal and decent racing through the pack in Saturday’s 200-lapper made up for a truly underwhelming DTWC at Portsmouth. 

Up Next: A quiet midweek gets a boost this Wednesday night, with Flo Racing Night in America hitting the Volunteer Speedway in Tennessee for a $10,000-to-win super late model show. Coverage will be available on Flo Racing.

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