NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2021 Carolina Midget Showdown at Millbridge

The Headline(s)

Christopher Bell scored a Wednesday night micro sprint win at Millbridge, but came up short to 2019 USAC national sprint car champion CJ Leary in the Carolina Midget Showdown.

Our Feature Spotlights

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Spotlight: 2021 USRA Fall Nationals
Where: Vado Speedway Park – Vado, N.M. (streamed on FYE TV)
Winner’s Purse: $21,000

Current USMTS modified tour runner-up Jake O’Neil absolutely stomped the field at Vado on Sunday, leading all 50 laps of Sunday’s finale feature without ever being seriously challenged for the race win. The only time the race appeared in doubt came in the final few laps, when O’Neil’s struggles in lapped traffic allowed Tanner Mullens to close the gap, though Mullens never got within striking distance.

O’Neil enjoyed an emotional victory lane with his family, celebrating the win at what has now become his home track (O’Neil was a former regular at the now defunct Southern New Mexico Speedway in nearby Las Cruces). The No. 0 team is banking on momentum, as O’Neil will be heading to Kansas for the final races of the 2021 USMTS tour later this week.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Spotlight: 2021 Carolina Midget Showdown
Where: Millbridge Speedway – Salisbury, N.C. (streamed on DirtVision)
Winner’s Purse: $2,500

USAC National Sprint Car regular CJ Leary got the best of NASCAR Cup Series regular Bell on lap 11 and never looked back, prevailing on a green-white-checkered finish to score the opening night win in a 30-lap feature Monday night.

Leary kept Bell within striking distance for the entire opening 10 laps, running the low and middle side of the track as Bell rode the cushion through all four corners on track. The race capped a marathon night at Millbridge that saw the feature slowed by four yellows and a red flag, as well as enduring an hour-plus rain delay during qualifying.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Spotlight: 2021 Carolina Midget Showdown
Where: Millbridge Speedway – Salisbury, N.C. (streamed on DirtVision)
Winner’s Purse: $7,500

Cannon McIntosh led the opening eight laps on the track’s high side, but CJ Leary jumped out of the low groove that he ran to perfection to take the lead on lap 9 and drove off to the Carolina Midget Showdown sweep, keeping the car straight down the frontstretch after pole-sitter McIntosh made contact with Leary exiting turn 4 coming to the white flag. From there, Leary drove away on a GWC finish.

This one, however, came with an assist. Leary was run down by 13-year-old Gavan Boschele, with the youngster actually taking the lead at lap 23. Bouschele, however, got out of shape and nearly knocked the turn 4 wall down the following lap, giving Leary the lead for good.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Spotlight: 2021 Weekly Championship Night
Where: Millbridge Speedway – Salisbury, N.C. (streamed on DirtVision)

A series of deep, aggressive slide jobs through turns 1 and 2 by Bell allowed the Cup Series regular to get the best of pole-sitter Nick Drake on lap 22 of Wednesday’s 30-lap feature, as the three-time Chili Bowl champion used the high side of the Millbridge track to score the micro sprint win Wednesday night.

Drake, who led the opening 21 laps in search of his first on-track win (Drake scored a win earlier this season after the on-track winner was disqualified) was able to keep pace on the bottom until Bell got roaring momentum on the high side of the track with five laps to go.

Success Stories

Not only was Jake O’Neil dominant in Sunday’s USRA modified feature at Vado Sunday, commentator Ruben Morales was correct in crediting the driver just for showing up. On a weekend that saw Kyle Larson make news for declining to race the since-canceled Flo Racing Night in America finale at Tri-County to focus on his pursuit of the NASCAR Cup Series crown, O’Neil went after a big money race despite being in the middle of a heated pursuit of the USMTS modified championship this coming week.

CJ Leary won $10,000 for two days’ work in a midget. Short of winning the Chili Bowl that’s damn hard to do.

There were three NASCAR Truck Series champions in the field at Millbridge this week, and of the three, Bell was by far the most successful, sweeping fast time, heat race and feature wins in micro competition Wednesday, as well as scoring a midget heat race win Monday night. Bell is expected to run his micro sprint in next week’s Carolina Micro Showdown at Millbridge.

It was a rookie mistake that cost Gavan Boschele the race lead that he worked so hard to gain in Tuesday’s midget feature at Millbridge, but that doesn’t change the fact that as a 13-year-old he ran down a USAC national sprint car champion under green-flag conditions. Take a bow.

Vexed, Villains & Victims

Las Cruces, N.M.’s Royal Jones was vocally admonished, and rightfully so, for pulling back onto the racetrack early in Sunday’s modified feature at Vado despite being visibly off the pace. Race control went as far as to instruct the driver not to kill himself on the racing surface while crediting the field for avoiding his car.

Tanner Gray certainly appeared to deliberately take out DJ Vanderley in Tuesday’s micro sprint feature from the video replay, and the crowd it seems agreed with that assessment.

Brett Moffitt picked up an engine stutter with three laps to go while leading Wednesday’s second micro sprint B-main, dropping him from the lead to outside the transfer positions by race’s end.

Fanning the Flames

Ryan Timms essentially lost a qualifying lap during midget time trials Monday night at Millbridge because he was fast enough to catch Dillon Silverman, who was sharing the track for time trials. The ever-present flaw of group qualifying. I would just assume go to a format where each driver gets one lap instead of two with the track to themselves. At least that way it’s entirely within their control.

There was some definite tip-toeing around the field of cars that showed up for this year’s second iteration of the Carolina Midget Showdown, and for good reason. Fifteen cars, for one, is thin anywhere, even if it was an improvement over last year. But consider that last year’s field included Larson, Chase Elliott and Chase Briscoe. This year’s highlights were Bell and Nick Hoffman. Not a knock on either of those guys, but Larson and Elliott they are not.

This isn’t surprising given when the race was scheduled. Last year, this race was run in the winter doldrums when racers had clean plates and could show up to play. Running this event as a Monday-Tuesday show in the thick of the NASCAR playoffs makes absolutely no sense.

It took a seeming eternity to get the racing surface into shape for Sunday’s modified finale at Vado. That’s the bad news. The good news is once they got the surface into shape, it was really damn good. Vado Speedway Park will never replace the soon-to-be-defunct Arizona Speedway, but after watching a race there it certainly appears able to put on a good show as the replacement site for January’s upcoming Wild West Shootout.

The trouble with passing points. Monday night at Millbridge, the commentary booth remarked that Bell was leading Brent Crews 306-303 after the initial Carolina Midget Showdown heat race. Why the hell do race fans need any story other than Bell won his heat race? Passing points are the dirt-track equivalent of NASCAR playoff points. Put them to death. It’s Halloween after all.

The FYE TV coverage from Vado on Sunday was a home run for two reasons. One, the simple fact that when a debris caution flew in the middle of the modified feature, the camera guy went straight to work and found said debris. Second, piping in race control into the feed at a volume where race control was louder than the PA announcer kept focus on what was happening on the track, especially under yellow. FYE TV is not a streamer I’ve watched much in 2021. That may have been a mistake on my part.

Numbers Game

7 – cars involved in lap 1 incident in Sunday’s modified feature at Vado

15 – total midget car count for the Carolina Midget Showdown at Millbridge.

$200 – prize money won by Jade Avedisian for scoring fast time in Tuesday’s midget time trials at Millbridge.

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 midweek three and a half Burial Skillet Donut Stouts. It was nice having live racing on every night of the week, but the midgets at Millbridge underwhelmed after last December’s showing.

Up Next: There’s money on the lines for all classes of dirt car this weekend. The USMTS modified tour will host a pair of $10,000-to-win features in Kansas Friday and Saturday. The World of Outlaws sprint cars will contest a pair of $10,000-to-win programs in Oklahoma and Texas. And late model fans have the $10,000-to-win Jambalaya 100 to look forward to at Pike County Speedway in Mississippi. Coverage can be found on Racin’ Dirt, DirtVision and Flo Racing respectively.

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