Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2021 Blue Gray 100 at Cherokee

The Headline(s)

Chris Madden makes Blue Gray 100 history at Cherokee Speedway, continuing a huge month of November, while Brandon Overton and Justin Grant score the weekend’s richest paychecks.

Our Feature Spotlights

2021 Blue Gray 100 (Xtreme DIRTcar Series)
Where: Cherokee Speedway – Gaffney, S.C. (streamed on DirtVision)
Winner’s Purse: $10,000

Chris Madden’s monster November continued on Sunday as he prevailed in a closing laps battle, holding off Brandon Overton and his fresher tires to score his record seventh career win in the Blue Gray 100. Madden got an unlikely aid with three laps to go when Overton caught the lapped car of Cory Lawler at just the wrong spot in turn 3, costing the No. 76 several precious car lengths he’d never make up.

Ross Bailes followed up his Friday win in the Xtreme DIRTcar Series season opener at Lancaster by leading the opening 79 laps of Sunday’s feature from the pole, only to blow a tire while leading the race. That handed the race lead to Madden, whose strategy from the green flag was to run the full 100 laps without stopping.

Overton took the opposite approach, having pit on lap 66 for tires and took to the high side of the track, charging from sixth to second in the final third of the event.

The feature turned into a marathon due to an extended red flag on lap 29, when the Big One struck, highlighted by Mike Maresca barrel-rolling down the backstretch in a six-car incident. All drivers involved were uninjured.

2021 Hangtown 100 (USAC National Midgets)
Where: Placerville Speedway – Placerville, Calif. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $20,000

Sustained pressure finally paid off on lap 86 for USAC veteran Justin Grant, who slid under race leader and current USAC midgets points leader Buddy Kofoid through turns 3 and 4 and then weathered a late-race restart to win the $20,000 Saturday finale of the Hangtown 100. The win was Grant’s third of 2021 on the USAC midget circuit.

Kofoid dominated the event, leading more than 60 laps after stealing the lead early from polesitter and All-Star Circuit of Champions sprint car regular Zeb Wise. Defending race winner Kyle Larson was involved in three separate incidents during Saturday’s feature and was never a factor.

With Larson’s struggles, Logan Seavey won the three-day points title at Placerville, and the $12,000 that went along with it.

2021 King of the Sandbox
Where: Southern Raceway – Milton, Fla. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $20,000

Milton, Fla.’s Bo Slay ran a wicked fast opening 13 laps out front on Saturday night, but his first encounter with lapped traffic handed the lead to none other than Brandon Overton, who ran away and hid from the field to win the 60-lap feature, the richest race ever run at the Southern Raceway.

Overton’s two expected challengers in the event both found trouble during the feature. Joseph Joiner of Hunt the Front fame (the YouTubers were a large influence in bringing the big-money race to the Southern Raceway) suffered a flat tire with 20 laps to go, while Friday’s preliminary winner Ashton Winger lost an engine only five laps into Saturday’s race. Despite all the publicity for the event, only 16 super late models started the $20,000 feature.

Success Stories

Phenix City, Ala.’s Jimmy Thomas obliterated Crate Racin’ USA field with a convincing Early Bird 50 win at Needmore Speedway Saturday night, taking $10,000 and the series points title doing it. Thomas credited the victory to his team taking the team the week prior to the event doing a total rebuild of their racecar. Of note, Thomas also won Friday’s $2,000 preliminary feature.

Not only did Nick Hoffman win the $7,000 Reutimann Memorial at Volusia on Saturday in dominating fashion, he saw biggest rivals Kyle Strickler and Tyler Nicely taken out in freak incidents within a lap of each other in the feature; Strickler got his nose stuck in turn 3 and tore the front of end his machine up in a solo incident, while Nicely had to give up second place in the running order after his air cleaner flew off the car. When it’s your year, it’s your year.

Some NASCAR-related notes on the weekend. Kyle Larson won Friday’s preliminary Hangtown 100 midget feature at Placerville. Kenny Wallace, Justin Haley and David Reutimann all finished in the top 10 in the Reutimann Memorial at Volusia on Saturday.

GR Smith and his new hired gun Winger were untouchable on Friday at Southern Raceway, with Winger wiring the 30-lap King of the Sandbox preliminary feature and Smith finishing runner-up despite having been out of his late model for months. All of this at the same track that Smith was nearly booed out of back in March after getting into it with the Hunt the Front crew. Having said that…

Vexed, Villains & Victims

It became clear very early though that Smith’s team used up all its luck Friday. Winger blew up five laps into Saturday’s feature, while owner Smith went off track in turn 2 of the first lap and never recovered.

Yes, Ross Bailes won at Lancaster on Friday. But leading 79 laps of the Blue Gray 100, on his birthday, only to suffer a front tire failure in a race that’s all about conserving the right-rear tire is the definition of vexed. 

Fresno, Calif.’s Mariah Ede endured the hardest wreck of any midget driver Tuesday night at Bakersfield, then was sent to the hospital Saturday after another wreck in a semi feature at Placerville. Fortunately she was released the next day.

Except for Saturday’s feature, I don’t know that there wasn’t an incident that Jake Morgan wasn’t involved in at Placerville. Not being sarcastic.

Up until the Big One at Cherokee, Chico, Calif.’s Craig Swim endured the wreck of the weekend Friday at Placerville’s lightning sprint program.

The entire Super Street field at Needmore Saturday put up on possible the disaster of the 2021 season. The feature endured a yellow and two red flags before the first lap was scored, with another major incident slowing the field on lap 3. When all was said and done, the 25-lap feature was shortened to five laps and ended with a backstretch wreck on the final lap.

Charlotte, N.C.’s Timmy Rominger spun out twice in limited late model qualifying Sunday at Cherokee, then on lap 3 of the feature. Then again on lap 4. All unassisted. Rominger then drove half a lap the wrong way down the track to exit to the pits, fortunately for good.

NASCAR-related notes. Larson was involved in three incidents in Saturday’s Hangtown 100 finale, including a flip two-thirds of the way into the race, and finished 18th. That was two spots better than fellow Cup regular Chase Elliott, who finished 20th in Saturday’s feature after missing the show Friday night.

Fanning the Flames

Does anyone remember the crazy lady from Good Burger rapping through massive long orders to the dismay of the counter staff? That’s how I felt listening to a minutes-long recap of the race format used in the weekend’s Hangtown 100 program at Placerville. If you can run a heat race in the amount of time it takes to explain the race format, it’s too freaking complicated. Midget racing is the “purest form of racing” my ass.

Having said that, a shout-out to dirt racing in its entirety, as in the 12-plus hours of coverage I watched this weekend not one event came down to a call made by race control, officials whatever word you want to use. If I see one more Twitter trend about Formula 1 stewards I’m going to skewer something. Who the hell goes to a sporting event to watch the refs?

The question of Friday night. Which was thicker, the fog in Placerville or the dust in Milton? 

Four-time World of Outlaws late model champion Josh Richards is currently the highest-profile free agent in the ranks of super late model racing for 2022, with Richards parting company with Clint Bowyer Racing after an underwhelming 2022 campaign. 

Two storylines to watch here. One, a change of scenery has already proven to be good for Richards, as he ran top-five driving WoO late model regular Boom Briggs’s backup car at Las Vegas last weekend. Two, it would be a major coup for the WoO late model tour to poach Richards back into their ranks after he’s spent the last few seasons on the Lucas Oil tour… Richards is an instant title contender, and seeing him take on Brandon Sheppard and his father’s Rocket Chassis house team would be a matchup worth salivating over. 

Speaking of something to salivate over, the speculation over and the news is real. The Eldora Million will return to super late model racing in June of 2022. There’s no way not to be excited about this… a dirt late model race paying more than the NASCAR All-Star Race to win at one of the premier dirt tracks in America. What’s not to love?

But more than anything, credit to Eldora for punching back at the newly emerging XR Super Series, which very deliberately scheduled one of its events up against Eldora’s Dream race for super late models. Competition and confrontation are two very different things. XR has done some great things scheduling big-dollar events for 2022, but picking a fight with Eldora, a track that is top of the heaps because a) it has paid drivers well for a while and b) provides a superb fan experience, needs to backfire. 

Fresh off a successful Peach State Classic that drew a huge car count and packed the grandstands, the rejuvenated Senoia Raceway has been announced as the site of the season opener for the All-Star Circuit of Champions sprint car tour, replacing Screen Motorsports Park. The racing surface is likely to be superb for the event, but the purse is a run-of-the-mill $6,000-to-win both nights. Watching how many cars the event can grab on their way to Volusia will be worth watching.

On another sprint car note, Kyle Larson and Brad Sweet have been announced as the new promoters of the Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, Calif. I like the move simply from a perspective that two names that big are likely insurance that this California track isn’t disappearing anytime soon, welcome news for any track in the People’s Republic. The real question is how two drivers synonymous with 410 sprint car racing, a dying breed in California, are going to handle sustaining a weekly racing program. I’d hate to see Silver Dollar end up a special event-only track.

Chili Bowl 2021 flirted with disaster, as the event went off with the city of Tulsa threatening to cancel it if fans didn’t comply with a mask mandate. Chili Bowl 2022 is flirting with an even larger disaster in what can only be described as a blatant cash grab. No way this ends up as a net benefit for the on-track product.

Numbers Game

4 – false starts in Tuesday’s USAC midget program at Bakersfield.

12.347 – new track record midget lap at Bakersfield Speedway, set by Cannon McIntosh Tuesday.

29 – super late model car count for the Blue Gray 100 at Cherokee on Sunday.

$50 – cash bonus paid to the driver that turned the fastest lap in Saturday’s Reutimann Memorial at Volusia.

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 weekend three RJ Rockers’ Peachy Kings in honor of the Sunday visit to Gaffney. The Blue Gray 100 had just enough drama to make up for a still narrow Cherokee racing surface, but Placerville felt anti-climactic and 16 cars didn’t feel worthy of the crown “King of the Sandbox.”

Up Next: There’s no shortage of Gobbler-themed races to look forward to this weekend, with the biggest payday awaiting the winner of the Gobbler 100 at Cochran Motor Speedway down in Georgia. Coverage can be found Saturday on Flo Racing. Of note for our readers, our regular Thursday dirt column will not run this week because yours truly will have begun overeating long before Thursday. Wishing all a safe holiday.

About the author

Senior Commentator at Frontstretch

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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