NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2021 Dirt Racing Awards: Just Like NASCAR, It’s Kyle Larson’s World

Let’s be clear. The 2021 dirt racing season is not over. Multiple dirt races across the country are scheduled to be contested across the next two weekends. Having said that, this column marks 49 consecutive weeks of writing this season, and I need a break, if for no other reason than to update my databases and tools to prepare for the 2022 season. 

Apologies in advance if any of the racers taking to the track over the next two weeks top any of the accolades awarded in this column. Having said that, in the spirit of this dirty beat I now call home, here’s a dirty dozen honors to culminate the 2021 dirt racing season.

2021 Paint Scheme of the Year

2021 marked the final season of sprint car racing for the legendary “Wild Child”, Jac Haudenschild. Not only did he contest much of the campaign in this classy, iconic scheme, team owner Rico Abreu actually secured sponsorship from Pennzoil to make the deal happen. 

2021 Wreck of the Year

Brady Bacon. Watch the tape. Enough said.

2021 Races of the Year

5. May 22, 2021

2021 World of Outlaws sprint cars
Where: Sharon Speedway – Hartford Township, Ohio (replay on DirtVision)
Winner’s Purse: $10,000

Sheldon Haudenschild dazzled a packed house in the first WoO show at Sharon in nearly 15 years, but his cushion-pounding attack on the track came back to bite him on the final lap, with wall contact knocking hime out of shape and leaving hometown hero Dave Blaney to ride off to victory in a hand-built sprint car.

The win marked Blaney’s first tour victory since 1997 and even had Haudenschild immediately in victory lane to congratulate the Buckeye Bullet. 

4. January 15, 2021

2021 Wild West Shootout
Where: Arizona Speedway – Queen Creek, Ariz. (replay on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $5,000

If ever there was a masterclass of clean slide-job racing in super late models, it was on display this early-season Friday night. Young guns Tyler Erb and Ricky Thornton Jr. left eventual Shootout overall champion Jonathan Davenport in the dust and turned Arizona Speedway into their own private playground, throwing sliders at each other every lap for the entirety of the feature’s second half, with Erb ultimately prevailing.

3. March 13, 2021

2021 World of Outlaws sprint cars
Where: Revolution Raceway Park – Monroe, La. (replay on DirtVision) 
Winner’s Purse: $10,000

Brad Sweet ultimately bested David Gravel in the WoO title chase, but Gravel got the best of Sweet in arguably the most competitive Outlaws race of the season. The second half of the debut feature at the Rev saw the two leaders trading slide jobs every lap, with the lead swapping a dozen times between the two drivers. The highlight reel below is worth watching in full. There’s a reason Racing America’s Matt Weaver referred to this race simply as “the goods.”

2. September 25, 2021

2021 Massive Malta 100 (Super DIRTcar Series)
Where: Albany-Saratoga Speedway – Malta, N.Y. (replay on DirtVision)
Winner’s Purse: $10,000

Not only did Mike Mahaney score his first career Super DIRTcar win this Saturday night in a thrilling last-lap battle with Stewart Friesen, he did so holding off Friesen in his toughest form.  

The longtime veteran had to win a last-chance qualifier just to make this feature event, having flown to New York from a NASCAR Truck Series race the night prior. From there, Friesen had climbed from 21st to second in a feature that went green for more than 70 consecutive laps. Despite all of that speed, however, Mahaney proved adept in lapped traffic, doing just enough to keep Friesen at bay in the closing laps. 

1. August 18, 2021

2021 BC39 (USAC National Midgets)
Where: The Dirt Track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Indianapolis, Ind. (replay on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $15,000

There wasn’t a more relentless feature at any level of dirt racing in 2021. With Kyle Larson pounding the turn 2 cushion and holding off a flurry of slide jobs from USAC regulars Justin Grant and Brady Bacon, some the best drivers dirt racing has to offer turned the tiny 4-cylinder racecars into absolute beasts, delivering a stellar show in front of a packed grandstand with even new track owner Roger Penske in attendance.

Those with Flo Racing subscriptions should go back and watch the entire feature. Repeatedly.

2021 Drivers of the Year

5. Tim McCreadie – Watertown, N.Y.

I debated long and hard about whether to give this one to Lakefield, Minn.’s Jeff Larson, as his 43 feature wins to my knowledge made him the winningest driver in all of dirt racing in 2021. Having said that, I went with the veteran late model driver and 2021 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion for several reasons. For one, Tim McCreadie was remarkably consistent all season long, running up front in major events without having to play dirty. 

More than just driving, however, McCreadie delivered a veteran presence on and off the track that was both a breath of fresh air and a vital reference for super late model racing, a division that while flourishing with big-dollar races is also struggling with an influx of younger crate late model drivers that are bringing a mash-the-gas style of racing with them. Case in point, McCreadie’s interview at East Bay in February after watching the Tyler Erb/Mason Zeigler feud boil over is likely to prove timeless.

4. Jonathan Davenport – Blairsville, Ga.

“Superman” set the tone for his 2021 season out west at the Arizona Speedway. Despite winning three feature races, the Wild West Shootout points title and banking more than $50,000 in prize money, Davenport left Arizona feeling nothing but disappointed that his No. 49 team missed out on a six-figure payday by leaving several feature wins on the table.

That level of performance was sustained for much of a stellar 2021 campaign that saw Davenport win 25-plus super late model features, including a World 100 triumph at Eldora and a sweep of the World Finals in Charlotte. 

The most notable win for Davenport, however, came back in March. Opting to skip out on LOLMDS regular status for a shot at racing Bristol, Davenport cashed in, blowing past Kyle Larson in the super late model finale to score a $50,000 win and a Bristol sword.

3. Brandon Overton – Evans, Ga.

Having said that, it seemed like in 2021 that anything Davenport could do, a fellow Georgian did better. No doubt about it, 2021 was a career year for now the nation’s top super late model driver, “Big Sexy” Brandon Overton. 31 feature wins. An estimated $1 million in winnings, buoyed in large part by a sweep of Eldora’s “Dream” races that saw Overton bank more than $270,000 in prize money in a single weekend. 

What’s more, Overton did all of this pursuing an “outlaw” schedule, racing without ties to a national touring series and the steady prize money that comes along with it. While some of this “cherry-picking” led to easier paychecks (for example, Overton won the $20,000 Gobbler at Cochran a few weeks back against a field of only 14 cars), any questions about Overton’s talent behind the wheel were answered back in October at the Cherokee Speedway, where Overton came within a car length of winning a super late model feature without a rear spoiler. 

2. Nick Hoffman – Mooresville, N.C.

Let’s be clear, Nick Hoffman deserves recognition for his on-track statistics alone. The 2021 UMP Modified national champion, Hoffman scored 40 feature wins, the majority of which came in utterly dominant fashion. This was evident nowhere more than the DIRTcar Summer Nationals, where Hoffman won 19 of 20 feature races that he entered and built such a gargantuan points lead that he left the tour a month early to go super late model racing.

But Hoffman impressed on more than the stat sheet. In terms of driving talent, it wasn’t just in a modified that he put on a display; Hoffman contended for all three midget feature wins in this past weekend’s Gateway Dirt Nationals, while his entry into Scott Bloomquist’s super late model racing team immediately improved the performance of Team Zero and their racecars. 

Lastly, Hoffman proved to be a hugely influential figure across dirt racing. Be it constant and at times controversial participation on social media, the rising profile of his family’s Millbridge Speedway as a showcase for rising stars and Hoffman’s dominant modified campaign leading to massive changes in the UMP Modified rulebook for 2022, Hoffman was a household name in the sport by year’s end.

1. – Kyle Larson – Elk Grove, Calif.

Anyone that’s been a longtime reader of mine knows how highly I think of Yung Money. And it’s debatable whether 2021 Kyle Larson deserves this recognition, given that a) he was statistically more dominant in dirt racing in 2020 and b) Larson’s national profile in 2021 cannot fully separate from his dominant run to the NASCAR Cup Series championship on asphalt.

Having said that, my decision to recognize Larson as dirt racing’s top driver in 2021 came down to two separate considerations, and that’s fitting given that Larson’s stellar 2021 campaign has led to much discussion across all racing disciplines.

First, one of the better Twitter exchanges I’ve read this season came down to a matter of perspective; is Larson a Cup Series driver dropping down to race dirt in his spare time… or is Larson a dirt racer that’s putting 36 ass-whippings on the asphalt community every season? That latter perspective says it all.

Two, get into the weeds of what Larson did on dirt this season. Despite his NASCAR commitments, Larson won crown jewel dirt races in three completely different disciplines in 2021. He won the Chili Bowl in a midget. 

He won the Prairie Dirt Classic in a super late model. 

And he won both the King’s Royal and the Knoxville Nationals in a sprint car. 

I’d wager my Frontstretch wages that there isn’t another driver on the planet capable of that.

– – –

To those readers that have loyally read this column, either as dirt fans or NASCAR fans branching out, thank you! Thinkin’ Dirty will be back New Year’s weekend with coverage of the Tulsa Shootout.

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5 Comments
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Echo

I have to agree with you on everything you said about Kyle Larson. The kid is as talented behind the wheel of anything as anyone we have ever seen. In time he will become a legend.

Steve Cox

As someone who as a 9 yr old kid subscribed to Speed Age, after seeing my 1st sprint race at Winchester “1953”. And religiously followed as well as crewed and even as car owner the great sport of auto racing, watching all of the greats up close. In my humble opinion no one has matched Kyle Larson.

MN.Mark

I’ve raced myself for 46 years and watched racing – both dirt and asphalt allover the Country for 62 years. I totally agree with you – NO ONE can or has won all of the prestigious races in 4 totally different kinds of cars – dirt / asphalt / open wheel / stock car / oval / road course / wing / Non-Wing. There’s ABSOLUTELY no one on this planet that can do that all in the same year.

Tom B

I agree there is no one out there now that can race like Kyle Larson, but in his prime AJ Foyt was doing the same thing.

GUY FIROR

WHICH SPEAKS VERY HIGHLY FOR KYLE !!!

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