Race Weekend Central

Dirty (Half) Dozen: Vintage Jimmy Owens at Atomic, Chaos at Port Royal & Tragedy at Winchester

1. Jimmy Owens Gives Lucas Oil Late Models Story Without the Points

The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series season is a month old and still the points race is an afterthought, with the top two in the standings being drivers that are not title contenders; leader Devin Moran is not currently scheduled to contest the full tour, while Brandon Sheppard is a World of Outlaws regular. 

Yet, none of that mattered this weekend. Despite suffering through a weekend that saw the Indiana Icebreaker rained out at Brownstown and the Buckeye Spring 50 at Atomic Speedway moved from Friday to Sunday, the only tour race that ran Sunday night proved chock-full of drama.

For one, it saw Devin Moran, arguably the consensus No. 1 late model driver leaving Florida Speedweeks vanquished in his home state (Moran finished second, continuing a 12-race top-10 streak in 2022).

But more importantly, that defeat came at the hands of Jimmy Owens. Not only did Owens show form rarely seen from the Ramirez Motorsports’ No. 20 team since they won the LOLMDS tour in 2020, he scored the win in his first race since his longtime owner Leon Ramirez passed away last month. 

The “Newport Nightmare” tops the “Mailman.” A longtime veteran returns to form. The No. 20’s return to Rocket Chassis has immediate results on track. 

The takeaway? Who needs points?

2. XR, Bristol Nationals Changing Dirt Landscape for Touring

That takeaway is extremely important given that this weekend marks the kickoff of the high-dollar XR Super Series, a tour that’s been speculated as being single-handedly responsible for pushing former LOLMDS regulars Jonathan Davenport and Jimmy Owens, as well as last year’s WoO late model runner-up Chris Madden, to pursue “outlaw” schedules in 2022 rather than following a national tour.

In terms of money, it’s hard to argue with their decision. The XR Super Series is slated to run four races at the Bristol Dirt Track over the next two weekends that pay $50,000 to win each night, PLUS includes a six-figure points fund on top of it. 

Someone goes on a Brandon Overton-esque run through the Bristol Dirt Nationals like Big Sexy did at Eldora last summer and they could hypothetically call it a season.

This development is not without risk for the late model racing scene. Fewer drivers committed to running national tours could narrow the geographic scope of where those series can race. There’s also reasonable questions to be asked of the XR Super Series and its finances, as the series is throwing around obscene purses for all of its events. Whether the series can turn a profit despite the huge purses remains to be seen. 

Having said that, I’m all for it. National tours have their place, but the outlaw nature of dirt racing is special. It’s a place where promoters really can flex their muscles to bring in fields of cars that actually change every weekend. 

See also
Thinkin' Dirty: 2022 No Way Out 40 at Paragon

3. Grant Suspension on Xtreme Tour Risk of Outlaw Schedule Push

But, that’s not to say that drivers following “outlaw” schedules won’t behave like, well, outlaws. News came out this week that wingless sprint car staples Justin Grant and Chase Stockon have been suspended from competing in the next two Xtreme Outlaw Sprint Series races after their two teams were found to have run illegal tires in the series’ debut races at Volusia last month.  

Now, in Stockon’s case, I can’t fathom what drove his team to do this, as they had actually committed to running the Xtreme tour full-time this season. But in Grant’s case, being a driver that’s been a full-time staple across the USAC portfolio for years (he’s leading the USAC national midget points standings), there’s something to be said about pushing the envelope. 

Committing to national tours won’t stop drivers from taking risks regarding the rulebook; let’s not forget that Aaron Reutzel was a full-time World of Outlaws regular when he got busted last season for running an unapproved chassis. But it’s a reality that technical inspectors at tracks across the country have to be aware of. 

4. NASCAR Perspective on Track Closures Damaging to All Racing

I’m sure Ross Chastain’s comments about Kentucky Speedway were made in the spirit of “don’t clone Atlanta” as opposed to “never go back to Kentucky again,” but it really is mind-boggling to hear how dismissive the entire NASCAR community has become of a facility that spent a literal decade putting on marquee Busch Series standalone races to break into the ranks of Cup-hosting facilities.

Where does this fit into dirt racing? Simple really, track closures are a bad thing. Period. Be at the top of the asphalt racing pyramid or a bullring at the local fairgrounds, a closed track means the sport has become less accessible for fans and competitors in the geographic area. 

Just because Kentucky Speedway shouldn’t be turned into another 1.5-mile plate track (and it shouldn’t, the new Atlanta is nothing to celebrate) doesn’t mean that Kentucky can’t or shouldn’t be reconfigured and raced on in another form. 

I can’t count on my fingers and toes the number of dirt tracks that have been reconfigured, banking higher or turning shorter to fit the demands of modern racecars. There’s numerous examples of dirt bullrings that now exist within the perimeter of older dirt miles and half-miles alike. Some, like the Davenport Speedway in Iowa, actually use the old dirt layout as a means to facilitate racing on their new, smaller configurations.

Maybe that’d work at Kentucky? 1.5 miles of dirt is a terrible idea, but a banked dirt track on the infield of the existing facility? However it gets done, I certainly hope Kentucky’s last days of racing haven’t been seen. After all, it… is… Sparta!

5. Unrestrained Conduct at Port Royal Needs to Consider Restraints

Sprint car racing isn’t a discipline that sees a lot of drivers get turned on a straightaway, but that is exactly what happened to Logan Wagner after contact with eventual race winner Anthony Macri in Sunday’s feature at Port Royal Speedway. Dirty or not, you be the judge.

What’s undisputed though, is that Wagner felt he was wronged. And after being involved in another incident later in the race that saw Wagner forced from his wrecked machine, he went up to Macri’s car under red to make a point.

Now granted, in this instance, it appears that all that Wagner did was exchange words. That doesn’t make it any more acceptable that in this case he went after a competitor still strapped into his racecar. What’s more, unlike in NASCAR-land, where there are two-way radios that would have allowed a spotter or crewman to at least warn Macri that he had company coming, Macri was literally stuck to deal with whatever Wagner felt was appropriate.

I may not have the spine to wheel a 900-horsepower racecar, but in 35 years of life I’ve had enough backbone never to go after a literally restrained opponent. I don’t care if it’s loud words or Clint Bowyer-esque sucker punches, going after drivers physically who are still in the cockpit of their machines has no place in racing.

6. A Striking Tragedy at My Home Track

And while on the topic of backbone, as I’ve written previously, I’ve spent the last month dealing with a lower-back injury that has limited my ability to drive long distances, thus limiting my travels to the track. Despite being race-starved as a result, I will admit that I missed the season opener at my home track in Winchester, Va., only 13 miles away, opting to watch my beloved Wake Forest Demon Deacons playing postseason basketball for the first time in recent memory.

I was watching the results from Winchester on Race Monitor, hoping that the program would run slow enough that it’d be worth hustling to the track as soon as the basketball game was done, in time to catch at least the features. And it appeared that I was in luck. With the Wake game winding down, there had been a pause in the race results coming from the track, a pause that coincided with a thunderstorm drenching my house.

I immediately went to Facebook, hoping to read that the race had been delayed by rain and that I’d be able to mosey over to catch the evening’s event. Sadly, what I read was far worse.

**FATAL MVA**WINCHESTER SPEEDWAY

Posted by Winchester Fire/Police Chatter on Saturday, March 19, 2022

It goes without saying that this is a tragedy, and all of us at Frontstretch send our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Jimmy Billmeyer, as well as the fans that witnessed the episode and the first responders that attended to it. On a personal level, I’ve never been more thankful to have missed a race than I was this Saturday.

But it made me consider a little bit more the thunderstorm that passed over my house shortly after this incident occurred, leaving a beautiful sunset and a rainbow in its wake. I can only hope that it was symbolic of someone looking out for Mr. Billmeyer.

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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