Race Weekend Central

Dirty (Half) Dozen: Last-Lap Late Model Fireworks, Wilkesboro Feels Dirty?

1. North Wilkesboro dirt experiment a dicey proposition

Yes, regardless of whether it’s repaved or covered in dirt, having racing return to the North Wilkesboro Speedway is a very good thing. And even though there are no plans to return big-league NASCAR racing of any kind to the facility the sport kicked to the curb decades ago, there’s no shortage of racing to look forward to for the fans in the area this year.

Nostalgia aside, I can’t say I’m thrilled about the idea of the track racing on dirt for the month of October, especially considering that the dirt races are going to be spread out over a full month, including underpowered classes such as the Hornets and 602 crate late models.

This is problematic on a couple fronts. One, lost in all the discussion about North Wilkesboro is the fact that the track is well over a half-mile long. That’s superspeedway-esque in dirt track terms, and we all were reminded early and often during the Bristol Dirt Nationals just how not enthralling engine-dyno racing can be. Putting hornets and crate late models on a track that long just doesn’t seem promising.

See also
Thinkin' Dirty: 2022 Bristol Dirt Nationals

The other question I’d ask is whether fatigue for the chance to race at Wilkesboro will set in on car counts. Last year at Bristol dirt, the Nationals drew over 1,000 cars for the week-long event. This year, with the event spread over two weeks, it was less than half that. 

If Wilkesboro’s dirt surface and track shape prove not conducive to a decent race, it’s not hard to think we’ll see car counts and interest tanking over the month of October. 

Take the money it’d cost to prepare this track’s dirt surface, put it into a gigantic purse and host a Snowball Derby qualifier for asphalt super late models instead. Signed, a dirt racing fanatic.

Author’s Note: The ever-passionate folks at Save the Speedway have clarified that the dirt racing surface to be used in October at North Wilkesboro will not be on top of the existing asphalt surface. This article has been modified to reflect this. 

2. Dirt racers bringing some welcome levelheadedness

Chase Briscoe and Tyler Reddick did the dirt racing community credit with how they handled their last-lap tangle at Bristol on Sunday night. Though that wasn’t too surprising in this writer’s eyes; with both coming from a dirt background, I think it was clear each of them understood the move Briscoe tried to make, and that had each of them been in an actual dirt racecar, it never would have turned out as catastrophic as it did that evening.

That wasn’t the only place that composure was on display. Rewind back to Friday night and an intense battle in the All-Star Circuit of Champions feature at Attica Raceway Park, where defending champion Tyler Courtney and then-race leader Justin Peck tangled in turn 4, sending Peck and his chances of winning spinning at the mid-race point.

Fast forward to Saturday, and Peck took no shots at Courtney at all, instead acknowledging that the two hadn’t made contact in their battle Friday night and that hard racing comes with the territory. 

After the Martinsville circus from a weekend ago, these exchanges were a welcome antidote.

3. Green-flag racing creates late-race fireworks for late model ranks

Three of the biggest super late model races of the weekend all came down to their closing laps, courtesy of long green-flag runs. 20 laps of persistent pressure on Jonathan Davenport by Brandon Overton landed him a $10,053-win at Wythe Raceway on Friday.

Saturday afternoon saw Josh Rice win the $10,000 Spring 50 at Florence Speedway, but not before a hard-charging Bobby Pierce surged to the lead briefly before an overdriven turn 2 and lapped traffic stopped the No. 32 from challenging for the checkers. And Saturday night, a late-race caution ended up actually saving Chris Madden, as Ricky Weiss had actually gotten alongside of him before Brandon Overton’s flat tire bunched the field back up.

See also
Thinkin' Dirty: 2022 Lil Bill Corum Memorial at Tazewell

The common thread in all of these features? Long, green-flag runs to the finish made for excellent features — a sharp contrast to what felt like marathon NASCAR races at Bristol this weekend. Stage racing and 150- to 250-lap races on dirt just don’t work.

4. Engine respite respite at Bridgeport

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of my Easter Sunday came shortly before enjoying grandma’s ham and scalloped potatoes. Watching the replay of Saturday’s modified feature at Bridgeport, nowhere to be seen was a well-intentioned but asinine rule change the track had considered making for the 2022 season. Trying to cut down on engine wear, the track had toyed with the idea of throwing competition cautions in the middle of their 30-lap features to allow for engines to cool off.

While I was not able to find any announcement revoking the policy, it was not enforced in the replay of Saturday’s race, nor is the rulebook linked above listed on the track’s website anymore. 

Thank God. Because I’d wager that any “savings” teams made on their engine costs from those scheduled caution laps would likely be eaten up by the wrecks that adding caution flags and restarts to races would inevitably cause. Want to save engine wear and tear? Cut the features from 30 to 25 laps and cut ticket prices $1.

5. Mixed bag for expanded World Finals format at Charlotte

As was announced at the World Finals last fall, the World Racing Group has expanded its de facto championship weekend program for the World of Outlaws late model and sprint car tours, as well as the Super DIRTcar Series, adding a fourth day to the program. In a long overdue move, the purses for the events have also been boosted.

The purse bump was needed and to be applauded. $25,000-to-win for sprint cars and late models on Saturday are much more in line with the caliber of event that the World Finals is supposed to represent. 

Having said that, too much of a good thing is a real thing. The expansion of this format now means that all teams have to be present for an extra day, and all teams will have an off day; previously the program ran three days, with all three series racing each night. Given that this event is being marketed as a championship event for all three series, having the series with interspersed bye nights really breaks up the crescendo. 

The race format was never the problem with the World Finals. Just like with the World Cup, it’s getting too big for its own good.

6. NASCAR missed opportunity to pack the track

The future of NASCAR on dirt remains in flux after a polarizing Food City Dirt Race. But the decision to use a half-dozen or so pack cars as opposed to putting the headline Cup drivers in their 36 3,200-pound machines to help pack the track after the rain was completely consistent with how super late models tend to be absent from any such packing sessions at your local dirt track.

Maybe Bristol dirt was more grassroots than I gave it credit for …

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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Anich

Just bring it back and it will build itsiesfle !

Jharris

Actually, North Wilkesboro is not going to be “covered” in dirt. After the asphalt races in August, the asphalt is going to be removed in preparation for a repave. While the pavement is removed, the dirt races will take place. So, essentially, the races will take place on the original surface of the track from opening until it was paved in the mid 1950’s.

Mike

What difference does it make weather north wilkesboro succeeds or not. The federal government put up the money, so the US taxpayers get to pay for some rich peoples play time. No wonder the US government is broke.

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