Race Weekend Central

Dirty (Half) Dozen: Kyle Larson, Brian Brown (Rightly) Follow the Money

ONE: Kyle Larson Spot-On With Chili Bowl Criticism

2021 Chili Bowl Nationals winner Kyle Larson damn near set the dirt racing world on fire last week with his apparent decision to skip the prestigious midget race in 2023, citing a $10,000-to-win purse that has not changed in decades despite increasing costs to compete and an entry list north of 300 cars that has grown in star power annually.

By now, those in the dirt racing community have read the back and forth. While Larson does not believe the purse paid by the event is commiserate for its cost and prestige, the longtime organizers of the Chili Bowl state the money just isn’t there to dramatically increase the purse, citing the million-dollar cost it takes to transform the Tulsa Expo Center into a dirt track for most of January.

I have no doubt the Chili Bowl costs an astronomical amount of money to put on. Having said that, I’m entirely in the Larson camp on this one. For one, Larson is no stranger to race promotion himself, having played a major role in bringing a $20,000-to-win super late model race to Volunteer Speedway leading up to NASCAR’s Bristol dirt week. He just recently announced that he’d be part of a newly-launched sprint car tour meant to be the equivalent of the Flo Racing Night in America late model series for the winged sprint community.

Larson has no shortage of money thanks to his NASCAR day job, but he’s putting said money where his mouth is when promoting races of his own.

More importantly, though, for at least a decade now the organizers of the Chili Bowl have been all but cavalier about the purse staying at $10,000 to win. They’ve cited that the entry lists were continuing to grow regardless, with drivers deciding the pursuit of a Golden Driller trophy was worth losing money over.

There are very few drivers in dirt racing with enough clout to sit out and get the Chili Bowl’s attention. Kyle Larson is one. Midget racers across America will be thanking Larson in due time for this move.

TWO: DirtVision Scores Major Late Model Win

One of the best pieces of news I read on the DirtVision ticker during Kings Royal coverage this past weekend was a note that the USA Nationals on the World of Outlaws Late Models tour will actually be made available to subscribers this year, as opposed to being a standalone pay-per-view event as in years past.

As a late model fan, hallelujah. The USA Nationals last season just made me irritated, partly because I was missing a race that has no short history of major events (it was this race that saw Tyler Erb incur a year-long suspension from World Racing Group events for his Bowman Gray-esque antics) and partly because a subscription that costs hundreds of dollars a year did not actually cover the entirety of the WoO late model tour.

I don’t have any inside information into how this deal was achieved, but it had to happen. Between the three national late model tours (WoO, Lucas Oil and XR Super Series) the USA Nationals were previously the only race sanctioned by one of those tours that required a PPV buy. And while it’s absolutely a prestigious race at $50,000 to win, let’s face it, those are a dime a dozen this summer. 

And, just like the rest of that dozen, now I’ll be watching.

THREE: Inaugural Visit to I-70 Not One to Remember for LOLMDS

The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series made what MAVTV dubbed “The Inaugural Visit” to a refurbished I-70 Motorsports Park this past Thursday night (July 14), and there were some growing pains, to put it lightly. For one, the LOLMDS became the second national late model tour to have to cut race lengths due to overheating engines in the midwest this summer (the XR Super Series did the same at Belleville High Banks).

See also
Thinkin' Dirty: 2022 Belleville Dirt Nationals Late Model Opener

But this Thursday night saw a well-intentioned program format go wrong. The late models ran without a support class, and with only 24 late models in the field, preliminary action wrapped up real quick. So quick, in fact, that the track had to do an impromptu meet the drivers function on the frontstretch, waiting for time to elapse until MAVTV’s cable time slot arrived to start the feature.

Neither of these things are bad. Single-class programs are a great thing when there’s a legitimate headliner, and I’ll never complain about having an efficient program on a weeknight when I’m often in the majority of the crowd that has to work the next morning. And there’s obviously nothing wrong with tracks making time for fans to meet drivers.

But when it feels like the track is just killing time, well, the fan experience suffers. I learned this in person on Friday night, when I made the trip to a local go-kart track for their Friday night program. That program started 30 minutes late, took nearly an hour to run hot laps for 30-some karts, then let more time lag between hot laps and the heat races. 

It was so frustrating that I left after the heats were halfway done. And when I left, the last image I saw was a cross-section of kids in the grandstand that either were asleep or asking to go home. 

Here’s hoping there’s lessons learned on that front… and on the promotions front… for next year. I-70 looks like a beautiful facility, but that was partly visible because of just how empty the frontstretch grandstand was.

FOUR: A Points Lead Brian Brown Should Have Never Lost

Brian Brown is a Knoxville Raceway regular, but that didn’t stop him from making a lot of noise at Eldora Speedway during the Kings Royal weekend, leading laps and scoring a top-10 finish in the main event Saturday.

The problem? Well, DirtVision stated that early on. Brown, who entered the weekend the track points leader at Knoxville, had to skip a weekly race at the track to run the Kings Royal. That allowed Aaron Reutzel to score the win and the points lead at Knoxville on Saturday.

Look, I get that it was the weekend of the Marion County Fair in Knoxville, and that Knoxville Raceway is the sprint car capital of the world. I can understand wanting the 410s to run on fair weekend.

But Knoxville Raceway counts truly national ringers among its ranks of track regulars. For a track that’s no stranger to prestigious sprint car races, to treat Kings Royal weekend as if it’s any other for the sport is surprisingly aloof. The Kings Royal field would have been better with Reutzel and the McCarls in it.

Credit, though, to Brian Brown for going where the prestige and the money was, points racing be damned.

FIVE: A Duel for Wreck of the Year

Last week’s midseason awards column demonstrated the current leaders for wreck of the year were Kasey Kahne’s violent tumble at Volusia Speedway Park in February versus the Knoxville Raceway version of the Big One.

See also
Thinkin' Dirty: 2022 Dirt Racing Midsummer Awards

This is fast becoming a duel. Kahne, unfortunately, ended up sitting out the Kings Royal feature after suffering through another spectacular crash in the “Knight Before” preliminary feature at Eldora. Not to be outdone, later that Saturday Knoxville Raceway filed another entry to rival the incident Kahne was involved in.

I implore all parties involved to stop making this trophy such an active competition.

SIX: What Do Sprint Cars and College Football Have in Common?

Simple. The sports’ “rankings” don’t mean a damn thing and should be ignored. Case in point, check out this headline from Speed Sport, where Justin Peck topped Brent Marks in their poll after this weekend.

 

Yes, you read that right. Justin Peck jumped Brent Marks in the rankings this weekend. You know, the same weekend Marks became the first driver in history to sweep the Historical Big One and Kings Royal at Eldora in the same season.

Granted, this switch is a statistical aberration, as Peck has made more starts in 2022 and therefore crossed a threshold which allows him to drop bad finishes. But still, the headline says it all. 

Wrong.

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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Ted

It’s a slight bit hypocritical to hear a gentleman that at one point claimed he didn’t race for the money, but for the fun of it, claim about it now that he doesn’t “need” the money. Is he just not satisfied with the millions he makes, to just lower himself to a division and take the money from guys who literally race paycheck to paycheck?

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