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TDN Roundtable Volume 5

We’re back with another edition of TDN Roundtable where we expound on relevant topics such as “What the hell are we going to do after racing season?” or “How to get the fat guy in front of you to sit down and watch without causing a ruckus?” or even “Why won’t they let you bring (insert unreasonable item) into the pits?”

Actually, we’ll only touch on one of those aforementioned questions, the rest of the time, we’re talking dirt, all divisions, local and regional. We’ve got some points to ponder and we’re going to share them with you, even if you’d like us to keep them to ourselves.

So put your brains to work, and see what you’d add to our roundtable discussion!

Mike Ruefer Photo


Brian Birkhofer said goodbye for now to the dirt track this past weekend in grand fashion with his Knoxville Nationals win. We’ve seen drivers attempt to “retire” before, and the door doesn’t always stay closed for long.

But what was interesting to see, was the likes of Billy Moyer and Scott Bloomquist making public statements at the press opportunities in Knoxville, that indicated that the costs involved in tour racing or even true outlaw racing, are so out of control and the corporate support has dwindled to the point that even the best of the best can barely manage a decent living.

We’ve heard this sort of rhetoric before, but are they really telling us that we’re closer to the ceiling than many people realize and it’s time for major change…or else?  Is it time to race less, control engine and tire costs, or to encourage business to take more chances on greater amounts of support?

I’m not sure which direction racing is going to head in the future. While I can definitely admit that there is a problem, I can’t come up with a viable solution to the problem. Pay more through the field? I know first hand that tracks are struggling to cover each night as it is. Just fill the grandstands so you can pay more out? Unfortunately in this day and age, there is just so much going on that we’ll never see the crowds that were apparent just a decade or two ago. – Tyler Beichner

Listen to that press conference and especially what Moyer had to say and that will tell the story of what has gone wrong in racing. When top guys in late model racing are struggling to keep up with costs everyone is in trouble. Its time that sanctions start listening to their drivers before they aren’t there anymore. Anyway you can cut costs in this economy is a huge plus for racing. That goes for Sprints too. Where would the World of Outlaws be without Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart? I feel it would be struggling mightily. – Jerin Steele

I don’t see the top 20 dirt late model drivers going without top quality rides each year. A bigger $ sponsor may up move from a 2nd level team to the top guys like Bloomquist and Moyer where they know their investment is seen more on tv or in victory lane. – Brian “Dobie” Compton

I think guys like Bloomquist and Moyer crying about costs is laughable. I’m not impressed when millionaires whine about how they’re becoming thousandaires. They’re the reason costs are so out of control. It’s the technological advances they have made that have required everybody else to go out and spend huge dollars to keep up. I mean, think about it. If Bloomer was so worried about saving racers money, his Team Zero chassis would have been affordable, right? Thing is, they weren’t. They were far more expensive than anything else out there. The “new” Sweet/Bloomquist cars are a little cheaper than Team Zero was… but not by much. Moyer, well, he’s in the chassis business himself, too. The Moyer Victory Circle cars were more expensive than everybody but Team Zero. Now he’s dealing in Longhorns. Go price one of them. They might be more expensive than Bloomer these days. – Josh Bayko

I’m agreed with Josh on the Bloomquist/Moyer crying about cost bit. It is laughable. And, I don’t think that the sky is falling either. At the same time, the time for a purse bump on a certain level for the touring guys seems about right. But, only if the sport can support it. That means maybe racing 35 times for a little nicer purse, instead of 45 dates with most of them being standard $10K to win affairs.  Less travel costs for teams, make the events more special since there’s less of them so a better purse can be reasonable with a greater crowd and probably a greater car count on hand.  That’s a small part of it, until we can find new and interesting ways to re-energize corporate support for teams and tracks. – Gary Heeman

Gonna throw three names out there in late models currently. Among them, which one’s season success was most surprising, and which one will make even more noise in 2015? Your three drivers: Bobby Pierce, Kent Robinson, and Mason Zeigler…..Go!

Mike Ruefer Photo

Mason Zeigler…hands down. I’ll start with my thoughts on the other two. Bobby Pierce splashed onto the scene last year, so this year wasn’t as much of a surprise (albeit still impressive as hell). Kent Robinson’s brief stint with the WoO gave every indication that he’d be a tough competitor, not to mention his experimental season in a Club 29 car has him receiving all the tips and tricks. On the other hand, Zeigler hadn’t so much as left his mark on the regional scene yet and what is exactly does he do? Makes a name for himself at the prestigious Prairie Dirt Classic and follows it up at the World 100. My question to you guys is, can he build on this or will Mason take a step back in 2015? – Tyler Beichner

I don’t know if anyone of them was a real surprise. They all have run good in previous years (Ziegler in Florida 2013, Robinson at the Pittsburgher last year, Pierce several times last year). I think they will all continue their success, but I’ll say Pierce will win a crown jewel first. – Jerin Steele

I was glad to see a local wheelman (Zeigler) make a huge jump and win a few $10,000 races on the hell tour as well as run his butt off last year and at this years world 100 before having incidents. With Robinson running a tour series before and Pierce’s family pedigree they were not the “wow” factor that Mason Zeigler’s results yielded in my eyes.  – Brian “Dobie” Compton

I’ve been incredibly impressed with Mason Zeigler this season. From the times I’ve watched him locally he’s dramatically improved. To go out on the road and run competitively with the Lucas Oil Series, and to win races on the UMP Hell Tour says a lot. I expect a guy like Bobby Pierce to run competitively, especially with the knowledge he has at his disposal.- Pat Miller

I think Mason Zeigler is going to be more even impressive in 2015. He’s got all the tools, and some of the very best equipment. All he needs is a little patience. Once he get that, look out. It’ll be cool to see. I remember when he was pretty much a local runner and he was awful. I think Kent Robinson will have a year much like he had this season. He’s a good young driver for sure. I think Bobby Pierce will regress some, though. He hasn’t made any friends at all this season, and he’s going to find it hard to win races when his competitors don’t show him any respect anymore. – Josh Bayko

I think with Robinson having run tours before, the results seemed less than what they were with him running a true outlaw season more recently. He’s been learning his craft at a greater variety of tracks and I think it’s been helping him other places too. I think he’s primed for a big win or two in 2015. But Pierce is intriguing too, I need to see him run  against different competition at more different tracks to say he’s definitely the guy to open even more eyes in 2015, it wouldn’t surprise me though, he seems like pure natural talent that might have to take a step back before taking another giant one forward. And for me, Zeigler came out of nowhere. I’d seen him do alright regionally. But, to be within a slip of finishing 2nd at he world (he still would never have caught Bloomer after he passed him), was amazing. Gonna have to give it to Zeigler for biggest surprise and biggest expectations in 2015. – Gary Heeman

Hein Brothers Photo

PPMS (Pittsburgh Pennsylvania’s Motor Speedway) debunked a bit of a myth this past weekend with their Renegade Sprint show. That myth, that most sprint drivers would stay away from the place when given a choice of places to race,  due to it’s size, the speeds, and the cost of equipment, had been proven by car counts in the 10 car range for their normal, unsanctioned sprint specials.

But by all accounts, this past Saturday’s event went fairly smoothly and fans appear to have enjoyed a real full field of 410’s at the Monster half mile.  Does this bode well for sanctioned sprint shows in the future? Especially when coupled with the fact that management recently paid a sizeable sanction fee for the Lucas Oil Late models to make a 2015 appearance. 31 drivers had no problem making their way around the track.

If I were them I’d have sanctioned races only. It is pretty apparent that there are not enough local sprint car drivers that want to run that place when they have a non sanctioned event. That’s not a knock on the drivers in this area either. Most of them probably can’t afford the risk of ruining their stuff at that place when they are running weekly for a points title at Lernerville or Mercer. Add the extra money of a Renegade Show and not only do you get the drivers that run the series, but you coax the locals who may have reservations on running there too. – Jerin Steele

I hope the sanctioned shows work for them and their budget. Living on the wrong side of the tunnels downtown I have not made the commitment to fight traffic to PPMS this season but it will be hard to pass up a Lucas or Outlaws sprint or late model show there again. I am not a sprint chaser but one of the best races i ever saw was a sprint show on the big 1/2 mile at Metrolina Speedway in Charlotte, NC. reminds me a lot of PPMS with its size and how fast those sprints got around the place. – Brian “Dobie” Compton

Two or three Renegade, All-Star, etc. races would be better to have than the unsanctioned shows, not only for the drivers, but also for the fans. The local drivers that choose to run would be guaranteed a larger sum of money to show up. Lets face it, the monster half mile can be hard on equipment. A little extra dough can entice the smaller teams. The fans wouldn’t worry about only 10 cars showing up.-Pat Miller

Given that the super lates are gone from PPMS on a weekly basis, I really hope the specials only segment of PPMS takes off and helps them not just to keep the doors open, but to be able to turn some of the revenue into reasonable upgrades to the physical plant there. I’m kind of tired of hearing the “great track, but a tough place to look at” comments. When you open it up to specials like they’re going to do, you’re inviting a segment that has never seen the place before and will be forming opinions. Some fresh paint, wall repair, and some ground work would really help make these opinions better and entice people to come back.  You don’t need it to be a palace, but it does appear more could be done to enhance the place. – Gary Heeman

On to some big blocks. I don’t need to tell anyone on staff here that the biggest party in dirt racing, Super Dirt Week, is almost upon us. This year Matt Sheppard will be the hunter, currently down 46 points to Brett Hearn and one place back of Billy Decker in the Super DIRTcar Series point standings.  Has Matt grown enough to be able to run down those two with just a handful of races left, or will the pressure be to much for him?

As a Sheppard fan, yes I believe he can get it done. Hearn and Decker are two class acts and certainly Matt can’t rely on those two to falter, but I think the pressure is at a minimum at this point. When you think about it, how remarkable is it that Matt Sheppard has ran as well as he has all year in his first year with the new team? – Tyler Beichner

I agree, i am pulling for Sheppard as well. For the first time I will actually be following this mod battle to the last points race. They pulled me in this year and i am glad because the racing is always close. – Brian “Dobie” Compton

I don’t think Matt catches them. It’s not that the pressure gets to him or anything, because Matt is as cool a customer as I’ve ever met. It’s just that it’s Brett’s year, and he’s due for a good run at the mile and we all know he’s excellent at Middletown for Eastern States. Brett is usually good at Charlotte too. I think Billy has a good runs at both Syracuse and Middletown, but pulling double duty at Charlotte hampers his modified effort a bit. I think Brett wins the title and retires at the banquet. – Josh Bayko

I think Syracuse will tip the scales either way. The problem for Matt, is he’s chasing guys that are great at Syracuse, so he’ll be in need of some luck. If that happens, and Hearn or Decker have issues, he HAS to make the opportunity count, because OFCS hasn’t been a great track for him, and although he’s a top 5 guy at Charlotte, McCreadie and Fuller will be in the mix making it harder to make up any ground in the last two races plus Hearn is nearly unbeatable there. Going to be interesting to see.  -Gary Heeman

The Dr, Danny Johnson could very well have been in the top 5 mix this season, if only he’d had a home track ride other than at Ransomville which doesn’t offer big block points. Sucks for the Dr, but whether you’re a fan or not it does beg the question, is it time to take another look at the home track model and keep the SDS tour a separate entity?

I’ve long said the home track point thing hampers modified racing more than it helps. It forces a team to spend way more money to keep a weekly operation going if they want to cash in at the end of the year. Now, I know, that’s not really an issue for  most of the tour teams, but still, teams could see big savings if they didn’t have to race every week. It also hampers the tour itself. The tour can’t really expand or go road tripping that far because everybody is required to be at whatever weekly haunt every week. I mean, they can’t really make a weekend swing down to, say, Tazewell and Bull’s Gap or whatever because all the drivers have to be in New York somewhere. And don’t say they could do swings like that during the week. Most of the modified crews have real jobs they work during the week. – Josh Bayko

The powers that be at SDS have maintained that the home track system is going nowhere. This pretty much means that the SDS will not be a complete “tour” but rather a “selection of special shows”. I love to follow it, but have to lament what it could be sometimes. They have to turn away tracks who want shows.  What happens to the home tracks if the SDS were to become a longer tour? It’s hard to say, I don’t think places like Canandaigua or Fonda, or Lebanon Valley would fold up and close because 1 or 2 drivers were off at an SDS show on a Saturday night. I realize that several of the SDS drivers call Canandaigua home, but I digress.  Here’s the rub. There’s plenty of folks in upstate NY, Canada, NJ, and PA that hate the fact that the modifieds don’t get more exposure, but don’t want to sacrifice seeing them at the home track for $12-$15 a ticket every Saturday night. These folks can’t have it both ways. They could expand the brand, but tragically won’t. Until the current system fails to provide enough revenue…..-Gary Heeman

We’re going to have to talk about the elephant in the infield here for a moment. The Stewart/Ward incident is starting to stir up discussion of drug testing in dirt racing.  Most of us likely feel that it could prove to be a financial disaster for the sport. But whether we feel that it could be the doom, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to face it sooner or later as the future comes.  Can any of you see a time in the near future where insurance companies will start demanding them from the tracks to be insurable? And if that is the case, is there a way it can be done without tracks closing gates?

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and unfortunately I don’t see and can’t envision a way that drug testing at local and regional facilities can be done. Financial concerns top the list of reasons why. Following shortly behind is the feasibility of testing each person (test one, and you have to test all right?) within the time constraints of an event. And lastly, I foresee many drivers being unwilling to agree to a drug test. Let’s cross our fingers that insurance companies don’t get any crazy ideas, because I can only see it going bad… – Tyler Beichner

I don’t see it happening on a local level unless they are forced to. Now guys who run professionally that is a different story. I could see a movement that forces guys who run the WoO, Lucas, etc to be forced to take random drug tests. -Jerin Steele

I do not see a track in our area (lernerville) included that would make that jump to allow testing. Tech and tire lab tests are far and few between without going to this costly step just to ensure safe racing. I dont think a track could foot the bill itself. My other worry is guys like Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace stop racing with the local drivers because of this on track incident. We need more guys like them and Smoke and it is a shame if the trend of older drivers coming back to their roots ends there. – Brian “Dobie” Compton

It’s just going to come down to making it cost effective if it’s implemented. Tracks aren’t making a lot of money nowadays as is. I don’t see how it’s possible right now. Hopefully personal responsibility and common sense lead the way, but we know how that goes. We need to keep lawyers and insurance companies as far away from racetracks as possible.-Pat Miller

Racing does not need that can of worms opened.- Josh Bayko

Right now, I see no way it can be done. I can’t think of a track that could afford the cost or a driver that would be willing to help pay or even submit. There’s really nothing in place at a track to facilitate testing. Maybe a mobile lab “piss truck” could come by every week. Here’s hoping that the insurance companies don’t start requiring this.  – Gary Heeman

And lastly, what is the weirdest, strangest, thing you’ve ever smuggled into the pits successfully? And, blow up dolls don’t count!

No great capers here other than some beer and my .40 cal  – Brian “Dobie” Compton

Peanuts. Dudes were pissed. – Josh Bayko

I know I said they don’t count, but yeah, I brought in a blow up doll, seemed like the right thing to do. Seriously, I’ve brought my homemade root beer before, and got strange looks but nothing more. Kind of made me paranoid though, like they thought I was sneaking in homemade hooch in my unlabeled bottles. I thought of bribing Smoky once when he gave me a one eyed look at my bottles, but figured I could outrun him if he took exception to my root beer smuggling.

And that’ll do it for this version of TDN Roundtable! Chew on it, think about it , give us a comment or two, and have fun at the track! Stay DIRTY folks!



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