Welcome to TDN Roundtable Volume 7. We’re back for a new year and ready to dig into some racing as the long, hard, cold winter progresses, making us all yearn for some dirt in our beer and the sun on our face.
Our fine staff here at TDN are all accounted for in this edition, and we’re here to set the table for the 2015 season!
Here we go!
This weeks TDN Lineup: The Professor, Mr.Tyler Beichner, Josh “Bacon Bits” Bayko, Brian “Dobie” Compton, The brothers Steele (Jerin and Trever) and Pat “Magic” Miller! And on the questions, The Skizoid…Gary Heeman
Let’s start off with the Chili Bowl. Rico Abreu just hit the national stage with authority. Most of us paying attention had always been aware of his potential, but now many others are becoming familiar with him. And now he’s just earned himself an asphalt ride with an eye towards NASCAR perhaps.
Two questions here, firstly , do you feel like Rico possesses Jeff Gordon/Kyle Larson quality talent and has a ceiling which could include a Nascar championship one day? And secondly, following this successful campaign, has the event itself jumped another level in popularity?
Tyler: Rico has impressed me since I first took notice of him…which was about 2 years ago. What impresses me the most is, and what some people might not know, is that he has only been in the seat of a race car for the last 5 or so years. So being relatively knew, he sure has burst onto the scene. From his Chili Bowl and USAC Midget championships to his successes with World of Outlaws and ASCS, Rico is a threat at every race he attends. His attitude, stature and demeanor as well as his early success and driving style all play a role in what has become one of the biggest fan favorites in dirt track racing. However predicting a Gordon/Larson talent could be a stretch. As shown, that type of talent doesn’t come around very often.
Brian: Rico did an amazing job taking advantage of every opportunity and winning the races that people were watching the past season. His story is very marketable and in the current state of Nascar that is right up there with driving ability and what sponsor $$$ you have to offer. I am not sure he is the next big thing in Nascar however. Guys like Stenhouse and Kahne i think would succeed to the top tier before Rico will, all having similar dirt backgrounds. Whatever time he has left on dirt or before making the trek thru the ranks to Nascar, I will be sure to follow and enjoy it! The only other event i see folks wanting to attend more than the Chili Bowl is the World100. That being said i would love to go see the Chili bowl some year myself!
Jerin: I hope Rico goes as far in racing as possible. I mean how can you not root for him? He is an absolute inspiration and his talent is immense. I think he’s proven that in the little amount of time he’s been behind the wheel. That being said I don’t think its even fair at this point to ask whether he can possess Jeff Gordon level talent or win a NASCAR championship. I mean he’s one asphalt late model race. There’s a lot more of Rico’s story that needs to be played out before we see if his future is on pavement or dirt.
Pat: I certainly think he can have success on the asphalt, but it’s way too early to think about reaching the levels of success Kyle and Jeff have reached. He’s done a fantastic job racing the midget and sprint car, and obviously many have used that as an avenue to reach the top level of NASCAR. It just needs to be considered for every Kyle Larson or Kasey Kahne, you have a Josh Wise or Cole Whitt. That’s not to diminish what Wise and Whitt have done, but they certainly haven’t achieved the level of success that many thought they would have when they left dirt racing. As for the Chili Bowl, you know it’s a big deal when Roger Penske takes notice. I personally can’t wait to see what this event becomes in the next few years.
The Wild West Shootout wrapped up recently with a Club 29 sweep. It’s only one mini series, and the level of competition seemed to be a little bit down from the past few series, but still though, could we be looking at a chassis brand that puts up win totals on a national scale on a level with rocket/mastersbuilt/warrior for years to come, or not? Also, has Rodney Sanders surpassed Stormy Scott and Ryan Gustin in the modified standouts attempting late models category?
Josh: Based strictly on sheer numbers, if you totaled up the wins all season from all the dirt late model chassis manufacturers, Rocket will still have the most wins by a rather wide margin. I don’t think Club 29 will ever touch or really even come close Rocket or MastersBilt, at most they’ll sell as many cars as Warrior. The reason why is I don’t think Lanigan or Stuckey even want the brand to become that big. It’s a niche brand, not unlike the original Team Zero. Not only that, but word is that they’re outrageously expensive compared to your typical Rocket/MastersBilt/Warrior/GRT.
If we’re talking just national tours, it’ll be more even. Based on the drivers running each brand, I’m going to guess that Club 29 probably has the most wins. It won’t be as lopsided as 2014, though. Sweet Bloomquist will pick up a pile of wins too. Rocket will get more wins this year than last, considering Josh Richards will be back. Longhorn will get a few, and Barry Wright will too. Those will probably be the only brands that get wins on a national tour though.
It’s way, way too early to declare Rodney Sanders better than Ryan Gustin. Ryan’s transition to late models has been very good, and he was within shot of winning some really big races until mechanical demons hit or the tires went away. Now that they’re going to be focusing almost all of their attention on the late model, I look for him to pick up a win or two with the WoO. I would place him slightly better so far than Stormy Scott, though. Stormy has really had limited late model starts though. I’d place Sanders pretty even with Chris Brown, who has been pretty impressive in his late model starts.
Brian: Club29 is lacking the sheer # of cars that the other full time chassis companies have at tracks across the country. That being said, I bet they end 2015 tied or just beat out the SweetBloomquist cars for most wins over $10,000. A good number of teams went with Club29 and Longhorn cars this year and the end of 2014.
I must admit i did not pay much attention to Rodney Sanders name when i looked at the heat lineups for the races in Arizona, but i will see where he starts in the next few races for sure. I like Stormy Scott’s chances a little better since he has Jimmy Owens to speed up his learning curve. Gustin needs some more help from the Richards camp in my opinion to get his Rocket chassis consistent at the different size tracks. I always hoped he would end up in a Bloomquist car, but maybe some day. Another name i will toss out there is Devin Gilpin, who will be in a late model a few races this year. That yellow 1g may be the best mod driver of the ones mentioned here in 3 years.
Let’s talk some Big Blocks here for a minute. With Tim Fuller back in the fold and Stew Friesen committed to running the whole SDS, how hard will it be for Decker, Sheppard and Hearn to earn podium spots in 2015? Can Friesen be consistent enough to win this thing? How long will it take for Fuller to get back in the groove? And could the Dr. Danny Johnson be in the mix?
Tyler: Been awhile since an SDS season looked this promising! Sheppard’s sophomore season could prove to be a struggle, as is typical with the cursed “sophomore slump”. Hearn will find his way to the front per usual. I think Decker may have the most trouble at repeating his successes…just a gut feeling. I have a notion that Fuller will get acclimated quickly and make some noise. No doubt Friesen grabs his wins, but with such great competition it might be too great a task to overcome his mistakes. And as we’re accustomed to seeing, The Doctor will make his name known in one way or another. Should be an exciting season!
Josh: I’ll believe Friesen runs the whole SDS tour when I see it. I look for Fuller to knock the modified rust off pretty quickly and be back to winning races and being near the top of the standings by the second or third race in. Remember, he came a blown motor at ESW away from winning the SDS the last time he ran the full tour (and won the WoO RoY the same year to boot). Of course, if somebody called him tomorrow and offered him a late model ride, he’d jump all over it. That’s where his heart is now. I expect Sheppard to be in the mix again, I mean, he’s so consistent it’s really hard to bet against him. Decker is a very solid driver, but I don’t look for him to have as good a year in 2015. I’ll say 4th in the final SDS standings. Hearn is a wild card. Every time you think he might be sliding over the hill, he reminds you that he’s the best to ever strap in a DIRTcar modified. The increased competition might actually bring out the beast in him.
On the WoO Sprint side, Dollansky’s back, Jason Johnson is new to the mix, and Shane Stewart and David Gravel will run complete seasons from the first green flag in 2015. Which one of these guys is likeliest to break into the spots normally occupied by Schatz, Pittman and Saldana in 2015. And is Kerry Madsen ready to mount a serious challenge for the title this year?
Tyler: I count 15 drivers that will follow the full tour this season. Most likely to make a serious challenge for the title is split between Stewart and Gravel. Dollansky’s Rogers Construction team has shown speed and inconsistency in the past, so they’ll most likely experience some of that this season. Jason Johnson has notably struggled in a 410 as opposed to the 360 he’s much more accustomed to, so I believe he’ll get off to a slow start. Kerry Madsen got it going last year with what some would call a breakout season, but I’m looking for more from Keneric Racing in 2015. Look for Madsen to hop in the top #3 by season’s end. In all honesty, though, Donny Schatz controls everyone’s destiny. If he runs anywhere near like he did last season (and his 2015 tour in Australia), then look for him to gain his 7th series crown.
Trever: My money is on David Gravel out of that list of drivers. He has already proven he can win against the Outlaws last season, and also has the backing of a very strong team in Roth Motorsports. But I don’t forsee Gravel challenging Schatz, McMahan or Pittman for the title, but a top five finish in the points is certaintly in the cards. As far as Madsen goes, last season was a career year for him on the tour. I don’t see him backing up a simliar performance this season, which likely means a finish outside the top five in points, but still at least three feature wins.
Jerin: I find it hard to imagine any of them making a serious run at the title. Not when Donny Schatz is still running on the tour. That’s not a knock on those guys either. They are the elite sprint car drivers in the world, but Schatz is on another level. David Gravel will win some races this year and maybe in the future he will challenge Schatz. But not this year.
Pat: I could see Shane Stewart ending up in the top 3 in points. Even on the limited schedule last year, Larson-Marks Racing seemed more than capable of keeping up with the front runners. David Gravel is going to make noise also, I just don’t think that team is ready to contend yet. The other teams entering the chase for the full season haven’t been together that long or have limited experience running a full 410 season. I think Madsen will have a similar season as to what he had last year. Win a handful of races and run top 5 in points. I think everyone needs to realize it’s Donny’s world, and they are all just living in it.
Tell us why or why not a revamped, presumably merged ASCoC under Tony Stewart’s ownership will succeed or will be on hard times in five years.
Brian: I vowed to broaden my horizons to sprint cars more this year than i ever did before. I do know Tony will not set himself up to fail and will do what he need financially to make it work. Drivers respect him and his name alone should bring in some sponsors to the tour. I hope it works out and will be eager to watch things develop as i figure out the guts of these cars without a starter, fenders, and lugnuts.
Trever: I see no reason why the series won’t succeed with the backing of Tony Stewart. His financial commitment and passion for sprint car racing will help the series blossom. His unification of the Renegades and All-Star Sprint tours is great news for everyone involved in regional sprint car racing. I will be anxious to see how the schedule will shape up with regards to which Renegade tour events will be added to the original All-Star schedule.
Jerin: Tony Stewart and his associates saved this series from becoming extinct plain and simple. I can’t wait to see what they make of it. Let’s give a call to the Renegades as well. Mr. Helms and Mr. Hunter stood up to Guy Webb and took a risk by seceding from them. If they don’t leave and continued to put up with it I’m not sure Guy Webb sells the series.This is a very positive story for sprint car racing.
Pat: I can’t see why the All-Stars can’t succeed. Tony is no dummy. He’s got a great team behind, including Roger Slack that will insure the long term success of the series. They are going to be touring around with a great group of drivers, and they won’t have to worry about getting paid. Having Tony’s name attached to the series won’t hurt either. That just might bring out the more causal race fan.
Tell us why we will or won’t see Lanigan and O’Neal repeat as respective champions of WoO and Lucas Late Model Series in 2015.
Tyler: My predictions for nationals champions this season are Darrell Lanigan (WoO) and Scott Bloomquist (LOLMDS). Lanigan has been so fast in recent years and shows no signs of slowing down. The WoO Late Models will welcome back a healthy Josh Richards who will steal a few of #29’s wins, and the upcoming stars of Heckenast, Bagley, Junghans and Wells will begin to compile a few W’s. If Bloomquist hadn’t missed the first show of the season, he would have been right in the Lucas championship mix. And consider this, that was when he “struggled” early in the year. If Bloomer’s 2015 campaign can start the way his 2014 season ended, it will be tough for anyone to stop him.
Josh: I don’t think either repeat. Lanigan’s Club 29 endeavor will start showing it’s effects on his performance. It happened to Bloomquist with Team Zero. Bloomer lost focus on his racing because he started worrying about all the customer’s cars instead of his own. I think a renewed T-Mac, who finished 2014 with a ton of momentum and has Tommy Grecco back in the fold, will take the WoO title. I don’t think O’Neal will repeat either, but it won’t be for a lack of focus. I think Jimmy Owens comes out like a man possessed to start the season and manages to hold on to return to the top of the Lucas podium.
Brian: I agree with Josh on this one, and do not see Lanigan repeating this year due to helping others get fast in his cars. Josh Richards did not look too rusty when he returned and I think he will have a fire to beat that 29 car and get some customers back by mid-season. How can i pick against Bloomquist in the Lucas series? Short of him breaking his arm or dropping off the tour unexpectedly, he will win the title by 200 or 300 points. He has the shock package, knowledge and help to clean house again. I think Steve Francis will bounce back and take some of the Barry Wright Chassis momentum from his Bowyer racing teammate Don O’neal.
Trever: The competition (Owens, Bloomquist) for O’Neal on the Lucas tour is much stronger as compared to Lanigan (Richards, McCreadie) on the Outlaw tour. Lanigan should walk away with the WoO title, although matching his 17 wins from last year will be very difficult. Lanigan looked unbeatable last year in his Club29 car, although Richards may have something to say about that in 2015. Bloomquist and Owens will wage a great battle for the Lucas title, but in the end, I think Bloomquist is champ. O’Neal’s championship run last year was rather impressive, but I don’t see him repeating it in 2015.
Are we at the end of the concept of local, weekly super late model racing as we know it? It’s getting harder and harder to come by anymore…
Brian: I hate to see any tracks drop the super late class. I went thru the same thing when i was in high school in the the Charlotte, NC area in the mid to late 90’s. it was hard to see less than 10 car fields of super lates at Chester, Cherokee, Metrolina, Lancaster, and Carolina speedways. Grandstands and pits would have a great turnout but the super late class just could not get drivers. There could be a concept of a tour that paid $5000 to win with nice start money and run every 2 weeks or so to keep the super late drivers involved if weekly tracks shut them off. But tire rules would never be hashed out to have tour local tracks agree in my opinion. Everyone will end up at Marion Center under the candlelight in a few years as the lone late model survivor track. Did i mention they still run 3 types of late models there?
Josh: I don’t think we’ll see weekly super late model racing totally go away. Lernerville and Dog Hollow are still managing to bring in decent car counts, and Marion Center, the most rustic track this side of Lake Moc A Tek Speedway, still manages to plug along, year after year. In reality, though, that’s probably all we’ll see for weekly supers in our area as we head in 2016. I think PPMS and Roaring Knob will end up going away from weekly racing entirely, and end up becoming specials only tracks. Roaring Knob particularly could do well as a specials only joint if they scheduled the right way, finding dates that Tyler County and PPMS don’ t have supers and run a special for 3 or 5k. I’d bet they end up with much of Lenerville, Dog Hollow, Bedford and Tyler County’s fields.
And lastly, it’s time for some high purse crate LM racing in the coming weeks. We see some big names in these things. Jonathan Davenport for example, but there are many others that drop down to pick up some cash on a semi regular basis. Do you feel like there should be any limit on competitors, a “cherry picking rule” if you will, when it comes to 4 digit crate races? Or is it simply a case of the fans wanting to see stars, so let them have them by all means?
Brian: My opinion changed on this last season. I used to hate to see the big names come down and take the money. But at some point i started rooting more for the crate only guys to beat them. I also figured that the top crate racers are either young guns using it for a stepping stone up the ranks to supers or an older late model shoe coming back down to find a win. Fastrak once had the min # of events that needed to be run to qualify for the 20,000 or 30,000 finale, but they shy away more from that every year. If the touring series such as Nesmith, RUSH, and Fastrak series talk to drivers that follow their series and they are ok with it, then who am i to hate? When Rick Singleton, Joe Martin, or Ryan Montgomery beat the best super late drivers in a 604 crate motor special, i will gladly share a beer with them. Well no beer for Montgomery…..yet!
Josh: We’ll never see rules to keep super late model stars out of crate specials. The crate promoters and sanctions know damn well that crates aren’t a class that draws fans through the gates. Stars like Jonathan Daveport, Rambo Franklin, Tim Dohm and Jacob Hawkins draw fans through gates though, so they’ll be allowed, encouraged even, to race crates whenever and wherever they want. I’d bet if you asked most crate drivers if they’d rather the stars not be there that they’d agree with me. They bring fans, and more fans = bigger purses. Not only that, but following a guy like Daveport or Dohm will make you a better driver.
Trever: I don’t have any problem with big names racing in these events. Any rule limiting who can compete in a high dollar crate event seems very detrimental to its success. Like Josh mentioned, having recognizable names competing in these events allows them to be more successful. Excuse the NASCAR analogy, but even the second tiered Nationwide (now Xfinity) series allows the Sprint Cup stars to compete.
And that’s it for this month, we’ll be back in a few weeks on our take from the DIRT Car Nats and some previews of the national tours. Stay DIRTY everyone!