As all of us race fans look ahead to the first race of the 2016 SDS tour in just a few short days (April 30th at Fulton Speedway), I’d like to start the season preview off with a nod to the past.
We mark this as the first year in the post-Moody Mile era of northeast dirt modified racing. Yes, it definitely won’t be the same Super DIRTweek that we are all accustomed to, but it is in my opinion that we welcome the thought of a new venue for SDW 2016 with open arms. I’ve seen a lot of the varying thoughts on the new facility, including where it should have, could have, would have been under certain circumstances.
It can be argued all day long, but at the end of the bickering, SDW will be at a new venue, and it should NOT stop everyone from supporting the sport itself by attending this year. I am fully aware of how the New York State Government did the racing community wrong, and being a stubborn person, I don’t want to accept the fact that we won’t go back to Syracuse anymore. I have had those thoughts on not attending because it won’t be the same.
But then I thought to myself, what good does that do? The last Syracuse 200 at The Mile brought the entire racing community together in celebration. Those stands were PACKED. Now we have the first at a new track. Now let’s celebrate the start of a new era the same way we celebrated the ending of one. Let’s open up to the new SDW, and pack the new stands the same way.
(For lazy readers, in summary: Move on from the past and sell out the new SDW venue.)
First order of business is drivers. What a shake up this silly season brought. Some moves left me in shock and awe, some left me puzzled, and some had me recognizing true, potential greatness. It just goes to show that anything and EVERYTHING can happen, and it did. As of March 18th, there were 17 drivers dedicated to competing on the entire SDS schedule.
This number is outstanding compared to recent years in which the number of drivers attending all points events was right around 10-12 drivers. I’m anxious to see some of the young and upcoming talent on the list of drivers take on the seasoned veterans and champions of the sport. Guys like Mat Williamson, Mike Mahaney, and Max McLaughlin taking on the top dogs of Brett Hearn, Matt Sheppard, and Billy Decker. There’s an awesome mix of new and old talent among the 17 drivers that you will see at the 29 SDS events this year. For the first time, Stewart Friesen is taking a swing at the title, and hopes to hit a homerun in his new Halmar International ride. There’s no question that he has the talent to win races, but the SDS takes durability and stamina for the entire season, something that we all have been waiting to see from him for a while now.
All in all, it will be a fun season with a tight points battle that I predict will come down to The World Finals weekend, which is at the end of October this year.
Here are the 17 regulars in alphabetical order by last name.
|Stewart Frisen in his new Halmar International ride at Volusia.
Credit: Daylon Barr
- Peter Britten
- Frank Cozze
- Billy Decker
- Keith Flach
- Stewart Friesen
- Tim Fuller
- Brett Hearn
- Mike Mahaney
- Max McLaughlin
- Eldon Payne
- Jimmy Phelps
- Erick Rudolph
- Rich Scagliotta
- Matt Sheppard
- Pat Ward
- Larry Wight
- Mat Williamson
Mike Perrotte has done a phenomenal job with expanding the series since he took the reins. This year the schedule expands to 29 points races, coming close to the record number of races run in 2007 at 32. This year we see the addition of The House that Earl Built, Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. This is one that I have circled, starred, and highlighted on every calendar I own, and I encourage you to do this as well.
A midweek show (July 19th and 20th) tag teamed with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is without a doubt primed to bring national attention to our beloved northeast mod. On the way home from Eldora, the teams head to Sharon Speedway for the first time in series history. You can catch this race on Thursday, July 21st. Also back on the schedule this year for the first time since 2006 is Williams Grove on June 22nd. Missing from the schedule this year is Ohsweken. I always hate to see a track gone from the schedule but it happens. Some other highlights this year are the Mr. DIRT Track USA race at Lebanon Valley Speedway which is always a great one to go to as it is $17,500 to win, Brett Hearn’s The Big Show on June 28th which features former NASCAR driver and dirt track fanatic Kenny Wallace, the return to Utica-Rome Speedway on July 3rd in hopes of better weather than last year, and the Five Mile Point Speedway on July 12th which featured a last lap pass of Friesen over Pat Ward in one of the most thrilling finishes of the 2015 season.
View the whole schedule by clicking here.
Billy Decker steals the opener at Fulton. Billy has said that he loves the track, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he got back to back Highbank Holdup wins.
|Matt Sheppard’s new ride.
Credit: Daylon Barr
Matt Sheppard wins at least 5 races. In his own car now, Sheppard can have it his way 100%. He already won in Florida, but I’d be willing to bet he captures at least 5 more.
A non series regular wins at Lebanon Valley and/or Malta. I’m looking at Kenny Tremont specifically. He racked up an enormous amount of wins at both tracks last season, and is already winning there again this year.
We see 75+ cars attempt to qualify for SDW. With the track being a half mile synthetic SYNDI surface, it becomes much more affordable. The small blocks will see roughly the same amount.
Four drivers will have a shot at the championship going into Charlotte. I have no prediction for who these four will be, but it will make the World Finals a lot more intense.