From Gary Heeman:
I was thinking the other day about one of my favorite all time events coming up the first weekend of November when the annual World Finals take center stage and the end of the checkered flag falls on the 2018 season for all intents and purposes. The thought, in the form of a question which is totally unanswerable, was ‘Do all dirt roads really lead to Charlotte’? It is after all, associated with most social media surrounding the event. Did somebody actually drive eight hours or so, on unpaved roads? Probably not. But I wouldn’t mind taking them if they truly made a path to The Dirt Track at Charlotte.
I’d enjoy every bump in the road on the way down with a smile on my face, especially this year. Mike Marlar leads the standings by 22 points over Chris Madden coming into the weekend with two main events left at a track Madden has traditionally done very well at and knows as well as any track he’s raced on in National touring action. Add the fact that last year’s champion, Brandon Sheppard lurks just 40 points behind Marlar, a gap that is more than within his grasp given the fact that the number of non Outlaw touring drivers will be high and could very well be making some point gaps, and it’s even more exciting. For me, there’s not much more of a thrilling moment than a duel for a championship that is still undecided with a handful of laps remaining in the final race.
But what makes a points battle even more special a lot of times, are the stories of the drivers that are participating in it. For years, I’d been wondering when Mike Marlar might be tempted to take on a National tour, just to see how he would stack up over the course of a whole season, while driving at some places he might not have seen before, or very rarely. And he didn’t disappoint as he garnered five wins and was a fixture on the podium. A championship for him would be a feather in a cap full of big crown jewel wins.
Madden probably drove well enough to earn a title in 2017 if he weren’t running the same tour with Sheppard who had one of the most dominant seasons in recent memory with 18 wins. This year, Sheppard is chasing him, and he’s only 22 points out of the lead, instead of 390 as was the case last season. It would be a deserved title too. Madden has found victory lane eight times this year, twice more than last season and scored the win in the $30,000 to win Firecracker 100 in June. It would be a great accomplishment to augment a career that has gone slightly underappreciated and under-publicized in my opinion, and would be a great moment to bestow upon his hometown fans as the action will take place in his own backyard basically.
To see Sheppard find a way to the title in a year that has seen some great moments, taking the $50,000 win at Cedar Lake, WI in the USA 100 chief among them, but has also seen some misfortune come his way from a standings standpoint, would be thrilling to say the least. And if there were a driver that could overcome a 40 point gap in two feature events, it’s Sheppard.
It’s going to be a great weekend at a legendary facility that has produced some stand out moments in the sport’s history. Will we see something similar to what we saw in 2011 when Josh Richard’s flat tire with two laps to go helped Rick Eckert to his championship? Probably nothing that dramatic will be in store, but you never know, anything’s possible. Championship battles on the last weekend of the season are something of a rare treat, they don’t happen that often in either National touring series and when they do happen, they’re moments to remember. The best part about this one, is that it happens with between 15,000 and 20,000 fans all feasting their eyes on the action and tons of pyrotechnics in the background, setting a stage that champions will remember forever.
Something tells me that we’re all about to remember what happens at the place where all dirt roads lead this year. Get your tickets, pack all your hoodies because there’s nothing like a chilly fall night in Charlotte, it’s different than a crisp feeling night virtually anywhere else. (Most of the Big Block Modified fans from the Northeast will tell you this), get ready to eat some Waffle House and make your plans to be there. You won’t want to miss it!
Current 2018 World of Outlaw Late Model Standings
1. Mike Marlar- 5282
2. Chris Madden-5260 (-22)
3. Brandon Sheppard- 5242 (-40)
4. Devin Moran- 5084 (-198)
5. Rick Eckert- 4914 (-368)
6. Shane Clanton- 4898 (384)
7. Chase Junghans- 4862 (-420)
8. Tyler Erb -4834 (-448)
9 David Breazeale -4606 (-676)
10. Brent Larson-4536 (-746)
World Finals Late Model Winners List
2017: Brandon Sheppard and Dennis Erb Jr.
2016: Josh Richards and Chris Madden
2015: Brandon Sheppard and Jonathan Davenport
2014: Darrell Lanigan and Jimmy Owens
2013: Darrell Lanigan and Josh Richards
2012: Jimmy Owens (Friday and Saturday Winner)
2011: Jonathan Davenport and Jimmy Owens
2010: Jonathan Davenport and Jimmy Owens
2009: Scott Bloomquist and Jimmy Owens
2008: Scott Bloomquist and Josh Richards
2007: Scott Bloomquist and Donnie Moran