|Garry Ferguson Photo|
And then it was over. Just like that. The 2018 racing season for a lot of us has come to an end. I sit in a Waffle House outside of Charlotte in reflection, after an action packed weekend that completely delighted me, kept me entertained and provided thrilling racing. I’ve been able to say that for each of the nine years I’ve attended and that’s perhaps the ultimate compliment to pay an event like this. It contained over 160 cars and saw a tremendous event staff that is totally underrated, run off a three division, 160 plus car show with Swiss watch like precision, despite weather obstacles.
It’s midnight now and as I put my fork into my double order of hash browns (Scattered, Covered and Smothered) which is the best way to consume one of the cornerstones of the menu at any Waffle House, it starts to hit me, ‘This weekend had a little bit of everything’, and it truly did. Everything from a young and talented female driver that set a group quick time in Sprint Car action and then proceeded to win a heat. It saw a class guy who had deserved more than he’s ever received in his racing career, work his way forward, towards the most dynamic driver in Northeast Modified racing in ninja-like fashion and overtake him for a popular win. It saw a legend show us one more reason why he’s one of the best of all time in a performance that was textbook and dominant.
|Gary Heeman Photo|
It saw a truly dreadful afternoon race, followed by one of the best afternoon races I have seen in recent memory. There were two Sprint Car races that looked basically to be locked away by their leader halfway through that ended in heartbreak for that particular leader. There were free souvenirs if you consider pieces of an exploded tire that amazingly flung themselves over a fairly tall catch fence. There was a breathtaking sunset for the ages. There was rain, but not weekend-killing rain. And like most years at the World Finals, bone chilling cold, prompting the 14,000 fans in the stands to don hoodies and tough it out for the greatest shows on dirt.
One More Tennessee Ass Whoopin’
He wasn’t late to the show. And there was nothing in the way of petty dramatics in the works. Scott Bloomquist simply raced and simply delivered as dominant performance as there has been in the history of the event. Starting at the front of the 50-lap World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model on Saturday night was no guarantee for Bloomquist. He’d already let a race slip through his fingers earlier in the day from a front row starting spot. But not in the nightcap. It was classic Bloomquist in terms of performance and it was great to see whether you’re a fan of his or not. By the way, booing him won’t bother him in the slightest, he’s just happy you bought a ticket to watch the race if the truth is to be told.
It had been years since Bloomquist had tasted victory lane at The Dirt Track at Charlotte, 2009 to be exact and one had to wonder if or when he’d be back. Perhaps that’s a testament to the fields the event attracts. There are typically around 65-75 plus cars a year during this particular weekend and the level of stoutness is near a World or Dream 100 level. It’s simply a hard race to win for any driver.
But on Saturday night, Bloomquist hit all the marks, every single time while building up an insurmountable lead which he maintained through the lapped traffic. It was a performance that had his fans standing and screaming when all was said and done, and had non fans racing for the exits with 20 laps to go. It was a Tennessee Ass Whoopin’ to remember and worth watching every lap.
|Garry Ferguson Photo|
Fuller Reminds Us He’s Still Got The Goods
Was anybody actually not rooting for Tim Fuller halfway through the Super DIRTcar Series main event on Saturday night? Well, perhaps not Matt Sheppard fans in attendance. They’d be rewarded at the end of the night as he finished yet another championship season atop the podium. But not before they watched a masterful performance from Fuller. The former World of Outlaw Craftsman Late Model driver had been returned to being a fixture back behind the wheel of a Big Block Modified and had achieved some good results, including some SDS tour main event wins earlier this season.
However, those who knew him for being a solid driver in both types of cars and didn’t get chances to see him since his Late Model tour departure got a chance to watch him yet again in Charlotte. And they got to see his return to victory lane. Fuller ran Sheppard down through a maze of lapped traffic after the leader had amassed a near straightaway advantage over him. Fuller was patient, and timed his final ninja like assault perfectly as he waited for the opportune moment for Sheppard to get hung on a pair of lapped cars. Fuller wasted no time when the time came to strike for the lead.
It was a great win for a driver that had been so underappreciated over the years. He’d won at Charlotte before years ago. But this win felt completely different. It had to feel more rewarding for Fuller who showed a packed grandstand that he’s alive and doing well….and even better than that perhaps following a season that saw him return to contending form. It was a welcome sight for a class guy that drives clean, hard and with precision.
|Garry Ferguson Photo|
Ironic Endings In Sprints
In World of Outlaw Sprint Car action, it looked as if Shane Stewart and Carson Macedo were destined for victory lane on the big stage. Stewart looked dominant in the early feature on Saturday afternoon, only to succumb to an exploded tire (see more below) while Macedo suffered a flat with 23 laps down while leading during the nightcap. The wins would have been perfect for either driver as Stewart will be moving on from Kyle Larson Racing this off season while Macedo who turned heads on a nightly basis with the Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Cars was making his second start for Larson on Saturday night.
Ian Madsen and Donny Schatz inherited the wins, in Schatz’s case after he’d thwarted a last minute effort from a strong running Logan Schuchart who charged from 20th to second and held the lead for a brief second in the waning laps before Schatz put him to his tail tank for good. Their wins were deserved, but if there were ever a time I’d like to turn back the clock and watch things play out differently, this weekend would have been the time. Take nothing away from Madsen and Schatz, but Stewart and Macedo deserved better fates.
|Gary Heeman Photo|
Don’t Forget Your Rubber
Just a quick side note. When Stewart’s tire exploded, it flew into a good many pieces which I alluded to before. I just have to say, I’d much rather have caught a piece of a tire than say a foul ball at Wrigley field or a puck out of the rink at Boston Garden. Lots of folks have those kinds of things. But nobody has a tire piece that they caught with their own bare hands.
And finally, the Super DIRTcar Series got things started on Saturday afternoon with quite possibly one of the hardest to watch races of 2018. Sun and temperatures in the 60’s plus 2500 plus pounds on a chassis designed to roll on the right rear sets the stage for tires to pop at will. And that’s exactly what happened as a steady pit parade was the norm on caution laps throughout the 40 lap feature. Brett Hearn eventually won by keeping the field behind him, surviving more restarts than any driver in recent memory and by keeping the right rear tire on his car intact.
However, the Super Late Model feature that followed more than made up for it. There was passing, forward movement and a nip and tuck battle for the lead by Tim McCreadie and Brandon Sheppard who had the grandstands virtually standing at times. Sheppard made his way around, but there was probably more action on display in the 50 lap main event than virtually all 100 lap afternoon races in the last few years combined. Kudos to the track prep team and the drivers. It was the first time I stood and cheered at the end of an afternoon show.
And then, the hash browns in front of me were gone, just like the World Finals. Was it me, or did they simply flash by? Either way, I’d have loved one more night of them, or 100 more nights if I’m truly honest. Great job to all involved. And congrats to Donny Schatz, Mike Marlar and Matt Sheppard on amazing seasons.