Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty, Vol. 2: 2021 Wild West Shootout & Ice Bowl

The A-Main: Blairsville, Ga.’s Jonathan Davenport put on a surgical display in Saturday night’s super late model opener of the Wild West Shootout at Arizona Speedway. Despite being new to the desert oval, Davenport weathered lap traffic and a nearly race-long challenge from western veteran Ricky Thornton Jr., scoring a $5,000 check for his first win of the 2021 season.

Sunday night saw role reversal. Davenport surged from sixth to first in the opening seven laps of Sunday’s feature and drove away from the field in clean air. However, come lap 20, Davenport struggled with lapped traffic and slapped the wall in turn 3; the resulting damage appeared to slow his car, with Thornton taking the lead for good on lap 25.

Thornton’s victory robbed Davenport of a shot at a $250,000 bonus to sweep all the super late Shootout events. Both Davenport and Thornton can still secure a $100,000 bonus if they sweep the remaining Shootout features.

The B-Mains: Winston, Ga.’s Michael Page capped a dominant weekend at the Talladega Short Track, taking the $6,000 super late model Ice Bowl feature win. Page was the fastest car all weekend but lost the lead early to Fort Payne, Ala.’s Sammy Seawright. Page capitalized and took the lead for good on lap 21 when Seawright washed up in turn 4, but Seawright got within a car length at feature’s end. 

As discussed last week, the Speedweeks season in Florida will kick off earlier than ever in 2021, but Bubba Raceway Park beat the rest of the state to the punch with their own Hangover race on Saturday. Apollo Beach, Fla.’s Devin Dixon took home the $2,000 win in the headlining UMP Modified feature.

Drivers Who Accomplished Something

Page has now won the Ice Bowl super late feature five years running. We’ll just leave this here.

Both Davenport and Thornton put on a clinic in the opening SLM feature at Arizona Saturday, easily the best feature of the year to date. For the two to race as hard as they did, as long as they did, given both heavy lap traffic and harsh bumps appearing in the corners, was a sight to behold. Sunday was a bit more ragged performance from both drivers, but make no mistake… these two are in a league of their own out in the desert.

Grand Forks, N.D.’s Jory Berg earned every bit of his first career WWS win, as surviving the final lap of the X-Mod feature Saturday took everything and the kitchen sink after a furious charge from the runner-up, Fergus Falls, Minn.’s Brock Gronwold. 

Going elsewhere Arizona, there have been two clear winners through the first week of the IMCA Winternationals out at Cocopah Speedway. The headliner has been Otis, Kan. modified driver Tanner Black, scoring two feature wins and an average finish of 2.0 in the headline division for the event. His totals have only been bested by Slater, Iowa’s Eric Knutson, who won the first three Hobby Stock A-mains in a row only to come up one spot short Saturday night (Knutson finished second after starting back in 16th).

At the ripe old age of 88, Hueytown, Ala.’s Red Farmer made forward progress in his B-main event but fell short of the CRUSA 604 late model feature at Talladega Sunday.

Lastly, a get well to Eastaboga, Ala.’s James McAvoy and his girlfriend, who are both recovering after a severe car accident. The McAvoy name has been synonymous with Hot Shot racing across Alabama in recent years, and James’s cousin JJ McAvoy carried the family flag to a runner-up finish in Saturday’s A-main at Talladega.

Drivers Who Accomplished Nothing

Said the commentator, “we’ve got one driver acting a fool in turn 1.” That’s about as accurate as I can put what transpired following a Big One in the Crate Racin’ USA 604 late model feature at Talladega on lap 11.


Following the incident, Ragland, Ala.’s Buddy George got out of his wrecked car, proceeding to accost Cleveland, Tenn.’s Jimmy Elliott as he was still strapped into his machine, kicking the door panels of Elliott’s car and then throwing a wrecker driver in the infield to the ground when team members showed up to the scene. That incident ended with George being handcuffed and carted off by police on-site. I don’t care if you’re Clint Bowyer or a weekend warrior on the dirt, going after a competitor that’s still strapped into their racecar is deplorable.

Sticking with that same feature, there was a common denominator to each of the race’s first two yellows on laps 1 and 11… the No. 01 of Carrollton, Ga.’s Blant Duke. Duke failed to go on the race’s initial start, forcing Franklin, Ga.’s Tanner Collins to an almost dead stop for the first half of the frontstretch. Duke, who stopped on track during the caution laps prior to the lap 11 incident, was the first car seen out of shape in the melee to come. 

Frontstretch Regulars

Two-time Truck Series champion Matt Crafton did his best Buster Bluth impression on Saturday, being neither seen nor heard. Crafton failed to crack even the top 10 in his modified B-main on Saturday. Sunday was a different story. Following an engine change in the morning, Crafton made forward progress in his B-main, taking the final transfer spot with three laps to go after spinning Wagoner, Okla.’s Jared Russell in an accordion wreck. That was to be topped two laps later, with Crafton losing the battle for the final transfer spot to Mt. Carmel, Ill.’s Will Krup. It was a hollow victory for Krup, however, as contact with Crafton cost him a racecar:

Former Cup Series regular Kenny Wallace qualified for all four IMCA modified A-mains at Cocopah this week. Though Wallace only managed a best finish of 10th in the features and a B-main win Friday, his performance in Thursday night’s B-main that saw him go higher than any driver had all weekend to sneak into the A-main by a literal bumper’s width was one of the highlights of the weekend.

Former Cup Series regular David Reutimann won his heat race and finished third in the UMP modified feature at Bubba Raceway Park’s “Hangover” race on Saturday.

Fanning the Flames

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Thankfully, Cherokee Speedway took the opposite route, proactively canceling their Frostbuster race this weekend with forecasted weather conditions likely to do to their surface what turned the track at 411 Motor Speedway into a hazard last weekend. Any example of sanity in 2021 is reassuring.

Last year never ended. It’s truly December 41st, 2020. I never thought I’d see this announced in my lifetime. The end of days may well be nigh.

Enduros will always have an advantage over “stock car” divisions in terms of variety because being rolling junkyards is part of the appeal. But after spending New Year’s weekend watching enduro races that saw fields with as many car makes in them as your local auto auction, it was a real buzzkill to see the “stock car” divisions over four nights of racing at Cocopah Speedway be nearly, if not 100%, Chevrolet Monte Carlos (yes, I’m biased towards Ford, but this isn’t an anti-Chevy thing). Enduro racing is proliferating across the country because it’s affordable and it’s open, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s also because it’s the closest thing around to what a 1950s Strictly Stock race looked like. Buicks and Hondas mixing it up on the track? Yes please. Even if it involves going the route of dirt late models and just slapping different decals on the body, there’s a real opportunity for “stock car” devisions to get relevant here by diversifying. Low-cost racing involving real cars? Seems like that’s worked before. 

Victory lane at the Wild West Shootout includes winning drivers covering their face in a bandana and donning a black cowboy hat. To any racetrack trying to make progress with mask compliance or their local health department, might I suggest a Western-themed season for fans and competitors alike?

The 24 hours of Seymour. Four straight 10-hour days of the Tulsa Shootout. 13-plus hours of heats/mains at Talladega Saturday. A nearly six-hour opener at Arizona Speedway. And the season is only two weeks old. I’m with Dylan, whose Tweet rightly resurfaced this weekend… Flo Racing “Feature Zone” is a service I’d pay for:

Years removed from traversing Route 66, even in an F150 STX, I distinctly remember the “washboarding” I experienced driving the route’s dirt sections through Arizona among the roughest road I’ve ever driven. Every super late model driver that went through turn 3 at Arizona Speedway on Saturday knows the feeling.

Asphalt or dirt, I find invitational “all-star” events to be about as enthralling as preseason football. Having said that, I was surprised to see the Chili Bowl’s Invitational Race of Champions opting to stick with their revamped format for next week’s event, seeing as the new format has excluded longtime competitor Sammy Swindell, the winningest driver in the history of the Bowl. 

Much like the NASCAR All-Star Race, the new format has essentially put an expiration date on past champions having a route into the race. Two thoughts here. One, as a race promoter, if NASCAR is doing something, it’s likely a good idea to do the opposite. Two, if it’s already an exhibition, why create more algebraic eligibility criteria to the exclusion of longtime competitors? It’s not like the All-Star Race and Busch Clash benefitted from sending Bill Elliott packing.

While on the topic of less than enthralling exhibitions, the “dash” incorporated into the Wild West Shootout’s super late program fits that definition to a T. Rather than using the dash to set the front of the A-main as done on numerous tours across the country, the WWS opts to have the first four cars from each B-main that missed the A-main run a quick trophy dash, with the winner getting a choice between $1,000 or a starting spot in the A-main. The competitor in me finds it gimmicky that for being the best of those that missed the A-main, the reward is a check bigger than anyone that finished 5th-24th in said A-main.

First the Tulsa Shootout. Then the Wild West Shootout. Next week the Chili Bowl. Are headache-inducing passing points a contractual requirement to get streamed on Flo Racing? Thank God the coverage is actually good.

Speaking of good coverage, it was a strong weekend for the camera work across dirt streaming services this weekend (though Flo’s scoring banner at Talladega was broken more often than not). Two specific tips of the cap to the IMCA.tv for actually finding the debris on track every time a debris yellow flew at the Winternationals, and another to Flo for keeping it simple and focusing on the stars and stripes for a good 30 seconds uninterrupted during the opening anthem of the Wild West Shootout. After the week’s events, no shame in admitting I teared up a bit.

Numbers Game

6 – number of dirt tracks that contested oval events this week.

352 – cars that showed up at Talladega Short Track for Ice Bowl weekend, the largest car count nationwide.

$6,000 – largest posted purse of the weekend; to win the Ice Bowl super late feature at Talladega Short Track.

Where it Rated (with one can a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give the weekend three and a half chilled Four Lokos. The old recipe, with the caffeine in it. Because while the super lates from coast to coast put on a show well worth watching, the average run time for the features between Arizona, Cocopah and Talladega this weekend was hovering at six hours a program with no shortage of yellow (flag) fever to go around. That’s gonna be hard to keep watching once it stops feeling like Siberia outside.

Up Next: Only three weeks into 2021 and dirt has arguably its biggest weekend of the year on tap. The IMCA Winternationals and Wild West Shootout continue in Arizona, while the World of Outlaws Late Models open their season at Volusia. And then there’s little race in Tulsa. Frontstretch will be running a special edition of Thinkin’ Dirty this Sunday focused exclusively on the week’s Chili Bowl action. 

Thanks for reading, and to all dirt fans out there, remember that wearing a mask, staying six feet apart and even web streaming are no reason you can’t think dirty.

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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