Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty, Vol. 6: 2021 Winternationals & Sunshine Swing

The A-Main – New Shirley, Texas, young gun Tyler Erb scored arguably the biggest win of his career Saturday night, the $15,000 finale of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series residency at East Bay Raceway Park.

Erb took advantage of a slight bobble by Watertown, N.Y.’s Tim McCreadie on a lap-32 restart, grabbing the preferred low line and never looking back.

The win was big on two fronts for Erb. One, it marked Erb’s nation-leading fourth feature win of 2021, and made him the first driver to score multiple LOLMDS victories on the season.

But more importantly, it marked redemption for a driver that was parked Friday night after retaliating on-track under caution after heavy contact with Chalk Hill, Pa.’s Mason Zeigler during a heat race.

Erb’s drive on Saturday night was clean and composed, coming on a night with the biggest purse of the week (and one where Zeigler failed to qualify for the A-main). 

The B-Mains

Erb’s win Saturday capped a week of LOLMDS features that saw the series youngsters dominate the field. In addition to Erb winning on Tuesday and Saturday, between Martinsville, Ind.’s Hudson O’Neal winning Monday, Shinnston, W.Va.’s Josh Richards scoring a rain-delayed feature Thursday and Evans, Ga.’s Brandon Overton winning Friday night, the only driver in the field to score a win over the age of 30 this weekend was Las Cruces N.M’s Stormy Scott… at age 31.

Wooster, Ohio’s Sheldon Haudenschild threatened to plant the young guns flag in the same way but spun from the top two in both All Star Circuit of Champions sprint car features at Screven Motorsports Park, clearing the way for veterans Donny Schatz and Aaron Reutzel to win the first two tour races of the season. The highlight of the weekend from the sprint side, though, came courtesy of Friday night’s B-main:

Ransomville, N.Y.’s Erick Rudolph won Thursday’s feature and finished runner-up Friday and Saturday to win the points crown of the Super Short Track Series Sunshine Swing at Bubba Raceway Park, but the story of the weekend was NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular Stewart Friesen. Friesen was in a league of his own winning Friday’s feature and made it from the 22nd starting position to the race lead Saturday before clipping the race leader on lap 26 and sending his own car airborne in a violent crash that cost Friesen a likely win and points title. Between the wreck, a Wednesday night rainout and yellow flags aplenty, it was a disappointing debut for the center-drive mods at Bubba.

Crossville, Tenn.’s Randy Weaver scored the $4,000 win in the annual Cabin Fever super late model feature at Boyd’s Speedway, but it didn’t come without controversy. Weaver, who ran away from the field from the drop of the green flag, inherited a front row spot after polesitter Christian Hanger spun in turn 2 on the race’s initial start, handing the front row to third-place starter Weaver. According to race runner-up Donald McIntosh of Dawsonville, Ga., that resulted from Weaver spinning Hanger out. Hanger seemed to agree, attempting to block Weaver coming to the checkered flag and hitting Weaver’s car post-race (more on that later).

Drivers Who Accomplished Something

After winning three features and the points title at the Wild West Shootout, Blairsville, Ga.’s Jonathan Davenport spent much of the week at East Bay in an unmitigated disaster, averaging a 21st-place finish through the first five races of the weekend. Come Saturday, however, Davenport looked the powerhouse he’s been on the LOLMDS tour, winning his heat race and putting on a late-race challenge to Erb in finishing runner-up Saturday night. For all the wrecks, Davenport and team showed up for the big money race, just as they did in Arizona, and salvaged some much needed momentum heading to Bubba Raceway Park.

We’ll hold our breath on calling him a title contender until the LOLMDS finishes its stand at Bubba, but the way Overton has run through seven races in Florida has him leading the points and looking every bit a contender. If the money’s there, making a title run (a decision his team has not made as of this weekend) would seem a shrewd move. Also of note, little brother Cody Overton won Saturday’s 602 late model feature at Screven.

Richards’s feature win Thursday night saw him navigate a trifecta of late-race restarts in a way that one else at East Bay did all week long. Impressive stuff.

After car owner Tony Stewart stole all the headlines in the Wild Wing Shootout last weekend, Schatz returned to form at Screven, winning Friday night’s season-opening feature in dominating fashion. Schatz was in fine form Saturday as well, scoring a top-five finish after winning the B-main and spinning out in a lap 1 incident. None of that climbing would have been necessary, however… 

Drivers Who Accomplished Nothing

…if Schatz hadn’t been disqualified from his heat race Saturday after failing to report to the scales post-heat. That rookie mistake may well have cost Tony Stewart Racing a Screven sweep.

Erb may have made the headlines for retaliating under yellow, but Winchester, Tenn.’s Hanger won the jackass of the weekend award for his actions in the Cabin Fever race at Boyd’s Speedway. The camera shots from Flo Racing were inconclusive, but the end result was Hanger spun out from the pole spot on the opening lap. Post-race, runner-up McIntosh told the crowd that spin came from contact from eventual race winner Weaver. 

None of that justifies Hanger’s post-race actions. Hanger rammed Weaver’s racecar post-race at the pit road entry gate despite there being a half-dozen other racecars, pit crew guys and ATVs in the same spot trying to get through the gate. Hanger then appeared to hit a pedestrian at the same gate when he revved his car up to finally leave the racing surface (fortunately, said pedestrian got right up). Race winner Weaver said in his post-race comments that, “I just can’t race with him” when it comes to the young gun Hanger. I’ll echo Weaver by stating I just can’t stand watching crap like that. It takes no talent or character to use a racecar as a weapon, attacking from behind under yellow with no regard for collateral damage. Grow up.

Given all that discussed above, it’s hardly surprising that Hanger ended Saturday’s race trying to pull an Austin Dillon circa New Hampshire Motor Speedway 2019, putting his car directly in leader Weaver’s groove and nearly allowing runner up McIntosh to make a pass for the win. Despite Hanger’s best efforts, Weaver still got around the moving chicane and won the race. Emulating Dillon, and failing to accomplish anything doing it, does not speak well to an aspiring racer’s abilities.

The flagman at Screven didn’t take any such crap from youngsters this weekend, black-flagging and disqualifying Rincon, Ga.’s teenage racer Gavin Cowan from Saturday’s 602 late model feature for flipping off the scoring tower. Ordinarily I’d say let it go, but given the immaturity running abound in late model racing, maybe more discipline is in order.

The evidence is circumstantial, given that MAVTV somehow failed to get a replay on camera. But for Zeigler to give an intermission TV interview Friday night about not wanting to be involved in controversy on track, only to end up in another incident that ended with a competitor’s late model on its roof and Mooresburg, Kan.’s Chase Junghans having to be restrained from going after him, tells me the No. 25 is going to be under a microscope the rest of the time the super lates spent in Florida this Speedweeks.

Grand Rapids, Mich.’s Dave Baker Jr. made the long tow all the way to North Florida Speedway, only to flip his UMP modified on his first hot lap. Baker did not take a competitive lap Saturday but was uninjured.

Haudenschild was the fastest car in the ASCoC field both nights at Screven, but saw any shot at victory derailed by on-track incidents. Friday night, Haudenschild was leading the race when he spun to avoid an incident in turn 2 on lap 6. Saturday night, Haudenschild was leading with some impressive navigation through lapped traffic. Said efforts came up less than 10 laps short of the finish; Haudenschild spun in turn 2 trying to manage both lapped cars and a hard challenge from Reutzel. 21st- and 13th-place finishes don’t represent how well he ran. 

Frontstretch Regulars

Xfinity Series Justin Allgaier posted the fast time in qualifying in his UMP modified Saturday night at North Florida and was running second in the feature when he spun out unassisted on lap 2 and went straight from there to the pits. Sunday’s UMP feature at North Florida was rained out.

Former Xfinity regular Cale Conley is making a home with the ASCoC. Conley finished 15th in Friday’s feature and came up two spots short of transferring from the B-main on Saturday. 

Former Truck regular Tyler Dippel qualified for all three STSS modified A-mains at BRP this weekend, finishing sixth, 21st and 16th.

Truck Series regular Friesen shook off missing both LOLMDS features he attempted with a strong showing in his DIRTCAR modified at Bubba Raceway Park. For two nights anyway. Friesen finished third in Thursday’s feature, then was the class of the field of Friday night, running the high side in a way no other car on track could and weathering restart after restart to score the win over primary challenger Eric Rudolph. Tied for the Sunshine Swing points lead heading into Saturday’s finale, Friesen struggled with slower traffic in his heat, qualifying for the feature through the B-main. Friesen then charged, making it up from 22nd to second by lap 25.

Disaster struck on lap 26; racing for the lead, Friesen cut across the tire of leader Mike Gular of Boyertown, Pa., launching his No. 44 into the pit entry wall in turn 1 and triggering a spectacular crash that sent Friesen airborne. The driver emerged unscathed, but the mistake was entirely on him, costing him a likely win and points title. Dirt Track Digest TV has not made a replay of the wreck public, so we’ll let Friesen describe what was arguably the ugliest wreck of the weekend.

Former Cup regular Ken Schrader spent the weekend with the crate modifieds at Screven, finishing fifth in Friday’s feature. Schrader made the A-main Saturday but failed to finish.

Three-time Cup champion Stewart was involved in an early-race incident in Friday’s ASCoC feature at Screven and missed the field Saturday, falling from second to 12th in the closing laps of Saturday’s B-main with an apparent mechanical issue.

Fanning the Flames

11 yellow flags in a 30-lap late model feature Monday night at East Bay. 14 yellows in a 40-lap modified feature at Bubba on Friday. More heat races that had to be stopped for a time limit than I could count at Boyd’s on Saturday. From Tennessee to Florida, yellow fever has gripped the dirt racing scene, and the result, as it has been all year long, has been marathon shows at a number of tracks. Six-plus hour programs are laborious, whether it’s 17 degrees or 70 outside.

At this point, all solutions to keep shows moving need to be on the table. Cars that cause cautions in heats should be yanked off the track if they stop an event. Time limits for heats should be rigidly in place. Lap penalties should be enforced for cars that stop on track. And trigger-happy yellows, such as those that saw numerous cautions fly at Bubba for modifieds that were still moving and pointed in the right direction, need to go. Yes, in many race classes drivers need to learn. Drivers also need to learn that spins and stoppages have consequences.

Maybe I’m just jaded by years of watching NASCAR officialdom do questionable things, but watching just how much LOLMDS officials themselves do on racecars under yellow flags in terms of pushing down or removing mangled sheet metal, I’ve got to ask why third parties are involved in manipulating racecars in competition. The series already allows work crews in the infield and courtesy laps in the work area for cars involved in incidents; seems like dealing with crash damage should be left to said crews.

In the interest of having something nice to say, the LOLMDS officials deserve a lot of credit for how they handled the Erb/Zeigler fireworks on Friday night. For those that missed it, Zeigler for the second night in a row was involved in hearty contact with Erb during their heat race, contact that had knocked Erb out of a transfer spot. Erb, who was no stranger to contact on his own during the week, retaliated under the yellow flag on track:

It took less than two minutes for the officials to announce that Erb was being parked for the night. The fan in me was disappointed, but the call was the right one. Erb using a 2,400-lb. racecar as a weapon on track under yellow is intolerable and behavior that had to be corrected. And given that such behavior is apparently epidemic among young guns in super late model racing (see Hanger story above), the proactivity here should pay dividends. We’ll talk more about this in Thursday Morning Thunder later this week, but for now we’ll let the veteran McCreadie speak:

Paris, Tenn.’s Lucas Lee may be the hard-luck driver of 2021 in any class. Lee was leading the field in Friday’s UMP modified feature at North Florida by a straightaway when a so-called debris caution flew with five laps to go, leaving Lee to be overtaken on the ensuing restart by Starke, Fla.’s Jason Garver. Full disclosure, multiple fans on Facebook indicated the debris yellow was legitimate, but one can be forgiven for being suspicious when a debris yellow throws a feature to a local at a track that has often referred to its races as “Winternationals for the locals.” Legit or not, seeing debris cost a dominant driver a feature win is a negative. If there was one positive, Flo Racing’s broadcast on Saturday was a lot more thorough finding debris on track when the yellows flew.

Beauty and the Beast is a tale as old as time, and it was on display in South Carolina this weekend. Beauty: the renovated grandstand at Lake View Motor Speedway looked absolutely gorgeous. The beast: the Yankee invasion of the center-drive DIRTCAR sportsman modifieds. I don’t care how well they race (they certainly weren’t the highlight of the weekend anywhere they ran) or the rationale for their design, the four-wheeled end product of aluminum siding having a one-night stand with a box of Legos makes the Pontiac Aztek look like a classic GTO. I never want to rain on big-money racing series making their way south (the DIRTCAR mods are starting a Cajun division this year), but I also don’t want to see these abominations masquerading as racecars proliferating in late model country. Buy a fendered car to race. Save your soul.  

While on the topic of Lake View, the debate as to whether or not walls at a dirt track make things safer or not is not one that will ever be resolved. But, after watching Friday’s sportsman show at Lake View, I’m still in the build the wall camp. Watching Huntington, Mass.’s Ryan Heath flip his car off the banking and out of sight was frightening, as was the time it took for track officials to make it to Heath’s car. Fortunately, this scene ended well, with Heath actually able to drive his smashed racecar around the track and back to the pits. Heath wasn’t the only driver to go flying over the open banks:

It’s a fact that walls tear up racecars. A longtime car owner that I spoke to the last time I was at my home track in Winchester was adamant that car counts at Winchester were down because since the owners built concrete walls all around, the track had earned a reputation for being a place to tear stuff up at. Nearby Port Royal Speedway’s rise as a national leader in dirt racing has more to do with it, but I can also attest that the inside concrete walls have eaten their share of sheetmetal. 

But, walls also contain, and containment is not just to the benefit of fans in the grandstands. Keeping racecars on the racing surface keeps them in a defined space, which means that maintenance crews and medical crews can respond faster to incidents. That fortunately wasn’t necessary at Lake View this weekend. Good or lucky?

The most notable part of Friesen’s victory lane interview Friday at Bubba was his apology to Dippel for early-race contact. Said Friesen, he made contact with his former fellow Truck regular because he had mud caked on his tires from being out of the racing groove during the four-wide salute to the fans during the pace laps. The battle rages on in dirt racing as to whether the four-wide is being overused, but from where I’m sitting any track that can’t guarantee said salute isn’t going to impact actual competition on track shouldn’t be doing it.

Numbers Game

11 – number of dirt tracks to contest oval events this weekend.

51 – longest feature contested, by number of laps; the DirtCar 602 Sportsman feature Saturday night at Lake View.

$15,000 – largest posted purse of the weekend, for Saturday’s LOLMDS A-Main at East Bay.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans, with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give this weekend three and a half cans of Bud Light. Given how cold it was having racing on almost all weekend was a blessing, but yellow fever and an abundance of underwhelming modified racing watered down some decent shows at East Bay and Screven.

Up Next: Florida Speedweeks is full steam ahead. The LOLMDS finish their run with midweek races at Bubba. The DirtCar Nationals at Volusia kick off with the season openers for the World of Outlaws sprint cars, and the AsCoC sprints also making appearances. North of Florida, the Winter Freeze at Screven Motorsports Park will have plenty of late model racing, along with a big-money event for the Sport Compact Dirt Racing Association. And the USCS Outlaw sprint car tour will kick off in south Florida at Hendry County. 

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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