Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2021 Marks the Return of the Buckeye Bullet at Sharon Speedway

The Headlines

The Buckeye Bullet ended a quarter-century victory drought in World of Outlaws competition, the Friesens kept winning modified races even when Stewart was half a country away and the WoO late models saw a Southern dominate the north’s Palace of Speed.

Our Feature Spotlights

Friday, May 21

Late Model Spotlight: 2021 Truck Country 50
Where: 300 Raceway – Farley, Iowa (streamed on MAVTV Plus)
Why We Chose It: At $12,000-to-win, Friday’s highest-paying late model race.

Mike Marlar scored a feel-good win, his first of his debut season as a regular on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, but that was the only silver lining on the series’ ugliest night since Brownstown. If anything, this night may have been uglier, with the show being run to completion despite seeing Shane Clanton, Josh Richards, Jonathan Davenport and Jimmy Owens all suffer from folded-in nose pieces on a track that proved adept at turning late models into modifieds.

11 caution flags plagued the 50-lap feature Friday. Marlar was a top-five fixture, but ended up winning by attrition after Kyle Bronson, who led the first 46 laps of the event, was forced to pit with a flat tire after the final caution flew on lap 47 when Hudson O’Neal slowed on track. 

Open-Wheel Modified Spotlight: Weekly Racing Program
Where: Utica-Rome Speedway – Utica, N.Y. (streamed on Dirt Track Digest TV)
Why We Chose It: At $2,400-to-win, Friday’s highest-paying modified race.

Stewart Friesen was a thousand miles away in Texas, but the Halmar modified still ended up in victory lane Friday night. Jessica Friesen, Stewart’s wife, benefitted from a stellar redraw but delivered on track, making what would be the race-winning pass of Rocky Warner on the high side on lap 18 under green and then holding off modified giant Matt Sheppard in lapped traffic to become the first woman to win a modified feature at Utica-Rome dating back to 1961.

Sprint Car Spotlight: Kistler Engines Classi
Where: Attica Raceway Park – Attica, Ohio (streamed on DirtVision)
Why We Chose It: At $10,000-to-win, Friday’s highest-paying sprint car race.

Just as with Bronson in Iowa, home-state favorite Sheldon Haudenschild found out the hard way Friday night that out front was not the place to be. After dominating Friday’s World of Outlaws feature using the high side of the racetrack, Haudenschild saw a sure-fire victory go up in smoke when the lapped car of DJ Foos broke down in front of him in turn 4, leaving the No. 17 with nowhere to go.

Series regular David Gravel prevailed on the ensuing final restart and was roundly booed by the partisan Ohio crowd in victory lane.

Saturday, May 22

Late Model Spotlight: Billy Vacek Memorial
Where: Port Royal Speedway – Port Royal, Pa. (streamed on DirtVision)
Why We Chose It: Because there were two $15,000-to-win late model races to choose from, and the LOLMDS sucked the night before.

Chris Madden swept the weekend at the Port Royal Speedway, winning his third consecutive WoO late model feature Saturday night after capitalizing when polesitter Brandon Overton washed up in turn 1 on lap 29 of the 50-lap feature. Madden, who acknowledged in victory lane that the Port Royal track was less than racy, cut sizably into the points lead of defending champion Brandon Sheppard and has proven himself quickly to be a force on the tour; Madden, a Southern late model fixture, has now won races at Wisconsin and Pennsylvania on the circuit the past few weeks.

Open-Wheel Modified Spotlight: Weekly Racing Program
Where: Land of Legends Raceway – Canadaigua, N.Y. (streamed of Land of Legends Raceway TV)
Why We Chose It: Because there were numerous $2,000-to-win modified features to choose from, but LOLR TV was free.

With Jessica Friesen off at the Fonda Speedway this Saturday, Sheppard blasted past Peter Britten on lap 6 of Saturday’s 35-lap feature at LOLR and never looked back, scoring a relatively easy win despite a field that proved aggressively fast through Saturday night’s heats.

Sprint Car Spotlight: World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series
Where: Sharon Speedway – Hartford Township, Ohio (streamed on DirtVision)
Why We Chose It: Because there were two $10,000-to-win sprint car shows on Saturday, but only one had Dave Blaney on the entry list.

The race of the weekend. Again, Haudenschild proved an absolute terror in his home state, running the high side of the Sharon Speedway with obscene aggression that saw the No. 17 car lap competitors into the top 10 within 25 laps of the feature being complete. The complexion of the race changed, however, when the first caution of the night flew with four laps to go when Aaron Reutzel slowed with a right-front tire.

Enter Dave Blaney.

The 1995 WoO champion and owner of the Sharon Speedway, Blaney challenged Haudenschild for the lead on the ensuing restart, only for the high line to prevail. Haudenschild, however, made contact with the wall on several of the closing laps, leaving the Buckeye Bullet to strike on the race’s final lap.

When the checkered flag flew, Blaney was in WoO victory lane for the first time in 24 years. First in line to congratulate him? Sheldon Haudenschild.

Success Stories

Dave freaking Blaney, at 58 years old in a car he and his team built by hand, bested the World of Outlaws to win the first WoO feature at Sharon Speedway since 2007, leaving a capacity crowd bellowing “Blaney, Blaney Blaney” through his post-race interview. Ever the veteran, Blaney’s line of the night came when asked “can you believe you won this race?” Said Blaney, “Yes.” 

Madden, who has made a name for himself in recent years with his prowess on the Xtreme DIRTcar Series winter late model tour in the South, has shown a streak of dominance on the WoO late model tour that no driver to this point has in 2021. Sweeping a weekend at Port Royal is an accomplishment, regardless of who’s sanctioning the race.

Not only did Marlar score his first LOLMDS win as a series regular, he told the crowd from victory lane that he was giving his share of the race winnings to his crew for a job well done.

Class class class.

Make no mistake about it, Jessica Friesen’s ability to hold off Matt Sheppard to win a modified race as she did at Utica-Rome Friday night took real talent. She followed that up with a strong performance Saturday night as well, winning a heat race and finishing seventh in modified competition at the Fonda Speedway Saturday.

LOLMDS points leader Tim McCreadie had a championship kind of night Friday in Iowa, using the rash of yellow flags in the feature event to recover from hard contact with the wall on lap 4 of 50 in finishing fourth.

Brent Marks was arguably the hardest charger anywhere this weekend, climbing from 19th to third in Friday’s WoO feature at Attica.

Brian Brown took a broom and swept the Knoxville Raceway on Saturday, winning the A-main, a make-up A-main from a rain out earlier in the season and breaking a track record for 410 winged sprint cars that had stood for 15 years.

Not bad for a night’s work.

Lastly, the 305 sprint car feature that closed the night at Attica ended up being the best race of Friday. Winning by 0.001 seconds is about as thrilling a means for Mike Keegan to score his first career feature win, but I’m giving a bigger tip fo the cap to runner-up Zeth Sabo, who drove literally off the backstretch onto the horse track surrounding the Attica oval to avoid lapped traffic and continue the battle for the lead with Keegan coming to the white flag. One of the greatest perks of dirt racing… the track never ends.

Vexed, Villains & Victims

There was no driver in America faster than Haudenschild this weekend, yet he went 0-2 come feature time. Friday night’s loss after hitting a stricken lapped car was as bad a luck as it comes. Yet the loss Saturday is all on Haudenschild. As thrilling as it was to see the No. 17 racer up on the cushion and scraping the walls of the Sharon Speedway every lap. it was that same mat-the-gas approach that slowed Haudenschild enough on the final lap of Saturday night’s race to allow Blaney to score the win. Blaney was hardly slow this evening, but there’s something to be said about being steady wins the race. Let’s give credit to Haudenschild, however, for being very classy in defeat, rushing to congratulate Blaney on Saturday night.

Bronson’s flat tire after leading 46 of 50 laps at Farley left him winless on the LOLMDS in 2021 and marked the second consecutive year late-race misfortune cost him a win at the 300 Raceway.

The excitement of having two Attica Raceway Park regulars on the front row for Friday’s WoO feature lasted all of three laps. Polesitter Brandon Spithaler spun on the second lap in turn 3, while Trey Jacobs was involved in a lap 3 incident that brought out the red flag when Anthony Macri flipped over. The two finished 17th and 23rd, respectively. The result did make at least one Attica fan happy, however.

Regardless of being at fault or not. Friday night at Attica was one that Foos is likely going to want to forget. Foos cut a tire down in his heat race, spun on the first lap of the Last Chance Qualifier, and then was at the epicenter of the incident that cost Haudenschild the win when a tire literally fell off his racecar at speed in turn 4. Of note, Foos did rebound to challenge for the win in 410 sprint car competition at the Fremont Speedway on Saturday.

Reutzel tried to run the “Haud line” on the cushion of the Sharon Speedway Saturday night, and while he did better than any driver in the field doing so and avoided being lapped for an extended period of time, he ended up cutting a tire four laps short of the finish. That wasn’t the only trouble Reutzel had on the WoO tour this weekend, as Autoweek’s Matt Weaver reported he had trouble in the pits Friday night at Attica after spinning twice during the feature.

Fanning the Flames

It was truly surprising that runner-up Tyler Erb didn’t win Friday’s LOLMDS feature in Farley. As much as Erb has raced at Florence Speedway, if there’s any driver in America that knows how to wheel a late model on a divot-filled track it’s Terbo.

Dirt Track Digest TV didn’t utilize a backstretch camera covering the racing at Utica-Rome on Friday, and the broadcast did not suffer. Steady images and no pixelation? Yes please.

Kyle Strickler continues to disappear from relevance on the WoO late model tour, but I will give him credit for a badass paint scheme at Port Royal this weekend. Simple colors and clean, uncluttered graphics are way too uncommon on dirt racing machines from coast to coast.

Sticking with matters photogenic, the sexiest sight on track this weekend was the pro stock class tacking Utica-Rome. Racecars that looked like street sports cars tackling a dirt oval and racing side-by-side was a beautiful sight, especially given that following modified racing this weekend meant watching the ugly AF center-drive cars.

The “safety caution” rule that the WoO late models employed during Saturday’s feature at Port Royal made me literally spit coffee. Let’s review the scenario. Overton overdrove turn 3 trying to get underneath race leader Madden, and in doing so spun himself out. Overton immediately got his car straightened and drove off. However, despite bringing out the yellow flag unassisted, Overton was only sent back to the position he merged back into traffic. At this level of racing, I don’t have a problem with race officials being quick to throw yellows for cars that spin in traffic (just be consistent), but a rule that allows a driver battling for the lead to screw up, cause a caution that erases the lead for the race leader and then restart in the top five because he got the car straightened quickly is absurd. Spin out and cause a yellow, go to the back. Period.

I’ve already explained that Jessica Friesen’s exploits Friday night in winning at Utica-Rome took real racing talent, so anyone wanting to call me sexist for what I’m about to point out can, well, go do something with a sexist connotation. There is something very wrong about the redraw that set the lineup for Friday night’s modified feature. One, subjecting 10 cars in a 19-car field to a redraw renders much, if not all, the preliminary racing toothless. Two, there’s something wrong with a redraw where the last qualifier in a heat race starts on the front row and a heat race winner starts on row 5.

Watching the CRSA Sprint Car Series tackle the Land of Legends Raceway on Saturday, I can safely say I’ve never seen any racing series use such a narrow “restart box” to allow race leaders to restart an event. Personally, I love it… smaller restart windows go a long way to remove subjectivity.

Friday night’s four-cylinder feature at Utica-Rome featured only five cars that were divided into two classes. After 12 laps of that parade, I can’t have been the only one thinking that class should have run their feature on the infield go-kart track instead.

Danny Dietrich may be sprint car racing’s most pointed driver on Twitter, and he had something to say about the marathon-feeling break before the FAST 410 sprint car feature at West Virginia Motor Speedway Saturday night as the track crew worked the lengthy dirt oval.

I can’t have been the only one thinking maybe it’s time to get 50 fans with pickup trucks to drive some hot laps to help pack the racing surface. Lord knows there’d be plenty of volunteers.

Numbers Game

1 – the starting position Trey Jacobs drew Friday night at Attica, moments after proposing to his fiancee in front of the packed grandstands (she said yes). 

100 – career victories at Williams Grove Speedway for Pennsylvania Posse sprint car racer Lance DeWease after winning Friday night.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): Give this one all six cold cans of whatever your favorite brew is. Late-race drama, narrow margins of victory and the return of the Buckeye Bullet. Damn it feels good to be a dirt fan.

Up Next: There’s plenty of major events coming for the mid-week, as open-wheel racing descends on Indiana. The All-Star Circuit of Champions will hit the Kokomo Speedway for $26,000-to-win Sunday night on Flo Racing.

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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