Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2021 Firecracker 50 at Fonda

The Headline(s)

From coast to cost, modified titans flexed their muscles.

Our Feature Spotlights

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Spotlight: 2021 Firecracker 50 (Short Track Super Series)
Where: Fonda Speedway – Fonda, N.Y. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Why We Chose It: At $10,000-to-win, Sunday’s highest-paying race that was a) available on replay and b) didn’t cost $30 as a standalone PPV buy

Stewart Friesen took the lead on lap 8 and the Firecracker 50 was over. Continuing to, as the Dirt Track Digest TV crew stated, “rule Fonda Speedway with an iron fist,” Friesen led the remaining 42 laps by a country mile and scored his third STSS victory of 2021, his eighth big-block modified feature win in nine starts at Fonda in 2021.

The feature, which was plagued by seven yellow flags over the course of 50 laps, has been contested since 2019, with Friesen winning all three iterations of the Independence Day event.


Monday, July 5, 2021

Spotlight: Texas Monday Series
Where: Texas Dirt Track – Fort Worth, Texas (streamed on RaceXR+)
Why We Chose It: Monday’s only dirt race available to stream

The rain finally held off, and the Texas Monday Series finally kicked off Monday night in Fort Worth.

On paper, it seems academic that a modified race in Texas ended with USMTS veteran Rodney Sanders leading flag-to-flag and going to victory lane, but this one was closer than the score sheet demonstrated. 

Though Sanders took the $2,500 victory, his No. 20 was arguably bailed out when the yellow flag flew with six laps to go for a stopped car in turn 4, a yellow that disrupted the momentum of eventual race runner-up Chris Huckeba. The race, which utilized the Delaware double-file restart that allowed Sanders to restart the race on his own row, left Huckeba to struggle with Jacob Gallardo for several laps to secure runner-up and left him with no time to run down Sanders again.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Spotlight: 2021 Summer Nationals (Super DIRTcar Series)
Where: Ransomville Speedway – Ransomville, N.Y. (streamed on DirtVision)
Why We Chose It: At $7,500-to-win, Tuesday’s highest-paying dirt race

There wasn’t much left of Matt Sheppard’s right-rear tire after 100 laps Tuesday night, but that’s to be expected after the whooping his No. 9 car put on the field at Ransomville. 

Taking the lead from Mat Williamson inside the first 15 laps of Tuesday’s lengthy feature, Sheppard took advantage of a racetrack that got narrower as the night went along, facing little pressure from eventual runner-up Peter Britten and Friesen despite a rash of late-race yellows slowing the feature. 

** Writer’s note: This author had no choice but to take the night of Wednesday, July 7 off to make the long drive back home from the beach.

Success Stories

The driver himself acknowledged that the Tuesday night triumph at the Knox County Raceway was only a $5,000 win, but there’s not a late model driver in America that needed one more than Ashton Winger. The defending World of Outlaws Late Models rookie of the year has had a calamitous 2021 that saw him fall off the national touring circuit. The No. 12 team has finally seemed to settle down in Hell Tour competition this summer, with their win Tuesday night a culmination of improvement rather than a fluke.

See Nick Hoffman. See Nick Hoffman return to the Hell Tour. See Nick Hoffman win another DIRTcar modified feature. For those counting, he’s now won all 10 Hell Tour races he’s started in 2021, leading every lap in all of them.

This one transpired over the weekend but failed to make my final draft from Sunday. Youngster Spencer Hughes has in a matter of weeks done what Kyle Strickler failed to with the PCC Motorsports late model team: established them on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series tour (Strickler started as the team’s driver, which opted to pursue the WoO late model crown until Strickler’s release thanks to two early-season wins at Volusia). With a pair of top-five finishes this weekend at Portsmouth and Muskingum County, PCC is back up front for the first time in months.

Vexed, Villains & Victims

Donny Walden ended up on his roof as the most obvious victim of Tuesday night’s Big One at Knox County, but it was Ryan Unzicker who sounded most perturbed of the victims about the incident, disparaging the track for poor lighting, dusty conditions and uneven moisture on the racing surface that led to a narrow groove that packed up the field. 

Cody Smith lost a sure-fire heat race win with two laps to go in the second southern modified heat at the Texas Dirt Track Monday night, coming up gimp in turn 2 with less than two laps to go.

Pretty much anyone not named Friesen or Sheppard who made it into the top 10 at Fonda Sunday night found some sort of trouble. Lap 7 saw Mike Maheney blow a right-rear tire while running fourth. Current track points leader Rocky Warner hit the wall in turn 4 on lap 31 battling with Sheppard for the runner-up position. And lap 42 saw Tyler Dippel, who was contending for hard charger of the race in going from 23rd to ninth, wrecked in turn 2 on a late-race restart. 

Fanning the Flames

When Thinkin’ went to publication on Saturday night, details were scarce on the tragedy that unfolded at Hartwell Speedway in Georgia. The details are no longer scarce, but sad. A modified car that suffered an apparent driveshaft failure ended up climbing the inside frontstretch wall, landing on a chainlink fence and showering folks in the infield with debris. The resulting melee ended up killing a 57-year-old race fan and sending two others, including a pre-teen child, to the hospital. Hartwell has already announced that their weekly racing program for this coming Saturday (July 10) has been canceled, with a number of local drivers having reportedly donated their winnings from this past Saturday to the families of the accident victims. 

There’s no doubting this was a freak accident, and getting angry and pointing fingers isn’t going to solve anything here. This is a tragedy, not an act of negligence. Having said that, what I would say as a word of caution to all race fans out there is to make use of grandstands. The pits and the racecars will be there after the race is over, and dirt drivers are about as friendly as can be when it comes to post-race photos and autographs. Our sport is unique not only in the danger it poses to its competitors, but to its spectators as well. Here’s hoping it’s a long time before we receive another such reminder.

This is perhaps an ironic argument to make given the preceding paragraphs, but track officials sometimes seem awful quick to throw the yellow flag on dirt tracks when cars slow on the racing surface. Case in point, Sunday’s Firecracker at Fonda, where the yellow flag flew at least three times for cars on the backstretch that, while slow, were out of the racing groove and made it back to the pits under their own power. There should be automatics when it comes to flags. Debris in the groove should be a yellow. A stopped car should be a yellow. A flipped sprint car should be a red. A car that’s out of the way and under power should be a green.

That’s one issue. The greater issue surfaced, however, on lap 47, when as the field was finally strung out and logging green flag laps, another car slowed on the backstretch … and no yellow flag flew. It’s the flagman’s discretion how “precautious” they’re going to be with throwing the yellow. It’s not their discretion to be inconsistent about it.

Numbers Game

7 – number of cars involved in the Big One at Knox County during Tuesday night’s DIRTcar late model feature.

41 – big-block modified car count for Sunday’s Firecracker at Fonda.

$20,000 – the highest-paying posted purse of the midweek, for Beckley Motorsport Park’s unsanctioned 100-lap super late model race won by Zack Dohm. For some interesting reading on the event, check out the comments on the track’s Facebook page.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans, with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): This midweek gets a couple stale Lone Stars left in a cooler’s melted ice that wasn’t cleaned out from Independence Day festivities. The incident at Hartwell is still fresh on the brain, and while the guys that won this week’s spotlighted features are big guns in the sport, their wins looked borderline easy and mechanical.

Up Next: Both the WoO late models and the LOLMDS will be contesting $20,000-to-win super late features on Saturday, while the open-wheel world will turn its eyes to Knoxville and the USAC Cornbelt Nationals paying $20,000-to-win one of the biggest wingless races of the 2021 season. Coverage will be available on DirtVision, MAVTV Plus and Flo Racing respectively.

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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