Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2021 Race for Hope 71 at Batesville

The Headline(s)

Zane DeVilbiss rebounds to score the 2021 Race for Hope 71 paycheck, while Jimmy Owens returns to form and the race of the year broke out in New York.

Our Feature Spotlights

Spotlight: Race for Hope 71 (IMCA Modifieds)
Where: Batesville Motor Speedway – Locust Grove, Ark. (streamed on RaceXR+)
Winner’s Purse: $50,000

Farmington, N.M.’s Zane DeVilbiss continued his career season with another major victory Saturday night (Sept. 25), taking the lead back from longtime modified veteran Terry Phillips on lap 56 and weathering a string of late-race restarts to win the $50,000 Race for Hope 71. Batesville marked the second straight week with DeVilBiss scoring a major win after taking the Texas Dirt Nationals just days prior.

The victory did not come without incident. DeVilbiss, who first took the lead from Phillips on lap 19, was involved in apparent contact with Phillips at the entry to turn 1 on lap 23 that saw DeVilbiss spin while Phillips continued on (the video replay was inconclusive, though there was quarterpanel damage visible on DeVilbiss’s car). DeVilbiss was fortunate in that he was able to spin and keep going, meaning track officials allowed him to blend in and restart fourth as opposed to heading to the tail of the 30-lap field. The ruling kept DeVilbiss in contention after the race endured its scheduled fuel break at lap 40.

And yes, I’m aware that posted Tweet is from an earlier qualifying race (more on that later).

Spotlight: Super Bee 100 (Crate Late Models)
Where: Super Bee Speedway – Chatham, La. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $50,000

World of Outlaws Late Model Series regular Cade Dillard was in his rear-view mirror the last 20 laps, but Milton, Fla.’s Joseph Joiner of Hunt the Front fame scored a massive $50,000 payday in a caution-filled Super Bee 100 in the wee hours of Sunday morning, having taken the lead from pole sitter Carson Ferguson around lap 35. Joiner, whose car featured the words “Jesus Lives” on his spoiler, celebrated by Tebowing on the roof of his late model in victory lane.

Hunt the Front just won the 100 lap $50,000 at super bee speedway

Posted by Jacob Reiter on Saturday, September 25, 2021

The feature, which was slowed by seven yellow flags after a competition caution for a fuel break flew on lap 52, saw Dillard make his assault on Joiner for the race lead after a lap 81 restart. However, it appeared the track’s lower groove had begun to take on rubber, as Dillard was unable to make any ground on Joiner using the high side of the racetrack.

Success Stories

The battle for “race of the year” has a new contender. Kings Ferry, N.Y.’s Mike Mahaney scored his first career Super DIRTcar Series victory Saturday night in the Massive Malta 100 at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, masterfully holding off Stewart Friesen, who threw everything and the kitchen sink at Mahaney in the closing laps. For Mahaney, scoring his first career win by keeping Friesen at bay made it all the sweeter.

But let’s give proper credit to Friesen for his runner-up effort. Friesen flew back from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Friday. He then drove to Yonkers. N.Y., picked up his race hauler, drove it to the racetrack, struggled to the point he had to win a last-chance qualifier to make the A-main, then went from 21st to second in said A-main despite the race going more than 70 straight laps under green. Kyle Larson gets all the press for NASCAR success in dirt racing, but this Saturday was a strong reminder of just how talented a modified driver Friesen is.

See also
Frontstretch Podcast: Stewart & Jessica Friesen On Historical Bristol Dirt Starts

Speaking of talent reminders, soon-to-be World of Outlaws Late Model champion Brandon Sheppard laid waste to the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Thursday night at Brownstown Speedway (Indiana), leading all 50 laps with a smooth, measured performance that was made all the more impressive by a treacherous race surface that had taken six inches of rain in the days prior. That Sheppard dominated, and dominated so cleanly, in a race that chewed up countless cars was a tour de force.

Rico Abreu scored his 10th career All-Star Circuit of Champions win in his 100th career series start at the 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway. He celebrated Saturday night’s win by kissing his dog.

I was torn whether to include Tyler Erb in this section or the Villains section, because he had a damn successful Friday night much to the chagrin of the entire crowd at Brownstown. The success part of the story… Erb won Friday night’s 40-lap LOLMDS feature, his series-leading seventh victory of the season. Problem is, that win came courtesy of a daring low-side move on lap 6 that saw Erb make slight contact with hometown hero Hudson O’Neal, a move that sent O’Neal spinning.

In this writer’s eyes, Erb didn’t do anything wrong, and the contact seemed incidental. But there’s no doubting Erb embraced the villain image, blowing kisses to the booing crowd in victory lane and quipping that his team wouldn’t even open their merchandise stand on Saturday because “we ain’t gonna sell any shirts tomorrow.” 

Of course, I wouldn’t expect anything less from a driver that carriers an Evel Knievel-styled No. 1 on his racecar.

David Gravel took the World of Outlaws win in Saturday’s Commonwealth Clash at Lernerville Speedway (Pennsylvania), marking his 10th feature win of the 2021 season. Gravel joins current series points leader Brad Sweet as the only driver to reach double digits this season.

Joseph Joiner’s richest career win was impressive in that came from holding off a veteran like Dillard, but it also came courtesy of extremely alert driving that saw him avert near-certain wrecks twice; on lap 38, when the No. 5C of Brad Couch broke on the frontstretch and again on lap 54, when he visibly dug into the track surface to avoid a spinning car in turn 2. As the PA announcer said, referencing his “Jesus Lives” spoiler, “he [Joiner] was living right.”

Defending LOLMDS champion Jimmy Owens showed his title-winning form for the first time in 2021 on Saturday night, leading more than 90 of the 100 laps run at Brownstown and holding off a determined charge by Devin Moran at the checkered flag. It was a return to form in more ways than one…

Vexed, Villains & Victims

Owens looked anything but a national touring series champion on Friday night. Racing with Brownstown track champion Devin Gilpin, Owens had to come to a near-stop after a slider thrown by Gilpin in turn 2 on a restart. The two drivers both made contact on and off the racing surface the entire length of the backstretch, with the incident culminating in turn 3 when Owens visibly took out Gilpin, destroying the front end of the No. 20 and sending both cars to the pits for the night.

Gilpin’s slider took liberties, but not enough to justify a veteran like Owens going battering ram.

There may not have been a driver in Indiana that had a rougher weekend than Ricky Thornton Jr. Six laps into Thursday’s feature, Thornton’s racecar was literally destroyed after he apparently hit a rut (no video replay was readily available). Friday saw Thornton lose a transfer spot in his heat race after getting into a last-lap scuffle.

But Saturday may have been most painful of all. Thornton was lapped early, only to un-lap himself by driving past race leader Owens, in fact putting the fastest laps on track together starting at around lap 75. That all went out the window on lap 86, when Thornton brought out the yellow flag, then got stuck in the mud after pulling into the track infield. 

Anthony Perrego broke a rear end while leading on lap 70 of the 100-lap Super DIRTcar race at Albany-Saratoga on Saturday.

Damon Cooley didn’t get quite the air Brady Bacon did when he wrecked his sprint car at Terre Haute back in May, but that doesn’t take anything away from how nasty a crash he had on Saturday during the USAC national sprint car feature. Fortunately, Cooley was uninjured.

If there is one regional driver I’d flag to give a ride on a national late model tour in 2022, it’d be Verona, Ky.’s Josh Rice. And Rice certainly looked the part Thursday night, winning the hard charger award with a sixth-place finish that saw him put his experience with driving on a rut-filled racetrack to work (Rice’s home track is nearby Florence Speedway).

That all went out the window with 10 to go in Friday’s feature, when Rice lost the lead with a flat tire. From there, Rice ran over local driver Scott James in his heat race Saturday, then came nowhere close to transferring out of his B-main. Rice has had a tremendous 2021, but his weekend trended the wrong way when the Brownstown racing surface improved.

One driver that has declared their intent to run the LOLMDS in 2022 is Ridgeley, W.V.’s Matt Cosner, who returned to racing at Brownstown after being on the sidelines in COVID-19 protocol since the LOLMDS visited Port Royal last month. The rust, however, showed. Cosner’s best finish all weekend was 19th in Thursday’s feature; he DNF’d Friday and failed to transfer from his B-main Saturday after spinning during his heat race.

One of the bigger names to fall into COVID-19 protocol this season missed Brownstown altogether as a result. Jonathan Davenport pulled himself from the weekend’s races after he and several members of his crew tested positive for the virus this week.

The Race for Hope 71 fuel break was not kind at all to Ethan Dotson, who won Wednesday’s qualifying A-main. Running in the top five at the lap 40 intermission, Dotson’s car was seen visibly smoking during the pace laps; the car gave up the ghost only six laps later.

Perhaps the ugliest Saturday at Batesville went to Seymour, Wis.’s Brian Mullen. One of the features of the three-day qualifying lead-up to the Race for Hope 71 is drivers that don’t like their qualifying spot can give it up and try again another night. Mullen opted to do that, only to fail to transfer from Saturday’s B-main into the feature field. No guts, no glory, but giving up a guaranteed spot in a feature that pays $1,500 to start in a field of 100 cars is a bold strategy, Cotton.

Fanning the Flames

Thursday night’s race at Brownstown was a rescheduled Icebreaker from March, a race that had to be postponed midway through the B-main after the track surface proved too dangerous to continue. Go figure that the rescheduled event was contested on a track surface full of ruts that saw yet another late model flip. 

Watching Sheppard put on a clinic as a WoO regular in a LOLMDS race was a visual reminder the two series need to get together and co-sanction a truly national super late model series. If for no other reason than Sheppard and the Rocket house car need more formidable opponents than what’s been on the WoO tour for much of 2021.

Anyone that’s read this column knows that I value James Essex being in the booth for late model races, especially when that means, in MAVTV’s case, I’m not listening to Bob Dillner. Having said that, Essex really missed the mark in victory lane on Friday night when he opted to vocally call out Tyler Erb’s name into his mic instead of letting the vocally hostile Brownstown crowd lob boos as he exited his car. It kind of ruined the moment for those watching on MAVTV to have the grandstand drowned out by a driver eager to don his metaphorical black hat.  

I’ve got to give a tip of the cap to Flo Racing for the production effort they put in for the Super Bee 100 Saturday night. Actual instant replays and scoring trackers for all classes, not just the late models, was a real A-team effort. It made it easier to gloss over the fact one of the track PA announcers plugged Snap-On Tools when he was thanking a track sponsor for distributing apparel to race fans that night. That track sponsor? Mac Tools.

The exact opposite can be said for RaceXR’s promotion of the Race for Hope 71. There was nothing wrong with the broadcast itself, which actually avoided signal issues that marred MAVTV’s coverage of the Topless 100 at the same track earlier in the summer. Problem is, part of that may stem from a crowd appearing anemic when compared to the Topless 100, meaning a lot less cell phones were in the area.

There is something very wrong when a production company putting on races has posted nothing on social media, be it on Facebook, or Twitter, or anything that shows up on a Google search, more than four hours after the feature has finished (hence why there’s a two-day old picture of DeVilbiss’s car linked earlier in this article). Considering my subscription to RaceXR+ costs more than double monthly what Flo does, I will complain. Do better.

Erb vs. Thornton’s slide-job extravaganza at Arizona Speedway in January. Gravel and Sweet’s battle at the Rev in March. Kyle Larson’s triumph in the BC39 at Indianapolis in July. Add Mahaney vs. Friesen at Albany-Saratoga to the “race of the year” nominees list. Friesen’s climb from 21st to second, all under green-flag conditions, was spellbinding, and watching Mahaney manage to thwart the efforts of a veteran who was very much on his A-game was as good as dirt racing gets. Anyone with a DirtVision subscription, go back and watch this replay.

I don’t want to rain on the Super Bee Speedway, which delivered from a track surface perspective for its Saturday crate late model show. But 11:24 p.m. local time to start a 100-lap feature with a built-in fuel break is really pushing it. Of course, it wasn’t just the smaller tracks having issues with timing this weekend. Because if this tweet is true… oof.

The two best races of the night were the Friesen vs. Mahaney duel at Albany-Saratoga and the Owens vs. Moran side-by-side finish at Brownstown Saturday night. Both races were 100-lappers with no built-in fuel stops, intermissions, etc. Both went green for extended stretches of more than 70 laps. And both were decided by less than a car length. Meanwhile, the Race for Hope 71 feature at Batesville threw a yellow flag on lap 40 that saw DeVilbiss within a nose of catching race leader Phillips under green, all occurring as the leaders were barreling down on a three-wide knot of lapped traffic. Want to see a great race? Don’t fear the long green-flag run.

Numbers Game


Yellow flags in Thursday’s Indiana Icebreaker feature at Brownstown.


Crate late models entered for qualifying Thursday night at Super Bee.


Green-flag laps run at Brownstown Saturday night before the first yellow flag flew.


Winner’s 50/50 share at Eldora Saturday.

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 five-and-a-half icy cold $2 Busch beers from the Eldora beer stand. Albany-Saratoga put on a show for the ages, Jimmy Owens was impressive at Brownstown, and the Super Bee 100 was a decent show that would have been even better two hours earlier in the evening. It was fun to be a dirt fan this weekend.

Up Next: It’s slim pickings for weekday racing as fall sees the season wind down, but Flo Racing and DirtVision will have two shows worth watching Sunday with the $10,000-to-win Danny Serrano 100 modified race at Bridgeport and 410 sprint cars at Huset’s Speedway, 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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