Mike Marlar wins the Wild West Shootout finale and points crown, leaving him with a welcome bullseye on his back heading to Florida Speedweeks.
How it Happened
2022 Wild West Shootout
Where: Vado Speedway Park – Vado, N.M. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $25,000 (Sunday, super late models)
For 40 laps, late model youngster Jake Timm was on cruise control, dicing through lapped traffic and keeping veteran Mike Marlar at bay. That rhythm disappeared with 10 laps to go, when the race’s sole caution flag flew after Kent Rosevear backed into the turn 1 wall.
The ensuing restart gave Marlar the opportunity he needed, taking the lead from Timm and never looking back, as Marlar scored his second consecutive win on the Wild West Shootout and clinching the points title doing it. The combined feature/title win netted Marlar a cool $28,000.
Mike Marlar WINS in the Wild West Shootout! ?? pic.twitter.com/8IUDma4UE4
— FloRacing (@FloRacing) January 17, 2022
Marlar, who scored top-five finishes in all six late model features in the Wild West Shootout, was in rare form all weekend long, be it for a Tim McCreadie-esque takedown of Bobby Pierce after the two tangled in Sunday’s late model A-main or for his speed in sweeping the final two events on the tour.
Marlar was the fourth different driver to win a Wild West Shootout race in 2022, meaning no super late model drivers scored bonus money for wins on tour. Brandon Sheppard, who made headlines early in the week for sweeping the first two races on tour, got tangled up in a late-race crash.
Now granted, a lot of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series regulars were not present in New Mexico this week. But veterans Mike Marlar and Earl Pearson Jr. sent a very strong message to the entire super late model racing community with their speed in the Wild West Shootout over the last week. Marlar captured the $25,000 finale on Sunday, to date the most valuable race win in 2022, while Pearson scored five top fives in six starts, continuing his late-season momentum from 2021 after leaving the Black Diamond Racing team. No wonder Pearson looked so smooth on camera.
Earl Pearson Jr goes out and wins a heat race then takes off his helmet and not a hair out of place. pic.twitter.com/L1SRIAuBsi
— Richard Allen/InsideDirtRacing.com (@RichardAllenIDR) January 16, 2022
The headlining modified classes out west both played host to dominant drivers this week. Happy, Texas’s Rodney Sanders won four consecutive A-modified features to close out the Wild West Shootout, securing both the $1,000 points title and a $10,000 bonus for winning four features. To top it off, Sanders clinched the title and the bonus by winning Sunday’s finale feature, in a field that included World of Outlaws late model champion Brandon Sheppard.
One state over, Bakersfield, Calif.’s Ethan Dotson continued his own hot streak in the modified class of the IMCA Winter Nationals at Cocopah Speedway, winning Friday night’s feature to total five wins over the two-week event and secure the mini-series points title despite blowing an engine in Saturday’s finale feature.
Fort Scott, Kan.’s Andy Bryant had more than his share of issues in the Wild West Shootout’s X-modified class, but be it going from 16th to first in a B-main on Friday or a banzai move to win the finale feature on Sunday, Bryant was undoubtedly the show in this division.
Dallon Murty wasn’t able to score another win in stock car competition at Cocopah, but short of a lackluster heat race on Friday Murty was a top-five factor in every race he contested. I can’t imagine it’s going to be long before he gets an opportunity to drive something fancier than a stock car.
Oregon’s Thomas Hunziker had a rough finish to his Wild West Shootout on Sunday when he ended up in a hard wreck during a super late model B-main, but prior to that the underdog driver had qualified for all five features during the tour, a career-first.
On the one hand, Brandon Sheppard won two super late model features and was seemingly the only driver in the A-modified class able to even remotely challenge Rodney Sanders. On the other hand…
Vexed, Villains & Victims
Sheppard’s finale weekend at Vado was one disappointment after another. Friday, Sheppard cut a tire in the late model feature while running third. Saturday, he had to go to a backup car after coming up gimp during his heat race and never recovered, while Sunday saw his car get torn up in a melee triggered when Ricky Weiss and Tyler Erb collided. A team that was never in true A-form in 2021 looking to make a statement leaves New Mexico with the jury still out.
Kris Jackson definitely had a rough ending to Sunday’s X-modified feature, and there’s no doubt Andy Bryant used his shoulders to get under Jackson to take the race win. Having said that, Jackson’s spin in turn 4 did not result from contact with Bryant, and Jackson’s decision to T-bone Bryant after the race was over within a few yards of both a track official and tow truck was at best reckless and at worst negligent. Jackson earned every bit of his disqualification for those antics.
Deming, N.M.’s Mercedes Abercrombie tagged the back of the super late model preliminary program Friday at Vado, returning after having blown an engine. That return lasted only a handful of laps, when the engine again blew up in Abercrombie’s No. 29 machine.
Two metaphors to describe John David Duffie’s time in the late model ranks at the Wild West Shootout. On the track Sunday, Duffie spun out twice in his heat race, then went nose-first into the turn 2 wall during his B-main. On his way to Vado Speedway Park, the hauler towing Duffie’s vehicle came off the trailer hitch, incurring damage to the trailer itself. Both disasters summed up the experience of the No. 42 super late model, which got a lot of airtime under yellow all week long.
Three-time Truck Series champion Matt Crafton missed the A-main Friday in A-modified competition at Vado after suffering a mechanical failure in his heat race. Crafton did manage to qualify for the A-main Saturday and Sunday, finishing 13th and 20th, respectively.
Former Cup Series regular Ken Schrader came up gimp at the drop of the green of the first IMCA modified B-main at Cocopah Speedway on Friday and failed to start, ending his evening. Saturday went better, with Schrader winning the second modified B-main and finishing 12th in the A-main.
Fanning the Flames
With as racy as Vado Speedway Park was for the entirety of this year’s Wild West Shootout, I share this sentiment. This event is too freaking good to be overshadowed by the Chili Bowl.
Big fan of the Wild West Shootout super late model race to kick off fender season every year.
My suggestion: Dont hold it during Chili Bowl week.
— Connor Ferguson (@cfchangs9) January 17, 2022
Full disclosure, I was not in New Mexico this weekend, so this observation is based solely on Flo Racing’s stream. And Flo Racing went as far as to remark Sunday that the camera angles at Vado Speedway Park do not show the top levels of the grandstands. And the track did have a heated indoor tent for fans to watch the race from given how cold and windy much of the Wild West Shootout was. Having said all that, I wasn’t the only one to note that Vado looked pretty damn empty for the entire Shootout series.
Has the crowd been this thin at Vado for the whole WWS or is the camera only able to capture some of the stands?
— Jacob Hord (@HordRaceWatcher) January 17, 2022
I’m sincerely hoping that Flo is right, that the camera was deceptive, and that the windy weather was an anomaly, because the racing at Vado was too freaking good to not have a healthy crowd in the stands. The event gets a mulligan for 2022 being a transition year from Arizona Speedway, but it was telling that race winners both Friday and Saturday were imploring fans to pack the stands from victory lane.
I’ve already made it clear that I found Michael Page’s de facto suspension from the 2023 Ice Bowl is ludicrous. That drama got even more pointed this week, with a further announcement that Page had been disqualified from this year’s Ice Bowl victory after his tires were found to be illegal.
Assuming this tire test is on the up and up, this is at best a PR disaster for the Iron-Man Series that officiated the Ice Bowl. The decision to suspend Page was polarizing at best if the Talladega Short Track Facebook group was any indication, and the timing of the release of this tire testing data almost felt like a dunk meant to legitimize the larger suspension. The decision to make such a spectacle of suspending Page with the results of the race still pending is, well questionable.
The appearance of impropriety is almost always worse than actual impropriety. And given that the Iron-Man Series made a point to suspend Michael Page in part for driving by their own rulebook despite not penalizing him during the actual Ice Bowl race, all of this smells fishier than Talladega Boulevard on a Monday morning.
5 – number of racetracks that hosted dirt oval track racing this weekend.
176 – car count for Saturday’s finale of the IMCA Winter Nationals at Cocopah.
$38,700 – total winnings for Mike Marlar, 2022 Wild West Shootout late model champion.
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 the non-Chili Bowl part of the weekend four hair of the dog margaritas. The finale at Vado was a good race, but not as good as the rest of the week, and frankly Chili Bowl hangover made watching lengthy racing programs at Cocopah and Vado a little bit more of a chore than they’d otherwise be.
Up Next: Dirt racing goes quiet for three nights before Thursday marks the kickoff of the Sunshine Nationals for the World of Outlaws late models in Florida and the Las Vegas Dirt Nationals. Coverage can be found on DirtVision and RaceXR, 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.