Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2022 Sunshine Nationals at Volusia

The Headline(s)

Dale McDowell left Volusia the only thing shining bright, winning the sole Sunshine Nationals feature contested on a bleak opening weekend for the World of Outlaws late models.

How it Happened

2022 Sunshine Nationals (World of Outlaws Late Models)
Where: Volusia Speedway Park – Barberville, Fla. (streamed on DirtVision)
Winner’s Purse: $10,000 

In what turned out to be the only super late model feature of the weekend, veteran Dale McDowell wired the win at Volusia, capping a resurgent weekend that saw the veteran, back in car for the first time in four months after surgery to treat prostate cancer, post the fast time in qualifying, win his heat race, and prove untouchable on a treacherous racing surface that tore dozens of cars to pieces over the course of the rain-shortened Sunshine Nationals.

Among those in the super late ranks enduring a rough visit to Florida was four-time series champion Josh Richards, who in his return to the WoO ranks after touring with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series was involved in three incidents on-track, the worst of which folded in the nose of his car with two laps to go in Friday’s feature.

Rain Friday night forced the second of three scheduled features for the WoO late models to be postponed to February 16; the third feature of the Sunshine Nationals scheduled was canceled.

Success Stories

To see the veteran McDowell in legit elite form in his return to racing at Volusia was not only impressive, it was a story that the folks at World Racing Group have to be thanking their lucky stars they had to tell, as it was the only positive thing to emerge from a doomed Sunshine Nationals weekend.

Lehigh Acres, Fla.’s Cody Allen won Saturday’s V8 Warrior feature at East Bay Raceway Park on Saturday despite the power steering failing on his car only four laps into the race.

Shawn Mills pulled a last-to-first, coming from 33rd to win the 6-cylinder division of the Hangover enduro and a $1,000 check. Said the driver, “I just looked forward” Of note, Ransomville N.Y.’s Austin Susice won the 4-cylinder division, marking his second straight season with a Hangover win.

4 Cylinder winner of “The Hangover” presented by Eric Martin and Nashvilles is Austin Susice! This makes it two years in a row as Austin won the 6-Cylinder event in 2021.

Posted by Land of Legends Raceway on Saturday, January 22, 2022

Though he was unable to best Brian Ruhlman to win the $5,000 finale on Saturday, Pahrump, Nev.’s Kollin Hibdon was arguably the story of the open modified division out at the Las Vegas Dirt Nationals. Hibdon’s feature win on Friday snapped Wild West Shootout champion Rodney Sanders’s five-race modified winning streak, and his runner-up finish in Saturday’s feature extended his own streak of podium finishes in modified competition to five.

Waco, Texas’s Chase Randall obliterated the sprint car field at Las Vegas on Thursday and dominated Saturday’s first feature as well (Friday’s feature got moved to Saturday due to high winds). However…

Vexed, Villains & Victims

Randall then blew a tire leading that feature with only two laps to go, losing a surefire $2,500 in the process.

Rookie Kyle Hammer dropped the proverbial hammer on Thursday night, besting Kyle Larson for fast time in Sunshine Nationals qualifying at Volusia. It was all downhill from there for the WoO late model rookie, breaking two driveshafts in preliminary competition and failing to start the feature race as a result, then losing another driveshaft in his heat race on Friday.

Four-time series champion Josh Richards endured a rude return to the WoO ranks on their home turf at Volusia. Two laps into Friday afternoon’s feature, Richards got collected after Ryan Gustin hooked a rut and turned in turn 3. Lap 13 saw Richards spin out. Lap 20 brought about the Big One at Volusia, which Richards got swept up in after Devin Moran clipped the berm in turn 2.

And then for good measure, Richards spun again with two laps to after his nose folded under the car.

Richards was perhaps the most visible of the victims, but the new clay surface at Volusia single-handedly extended the parts shortage gripping the dirt racing industry at least a month. Ruts strong enough to rip suspension parts out and send 2,400-pound racecars literally airborne in the corners, what part of the Sunshine Nationals that did get contested featured five flips and more nose jobs than a plastic surgeon’s date book.

NASCAR Regulars

Kyle Larson soldiered his way to a third-place finish in Friday afternoon’s WoO feature at Volusia after fading to as far as ninth in the running order. Larson remarked that it took him a while to find a line that worked on a bumpy Volusia surface.

Fanning the Flames

WoO commentator Rick Eshelman described the fact that WoO got through 21 heats and qualifying during Thursday’s ill-fated program a success. DirtVision cameras failed to show whether he was delivering this speech from the deck of an aircraft carrier with a star-spangled banner behind him.

Not to be outdone, Eshelman’s partner in crime Ruben Morales took it a step further, making the tone-deaf remark that though it was unusual to see five late models flip during a single race program, that the flips were a product of hard racing, not the ruts on the track. That’s a factually accurate statement, not all of the flips were caused by Volusia’s craters. That’s also not how the DirtVision broadcast’s messaging came off.

I get it, DirtVision is owned by the World of Outlaws promoters, it’s never going to be overly critical of a race program. But there’s a big difference between trying to stay positive in the face of adversity and outright propaganda. It was disappointing (and irritating) to hear the booth at Volusia go the North Korea route.

The story of Austin Sprague at the Las Vegas Dirt Nationals is a perfect microcosm of 2022 in two different ways.

One, it demonstrated effectively the sportsmanship and collectivism seen in most dirt racing pits. Two, it served as a stark reminder that dirt racers better get back in touch with their junkyard side, because the part shortages aren’t going anywhere.

Sadly, one of the first parts of the 2022 dirt season won’t be back for 2023. The Mohave Valley Raceway’s New Year’s Bash is going to be a one-and-done event, with the track’s Facebook disclosing that the event was a major loss for the promoters. Read the comments on this post.

Due to the High Winds that are expected today and lasting into the night along with the cold temps that we are…

Posted by Mohave Valley Raceway on Saturday, January 22, 2022

Having read the feedback, I feel bad for the promoters at Mohave Valley. And I can’t blame them for canceling this weekend, opting for caution in the face of forecasted 25-35 mph winds. As the Vegas Dirt Nationals showed on Friday, high winds will keep grandstands empty.

Let’s go back to Volusia for a minute. Even before the track surface started eating racecars at will, the Sunshine Nationals were off to an ugly start courtesy of a race program format that did qualifying for all three classes, meaning qualifying nearly 170 racecars. As a result, heat racing didn’t start until after 9 p.m. on a weeknight. As far as dirt tracks go, that’s a cardinal sin. DIRTcar got it right on Friday, opting to utilize hot-lap qualifying for the supporting crate late model classes. 

Unfortunately, Twitter was rife with race fans arguing that the WoO should implement a cap on car count in the supporting classes for 2023’s event. That is a TERRIBLE suggestion. Big car counts are a good thing, and big car counts for support events that benefit from being on DirtVision are a good thing. Put time limits on the features, use hot-lap qualifying, keep the program lean, but keep the entry lists open. Don’t go NASCAR.

Numbers Game

2 – flip count across three nights of sprint car racing at Las Vegas (that’s less than the late models at Volusia!)

3 – driveshafts Kyle Hammer’s No. 45 chewed up during the first 48 hours of his rookie WoO late model compaign.

5 – dirt tracks that canceled race programs scheduled for this weekend (Big O, Cocopah, Hendry Country, Mohave Valley, Volusia)

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): Oof. The weekend gets one and a half watery Michelob Ultras. The car count didn’t get much better in Las Vegas, East Bay proved uneventful and Volusia was an unmitigated disaster. The feel-good story of Dale McDowell is all that kept the weekend from skunk beer territory. 

Up Next: East Bay’s Winternationals kick off the UMP modified portion of their competition on Tuesday night, while Thursday marks the re-opening of Golden Isles Speedway and the season opener for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. Coverage can be found on Flo Racing and MAVTV Plus, 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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