Veteran experience proved invaluable as the DIRTcar Nationals came to a disappointing conclusion on a night Volusia Speedway Park was far from its best.
How it Happened
2022 DIRTcar Nationals (World of Outlaws Late Models)
Where: Volusia Speedway Park – Barberville, Fla. (streamed on DirtVision)
Winner’s Purse: $10,000 (nightly)
Chris Madden, last year’s WoO late model runner-up, was anything but on Saturday night, using the high side of the track to overtake veteran Dale McDowell within a handful of laps of the Volusia lower groove rubbering up and rendering passing impossible for the second half of the DIRTcar Nationals finale, scoring his first win of the 2022 season for a cool $10,000.
— World of Outlaws Late Models (@WoOLateModels) February 20, 2022
Madden’s efforts were veteran savvy, as the track had already rubbered up both during late model heat races and during the Super DIRTcar feature that preceded it. Using the high side aggressively allowed Madden to pass both front-row starters McDowell and Max Blair within the first 15 laps, after which he immediately moved to the bottom and never left.
Madden was unable, however, to secure the DIRTcar Nationals late model championship, as Devin Moran climbed forward to a 12th-place finish after winning the second Last Chance Qualifier earlier in the evening.
While the late model finale was disappointing, it couldn’t hold a candle to the farce of a feature that ended the Super DIRTcar Series’ residency at Volusia. The right man won, with DIRTcar Nationals points leader Jimmy Phelps clinching that crown with a feature win worth $5,000.
— Super DIRTcar Series (@SuperDIRTcar) February 20, 2022
How Phelps did it was anything but right. Volusia’s track surface rubbered up halfway through the event, making passing impossible anywhere on the track. Then, the final 10 laps turned into a caution-plagued marathon, with at least half-a-dozen cars cutting down right-rear tires. The debacle was a far cry from the mid-week races that saw the center-drive modifieds put on spectacular racing.
Devin Moran cooled off the final two nights of the DIRTcar Nationals, having to transfer through last-chance events Friday and Saturday night. Having said that, Moran proved a force all through Georgia/Florida Speedweeks, at times leading the points in both the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and the WoO tour despite planning to run neither series in 2022.
Moran ended Speedweeks with three wins and had scored 18 consecutive top-10 finishes in super late model features before his 12th-place finish Saturday. That also proved an emotional end to a longstanding partnership that will see his brother leave full-time crew duties with his team to pursue his own car detailing business.
— World of Outlaws Late Models (@WoOLateModels) February 20, 2022
Brandon Sheppard also had a cold finish to Speedweeks, having to take multiple provisionals to make the WoO field at Volusia, but on the whole the Rocket house team has to be pleased with the form they’ve entered 2022 in. Sheppard finished in the top 10 at every event at Volusia prior to Saturday’s rubbered-up debacle that rendered even the best racecars unable to pass, and scored three wins at the Winternationals at East Bay. Rocket Chassis appear ready to compete again after Longhorns dominated super late model racing in 2022.
Dennis Erb Jr. scored wins on both the WoO and Lucas Oil tours during Speedweeks, something he failed to do in 2021. To keep things in perspective, Erb won half as many races in February as he did in all of last season.
Jimmy Phelps not only won Saturday’s DIRTcar Nationals finale for the Super DIRTcar modifieds, the win left him with an average finish of 3.0 over five nights of competition at Volusia. And for as bad a feature as Saturday’s was, that Phelps made his right-rear tire last 50 laps without popping was a true driving accomplishment.
Vexed, Villains & Victims
Last year’s richest late model winner, Brandon Overton, made some Speedweeks noise with two wins at Golden Isles and a midweek victory at Volusia. Having said that, that win came with an engine that expired on the cooldown lap, leaving oil smeared all over the vehicle in victory lane, one of multiple mechanical woes that struck the No. 76 team at Volusia. Overton remains as fast as anyone, but the untouchable team looks a lot more vulnerable this spring.
Considering the speed Josh Richards showed at Las Vegas last fall in his debut with Boom Briggs’s racing team, there’s no way to consider the team’s full-time debut at Speedweeks anything but a disappointment. Richards came into the World of Outlaws opener having missed three consecutive features, and opened the first four tour races of the season with only one top 10 and an average finish outside the top 15. After an off year in 2021, contention appears to be at least another season away for the four-time champion.
Truck Series regular Stewart Friesen will likely be disappointed he only won one feature at the DIRTcar Nationals, but an average finish of 4.0 in four starts made clear that Friesen will contend at every center-drive modified race he can make it to.
— Super DIRTcar Series (@SuperDIRTcar) February 19, 2022
Fanning the Flames
It’s a damn shame to see the Super DIRTcar Series residency at Volusia end the way it did Saturday night. The Yankee mods put on classic shows earlier in the week, only to see Saturday’s show turn into a yellow fever parade of flat tires and a rubbered up track surface that prevented any form of passing.
Speaking in that same vein, I cannot fathom why DIRTcar opted to go ahead and run the last chance races for the modifieds on Saturday night despite every single interviewee after the super late model heats that ran before them said the track had taken rubber and was going to race single-file. Maybe there’s some truth to the tongue-in-cheek social media observing the (lack of) track work on Saturday night.
“Let’s lay off the track prep tonight.”
“But won’t that make everyone mad?”
“Yeah but they’ll forget about it by next year. They’re all tired anyway.”
Volusia track prep crew today, apparently.
— Joe Porter’s Brother (@joeportersbro) February 20, 2022
I’ll say something positive about the Super DIRTcar Series. Recently retired veteran driver Brett Hearn was a welcome addition to the DirtVision booth, offering some quality insight into the modified races contested during the DIRTcar Nationals. I’d welcome him back anytime the SDS takes to the track.
— Ross Wece (@RossWece) February 20, 2022
Look, there is no doubting that Chris Madden had a great trip to Florida, but statistics or not anyone arguing that Madden is the World of Outlaws late model title favorite for 2022 after Brandon Sheppard has already won six super late models in 2022 is pushing propaganda. Of course, DirtVision did plenty of that after the struggles with the Volusia surface through this year’s DIRTcar Nationals…
Saturday’s program aside, which ran long thanks to extended driver intros and a rash of late-race cautions for flat tires during the modified feature, the rest of this week’s DIRTcar Nationals was a welcome reminder that running two classes a night at Volusia is the recipe for success, putting on a streamlined show that ends by 11 or so in the evening during a mostly weeknight stretch of races.
Here’s hoping that lesson sticks for 2023, and rather than adding the Xtreme Outlaw Sprints as a third class on select nights that DIRTcar consolidates the UMP modifieds into fewer nights, allowing the Xtreme Outlaw sprints to run on two-class nights during the first week of the DIRTcar Nationals.
0 – tread left on any right-rear tires that went the distance in Saturday’s Super DIRTcar finale.
59 – super late model car count Friday at Volusia, the highest of the DIRTcar Nationals.
$2,618 – winner’s share of the 50/50 for Saturday’s DIRTcar Nationals finale.
Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): I’m giving the DIRTcar Nationals three Enigma American IPAs. Why a Belgian beer that has nothing to do with Florida? Because Volusia 2022 was an enigma, going from a disastrous cancelation of modified competition to the sprint car race of the year to a woeful finale Saturday night. Some really good race nights, but also the first case where I’d question going back to Volusia for the next Speedweeks.
Up Next: Dirt’s next major event stays in the South, but those Yankee center-drive modifieds will take center stage. The inaugural event of the Short Track Super Series Elite tour, the Rebel 50, goes off for $25,000-to-win Saturday at Cherokee Speedway in South Carolina. Coverage can be found 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.