Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2022 Bristol Dirt Nationals

The Headline(s)

Chris Ferguson and Chris Madden both capitalized on track position to score dominant $50,000 wins during a lackluster Bristol Dirt Nationals.

How it Happened

2022 Bristol Dirt Nationals (XR Super Series)
Where: Bristol Dirt Track – Bristol, Tenn. (streamed on RaceXR)
Winner’s Purse: $50,000 (nightly)

After watching Chris Madden wire Friday night’s super late model feature at Bristol, Saturday night polesitter Ricky Weiss was seeking to capitalize on track position and was running away with the feature. That all changed on lap 8, when Weiss got stuck behind Earl Pearson Jr.’s ailing racecar, a perfect pick that sent Chris Ferguson to the lead for good, winning the finale of the first event of the new XR Super Series tour.

Ferguson, arguably the biggest name known to be planning to contest the full XR Super Series in 2022, went untouched for the final 40-plus laps of the event, though Scott Bloomquist did close the gap at one point in lapped traffic with about 20 to go. 

Saturday’s feature was marred by several nasty crashes for big-name drivers. Defending Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion Tim McCreadie destroyed the rear-end of his car in a lap 10 incident, while Jimmy Owens suffered heavy damage after blowing a tire around lap 22.

Friday’s feature played out in similar, though less eventful, fashion. Madden proved absolutely untouchable out front, while a lap 2 wreck between Jensen Ford and Michael Chilton effectively destroyed both machines and left both drivers involved unable to race on Saturday.

Success Stories

Chris Ferguson was the first driver to announce a 2022 schedule that included the entirety of the XR Super Series schedule, so it’s a very big deal that he proved competitive enough to grab a $50,000 win during the first series event of the year. 

As for the weekend’s other feature winner in Chris Madden, it was every bit as significant a win on Friday, as Madden abandoned the World of Outlaws late model tour while leading the points to chase big money at Bristol. Madden delivered, scoring $50,000 on Friday; by comparison, that’s $20,000 more than he would have won sweeping the Outlaws’ events at Cherokee this weekend.

Defending Bristol Dirt Nationals winner Jonathan Davenport got off to a very rocky start, getting involved in a first lap, first corner incident in his Friday heat race. Davenport failed to score a repeat win, but consecutive fourth-place finishes gave Superman the highest average finish across the weekend’s two features and has him primed to challenge for the $100,000 points crown.

Saturday night proved a banner night for Scott Bloomquist. Not only was his second-place finish one of the best the veteran’s had in recent memory, but it also meant that his chassis-building company scored a 1-2 finish.

Vexed, Villains & Victims

The first driver retired for the weekend at Bristol was one Vic Hill, who found himself done for good after contact early in his heat race with Ashton Winger. The contact between the two drivers led to a scuffle in the infield that the RaceXR cameras chose to ignore (more on that later).

Lapped traffic likely cost Brandon Sheppard a $20,000 win at Cherokee on Saturday night. Lapped traffic at Bristol likely cost Ricky Weiss a win from pole. The difference between first and second place? A whopping $25,000. 

As mentioned earlier, McCreadie and Owens found out just how hard Bristol can bite during Saturday’s feature. Ford and Chilton were the first to figure that out on Friday, with both suffering absolutely savage damage.

Selden, Kan.’s Bingdon Rogers had disaster strike only two laps short of victory on Friday night. Leading the hobby stock feature by a comfortable margin, a lapped car spun directly in front of the race leader, leaving Rogers to endure a rough hit and lose a Bristol sword. I can’t remember if it was Rogers or the XR booth that said this, but when it comes to hobby stocks, “these cars are made to go, not woah.”

NASCAR Regulars

Truck Series regular Austin Wayne Self contested the sport modified division of the Bristol Dirt Nationals Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night before heading down to Circuit of the Americas. Self struggled to 23rd- and 25th-place finishes before scoring a sixth-place finish Thursday night.

Fanning the Flames

I am a huge fan of the type of money that the XR Super Series is bringing to dirt late model racing. Debuting this tour at Bristol was a huge mistake. Why? Bristol is NOT a dirt track. 

The drivers can bellow “it’s Bristol baby” all they want, the reality is that there is nothing spectacular about how dirt cars race on this oval. It’s obvious that Bristol for late models is the equivalent of the Brickyard for stock cars. Drivers want the trophy, but does anyone want to watch them win it?

My overwhelming disappointment in the racing at Bristol, despite the fact that the track actually modified the banking hoping to improve the on-track product, is a subjective argument. Here’s some objective facts. 100 feature laps were run this weekend. All 100 were led by front-row starters. There was one pass for the lead, and that took a lapped car failing on-track to happen. This has zero semblance to a crown jewel late model event.

Let’s stick with some numbers. 37 super late models showed up for the Bristol Dirt Nationals and the debut of the XR Super Series. The World of Outlaws actually outdrew them, with 40 super late models showing up for the Rock Gault Memorial weekend that paid $30,000 to win across two nights at Cherokee Speedway.

Yes, the quality of the XR field was better, that’s not up for debate. But given just how much money was on the line at Bristol, plus the events offering up $2,500 to start, if I’m the XR guys I’m at least a little disappointed in the turnout.

Of course, there’s two reasons I can immediately think of as to why. One, the speeds. Bristol’s extreme speed meant that for drivers that found trouble, they hit hard. The type of damage seen on Ford, Chilton and McCreadie’s cars after their on-track incidents is both costly and time-consuming to repair, likely to eat up even that $2,500 to start money.

Two, it apparently wasn’t cheap to race the Bristol Dirt Nationals. 

The expense of the Nationals, from the cost of actually entering the event to committing to at least three days of an event to the potential for damage to the racecars is one plausible explanation for just how far the car count fell from 2021 to 2022. The numbers that showed up this week were not bad… most short tracks would be thrilled to have them for their weekly programs. But after seeing every division at Bristol last season filled to capacity, these counts were, anemic.

Too expensive? Been there, done that? The end of COVID restrictions means people just didn’t need any excuse to get out of the house anymore? Whatever the reason, there was a whole lot less buzz to Bristol this year.

I will concede this point… the jury is still out on the event, as the XR Super Series will host two more $50,000 features next weekend. The jury is still out, I say, because the weather conditions were absolutely a factor this weekend. Cold weather in our neck of the woods saw my home track in Winchester cancel, Port Royal cancel, Selinsgrove cancel, and I have no doubt that it impacted Bristol’s walk-up crowd. Especially with winds like these.

Even if cold weather and my ever-lingering back problems didn’t make travel to Bristol this weekend impossible, I still would have had to rely on RaceXR’s streaming to catch the weekday Bristol Dirt Nationals features. To say they were sorely lacking is an understatement. Replays were nearly non-existent during the XR Super Series broadcasts, and for whatever reason XR continues to utilize a difficult-to-read scoring crawl on the bottom of the screen. 

Ordinarily I’d be a little forgiving, as some streaming is better than no streaming. But RaceXR is expensive at $34.99 a month. That’s more expensive per month than what I pay for DirtVision, only for fewer races and broadcasts lacking the professional graphics and video production that the Outlaws and their weekly tracks are broadcast with. The quality of what was broadcast this weekend was NOT worth the money, especially given that the races themselves were duds.

I will give RaceXR credit for having a “look away” policy from wrecks until confirming that drivers are all OK, and actually sticking to it. Why they chose to apply that same practice to the infield scuffle on Friday between Hill and Winger I have no idea… that was more suspenseful than anything that happened on track this weekend.

Feel free to scour Twitter and social media, there’s very little coverage out there about the Bristol Dirt Nationals. I’ve seen that attributed at least in part due to adversarial relations with outside media outlets, though let’s be clear, I cannot confirm this. To my knowledge, Frontstretch has not requested media credentials to an XR event to date. 

What I can confirm is that an unscheduled meeting called on Saturday after the scheduled program had started led to some wild speculation, including some that seemed to be actively hoping the series was failing. Check out this thread from Inside Dirt Racing’s Richard Allen.

Two observations here. One, incurring NASCAR-level wrath without the fanbase, track record or TV contracts of NASCAR is a bad sign. More notably though, Allen reported that media were not allowed to attend the meeting, which it turns out was to discuss spoiler height. How that in any way shape or form is a good idea for a sport that literally sells pit passes to any interested party is beyond me.

We’ll close on a note a little less vitriolic. If you feel the need to plastic wrap your media center floors, maybe don’t host dirt races?

Numbers Game

1 – green-flag passes for the lead across two late model features at Bristol this weekend.

37 – super late models entered at Bristol Friday.

$2,500 – pay to start either super late model feature at Bristol.

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 weekend two watery Jack and Cokes. I still think the XR Super Series has tons of potential, as this field of late models at any track other than Bristol likely would have put on a barnburner of a show. Here’s hoping a welcome and needed new face in late model racing doesn’t scare everyone off with two weeks of doldrums on too-high banks.

Up Next: Love it or hate it, Bristol Dirt and the big money tied to it headlines the next weekend as well. Two more $50,000-to-win super late features hit Friday and Saturday night, with coverage available on RaceXR.

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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