Race Weekend Central

Dirty (Half) Dozen: Too Much Flo in Illinois? Tanner Thorson the Outlaw? Dr. Oz Causing Trouble?

1. Homerism during Illinois Speedweeks an unnecessary distraction

In case it wasn’t obvious, the DirtonDirt crew that hosts Flo Racing Night in America was ever so slightly excited to host the inaugural Illinois Speedweeks. To a fault. 

It’s no secret that Illinois Speedweek was a rousing success all four nights it ran. The car counts were insane, with the event’s opening race at Spoon River Speedway drawing 60 super late models. The grandstands at all four races were absolutely jam packed. And the prize money was significant as well, with Thursday’s $22,022-to-win super late feature at Lincoln Speedway the largest posted purse in track history.

Why do I bring all this up? Because while Flo Racing has done an admirable job bringing flare to the dirt racing scene, from amping the Chili Bowl to unseen levels to making super late model racing of national interest on spring weeknights, the gushing over racing in Illinois went way too far. 

Now look, I get that there was a ton of pent-up energy across the Land of Lincoln for race season to get going after an extremely wet and erratic spring has led to a rash of cancelations across the midwest. But it officially went a bridge too far Saturday night at Fairbury American Legion Speedway when the booth sunk to the level of firing off at an ill-advised Twitter troll (it got more heated than this tweet). 

I’m with the Flo camp in the sense that criticizing the racing at FALS makes absolutely no sense. But just as some have criticized the XR Super Series (validly) for a schedule made up almost entirely of engine-stressing half miles, there’s something to be said about Illinois Speedweek featuring all four of its events on quarter-mile bullrings. And Flo’s handling of the event seemed the 2022 equivalent of throwing tomatoes at a guy in the stockades.

Why even bring this up? Because it wasn’t necessary. The freaking on-track product spoke for itself. Though Wednesday and Thursday’s races had doldrums, both ended with storylines that had fans talking the next morning. Saturday’s race was a barn burner, with Brandon Sheppard and Bobby Pierce putting on a show. And Friday night’s feature at Farmer City Raceway may well be making an appearance in Frontstretch’s races of the year come December.

The on-track product is there. The hard work is done. Just call the race.

2. Wreck of the Year has a new leader

Speaking of Frontstretch’s 2022 awards column, I-75 Raceway in Tennessee may well have played host to the wreck of the year on Saturday, with Ooltewah, Tenn.’s Matt Steward fortunately walking away from a late model crash that may have been the closest dirt racing equivalent to Mike Harmon’s infamous Bristol wreck that I’ve ever seen in terms of destructiveness.

Horrible Car Wreck

I have gotten a message every 5 minutes since it happened "did you get the video?" Yes, I got the video. This was Matt Steward's car, it was a 2004 Masterbuilt.

Posted by Dirt Chasers on Sunday, May 15, 2022

In the words of Special Agent Dale Cooper, “Can you beat that?” To all the dirt racers out there, please don’t try.

3. Like concerts, what are the rules for t-shirt wearing?

Let’s go back to homerism for a second. Watching The Cushion’s replay from the modified race at Accord Speedway in New York this weekend, I noted that the track PA announcer who went down to do a victory lane interview with race winner Danny Creeden was wearing the driver’s t-shirt when he conducted the interview. 

I’m torn on this one for a number of reasons. One, I haven’t watched a ton of races at Accord, so I don’t know if it’s a situation where the PA booth rotates shirts of local racers. In a way, that’d be commendable, as merchandise sales are a significant source of revenue for racers at this level.

That said, I do have to question whether it’s possible to do the job of track PA announcer when wearing the colors of a specific competitor on the track. The PA announcer’s job has always been to call the race and even at times run the show from a track’s tower/press box, a role that’s even growing in importance in the days of streaming, as those watching from afar have no way of knowing what’s happening at the track outside of what’s coming from their mic.

In this case, I have no qualms with how the weekend’s race at Accord was called. But I do wonder what the situation would have been if Creeden hadn’t won and was as upset as he was after last Tuesday’s Short Track Super Series race at the same track, where he was audibly calling out race winner Mat Williamson for rough driving. 

Even at the dirt track, appearances do matter.

4. Major flagging error in ASCoC

It took several green-white-checkered finishes for the All-Star Circuit of Champions to officials hand their Sunday feature win to Justin Peck at Waynesfield Raceway Park, but there is some debate as to whether the final GWC that eventually decided the race ever should have happened. Because on the prior GWC attempt to end the race, Peck took the checkered flag … after only one lap was run.

Was this an obvious case of the flagman making an error? Yes, it was. But it also created a situation where the rulebook itself appears confused. 

Reviewing the ASCoC “General Race Procedures” section, bullet ‘x.’ reads that “all races must be completed in a ‘green-white checker’ finish. This means if the yellow flag is displayed or caution lights illuminated prior to the leader receiving the checkered flag, that race will be restarted and run for two consecutive laps before completion.” When Peck took his first checkered flag, the race had not run two consecutive laps.

However, in the “Flag Rules/Official’s Signals” section, bullet ‘(f)’ is clear that “when the checkered flag is displayed, it signifies the completion of the race. Only the leader of the respective race that is on the track needs to cross the scoring line to signify the completion of the race.” Peck took the checkered flag on that first GWC.

Fortunately for all involved, Peck scored a win that was rightfully his.

5. 2022 Chili Bowl winner for hire? There’s an obvious landing spot …

The fireworks at Waynesfield weren’t the only major news to break out of the open-wheel ranks on Sunday, with 2022 Chili Bowl Nationals winner Tanner Thorson announcing that he left the Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports team that has been his home for several years now in pursuit of a more competitive winged sprint car ride.

Thorson’s desire to win, and win now, is understandable. It’s not likely to be an annual occurrence that Thorson is able to best both Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell to win a Golden Driller at Tulsa. And Thorson’s campaign in winged competition in 2022 has hardly been on par with his success in wingless cars in recent years; in nine feature starts across the World of Outlaws and All-Star Circuit of Champions, Thorson has scored only one top-10 finish.

Where is Thorson going? Nothing official yet, but the smart bet is on Thorson taking over the No. 7S World of Outlaws ride for owner/driver Jason Sides. Sides, a longtime WoO veteran, has already announced this season that he would be scaling back his driving due to multiple physical ailments. 

Assuming this is the case, it’s a home-run move all around. Thorson is absolutely a talented enough driver to be a full-time Outlaw, and for Sides the owner, landing a Chili Bowl champion is about as good as it gets. The sprint car community will universally benefit if this partnership comes to fruition.

6. Misguided angst toward political sponsors

We’ll close the week in open-wheel land as well. There was no shortage of fans on social media lamenting that Pennsylvania racer Freddie Rahmer took to the track Saturday at Williams Grove Speedway with a car featuring the graphics of Dr. Oz’s Senate campaign in the state, lamenting that politics have no place in racing.

I fully agree with fans that turning races into political spectacles is a bad thing, especially in this day and age where outrage is just a shout away. Longtime Frontstretch readers will remember that my final column before leaving NASCAR’s circus ripped that sanctioning body for facilitating the broadcast of Coca-Cola sponsored lectures on racism at Atlanta in June 2020.

See also
Thinkin' Out Loud: 2020 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta

Having said that, there’s a big distinction to be drawn here. Telling race broadcasters, promoters, etc., not to turn their events into political spectacles is one thing. Telling racecar owners and drivers to say no to sponsorship or to refrain from displaying personal items, beliefs, etc. on their racecars is something entirely different, and not a precedent worth setting.

I can’t confirm whether or not Rahmer received any compensation for putting Dr. Oz’s campaign on his racecar. If he did, that’s where this debate should end. Diesel fuel was $6.49 a gallon in Pennsylvania this weekend, and with right-rear sprint car tires going at more than $300 a pop, there is no way to argue that any type of sponsorship that is within the limits of the law should be made off-limits to race owners and drivers. 

But even if Rahmer wasn’t paid a dime and hypothetically opted to put his upcoming primary vote on the wing of his sprint car, that shouldn’t be up for debate either. Rahmer’s decal was the equivalent of a bumper sticker in the parking lot or a yard sign on the neighbor’s fence across the street. 

It’d be different if Rahmer was standing on top of his hauler in the pits giving a stump speech (I’ve found no evidence of such an occurrence). It’d be different if DirtVision had turned its broadcast into a campaign telethon event (it didn’t). Instead, this is just an example of your local bowtie brigade member watching a race full of Blue Ovals.

Grin and bear it.

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