Race Weekend Central

Dirty (Half) Dozen: Remembering Rick Eshelman, Plus East & West Sprint Car Controversy

1. Reaction to passing of Rick Eshelman

There’s not a lot more to be said about the tragic passing of veteran World of Outlaws late model commentator Rick Eshelman, as all those that know him in the dirt racing community have written countless stories and eulogies remembering the man. But nothing was a better remembrance than midway through the World Racing Group’s tribute, as “we’re building a Waffle House” is as good as dirt race commentating gets.

DirtonDirt’s Robert Holman observed that he feels “sorry for who has to step in and fill his shoes, because it will be very difficult.” It’ll be equally difficult for those of us viewing DirtVision to hear a different voice at Humboldt on Oct. 21.

2. Lessons learned from the Hillbilly Hundred

Last Thursday (Sept. 29) marked my first trip to Tyler County Speedway for the first Hillbilly Hundred run since 2019, a race that on paper looked like a snoozer, with winner Kyle Larson leading all 100 of the laps run.

That doesn’t begin to tell the story.

Larson was challenged three separate times by Brandon Sheppard for the race lead, including on the white-flag lap, with Sheppard getting alongside Larson on two occasions before lapped traffic or cautions derailed his charges to the front. It was an enthralling race that had the crowd on its feet often, both with Larson fans and with dirt racing fans wanting to see the big-time NASCAR gun go down.

Takeaways? Lead changes are not always the measure of a good race. If there was ever a race to explain why promoters need to stop fearing streaming this was it … the weather was perfect, the stands were packed and the show was awesome. 

The droop rule is not antonymous with good late model racing. And if you’re ever going to make the trip to Tyler County Speedway, be prepared to get dirty … out of 163 lifetime track visits, Tyler County was number one for dustiness.

3. Welcome purse changes to Prairie Dirt Classic

The 2023 Prairie Dirt Classic at Fairbury American Legion Speedway has been announced, with a whopping $57,000 added to the event purse next year. And not a single dime of that is going to boost the winner’s purse, which remains at $50,000 to win the main event.

Instead, the money is being distributed throughout the rest of the event, with the minimum feature start money getting boosted to $3,000 and the weekend’s preliminary features going up to $5,000 to win.

This should be applauded and is a great move by the folks at FALS. The Prairie Dirt Classic is never hurting for car count, but even though $50,000-to-win is what makes headlines, $3,000-to-start is the type of incentive that draws major car count. Even on a short track like FALS, the reality is a national big-gun will win the PDC (the last two event winners have been Larson and Sheppard), but a $3,000 payday just to make a main event is enough for many teams to break even. 

This year has been a major step forward for purses in dirt late model racing, especially considering the proliferation of $50,000-to-win events. If 2023 marks purses following the PDC model, it’s another big step in the right direction.

4. Smart cancelation by Pike County

Hurricane Ian was responsible for canceling a number of major late model races this past weekend, including the annual Pittsburgher, but one casualty that occurred long before then was Pike County Speedway’s annual Jambalaya 100, which was canceled by the track’s new promoter due to a personally-cited lack of experience. 

The response to this decision was almost universally positive, and one that I commend the promoter for, as nothing does damage to a racetrack faster than jumping in 10 feet over their head and failing. But this exchange was more noteworthy in that the promoter in the comments section gave some unique insight into just what it costs to put on a major super late model race.

Estimating the purse of the Jambalaya 100 at $112,000, plus $30,000 in track prep, do the math folks. That’s $142,000 in costs, without tackling insurance, taxes, electricity, paying employees, promoting, etc. Translation: Even at a whopping $50 a ticket (hypothetical, that was not something Pike County was advertising), selling 2,000 tickets wouldn’t even break even on the purse. Imagine the disaster of trying to pull off such an event without confidence in the know-how to do it.

Major races are the jewel of a track’s schedule and I’ll openly admit they’re the races that I travel to new tracks to see. But they’re also as low-margin as race events come. Credit to this bunch for being honest and racing within their means.

5. Lance Dewease’s controversial win at the Grove

Defending Williams Grove Speedway champion Lance Dewease did his best Noah Gragson at Kansas impression Friday, declared the winner of the World of Outlaws Friday night feature at the Grove despite the race lasting only 10 laps before being rained out.

As it turns out, this cancelation is within the parameters of the WoO rulebook, which does not require a feature to be run to halfway as was at one point intimated on the DirtVision broadcast. And WoO does deserve some credit for calling the race final, as that also meant that the competitors that made Friday’s feature received the event payout. And as unhappy as race fans were to see the night end like that, short track 101 has always been that if the heat races are finished, no refunds.

Still, even if compliant with the rulebook, it does seem to be a real disservice to the series to have a national touring win awarded based on what essentially was a heat race, as well as having the national points race impacted by it. 

The $75,000-to-win National Open at the Grove has been rescheduled for Oct. 22.

6. A new way to take advantage of a parked Sprint car

Lastly, we head to the West Coast, where DJ Netto responded to being wrecked in a race at Silver Dollar Speedway by forcibly damaging Tony Gomes’s racecar while parked under red; Netto pulled spark plug wires out of Gomes’s car.

While I don’t put this on the same level as CJ Leary’s drop-kick of Robert Ballou or Freddie Rahmer’s assault on Danny Dietrich on pit road at Williams Grove, this is just the latest example of drivers taking advantage of an immobile sprint car to inflict damage outside of actual competition. Yes, confrontation is sometimes necessary for drivers that believe they’ve been wronged, but having the backbone to do said confronting without having their opponent strapped in and stuck and parked isn’t too much to ask.

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