Race Weekend Central

Dirty (Half) Dozen: Matt Sheppard the Real Superman? Too Much Knoxville?

1. Which Superman is Driver of the Year?

He’ll never catch Jonathan Davenport in terms of winnings (there’s no Eldora Million for modifieds), but Matt Sheppard is having a 2022 that’ll never be forgotten among the ranks of the big-block modifieds. Saturday night saw Sheppard break the 40-win threshold with a $50,000 triumph in Port Royal’s Speed Showcase, besting Stewart Friesen with a last-lap pass.

It was one thing to see Nick Hoffman win 40-plus races in his UMP-style modified last season, but this isn’t the Hell Tour. And while Sheppard’s campaign is one that has forever favored veterans thanks in part to being contested in the same region on the same slate of tracks year after year, the No. 9 has proven all but untouchable in crown jewel races in 2022.

It’s a common theme across dirt racing (except in super late models) in 2022 that regional powerhouses have been giving national touring stars a run for their money. And honestly, seeing Sheppard’s run of form heading into the depths of autumn has me wondering whether this Northeast stalwart is on the same page as Davenport. 

2. Chris Ferguson statement why tours need pressure

Rewind back to earlier this summer and this year’s Show-Me 100 winner Chris Ferguson was front and center of the biggest controversy of the Ultimate Super Late Model Series season, having been disqualified over tire compounds run in the USA 100 at Virginia Motor Speedway.

See also
Dirty (Half) Dozen: 6 Tire Problems Plaguing 2022 Dirt Racing

The issue resurfaced this weekend with Ferguson, racing for the first time since the World 100 at Eldora last month, announcing via Facebook that his race team would no longer be racing in Ultimate-sanctioned events as a result of the fallout from that fiasco.

As I wrote back in August, it seems like the two parties to this mess talked past each other, leading to a disaster that never should have happened. But I will concede that if Ferguson’s statement regarding the series seeking to “settle” with his race team is true, I’m concerned about what role the Ultimate sanction played in turning one of their premier races into a controversy and leading a national late model tour to swear off their races for good.

Why bring this up? Because, as we covered in last week’s article about Brad Sweet’s interview on the creation of the High Limits sprint car tour, Sweet made a point to state that his new tour was not meant to be a challenge to the World of Outlaws brand in which he’s been a longtime competitor. Sweet went further to note that he didn’t want to see sprint car racing go the route of super late model racing, which has seen a number of big-name drivers drop racing on a national tour just to poach big-money races (Ferguson himself is not running a full-time tour in 2022).

This whole mess between Ferguson and the Ultimate sanction is the other side of that coin. Proliferation in sanctions and having enough money in individual races to allow traveling teams to make it work means teams that feel wronged, outclassed or even stagnant (as the case was with Brandon Sheppard and the Rocket house team this year in switching from the World of Outlaws late model tour to the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series) have options and will keep racing. 

Two sides to every story.

3. When is too much racing too much?

Last week, the fallout of the NASCAR Truck Series not returning to the Knoxville Raceway for 2023 came about, with the World Racing Group announcing that the World of Outlaws will be visiting the iconic sprint car track in late April, the first time since 2012 the tour would tackle Knoxville in the spring.

That means that the Outlaws will tackle Knoxville three times in 2023. That’s a lot, and further more, even in a 90-race schedule that means that Knoxville is going to have an awful large say in the overall series title. 

Yes, Knoxville has a tremendous surface and facility, and as the location of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, it makes sense for the top ranks of sprint car racing to take to its black dirt. But three visits a year is a little much. Especially considering how many other dirt tracks out there could benefit from having 410s take to them.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, I have to give Cherokee Speedway a pat on the back for opting to cancel their Finals After Party, a Sunday race that was meant to have race teams that had previously amassed in Charlotte for the World Finals try to collect a final check before heading home. 

Not only did this concept backfire in a major way with a terrible car count when it was run on a Tuesday last year, the idea of having another race unaffiliated with the Finals tacked on after the World Finals already expanded to four days for 2022 was a bridge too far. 

A bridge too far is an adage for a reason.

4. What’s next for Max Blair?

Well, in terms of a ride, that much is known. Max Blair, who has spent his rookie season on the WoO tour in 2022 driving for Viper Motorsports, will be joining Boom Briggs’s operation in 2023, taking over the team’s second car that was driven this year by Josh Richards. 

It’s an interesting combination of second chances. Blair, who has had a solid 2022 on the WoO tour with two feature wins and sitting third in points, has nonetheless faded as the season went on, falling out of touch with series points leader Dennis Erb Jr. after pressing him in the spring and losing the rookie points lead to a resurgent Tanner English (who ironically is taking Blair’s ride next season). 

As for the second Briggs race team, it may well be the biggest disappointment of 2022. A much-anticipated pairing with Richards, a multi-time series champion, never got up to speed during the 2022 campaign and has only fallen further off the pace thanks to Richards suffering both an injury and a bout with COVID during the summer run.

According to DirtonDirt, there are some tangible benefits to this marriage; Blair resides less than an hour from the team’s race shop and is also bringing funding to the team for 2023. But of all the late model Silly Season moves announced so far, this one is probably the most difficult to handicap.

5 Dust in the Wind keeps coming

It’s been known that it’s coming, but the reality is the admired I-80 Speedway in Nebraska likely hosted its final race over the weekend, marking the second time in a month that a stalwart Interstate-named racetrack met its demise.

And sadly, it wasn’t the only closure announced. Out west, news has also broken that the Winnemucca Regional Raceway in Nevada will not open for the 2023 season, with the track’s Facebook page remarking simply that “no one stepped up” to make a race season happen.

The story stays the same.

6. What real adversity looks like

With the “adversity” of millionaire athletes playing bumper cars with each other boiling over at Las Vegas on Sunday, let’s close this column with a bit of good news for 2023. Parker Price-Miller, the sprint car young gun who’s missed spurts of the 2022 campaign battling cancer, announced that he is officially in remission and expected to be back contesting All-Star Circuit of Champions races in 2023.

No commentary needed. Ring the bell PPM!

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.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Tom B

Remember at the beginning of the WoO, Eldora had all the major Holiday weekends, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day and the final race in October.
April is too early for Knoxville. Eldora learned that a few years ago and moved it to a later date.

Share via