Race Weekend Central

Dirty (Half) Dozen: Danny Dietrich vs. Denny Hamlin & Late Model Silly Season

1. Danny Dietrich vs. Denny Hamlin

If I could go back in time and put a wager on whether 2022 would feature a Twitter feud between Pennsylvania sprint car hot shoe Danny Dietrich and three-time Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin, I’d be retired as of today.

But ongoing fallout from NASCAR’s decision to suspend Bubba Wallace for getting violent with dirt racing superstar Kyle Larson twice in a span of minutes led to the unlikeliest of spats breaking out.

There was a further exchange between the drivers for those who wish to dive deeper into Twitter. 

I’m not sure there was a winner here. Yes, Hamlin had a point that Dietrich, no matter how talented a racecar driver he is (and speaking as someone that lives a short distance from Pennsylvania sprint car country, he is talented), is not versed in NASCAR Cup racing. However, there’s also no denying that Dietrich had a point about Hamlin’s initial Twitter salvo having some ugly overtones to it.

See also
Dropping the Hammer: NASCAR Suspends No One, Except Bubba Wallace

2. Dirt Racing Community Has Kyle Larson’s Back

What was more noteworthy about the social media explosion that proved what happens in Vegas definitely doesn’t stay there was how quickly the dirt racing community rallied behind Larson after he narrowly averted injury. From a purely unscientific perspective, I will say that my dirt racing Twitter feed was more alight this past Sunday than during any other Cup race in 2022, and that in no small part is because, well, sprint car driver Zach Hampton said it best.

Brian Walker of Walkapedia Chili Bowl fame immediately weighed in as well.

The reality is despite Larson being a Hendrick Motorsports driver and a defending Cup champion, he is still embraced from coast to coast as a dirt racer. Without exception, every dirt race I’ve attended in the last year with Larson in the field has seen him draw the loudest (and universally positive) ovation of anyone in the field. While there’s no doubt some of those fans are drawn by off-track motivations relating to his 2020 suspension, the reality is the vast majority of the fans at dirt tracks across the country couldn’t care less about NASCAR politics. 

Rather, dirt fans and competitors alike realize Larson’s a generational talent that is fresh off a 2021 season that will go down as one of the greatest in motorsports history. Be it knowing how to give a proper shout-out to sprint car fans across Pennsylvania or sharing a beer with race fans after winning the Prairie Dirt Classic, the man gets ovations from Pennsylvania to California. 

Seeing him put at risk by a driver that, for his own talents, is the poster child for landing a ride thanks to off-the-track credentials (spare me the hysterics, 23XI Racing’s sponsors even acknowledge that truth) rightfully irked fans and drivers alike that usually wouldn’t weigh in on a NASCAR race. 

Of course, it also led to some creativity. I present to you dirt modified racer Joe Duvall.

3. Devin Moran Now Biggest Gun on the Market

Another unexpected twist to late model racing silly season hit this week, with Ohio standout Devin Moran (son of the original Eldora Million winner Donnie Moran) departing from Tye Twarog Racing despite a successful season that saw the No. 9 team score 10 wins in 2022.

Granted, Moran’s season did cool a bit after a red-hot start at Florida Speedweeks that saw him score three feature wins and seven consecutive top-five finishes at one point, but this was absolutely an unexpected departure.

It may have a predictable ending, though. While Moran has made no comment on his new destination for 2023, the most prominent ride available right now is the Double Down Motorsports entry that has run the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series full-time with Hudson O’Neal (who is departing to take over the Rocket Chassis house car). Selfishly, I’m hoping this is where Moran lands, because I’ve been eager to see a driver of his caliber tackle a national tour.

4. O’Neal’s Rocket Debut Comes Early

Speaking of “New Deal” O’Neal, fans of the Rocket house car will get a chance in the very near future to see their new driver debut. With departing driver Brandon Sheppard not racing for World of Outlaws points in 2022, he has no championship considerations to worry about, allowing O’Neal to step behind the wheel for the upcoming World Finals in Charlotte.

It’s unlikely that there will be a lot to learn from this debut, as the World Finals is in many circles the last major super late model race before the offseason (if you can call it that; dirt racing is 365 days nowadays) and there will be changes to chassis in the offseason that will see the frontrunners of dirt racing shuffle a bit come Florida Speedweeks. But this is a good move if nothing else in that the team will get their first race under their belts before Florida, when points may well be on the line.

Anyone want to take an over/under on how many times the DirtVision crew misidentify the Rocket car as Sheppard’s?

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

5. Will Sheppard’s New Venture Work?

Let’s talk about Sheppard, who was front and center of another major announcement this week. It’s already been known that Sheppard will be returning to race his family-owned No. B5 team in 2023 with the team expected to tackle either the Lucas Oil or World of Outlaws tour full time. However, now it’s known how the team is going to ramp up, combining forces with the Riggs Motorsports team to field up to four late models in 2023.

On the one hand, this is a great move for Sheppard and crew, as the Riggs team has campaigned full-time on the WoO circuit this season, winning multiple races and securing Rookie of the Year honors for driver Tanner English. Having that type of know-how, notebook and experience will be invaluable for the No. B5 operation, which has raced only part time in a regional capacity in recent years.

On the other hand, four cars, even if the other three are going to be part time, are a LOT for any dirt racing team to tackle. The one question that leaves for Sheppard and his team is whether resources are going to get stretched too thin for a team that essentially is starting from scratch. Let’s not forget that Sheppard has spent the last six seasons driving for a factory-backed single-car race team. That won’t be the case next year.

6. La Salle An Awfully Expensive Small Track

The good news? La Salle Speedway, which never re-opened after closing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, is on the market for sale.

The bad? The price tag. $2.4 million for the property, and that’s in hasn’t-raced-in-two-years condition. Fingers crossed that a race fan or promoter finds the cash to buy this facility up, but that figure likely means La Salle will become a housing tract in the very near future.

The story stays the same.

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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