Race Weekend Central

2022 Dirt Racing Awards: Jonathan Davenport, Matt Sheppard & Year of Superman

Let’s be clear: The 2022 dirt racing season is not over. Multiple dirt races across the country are scheduled to be contested across the next few weekends.

Having said that, this column marks 49 consecutive weekends of writing this season, and I need a break, if for no other reason than to update my databases and tools to prepare for the 2023 season.

Apologies in advance if any of the racers taking to the track over the next two weeks top any of the accolades awarded in this column. 

Read all of Frontstretch‘s content looking back on 2022 here

2022 Paint Scheme of the Year

Losing CJ Rayburn, an inaugural member of the Dirt Late Model Racing Hall of Fame whose chassis won Eldora Speedway’s World 100 a whopping 13 times, was not the way anyone in the community wanted to see the 2022 season start, but Rusty Schlenk’s paint scheme honoring the respected chassis guru was as good as throwback comes. The scheme below ran at the Wild West Shootout and resembled Rayburn’s house car.

2022 Wreck of the Year

Kasey Kahne’s wreck at Volusia Speedway Park may have been the most violent of the year. Knoxville Raceway boasted larger wrecks with higher hang times. But there was no wreck with more symbolic significance than seeing Brent Marks obliterate a Hoosier Tire billboard at Williams Grove Speedway in the midst of a campaign that saw the Pennsylvania Posse standout take numerous public shots at the primary supplier of sprint car racing rubber.

2022 Races of the Year

5. Aug. 5, 2022

2022 World of Outlaws sprint cars
Where: Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 – Pevely, Mo. (streamed on DirtVision)
Winner’s Purse: $10,000

A race of the year candidate shouldn’t be based solely on a finish, but given how short a track I-55 is and how quickly a 30-lap feature can go by at the track, the finish may as well be the race. And in this case, seeing Carson Macedo erase a three-quarter-second lead in one lap to grab a win from the eventual series champion was as striking a pass as the nation’s top sprint car racing series would see in 2022.

4. January 9, 2022

2022 Wild West Shootout
Where: Vado Speedway Park – Vado, N.M. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $5,000

Any doubts that Vado could carry the torch for the Wild West Shootout following the demise of the ultra-racy Arizona Speedway went out the window during the second feature of the mini series, a race that quickly spawned into a four-way slide job extravaganza involving Garrett Alberson, Tyler Erb, Mike Marlar and Brandon Sheppard. By race’s end, Alberson and Sheppard settled the feature among themselves.

3. October 28, 2022

2022 Delaware Super Trucks
Where: Georgetown Speedway – Georgetown, Del. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: Unknown

I’ll openly admit that had I not seen this race in person, I likely never would have gone back to watch the replay. But my goodness, what a show. The 12-lap feature in the event included a literal four-wide battle for the lead down the backstretch, with the race eventually decided by inches at the start/finish line. On a night that featured both the big-block modifieds and super late models, no race at Georgetown earned a louder ovation than the truck club.

2. February 11, 2022

2022 World of Outlaws sprint cars
Where: Volusia Speedway Park – Barberville, Fla. (streamed on DirtVision)
Winner’s Purse: $10,000

After the Sunshine Nationals saw Volusia’s new clay surface turn one of the premier dirt tracks in the country into a washboard mess, the track opted to pile up the new clay in the infield and go back to its old surface. And it worked in a major-league way. After the series got off to a roaring start with 10-time champion Donny Schatz prevailing over Kyle Larson in a star-studded season opener, Sheldon Haudenschild grabbed the Friday night DIRTcar Nationals win that was the best race the Outlaws would host anywhere all year long.

1. June 8, 2022

2022 Eldora Million
Where: Eldora Speedway – Rossburg, Ohio (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $1,002,022

The Eldora Million could have been a snoozer of a race and still would have been among, if not the, most significant race dirt racing hosted in 2022 for numerous reasons. A seven-figure purse is absurd money and the return of the Million came in no small part thanks to the XR Super Series toying with the idea of scheduling super late model race dates against the track’s annual Dream race. 2022 marked only the second time in history the Million had been run and the first time in two decades that such a race hit the late model scene.

See also
Thinkin' Dirty: 2022 Eldora Million

But the race itself was a classic. With the Eldora racing surface under a microscope after the track scraped new clay off the track in the days leading up to the big race after a muddy spring, the track proved pristine, opening with an 83-lap green-flag run that saw comers, goers and multiple racing grooves that could hold its own with anything 1990s NASCAR could put on track. 

Though the race ended like so many longer-distance races in 2022 with a number of flat tires, Jonathan Davenport earned every dollar of the purse and put on a show that reminded everyone why Eldora is the premier dirt track in the country. All was right with the late model world this Thursday night.

2022 Drivers of the Year

5. Justin Grant – Ione, Calif.

This was a tough call, as there’s no shortage of big-name drivers that won more races in their respective disciplines in 2022, be it Anthony Macri in winged sprint cars or Marlar and Chris Madden in super late models. And Justin Grant was also front and center in USAC’s Florida tire scandal back in February.

See also
Dirty (Half) Dozen: 6 Ways USAC Racing's Tire Debacle Rivals NASCAR in Inconsistency, Incompetence

But the nod goes to the USAC national champion driver for a couple reasons. One, his 12 feature wins in 2022 were spread across all three USAC national championships. Most notable, though, is how Grant is all but the last big name standing in wingless sprint car racing that hasn’t fled for the better paying ranks of winged racing. And he has embraced that role as well. Seeing Grant driving 10 ft. over his head at Williams Grove during the Eastern Storm despite having the lead on a narrow track, or, as the driver deemed it, “doing sprint car things,” did make for a hell of a show.

It’s one wingless racing needs now more than ever.

4. Brent Marks – Myerstown, Pa.

Yes, Macri won more features in 2022 than Marks did. But in an absolutely banner year for the Pennsylvania Posse that saw them best the ranks of the World of Outlaws in the Keystone state, Marks scored the biggest scalps. Sweeping the Historical Big One as well as the King’s Royal at Eldora, Marks also scored a WoO touring win on the series’ home track, Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Texas. Quality over quantity is why Marks made this list.

3. Brad Sweet – Grass Valley, Calif.

Winning a fourth consecutive World of Outlaws championship is accomplishment enough to merit inclusion on this list. But Brad Sweet’s defining accomplishment of 2022 may well be the influence that he had off the track with fellow promoter Larson. Having saved Silver Dollar Speedway amid a rash of track closures in California, Sweet and Larson announced the creation of the High Limits Sprint Car Series, a sprint car equivalent of the Flo Racing Night in America late model tour that has brought big mid-week money to the sport.

Winning championships while putting pressure on the monopoly of the World Racing Group on sprint car racing, there’s no sprint car racer in the country that had a greater influence on the sport in 2022 than the Big Cat.

2. Matt Sheppard – Waterloo, N.Y.

Matt Sheppard had arguably the best season of his career in 2022, and his career driving Northeast modifieds has been anything but slouch. There was very little Sheppard didn’t put his hands on in modified racing, scoring 42 feature wins across the Northeast and in Louisiana during the Cajun Swing. 

And he went on a tear in mid-September that will likely never be topped, scoring seven wins of $20,000 or more in a span of eight starts, the only blemish on that record being a second-place finish in the Hard Clay Finale race. The Fonda 200? Sheppard’s. The Outlaw 200? Sheppard’s. Both features to conclude Super DIRT Week. The Speed Showcase at Port Royal Speedway. And the Eastern States 200 at Orange County Fair Speedway. 

What’s more, Sheppard didn’t just rack up big-money wins — he successfully points raced as well. Sheppard scored six points championships during the 2022 season, winning the track title at Orange County and Utica-Rome Speedway, both regional titles of the Short Track Super Series, the Short Track Super Series Elite Series and the Super DIRTcar Series. 

1. Jonathan Davenport – Blairsville, Ga.

The only thing that could keep Sheppard from winning driver of the year in 2022 was another driver nicknamed Superman. The only driver to make a second-consecutive appearance in Frontstretch’s top-five drivers of the year, the late model racer had another stellar campaign in 2022, even though it took until late April for Davenport to break into victory lane at All-Tech Raceway. 2022 ended with more than 20 victories, but a whopping 16 of them were worth $20,000 or more. 

Included in that total was Davenport’s victory in the Eldora Million, a triumph that continued the Georgian’s dominant run at Eldora and also allowed him to easily set an all-time record for late model winnings in a single season.

It wasn’t just Eldora, though. Davenport scored an embarrassment of riches throughout the rest of the season, scoring crown jewel wins in the Silver Dollar Nationals at I-80 Speedway, the USA Nationals at Cedar Lake Speedway, the North/South 100 at Florence Speedway, the Topless 100 at Batesville Motor Speedway and the Knoxville Late Model Nationals. 

And to finish the 2022 campaign with an XR Super Series points championship, a $40,000 victory in the Sunshine State 50 and a total annual earning of over $2 million, there’s really no objective or subjective way to name any driver other than Davenport tops in 2022.

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