Race Weekend Central

This Weekend in Dirt: Jonathan Davenport Bests Kyle Larson in Instant Classic at Vado

Winning Moment: Blairsville, Ga.’s Jonathan Davenport swept the opening two nights of the Wild West Shootout Sunday night (Jan. 8) besting Elk Grove, Calif.’s Kyle Larson in what will be a 2023 race of the year candidate.

Dramatic Moment: All 40 laps of Sunday’s late model feature in Vado, N.M. Motor racing doesn’t get better than that.

In a Nutshell: In a span of 24 hours, dirt late model racing went from skunk beer to finely aged bourbon.

What They’ll Be Group Chatting About This Morning

Yes, the season is only eight days old, but I’d wager the $10,000 purse that was on the line Sunday night that the duel between Davenport and Larson at Vado will be on every race of the year list that gets published come season’s end. To see two of the best in the sport throw sliders at each other at will through lapped traffic lap after lap, and to do it completely clean, was masterclass. I’m a late model supremacist for a reason.

Vado Speedway Park has proven completely capable of replacing the now-demolished Arizona Speedway as home of the Wild West Shootout courtesy of a superb racing surface. Speaking as a race fan, I don’t want to see the event leave Vado. But my goodness were the grandstands empty this Sunday night. I don’t know where the disconnect is, but the on-track product is way too good for empty grandstands.

Talk about a bipolar weekend. I don’t know that I’ve seen a worse super late model race in my life than Saturday’s Ice Bowl feature at the Talladega Short Track. Seventeen yellow flags in a 50-lap race, coupled with only one lead change coming because the leader’s right-rear tire popped. All I can say is I’m glad the track PA at TST kept reminding fans that the track was going to be reconfigured with new clay before the track races again. Screw the bulldozers, drop a MOAB.

On that same note though, watching Talladega’s Ice Bowl tear up a huge number of cars like it always does, I can’t help but shudder at the thought of that track adding a retaining wall in turns 1 and 2 before the World of Outlaws visit this spring. It’s a necessary evil after seeing how many cars jumped that berm in 2022, but Talladega’s big-track Big Ones may end up eating less sheet metal over the course of this race season.

Douglasville, Ga.’s Michael Page was controversially banned from this year’s Ice Bowl after purported tire issues and restart conduct in last year’s race. After seeing the calamity that this year’s event was, I’d wager Page writes the Iron-Man Racing Series officials a thank you card.

See also
Thinkin' Dirty: 2022 Ice Bowl at Talladega

Hero(s) of the Weekend

Davenport is coming off a record-breaking $2 million season and has opened 2023 with two consecutive feature wins. What he did on Sunday, however, holding off Larson for more than 20 laps in thick lapped traffic was the work of a driver truly on top of his game. What’s more, should Davenport keep this streak up for the remaining four events of the Wild West Shootout, he’ll net a $300,000 bonus. This isn’t an exaggeration.

Tucson, Ariz.’s Jake O’Neil gets a shout out here not just because he won Saturday’s modified feature at Vado in dominant fashion, but because he did so despite being listed as the cheapest driver in the field in Dirt Draft’s fantasy pool. Sadly, that steal wasn’t available again for Sunday’s race.

Victim(s) of the Weekend

From coast to coast, Saturday had it out for race leaders. Starting in the afternoon, Fort Payne, Ala.’s Sam Seawright led the first 42 laps of the Ice Bowl late model feature at Talladega before popping a right-rear tire, handing the lead and win to Cook.

Oakwood, Ill.’s Bobby Pierce endured a similar experience at Vado Saturday night, leading 27 laps of that Wild West Shootout feature race before a spin took him from contention on a night that his Longhorn Classis teammates were running wild all over the track.

Lastly, Danube, Minn.’s Brandon Beckendorf arguably topped them all, literally flipping his IMCA modified while leading the IMCA Winter Nationals feature at Cocopah Speedway Saturday night.

Shout Outs

  • Ricky Weiss has scored consecutive top-five finishes to kick off the Wild West Shootout, the only driver to do so while not driving a Longhorn chassis car. 
  • Ray Cook’s Ice Bowl triumph Saturday marked his first win in the staple Talladega event since 2009.
  • Both Collen Winebarger and Clayton Stuckey turned down $1,000 payouts to start tail end of the late model features at Vado Saturday and Sunday night after winning the last chance dash race on their respective evenings. Both drivers ended up taking home $600 for their race finishes.

Numbers Game


Cautions that Thomas Hunziker has been responsible for through two nights of the Wild West Shootout at Vado.


Dirt tracks that ran oval track racing programs this weekend.


Highest national car count this weekend, the Ice Bowl at Talladega.

Up Next: Frontstretch will be covering the opening qualifying night of the Chili Bowl Nationals on Monday (Jan. 9). Streaming coverage can be found on Flo Racing.

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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