Race Weekend Central

This Weekend in Dirt: Bobby Pierce Holds Off Kyle Larson in Race of Year at Vado

Winning Moment: Bobby Pierce prevailed amid a hailstorm of slide jobs in arguably the best super late model contested anywhere in America since the Eldora Million last summer. Jonathan Davenport finished sixth but still won the Wild West Shootout points title.

Dramatic Moment: Every single moment of the 50-lap Wild West Shootout feature Sunday night (Jan. 15). One of the top-five late model races I’ve seen in 36 years of life.

In a Nutshell: After all the angst and frustration over the Chili Bowl sniffing its own farts, dirt racing fans got a very welcome reminder of everything right with this sport Sunday night.

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The Wild West Shootout announced Saturday that it will remain at Vado Speedway Park in New Mexico for 2024 and all I can say is Thank God! Sunday’s 50-lap feature race was literally as good as motorsports gets, with a legitimate four-car battle for the lead that raged from green to checkers. And it was all done squeaky clean. Midget racing and “slide or die,” eat your heart out.

It may not have had the fireworks of Vado, but Saturday night also capped the annual IMCA residency at Cocopah Speedway that put on a week of very solid feature races, especially in the stock car ranks. Honestly, part of me wishes that we could get a few days with the late models down there as well. I don’t know if the track would hold up as it did racing IMCA cars with narrow tires, but the Cocopah surface was worth commending just as Vado’s was.

Speaking of Cocopah, after enduring a rain delay for the first time in the four-year history of the event Saturday night, the track staff there managed to dry and repack a track nearly twice as long and wide as the Expo Center and complete a modified feature in less time than it took for the Chili Bowl to do pre-race and C-main track prep. I really wish IMCA.tv was more accessible and had better presence on social media, because their Winter Nationals are worth watching.

If there was a common theme out west this weekend, between Vado and Cocopah, there was consternation in the races leading up to the weekend over cars being lapped, as Larson and Pierce wrecked with a slower car in a late model heat at Vado and Wednesday’s hobby stock race at Cocopah saw the leader collected in a wreck between two backmarkers trying to stay on the lead lap. The IMCA streaming crew lamented in several episodes that “it isn’t your race” with regard to slower cars.

Gotta be careful with those remarks. In both instances race leaders were dealing with cars that were still on the lead lap. They’re still racing for position at that point and it’s on the leader of the race to navigate traffic. Racing needs backmarkers just as much as it needs frontrunners. 

Two final thoughts on the Wild West Shootout. The bad? If there’s one flaw to the program, it’s leading off with two classes of modified heats before putting the late models on track. There’s an unwritten rule to not keep the headliner class of the night off track for too long, and make no mistake, the late models make the Shootout. Hope to see that revised for 2024.

The good? Hot-lap qualifying for the late models. There is NO reason, outside of maybe crown-jewel races contesting one or two-class race programs, that any class of cars should take hot laps and then single-car qualifying. Quantity and quality are two different things, and that’s something that dirt racing needs to continually remember.

Hero(s) of the Weekend

Pierce gets this honor this weekend not just for winning the $25,000 finale of the Wild West Shootout, but in the way he did it. After Davenport spanked the late model field in winning the opening three features of the Shootout, Pierce showed no fear in taking the fight to Davenport on the track, racing him aggressively, but cleanly, every step of the way and proving fast enough to slow Superman. The way Pierce ran this weekend I’d love to see him step up and tour nationally in 2023.

Two supporting cast mentions for this weekend. One goes to Rusty Schlenk for what was easily the save of the year to date.

Second, a shout to Vado Speedway Park promoter Royal Jones for his unfettered joy at hosting what will likely be the race of 2023. I’m in for a “Vado Vado Vado” t-shirt if they get printed.

Victim of the Weekend

Cam Reimers ultimately came up short in the battle for the IMCA Winter Nationals title in the sport modified division in dramatic fashion, getting hooked on the backstretch at Cocopah Saturday night and enduring one of the more spectacular mod wrecks in recent memory.

Reimers was not injured as a result, and if there was a silver lining to this for race fans it was getting to see “Cowboy” and “The Hook” tow truck crew figure out how to get Reimers’s car removed from the gap between the wall and the billboards. The IMCA TV crew mentioned that Cocopah usually keeps a crane on site for sprint car races but didn’t this weekend as they’ve never had a modified get stuck there.

Shout Outs

  • Just like seemingly every other Longhorn Chassis in the field, Brandon Sheppard was not lacking speed at Vado. But I’d wager he has to be at least a little frustrated that he was the biggest name Longhorn not to win a Shootout race
  • If not for Jones’s “Vado Vado Vado,” Mike Marlar had arguably the quote of the weekend when he said he wished Vado Speedway Park was less racy, because that would have meant he’d have likely kept his lead in the late model race Sunday when the one caution of the night flew.

Numbers Game

2

Dirt tracks that ran oval track racing programs in the U.S. this weekend (outside of Tulsa).

222

Nation’s largest car count this weekend outside of Tulsa, the IMCA Winter Nationals at Cocopah Saturday night.

$1,000

Pay for setting the fastest qualifying lap over the course of the Wild West Shootout.

Up Next: Frontstretch will take a breather along with the rest of the dirt racing community until Thursday (Jan. 19), which will see the Early Thaw at the Central Arizona Raceway, the Sunshine Nationals at Volusia and the Winternationals at East Bay kickoff. Coverage can be found on Speed Sport TV, DirtVision and Flo Racing, respectively. 

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