Winning Moment: Devin Moran captured the World of Outlaws late model season opener after polesitter Tim McCreadie jumped the cushion in turn 4 with seven laps to go at Volusia.
Dramatic Moment: The season-opening program at Volusia finished shortly before 11 p.m. ET, a far cry from last year’s painfully long Sunshine Nationals.
In a Nutshell: Few surprises, but a clean and efficient kickoff to the 2023 season is exactly what the WoO late models were looking for.
What They’ll Be Group Chatting About This Morning
Thank God the Sunshine Nationals took a hint and implemented hot lap qualifying for the two crate late model classes for this year’s event. Last year’s marathon of single-car qualifying marked perhaps the first time in my entire life as a race fan that I was begging for the late models to stop coming. Volusia was über efficient and that’s just what Thursday night (Jan. 19) race fans deserve.
No getting around it, the World of Outlaws Late Model Series has obviously struck on something with their 2023 schedule and payouts, as the series is currently sitting at a whopping 23 full-time drivers committed as the season kicked off Thursday night at Volusia. And they’re not scrubs either, as the biggest name Thursday was none other than Wild West Shootout finale winner Bobby Pierce.
Carrying an all-but-guaranteed roster of 23 cars means the series is literally starting its events with nearly a full field. The WoO tour had arguably fallen to third on the national ladder after last season, but between the XR Super Series largely scaling back for 2023 and the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series shooting itself in the foot with an asinine playoff system, the Outlaws are making noise heading into 2023.
Having said that, one major name was not among the 47 super late models that entered at Volusia was defending Sunshine Nationals champion Dale McDowell. The veteran driver who was the story of Speedweeks last season when he capped his return from battling cancer with two WoO wins at Volusia, cited 2023 tire rules as a reason for not attending.
I’m honestly torn on this one. I have no doubt that McDowell’s assessment of tire pricing is accurate and Hoosier rubber continues to break the bank at pretty much any level of dirt racing. Having said that, it is super late model touring series racing, and tire strategy is a major part of setting up a racecar. I’m never inclined to put restrictions on cars at the top level of a sport and this is the top echelon of late model racing. Presented without comment: 47 super late models contested Thursday’s Sunshine Nationals opener at Volusia.
We all know that East Bay Raceway Park is living on borrowed time, but the fact that the backstretch this year has a “Thanks y’all” painted next to the trademark track name feels very ominous.
Brandon Sheppard barely scraped into Thursday’s field and had to secure hard charger honors in finishing 10th, while Pierce’s debut race on the WoO tour ended with some type of mechanical failure parking him. Translation: the ever-eclectic Wild West Shootout is just like any other preseason event in sports… it doesn’t mean squat.
DirtVision’s Ruben Morales had a pretty major gaffe in his first race as the head announcer of the tour, failing to notice for nearly a lap that Moran had passed McCreadie for the race lead at Volusia.
Morales gets a hall pass for this one, as it indeed is a double take to see Moran driving a No. 99 car this year, but in a race with one lead change this was a major miss.
Hero of the Day
We’re going to go a little off the beaten path for this one. Tampa, Fla.’s Nick Brown got visibly emotional in victory lane after going from 10th to first to win the first Thunder Stock feature of the Winternationals, telling the track PA that his father had been diagnosed with cancer last month. Brown, it turns out, had wrapped his racecar in a throwback tribute to his dad’s old racecar.
East Bay’s victory lane announcer called the win “meant to be,” and I don’t have much to add to that. I do want to give a shout out to Brown’s sponsors though, who were featured just as tiny decals on the bottom door panel of the car, as Brown wanted to make his dad’s throwback scheme as authentic as possible. Assuming the sponsors were all in on that and cool with it, that’s as classy as it gets.
Villain/Victim(s) of the Night
Pierce had a valid claim for this honor given his car failed while running fifth, but Derek Dent endured arguably the harshest night at Volusia Thursday when his car got flipped in an accordion-wreck during an ugly first 602 late model feature.
Honorable mention here goes to Dustin Bluhm, who got doored by Ryan Corbett while running fourth in Thursday’s late model feature at Central Arizona Raceway. Bluhm finished 12th after leading the opening half of the feature from the pole.
- Michael Page absolutely got jobbed being banned from the Ice Bowl at Talladega this year, so I’ll admit I openly applauded his victory in the third 604 late model feature at Volusia.
- Nick Hoffman’s opening night as a full-time late model driver went as well as could be hoped for, with the modified veteran winning a heat race and finishing eighth in the WoO feature.
- Ricky Weiss won the late model feature at Central Arizona and mentioned in victory lane that he’d spend Friday offering tips to Bluhm, who he passed for the race win. Classy stuff.
- Moran gave the late model ranks in Florida reason to be concerned at Speedweeks by winning the Volusia opener; remember, Moran went on a 18-feature long top-10 streak during the Florida stretch a year ago.
Dirt tracks that ran oval track racing programs in the U.S. Thursday.
Nation’s largest car count Thursday, the Sunshine Nationals at Volusia.
Feature wins in Billy Moyer’s late model career; he finished third at Central Arizona Thursday.
Up Next: Frontstretch will be back tomorrow night (Jan. 20), sticking with Early Thaw at the Central Arizona Raceway, the Sunshine Nationals at Volusia and the Winternationals at East Bay. Coverage can be found on Speed Sport TV, DirtVision and Flo Racing, respectively.
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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