Dirt Racing’s Winning Moment: For the second time in less than a month, Rico Abreu bested the World of Outlaws, leading flag-to-flag to score the Jason Johnson Classic win at 81 Speedway in Kansas Saturday night (April 8), his 11th career WoO triumph and arguably the most significant of his career.
In the late model ranks, it was Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series points leader Ricky Thornton Jr. making noise, blasting past Shane Clanton to win the inaugural race of the Hunt the Front Dirt Series at All-Tech Raceway in Florida on Saturday.
Thornton was part of a headline field of cars that made the trip down south after rainouts continued to plague much of the East Coast.
Dirt Racing’s Dramatic Moment(s): Sprint car racing stole the show Friday night with not one, but two last-lap passes for the win. It started at Williams Grove in Pennsylvania, with Zeb Wise pouncing on local driver Anthony Macri as he struggled with lapped traffic to win the track’s season opener.
What Dirt Racing Fans’ll Be Group Chatting About This Morning
Dirt racing sadly comes with a price and the sport came to collect in more ways than one this weekend. The USAC ranks were rocked with tragedy Saturday night at Lawrenceburg Speedway in Indiana, as Justin Owen was killed as a result of injuries sustained in a qualifying wreck in his wingless sprint car.
All of us at Frontstretch extend our thoughts and prayers to Owen’s family, race team and colleagues. Racing at Lawrenceburg was suspended for the weekend following the incident.
For those that wish to see video of the wreck that claimed Owen’s life, it is easily searchable on Youtube and social media. The video is not included in this article, as I do not wish to bring the wrath of angry commenters onto Frontstretch as a company. But after seeing countless Tweets and Facebook posts from both media and fans alike describing how they watched the video and then decided not to post it, I’m firmly in the camp that not sharing video of this incident because of its tragic content does more harm than good. And not just because all such posts do is further incentivize people to search for it.
Posting video of wrecks at the racetrack is commonplace. And frankly, it’s necessary. Yes, there are going to be those “fans” out there that want to see crashes and accidents for voyeuristic pleasure and bloodlust. But the reality is that safety in motorsports is a constantly-moving target. Each and every incident needs to be studied and learned from, be it to improve safety equipment on a car or make necessary alterations to a facility. Saturday’s accident took Justin Owen’s life. That’s sad and traumatizing. Waiting two hours, two days or two weeks to review the film isn’t going to change that.
Lawrenceburg sadly wasn’t the only track that saw the dangers of dirt racing cashing a check. Friday night saw a cruel turn of events for Linda’s Speedway regular Brian Marriott, who saw a return to racing from retirement turn into an ugly injury that will require extensive recovery. The Northern Lebanon Bulletin did well to tell the story in the post linked below. Frontstretch also extends thoughts and prayers to Marriott and his supporters.
Let’s get to something positive. The debut of the Hunt to Front Super Dirt Series did well to select All-Tech Raceway for race one, as the track’s uber-slick surface put on yet another great race, with Thornton’s win coming courtesy of a 14th to first charge. I know the World Racing Group owns Volusia Speedway Park not too far removed from All-Tech, but the World of Outlaws late model tour needs to pick up an All-Tech date. That track is too good for any serious super late model tour not to contest.
Abreu has for years said he is building his race team up to potentially contest the WoO circuit full time. Now that’s he won twice in only seven starts on the tour this year (the first time he’s done that since 2018), I can’t help but wonder if he’s regretting not running Speedweeks this year to give his team the option. Abreu will absolutely be a threat to win the High Limit Racing Series title the way he is running.
Hagerstown Speedway is far from my favorite racetrack for a multitude of reasons, but I definitely feel for the track after the beating they’ve taken on social media after announcing that fans would not be issued rain checks for their tickets after Saturday’s racing program at the track was ended early due to a blown power transformer.
Hagerstown’s policy, that in the event qualifying (i.e. heat races) is completed that rain checks will not be issued, is standard operating procedure for pretty much every short track in America. Sorry fans, you weren’t done wrong here.
I’m relieved to say the reconfigured Georgetown Speedway looked to race very much the same during the stream of their season opener on Friday. Here’s hoping the sensation of speed remains in person when I visit in a few weeks.
And here’s hoping Flo Racing fixes the audio for the next stream, because damn was the static bad all Friday night long.
While Hoosier’s new late model racing tires have played a part in putting on much improved racing in the sport thus far into 2023, super late model veteran Freddie Carpenter brought a different angle regarding the sport’s tire changes to light in a fiery Facebook post this weekend.
There’s some merit to what Carpenter has to say here, especially with regard to the expense that super late model racing continues to grow and command. But it’s also worth noting that the longer older tires are allowed in competition, the longer the sport is proceeding with a less-homogenous rules package. There’s something to be said about ripping off a band-aid. And it’s also worth noting that Carpenter won at Skyline Speedway on Saturday.
NASCAR has pit codes. Dirt racing has maintenance codes.
It was announced this weekend that Five Mile Point Speedway in New York will be back open for racing in 2023 … six months after hosting their “final race.” I’m debating whether to issue a full retraction of the feature I wrote following that race last October.
Dirt Racing’s Heroes of the Weekend
Winning a big-time super late model race going 14th to first is accomplishment enough, but Thornton did it with reckless abandon at All-Tech. The No. 20RT was the show in Florida.
Sheldon Haudenschild is no stranger to the high side, but this pass for the lead at US-36 Raceway on Friday was eye-opening even for him.
Dirt Racing’s Villains/Victims of the Weekend
In terms of on-track results, there was no greater victim this weekend than Jimmy Horton at Orange County Fair Speedway in New York Saturday. He came out of absolutely nowhere to lead the Hard Clay Open and was well positioned to score what would have been the biggest upset Northeast modifieds have seen in years before suffering a late mechanical failure that handed yet another big win to Matt Sheppard.
Texans Cory Whitsworth and Larry Osborne got themselves disqualified from Saturday’s E-mod feature at Grayson County Speedway for trading plenty of paint and sheetmetal (start the clip at roughly 1:30).
The “North Pole Nightmare” Bill Balog lived up to that nickname in more ways than one Saturday night at 34 Raceway. For one, he fortunately walked away from a vicious crash after making contact with eventual race winner Chase Randall battling for the lead.
Balog went full villain after that though, attempting to confront Randall in victory lane.
Dirt tracks that ran oval-track racing programs in the U.S. this weekend (per MyRacePass, Race Monitor and Speedhive).
The nation’s largest car count this weekend, the IMCA Frostbuster at Marshalltown Speedway in Iowa Friday.
The nation’s largest purse this weekend, awarded to the HTF winner at All-Tech Saturday (Thornton) and the Jason Johnson Classic winner at 81 (Abreu).
Up Next: Frontstretch will be back Wednesday morning (April 12) with coverage of the High Limit Racing sprint car opener from Lakeside Speedway in Kansas. 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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