Race Weekend Central

This Weekend in Dirt: Ricky Thornton Jr. Rules Lucas Tour, Kyle Larson Disqualified at Eldora

Dirt Racing’s Winning Moment: Ricky Thornton Jr. blasted past Hudson O’Neal with a picture-perfect lap 22 that let him make what would be a race-winning pass the next lap, scoring the $15,000 Ralph Latham Memorial win at Florence Speedway in Kentucky Saturday night (May 6).

The win was notable on a number of levels for Thornton; he snapped local ringer Josh Rice’s two-year winning streak in the event and in besting O’Neal closed to within 40 points of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series points lead after losing the series lead Thursday night at Atomic.

See also
This Day in Dirt: Hudson O'Neal, Kyle Larson Score 5-Figure Paydays at Atomic

2023 RALPH LATHAM MEMORIAL RACE RESULTS

Dirt Racing’s Dramatic Moment: Rico Abreu made it interesting on the white flag lap, but Logan Schuchart had enough to hold him off to score the World of Outlaws feature win at Eldora Friday night.

Abreu ended up having the Outlaw drive of the weekend though, following up his runner-up finish Friday with the feature win Saturday as part of the Let’s Race Two event at Eldora.

What Dirt Racing Fans’ll Be Group Chatting About This Morning

There was no incident anywhere in dirt racing that set social media ablaze more than Kyle Larson’s disqualification in World of Outlaws competition Friday at Eldora for failing to stop under red-flag conditions. 

The conspiracy theorists were out in force as soon as the DQ was announced, with many convinced the World Racing Group was out to go after Larson, who is the driving force behind the High Limit Racing Series that ultimately forced the Outlaws to allow their platinum drivers to make a handful of starts outside of Outlaw competition in 2023, a move unheard of in sprint car racing.

I don’t share this view having seen the tape. Larson did nothing to impede safety efforts on track as he drove away from the wreck scene Friday, but there is no doubting that he drove away and into the work area well after the red flag was put out. 

Larson’s actions absolutely could have provided a competitive advantage, as it would yielded his team valuable minutes to assess damage that they wouldn’t have had if Larson had stopped on track and waited for a push back to the pits.

What I will say the incident made me consider is that the Outlaws, and frankly sprint car racing in general, need to rethink rules about working on cars under a red flag. One of the few areas where NASCAR racing actually has been objective in officiating is that when the red is out, cars can’t be touched. Sprint car racing is a little different in that it’s a 99% objective call as to when a red flag comes out … if a car flips, the track goes red. 

But, there is a competitive advantage to a red flag coming out. Rather than being bound by courtesy time in the work area, a race team under red has the entire duration of a clean-up period to fix a car. As long as that is the case, there will be an incentive for sprint car drivers to coast as far as they can under red, be it to a place on track where their crew can scan a car, or into the work area. Perhaps the one area I’ve found in any rulebook where dirt racing emulating NASCAR may be a good thing.

I will also say as far as gray-area rulings at Eldora go, I was far more bothered by Brady Bacon very obviously slowing down on track during Saturday’s USAC sprint car feature at the track to draw a yellow, then get back up to speed as soon as the caution flag flew. Yes, a stuck throttle as was reported on Bacon’s car is a major issue, but if he had enough car control to slow down, then accelerate and get to the work area under yellow, he could have done the same under green. 

One last note from Eldora this weekend, streaming. This was one of those weekends where the Outlaws had their DirtVision crew cover their races and the USAC folks had Flo Racing doing theirs, so both streams had large amounts of dead air between on-track activity Friday and Saturday.

DirtVision handled theirs well better than Flo Racing, as they live-streamed sprint car coverage from Williams Grove and Knoxville while Flo put their USAC interview content on repeat, literally. Live racing trumps interviews any day of the week.

It was striking to see the fan reaction at Florence Saturday when O’Neal took the race lead from Jonathan Davenport in LOLMDS competition. I don’t know how much of that was simply celebration that Davenport was getting passed after he won everything under the sun in late model competition in 2022, but it seems to me that O’Neal’s red-hot streak of winning with aggressive driving on track, a run that has returned the iconic Rocket house car to relevance, is winning over fans in the stands. Mark Richards with another home run.

This observation is an accurate one. The WoO late model tour seemed to get a much friendlier response for canceling nights two and three of the Dairyland Showdown at Mississippi Thunder Speedway in Wisconsin this weekend than the LOLMDS did for raining out their East Coast swing last weekend.

It could very well be that the race fans that made it to Mississippi Thunder on Thursday night actually got to see some racing so were more tolerant of a rainout. But do the math on what the two rainouts meant for the WoO late model teams; they drove all the way to Wisconsin to race once for $5,000-to-win. It’s hard to break even as a super late model team with those kind of numbers. The margins to make money for higher-level race teams and events is thinner than ever.

Dirt Racing’s Heroes of the Weekend

There may have been some better hard charger performances by the numbers this weekend, but Kyle Beard’s run from 16th to win the Bad Boy 98 late model feature at Batesville Motor Speedway in Arkansas Saturday was easily the richest, as the run secured Beard a healthy $12,000 paycheck. 

We’re going to give shoutouts to both of USAC’s sprint car winners at Eldora this weekend. CJ Leary’s win on Saturday came courtesy of an absolutely absurd pass through a gaggle of lapped cars with 15 laps to go, the move that ultimately kept Justin Grant at bay for good.

Speaking of Grant, the same reckless abandon that I cited about his performance in naming him to Frontstretch’s top-five dirt racers of 2022 was on full display at Eldora Friday; despite holding a commanding lead in Friday’s feature, Grant was driving so hard that he made contact with the wall not once, but three times in the closing laps heading to the checkers.

Listening to Grant say in victory lane that he seemed to have a harder time running the slower he tried to go pretty much encapsulates his on-track persona and explains why he remains the best show wingless sprint car racing still has in its ranks.

Dirt Racing’s Victims of the Weekend

Having said that, Grant paid for Friday’s win with a nasty crash Saturday after Zack Pretorius got out of shape in turn 3, leaving Grant to go for a nasty tumble that he fortunately walked away from.

The Larson DQ obscured just how hard Friday’s Outlaw wreck at Eldora was for Zeb Wise, so its worth noting that Wise was banged up but OK after the incident.

One more from Eldora. Dalton Stevens went for a terrible tumble in his heat race at the track Saturday that he also walked away from.

Ashton Winger suffered a mechanical failure after leading the opening six laps of Saturday’s Bad Boy 98 at Batesville from the pole.

Lastly, Dylan Norris lost what looked like a sure-fire win at Williams Grove Speedway in Pennsylvania Friday night after he plowed into Cameron Smith’s slow car in turn 2 while leading.

Up Next: Frontstretch will be back Wednesday morning (May 10) with coverage of the Short Track Super Series from Accord Speedway in New York. 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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