Race Weekend Central

This Weekend in Dirt: RTJ Dominates at Muskingum; Bronson, Overton Throw Barbs

Dirt Racing’s Winning Moment: Different track, same story. Ricky Thornton Jr. patiently made work of the Lucas Oil Late Model Series dirt field at Muskingum County Speedway in Ohio Saturday (July 1), comfortably winning $30,000 in the Freedom 60.

The win for Thornton marked his 12th on the tour in 2023, pushing his annual earnings to over $250,000 for the year.

Said longtime LOLMDS commentator James Essex, “it’s RTJ’s world, we’re all just living in it.”

2023 FREEDOM 60 RACE RESULTS

Dirt Racing’s Dramatic Moment: There was an entire season’s worth of drama crammed into the closing laps of the DIRTcar Summer Nationals (Hell Tour) feature at Paducah International Raceway in Kentucky, with the top-three drivers all suffering flat tires over the course of two laps.

Justin Feger emerged the eventual winner of the $10,000-to-win event. For those seeking the actual highlights of the flat-tire fiasco, here’s the DirtVision highlight reel.

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

One of the pit guys at the Winchester Speedway that I was watching the Firecracker race at Lernerville with last Saturday remarked that RTJ was “going for his $2 million,” referencing Jonathan Davenport’s dominant 2022 campaign in reference to Thornton’s absurd pace in 2023. Make no mistake, RTJ is the driver of the year and the most dominant thing going in any form of dirt racing right now. Which really does make the LOLMDS’s decision to embrace a NASCAR-style playoff format all the more disappointing.

Eldora is a dirt-racing Mecca. That doesn’t make it worthy of single-handedly deciding a season champion. Besides, after watching defending Dirt Track World Championship winner Garrett Smith prove a literal battering ram that incurred the ire of both Davenport and Brandon Overton Friday night at Muskingum, anyone being honest should have real pause about the DTWC being such a significant crown. Just ask Overton.

Speaking of NASCAR and its (growing?) ties to dirt racing, there is plenty of truth to this observation by sprint car owner Jennifer Marshall that many of NASCAR’s dirt stars have returned the big dollars they made with the traveling asphalt circus into the dirt sport.

Maybe I’m one of the “miserable in life” people Kenny Wallace refers to in that tweet, but I find this relationship to be more concerning than positive. The sport’s stars getting rich in another industry’s playground to fund dirt racing is hardly a sustainable business model, laudable as the efforts of drivers like Tony Stewart (buying Eldora) and Kyle Larson (promoting the High Limit Series) are.

Just ask everyone that built a business model around free and unlimited access to Twitter how relying on other money-making entities is working out. If you’re a dirt racing fan looking to support the sport, buy a ticket or a streaming subscription and watch dirt. 

Prior to Overton’s exchange at Muskingum on Friday, Kyle Bronson had seemingly locked up the mid-year award for year’s most memorable interview (at least in the late model ranks) when he went after current World of Outlaws points leader Bobby Pierce after the two traded paint in Thursday’s feature at Red River Valley Speedway in North Dakota.

I’ll admit, there’s some zingers in this one and being from the same state as the South Boston Speedway I’ll always value a bologna sandwich. But I’m not sure this is the own that Bronson was hoping for, even if it’s true (I can’t comment if Pierce is a video gamer). There was a time in my life where I’d fault a driver for not being heavily involved in working on their cars, but considering what Larson has done in recent years that argument rings really hollow as a shot at a driver. Plus, Pierce has been awfully successful the last couple of weeks.

The summer continues to be cruel to racetracks across the Midwest, as the venerable Macon Speedway suffered heavy grandstand damage due to severe weather. Work has begun on attempting to repair the facility, as the track’s annual Herald & Review 100, arguably the crown jewel of the Hell Tour, is scheduled for Thursday.

Work continues this afternoon at Macon Speedway. Progressing really well. Thanks to all of those who have stopped in to…

Posted by Macon Speedway on Saturday, July 1, 2023

For those being observant, yes, the short-term repairs have reduced grandstand capacity, so fans are recommended to plan accordingly should Thursday’s race go off.

I visited two dirt tracks this weekend (Skyline Raceway in New York and Hamlin Speedway in Pennsylvania) and fortunately did not run into the number one issue plaguing the sport right now, race programs that last too long. That apparently was not the case at Crystal Motor Speedway in Michigan on Saturday night.

I will not go back any time soon @Crystal motor speedway. We arrived at 6:30 to be sure we got a good seat. When we…

Posted by Justin Jones on Saturday, July 1, 2023

Why single out a track in Michigan? Because, to their credit, the promoters at Crystal took ownership of their shortcomings and actually took a concrete step to rectify the situation rather than simply posting on social media.

The two owners have talked constantly about the start time of our event last night. It is unacceptable and there is no…

Posted by Crystal Motor Speedway – Crystal, MI on Sunday, July 2, 2023

I’d argue that for this policy to work, the track likely needs to extend this offer out for a couple of weekends because, as one parent noted, kids that had a bad night at a racetrack, movie theater, anywhere, likely aren’t going to be keen to go back immediately. Still, the first step in rectifying a problem is to admit having one, and that can’t be taken for granted in the ranks of racing promoters.

Dirt Racing’s Hero of the Weekend

David Gravel didn’t cool down one bit after scoring a quarter-million dollar payday at Huset’s last weekend, scoring another World of Outlaws victory at Cedar Lake Speedway in Wisconsin Saturday night that both broke a longtime winless streak for the veteran driver and extended a red-hot streak that has him within four points of defending champion Brad Sweet for the series lead.

After the dull reaction Sweet’s victory got Friday at Cedar Lake, the tour desperately needs a title fight that lasts all season long. So far, one is brewing.

Dirt Racing’s Victims/Villains of the Weekend

We’ve already talked about Smith’s rough driving at Muskingum Friday, so the shoutout from Muskingum in this section instead goes to Spencer Hughes, who found trouble both Friday and Saturday. Setting fast time in qualifying Friday did not translate into race results for Hughes, who saw his engine expire during his preliminary feature.

Saturday, Hughes did make the Freedom 60 A-main but was almost immediately collected in an early-race Big One. Hughes did recover to finish 13th in the feature.

The way Drake Troutman’s Hell Tour is going, he’s going to run out of ways to find late-race trouble, literally. 

Still, Troutman’s end on Friday night at Paducah was a Greek tragedy. Already racing with a blank sheetmetal car and duct tape numbers due to his struggles on tour, Troutman raced from 17th to second over the course of 28 laps in Friday’s feature, taking the lead with two to go when both leader Ashton Winger and runner-up Tyler Clem both slowed with flat tires. That put Troutman in the lead, only for him to cut his own tire down a lap later while leading.

Up Next: Frontstretch will be back Tuesday morning (July 4) with coverage of the Pennsylvania Sprint Week finale at Port Royal Speedway. 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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