Dirt Racing’s Winning Moment: The World Racing Group’s pinnacle event crowned three series champions over the weekend at the Dirt Track in Charlotte.
One championship was decided the second qualifying started Wednesday afternoon (Nov. 1). Bobby Pierce, a five-time Hell Tour champion taking the dive into national competition, capped a dominant, 14-win 2023 season and clinched the World of Outlaws late model championship as soon as he made a lap.
The Super DIRTcar Series championship was decided Friday night when “Superman” Matt Sheppard scored a fifth-place finish and secured his 10th series championship. Ironically, Sheppard’s title-clinching run came on the one night of the World Finals where he didn’t win the feature event.
Dirt Racing’s Dramatic Moment: That left the World of Outlaws sprint car championship the only one left to be determined on finale Saturday, and though Brad Sweet was never seriously challenged after runner-up David Gravel lost an engine during his heat race Saturday, Sweet still went out with a bang, besting Rico Abreu in the closing laps to score his first career Charlotte win in securing his fifth consecutive title.
Whether Sweet will continue in pursuit of a sixth consecutive Outlaws crown is up in the air, as Sweet and Kyle Larson recently purchased the All-Star Circuit of Champions sprint car tour.
What Dirt Racing Fans’ll Be Group Chatting About This Morning
All three series contesting the World Finals this weekend did not utilize playoff-style points systems and were largely decided entering the weekend. The grandstands were still packed all three nights that features were contested. Take note, Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.
That’s not to say everything was great about the World Finals. Having three tours running full programs all three nights was extreme and took a toll both on this viewer’s attention span and the racing surface. Saturday night the track crew figured out that extensive rework between features did result in better races, but the clock doesn’t lie.
Doesn’t matter if it’s the Chili Bowl or the World Finals, it does no one any good for dirt racing’s crown-jewel races to last an eternity. Too much of a good thing is just that.
There were no shortage of driver complaints that made it onto DirtVision’s broadcasts over the World Finals, be it Abreu’s comments (that were spot on) about the lack of hot laps Thursday, James McFadden’s concerns over tractor tire placement Friday or numerous late model drivers expressing frustration over the racing groove that was lacking both Thursday and Friday night. To DirtVision’s credit, they aired the comments and let the drivers have their say rather than trying to sales pitch their way out of it. Credit where it’s due.
It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it was in 2020, but all the drone shots DirtVision used throughout the weekend saw red clay caked everywhere from the top of the haulers in turn 1 to the Charlotte drag strip grandstands. Maybe it’s just because most dirt tracks aren’t surrounded by other structures like Charlotte is, but this place was dirty even by dirt track standards.
What wasn’t dirty? The performance of the Outlaw regulars this weekend. All three features that the sprint cars ran went caution free. Compare that to the farce of a Truck Series finale this weekend, the difference in quality of product on track is night and day.
Of course, that was in part because all of the bad wrecks the sprint cars saw at Charlotte came early in the running. The headline of all of those wrecks came on the first lap of the first sprint car heat on the first day of competition, with Zeb Wise enduring a nasty crash that sent team and driver packing for the weekend.
Wise was fortunately released from a local hospital that same night and is recovering. I just hope that the group that will need to investigate Wise’s stuck throttle that kept the car bucking after impact with the wall isn’t the same group that did the seat belt investigation on Ashton Torgerson at the Chili Bowl. Sprint car racing needs answers to figure out if such an incident can be prevented moving forward.
Dirt Racing’s Hero(es) of the Weekend
Sweet hitting a walk-off home run to win his fifth consecutive Outlaws title the same season that his High Limits Racing tour sold out sprint car races coast to coast was a desirable outcome in more ways than one. If you’re a fan of World Racing Group’s hegemony at the top of sprint car racing being challenged, Sweet winning their crown jewel was an ultimate own, even more than forcing WRG to open their wallets to keep their brand competitive.
But even if a fan of the Outlaw series and brand, Sweet winning to close out his dominant run of the last five years was also fitting. Because assuming Sweet does head off to run his own All-Star tour in 2024, what he’s done as a driver the last five years has been immaculate.
Speaking of immaculate, we’re running out of adjectives to describe Sheppard’s run the last two seasons in a Northeast modified. Granted, he’s running in a de facto regional series, but there have been few, if any, drivers as dominant in their chosen discipline the last two years.
Lastly, on the late model side Brandon Overton gets a shout out for his third-place finish Thursday night. Running second to eventual race winner Mike Marlar on the white-flag lap on a rubbered up surface, Overton still had the balls to go to the high side and try to pass Marlar for the race win. Good man.
Dirt Racing’s Victim(s) of the Weekend
Wise. See above. Thankful that he’s recovering after that wreck.
Watching Scott Bloomquist have a wheel come off his car on the pace laps of Friday’s late model feature was perhaps the perfect microcosm of his driving career the past few seasons.
Even after Gravel won Thursday’s sprint car feature, it was going to be a tall order for him to have any shot at displacing Sweet for the WoO title. That didn’t make an engine failure during Saturday’s heat race that buried him on championship Saturday any less cruel.
Up Next: This concludes Frontstretch’s dirt coverage for the 2023 season.
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