Eighty-three cars entered the Thunderbowl in Tulare, Calif., but only two men left with victories. The World of Outlaws (WOO) is now a perfect five for five in terms of unique winners for the 2007 season, with Thunderbowl trophy-takers Joey Saldana and Tim Kaeding adding their names alongside Volusia victors Donny Schatz, Kerry Madsen and Daryn Pittman.
The Southern United Professional Racing Association (SUPR) late models got their first taste of dirt and a mouthful of mud. The rains held off long enough to allow David Ashley to take the first round of the sixth annual Mardi Gras Nationals at Baton Rouge Raceway, but when they tried to run the second round at Pike County Speedway in Mississippi, rain washed out that show for the second year in a row.
Fans of paved late model short-track racing got a chance to get in on the action as well when the Florida Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (FASCAR) ran two divisions on two different Florida race tracks. Tim Russell won the Sunbelt Super Series opener with a last-lap pass over Jeff Scofield at Citrus County Speedway, while Wayne Jefferson pulled away from former United States Auto Racing Association (USAR) pilot John Sarppraicone in the Gulf coast open-wheel modified series. The Georgia Asphalt Series also kicked off their season with a 100-lap race in Alabama, with Russell Fleeman taking the checkers at Birmingham International Raceway.
Last year, the WOO sprints ran two shows for their inaugural season at the newly renovated USA Race Park in Tucson, Ariz., and so far that track has not seen a repeat winner. It's going to be difficult to keep the perfect record of no repeat winners alive because current points leader Schatz took one of the two wins on this track last October and NASCAR superstar Tony Stewart's driver Paul McMahan took the other during the spring. McMahan is highly motivated to find victory lane after getting shut out of the top 10 last week at Thunderbowl and earning only one such finish in the first five races of 2007.
From Tucson, the Outlaws backtrack a bit to Phoenix where they will tackle the famed half-mile Manzanita Speedway. They could have another unique winner here as well since four drivers who have yet to visit victory lane in 2007 – Brooke Tatnell, Craig Dollansky, Danny Lasoski and Terry McCarl – all finished top-10 in last year's two races at this track. Of course, they will have to get around Pittman and Saldana on their way to the checkers, as those two drivers also finished top-10 at Manzanita last year.
The United States Auto Club (USAC) hosts western regional action this week as well. The California Racing Association sprint cars race for the fourth time this season at Perris Auto Speedway. Two of the season's previous three races were also run on this track, with Darren Hagen and Garrett Hansen claiming victory. Their third show came at Manzanita, where teenage sensation Ricky Stenhouse Jr. bettered a field of 49 cars for the "Copper on Dirt" feature in early February. This 19-year-old hot shoe dominated that race by leading the final 25 laps of the 40-lap feature after passing another of Stewart's sprinters, Levi Jones.
Late model dirt
If the pointy-nosed dirt cars are your cup of tea, three different late model dirt series are active this week. The SUPR men are back in action, and they are joined by the Mississippi State Championship Challenge series (MSCS) and the Southern Allstars (SAS).
The SUPR series rolls into the Lone Star State onto a little old dirt track with a big name for the Texas World Dirt Track Championship. Texas Motor Speedway has a dirt track located in the parking lot just outside of Turn 2, which allows the facility to host a bevy of series that the big track can't accommodate. Last year, Ken Schrader was one of the headliners of this show when he finished eighth in the preliminary feature and was runner-up on night two. Despite the loss of Schrader's star power this year, the racing will be just as intense. In 2006, Garrett Durrett dominated these shows. He won the preliminary feature and finished third on the second night before struggling for most of the remaining season in the World of Outlaws Late Model series.
The MSCS will begin their season at South Mississippi Speedway. Chris Wall hopes to get as good a start to his 2007 season as he did in 2006. Last year, he won the season opener on this same track en route to the series championship over Jay Blair. In fact, all three of the 2006 MSCS points leaders got off to strong starts on this track last year, with Blair finishing fifth and Scott Slay – who ultimately finished third in the standings – taking third in the race. That just may give this event a little added significance in 2007.
This week, the SAS series will take to the track for a Sunday show. You never know who will turn up for these races as WOO and Lucas Oil Late Model regulars periodically pop into the lineup. In early February, the SAS got started with a two-day show at Golden Isles Speedway in Georgia. Scott Bloomquist took the first show with Dan Schlieper winning the second event. NASCAR veteran Schrader was also in attendance and qualified for both features. Once in the races, however, he became a non-factor and finished 12th and 24th.
Late model paved
If you prefer asphalt dust to dirt, the American Speed Association (ASA) kicks into gear with a 200-lap Saturday night feature at San Antonio Speedway. Last year the Alamo 200 was the second race of their season and the field was overflowing. Thirty-five cars battled for 28 slots on the grid on this half-mile bullring and Jake Ryan came out on top after setting fast time. His victory wasn't as easy as it sounds, however, because he had to roll off the grid in the 10th position when the field was inverted.
Eddie Hoffman, who won the ASA late model season-opener two weeks earlier in Nashville, crashed and finished 19th, while NASCAR Rookie of the Year contender Paul Menard's brother Charlie proved his short track worth with a fifth-place finish. Look for Texas natives to make a lot of noise this weekend; last year, Colt James finished sixth on his home track, while J.C. Umscheid and Brandon Bendele had strong runs going until they ran into trouble.
World of Outlaws: USA Race Park, Tucson, Ariz.
SUPR Late Models: Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track, Fort Worth, Texas
ASA Late Models: San Antonio Speedway, San Antonio, Texas
Grand American: Rolex: Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico City
Mississippi State Championship Challenge: South Mississippi Speedway, Long Beach, Miss.
World of Outlaws: Manzanita Speedway, Phoenix, Ariz.
USAC CRA Sprints: Perris Auto Speedway, Perris, Calif.
SUPR Late Models: Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track, Fort Worth, Texas
Outlaw Modified Series: Charlotte County Speedway, Punta Gorda, Fla.
SAS - Southern Allstars: Cherokee Super Speedway, Gaffney, S.C.
|World of Outlaws||2/23||Thunderbowl||Joey Saldana||Jac Haudenschild||Tim Shaffer|
|SUPR Late Models||2/23||Baton Rouge||David Ashley||Chris Wall||Ray Moore|
|World of Outlaws||2/24||Thunderbowl||Tim Kaeding||Terry McCarl||Donny Schatz|
|SUPR Late Models||2/24||Pike County||Canceled (rain)|
|FASCAR Sunbelt Super Series||2/24||Citrus County||Tim Russell||Jeff Scofield||Daniel Webster|
|FASCAR Gulf coast Modifieds||2/25||DeSoto||Wayne Jefferson||John Sarppraicone||Lee Collins|
|Georgia Asphalt Series||2/25||Birmingham||Russell Fleeman||Jimmy Garmon||David Elliott|