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Sports

November 12, 2012

THE CHECKERED FLAG: World Finals becoming big event

OPINION — The World Finals is quickly becoming one of motorsports’ biggest events.  The sixth annual event took place last weekend at The Dirt Track at Charlotte, located in the shadow of Charlotte Motor Speedway.  The event drew 72 World of Outlaw Late Models, 50 World of Outlaw Sprint Cars, and 40 Super DIRTcar Series Big-Block Modifieds and huge crowds each night!  In fact, Saturday’s televised broadcast by Speed was sold out in the grandstands before Saturday.  The weather was great all weekend with sunny skies and temps between 60 and 70 during the day.

Why so big you ask?  Several factors; it’s the only chance fans can see the world’s top three dirt series on one stage.  Plus it’s all three Series’ championship events.  Outside of big events like the Knoxville Nationals for Sprints, World 100 for Late Models at Eldora, and Super DIRT Week for Modifieds at Syracuse, the event draws some of the best fields of cars anywhere around.  And throw in the fact that $69 gets you a reserved seat and pit pass for each night and the value is second to none!

The time of the year.  Not much racing is taking place and it has quickly turned into race fans and teams season blowout event.  I had mentioned before how much this show has really hurt the Octoberfest at Hagerstown.  Charlotte is a Mecca for racing and easy access for the majority of race teams and fans.  The television coverage adds to the allure.  And the facility is one of the nicest in short track racing.    

The event is run by World Racing Group, which operates the three competing Series.  WRG has certainly done a fantastic job into making this the event people come far and wide to witness.  In fact, prior to the event fans from 47 different states plus Canada, Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom had purchased tickets.  Prior to the event on Saturday, a fan and driver, if possible, represents each state and come in front of the grandstands with their flag for a special ceremony.   

Oh and the racing…it’s second to none.  Last year’s event was the best racing I had witnessed all season long and this year’s didn’t disappoint!  Friday’s program was the best racing I’ve seen all year with only four cautions during 120 laps of features and Saturday wasn’t far behind.

How it works.  With the amount of cars and format of each Series, WRG devised a great plan that makes for an efficient show each night.  Thursday is reserved for two rounds of qualifying for each Series that sets the heat race lineups for Friday and Saturday; that way qualifying doesn’t have to take place on Friday and Saturday.  The Modifieds, which have the least draw, also run their heat races for each night on Thursday.  Friday and Saturday opens each night with last chance races for the Modifieds then the remainder of the program.  This all makes for optimal, non-stop racing in an efficient manner!

Friday’s 30-lap Sprint feature was outstanding!  Eight lead changes with the race in doubt right to the finish.  It was a heartbreaker for Hartford, Ohio’s Dale Blaney.  Blaney passed Sammy Swindell on the opening lap for second then took the lead from Craig Dollansky on lap five.  Brian Brown made his way to the front and passed Blaney for the lead on lap 16.  The duo swapped the lead back and forth every lap, but Blaney would suffer a cut tire on lap 25. 

This handed the lead to Brown of Missouri.  Brown, the nephew of Sprint Car great Danny Lasoski, had never won a WoO race before though he crossed the finish line in the $150,000 to-win Knoxville Nationals a close second to Donny Schatz.  Brown seemed more worried about Swindell in the closing laps rather than doing what he had been doing.  He switched to the bottom in turn one on lap 29 and Swindell powered by for his 13th WoO win of the season worth $10,000.  Brown was second over Kraig Kinser, 13th starting Paul McMahan, and Jason Johnson.

On Saturday night, Blaney made up for his misfortunate bagging the 30 lapper worth $10,000.  Blaney again started third and took second on the opening lap from Lucas Wolfe.  He then passed Stevie Smith on lap 7.  Craig Dollansky had started alongside Blaney in fourth.  He passed Wolfe for third on lap 12 and Smith for second one lap later.  A caution for a slowing Swindell brought out the first caution with 13 laps scored.  Dollansky would overtake Blaney for the lead on lap 19, but Blaney eventually tracked him back down. 

A caution for Schatz, who clinched the $150,000 championship on Friday night, slowed action with 23 laps recorded.  Dollansky had a tire going down under yellow, but decided to restart.  His car didn’t make it a full lap as the Goodyear Tire blew and unfortunately Smith had nowhere to go with him getting upside down.  Blaney, who recently won his first WoO feature of the season at the end of September at Lernerville, held off McMahan over the final laps for the victory. 

What a weekend for McMahan as he’s been hot since replacing Rahmer at the end of September in the Chad Clemens #51.  On Saturday, McMahan started 22nd and nearly pulled off the win.  Louisiana’s Jason Johnson had a good run in third.  Kraig Kinser recorded his second top four finish of the weekend and Greg Hodnett was fifth after starting 16th. 

It wasn’t the weekend neither local Ed Lynch, Jr. nor Danny Holtgraver had hoped for.  Apollo’s Lynch did qualify for both features, but had only a 24th and 17th to show for.  Pittsburgh’s Holtgraver had a 16th on Friday, but wasn’t able to make the show on Saturday.

The big Sprint Car announcement was Hoosier Tire coming on board with the WoO in 2013.  I had recently talked about the turmoil with Goodyear getting out, many of the tracks signing up with Hoosier, but the WoO apparently having chosen American Racer.  It was good to hear the WoO decided to go with Hoosier so everyone can be on the same rubber. 

The other big news was Joey Saldana landing a ride for 2013.  The Brownsburg, Indiana racer spent seven years driving for Kasey Kahne on the WoO circuit never finishing worse than fourth in points and capturing 77 features, but was recently announced he wouldn’t be in the ride for next season.  Saldana will join up with Ken Motter and the old familiar 71M that hasn’t seen action in over a decade!  Motter’s 71M was made famous by Doug Wolfgang, Kenny Jacobs, and Stevie Smith. 

It was the O-Show in the Late Models as Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series Champion Jimmy Owens came in and swept the two-day WoO event and pocketed $20,000 for his 50-lap wins. On Friday, the Newport, TN racer started ninth and passed $100,000 WoO champion Darrell Lanigan for second on lap 29 and 2011 champion Rick Eckert for the lead on lap 30 and cruised to the win over Eckert, Lanigan, Scott Bloomquist, and Dale McDowell. 

Saturday night, Owens didn’t have to work as hard.  He started third, had second from Lanigan on lap two, and made his winning pass of Chris Madden on lap five.  Only two cautions would slow his run to a dominating victory over Tim McCreadie, Lanigan, Madden, and Clint Smith. 

Congrats to local racer Gregg Satterlee of Rochester Mills, who made the feature both nights with finishes of 15th and 14th!  No other local racers had any luck.

The Modifieds produced great racing both nights!  Tim Fuller won Friday’s $6,000 40-lap main, while the great Brett Hearn added another $6,000 to his bank account on Saturday.  It’s been quite a run for Hearn in recent weeks winning the $50,000 at Syracuse last month and then bagged $20,000 at NY’s Orange County Speedway for the Eastern States 200!

In the end though it was Matt Sheppard winning his third consecutive Super DIRTcar Series crown!  Sheppard played it conservative with a 12th place finish on Friday night and a fourth on Saturday. 

It was a great weekend for Aussie Peter Britten, who has improved immensely this season.  Britten finished sixth on Friday and a career Super DIRTcar finish of second on Saturday night after leading the first 31 laps. 

The only local Modifieds to head south were Butler’s Mike Turner and Ellwood City’s Jerry Schaeffer.  Schaeffer ended up putting former Modified driver and now Late Model racer, Garrett Krummert of New Castle, in the car.  Neither racer came close to qualifying for the feature either night. 

If you’ve never been to the World Finals, it’s certainly an event you need to take in.  The 2013 edition has already been announced for November 7-9.

I’ll be at Susquehanna Speedway in Newberrytown today (Saturday) for the final “410” Sprint Car show on 2012.  They’ll be racing for $6,000 to-win and will be joined by the “358” Sprints for $2,000 to-win.  The last two years this event has been blessed with great weather, big crowds, and great events!  Looks like good weather again. 

Hagerstown (MD) Speedway has decided to postpone the conclusion of the “Fall Brawl” until Sunday, March 17.  Hagerstown postponed the Sunday portion of the event on October 28 due to the impending Hurricane Sandy and was scheduled to run tomorrow (Sunday the 11th), but have since postponed to spring due to damage receive from the storm.

Mike Leone is motorsports writer for Allied News. Follow his updates on Twitter @mikevleone. 

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