If you haven't been paying attention, as unlikely as that might be, we've got an absolutely stacked squadron of drivers starting the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Models season as series regulars. Nineteen drivers and teams are heading into Volusia Speedway Park having committed to following the series full-time. It's a bit crazy! Kevin Kovak over at Dirt on Dirt did a great write-up on the drivers, be sure to check it out.
Surely, some of these drivers will drop off the series as it progresses. But I don't expect that number to drop below twelve at any point this season. Why twelve? Well, WoO has introduced a few different payment mechanism to incentivize running the tour, but the one of particular interest is that there are added incentives available each month to the top-12 drivers in the points standings.
It seems pretty apparent to me that these stipends have played a significant part in enticing so many drivers to try their hand at the tour. I am quite excited about that. I thought it was an awesome idea when it was announce and I still like that these teams will have added pay for racing a touring schedule. But...
I don't particularly care for how it has worked out in practice. What first looked like a way for new talent, whether younger drivers or regional stalwarts looking to step up their competition, to dip their toe into the touring life has instead morphed into a mechanism for teams who could profitably run a pick-and-choose schedule to soak up the stipend. Effectively blocking out those who would benefit from it most. I was exited to see drivers like Dustin Walker (if you don't know his story, you should and can find it here), Payton Freeman, Todd Cooney, Logan Martin, and Nick Hoffman take their lumps and learn along they way, knowing that the stipend was going to do a lot to keep them on the tour. Instead, we've got Chris Madden, Bobby Pierce, Johnny Scott, and Brandon Sheppard taking the plunge.
Don't get me wrong, the racing product will be fantastic. I'll be watching the hell out of it and hope nothing but success for each and every competitor. World of Outlaws will sell a ton of tickets and merch having these big names on the tour. I just can't shake the feeling that the rich are going to get richer (turn of phrase, racing is expensive I know), while we choke off the pipeline of upcoming talent and teams. I'll be proven right or wrong by the time we get to Charlotte in November, but heading into it I'm a tiny bit bummed that what could have been a great tool in driver development has been twisted into another way for the big dogs to stay on top. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The Track: Volusia Speedway Park is a half-mile (ugh!) dirt oval located in Barberville, Florida. Last year, the track was resurfaced and caused all kinds of reactions from fans and drivers. Hopefully, a year of seasoning will result in a better surface and product this year (there is some hope as the second 2022 stint at Volusia was significantly better than the first stint).
The Winners Average Start Position, per Dirtrackr, is 4.1176. As a point of comparison, Fairbury, by all accounts a racey lil' joint, has a Winners Average Start Position of 3.333. What I'm gathering from this tidbit is that its not as imperative to start way upfront to have a chance to visit Victory Lane. Also, for our purposes, we can bet on drivers that might not qualify at the tippy top of the chart and still have a chance at scoring maximum points.
Here is a list of Feature Winners in WoO action at Volusia:
The Format (and The Series): Being a WoO event, we're going to get a straightup format.
It's also important to keep in mind that this is a points paying race for WoO which means we will have provisionals available. The two races at last years Sunshine Nationals had 27 and 28 starters. Those provisionals will be awarded, for this event, based on last years final point standings (assuming they follow the same procedures as last year).
Who to Watch:
Brandon Sheppard $21,600 (4): Sheppy's Wild West Shootout came in with a roar and went out with a whimper, with 4 straight Top 5 finishes followed by a 23rd and 11th. So why is he one to watch? Well, because Rocket Shepp has made a habit of kicking ass in WoO events and, as the chart above validates, Volusia is not immune from his dominance. Sheppard also has the highest Average Finishing Position at Volusia, per Dirtrackr, of any of the drivers present with an AFP of 6.4211 in 19 starts. Heading into tonight, BShepp slots in 4th overall in salary and I think there is a high likelihood he delivers plus value even at such a lofty salary slot.
Hudson O'Neal $21,500 (5): Out with the old, in with The New Deal. Huddy takes over the Rocket Chassis housecar from Brandon Sheppard this year. Yes, I'm telling you to watch a Rocket car. The early success of the Longhorns at Vado doesn't scare me. O'Neal performed quite well last year in the Double Down Motorsports mount, also a Rocket, with finishes of 5th, 5th, and 4th. Across 7 starts, Ol' Gal's third favorite late model driver (he got bumped down a spot by Rusty Schlenk) has an AFP of 8.5714, which is the third highest of the driver present. He heads into the new season with the best Rocket car available under his tush and all he has to do to deliver plus (or even) value is have the same results as last year. Easy peasy lemon squeezy!
Devin Moran $21,400 (6): The Mailman flat out dominated the Florida Georgia Line Speedweeks last year, so we should not be surprised to see him do well again this year. At Volusia alone, Moran had finishes of 22nd, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 10th, and 12th. On top of all that, Moran has a decent AFP of 11.5 in 12 starts. Ed. Note: I added Moran post publishing as it was a gross oversight to exclude a driver with so much early season success.
Dennis Erb Jr $21,300 (7): It's downright disrespectful to have your reigning champ sitting at the 7th highest salary! The One Man Band took a trip to Victory Lane last February at Volusia, so we know he can win there. Outside of that victory, Erb had finishes of 2nd, 9th, 10th, 12th, 10th, 13th and 8th in 2022 Volusia action. Certainly, there is a chance of negative value, but even then it doesn't appear it will be crippling.
Bobby Pierce ($20,500) (11): The Smooth Operator is coming off a stellar Wild West Shootout, where he won two features and had a 2nd place finish. Despite never coming in lower than the 4th salary slot in 6 WWS races, Pierce still managed to deliver plus value on 4 of six nights! And I'm getting him for just slightly over Average Salary? Sign me up!
Max Blair $20,300 (13): Blair finished last years season 3rd overall in points, so we know he's got a provisional in his pocket if he needs it. Beyond that, Blair managed finishes of 8th, 12th, 10th, 13th, 14th, 17th, and 4th in hot, sweaty Volusia action. There is a teensy, tiny bit of risk given that Max is occupying the, possibly haunted, second Boom Briggs entry instead of the Viper Motorsports mount that hosts Tanner English this year. But I ain't no 'fraidy cat!
Tyler Bruening $20,200 (14): Bruening sports a spiffy 11.083 AFP in twelve starts. That alone shows the plus value to be had. Throw in the 2nd place finish in the real Knoxville Nationals last year, on another half-mile (ugh!) track, and I am really liking the value Bruening represents at this price point.
Kyle Strickler $20,100 (15): The High Side Tickler had a pair of Volusia wins in 2021, so we know he can win here. That alone counts for a lot when sitting at the 15th highest salary. Strickler also rocks a pretty 10.5 AFP in 12 starts. Wait... his AFP is higher than his salary slot? You darn tootin'! Lock it in!
Jimmy Owens $19,900 (17): The O Show for sub-$20,000, enough said! Seriously, the stats back up The Newport Nightmare's inclusion on this list, but the first sentence is all you really need.
Garrett Smith $19,700 (19): Full disclosure, I'm a Garrett Smith stan. He impressed me repeatedly last year. He kept getting better and better and then he went out and won the Dirt Track World Championship! Smith had a few 20+ finishes last year at Volusia, so we know he's nominally familiar with this track. That familiarity coupled with his continuous improvement intrigue me at a sub-$20,000 salary.
Kyle Bronson $19,400 (23): This is almost nonsensically low for the Killer. The dude has an AFP of 10.6 in FIFTEEN starts. That is 11 positions (or 22 points) of plus value. Oh yeah, he also has a 2021 trip to Victory Lane under his belt too!
Payton Freeman $19,100 (26): Freeman is my pick for the 2023 WoO RoY, so naturally I'm going to include him (if for no other reason that to say I called it later). But I do think he is a solid value. In his first outing in the G.R. Smith 22*, Freeman took home the Hunt the Front Southern Showcase. Not a bad start! I think he builds from that, starting this weekend.
Boom Briggs $19,000 (27): Boomerang (still trying to get this to stick) finished last season 8th overall in points (7th if you factor in Josh Richards departure from the tour), so a provisional is nominally available if needed. Beyond that though, The Bear Lake Banzai has an AFP of 17.944 in seventeen starts. It is really hard not to like that value. Grabbing Boom gives you an extra $1,000 minimum to grab one of those high salary drivers with almost no downside of Boom missing the show. Can you dig it?
Ashton Winger $18,700 (31): Winger found Victory Lane last year. If I'm taking a flyer way down the salary slots, I could do a lot worse than Winger. Air Force is worth a watch this weekend.
Scott Bloomquist $18,600 (34): Black Sunshine is in an unfamiliar ride this weekend, piloting the Big Frog Motorsports 58. Maybe that's a risk, but probably one worth taking. Bloomer has an AFP of 11.8462 in 13 starts at Volusia. If he can make the feature, the reward should be pretty nice.
Brian Shirley $18,500 (36): The Squirrel kicks of the weekend with a salary slot way outside the feature. A driver as accomplished as Shirley shouldn't have too much trouble overcoming the low expectation, I mean the guy has an AFP of 15.7692 in 13 Volusia starts.
Chase Junghans $18,500 (37): Junghans finished last season relatively well with a WoO win in October and some plus value performance at the Duel in the Desert. Should that momentum continue, he'll blow the doors of the value chart. He might just do that, given that he rocks an AFP of 12.6875 in 16 Volusia starts.
Final Note: A good number of the drivers highlighted here are non-series drivers. Their value being pushed down by the fact that they don't have a safety net in the form of a provisional. There is no deny that one could play it safe by avoiding these drivers, but what fun is that. Checkers or wreckers, ain't that right?!?!