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Ruckus at Rocket Raceway: USMTS #FantasyDirt Primer

Ruckus at Rocket Raceway: USMTS #FantasyDirt Primer
Green Flag from 2022 Gateway Dirt Nationals Modified Feature

After a two day weather delay, we kick of the United States Modified Touring Series (USMTS) season tonight from Rocket Raceway Park in Petty, Texas. I hope you're as pumped as I am, cause this is going to be one heck of a season!

Right off the bat, we know that we're not going to have a repeat champion. Last year's Champ, Dustin Sorensen, has "graduated" to running the Jimmy Mar's bright yellow #28 Late Model for 2023 season.

We also have a standout Rookie class for 2023, with the headliner being Tom Berry, Jr. Last year, Berry was one of, if not the, best IMCA modified in the country. It's no small feat to win the IMCA Supernations, its even more impressive to do it as the favorite. Yet, Berry did exactly that!

Jim Chisolm is likely to also run for the Grant Junghans RoY award. Chisolm had three dubs in 2022 USMTS action. One at Mason City Speedway and two at Deer Creek Speedway, both of which happen to be tracks that Chisolm ran weekly and make up a large chunk of the 2023 season. I have a hunch you're all going to get to know this name more this season.

Another rookie I am personally super excited to watch is Chase Holland. I am huge advocate of #DirtContent, and the Chase Holland Racing team does it better than just about anybody. The Mississippi Kid can do a hell of a lot more than look pretty on camera, though. Holland walked into two of the toughest, invite only, modified fields in of the year, Prarie Dirt Classic and Gateway Dirt Nationals, and walked out with top-10 finishes. The kid can drive!

Beyond the intrigue of a new Champion and awesome Rookies, we get a reworked and improved USMTS schedule. Like most every series this season, the USMTS adopted a "pod" style schedule with the baddest modifieds on the planet setting up camp at track once or twice a month and racing 2-4 times at that track. This style schedule does result in fewer tracks on the schedule (I'm a little salty that Mississippi Thunder Speedway isn't on the USMTS schedule this year), but the positive reduction in travel for teams more than makes up for those exclusions. USMTS has also added the USMTS 25th Aniversary Super National at Mason City Speedway from August 16th to August 19th. They have also added the Inaugural Sin City Season Finale from XR Las Vegas Dirt Track from November 9th to November 11th.

This is going to be an exciting year of USMTS Modified racing and I look forward to hitting up multiple stops on the schedule.

The Track: Rocket Raceway Park in Petty, Texas, which, for this weekend, is likely to be a waterlogged 1/3-mile oval. USMTS opened its 2022 season here with a doubleheader that saw Dustin Sorensen winning Night 1 and the 2022 USRA Modified National Champion, Tyler Davis, winning Night 2. Below is the full running order for both shows:

The Format: I gave my snarky overview of the USMTS Format in 2022 season ending weekend primer, but I'll give a quick review.

Heat Qualifying: Drivers draw for heats, then qualify run hot laps/qualifying as a heat. Top 4 invert.

Heats: Top 12 in passing points following the Heats transfer to the A-Main. (Passing Points abacus can be found in the link above)

Redraw: Top 8 in passing points redraw for starting spots 1-8

B-Mains: Lined up by passing points in the Heats. Top 3-6 B-Main finishers, depending on field size and amount of B's, transfer to A-Main.

Provisionals: These USMTS fields can get big, 30-31 cars type big. For Saturday's race, the first two provisionals will be awarded based on 2022 points standings. For Sunday, those two provisionals will be awarded based on 2023 points. Beyond that, USMTS license holders with perfect attendance are eligible for an emergency provisional, with 2022's attendance being the used for Saturday's show. The emergency provisional policy for Sunday is less clear.

Strategy: These USMTS shows are snappy, so it's a definite risk to try to use Qualifying results in selecting your lineup as you might just miss roster lock all together. Though, we've got a fair bit of support classes, so depending on how they run the show we might be just fine. Also, with Modifieds, more than any other class available on DirtDraft, starting position has lower importance. I've personally watch Jake O'Neil and Dereck Ramirez win races out of the B-Main and I've seen countless drivers finish fastest in their qualifying and flatout miss the A-Main. So mostly, we're looking for guys we know are good drivers and, time permitting, qualify in the top 4 of their group. That being said, there is less of an risk just setting your lineup before qualifying and waiting to see how the chips fall.

Who to Watch: Driver, Salary, Slot (as of Noon Central, 3/4/23)
Dustin Sorensen $21,800 (3): Wait, didn't I just say he's driving a Late Model? I sure did, yet he's in Texas for the season opener. No, he won't be driving a Late Model while everyone else drives a Modi. The reigning USTMS Champ rolls into Saturday as the 3rd-highest salaried driver. Remember how I said he won Night 1 last year? Seems like there is some value available here, and that value could result in us nabbing the 100 points for win. Pretty good deal, don't ya think? It's also fairly certain that Sorensen has a provisional available should calamity strike early in the night.

Tyler Davis $21,400 (6): Davis also won last year at Rocket Raceway Park in 2022, on Night 2. Night 1, Davis came home fifth. Yeah, that's two results in two races better than his Saturday Salary Slot. Pretty juicy so far, right? Well, Davis also came home 2nd at Rocket in the Brian Mize Hangover on September 4, 2022 in a race that also featured someone else on our WtW. Davis knows how to get around this race track. Let's not forget that Davis had an Average Finish Position of 7.83 at the Wild West Shootout, which is right in line with his current Salary Slot. I'm liking the upside Davis presents tonight but I also appreciate the high floor he brings to the table as well.  

Jake O'Neil $21,300 (7): O'Neil has one of the coolest #DirtMerch carts in the pits, but that's not why he's on the list. Honestly, O'Neil is a threat to win every modified race he enters. The dude can wheel a modified. He's intends to run the full USMTS schedule this year, so we might have our early favorite to win the Season Points Championship sitting at the 7th Salary Slot. O'Neil already has a win under his belt in the 2023 season, taking home the Victory on Night 1 of the WWS. Speaking of wins, O'Neil won 8 USMTS features in '22, more than anybody. Between the intent to run for USMTS Points this year, the win at the WWS, and his relatively low, for him, Salary Slot I really like what O'Neil represents for our rosters. I'm probably rolling with O'Neil as my blue chipper tonight.

Cade Dillard $21,100 (9): The Thriller is running the WoO Late Model schedule this year. When WoO got rained out, one would have expect Dillard to take the SLM to Swainsboro and Senoia or Cherokee, yet he loaded up the CDR Modified and headed to Rocket. Why would he do that? Well, I'm guessing his Win in the Brian Mize Hangover in September had something to do with it. Dillard was an absolute menace to some of the best of the Modified drivers in the country every time he ran with them, including taking down 2 of the 3 Fall Nationals shows from Vado. I'll tell ya right now, I very well might squeeze Dillard and O'Neil in my lineup tonight.

Jake Timm $19,900 (17): Jake Timm might be my favorite driver (the other contender for that title isn't in Petty this weekend), so I have to include him. Timm had two USMTS victories last year, one coming on his home track of Mississippi Thunder which just so happens to be a bad-fast 1/3 mile. Does a bad-fast 1/3 sound similar to the waterlogged 1/3 mile we might get this weekend?

Jacob Bleess $19,800 (18): Bleess ran USMTS full-time last year, so at a minimum there's provisionial potential here. Beyond that fall back, Bleess came home 11th and 16th in the 2022 season opener at Rocket. Two finishes better than his salary slot. Do you smell the upside?

Tom Berry, Jr. $19,700 (19): In what I believe was his first extended run in an open motor, TBJ had a win, a 2nd, a 5th, a 8th, a 10th, and one feature miss at the WWS. That feature miss on the final night was a result of a hurt motor. That's a hell of a debut! Those WWS fields were not soft, either. I know the USMTS is a different beast, but I can't help but think we're being presented incredible value with this salary slot. I'm all over it!

Kale Westover $19.600 (21): Westover had an 8th and 10th place finish in USMTS action at Rocket in '22. So we can already see the value dripping off of this salary. Westover also come home 3rd, from the B-Main no less, in the Brian Mize Hangover in Septemer. Westover also won once at Humboldt Speedway and got DQ'd another night there (which means he ran up front), and came home 2nd at 81 Speedway, all in USMTS action. I know I advocate for every driver on the WtW, but this one, above all, feels like stone cold lock for our rosters.

Gary Christian $19,400 (24): I will admit, I still don't know much about Christian. That being said, you'd have to be a fool not to take notice after his showing at the Wild West Shootout. In six races, Christian had an Average Finish of 13.83 and Average Value of +3. Included in there is a 9th, 11th, 13th, and two 14th place finishes. Oh yeah, Christian also had a top-10 at the Brian Mize Hangover. We're on notice.

Kyle Brown $18,900 (29): Downtown had finishes of 24th and 19th in the '22 USMTS season opener at Rocket. Brown also ran the entirety of the USMTS season last year, so we've got some provisionial protection here as well. If we're packing our rosters with high-end salaries, we need our lower-end salaries to deliver. Brown feels like a driver we can count on to get in the show and deliver some form of plus-value. Depending on your roster construction, you might just find yourself thankful Brown is so cheap tonight.

Chase Holland $18,800 (30): I mostly laid out the case for the Mississippi Kid above, so there isn't much to add here. I like the kid, I like his family, this one is mildly personal. Your mileage may vary.

Brandon Givens $18,500 (34): Big ups to Givens' sponsor, The Chunky Poodle Cookie Company for having cookies that make me drool and being the most fun sponsor name uttered by the announcers. It's also a company run by Givens' wife. All in all, it super adorable and I like adorable things. Beyond the sponsor, Givens had finishes of 14th and 11th in last year's opener. Givens also ran the full USMTS schedule so he has some provisional potential tonight. I really like the value proposition Givens presents.

Dylan Thornton $18,300 (37) & Lance Mari $18,300 (37): Both ran the series full-time in 2022, so we've got provisional potential. Honestly, the argument for these two is the similar to the one for Brown and Givens, they're cheap and have a high likelihood of making the show on Saturday.

Colton Horner $18,000 (45): Horner is the last of our '22 USMTS full-timers on the WtW (I provided the top half of the USMTS standing at the bottom for reference). Horner came home 15th on Night 1 at Rocket in '22 before missing the feature Night 2. Assuming we get exactly the same performance this year, we should be all over this low salary tonight!

Final Thoughts: We've got 62 drivers available on DirtDraft as of publication and there is a good chance we surpass 70 drivers total this weekend. There are lots and lots of drivers that can and will do well, the WtW is meant to call out those drivers I believe have better than average upside to help our rosters, but it not conclusive. I'm always trying to learn more, have and provide better data, and produce a better product for y'all. So please hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, or email and share your positive thoughts and constructive critisisms.

USMTS 2022 Top-30 Point Standings: