Last week, I mentioned the overabundance of "series regulars" for the beginning of the WoO season (to that end, WoO did expand their Winner Circle program to include 15 drivers). This week, I'd like to touch on the Lucas Oil Late Model Series decision to implement the Big River Steel Big Four, essentially a NASCAR style chase format.
The short and long of it is, I think its kinda lame but, ultimately, I don't really care how they want to crown a champion.
As an extremely causual fan of NASCAR, the most common complaint I see/hear is that the Chase format sucks. Yet, NASCAR is still plugging along just fine. No meaningful change in business or operations despite all the complaining. Must not suck that bad?
It'll be the same with LOLMDS' new format. Whether or not I like the championship format, the Dirt Track World Championship will still be a compelling race. It will still have a big purse. It will still have a loaded field of cars. Heck, we knew McCreadie was the champion last year and we still watched. We'll do so again. If anything, this, objectively, places more importance on the race. You'll have the DTWC on the line and the LOLMDS championship on the line. Two races in one!
This is probably the least rewarding way to award a championship. Nonetheless, the four guys in the Big River Steel Big Four will be, more or less, the most consistent guys over the course of the season. So its not like it will go to someone who got lucky at exactly, and only, the right time. As much as we want Dirt Late Model Championships to matter, each race is its own championship. The crown jewels are the crown jewels and people remember those accomplishments more. When people mention accomplishments, they tend to lead with the biggest races before mentioning the season championships.
I suppose that's a long way of saying, it is what it is. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
The Series: Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series (presented by FloRacing).
Heading into this week, there hadn't been much chatter about the 2023 LOLMDS roster. We'd seen one new team commit to running the entire season, though, admittedly, it is a pretty big get. After winning over 2 million dollars last year, Jonathan Davenport and the Lance Landers Motorsports team will hit the series circuit again with LOLMDS.
The other new name we've seen commit, Devin Moran, will be in the Double Down Motorsports mount that ran the 2022 LOLMDS season with Hudson O'Neal. O'Neal will also return to the series in a new ride, the Rocket Chassis house car, which, incidently, ran the 2022 LOLMDS season with Rocket Shepp manning the wheel. So some shuffling around, but not much in the way of additions.
Yesterday, though, we got confirmation that Garrett Smith and the Garrett Smith Performance team plans to contest the entire season. Somewhat oddly, Smith is the only driver to date in the running for the LOLMDS RoY. So he should be a lock, right? Maybe.
I've heard some chatter that Wil Herrington and the JCM Motorsports 19m might give national touring a go this year as well. After leading laps at the Gateway Dirt Nationals, they might have a good reason to do so. Selfishly, I hope they do. That would be one heck of a RoY battle between Smith and Herrington. Only time will tell, but some of the signs certainly hint at this becoming a reality.
Also yesterday, I saw some "confirmations" that Kyle Bronson was going to follow LOLMDS this year. I'm sceptical of this one. There is no doubt the Killer can compete on tour, but Bronson took on ownership/promotion of Golden Isles Speedway last year. I'd have to imagine that additional responsibility would put a real crimp on national touring lifestyle.
Beyond those tidbits, we've got a lot of familiar names returning. Timmy, RTJ, EPJ, Terbo, Ross Robinson, Spencer Hughes, Garrett Alberson, and Daulton Wilson. Kevin Kovak over at DirtonDirt put together a nice roster breakdown as well, it is definitely worth the read.
The Event & Track: Super Bowl of Racing from Golden Isles Speedway in Waynesville, Georgia. Did you know that GIS used to support speeds over 170 mph? Well, you do now:
Also, here is a list of winners in LOLMDS action since 2020:
The Format: We've officially got 50 cars for Thursday, which means we get 6 heat races with the Top 3 transferring to the Feature. We're either going to get 2 Bs with 3 transferring or 3 Bs with 2 transferring. There doesn't seem to be a specific rule on this, so just be prepared. If we dip below 49 cars, we'll revert to a 4 heat, 4 transfer system.
Who to Watch: Driver, Salary (Salary Slot)
Quick Note #1: This is based off the preliminary driver lineup, there may be more drivers added. Time permitting, I'll try to add any noteworthy additions before roster lock.
Quick Note #2: You will see reference to plus-value starts, negative-value starts, and even-value starts. These are based on a driver's salary slot (1 being most expensive) on DirtDraft heading into roster lock compared to their actual results in said race. (ex. Davenport was the highest-salaried driver every race at the Wild West Shootout. He won three times, meaning he delivered even-value in each of those wins. He did not win three times, meaning he delivered negative-value each of those three starts) You will also see reference to average value, this refers to a driver's cumulative plus-minus divided by the number of races they've run to-date in 2023.
Devin Moran $21,900 (2): The Mailman was a late add to the list last weekend. Not this weekend though! Even coming in at the second-highest salary slot!
For those of you who've been reading for a while, I don't tend to highlight the Top-5ish drivers in the WtW. Reason being that we all know who they are and what they are capable of, their value is often thin at best, and I didn't think there was a competitive edge to writing about them. Nonetheless, my thinking is evolving as I gather more data. As much as I think finding plus-value is important, we still need to score the most points. Which probably means we need to get at least one of the guys at the top of the salary chart. So... we gotta find value up there too, right? Right. And getting even or thin plus value out of the centerpiece of you lineup is a competitive advantage. At a bare minimum, we would like to avoid negative value out of our bluechippers.
Enter Moran! In 2022's version of the Super Bowl of Racing, Moran took one trip to Victory Lane and had two runner up finishes. To date in 2023, Moran is undefeated! Sitting at the second-highest salary headed into Thursday's action, I think Moran is worth consideration for our rosters.
Sure, he hasn't raced against Superman, but it should be noted that JD currently sports a -1.333 average value in six 2023 starts, with three starts registering even-value and three starts resulting in negative-value. Whereas, in two starts Moran has delivered one plus-value (+4) and one even-value performance. Also, Moran has a possibility of plus-value, whereas JD does not.
Tim McCreadie $21,800 (3): Timmie, the reigning, defending LOLMDS Champ, looked pretty strong last Thursday and Friday in Barberville, coming home 2nd both nights. It would have been interesting to see what transpired during a 50 lapper, as McCreadie was coming on strong at the end of Friday's race. Beyond that, McCreadie has one win at GIS in 2020 and had finishes of 5th, 10th, and 4th in 2022. Between the strong start to 2023, the solid results in 2022, and the fact that McCreadie has some room to produce plus-value, I think we would be wise to give strong consideration to including Timmie in our lineups this weekend.
Brandon Overton $21,500 (5): Big Sexy hasn't yet run a race this year, so there isn't much to talk about in regards to his current form. However, Ol' Gal's favorite late model driver did close out the final two nights of the 2022 Super Bowl in Victory Lane. Overton also closed out 2022 with a Dub and a 2nd at the Southern Showcase and a 2nd and 6th at All-Tech with XR. The man is closer, so we know he gets coffee. Overall, I think the upside is certainly in play for Overton given his salary slot. Paired with his success at this track, I'm keeping Overton in mind throughout the weekend.
Ricky Thornton Jr. $21,000 (10): RTJ is a steal at this salary slot. Coming off a pair of Top-5's at Volusia, it is almost ridiculous that Ricky can be had for only the 10th-highest salary. Also, despite a 5th and 3rd place finish last week, Thornton delivered plus-value in both starts and is averaging +2 positions on the season. I see no reason for him not to continue to add to both of those numbers this weekend. Especially so, if RTJ remains outside the Top-5 in salary slot.
Kyle Bronson $20,500 (12): If there were a #FantasyDirt power ranking, and there very likely will be such a thing, the Killer would be your #2 ranked driver heading into the Super Bowl (you're going to need to keep reading to find the would-be #1). In two starts at Volusia, Bronson delivered +13 and +5 performances, for a stellar average value of +9! Oh, remember how I mentioned Bronson owns/promotes GIS. That seems relevant, doesn't it? Like he might have some kind of home-field advantage? Maybe not, but its hard to ignore him either way when he's entering tonight at the 12th salary slot.
Dennis Erb Jr. $20,200 (14): The One Man Band did not kick off his title defense in stellar fashion last week. Delivering an average value of -5.5 between the two starts. I almost left Derbo off the list, but it's hard to ignore his average finish position (AFP) of 10.8, per Dirtrackr, across 5 features at GIS. That alone represents +2.2 value when considering Erb sits in the 14th salary slot. I'm not pounding the table for this one, but we should be cognizant of the opportunity for plus-value.
Garret Alberson $20,100 (15): Alberson heads to Golden Isles coming off a fairly successful WWS where he finished 9th, 9th, 7th, 3rd, 5th and 5th across six races. Pretty solid results right? It gets better! Alberson delivered plus-value 5 times in those six races! Moreover, Alberson is sporting a solid +1.333 average value. I'd probably include Alberson in this list if he was sitting at the 7th salary slot. Instead, he's sitting at 15th and only $100 over average salary. It's a good deal. Barring something crazy, I think Alberson is a lineup lock tonight and possibly the entire 3 days at GIS. I will caution however, that in 3 features at GIS, Alberson does have a disappointing AFP of 20.333. We can't completely ignore this, but I'm inclined to excuse it a bit as it came at the very beginning of his LOLMDS rookie season.
Max Blair $20,000 (16): Mad Max had a solid start to the season with 11th and 13th place finishes at the Sunshine Nationals. Blair delivered plus-value both nights and currently enters the Super Bowl with an average value of +1.5. For a driver sitting at the 16th salary slot and sporting an average-salary, that's pretty enticing. It is probably unlikely we get crazy plus-value here, but even if we get only his average we'd be doing pretty well for ourselves.
Tyler Erb $19,800 (17): Terbo got off to a terrible start to the 2023 season. Personally, it was a bummer to watch after seeing Tyler achieve that incredibly emotional and gratifying Gateway Dirt Nationals triumph. Nonetheless, in six starts at the WWS Terbo delivered 5 negative-value starts and comes into GIS with a rough -6.333 average value. Yet, he's on the list. For good reasons. One, Terbo's 17th salary slot bakes in a lot of those poor performances, so our downside is limited by his salary being so low. Two, Erb has a pretty sporty 9.2857 AFP across seven features. Three, Erb is going to have a provisional in his back pocket so it's pretty likely he'll be in the feature one way or another. All in all, Terbo is someone I'll be very interested in this weekend. Especially at this reduced salary. It would not surprise me to see his salary jump significantly after just one Top-10 performance. Get in while you can!
Ryan Gustin $19,700 (18): The Reaper had a monster +13, 4th place finish last Thursday. That was followed up by his salary slot going from 17th to 8th on Friday. Despite that big jump, Gustin delivered a even-value 8th place finish. Yet, here he sits at the 18th salary slot. Yeah... We should be very interested!
Brian Shirley $18,900 (26): Remember those hypothetical #FantasyDirt power rankings? Well, here is your hypothetical #1 driver heading into the Super Bowl! That's right, its a Squirrel! Shirley, behind the wheel of a Team Zero car for the first time, just casually dropped a +25, 6th place finish on Thursday. Then he dropped another 6th place, +10 finish!!! Now we get another crack at that gigantic value from the 26th salary slot?? I'm subscribed!
Mark Whitener $18,800 (27): The Magic Man had an up and down two days at Volusia. Despite that, he still rocks a, albeit just barely, positive average-value of +.5. Whitener also has an AFP of 18.5 in six GIS starts. For a driver sitting in the 27th salary slot, that's a solid resume. There might still be a card up Whitener's sleeve this weekend.
Wil Herrington $18,500 (31): The last time we saw Herrington on the track, he succumbed to the curse of Ol' Gal. I don't have any fancy stats to support Herrington's inclusion. It's just a hunch that we're going to see a couple of Top-15 or better performances this weekend. Those results from the 31st salary slot would be a huge boon to any lineup.
Payton Freeman $18,400 (33): If you haven't noticed, I like nicknames! They're fun! Flatfoot Freeman is one I'm still working to embrace. I'll get there, I promise. It's just going to take me a minute. Freeman had flashes of brilliance in his opening weekend on the WoO tour. Whether it be passing 3 cars on a restart or charging forward eight spots in the opening night Feature, it was hard to miss Freeman when he was on the track. Freeman struggled early each night, yet managed to deliver an average value of +4 across two nights. Freeman won't have a provisional to fall back on should things go awry early, but I've got some good news! At worst, Freeman can deliver +2 value. Why is that? Well, we get 40 points for a Feature miss. That equates to a finish of 31st in the Feature. No downside but a whole mess of upside, I can dig it!
Mason Zeigler $18,300 (34): Zeigler has an AFP of 10th in 4 Feature starts. That's it. That's the whole reason we need to keep on eye on Zeigler. He's got massive upside, and that's how we win. Find the guys who can, and do, deliver massive value from way down the salary slots and pair them with the drivers who deliver even, or better, value at the top. Ain't no thang but a chicken wang.
Jordan Koehler $18,000 (37): Koehler impressed last Thursday, ripping off a stellar Qualifying lap, then locking into the Feature via his heat race. Unfortunately, his night ended early with mechanical issues. Things didn't go so well Friday, though. Koehler teamed up with Jimmy Owens this year, which leads me to believe we're going to see pretty steady improvement throughout the season. Maybe we see some of that improvement this weekend? If we do, the value here will be quite hefty.