The biggest dirt Late Model bash in the State of Florida is ready to kick off the season with the fifth annual DIRTcar Sunshine Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park, Jan. 18-20.
The World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series headlines the event for the fourth year-in-a-row, running three standard-format programs over the three-day stretch and competing for grand prizes of $10,000 on Thursday, $12,000 on Friday and $15,000 on Saturday to open the 2024 season.
The DIRTcar Pro / Crate Racin’ USA (CRUSA) 604 Late Model division and the local 602 Late Model division will each follow a separate format, focusing on the accrual of points over a series of Qualifying Features on Thursday and Friday which are lined up by Hot Lap/Qualifying times on each night. Those points totals will lock the top-20 drivers into the Championship Feature on Saturday and take an additional number of drivers in from the Last Chance Showdowns.
Saturday concludes with a 30-lap, $10,000-to-win, Feature for the Pro/604 Late Models and a 20-lap, $3,000-to-win 602 Late Model Feature. A DIRTcar Sunshine Nationals points championship trophy will then be awarded to the driver with the most Feature points accumulated in each division.
World of Outlaws CASE Late Models
HELLO, OPERATOR – Defending Series champion Bobby Pierce hoisted championship gold in November but has some work to do at Volusia in January. The multi-time national DIRTcar Late Model points champion from Oakwood, IL, posted finishes of 19th and 23rd at Sunshine Nationals last year and will be out to better those results this time around.
Pierce will be coming in with more momentum than any of his opponents after winning four-straight Features at Vado Speedway Park in New Mexico last week.
HORNS UP – Former DIRTcar Summer Nationals champion Brandon Sheppard has found his place back on the World of Outlaws trail in 2024, now part of the Longhorn Chassis Factory Team.
Sheppard, 30, of New Berlin, IL, has not won a Feature of any kind at Volusia since his last DIRTcar Nationals triumph in 2020, but has historically been solid at the half-mile oval with eight career Feature wins and is set to start this chase for a fifth World of Outlaws championship this weekend.
STOMPING GROUNDS – Few have won as many Features at Volusia as Nick Hoffman. The one-and-only seven-time DIRTcar Nationals Big Gator champion of the UMP Modified division returns to the track he’s dominated over the past decade in search of his first Late Model triumph.
Hoffman, the multi-time national DIRTcar points champion from Mooresville, NC is set to return to the World of Outlaws in 2024 in his sophomore campaign for Ohio car owner Tye Twarog, one year after collecting Germfree Rookie of the Year honors.
His last venture out to the half-mile ended in Victory Lane at the marquee UMP Modified event – the 10th annual Emil & Dale Reutimann Memorial – last November.
DIRTcar Pro / CRUSA 604 Late Models
POINTS LEADER – A new face to the 604 Late Model division at Sunshine Nationals, 21-year-old Will Roland comes into the event with a leg up on his Crate-engine competitors as victor of the 33rd annual Ice Bowl at Talladega Short Track two weeks ago.
Roland, of Jasper, GA, drove the Roland Tire, Capital/Vic Hill-powered #22 to the win from the pole and led every lap, bagging the $4,000 grand prize and taking the Crate Racin’ USA Winter Shootout Series points lead. He held off strong challenges from defending event winner Cory Hedgecock and Tyler Millwood among several other drivers he’ll compete against this weekend at Volusia.
FLORIDA’S FINEST – Standing as one of Florida’s best Late Model drivers, Mark Whitener had a career year in 2023, clinching both the CRUSA Dirt Late Model Series championship and the CRUSA $100,000 Challenge Series title.
Whitener, 43, of Middleburg, FL, has been solid at Volusia in the Crate ranks, winning a Sunshine Nationals preliminary Feature in 2022. Outside of the half-mile, he’s been a force as well, collecting six wins last year en route to the CRUSA touring series championship.
ONE BMF – Cory Hedgecock has established himself as one of the nation’s top Crate Late Model racers. A renown chassis and engine builder, Hedgecock has won several marquee Crate Late Model events across the Southeast, but never the Sunshine Nationals.
Hedgecock, the two-time CRUSA Dirt Late Model Series champion from Loudon, TN, finished eighth in the Saturday finale in 2020, followed by back-to-back third-place results in 2021 and 2022. Last year, he ran second again on both preliminary nights behind Kyle Bronson and Randy Weaver.
This weekend, he’s gunning for his first Sunshine Nationals win, piloting his newest creation as proprietor of BMF Race Cars – a rising brand of dirt Late Model chassis.
602 Late Models
JACK OF ALL DIVISIONS – David Showers Jr. has made early-season Late Model racing at Volusia a breeze. Three Sunshine Nationals Feature wins spread across two different divisions since the event’s inception in 2020 has put him second on the all-time wins list, and he’s coming for more this weekend.
Showers, 40, of St. Augustine, FL, won back-to-back Features in the Florida Late Model division in 2020, and last year found Victory Lane again in the 602 division. This weekend, he’s adding in another challenge, taking on both the 602 and Pro/604 divisions, effectively doubling his chances to score a fourth Sunshine Nationals Feature win and tie fellow Floridian Kyle Bronson for most event wins.
HOME TURF – Austin Leamon comes into Sunshine Nationals as defending track champion of the 602 Late Models, still on the hunt for his first Volusia Feature win.
Leamon, of Lithia, FL, clinched the 2023 track points championship on the back of four top-fives and top-10 finishes in all six starts he made. He ran fifth in Thursday night’s program last year and will now try to better that result against one of the deepest 602 Late Model fields he’ll see all season.