Phoenix, AZ — SOMETHING TO BUILD ON: Call it a glimpse into a promising future for DIRTcar Late Model and Modified racing on the West Coast.
Last weekend’s Barnett Harley Davidson Nationals at the famed Manzanita Speedway provided a grand stage for the stars of the Southwest DIRTcar Late Model Series, Western Allstars DIRTcar Late Model Series and Barnett Harley DIRTcar Modified Series to battle other standout drivers from the western states and beyond – the type of talent-filled shootout that can help elevate the region’s Late Model and Modified competition.
“Our goal is to build the Barnett Harley Davidson Nationals and other events like it into true showcases for DIRTcar Racing on the West Coast,” said DIRTcar Racing Western Region director Chris Morgan. “We’re committed to bringing more structure and excitement to the West Coast Late Model and Modified series now under the DIRTcar Racing banner and, in turn, giving the teams and fans some very special events to look forward to each season.”
The two-day Barnett Harley Davidson Nationals, which featured the $6,000-to-win Late Model Western World Championship and a $5,000-to-win DIRTcar Modified finale, drew participants from a wide swath of countryside. Especially diverse was the DIRTcar Late Model field, which numbered 32 drivers from eight states and one Canadian province.
Interestingly, the locale with the most Late Model representatives was California (11), followed by Arizona (10), Colorado (four), Oregon (two) and Arkansas , Manitoba ( Canada ), Missouri , North Carolina and South Dakota (one from each). The DIRTcar Modified turnout, meanwhile, was more Arizona-centric, with 25 of the 37 drivers who entered hailing from the Grand Canyon State ; other areas represented included New Mexico (10), California (one) and Minnesota (one).
Morgan announced during the drivers’ meeting prior to Saturday night’s action that 2009 schedules for the SWDLMS, Western Allstars and Barnett Harley DIRTcar Modified Touring Series are currently being formulated and should be released in the near future. He also noted that several major DIRTcar Racing-sanctioned events following Manzanita’s Barnett Harley Davidson Nationals template are being discussed for ’09, with at least a couple “high profile” tracks showing interest in hosting a similar program.
FUN TRIP: The biggest name in Manzy’s dirt Late Model field, of course, was Hall of Famer Billy Moyer of Batesville , Ark. , who visited the Phoenix half-mile oval for what he believed to be the third time in his 32-year racing career.
The 51-year-old Moyer gave the Southwest’s fans a demonstration of his legendary ability by sweeping the weekend with victories in Friday night’s 25-lap preliminary feature and Saturday night’s 40-lap headliner, but he asserted that running the track was a true challenge.
“It’s kind of hard to figure out,” said Moyer. “The grading (of the surface) is kind of different, and there’s no one, nice groove that you can be comfortable running. You have to drive it every inch of the way. It’s off-camber this way and that way – it just keeps you on your toes. It’s fun to drive – and heck, it’s fast.”
Moyer’s $7,500 weekend was a nice highlight of what was actually a two-week vacation from the grind of operating his race team. Manzy’s show came in the middle of Moyer’s visit to the Glamis Sand Dunes, a well-known recreation area in Southern California near the borders of Arizona and Mexico that Moyer annually visits with friends to do some off-roading behind the wheel of his dune-buggy.
“I love that stuff out there,” Moyer said of Glamis. “It’s 3,300 acres of sand dunes and just a bunch of wild men and people out there having fun. I’ve told everybody who helps me about the place and they all want to come out and see what it’s about. Some of my sponsors have cars and are coming out to have some fun with us after we’re done here (racing at Manzy).”
Moyer was certainly looking forward to returning to Glamis after his Manzanita sweep because his first few days at the dunes didn’t go according to plan.
“I got a new (dune-buggy) and knocked the clutch out of it, and the generator went out in my motorhome,” said Moyer. “So I was fixing stuff more than playing so far. I gotta get back there to have some fun.”
DELIVERY MAN: Moyer’s familiar Banner Valley Hauling-sponsored Victory Circle car was transported to Manzanita by Jesse Stovall of Galena , Mo. , an up-and-coming dirt Late Model racer who had no second thoughts about buckling Moyer’s machine into his trailer for a 20-hour-plus tow west.
Stovall, 28, has become one of Moyer’s understudies in his first full season driving a Victory Circle dirt Late Model for Lake Ozark , Mo. ’s Paul McKenna, so the chance to spend a weekend soaking up all of Moyer’s knowledge was too attractive to resist.
“Billy has been such a big help to me,” said Stovall, who registered finishes of fourth in Friday’s preliminary and fifth in Saturday’s 40-lapper (after spinning out of the lead on lap eight). “Anytime you can work with a guy like Billy, it’s going to make you a better driver.”
IMPRESSIVE OUTING: Bobby Hogge IV showed why he’s become arguably the biggest dirt Late Model star from the state of California .
Making his first-ever appearance at Manzanita, the 32-year-old from Salinas , Calif. , drove his Victory Circle No. 2 to a solid third-place finish in Saturday night’s A-Main. He ran second behind Moyer for much of the distance before losing the spot to Kelly Boen of Henderson , Colo. , while negotiating lapped traffic on lap 36.
“I’m really proud of our team for running as well as we did,” said Hogge, who led the Western Allstars DIRTcar Late Model Series in feature wins this season. “This was just an awesome weekend for us. To me, racing here was more intense than running Eldora (the famed track in Ohio where he has attempted to qualify for the World 100) because it’s not as banked.
“At Eldora, you can go in there (the corners) and the track will hold you because of the bank. To drive in right-front first at this place, at the speeds we’re going, is a challenge. You have to really be up on the wheel.”
Hogge pulled double-duty at Manzy, bringing along a one-race-old JDK Motorsports GRT car for the DIRTcar Modified action. Painted identically to his Late Model, the open-wheel machine was plenty fast but didn’t last. He finished 21st in Friday’s 20-lap A-Main after dropping out and failed to qualify for Saturday’s headliner after fuel-pressure problems knocked him out of the C-Main.
EDUCATION CONTINUES: Merced , Calif. ’s Chris Shannon might be 41 years old and the 2008 Western Allstars DIRTcar Late Model Series champion, but Manzanita’s weekend closed out just his second season as a dirt Late Model regular.
A former pavement competitor on the NASCAR Southwest Tour in the early- to mid-‘90s, Shannon is still getting a grasp on the vagaries of dirt Late Model racing. He proved he’s more than capable of stepping up his performance against top-notch competition with respectable finishes of eighth (Friday) and sixth (Saturday), but he makes it clear that he has plenty to learn.
“These guys drive it off in there a lot deeper than I do,” Shannon said after racing door-to-door with the frontrunners in Saturday’s A-Main. “I’m still learning what I need to do to go fast. I know we have the equipment, but I just need more laps.
“I would’ve liked to run in the top five, but this was still a successful weekend for us. I’m happy.”
Shannon, who boasted Victory Circle ’s Chris Sivesind as his crew chief for the Nationals, now turns his attention to a 2009 season that he hopes to kick off with a cross-country trip. He’s penciled in his first career competitive visit to Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville , Fla. , for the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH scheduled for Feb. 9-14.
TOUGH TEAM: Kelly Boen credited his pair of second-place finishes in the Nationals DIRTcar Late Model features to the man who was his teammate for the weekend.
The 44-year-old Boen fielded a second car for veteran Randle Chupp of Troutman, N.C., who drove Boen’s machine (renumbered with Chupp’s customary 114) to finishes of third (Friday) and fourth (Saturday). Chupp arrived at Manzanita hot off a victory in the previous week’s Blue-Gray 100 at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney , S.C.
“Me and Randle have been friends for a long time even though we don’t get to see each other that much,” said Boen, who fell short of defending his 2007 victory in the Late Model Western World Championship. “After he won that Blue-Gray race I called him to congratulate him and see if he had some ideas I was working on to come out here. Before you know it, he said, ‘I’ll just get a plane ticket and fly out there to help you.’ Then that turned into me saying, ‘Well, I’ve got another car, so why don’t you just drive it?’
“Randle is such a wonderful guy and he helped us out so much this weekend. We wouldn’t have run as well as we did if it wasn’t for him.”
LONG-DISTANCE TRAVELER: No Nationals entrant drove their hauler farther to reach Manzanita than Canadian Mike Balcaen, whose trip from Winnipeg , Manitoba , to Phoenix lasted roughly 36 hours.
Of course, Balcaen also needed a little extra time to get his race car transporter ready for the tow. With freezing rain falling on his day of departure, he had to use a blowtorch to thaw the frozen plug-in lines to his trailer.
The sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s that prevailed all weekend in Phoenix were a welcome relief for Balcaen, who in recent years has taken to entering the January dirt Late Model events held at tracks in Arizona . In fact, his plan was to park his hauler at his friend Karl Tipton’s shop in Gilbert , Ariz. , after the weekend’s races, fly home, and then return in January to race again in any ‘Wild West Shootout’ shows that might be scheduled.
A 43-year-old whose 2008 Northern Late Model Racing Association (NLRA) championship marked the 32nd points title of his 25-year career, Balcaen expects to make his early-2009 starts in Arizona serve as the final chapter of his life as a regular dirt Late Model racer. He is planning to sell his inventory of racing equipment and retire from driving – though he is leaving the door open to keeping one car and an open motor to run selected events.
Balcaen wasn’t able to score his first career feature win in Arizona last weekend, but he put together a pair of strong runs. He finished fifth in Friday’s preliminary after leading laps 1-2 and placed eighth on Saturday night after pitting during a lap-17 caution period.
BAD LUCK RETURNS: Lonnie Parker Jr. of El Mirage , Ariz. , thought his history of frustration at Manzanita had ended when he finally registered his first career win at the half-mile on Sept. 13 in a SWDLMS event.
Unfortunately, Lady Luck reared her ugly head again on the 32-year-old talent, who rolled to his fifth consecutive SWDLMS title in 2008. He struggled to an 11th-place finish in Friday’s preliminary, and on Saturday night he watched the A-Main from the pit area after his car was heavily damaged in a heat-race accident.
The tangle was a clear sign of Parker’s tough luck at Manzanita. He was cruising along in second place with two laps remaining when the slower car driven by Kevin Nichols of Bakersfield , Calif. , spun between turns three and four, leaving Parker nowhere to go but hard into the side of Nichols’s machine.
Parker did have a rooting interest in Saturday’s feature in the person of Phoenix ’s Anthony Madrid, the DIRTcar Modified standout who spent the weekend driving the Parker team car normally steered by Parker’s father Lonnie Sr. Madrid finished 11th in the Late Model Western World Championship after registering a third-place finish in the DIRTcar Modified A-Main run earlier in the night.
QUIET ARIZONANS: Only one driver from Arizona was able to nab a top-10 finish in the Late Model action – 2008 SWDLMS Rookie of the Year Joey Moriarty of Phoenix, who placed 10th in Saturday’s 40-lapper.
With Arizona Late Model standard-bearer Parker snakebit all weekend, none of his compatriots were able to step up and block the out-of-staters from taking home the big money.
One of the well-known locals who experienced nothing but heartache was Mark Fowler, a resident of Phoenix who finished second to Parker in the 2008 SWDLMS points standings. Fowler failed to qualify on Friday night because the spline ripped out of his car’s rearend, and on Saturday – after his crew replaced the car’s rearend at Fowler’s nearby shop – he was involved in a lap-17 tangle and finished 18th.
BRIGHT FUTURE: Teenager Johnny Scott of Las Cruces , N.M. , certainly stamped himself as a DIRTcar Modified driver to watch with his sweep of the division’s program.
An 18-year-old who began driving a Street Stock at the age of 11 and a DIRTcar Modified two years later, Scott beat Madrid – the third-ranked driver on Manzanita’s overall alltime win list – twice. He held off Madrid to win Friday’s preliminary feature and passed Madrid for the lead en route to capturing Saturday’s $5,000-to-win finale.
Scott graduated from high school earlier this year and has concentrated on racing since then. He will begin taking classes at New Mexico State University in January.
Additional info on all of the series, sanctioning and member tracks of DIRTcar Racing is available at www.DIRTcar.com.