3Wide, a three-person roundtable discussion debating the hottest topics in short track racing, makes its debut on Speed51.com powered by JEGS this week. Speed51.com’s Matt Kentfield, Brandon Paul and Rob Blount sit down at the virtual roundtable to debate the biggest topics coming out of Florida Speedweeks. Keep in mind, the opinions stated are solely the opinions of the staff member making them and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts of Speed51.com and its parent company, 51 Sports, LLC.
To kick off the first ever edition of 3Wide on Speed51.com, we’re going to keep the first question simple. What was the most surprising moment of Florida Speedweeks?
Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor: For me it was probably Ty Majeski’s dominance throughout all of the World Series at New Smyrna. We’ve known for a while now how strong Majeski is, but there were some strong fields at New Smyrna every single night. There were also some big time wrecks that destroyed a lot of race cars. To finish in the top two in eight straight races was really impressive. On top of that, Majeski admits to not being a great time-trialer. Granted, he won the pole for last year’s Snowball Derby (and set the track record), but time-trialing is something that isn’t done frequently where he normally races up in Wisconsin. But there he was, qualifying near the top of the field and that was definitely one of the keys to his success. Am I surprised he was strong? Not at all. But I am surprised at how dominant that 91 car was.
Matt “Duke” Kentfield, Speed51.com Executive Director: I don’t know if Majeski can really do much on the Super Late Model scene that can surprise me at this point, so I’ll switch it up. My biggest surprise was just how much of a gaffe was made during the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season opener at New Smyrna. The race was held on Valentine’s Day, but I’m sure there wasn’t a whole lot of love in the air among teams who had their cars torn up on an extra lap that technically never existed. I know race control can be a hectic place during a race, especially at the end, but how a “delay in the appropriate flags being displayed to the field,” as NASCAR stated happened in their post-race statement, can happen really confused and surprised me among a group of officials that, in my presence at least, has been pretty on top of their game in the past.
Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor: Throwing the wrong flags in the closing laps of a race is certainly a shocker, but I’m going to go back to the Super Late Model division for my biggest surprise. As the defending World Series champion, I expected to see more out of Zane Smith at New Smyrna in 2016. He had the speed to win throughout the week, but couldn’t seem to find the luck they needed when it mattered most. Whether it was struggling to get to the front after an invert or suffering a flat tire, the No. 77 Super Late Model couldn’t find victory lane and that was a big surprise.
Blount: The K&N deal to me was just weird. Just when you think you’ve seen it all in the world of big time auto racing, something else happens. But Brandon, Zane Smith’s troubles is exactly why Ty Majeski’s dominance was so surprising to me. Smith, as you said, was the defending World Series SLM champion, but this year it seemed like nothing could go right for them. The odds of a driver finishing no worse than second in eight nights of racing on a tough race track against such formidable competition are just so low.
Kentfield: I agree that Smith’s performance wasn’t what we thought it should’ve been, but perhaps we’re holding him to a pretty high standard at this point. He held his own this year, qualifying and running up front. He won the championship last year, but that was a big-time overachievement considering he only had a handful of starts to his credit before he went to Speedweeks.
Paul: Duke mentioned it previously, but I think it’s worth mentioning again that we shouldn’t be surprised with anything Ty Majeski does at this point. He’s now a Florida Governor’s Cup winner, two-time ARCA Midwest Tour champion, Snowball Derby polesitter and a driver who has dominated the Midwest Super Late Model scene in recent years. As far as the standards set for Smith, I think everyone including Smith himself had higher expectations going into this year’s edition of the World Series. In just one full year of racing Super Late Models he’s proven himself at big events such as SpeedFest and the Snowball Derby.
We’re talking a lot about Ty Majeski and rightfully so. He won three races including the Bruce Gowland Memorial 100 on his way to winning the overall championship at New Smyrna. With other drivers moving up to the higher levels of NASCAR, has Majeski established himself as the best full-time Super Late Model driver in the country?
Kentfield: To call him the best, I think he’s still a big win or two away from that title. Going down to New Smyrna to win the Governor’s Cup was big last year and certainly his Speedweeks success put him almost to the pinnacle, but I’d like to see him win maybe one more of the elite races in the country before I could put him over a guy like Bubba Pollard. And by elite races, I mean one outside of his home Wisconsin area. I’m talking about the Winchesters, Winter/Summer Showdowns, Berlins, Nashvilles, Oxfords and Five Flags of the world.
Paul: I’m not ready to call him the best at this point of his career, but I certainly think he’s the most deserving of a shot at the next level. In recent years, he and his team have put a focus on competing outside of the Midwest and they’re starting to find success doing that. Setting fast time against the best of the best in Super Late Model racing at the Snowball Derby and finishing third is no easy task. A win in one of the premier national Super Late Model events would make it a lot easier to call him “the best.”
Blount: I have to agree with Duke and Brandon on this one. I don’t think he’s the best driver in the Super Late Model ranks. Yet. He’s certainly right there in the discussion, though. He probably could have won the Snowball Derby last year if he had a true pit crew changing the tires on his car. But the fact remains that a Winchester win, or a Derby win, or a win in any of the really big races still are absent from his resume. However, he’s certainly a driver that you’ll have to go through if you want to win any of those races.
The biggest field of Tour-Type Modifieds for a single race at New Smyrna Speedway during the World Series was 14 cars. Some people may believe the easy solution is to offer more money to teams, but if that’s the case why didn’t teams support the inaugural event at Bronson Speedway? That race paid $2,000-to-win along with four Hoosier tires, Sunoco race fuel and a guaranteed fifth-place starting spot in the Richie Evans Memorial and drew five cars.
What needs to be done to get more teams to make the trip to Florida in February?
Paul: This is really a tough question to answer because it’s hard to get a read on these Tour-Type Modified teams. They don’t want to make the trip to Florida because of the expenses involved, but yet when those expenses are limited to just one week of racing they still don’t show up. I’m sure that a significant increase in the purse would lure a few teams to the Sunshine State, but I’m not sure that’s the only answer. More money, more racing in a shorter period of time and beer. Maybe that would be the solution that gets 20-plus cars to New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
Blount: I don’t think more money is the solution here. These Tour-Type Modified teams have shown in recent years that they just don’t want to travel outside of their region for exhibition races. The North-South Shootout returned to Concord Speedway (NC) for $10,000 to win. Big pay and a track that everyone wanted to race at, but the field was still lower than expected.
But these teams will follow their tour. You want a full field of ground-pounders at New Smyrna? Open the week with a 150-lap NASCAR Whelen Modified/NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour combo race. Make that race the first event of each tour’s season, and the teams will show up because they’ll want those points as they race for the championship. Hopefully that race at the start of the week (make it a NWMT/K&N East combo on Sunday night) will keep most of the teams around for the rest of the week. Y ou want the MSIII team with Doug Coby there? You want the Flamingo Motorsports team there? You want the Myers brothers and George Brunnhoelzl and Andy Seuss there? That’s how you’re going to get them there.
Kentfield: It’s just a different time in Modified racing, unfortunately. These guys are forking out cash hand over fist on the latest and greatest tricks of the week to bolt onto their racecars to give them the upper hand, so there’s just no budget left for the driver and crew to take a week off work to race in February. Back in the days when everyone built mostly their own stuff in their own shops and it was driver-versus-driver, more cars showed up to the track. Back then, it was a wider cost-versus-reward ratio. Now, guys are spending far more money just to race and tracks/series can’t raise their purses to keep up. Unfortunately, this is a microcosm of what’s happening in Modified racing across the board. There are some Modified tours who would’ve loved 14 cars in their field last year. As a Modified guy, it pains me to say this, but I would not be shocked to see Modified racing limited even more, if not eliminated completely, in the future at New Smyrna. It’s really a shame, but Modified racers either won’t or aren’t able to be in full support of the folks who put on their races, so I wouldn’t expect tracks like New Smyrna to continue to support them back.
Blount: Hopefully that will be a worst-case scenario that we won’t have to see become a reality. The Modifieds have been a staple of the World Series for a really long time. The biggest names in Modified racing have done battle at the beach for so long, and it would be a shame to see that come to an end. I truly believe that teams will come if there are points on the line, and they’ll stick afterwards because they’re already there. Hopefully the powers that be will be willing to try a combo race before they decide to pull the plug on the Modifieds at New Smyrna all together.
Paul: A combo NWMT/NWSMT race would certainly draw the bigger names and teams, but it’s hard to say that the lower budget teams like the Catalano family and other family teams like the Zacharias’ would still show. It’s a great idea on paper, but I still have a hard time believing it would be the step that turns the event around. Even when teams were already in the area for the Battle at the Beach at Daytona, less than 20 cars entered the races at New Smyrna.
Kentfield: The problem with doing the Tour race, like you suggested Rob, is that I’m not sure how many of those guys would stick around after the Tour race to run the whole World Series. Sure the back gate would be nice for that one night of Tour racing with more cars and people entering the pits, but the track needs that extra money to pay the higher Tour purse too, so it’s not as enticing to the track unless there was a guarantee all those cars would continue to race even on non-Tour nights.
Blount: You both could absolutely be right. I’d be lying if I said it was a guaranteed way to get these teams to go, and especially if I said it would guarantee they’d stay. But I do believe that these teams will travel for a points race, and will stick around for at least a couple of nights because they’re already there. A couple of days after the 2014 UNOH Battle at the Beach at Daytona you had 18 cars start at New Smyrna, including Coby. If we had 18 cars start this year we’d all be talking about the car count in a positive way. I know the teams would travel for a points race. I don’t know if they’d stay the rest of the week, but it would be worth a shot before putting the kibosh on Modifieds at New Smyrna as a whole.
Despite driving for a brand new team that was built from the ground up, defending Super DIRTcar Series champion Matt Sheppard picked up right where he left off by winning the Big-Block Modified championship at Volusia. Did his performance at Volusia prove that he is still the driver to beat, or will there be a new sheriff in town for the Super DIRTcar Series in 2016?
Kentfield: A good driver can make a team look good in any form of racing. A good team can’t always make the driver look good. “Super Matt” Sheppard had been with a great team, Heinke-Baldwin Racing, before moving to his own team this year, but he didn’t miss a step. I think that’s only the start to a big season for him. He’s won the Super DIRTcar Series championship four times. You don’t get that stat based solely on the company you keep. You’ve got to get the job done behind the wheel, and nobody has been better at that than Sheppard lately.
Paul: “Super Matt” certainly flexed his muscles at Volusia, but I believe there will be a new sheriff in town for the Super DIRTcar Series. Stewart Friesen told Speed51.com that he will be competing full-time on the series in 2016 and I have no reason to believe the four-time Syracuse 200 winner won’t be a threat to win the championship. To become a champion you need to be consistent and that’s exactly what Friesen was during the DIRTcar Nationals. He didn’t finish outside of the top six in any of the four races at Volusia and wrapped up the week with a second-place finish.
In 2015, Friesen visited victory lane five times in 21 SDS races and finished ninth in the standings despite missing four races. With his focus now on a full-time Super DIRTcar Series campaign, I believe he’ll have what it takes to dethrone Sheppard.
Blount: I wouldn’t necessarily call him a “new sheriff,” but more like the old sheriff returning to his post. I think Brett Hearn will be back atop the totem pole at the end of this year’s Super DIRTcar Series season, as long as he continues to have runs like he had on Saturday night. He came from 21st to win in a 50-lap race. He wasn’t too shabby the other nights either, finishing in the top 10 in three of the four Super DIRTcar Series races at Volusia. The eight-time champion will be right back where he belongs at the end of this year, and that’s atop the heap.
Josh Richards scored a whopping seven wins in 15 races during Speedweeks including two wins during the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia. Nick Hoffman picked up six wins during Florida Speedweeks, as well as the “Big Gator” championship for the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds at the DIRTcar Nationals. Ty Majeski scored three wins in seven starts, as well as the Super Late Model championship at New Smyrna.
Out of those three drivers, which impressed you most during Florida Speedweeks?
Blount: I was so impressed by Nick Hoffman’s performance during Speedweeks, and he’s actually my pick for Driver of the Month. He was a head-turner at Golden Isles Speedway in Georgia the week before Speedweeks officially began, and he rode that momentum all the way through Volusia. Six wins during Speedweeks in Florida and the DIRTcar Nationals championship at Volusia. It seemed like every morning I woke up to the news that Nick Hoffman won another race and did another backflip in victory lane.
Paul: While what Hoffman did is impressive, what Richards accomplished was even more impressive. Everybody knew he would be good, but nobody expected him to win seven of 15 races. Competing against a field of over 50 drivers at Volusia — including last year’s Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion Jonathan Davenport, defending World of Outlaws Late Model series champion Shane Clanton and the legend Scott Bloomquist — Richards dominated. His drive from the 14th starting spot to pass Davenport on Friday night at Volusia was the most thrilling moment of Speedweeks and capped off an amazing stretch for him.
Kentfield: I don’t discredit a single thing that Richards did. In the terms of pure success, I’ll agree that the scale tips to Richards and maybe even Majeski. But both of those drivers only continued national success they already had. Richards is a multiple-time WoO champ and Majeski already had won a race at New Smyrna, plus some ARCA Midwest Tour championships, so neither of their successes, in my opinion at least, were what Hoffman’s was. Hoffman was a local standout around the Carolinas. He had never really tackled and toppled the best of the best in the Dirt Modified realm until this Speedweeks. His success caught everyone by surprise and it’s awesome to see a guy that had done so much on a regional basis beat the best of the best on a national stage like Hoffman did.
-Speed51.com Staff Story. Photo credit: Speed51.com