The Speed51 Short Track Draft compares the top up-and-coming talent in all disciplines of short track racing. Traditionally, the draft has been dominated by asphalt racers with a clearer path to NASCAR due to already having past experience on the hardtop. However, we’ve seen an influx of top dirt talent make it to the top levels of NASCAR in recent years.
Names like Christopher Bell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Austin Dillon, and Kyle Larson have made it to the NASCAR Cup Series from the dirt ranks in the last decade. Other drivers like Chase Briscoe and Stewart Friesen continue to impress in the NASCAR Xfinity and Truck Series, with both drivers having multiple wins in their respective divisions. NASCAR has seen star power come from the dirt world in a wave that hasn’t been since the 90’s, when future NASCAR champions Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart found themselves in the NASCAR ranks.
So we asked ourselves, “Are Dirt Drivers Good Candidates for the Short Track Draft?”
Let’s take a look at what Christopher Bell did before ever making the jump to the NASCAR Truck Series full-time in 2016. He won the USAC National Midget title and 2013 and was runner-up the next year. He won 26 races in 2014, among those his Super Late Model debut at Orange County Speedway with PASS South. He then won the Rattler 250 in dominating fashion, helping him become the only dirt driver to ever be selected number one in the Short Track Draft in 2015.
Bell scored another 17 wins in 2015, scoring them in POWRi, USAC, World of Outlaws, NASCAR, CARS, and the ARCA/CRA Super Series. In four CARS Super Late Model tour starts that year, he won three of them and finished second in the other race. He ended the year by crossing the finish line first in the Snowball Derby that year before getting the win stripped away in post-race tech. Bell would go on to the Truck Series full-time in 2016.
In that same draft, Rico Abreu was selected fifth overall after winning 16 races between Sprint Cars and Midgets and beating Bell for the USAC National Midget championship. Among his victories in the 2015 season included his first of two consecutive Chili Bowls, an ARCA Menards Series East win at the now-defunct Columbus Motor Speedway, and 14 other wins on the dirt. He would win another Chili Bowl and compete full-time in the NASCAR Truck Series in 2016 before returning to his dirt roots.
New Smyrna has been a playground for dirt stars to get asphalt experience before a potential move to the asphalt world. Kyle Larson won the Pete Orr Memorial with a last-lap pass of Ben Kennedy in 2012 in what was his Super Late Model debut. He also won the opening night of the World Series of Asphalt that year before finishing fourth in the final Super Late Model points standings.
For the 2020 Speed51 Short Track Draft, all signs lead to Bobby Pierce carrying the dirt flag once again. The Late Model star has been a top five pick for three straight years, including the second overall pick in last year’s draft. Over the years, the “Smooth Operator” has won marquee dirt Late Model races such as the World 100, Show-Me 100, North-South 100, Pittsburgher 100, Jackson 100, and the Gateway Dirt Nationals (twice). After another 18 wins in 2019, Pierce is one of the favorites to be crowned the number one overall draft pick.
One intriguing driver for this year’s draft is Tyler Courtney. “Sunshine” has championships in the USAC National Sprint Cars and Midgets in the last two years, while being the only driver to win in all three USAC National Series’ one year ago. What makes this pick intriguing, though, is the opportunity to go professional in other motorsports forms. His team, Clauson-Marshall Racing, has fielded a ride for Chris Windom in the Indy Lights Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway the last two years, and even made an Indianapolis 500 run one year ago with Pippa Mann. With Windom having moved on to Tucker-Boat Motorsports for the 2020 season, could we see a Freedom 100 opportunity go to Courtney?
Another driver in the traditional open wheel ranks that can make some noise is Logan Seavey, who was the number five overall pick in last year’s draft. The 2018 USAC National Midget champion earned 19 wins in 2019, including twelve in the POWRi National Midget League and first career wins in both the USAC National Sprint Cars and in a 410 Winged Sprint.
Gio Scelzi has been highly-touted in the Sprint Car world in recent years, having become the youngest winner in World of Outlaws history with a win at Williams Grove Speedway in 2018. He’s already proved himself on asphalt with wins at Irwindale Speedway and New Smyrna Speedway, and is competing full-time in the ARCA Menards Series West in the Bill McAnally Racing No.16 that has seen massive success in recent years.
Late Model standouts Tyler Erb and Hudson O’Neal have inserted themselves as drivers to beat on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series in recent years. “Terbo” was second in the series with six wins one year ago in the Best Performance Motorsports No.1 entry, while “The New Deal” scored the biggest win of his career when he won the Jackson 100 at his home track, Brownstown Speedway last September.
In the Big-Block Modified world, Anthony Perrego has been making waves in the local scene while starting 2020 with strong runs at the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park. Perrego has won several track titles in the Northeast in recent years, as well as scoring six wins with the Short Track Super Series.
It has been proven time and time again that dirt drivers can make for good draft prospects. The same can be said with this year’s top prospects. However, there is one thing that can set back every name that has been mentioned for this year’s draft: lack of fendered asphalt racing experience.
As with all of today’s NASCAR talents that crossed over from the dirt world, they had to garner some asphalt success to some degree of success. Bobby Pierce has the most asphalt experience of the group mentioned. Pierce has NASCAR Truck Series starts at Martinsville, Phoenix, Kansas, Dover, and Charlotte, with Late Model appearances at Hickory, Memphis, New Smyrna, and Slinger. However, his last asphalt start came in 2016 in a Truck Series race at Charlotte.
Seavey has made four asphalt Super Late Model starts in the last two years, with his highlight being setting a new track record at South Boston Speedway during a PASS South race. Seavey is no longer part of Toyota Racing Development, meaning we may not see him make another asphalt start in the foreseeable future.
While Pierce and Seavey have some sort of asphalt experience under their belts, the same can’t be said for Courtney or Perrego. Courtney’s lone asphalt start came in a USAC Silver Crown race at Lucas Oil Raceway in 2017, while Perrego has yet to make a major start on pavement.
While yes, dirt drivers do make good Short Track Draft prospects, dirt drivers do need at least some experience on pavement if they are to make it to the next level.
More information about the 2020 Short Track Draft on Speed51 will be announced soon. The official ballot of over 350 eligible short track drivers can be viewed by clicking here.
-By Koty Geyer, Speed51.com National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: Speed51