Southerners lover their Late Models, and recently a group of radical-looking machines have burst onto the scene.
Over the past two years, fans along the Gulf Coast have seen an explosion in Outlaw Late Model competition and participation. The cars are closely related to super stock divisions at other tracks, with the obvious difference being the design of the body shell.
The class allows for racers to experience the speed and competition of Late Model racing, but without the pressures or budget that comes along with a regional touring Super or Pro Late Model series.
Donald Crocker, a longtime Gulf Coast racing regular and former SLM/PLM driver, feels the new division allows for more participation from drivers from around the country because of the relatively low cost.
“With Pro or Super Late Models, if you don’t have a million-dollar budget, it’s hard to show up and compete with them,” said Crocker. “You can take that same car, put regular eight-inch tires on it and be competitive with us. If you struggle running every week with Pro Late Models, you can come run with us, and have fun straight away.”
Outlaw cars are uber popular in the Upper Midwest states of Ohio and Michigan for years, but template cars have long been the preferred Late Model in the Deep South and along the Gulf Coast.
However, led by Five Flags Speedway’s Tim Bryant, three southern raceways in three separate states have come together in an attempt to bring the rulebook closer inline and hopefully grow the division.
Montgomery Motor Speedway in Alabama, Crisp Motorsports Park in Georgia and Bryant’s Five Flags Speedway in Florida have served as a launching pad for the still-growing division.
“We work with local tracks to try and get our rules to where our guys can go other places,” Bryant said. “This division has been a breath of fresh air. We are seeing guys that used to be Late Model racers coming back to the track now. That’s what this division was put in place for.”
For some drivers, the division gives them a chance to get their foot in the door and attempt to climb the racing ladder. While for others, it serves as the perfect spot to ply their craft in the waning years of their career.
Wayne Niedecken, Jr. has been a staple of racing on the Gulf Coast for more than 40 years, and feels the Outlaw division allows him to relive some of his favorite racing memories.
“It’s old school racing, like back in the 90’s,” said Niedecken. “It’s more affordable, and a downforce driven class. To me, it’s more enjoyable. You take all the templates away, and go back to three simple measurements. It’s just simple racing again.”
Saturday marks the first time the division will compete on Saturday of Derby weekend.
Adjusting the schedule, and moving Outlaws to Saturday, was a decision made by Bryant and his staff for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the largest was just the sheer number of entries expected.
More than 40 cars went through technical inspection Saturday morning. In fact, so many cars showed for the event a last chance race had to be scheduled to trim the field. It was the only support division to need an LCQ
Crocker spoke on behalf of the entire field when asked about being placed on the Saturday card with the Snowflake 100.
“It is a big deal for us,” said Crocker. “We have had good car counts throughout the year, and I’m glad we get to run on Saturday. It means a lot for us to be by ourselves and to put on a good show for everyone.”
Niedecken has seen racing evolve quite a bit throughout his career, and sees the Outlaw class only adding to the evolution and prestige of Snowball Derby. He and the other 30-plus teams entered know they are part of something bigger than winning a race.
They are a part of introducing a new racing division to a new region of the United States. Their place in racing history is yet to be written.
Winning a race at the Derby can propel themselves and the division forward for years.
“A win at the Snowball is always great,” said Niedecken. “It’s the premier event in the country, and my dad won the first and third event. It means a lot to me personally. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I’m just happy to be a part of it, and hopefully we can continue to do so for a long time.”
-Story by Ryan McCollough, Speed51 Gulf Coast Correspondent – Twitter: @RyanLMcCollough
-Photo credit: Speed51