The 2017 Speed51.com Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes featured drivers from all disciplines of short track racing. Full fenders, open-wheeled, asphalt, dirt, all walks of life have been represented in this year’s edition. As we go through this year’s Short Track Draft results, we will be breaking down the top picks per discipline, starting off with the top 10 dirt racers.
Historically, Speed51.com has not been a true “dirt racing” news source, even though we are 100-percent short track racing. We have tried to become a home for Big Block Modified fans to get their news in the last year, and are striving to continue to grow our presence there, while we leave Dirt Late Model news for our friends at DirtonDirt.com and Sprint Car news for TheCushion.com. Because of that, sometimes there is a “pavement bias” against dirt within our panel of voters.
Drivers in the Dirt racing category qualified by competing in any of the following series: Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, Lucas Oil Off Road Series, World of Outlaw Craftsman Sprint Car Series, World of Outlaw Craftsman Late Model Series, USAC, Super DIRTcar Series, UMP Late Models and UMP Modifieds.
Keep in mind that not all dirt racers are eligible for the Short Track Draft. Drivers must be under the age of 25 as of April 1, 2017. Additionally, if they lose their rookie status in any of NASCAR’s top-three series by the end of the 2017 season, or if they run more than 10 races in one of NASCAR’s top three series, they are no longer eligible.
#1 Bobby Pierce – (4th pick) – UMP Late Models
A couple of years ago not too many people outside of the Dirt Late Model world knew of Bobby Pierce. Two solid runs in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Eldora Speedway (OH) changed that, but it’s his performances during the “Hell Tour” Summer Nationals that have made everybody jump on the “Smooth Operator” bandwagon. Pierce was the highest ranked dirt driver in the 2017 Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes, and was the one of only two dirt drivers to receive any first-place votes from our panel of experts with six.
#2 Nick Hoffman – (10th pick) – UMP Modifieds/Dirt Late Models
Hoffman has become a master of the UMP style of Dirt Modifieds. He’s dominated the DIRTcar Winter Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park (FL) the last two years, accumulating two “Big Gators.” Recently, Hoffman added Dirt Late Model winner to his resume, as well as Eldora Speedway winner, by taking the checkered flag at Eldora last month. Hoffman received one number-one pick from our panel.
#3 Brandon Sheppard – (15th pick) – World of Outlaws Late Models
Since moving into Josh Richards’ old ride, the Rocket Chassis house car, Sheppard has been on fire. Sheppard has scored Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series wins this year. Our voters have recognized B-Shepp’s skill level and voted him 15th overall this year.
#4 Max McLaughlin – (20th pick) – Super DIRTcar Series
“Little Magic” as McLaughlin has come to be known, has started to hit his stride in Big-Block Modified racing this year. He came out on fire by winning the pole at the 2015 World Finals at the Dirt Track at Charlotte (NC), but struggled in 2016. He quickly turned it around at Volusia in February, scoring two top-five finishes and coming up just shy for the championship. The son of “Magic Shoes” Mike McLaughlin has a future for sure, and our voters recognized that. McLaughlin may have been ranked 20th overall, but he received three top-five votes and six top-10 votes as well.
#5 Hailie Deegan – (24th pick) – Lucas Oil Off Road
The “Dirt Princess” isn’t your traditional dirt racer. She doesn’t run Late Models, Modifieds, Sprint Cars or Midgets. The daughter of Brian Deegan, X Games gold medalist and founder of the Metal Mulisha, instead races off road. The 16-year-old won the Mod Kart championship in 2016, and now is beginning to make her transition to asphalt racing. Deegan has the backing of Toyota Racing Development and will be making Late Model starts in California and on the east coast.
#6 Erick Rudolph – (26th pick) – Super DIRTcar Series
“The Fire-Starter” is also a non-traditional dirt racer. Granted, Rudolph races Big-Block Modifieds and Sportsman Modifieds, which are traditional disciplines of dirt racing, but much of his acclaim has come from his pavement racing. Rudolph is a top threat every year in indoor TQ-Midget racing. Recently, Rudolph scored his 100th feature win, a feat that every racer would love to accomplish.
#7 Tanner Thorson – (27th pick) – USAC Midgets
Tanner Thorson had himself one heck of a year in 2016. Thorson picked up the USAC National Midget championship driving for Keith Kunz Motorsports, as well as multiple victories in an Outlaw Kart at North Carolina’s Millbridge Speedway. Thorson also began his transition to pavement racing, which went pretty well. Thorson finished third in just his second start in a Super Late Model, which impressed many. Unfortunately for Thorson, all of that wasn’t enough for him to be voted higher in this year’s draft according to our voters.
#8 David Gravel – (28th pick) – World of Outlaws Sprint Cars
The Connecticut hot-shoe has been lighting the Sprint Car scene on fire so far in 2017. Gravel is already up to five victories in 2017, trailing only Donny Schatz. Although Gravel was picked just barely inside the top 30, Gravel was the highest ranked Sprint Car driver in this year’s Short Track Draft.
#9 Hudson O’Neal – (31st pick) – Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series
This is a pick that isn’t so much about accomplishments as it is about potential. Hudson O’Neal is going to be one of the next big names in Dirt Late Model racing. The son of Don O’Neal is already beginning to show just how much talent he has with 16 total wins to his name between Crate Late Models and Super Late Models.
#10 Larry Wight – (39th pick) – Super DIRTcar Series
“Lightning” Larry Wight is a Big-Block Modified driver by trade, but it was his performance in a Midget at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in January that really turned heads. Wight scored a podium finish in his preliminary night A-Main and had the whole dirt world talking about Big Block Modifieds. Wight has scored a bunch of Big Block wins at his home tracks in New York, but still has yet to become a dominant force with the Super DIRTcar Series.
-Featured Photo Credit: Lonnie Wheatley