Each year, short track racers throughout North America grab the attention of fans, media and those watching from the higher levels of motorsports. Before we turn the calendar to 2017, we give you a list of drivers to keep an eye on next season.
Keep in mind, this isn’t a list of the drivers we necessarily think will be the best next season. But for one reason or another, our staff believes these are the top 10 drivers to watch in 2018.
Carson Hocevar – For the second straight year, Hocevar makes the list after not disappointing in 2017. Hocevar is one of the youngest, most successful drivers competing in the Midwest. The 14-year-old (soon to be 15) is poised to improve on a strong 2017 campaign, in which he qualified for the JEGS / CRA All-Stars Tour championship race. The driver of the No. 14 was a rookie in 2017 and won three races.
Hocevar did face some challenges, including falling out of a chance at the JEGS / CRA All-Stars Tour championship due to a mechanical issue. He was able to bounce back and compete in the Snowflake 100, racing his way in via the LCQ and finishing 11th in a stacked Pro Late Model feature.
As he makes the jump up to Super Late Models and the ARCA/CRA Super Series, we expect Hocevar to contend for a championship in the Midwest and challenge for wins around the region if he and his team stretch their wings.
Chandler Smith – This young star is just waiting for his time to burst into the short track spotlight. He’s had strong runs at some of the nation’s prestigious Late Model races but has yet to break out with a signature victory. We have a hard time believing that he’ll be waiting another full year to do that.
With crew chief Ricky Turner guiding him along, we expect Smith to take the next step and put himself into the elite category of Late Model racers in 2018.
Chase Dowling – Everything that Dowling needs for a breakout year on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is now in place. He has a full-time ride with LFR in 2018, after a partial season in 2017 which included a pole and five top-five finishes in nine races.
Dowling spent much of 2017 going toe-to-toe every single week with top Modified drivers in the SK Modifieds at Stafford Motor Speedway where he won four times. He also tasted victory for the first time in a Tour Mod in the Modified Touring Series at Monadnock, twice in 2017.
Fans in the Northeast have been waiting for the next young Modified star to rise to the top. With the extra attention the Tour has gained, Dowling has a shot at becoming that driver in 2018.
Cole Butcher – The Kulwicki Driver Development Program driver first made his mark locally with the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour in the Maritime region, but since the conclusion of the 2016 season the Nova Scotia racer has begun turning the heads of Late Model fans throughout the United States.
After an impressive performance in 2016’s Allen Turner Snowflake 100, the 21-year-old has often been one of the faster drivers in practice and qualifying sessions for such high-level short track events as the Mason-Dixon MegaMeltdown and his inaugural Snowball Derby start in 2017.
While he may not have been in contention for the win at the end of both 300-lap distances, Butcher did demonstrate that he is capable of bringing the car to the checkered flag in one piece. If the combination of he and Oklahoma veteran Donnie Wilson’s wealth of knowledge continues, we may see a formidable force arise at some major Super Late Model events in 2018.
Not to mention, Butcher had the support of the Kulwicki Driver Development Program in 2017 and proved that he has the tools to contribute away from the race track as well.
Cole Williams – The plan for the Sellersburg, Indiana native is to focus more on the Super Late Model side than the Pro Late Model side in 2018. If he can find success in the Super in 2018 the way he did in his Pro in 2017, Williams will be the name everyone is mentioning heading into big race season at the end of the year.
Williams scored wins at the Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, the Masters of the Pros 144 at Lebanon I-44 Speedway in Missouri, and in the inaugural Short Track US Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway. If he can do similar next year, everyone will be talking about Cole Williams.
Hudson O’Neal – The 17-year-old is a chip off the ol’ block. His dad, Don, is a Dirt Late Model legend and the 2014 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champ. Two years ago, Hudson won 16 of 31 races in Crate Dirt Late Models. Last year, he captured the Rookie of the Year honors in the LOLMDS. He’s got plenty of pizazz both on track and off and it was noted quite a few times by his fellow competitors at the banquet that Hudson O’Neal will be a big winner in the national tour in 2018.
After ending the year with a preliminary win at the Gateway Dirt Nationals, O’Neal will be looking to take that next step and contend for wins during the 2018 season.
Kason & Kyle Plott – The south needs some new blood in the Super Late Model ranks. The Plott Brothers have the opportunity to become that new blood.
Kyle won last year’s Winter Meltdown at Greenville-Pickens Speedway (SC) in February and challenged for victories throughout the Southern Super Series season. Later in the season, younger brother Kason made his Super Late Model debut and turned heads with three top-10 finishes in five Southern Super Series starts.
Both brothers qualified for the 50th Annual Snowball Derby, with Kyle qualifying 16th and Kason timing in 27th fastest. They finished 18th and 21st, respectively, while proving they can compete against the best of the best in Super Late Model racing.
The Plott Brothers will look be the next big thing in Georgia not named Pollard. They will get their first opportunity to show their hand during CRA SpeedFest at Watermelon Capital Speedway (GA) in January.
Jeremy Doss – The Upper Lake, CA driver has had abundant success since his first foray into Super Late Model competition in 2011. Two Pacific Challenge Series (PCS) Championships (2012 and 2016) and two championship runner-up finishes in the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series (2013 and 2014) highlight his resume.
By the end of 2015, Doss had scored 16 PCS wins in 26 starts and four SRL wins in 20 starts. But by the 2016 season, the wins slowed with only three PCS wins in 15 starts, plus a Montana 200 victory at Montana Raceway Park. A winless 2017 finally ended in late August with a win in the Pro Late Model Division at Madera Speedway (CA). It was a stretch that was below expectations for the JD Motorsports group.
A new Senneker Performance chassis ended the slide, with Doss scoring three wins in the next five races. That stretch included a win in the SRL and a second-place run behind Derek Thorn in the $15,000-to-win Senator’s Cup race at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. His lone finish outside the top two was a Snowball Derby effort that saw him in the top five until a broken rear end late in the race spoiled the finish.
Doss will ride that momentum into his first full season with the SRL since 2014. He’ll be attempting to knock off the most successful Super Late Model driver on the West Coast, Derek Thorn, and gain the upper hand in a budding rivalry between the two standout drivers. It will be a battle that should require our close consideration.
Max McLaughlin – Similiar to pavement Modifieds, dirt Modified fans have been waiting for young talent to rise to the top. At the age of 17, McLaughlin has the opportunity to be that driver.
“Mad Max” has two years of Big-Block Modified racing under his belt, and now it’s time for him to breakthrough into victory lane on a more consistent basis.
In addition to his two Big-Block wins in 2017, McLaughlin experienced a handful of strong runs in the latter part of the year. After our Digital Manager Tom Ryan edited McLaughlin’s on-board camera from Super DIRT Week, he not only noticed that McLaughlin had a clean race but he was aggressive and was one of the first drivers to go to the high lane early in the race.
With a strong team in Heinke-Baldwin Racing behind him and more experience on his side, we anticipate that 2018 will be a breakout year for the son of “Magic Shoes” Mike McLaughlin.
Michael Ostdiek – The 2017 ARCA Midwest Tour Rookie of the Year and Kulwicki Driver Development Program runner-up will be a driver to keep an eye on in 2018.
With the KDDP colors on his No. 18 Super Late Model, Ostdiek drove to victory lane at Elko Speedway (MN) on three occasions in 2017. While running a quarter-midget driver development program of his own, the Iowa State student also turned in three top 10 finishes in the ultra-competitive ARCA Midwest Tour.
After sniffing success on and off the track in 2017, we expect to see Ostdiek make another leap in 2018.
-Text by Speed51.com Staff
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / MoJo Photos