(EDITOR’S NOTE: 51’s X-Factor is a feature on Speed51.com that features opinions from columnists on racing’s hottest topics. Elgin Traylor, the author of this editorial, is a Southeast correspondent for Speed51.com. The views which are expressed in the following column are his own and not necessarily the views of Speed51.com and/or its partners.)
I look around the Super Late Model world and I see change. I see change and I see a new group of heroes emerging.
No, this is not a political debate; just a showing of the times. New faces are rolling into Victory Lane at an alarming rate while some of the accomplished veterans are striking out.
Let’s rewind the tape a bit to back my theory.
At the end of the 2015 season we saw Erik Jones win the Winchester 400 for a third time. He said in Victory Lane that this may be it for him for a while in Late Model racing. Perhaps he won’t return to Winchester? At this time his intentions are not known.
This past December, we saw the changing of the guard with Chase Elliott winning the Snowball Derby in the tech line. That moment was the changing factor in major Super Late Model races, or so it would seem since. Elliott is now a driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. We don’t expect to see him around the short tracks, much like Jones.
We kicked off the 2016 season with Cole Anderson winning the Red-Eye 100. The race is not a major event, but it has the honor as the first Super Late Model race of the year. Anderson’s win helped to set the tone for new faces in new places in 2016.
Later that month Bubba Pollard finally got the monkey off his back and won at SpeedFest in the Super Late Model event. The win served as his first win at any SpeedFest event. He’s not a new face per se, but we’d never seen him in SpeedFest victory lane before.
New faces continued at the Rattler 250 as out of region driver Ty Majeski picked up his second major win in the south. First it was the Governor’s Cup at New Smyrna Speedway in November, and then it was the historic Rattler 250 at South Alabama Speedway. Some can say they saw that one coming, but he beat a deep and talented field for his first win in the state of Alabama.
Super Late Model racing then saw a rash of new winners during the first half of the 2016 season.
In the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) ranks it was Garrett Hall, Mike Hopkins, Joe Squeglia Jr., Wayne Helliwell, Jr. and Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. recording their first wins in the north. In the southern part of the country, Matt Craig and Chris Dilbeck became first-time PASS South winners.
Cole Anderson picked up his first career Southern Super Series win and shortly after scored win number two. Meanwhile, Canadian transplant Raphael Lessard leads the CARS Tour Super Late Model points after picking up his first career win earlier in the year.
In June, it was Tyler Riddle topping a stellar field and winning the Summer Showdown at Evergreen Speedway (WA). The race drew cars from all around the region and North Carolina driver Preston Peltier was almost a shoe-in to win until the late stages.
Erik Jones snuck one in on us at the Battle at Berlin 251, but he was racing for his dad that weekend and sometimes in those situations you can’t be beat when you have emotion on your side.
Jones was involved in another battle at the Slinger Nationals, coming up just short of the victory after being beat by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth.
Recently, we have seen Dalton Armstrong win the Redbud 300, Jeremy Doss the Montana 200 and Dennis Prunty the Dixieland 250.
The simple fact is that we are in the middle of change. Just as our county gets ready to select a new Commander in Chief, we are looking for new heroes in the Super Late Model world. This season will go down as one of the strangest in history as we look back in a few years to see all the drivers who won a big show for the first time.
Later on this year we will fire off the marquee events and here is a brief thought on what I think will happen.
The Oxford 250 at the end of August is wide open. Picking a winner in this race is almost impossible every year, but especially difficult this time around. You have the draw, the competition is so close and the pit stops can turn a good day into a bad one. I believe we will witness another first-time Oxford 250 winner, but I don’t know who. There are so many drivers capable of winning the race that it makes it tough to choose.
Moving further down the 2016 schedule, look for Donnie Wilson to win the All-American 400 as it returns to the Super Late Model ranks. Wilson dominated the North/South Super Late Model Challenge at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville (TN) earlier this year, and I’d expect him to be strong at the 400 in October.
Another 400, the Winchester 400 at Winchester Speedway (IN), will go to Cody Coughlin for his first major SLM win. Coughlin has been strong all year long in the ARCA/CRA Super Series and he finished second to Erik Jones in last year’s 400.
Up north in Wisconsin, Ty Majeski will get the OktoberFest victory he’s been looking for and he might even get the Trickle 99 to record the sweep.
In Florida, the Governor’s Cup will go to local driver and first-time winner Brad May.
When we all assemble for the Snowball Derby in December another first-time winner will raise the Tom Dawson trophy, but we are not sure just yet who that new hero will be.
-By Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com