Can Sheppard repeat? Or will Marlar hang on for first Series title?
CONCORD, NC – The World of Outlaws World Finals presented by Can-Am will kick off this week at The Dirt Track at Charlotte, determining the champions for the three premier dirt racing series in the country: the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car and Late Model Series and the Super DIRTcar Series Big-Block Modifieds.
More than $250,000 in prizes will be presented at the Dirt Track at Charlotte this weekend for the World of Outlaws World Finals presented by Can-Am, but an additional $1.3 million hangs on the line as Saturday marks the season finale, when drivers and teams of the three elite dirt short track racing series, representing three countries and 19 different states, will be honored.
Nine-time defending Champion Donny Schatz, from Fargo, ND, has already clinched the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series title following a stellar season with Tony Stewart Racing. He will collect $150,000 to claim his tenth championship, for a season in excess of $700,000.
The outcome of the other two series is still to be determined, although Mike Marlar, in his first full-time season with the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series, holds a 20-point edge over Chris Madden, while keeping defending Series Champion Brandon Sheppard at bay by 40 points in his quest for the $100,000 title; and defending Super DIRTcar Series Champion Matt Sheppard has a strong 42-point lead over Erick Rudolph for the $40,000 Big-Block Modified title.
Rudolph Ready to Keep the Pressure on Sheppard
An impressive blend of speed and consistency has been the key to Matt Sheppard’s continued position atop the points table. The six-time Super DIRTcar Series Champion from Waterloo, NY is tied with Stewart Friesen for the most wins this year (five) and remained at the top of the point standings throughout the season. While falling short of his previous two years’ 12-win totals, Sheppard has recorded 10 podiums, including a streak of three in a row.
Rudolph, 26, from Ransomville, NY, has two wins to his name this season, putting him second in points during his first full-time season with the Series, up from 22nd last year. The second-generation racer (father and crew chief Charlie Rudolph ran the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 1987 and ’88 and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in the early ‘90s) has had an unprecedented season in his family-owned No. 25 Big-Block Modified, showing himself to be the most consistent driver on the tour with 15 Top-Five finishes and 19 Top-10s (of 22 starts).
The point permutations are plentiful heading into the final weekend of the 28-race season (including four nights at DIRTcar Nationals), although realistically, only a pair of wins – as well as a few hiccups on Sheppard’s part – will give Rudolph a decent shot at pipping Sheppard to the crown. If he is able to achieve that goal, Sheppard will require at least a ninth and a 10-place finish (or any combination totaling more than 130 points) to keep the title out of Rudolph’s grasp. That said, Sheppard capped off last year’s championship with a second place finish and a win at Charlotte last year, so chances are slim.
Last year’s World Finals also saw Mat Williamson in Victory Lane on night one — with a loaner motor no less. Although he has no Super DIRTcar Series wins to his credit this year, Williamson is coming off one of the biggest wins of his career, at Brockville in his DIRTcar 358 Modified, so the 28-year-old St. Catherine’s, Ontario native will be bringing a lot of momentum into Charlotte.
Four-time Super DIRTcar Series Champion Danny Johnson’s hopes of winning the championship after three impressive wins this year have unfortunately expired, but the Doctor retains high hopes of finishing his season on a high note and keeping his third-place spot over Jimmy Phelps.
Fortunately for the above contenders, Super DIRTcar Series regular Stewart Friesen — with five wins in 13 starts this season — will not be a threat at World Finals. The Canadian hot shoe will be wearing his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series hat that weekend at Texas Motor Speedway for the JAG Metals 350.
Keep your eyes on young gun Jack Lehner, who captured an impressive Last Chance Showdown win at NAPA Super DIRT Week XLVII and will make his World Finals debut.
The Super DIRTcar Series Big-Block Modifieds will kick off the racing action with non-timed Hot Laps at 4:45 p.m. on Thursday, November 1, followed by timed Hot Laps to determine Heat lineups. Heats for both Friday and Saturday will run on Thursday after 6 p.m. opening ceremonies. Friday and Saturday will commence with Last Chance Showdowns at 5:00 p.m. and end with the Features in all divisions.
Marlar on the Brink of the Bull’s Eye
A sequence of misfortunes for defending Series Champion Brandon Sheppard has left Winfield, TN’s Mike Marlar in prime position to clinch the title in his maiden World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series voyage.
Despite his 12 wins to Marlar’s five this season, the 25-year-old New Berlin, IL native sits in third place behind Chris Madden, who has eight wins. This is where consistency and luck are key — and where Sheppard’s strategic-aggressive driving style, which has placed him at the top of the Series earnings this season with $269,155 (still substantially less than last year), may have hurt him in the championship. Two blown engines and several poorly-timed flats have left “The Rocket Shepp” 40 points back, but his determination could see him through yet. A couple of trips to Victory Lane during the World of Outlaws World Finals presented by Can-Am could give him a much-needed boost, but Marlar would still need to fall short of 10th, which he’s only done four times this season.
That said, both Sheppard and Madden have a history of success at The Dirt Track at Charlotte, with two wins apiece.
In his World of Outlaws full-season debut last year, Madden finished second in points behind Sheppard in the title chase. This season, after swapping the points lead with Marlar several times, “Smoky” sits in second again by a mere 22 points. A tipping of the scales is a bit more realistic for him than for Sheppard, though still no easy task. The Gray Court, SC native needs to beat Marlar by an average of six positions in the two remaining races — two trips to Victory Lane, with Marlar out of the top five.
Devin Moran, 24, from Dresden, OH has put in a solid sophomore season for the Tye Twarog Racing/DMR team. He’s back in fourth place for the second year in a row, with two wins again on the season, but he’s managed to cut the points spread in half, and he’s gained some consistency with 22 Top-Five finishes over last year’s 14.
The battle for the final spot in the top five is also very much alive as former Series Champions Rick Eckert (2011) and Shane Clanton (2015) sit just 16 points apart with Eckert in the lead. Although it has been a disappointing season for both drivers, no wins for either of them, the former champs sit fourth and fifth in the all-time wins list — Clanton with 42 and Eckert with 37. Last year, Clanton finished third, with Eckert in fifth, but he’ll have his work cut out for him this weekend just to crack the top five.
But spare a thought for the popular Tyler Erb, 21, from New Waverly, TX, who has enjoyed an impressive third season in the family-owned No. 91 car. It has been a month since the last Series activity at Atomic Speedway on September 28 and 29, where “Terbo” scored his first-ever World of Outlaws win on Friday and followed that up with his second on Saturday. As if that weren’t enough, Erb also scored the Hard Charger award both nights, starting 17th on Friday and 13th on Saturday, then mounting two spirited comebacks for back-to-back wins. Sitting in sixth, 448 points behind the leader, Erb is no threat in the points chase, but will certainly be looking for that third (and fourth) Series win.
Of course, an abundance of other drivers will be making the trip to Charlotte to join the Outlaws this weekend. Here’s a few to keep an eye on.
Jonathan Davenport was recently crowned Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Champion, amassing seven wins on tour this year. “Superman” has six career victories in World of Outlaws competition, half of those coming at The Dirt Track (11/6/10, 11/4/11 and 11/7/15). Davenport also won a preliminary feature at Eldora in the Dirt Late Model Dream earlier this year, proving his talent at these wide-open racetracks. Expect him to ride this huge wave of success into Charlotte.
Speaking of waves, 2005 World of Outlaws Rookie of the Year and four-time Series Champion Josh Richards just scored a $100k victory two weekends ago at the Portsmouth Raceway Park. He was only able to muster three wins in Lucas Dirt competition this season, but his consistent finishes placed him runner-up in overall points. He’s also tied with Jimmy Owens for the most wins at The Dirt Track in World of Outlaws competition (6) since 2007. If history is any indication of his chances this weekend, Richards should be a threat to win on both nights of the World Finals.
Jimmy Owens will also be in town this weekend, looking for his seventh Outlaw win at The Dirt track. His last Outlaw victory came earlier this year at the Volunteer Speedway after a tense battle with Chris Madden in the closing circuits. “The O-Show” also bagged an Outlaw win three weeks earlier in the First in Flight 100 at the Fayetteville Motor Speedway. He finished fifth in Lucas Dirt points this year and also broke the bank at Knoxville last month with a win in the Late Model Nationals. He’s dominant; ‘nuff said.
World Finals Late Model competitors will have an opportunity to learn the track during Hot Laps at 5 p.m. on Thursday, November 1 before time trials later that night. Friday and Saturday will feature heats and last chance showdowns before each evening’s 50-lap feature.
Who Can Challenge Schatz?
Donny Schatz has enjoyed a remarkable season for Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing. The 41-year-old from Fargo, ND needs merely to take the green flag for one of the two races that will comprise this weekend’s World of Outlaws World Finals presented by Can-Am in order to clinch his tenth championship, thanks to scoring 20+ wins for the sixth consecutive season. With only two races remaining, he cannot quite reach the record tally of 46 wins in a single season achieved by Steve Kinser in 1987 — or even best his own single-season record of 31 wins in 2015, but he already topped last year’s wins (20) at the Tuscarora 50 on Sunday, and can add to that with a win on either night of the World Finals.
Schatz, though, will have no shortage of challengers. Prime among them will be the pair of Kasey Kahne Racing drivers, 32-year-old Brad Sweet, from Grass Valley, California, and 40-year-old Daryn Pittman, of Owasso, Oklahoma, each with an impressive nine wins on the season. While this may pale in comparison to Schatz’s current 20, let’s not forget that Pittman won the 2013 Series Championship with eight wins to Schatz’s 23.
Sitting 278 points behind Schatz, Sweet sits second in the point standings for the second year in a row but captured Sprint Car Racing’s biggest prize back in August at Knoxville and will look to take another victory in prime time this weekend in Charlotte.
With five wins apiece, 26-year-old David Gravel and 25-year-old Sheldon Haudenschild, from Wooster, OH, will also reach for the checkered flag at Charlotte. Gravel currently sits third in the point standings, too far from Sweet to challenge him for second, and not quite far enough from Pittman (24 points) to remain unchallenged. After a stellar season last year, with 18 wins (to Schatz’s 20), the Watertown, CT native was surely hoping to up the ante, but having taken the checkers at last year’s finale, he’ll at least look for a repeat finish.
Meanwhile, Haudenschild, who started the season on a high note, scoring his first-ever win during the very first race of the season at DIRTcar Nationals and quickly following that up with another win during the FVP Outlaw Showdown at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, has five wins on the season and sits seventh in points.
Additionally, Pennsylvania Outlaws Logan Schuchart and Brent Marks have combined for five wins this season, and Shane Stewart would love nothing more to end his tenure at Kyle Larson Racing with a victory.
Additional contenders include Missouri’s Brian Brown, who has seven Knoxville Raceway wins to his credit this season, Pennsylvania’s Tim Shaffer, who has scored some huge unsanctioned wins this season, and Texan Aaron Reutzel, who just wrapped up the All-Star Circuit of Champions title. Veterans Joey Saldana, aboard the Jason Johnson Racing No.41, Paul McMahan and Dave Blaney will be on hand to try and fend off the younger generation led by Cory Eliason, Dominic Scelzi, Carson Macedo, Brock Zearfoss and Parker Price-Miller.
Much interest also will be centered on young guns Giovanni Scelzi and Freddie Rahmer, both whom will be making their World Finals debuts. 16-year-old Scelzi has taken the Sprint Car world by storm this season and is coming off his first career World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series triumph at Williams Grove Speedway during National Open weekend.
22-year-old Freddie Rahmer, who scored his first career Outlaw win earlier this season at Lincoln Speedway, works a full-time job, preventing him from venturing out of Pennsylvania often, but will make his Dirt Track at Charlotte and World Finals debut later this week. Rahmer became the second youngest track champion in Williams Grove Speedway history last year.
The full field of drivers in the World of Outlaws World Finals presented by Can-Am will gain their first taste of the 4/10-mile oval on Thursday, November 1, with Hot Laps at 5 p.m. before Qualifying Time Trials later that night. Friday and Saturday will feature Heats, C- and D-Mains as necessary, the Craftsman Sears Dash and Last Chance Showdowns before each evening’s 30-lap Feature.
The World of Outlaws World Finals presented by Can-Am will air on the CBS Sports Network Sunday, November 25 and December 2, 16 and 23 at 7 p.m.