WHEATLAND, Mo. – Following a season in which he captured pro late model track titles on the asphalt at both Lebanon I-44 Speedway and Bolivar Speedway, Brennon Willard knew it was time for a change.
The 36-year-old now finds himself behind the wheel of a dirt super late model for the first time, contending for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors with the Lucas Oil MLRA.
Willard piloted a dirt B-Mod for a short stint nearly 10 years ago, before returning to his asphalt roots and the confines of Lebanon I-44, which his family owns and operates.
He expects the upcoming season to present its share of challenges, but is looking forward to traveling with the MLRA and being able to focus solely on his racing program.
“After last season I decided I was tired of not getting to go racing and have fun, so I traded Mike Marlar my asphalt late model for one of his dirt late models,” said Willard. “Being able to go race and have fun and not having to worry about running the race track side of things, like worrying if the line-ups are right or if the hot dogs are right at the concession stand, is the most gratifying thing about the transition.”
In the weeks leading up to the start of the 2020 season, Willard made yet another move by trading his newly acquired Longhorn Chassis for a Barry Wright Race Car.
The move to the BWRC matches him to the same chassis make used by his father in the 80’s and to that of his longtime friend and MLRA regular, Tony Jackson Jr.
“Our set-ups are basically the same, and our crew guys go back and forth, so it’s just nice being able to share knowledge,” Willard said of Jackson. “When we raced asphalt together we liked very similar race car set-ups, so I think on dirt it will be the same way eventually once I get it figured out.”
As Willard continues down the MLRA trail, he expressed how critical seat time will be to his progression towards the top.
“With asphalt you practice for hours, but with dirt you only get a lap and a half. We’re going to tracks I have never been to before, and only getting a lap and a half of practice and then having to go right out and qualify,” Willard pointed out. “That part is very tough.”
After getting acclimated to the strong caliber of competition in the series opening weekend, Willard now has his sights set on a more familiar venue, as the MLRA rolls into Lucas Oil Speedway Wednesday night.
“I’m looking forward to Wheatland. We’ve at least gotten to practice there, so I’ve probably got about 60 laps around that place,” Willard noted. “It’s going to be the first track all year that I have actually been to and driven on.”
With 16 events remaining on the MLRA schedule, the driver of the Hudson Feed and Grain No. 3w acknowledged the battle for the Sunoco Race Fuels Rookie award will be uphill, yet a challenge he is looking forward to trying to conquer.
“I know how tough it is, and it seems like this year’s field of cars in the MLRA may be the toughest it has been in recent years, so it isn’t going to be easy,” he said. “I feel like the only way to learn and get better is to go race against the best and obviously we are doing that right now. I raced some of the biggest races on asphalt and got my butt kicked because I wanted to know where I stood. We may not be very good right now, but I’m going to get better every time on the race track.
“You have to rise up to the people around you, so that’s what I’m going to make myself do.”