CONCORD, N.C. – The battle for the 2013 World of Outlaws Late Model Series Rookie of the Year Award between Eric Wells and Morgan Bagley is about to crank up a notch.
With the next swing of action – a stretch highlighted by the $20,000-to-win Prairie Dirt Classic on July 26-27 at Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway and the $50,000-to-win USA Nationals on Aug. 1-3 at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis. – the national tour will pass the 30-race mark for the season. That means Wells and Bagley will begin replacing their worst finishes, intensifying a rookie chase that is shaping up as the most intriguing in series history.
Wells, 24, of Hazard, Ky., and Bagley, a 27-year-old open-wheel Modified transplant from Longview, Texas, are as evenly-matched a rookie pair as the WoO LMS has ever seen. The advantage in dirt Late Model experience belongs to Wells, who has exclusively raced in the division since he was 16 years old, but both drivers possess rock-solid teams staffed by savvy fulltime crewmen and have shown the ability to contend against the country’s top full-fender talent.
And the two up-and-coming racers have become friends, adding another element to a Rookie of the Year honor that will be determined using each driver’s 30 best finishes.
“Last year I ventured out a little and I saw Eric on the road and we talked a little bit,” said Bagley, who is in his third full season driving Rocket dirt Late Models owned by fellow Texan Wayman McMillan. “But of course, the more you travel together and see each other, you become closer. We get along great and I think a lot of him. He’s a good driver and it’s just fun to compete against somebody who you can race good with.
“When we get together we’re comfortable racing with each other. We ain’t gotta worry about wiping each other out, and that’s gonna be cool as we race for this rookie deal.”
“We’ve gotten to know each other pretty good this year,” added Wells, who campaigns Team Zero by Bloomquist machines fielded by his father David. “We trust each other on the track, which means a lot because if we finish the rest of the year like the last couple weeks have gone, things will definitely be close. It seems like we’re side-by-side (racing for position) just about every race.”
Through 29 A-Mains, Wells has the advantage on Bagley, sitting seventh in the WoO LMS points standings – one spot and 66 points better than Bagley. Both drivers have started every A-Main and recorded 13 top-10 finishes, but Wells owns one win (his career-first Outlaw score came on April 28 at Duck River Raceway Park in Wheel, Tenn.) and seven top-fives while Bagley has just a single top-five run to his credit (career-best third-place finish on June 25 at New York’s Canandaigua Motorsports Park). Wells also leads Bagley in fast-times (2-0), heat wins (4-2), B-Main victories (4-1) and earnings ($62,535 to $46,780).
Wells comes to the WoO LMS with three seasons of national touring with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series under his belt – a definite advantage over Bagley, who estimated that he began the 2013 schedule having competed in less than two-dozen dirt Late Model events that used time-trial qualifying. But as Wells admits, his racing education is far from complete.
“I’m still learning,” said Wells, who entered this season with six career dirt Late Model feature wins – the richest worth $5,000 – divided among three Kentucky tracks. “I’m traveling with a different bunch of guys and racing shorter races than I got used to running with Lucas (which had more 100-lap events). Plus there’s an open tire rule (for most WoO LMS shows), so it’s a whole new learning curve for me.”
Wells has shown plenty of speed on this year’s World of Outlaws trail, including a head-turning performance in February at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., a third-place finish in a Firecracker 100 preliminary A-Main at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa., and back-to-back top-fives during last week’s Wild West Tour. He’s also lumbered through his share of rough rookie nights.