MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Kyle Strickler has been a busy individual lately when it comes to his dirt late model career.
Since he signed on with the Craig Sims-operated PCC Motorsports team last November, he has run 19 races and visited victory lane twice in that three-month span.
Strickler revealed in January that his 2021 campaign would consist of a full-time run on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series tour.
However, after two wins at Volusia Speedway Park with the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series and an underwhelming performance during the Lucas Oil portion of Speedweeks, it was announced that Strickler would switch sides and join the Outlaws’ roster for the full season.
The move, however, was not as simple for Strickler and his team as it appeared on the surface.
“The move was not as easy as a lot of people think it would be,” Strickler noted. “We still enjoy running the Lucas series and we plan to run as many (races) as possible; it is just the way the circumstances fell.”
Strickler may be sitting with a gap of more than 70 points to the next highest World of Outlaws driver in Ricky Weiss, but he is still not quite ready to lock himself down just yet.
“We are going to run both tours until there is a conflict, and then we will make a decision within our team to figure out what is best,” Strickler noted. “It sure seems stupid to not continue to follow the World of Outlaws when we get to that point, but we’ll make the decision then.”
The first conflict between the two series comes on April 9-10, when the World of Outlaws Late Model Series is at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway while the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series has a doubleheader weekend at 411 Motor Speedway and Talladega Short Track.
Even with Strickler’s plans still slightly up in the air, his goals and outlook on the season remain the same.
“I’m excited to run good and excited to win, and I want to do that in whatever series there is,” Strickler said. “I like the fact there is two national series; it gives us more outlets to race and perform and I am treated well by both tours. It is not one series versus the other or that I am more of a Lucas guy or a World of Outlaws guy … right now it is solely performance based.”
Having a good performance weighs heavily on the PCC Motorsports team at the moment. After the East Bay Raceway Park portion of Speedweeks, Strickler and company were searching for answers.
“The parts and pieces were not right as it is so easy to struggle in late model racing. You kind of get thrown to the wolves with trying different cars and combinations,” Strickler noted. “When you try and throw Bilstein shocks on a Rocket Chassis and a Chevrolet Cornett engine, we just didn’t have the right setup for it. I’m not saying it would not work, but we were trying everything to turn it around, only to get the same terrible result.”
The answer eventually came in stride, as the team switched chassis brands from Rocket to the Longhorn Chassis that Strickler has been familiar with since his early ventures into late models from open-wheel modified racing.
“It was time to make a change and go back to what we knew, and once we moved things around it came back like a light switch. Everything immediately came right back to us,” said Strickler.
Once Strickler got back in the Longhorn car, he found instant success by winning once again with the World of Outlaws at Volusia Speedway Park during the DIRTcar Nationals.
He said the chassis familiarity was a big part of what got him back going.
“The Longhorn is all I really know and have had success with. I was so Longhorn heavy when I was coming up through the avenue that I did,” Strickler explained. “I have just trained myself to drive them and know what to feel for.”
With more than a year of late model experience under his belt now, Strickler now believes he is closer to that breakout performance level that he had in open-wheel modifieds.
“I don’t know if I am at that level one-hundred percent yet, but we are surely getting closer. It was a progression throughout last year that by the end of last year we were a contender every night and was a car to beat,” he said. “I am still not where I am in the modified world from a perception or competitor view, but we are definitely working toward the right direction.”
Strickler will be competing in the Drydene Xtreme DIRTcar Series events at Lake View Motor Speedway and Cherokee Speedway on Feb. 19-20.
He has won on some of the biggest stages, but is still looking for that elusive “hometown” victory. It has become a running gag of sorts throughout the team.
“We kid around about that all the time. We seem to perform well when we are on the road and travel, but still have not got the big wins and good runs around the house we want,” Strickler admitted. “I am familiar with Lake View and Cherokee in the modified so hopefully we can go get one with the late model.”
Strickler currently sits 17 points behind points leader Chris Madden with three races left in the winter mini-series. With the title hanging the in balance, Strickler hopes to capitalize on this opportunity to prove his maturity as a late model driver.
“I get joked with a lot that I am a ‘balls to the wall’ or a ‘checkers or wreckers’ type of guy who only goes for wins, but I feel like I have matured as a driver and have been able to run these races a lot smarter,” said Strickler. “Winning the points title could bring validation to myself, the team, and the prove the naysayers wrong.”