FLETCHER: Looking To Speedweeks Past To Forecast The Future


EAST LEROY, Mich. — I made a not-so-well-taken comment to someone the other day that went something like, “I give more of a damn about old things than I ever will for anything new.”

For the moment, I can’t even remember exactly what the conversation was about, but I’m mostly sure of my feeling about it. The point was simply not to forget what came before, to remember how we got to a certain place in life regarding something that’s important to us. It’s just the way I think.

Sort of like climbing a ladder, I guess. You can’t get to the top rung without all or most of the other ones.

Being that it’s winter and race tracks are mostly silent, I’ve been reviewing news items, press releases and past racing results from the dirt late-model world trying to find story ideas.

It isn’t any fun. It’s much easier to produce copy based on firsthand experiences.

With Georgia-Florida Speedweeks for the full-fendered dirt cars right around the corner, part of my focus has been in that direction. I enjoy looking at old race results, anyway.

During those efforts I’ve been reminded that over the past 10 years, three drivers have shone during the annual late-winter southern swing: Scott Bloomquist, Billy Moyer and Don O’Neal.

I don’t know the actual number of Speedweeks races held in the past decade, but it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 140. The aforementioned three drivers have won approximately one-third of those events.

Not sure why, but that means more to me than whoever wins this year’s slate of 16 races. Hell, I don’t even know if it makes any sense.

Moyer said in October he wasn’t going South this year, but he’s said that before. Bloomquist and O’Neal likely will race a partial schedule. Any of the three will be a threat to win again.

Speedweeks races are important, drivers say, simply because the time spent down south can set the tone for the year. Win and you have momentum; lose or perform poorly and you’ve got time to figure out why before the regular season takes off.

Last year, Bloomquist, O’Neal and Earl Pearson, Jr. all won Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series events at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla., to begin their respective championship title hunts on a high note.

Bloomquist eventually won the championship, O’Neal and Pearson finished third and fourth.

Josh Richards and Darrell Lanigan did the same in World of Outlaws Late Model Series events at Barberville’s Volusia Speedway Park on the other Florida coast. They both won races and fought until the final event in November for the series title.

Richards, who is racking up Speedweeks victories every season, won the title by four points.

To me, Speedweeks is about surprise and diversity. In the past decade, there have been more than 40 different race winners. Some of them you’ve maybe never heard of.

I hope it’s that way this year.

With gas prices, for reasons apparently known only to a select few, rising again, car counts might suffer. They did last year.

There’s been many a driver say they just can’t afford to travel and compete because the costs often outweigh the rewards.

Speedweeks also can take its toll on cars, equipment, drivers and crews. The entire schedule is practically three weeks long at completely different venues, possibly made even more difficult this year due to the addition of single-night stands in Screven, Ga., and Ocala, Fla.

Drivers must adapt to the transition from track to track. With weather and other variables, mainly track conditions, that transition issue could even be felt on a nightly basis.

But in past years, drivers have simply explained that the whole thing is a learning experience that eventually makes them better at their chosen craft.

I suppose they view Speedweeks as just another rung on their ladder. Do well and remember what came before, and you might just make it to the top.

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