ANTHEM, Ariz. – The recently-completed six-race series at Arizona Speedway, labeled the Wild West Shootout, had another successful year with very consistent car counts and large crowds.
Most importantly, unlike the prior two years, there were zero rain concerns.
The car count was just right for a three division event, with X mods and modifieds averaging 39 and super late models sitting at 42.
The format makes X mod and modified heats more entertaining, as their passing and finishing point plan moves the top 16 directly to the main, straight up by points.
Super late models qualify during hot laps and run straight-up heats, with heat winners going to a redraw. The occasional battle for the important heat win did take place, but in general the two lower classes had considerably more exciting heats.
It used to be passing and finishing points that set the lineups for the super lates also, but the format change was meant to fall more in line with what big shows in other parts of the country have utilized or adopted.
These are very efficiently run shows and only the second Saturday race, which included some extra activities, ran longer than usual. Drivers know they need to be in staging promptly when called and if late for signing in, then no passing points are given.
In the case of the super lates, it means only getting one qualifying lap. The rules are clear and are properly enforced.
One oddity of the event is the few Arizona entries, as less then a handful of the 103 cars on hand on the final show called the Grand Canyon State home.
Much of this is because Arizona is an IMCA state and the WWS runs different rules, and the in-state late models would generally not be competitive.
It was once explained that not having IMCA rules for the two modified divisions was partly to not have an overwhelming turnout. It all worked well, as Cocopah Speedway across the state raced the Winter Nationals both weekends for IMCA divisions and drew a very solid car count.
If one were to pick the best two main events, it would likely be the X mods. The division started the series with a three-wide race out of turn four to the checkers on opening day.
It was Brock Gronwold collecting the first of 18 main events over the six races by winning the race out of turn four.
Josh Cain won the second show from eighth on the grid and Zach Benson won the first night race on Wednesday, a flag-to-flag night for all three divisions.
Friday was the second night race, with more passing displayed. It was Cain again before Skeeter Estey swept the final two races on Saturday and Sunday. Estey’s pair of wins elevated him to the top of the point list and he was declared the event champion.
Modified, as well as X mod racing, showed dominance by upper Midwest drivers.
January is a perfect time to draw many long-tow teams to Arizona, a chance to not only get in some early-season racing, but also to enjoy much warmer weather. It was Minnesota as the leader in the most entries duel.
Modifieds probably can claim the most exciting finish of the series, when the second Saturday produced a finish for the record books.
A last-turn battle between Matt Leer and Tyler Peterson turned into a controversial finish when Leer clearly pushed up the track coming out of turn four and pinned Peterson to the wall.
They finished their drive to the checkers, trading paint along the way, while third and fourth joined them for a congested finish line.
Leer won and claimed Peterson came down the track, Peterson spoke with emotion and basically promised payback, and the crowd roared.
Sunday, the potential sparks for round two never occurred, when Peterson used the low line on the backstretch to lead the last five laps for a win that made Saturday’s memories fade, especially since it paid double compared to the day before.
The modified event champion was Dustin Strand, with a win and consistency, along with a personality that won over the crowd anytime he was interviewed.
The super late models had an amazing series in that, with more than 40 cars on hand, the wins were split between two drivers. Three wins for Brian Shirley and a like number for Brandon Sheppard showed domination of the podium like never before.
The bonus for multiple wins starts at three, with $10,000 additional paid for that level of success, and both drivers earned that amount.
The final race paid $15,000 to win, and when that became Sheppard’s third win, he also added the bonus plus another $3,000 as the overall event champion.
Picking up $28,000 after winning the 50-lap finale makes for a very nice beginning of the season bank deposit for Sheppard.
Having to come out of a B-main, Shirley started 17th and put on a show as he raced his way forward in the difficult task of trying for a fourth win and even more bonus bucks.
Watching Shirley during the intense 50 laps was very entertaining, as he had no choice but to push the envelop in an attempt to reach Sheppard. It didn’t take that many laps and Shirley was in second but, while pressuring Sheppard for a bit, was not able to make the pass and eventually dropped to a third-place finish.
The Wild West Shootout is an event that comes at a perfect time at a perfect place. January in Arizona is a perfect idea and the support from long tow teams is amazing.
Tightly run shows with top level competition makes the event a must see. This year would be a solid contestant in the Best WWS Ever contest.
If that wasn’t good enough, officials announced the tire rule will be adjusted for the 2021 WWS to produce even better racing.