The blog took a field trip on Memorial Day to Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Home to the famed high banks of Lawrenceburg Speedway since 1950, the wall said so. A 3/8 mile oval with lap times dipping in the high 11-second range gave us our first race of dirt track racing in person.
Having not been to a dirt race since before I could walk as a toddler the World of Outlaw sprints only 30 minutes from home seemed like a pretty decent place to get my feet wet again. Not to mention Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell were there as well. We loaded up the Subaru and met Zach out in the Indiana sun for a show that we’ll talk about for a while at a track we were mesmerized by, full of cars that defy any driving logic your brain previously had.
Before the race, the sprint cars are broken into groups of 6-8 and given an opportunity to practice. Practice is about 60 seconds long. The green flag comes out, the white flag follows 10 seconds later and the checkered immediately after that. The checkered flag is more of a suggestion it appeared as guys were doing 2-3 laps after that. It’s controlled chaos and when it’s over 60 seconds later it happens again.
Following practice was qualifying that ran better than any organized motorsport activity I’ve ever seen. It was car after car after car like clockwork. Japanese trains schedules have more tolerance than the qualifying schedule for the World of Outlaws. In between each car the flagman was ripping cigs in his jorts too. Crazy thing, which is absolutely preposterous but no one cared. Rip on, sir.
A wonderful invocation followed that worked in some racing phrases because of course. The lovely Chaplin lady also said, “and please God, bless our country, America.” As if there was any question as to where we were. She closed by saying “keep our drivers safe and our speeds fast.”
Heats (Sprints and Mods)
Sprint cars came out for their heat races, Top 5 advance to the main and everyone else to the LCQ. Much like the NASCAR Xfinity Series “heat races” drivers in the top 4 rode for the most part while the battle for 5th heated up. Unlike NASCAR though watching dirt cars just “ride” is still well worth the price of a ticket.
The Craftsman Dash is something I wasn’t prepared for. Basically the top 8 from the heats battle for 8 laps to set the lineup for the main. The weirder part is the drivers are brought into the stands to pick wrenches out of a toolbox. Generally, it’s numbers out of a hat, nope at the WoO, it’s pieces of iron out of steel boxes. It’s actually a cool thing that NASCAR should try to use at some point especially during an exhibition race.
Local modifieds had their heat races too and holy hell is that a shit show. You have the talented drivers and then you have this schmuck in the #03 who spun out, gets going again and then spins again under caution. Or the guy that drove into the tractor tire. Modifieds are cool in their own right but winged sprints are so much faster and so much more on edge.
Dirt Track Fans
We’ve been to enough asphalt races from the midwest to the south to know the typical asphalt fan. Dirt track fans are a whole new breed that I’m going to need a few months to study in the field. Need to get my shoes a little bit dirtier, need to talk to some folks and observe this species from the top of the grandstand.
One thing I have observed about dirt track fans in the wild, they love bright colors. Safety green and orange t-shirts are the dress code for many at the track. Merch haulers have shirts that make the brightness of the sun look tame. More power to these people, I’m not your typical dirt fan in terms of my dress style so while it doesn’t appeal to me it certainly has its niche.
Also, every fan has a shirt of their favorite driver. It’s actually insane how loyal dirt fans are to “their” driver. Numerous people were giving Donny Schatz (think Jimmie Johnson in his prime) double birds each time he passed. Completely oblivious to the fact that Donny couldn’t see them and didn’t care. Dirt fans are loyal and maybe that’s why Dirt Vision can charge $40/month.
35 laps, caution laps don’t count, no green-white-checkered rules.
It was the best 35 laps of racing we’ve seen in a long time. Dirt racing allows drivers to run so many different lines. Slide jobs left and right, guys diving in just hoping that cushion was going to catch them and then powering off when it did. The leader ran away but then Larson and Brad Sweet reeled him back in, imagine that. Sheldon Haudenschild flipped which was surreal to watch in person. The PA announcer said they wanted it in the field to slap a new wing on it to continue. Guys, he just flipped twice.
As the dust swirled and the sunset casting orange clouds over turns 3 and 4 the racing picked up. Larson was running Schatz down but jumped the cushion between 3 and 4, got sideways and hit another car ending his night. That left Kasey Kahne’s driver Brad Sweet and fastest qualifier David Gravel as the ones to run down Schatz. Sweet did just that and got around Schatz with about 7 to go and sailed to a win. Schatz was second and Gravel was third.
Also, WoO and the track officials moved up the sprints main to avoid any weather that may make it into the area. On the fly, they changed the schedule it was the most satisfying thing I’ve seen a governing body do since the All-Star race circa 2001.
Overall Dirt Thoughts
It’s absolute insanity.
The power to weight ratio on a sprint car is ludicrous. How a driver floors it into the turn and snaps it sideways, holding that slide and then powers off the corner all while essentially steering the car with the throttle is mind-boggling. Watching their hands as they are constantly turning right and left in an effort to go left is crazy. One of the most underrated parts of sprint car racing has to be ripping a tear off. Drivers go through tear offs quick but to take a hand off the wheel to grab that before the next corner seems terrifying.
One thing about dirt racing is you earn your position when you pass the car in front of you and it may take 4 laps to complete that pass. Just when you think a pass is complete that driver being passed powers back on the outside to be side by side going into the corner. It’s incredibly frustrating but wildly entertaining at the same time. There’s really nothing to compare it to on a national touring level other than maybe some multi-groove races at Bristol.
We will definitely be back to a dirt track this year though, dirt racing has some new fans.
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