Column By: NICK GRAZIANO / WORLD OF OUTLAWS – BARBERVILLE, FL – After a month to collect their thoughts and tune their rides, the stars of the World of Outlaws Morton Building Late Models are primed to return to Volusia Speedway Park for the 50th DIRTcar Nationals.
The four-day event, Feb. 10-13, will see The Most Powerful Late Models on the Planet and the best Late Model drivers in the world compete for a unique golden gator trophy each night with the goal of securing the prestigious Big Gator championship trophy on Saturday night.
The 2021 season kicked off at Volusia in January with the Sunshine Nationals, which saw Kyle Bronson pick up his second career win and Kyle Strickler pick up his first. Strickler is also the current Series points leader – with just 11 Series starts behind him.
If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch all the action live on DIRTVision.
Here are the top storylines for the week:
SHEPPARDING GATORS: Three-time defending Series champion and two-time defending Big Gator champion Brandon Sheppard, of New Berlin, IL, will be on the hunt for more gators this week. He has seven wins in total at Volusia Speedway Park – five with the World of Outlaws and two with the DIRTcar Late Models.
His five Series victories came consecutively from Feb. 17, 2019 to Feb. 12, 2020. However, during the season-opener in January, Sheppard had the worst start to the season in his career, finishing ninth and seventh – an average finish of eighth. He currently sits fourth in points as he continues his quest for a fourth championship. A win this week would also give him his 70th career victory.
THE SNIPER: Ricky Weiss, of Headingly, MB, started his own chassis company this year – Sniper Chassis – yet wrecked the only one he had at the time during Sunshine Nationals. He was able to get one night out of the car and make an impressive run from 23rd to seventh. The next night he finished fourth in his old Team Zero chassis.
Knowing the limits of how far he can push his car now, Weiss will be poised to claim his first Volusia Speedway Park victory in his Drydene #7 machine.
ROCKET LANIGAN: Three-time World of Outlaws champion Darrell Lanigan, of Union, KY, made his debut back in a Rocket Chassis for the first time in about seven years during the Sunshine Nationals, and it was truly a rocket. Lanigan was in contention for the win the first win before making contact with the leader and spinning out. He recovered the second night with a third-place finish.
He’ll look to keep that momentum going this week and claim his fourth gator trophy – his last win at Volusia came in 2013. Like Sheppard, Lanigan is searching for his fourth Series championship this year, which would tie him with Josh Richards for the most titles in Series history.
DILLARD REDEMPTION: The opening night of the 2021 season left Cade Dillard, of Robeline, LA, heartbroken. He was in position to claim his first Volusia Speedway Park win before contact with Darrell Lanigan damaged his front fender and killed his aero. He lost the lead with three laps to go and had to settle for second. Dillard then struggled the next night, finishing 21st.
He’ll look to recover this week during the four-day event at the half-mile track and win the third race of the season for the second year in a row.
BLOOMING: 2004 World of Outlaws champion Scott Bloomquist, of Moorseburg, TN, looked to be back in form during the final night of the Sunshine Nationals. He contended for the win in the final laps before settling for a second-place finish.
Bloomquist said he’s confident in his equipment and what his team has worked on over the offseason. That’s made him excited to show what he can do during the 50th DIRTcar Nationals. He has 10 overall Volusia Speedway Park wins – the most recent in 2018 with the Series.
THE KYLES: It was good to be a Kyle during the Sunshine Nationals. Kyle Bronson, of Brandon, FL, claimed a home-state win – his second Series victory – and Kyle Strickler, of Sinking Spring, PA, in just his 11th World of Outlaws start, earned his first career win the second night – he finished third the night before.
Stickler is the current World of Outlaws points leader and Bronson is second, also. Both are back to tackle the half-mile speedway during the DIRTcar Nationals. And if Strickler has another solid performance during the event, he could potentially make the move to the World of Outlaws full-time.
McCREADIE BACK FOR MORE: 2006 World of Outlaws Late Model champion Tim McCreadie, of Watertown, NY, opened the 2021 Late Model week during the DIRTcar Nationals with a DIRTcar Late Model win for the second year in a row. That helped make up for his bad luck at Sunshine Nationals a month ago when he broke while racing for the lead.
He has 11 wins overall at Volusia Speedway Park – two with the World of Outlaws, six with the DIRTcar Late Models and three with the Super DIRTcar Series. However, this year he’ll be aiming for his first DIRTcar Nationals title.
RUGGED ROOKIES: The World of Outlaws Late Model 2021 Rookie of the Year contenders impressed during the Sunshine Nationals. Ryan Gustin finished eighth in the season-opening event – his sixth Series start – and Tony Jackson, Jr. in his World of Outlaws and Volusia Speedway Park debut was running in the top-five late in the race before an issue took him out of the event. The next night Ross Bailes was in contention to win throughout the Feature before fading late in the race and finishing 12th.
They’ll look to improve upon those performances this week, along with rookie contenders Parker Martin and Ryan Scott, who struggled to find speed in the first two races.