It seems like all we've heard from a good many in the late model world is how the year will belong to Jonathan Davenport and Josh Richards. That may come to pass. But is there someone we're forgetting about? The "Zero Hero" lurks in the background a little more than usual since 2014 but his potential re-emergence to the top of the heap could be a great thing. Not a fan of him? It's not so hard to flip that switch...
|Pat Miller Photo|
A funny thing happened this weekend. Scott Bloomquist won the Bad Boy 98 this past Saturday at Batesville Motor Speedway, and part of me was rooting for the guy. Stop right there!
Yes, it's true. I was actually hoping he'd win. You see he's so polarizing that there's no middle ground. Either people love him or hate him. In fact I've yet to talk to one fan in existence whom would ever say "Meh,,I could take him or leave him." The weird thing is, that over the years I've actually learned how to jump the other side of the hate/love fence, (maybe more of a like thing at present time) and it's not so difficult a thing to do either.
The man has seen and done it all in the sport, like many others at his experience level. Of course many of the same drivers in his peer group, age wise that is as he has few peers when thrown into a win total group, don't bring out quite the emotion Bloomquist does. Maybe it's the questionable past he carries. An off track record that includes some classic good old boy behavior that contains a little more than just speeding tickets or jaywalking. Or things like the classic "date" when a former crew member (might have been a loose association) brought charges that included a gun. Maybe it's some of the less than humble victory lane interviews. (Anybody for a Tennessee Ass Whooping or a Crotch Chop?). Or perhaps it's the multitude of excuses when he loses, or the illegal attempts to get ahead of the game via tire marination.
It's all part of a back catalog that makes some fans want to give him the one finger salute. I started out in that pack, not caring much for him. Of course there was no denying he was one of the greatest of all time. There was no way to take anything away from him. He's virtually made his own career what it is and worked as hard as humanly possible to get to that level. But still he was easy to actively dislike and the fact that he was on a different level than almost any other late model driver for so long and kept winning on a pace resembling the 1920s New York Yankees made it even easier. It was easy to see all the winning and wondering how people actively pulled for a guy with a smug attitude who was cheating virtually week in and week out.
That was before I talked to others in the sport that had been doing it for years. When I came to realize the real truth. That is, that almost every top driver has an edge to their game to help put them over the top and that many of these edges weren't exactly legal. When I understood that, the first bit of the dislike began to dissipate. But what about the rest of the baggage?
As time went by, I watched lots of fantastic drivers win races and were no where near as entertaining as Bloomquist was. Not on the track, not in victory lane, and not with the off track stuff that began to border on comedy the more I heard of it. Something began to tell me that deep inside the man, is a character that is standing back and laughing on the inside every time he drove an electric cart around trade shows that a handicap person might use or bending his own sheet metal trying to get his car on the track by hitting a barrier in the pits, or showing up with shocks that were completely adjustable by a cell phone.
I never gave him credit for being in the sport. Because I know now, that if he weren't in it, we'd all be missing out. We'd almost have to create him to have a heel in the show as if it were wrestling. But I doubt any heel type character anybody could conjure could captivate as Bloomquist does. And it's completely in character.
Then, I was sold after his 2014 World 100 performance. The night when his window net which was deemed illegal was taken out after someone protested. I wonder who that was? Anyhow, when he was sent to the tail almost everyone in attendance had written him off with the exception of his fans. And has he went back through the field like a knife through hot butter there was a caution where he stuck his arm out the window and gave a vehement thumbs up gesture. It was hard not to believe he had a smile as big as can be on that huge face of his underneath his helmet. And for the first time I actually stood and clapped as he crossed the finish line first! Of course he was light 25 pounds after an apparent win in his next Eldora trip of course and my first thought was "Only Bloomer" as I chuckled. I knew he'd be back there again at some point and I'm betting he gets in victory lane at least once again at the big E.
The late model landscape is constantly changing, the engineering focus goes from the engine, to the tires, to the shocks, to suspension components to who knows what next. And for now, Davenport and Richards have a good grip on the rules and areas for interpretation, and both have the talent to compete neck and neck in every single crown jewel they're both at, they're fantastic drivers.
But I have to say, I'm kind of pulling for Bloomquist to come up with something nobody has seen in the creative edge department, and I'm thinking it'll be sooner rather than later. It might not even be legal for now, and I might not just care. Most innovations are borderline in nature to begin with, and like it or not, the top touring level of late models are reserved for more open areas than anything at the regional or local level despite sanctions that try to keep costs lower. Racers want to spend, they have money at their disposal or their owners and sponsors do, and attempts to control the nature of the beast will only be somewhat successful. That much is clear.
But in the meantime, I'll be watching the grey areas, looking for the seams and gaps in the rule books that Bloomquist might find, and I'll be hoping we'll be talking about three great drivers duking it out over the 2016 season for supremacy.
So how do you become a Bloomquist fan? It's simple. Start disliking him, then start appreciating him, then find out that he makes the sport more entertaining. Then go through a rough patch with him where he's not on top anymore and find out how much you miss him being talked about for better or worse. And at some point, you'll get the Bloomer mentality, it'll stick with you and you'll wind up cheering him perhaps. You might not feel the same and it's all good, but if you do become a fan, it's got it's rewards.