Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2017 Wild West Shootout Preview

2017 Wild West Shootout Preview

The arrival of 2017 signifies one very important thing, in the Dirt Racing world:  Late Models and Modifieds will soon hit the track in Arizona!


The Wild West Shootout has endured venue changes in previous years.  The mini-series initially started at the famed Mazanita Speedway, in Phoenix, before being held at Casa Grande.  It was held in Tucson since 2010 and continued to grow in popularity.  Arizona offers a great way for teams to get a "head start" on the new season, while avoiding the cold weather that plagues the majority of the Country.  Arizona not only offers sunny 70-degree weather in January, there is also plenty of money up for grabs!  The 2017 edition will mark the return of this exciting mini-series to the Phoenix area, as it will be held at Arizona Speedway for the first time in its existence.  The new venue creates many questions that will remain unanswered until cars hit the track for the first time this Saturday, January 7th.

What To Expect

Many "big name" drivers and teams continue to start their racing season in Arizona and this year's event is nothing different.  Drivers like "Mr. Smooth" Billy Moyer Sr, "The Iceman" Jimmy Mars, "The Smooth Operator" Bobby Pierce and "The Hurricane" Earl Pearson Jr will be among the many Late Model drivers gunning for the Keyser "Quarter Million"!  That's right, for the second consecutive year, Keyser Manufacturing is offering a hefty $250,000 bonus if a Late Model driver can manage to win all 6 main events.  There is also the potential for $100,000 & $50,000 bonuses, if a Late Model driver wins 5 or 4  of the 6 main events, respectively.  Much like last year, we feel the odds of this are very slim.  "Superman" Jonathan Davenport won 3 main events last year, while "The Real Deal" Don O'Neal claimed 2 trophies.  "The Newport Nightmare" Jimmy Owens and "The Bluegrass Bandit" Darrell Lanigan each won 2 main events in 2015.  When looking back even further, history shows that Billy Moyer Sr won 3 main events in 2010 and 2012, while Jimmy Mars took 2 checkered flags in 2010, as well.  Six different drivers each won 1 main event in 2013 and 2014, before Owens, Lanigan, O'Neal and Davenport flexed their muscles during the past 2 years.  Bottom line, not one single driver has won even 4 main events in the same year, since the mini-series was stretched to 6 races.

Each Late Model main event will pay $5,000 to the winner, with the Sunday finale (1/15) being increased to $12,000, marking the single highest payday in the event's 11-year history!  Also, for the second straight year, points will be accumulated over the 6 race mini-series.  Club 29/Black Diamond Race Chassis, along with M&W Transport have teamed-up to offer a $10,000 purse to be divvied-up among the top-10 in final points.  Overall, a Late Model driver has the potential to earn a staggering $290,000, if they could somehow pull-off the unthinkable and win all 6 main events!

This event gives Modified drivers a "head start" on earning USRA National points, as they will also compete on all 6 nights. Both Sunday shows will pay $2,000 to win, with the other 4 races offering $1,000 to the winner. Mesilla Valley Transport (MVT) and Barnett Harley Davidson have combined to offer a $3,000 points purse to the top-5 in the final standings.  Modified stars like "The Sandman" Rodney Sanders, both Gallardo's (Fito and son, Jake) will compete with two of the best from Arizona; Ricky Thornton Jr and R.C. Whitwell.  Overall, a Modified driver can pocket a cool $10,000, if they somehow managed to win all 6 main events!

Arizona Speedway is a Dirt oval located between Queen Creek and San Tan Valley

The Track

Arizona Speedway is a large 1/3rd-mile/small 3/8th's-mile Dirt oval located about 40 miles Southeast of downtown Phoenix, between Queen Creek and San Tan Valley.  Initial critics might say this track is "too small" to provide good Late Model racing, which is a very fair concern.  Compared to the Tucson track, Arizona Speedway is considerably smaller, though it does have higher banking in the turns.  Please allow us to be the first to assure you that this venue will offer some good racing!  We had the pleasure of attending a Southwest Dirt Racing Association (SWDRA) Late Model race at Arizona Speedway, in October and it did not disappoint.  With well over 100+ cars expected to race each night, the track will undoubtedly take rubber.  The Arizona Speedway track crew is known to work the surface wisely, providing drivers with multiple lanes to choose from.  That October night lent a dry/slick surface on the bottom with plenty of moisture/cushion on the top, providing faster cars with a place to pass!

Arizona Speedway following a Dirt Late Model race in October, 2016
We expect the track to appear very similar to the image above, following each night of racing action, in January!  While the speeds will not be nearly as high as they were in Tucson, the side-by-side racing should be the same, if not better.  As Dirt Racing fans, I think we can all agree that it is tough to beat side-by-side door-banging action!

TDN Predictions

At TDN we're known to "go out on a limb" and make race predictions.  We were very surprised by the amount of domination displayed by "Superman" Jonathan Davenport, during last year's event.  However, Davenport has adamantly denied that he will return to Arizona, expressing his displeasure with the passing points structure.  Even adding the element of qualifying, which will be utilized in 2017's event, was not enough to bring "Superman" back to defend his Wild West Shootout crown.  Also, rumors indicate that the potent Clint Bowyer Racing duo of Don O'Neal and Darrell Lanigan, will not be making the trek to Arizona in 2017.  As disappointing as this is, it does indicate one thing: the field of competition will be even tighter than it has been in recent years!  We believe that "Mr. Smooth" Billy Moyer Sr will make a return to victory lane in the Wild West Shootout, for the first time since 2014.  We also expect "The Iceman" Jimmy Mars to claim at least one trophy, in this year's mini-series.  However, we believe an Arizona newcomer will visit victory lane the most, in this year's event: "The Smooth Operator" Bobby Pierce!  It's no secret that Pierce had a monster 2016 season, winning many of the sports' biggest and highest-paying races.  We think Pierce will ride that wave of momentum into 2017, winning multiple races and taking the overall points title in this year's Wild West Shootout!

Dark Horses

We use the term "dark horse", though there is no argument that these drivers are extremely competitive at their local/regional areas.  Chris Simpson has been a fixture of the Wild West Shootout over the past several years and we expect that he will be a contender.  Expect Simpson to compete for top-5 finishes nightly and don't be surprised if he "steals" a checkered flag!  Also, for the second straight year, we expect Jason Papich to be a strong competitor.  Since changing to Club 29/Black Diamond Race Chassis, Papich has displayed enormous potential and has finished in the top-5 on multiple occasions.  Don't be too surprised if Papich gets "over the hump" and claims a trophy in the 2017 Wild West Shootout!

Local Talent

We would be remiss, if we didn't mention three young and very talented Dirt racers from the Arizona-area: 

Chandler native, Ricky Thornton Jr is coming-off an excellent 2016 season which saw him visit victory lane a whopping 38 times!  Not only do we expect 20RT to be a mainstay at the front of each Modified feature, he will be doing "double duty", as he returns to wheel the 33x JR Motorsports Late Model in the 2017 Wild West Shootout.  Ricky finished an impressive runner-up in last year's Sunday finale and competed in many big Late Model events, throughout the year.  He continues to prove that he is a threat to win, whether he races with, or without fenders.

Tucson native, R.C. Whitwell will be sitting in, arguably, the best equipment of his young career.  As most have likely heard, R.C. is now wheeling the bright-blue colors of Gressel Racing!  "The Reaper" Ryan Gustin claimed the $10,000 payday in the 2014 edition of the Wild West Shootout, along with numerous Modified features over the past few years, in similar equipment.  We would be shocked if Whitwell is not a consistently strong competitor each night, in both the Late Model and Modified.

Vail native, Jake O'Neil continues to improve behind the wheel of his Late Model.  Jake "cut his teeth" wheeling a USRA Modified in Tucson for many years, competing weekly with Whitwell.  However, Jake's career has taken-off, as he and his small crew have traveled all over the Country, in search of success.  O'Neil battled Whitwell in 2015, as they both followed the full MLRA schedule, with R.C. narrowly edging Jake for Rookie of the Year honors.  Jake has experience racing a Late Model at Arizona Speedway and we won't be surprised if he competes for top-5 finishes on more than one night!

Bottom line, none of us should be surprised if any of these Arizona natives claim multiple wins in the 2017 Wild West Shootout!

Can't Make It To Arizona?

While we strongly recommend making the trip to Arizona, not only to see some of the best Late Model and Modified drivers compete, but also to enjoy the sunny 70-degree weather, you will have multiple ways to follow along!  TDN will be present each night, providing pictures, results and race recap stories.  You can also catch all of the racing action by tuning into Dirt on Dirt's live broadcast:

With several racers making their first trip to Arizona, combined with some of the highest payouts in the 11-year history of this event, we expect the 2017 Wild West Shootout to be full of racing action!

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