View from the Stands (11/11/2013)
by Eric Arnold, Knoxville Raceway Blogger & Twitter Commentator
The World of Outlaws season has come to an end. It was good to see some of our Knoxville Regulars make the trip to Charlotte for the World Finals. Brian Brown had a good showing with a couple of top ten’s, Ian Madsen, Mark Dobmeier, Justin Henderson, and Wayne Johnson also made the trip. The World Finals has turned into a big three day event where the dirt track racing world comes together in the center of the racing business industry. I would even consider it the fifth “major” in sprint car racing with the four majors being the Knoxville Nationals, Eldora Kings Royal, Williams Grove National Open, and the Chico Gold Cup. I ponied up to watch the DirtVision broadcast which I hadn’t done before and I was impressed with their live PPV coverage.
It was an exciting season for the WoO and one that will forever be debated with the points system considering it was the closest finish in history. Any point system is set up to reward consistency, but none are ever perfect. When you have two teams competing as close as Pittman and Schatz were all season it’s easy to nit-pick at it, but the rules were the same for everybody and I feel it did its job.
Daryn Pittman wins his first WoO championship in his first season with the KKR 9 team. This was an impressive season for this team, their first season together, and they only had one DNF all season and it wasn’t a mechanical failure, it was a car running into them and knocking them out of the race. I honestly had my doubts that Pittman would be able to keep the point lead all season like he did, but to hold off Schatz and keep the consistency that they did was amazing. I think it’s great that we have a new winner, a new face for the sport to promote, and Pittman is someone that will represent the sport well. Out of all the legendary racers out of the state of Oklahoma over the years, they finally have a champion at the top of the mountain. Congratulations to Daryn Pittman and the KKR crew!
Donny Schatz has to be frustrated and proud at the same time. Schatz had 15 more feature wins, 2 more top five’s, two more top ten’s, and nearly double the amount of prize money won compared to the #9 car, but he falls 14 points short of the championship. You can say what you want about the bonus points in qualifying, but Schatz had five finishes of 18th or worse compared to Pittman with 1, that is the difference. Schatz lost the championship the first 10 races of the season in my opinion, he dug himself too deep of a hole to get out of. But because of those first 10-20 races where the #15 team was searching for speed, they became the dominant car the last 2/3 of the season. As good as Schatz was this year, look for him to be even better and more motivated next year.
Paul McMahan finishes third in points with four wins and led the series with seventeen quick times. Not bad for a team that wasn’t even planning to race the full tour until they were ten races into the season.
Joey Saldana started the year in a new team with the Motter 71m and finished a solid fourth in points. They only had the one win, but they steadily improved as the season went. I expected this to be a learning year for Joey and a new team, and they have something solid to build on for 2014.
Craig Dollansky finished fifth in points. It was a disappointment I’m sure for him and his team, they were so close to winning the championship a year ago and although they had spurts where they were really good this year they had spurts where they were bad, and now the Big Game team has parted ways with Dollansky. I look for Dollansky to start up his own number 7 team again next year. He has always been able to find sponsors in the past. This was his 13th full-time season on the WoO tour and he has been the runner-up twice. His average points finish the past 10 years is 4.9 and he still has what it takes to get it done on the road I feel and somehow he will find a way to be out there.
Sammy Swindell finishes sixth in points this season. It seemed like Sammy never quite had the combination figured out this year to be consistently fast, and after the Knoxville Nationals they were into a “testing” mode possibly because their average finishes fell off a bit the last 1/3 of the season. I look for Sammy to rebound and be back in 2014.
Cody Darrah ends the season seventh in points with two wins. It sounds like he will be back in the KKR #4 as I think he has one more year on the Sure Point sponsorship deal. Darrah had an average finish of 12.1 the first half of the season and 13.2 the second half. Darrah hasn’t been able to take that next step, but it might come with experience. He is still young and ambitious, but he needs to show improvement next season to keep that ride I have a feeling.
Steve Kinser finished eighth in points this season. After a slow start to the season he improved the second half of the season. His average finish improved from 12.8 the first half to 12.6 the second half of the season. I think the King is on the fence whether he races the full tour next year. Honestly I hate to see him go out this way at the end of his career, it’s tough to watch as a race fan. I think if he cut back to 50 races and gave Scott Gerkin more time to be prepared with engines, they would be more competitive, and have more fun. We shall see what he decides, but I’m so thankful I’ve been able to see his entire career since I was a kid.
Jason Sides finishes ninth in points with no wins. It was a long tough season for Sides but his last 10 or 20 races he seemed to show signs of improvement. Sides has finished in the top 20 of WoO points 10 times in his career with a highest finish of fifth.
Kerry Madsen finished tenth this year with 3 wins. Madsen completed his second season on the road with the Keneric racing 29 team, and they finished eighth in points a year ago. They got off to a terrible start this season and really turned it around in July after winning the night before the Kings Royal, but then they fell flat at Chico and Williams Grove at the end of the year to kill their momentum. A clean slate next season will help this team and I think they are capable of being a top five contender in 2014.
David Gravel won the rookie of the year honors, but it sounds like his family 89g team is done and his name is circling in the rumor mill of open seats. At just 21 years of age, Gravel shows a lot of promise and I think he finds a good sprint car ride in 2014.
Kraig Kinser finished 11th in points with 1 win. He won four races and finished sixth in points last season.
Chad Kemenah finished 12th in points with no wins on the season. He missed a couple of races at the beginning of the year due to injury, but never seemed to get a good run throughout the season. He finished in the top ten in 33% of his races and had 25 finishes of 18th and higher. Kemenah has proved he is a good driver, but he hasn’t had a consistent car underneath him in recent years.
I was so happy to hear that Shane Stewart landed a new ride for 2014 with the new Kyle Larson and Justin Marks team. I had heard rumors of Kyle forming a team this summer, and the dominos all fell into place. I think Shane made the right choice with this team as he had options for a change. Shane’s hard work has paid off for him. Veteran crew chief Steve Suchy will be on the team as well.
The Knoxville Raceway awards banquet is this Saturday night on November 16th where we will officially crown our Lucas Oil Knoxville Championship Cup Series champions Bronson Maeschen, Clint Garner, and Larry Ball Jr.
I will be back with another blog next week hopefully.
*Eric can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @_EricArnold.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Knoxville Raceway.