The 13th Annual Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout recently drew to a close at FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway (Queen Creek, Arizona). The hit miniseries once again featured huge car counts, great racing, and countless story lines. While the dust is settling from the racing action, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the happenings from the event.
Sit back, buckle in tight, give the straps another good tug, lower the visor, and get ready to roll.
I, along with fellow announcer Dustin Jarrett, often tout the eclectic nature of the driver roster for this event. Drivers from across the United States and Canada converge on the desert each year for the Wild West Shootout. The 2019 edition was no exception. In fact, drivers from 24 states and two Canadian provinces were in action.
A total of 170 drivers entered at least one event among the three classes. Final breakdowns on the miniseries included: 54 Super Late Model, 59 USRA Modifieds, and 57 X-Mod competitors. These fields included several drivers, who won’t race with each another again until they return to this event in 2020.
At one point in one of the USRA Modified Features, the running order for the top-eight drivers represented eight different states: Arizona, Texas, Minnesota, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. It’s a rare flare in our sport to see diversity like that. No doubt it’s one of my favorite aspects of the event.
When it comes to Dirt Late Model racing, it’s no big secret that Scott Bloomquist is arguably the greatest of all time. On the same token, wherever the Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer goes, some kind of chaos seems to follow. This year was no different when he came to the 2019 Wild West Shootout.
The Tennessee racer invaded FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway for the first time in his storied career. Opening night found Bloomquist racing in the Top 5 for much of the feature, but he appeared to be out of contention for the win. However, in the closing laps Bloomquist mounted a valiant challenge at race leader, Bobby Pierce.
Here’s where the chaos began. Earlier in the race, Pierce’s transponder stopped registering on the scoring system. As a result, he was being hand scored by officials. On the final lap Pierce found himself bottlenecked in lap traffic. Exiting Turn 4 on the final circuit, Bloomquist dove to the inside of Pierce as the duo drag raced to the finish line.
In a photo finish, with yours truly at the mic, things got interesting. As I glanced down at the scoring monitor it showed Bloomquist first. At which time, I declared him the winner. But wait! It was about this time I remembered that Pierce’s transponder had died. As a result, I retracted my previous statement as we waited on the instant replay from the pay-per-view to reveal the victor. The footage confirmed the hand scorer’s declaration that Pierce had taken the win by a matter of inches. The end result was definite drama to start the miniseries. However, it didn’t stop there.
Eight days later in the miniseries finale, Scott Bloomquist held a commanding 4-second lead over the field as he took the white flag. However, chaos was waiting in the wings. As Bloomquist exited Turn 2, R.C. Whitwell crashed in Turn 3. Caution flew within seconds, but disaster struck for Bloomquist when he slammed into Whitwell’s disabled entry. Despite having a noticeably mangled race car, Bloomquist was able to refire his entry and drive away.
To the displeasure of the Bloomquist faithful, he was told by officials to go behind the last car on the lead lap. Rules for the event stated that any driver who stopped under caution without being instructed to do so by an official had to go to the tail. It was hard-to-swallow defeat for Bloomquist nation.
And last but not least, let’s not forget about Bloomquist’s cruise down the four-lane highway in front of the track in his familiar #0. The video of the Tennessean cruising down the road in his race car went viral. Scott explained that he was making sure they had resolved some mechanical issues on his hot rod prior to heat race action. No doubt, it was just another classic Scott Bloomquist moment.
Wait, Is That A Panda Bear?
From the realm of “just when you think you’ve seen it all,” came a new page at this year’s Wild West Shootout. During an early round of the miniseries, up-and-coming Dirt Late Model racer, Hudson O’Neal came by the press box and said, “Make sure you keep an eye on the spotter area during my heat race. My crew has a surprise.”
The Indiana driver’s foreshadowing didn’t disappoint. As his heat race took to the track, crews made their way to the infield hot pit. Immediately it became evident that a crew member was dressed in a panda bear outfit. Known as “Big Joe,” O’Neal’s crew member became an instantaneous social media celebrity.
It’s worth noting that the iconic costume resurfaced for the final round of the miniseries.
Can You Run Me An Errand?
North Dakota’s Lance Schill started his Wild West Shootout outing on a turbulent note in the X-Mod division. While battling for the lead in the opening round, Schill made hard contact with the Turn 3 wall. The damage sidelined his primary ride. With Minnesota’s Matt Gilbertson piloting his backup car, Schill had a friend bring a spare car to the desert from his North Dakota shop.
How far was the delivery you might ask? A mere 1,725 miles – one way. If that’s not a true friend, then I don’t know what is.
Weather, It’s Worth It
Some teams drove as far as 36 hours to be at this year’s event. While the payouts are solid in each division, some folks probably question the rationale of driving so far. Honestly, the most common answer given is the weather.
Take Lance Schill for example. Prior to leaving his North Dakota home, the windchill was -42 degrees. That’s right … -42 degrees.
Temperatures throughout the miniseries averaged 68 degrees during the day. As a result, it’s clear to see the driving reason so many racers and fans make the long tow to the desert.
If Not for Bad Luck
Illinois’ racer Bobby Pierce came out with his proverbial guns blazing at the 2019 Wild West Shootout. He won the first three events, and had his sights set on the Keyser Manufacturing Quarter Million Dollar Bonus. The coveted bonus offered $10,000 for three wins, $25,000 for four wins, $100,000 for five wins, and $250,000 for a six-win sweep in the Super Late Model ranks.
From there, his luck went downhill. He was only able to manage a Fifth-place finish in daytime conditions during the Saturday (January 12) make-up event. Bad luck bit during the night’s show, when he was forced to relinquish the lead due to a flat tire. His final taste of bitterness arrived on Sunday. As he led the $14,000-to-win finale, his gearbox cover came off, ending his chance at the $25,000 bonus.
“We started this deal with three wins, and it seemed like the stars were aligned for us. But then, it started going bad, and we just had some crazy bad luck,” Pierce commented. “I’ve never seen the gearbox cover come off like that, but I guess I can’t say that anymore. It’s pretty disheartening.”
When It Rains, It Pours
For only the second time in the 13-year history of the event, rain affected the schedule. Following the opening night’s event, more than an inch of rain turned the facility into a muddy mess. Timing was not in the event’s favor as the overnight rain exceeded the rain total for the area over the previous five months. The downpour forced the second round of the event to be postponed until the following Saturday as part of a doubleheader.
Rain again altered the program on the doubleheader. While Saturday morning’s make-up event went off without a hitch, the night program battled rain throughout the Feature. Ultimately, the USRA Modified Feature was forced to be moved until the next day.
The good news was that despite having to modify the original schedule, all six scheduled events were completed.
Hail To the Champions
In addition to the nightly purses, there were miniseries point championships on the line. On the heels of four wins, South Dakota’s Cole Searing scored the X-Mod point’s championship for the second-straight year. Moonlighting in an entry for Jimmy Mars Racing, Hermantown, Minnesota’s Darrell Nelson capitalized on his first trip to the desert by scoring the USRA Modified title. Meanwhile, consistency propelled Brandon Sheppard to the Super Late Model point’s championship.
Event co-promoter, Chris Kearns revealed the 2020 Wild West Shootout dates at the driver’s meeting on the final day of the event.
“For 2020, we are going to push this event back a week,” Kearns revealed. “Between the VP Racing Fuels Gateway Dirt Nationals being later (December 19-21), and then Christmas and New Years, we just thought it made sense to give racers an extra week to get ready. Next year, we will practice on January 10, and then race on January 11, 12, 15, 17, 18, 19.”
The veteran promoter wrapped up by saying, “I know that the rain made things a bit of an inconvenience at times this year, but I barely heard any complaints at all. Everybody just buckled down and dealt with the hand dealt to us. For that, I say a special thanks to you all.”