Over the past 12 years the World Finals at the Dirt Track at Charlotte has rapidly shot up the ladder of must-see, dirt track events. If you sit back and think about it, why shouldn’t it? After all, it’s the grand finale of the season for three prominent tours: the World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Sprint Cars, the World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Late Models, and the Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modifieds.
There’s no place else where you can see these three headliner divisions all on the same card on the same night.
The 2018 edition of the World Finals presented by Can-Am, once again lived up to the billing. Despite Mother Nature’s best efforts, nothing could stop this mega event from coming to life.
There were countless story lines that developed throughout the weekend, so I decided it was only appropriate to share several of them in a notebook here at OneDirt. Sit back and buckle up for a wild ride as I share my perspectives from the event.
It seems like 75-percent of all major events in the dirt track world have been impacted by Mother Nature this year. The 12th annual World Finals was no exception. Rain arrived on Thursday night before the final round of qualifications could be completed for the WoO Late Models. As a result, the final-half of time trials for the series were postponed to Saturday’s program.
The weather wasn’t finished wreaking havoc there either, as late-afternoon rain on Friday left the track staff scrambling to get the track ready for racing. The ill weather subsided by 4:00 p.m. and left the racing surface a soaked, muddy mess. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know if there was a chance any cars would hit the track, but the track staff wouldn’t be denied.
Even though it far surpassed the scheduled start time of 5:00 p.m., cars finally took to the 4/10-mile oval about 8:00 p.m. that night. All of the scheduled races for the evening were completed before the midnight curfew with the exception of the three features. The finales were postponed until Saturday afternoon.
Exceptional Daytime Racing
Hardcore dirt track aficionado’s often judge daytime races as routine, and not as entertaining to watch. However, we already had witnessed some exceptions to the rule this year with the remarkable features in the daytime runnings of both the annual Pittsburgher 100 and the Jackson 100.
As a result, we were all cautiously optimistic about how Friday’s three features would play out on a sunny afternoon. Thankfully they did not disappoint.
Even though the Super DIRTcar feature kicked things off at 1:30 p.m. with a caution-filled feature, the racing was good while the green flag was flying. Racing legend Brett Hearn inherited the lead when defending series champ, Matt Sheppard, suffered a flat tire. Hearn went on to score his 140th-career win with the series.
“The car really liked the high side, I got a couple good restarts,” the New Jersey native commented. “I got under the No.19 [Jessy Mueller] and then I was in the right spot when Matt [Sheppard] blew the tire. After that, I just had to make the right moves and make the right guesses on the restarts, choose the right lane, and not make any mistakes.”
The WoO Late Model feature took to the track next and put on a fantastic show for the fans. Former series champs, Brandon Sheppard and Tim McCreadie, swapped the lead in lap traffic multiple times over the second-half of the race before Sheppard ultimately snared the victory.
“Our car was really maneuverable and that was the key,” Sheppard said. “The track was awesome, just like it always is. Hats off to my team, this thing’s a dream to drive.”
The afternoon’s highly-entertaining matinee was capped with 2018 Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year, Ian Madsen, snaring a popular WoO Sprint Car victory. In a series with 70 events this year, he became the 19th different victor with the win.
“Daytime racing is tricky, especially when the preferred racing line kept changing,” the Australian racer declared. I saw Logan [Schuchart] behind me, and I know he’s particularly good on these type of race tracks, so I had to really stay up on the wheel.”
Championship Dreams Turn into Nightmares
While the WoO Sprint Car title was secured by Donny Schatz weeks before the World Finals, the pursuit for both the WoO Late Model and Super DIRTcar Series championships was far from over rolling into Charlotte.
Chris Madden found himself just 22 markers behind Mike Marlar in his chase for the WoO Late Model title. The weekend for the South Carolina driver looked to be off to a perfect start with a heat race win and the second-starting position for Friday’s feature. Unfortunately, his good luck quickly disappeared when an oil line failure ended his outing on lap-5 of the 50-lapper. The accompanying 28th-place finish eliminated Madden’s championship hopes.
“You don’t know how many chances you’re gonna get to do it,” Madden told DirtOnDirt.com following the heartbreaking mechanical failure. “I think when you put yourself in position to do it and you’re right there, then you’re supposed to capitalize on it and finish it. But we weren’t able to do it, so we’ll just have to re-evaluate and figure out what we’re gonna do.”
Madden slipped to Third in the final standings behind first-time champion, Mike Marlar, and Brandon Sheppard.
In the Super DIRTcar Series ranks, New York’s Erick Rudolph entered the weekend just 40 markers behind Matt Sheppard. Rudolph started the weekend on a strong note with a Fifth-place finish in Friday’s program. Unfortunately, bad luck bit him in Saturday’s show when a severe vibration in his heat race forced him to retire pit side. He utilized a provisional to start the finale in 26th, but only was able to manage a 20th place finish as Sheppard secured his seventh series championship.
“A 20th place finish in tonight’s finale,” read the post on the Erick Rudolph Racing Facebook page. “Not the results we had hoped for, but it doesn’t tarnish a great first full season on the Super DIRTcar trail. Thanks to the crew for their hard work, our sponsors that made this season a success, and our fans for all their support.”
Not since the heyday of “The King” Steve Kinser, has the WoO Sprint Car Series seen a driver as dominant as Donny Schatz. 2018 was no exception to his reign of success. He claimed his 10th series title. The Fargo, North Dakota, racer also stormed to 22 wins – including a thrilling win over Logan Schuchart in the finale at the World Finals. It marked the sixth-straight year that he had accumulated at least 20 victories on the tour.
“Hats off to my guys, they have worked their butts off all season. I’m the hardest guy in the pits to work for, because if it’s not perfect, I’m not happy,” Schatz said with a smile next to his Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing No.15. “These guys do an excellent job, night-in and night-out. I felt great on that restart with seven to go. I knew it would take someone with a lot of speed to get by me and sure enough here comes the No.1s [Logan Schuchart].”
Fans have learned over the past several years that you better not mess around with getting tickets to the World Finals. Even though the main grandstand at The Dirt Track at Charlotte seats a whopping 14,000 fans, the event typically sells every single seat in advance. The 2018 season marked the eighth-straight year that the final night has been a complete sellout. Total attendance for the Saturday program was close to 25,000.
Needless to say, dirt track racing in November in North Carolina is alive and well.
On to the Next Gig
While I plan to do a future article highlighting the extensive changing rides for the 2019 campaign, here’s a quick overview of what we saw at Charlotte.
Shane Stewart made his final ride with Kyle Larson Racing (KLR). He will be moving to CJB Motorsports for 2018. Meanwhile his replacement at KLR, Carson Macedo, enjoyed a fast-weekend in a team car to Stewart. Only a flat tire with seven laps remaining could keep him from Victory Lane in Saturday night’s finale.
Connecticut’s David Gravel entered his final event for CJB Motorsports and has been announced as the new driver for the Jason Johnson Racing No.41. The potent combo will make a run at the 2019 WoO Sprint Car championship.
There’s a bevy of other expected ride changes that will be unveiled in the coming weeks. If everything comes to be, this could likely go down as one of the craziest, silliest seasons of all time for dirt track racing.
The End Result
Sure, the rain made for a long day on Saturday. The marathon of racing began about 1:30 p.m. and didn’t wrap up until after 11:00 p.m., but it didn’t dampen the fun of this great event. If you’ve ever been to the World Finals, odds are pretty good that you are already planning to be there next year. If you’ve never been before, I strongly encourage you to check out the event next year. However, be warned that you need to start planning immediately. Again, it’s truly one of the hottest tickets in dirt track racing.