We’ve seen a trend in Dirt Late Model racing, where many of our sport’s crown jewel and premier events have picked up a sanction by a touring series over the past decade and a half. Long gone are the days, when these races ran unsanctioned with no points and no provisionals attached to them.
Let me be the first to say that I have no issue with either the World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Late Model Series, or the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series (LOLMDS), sanctioning some of these signature events. Many times the tours bring something unique to the shows. For some racers, it also adds a sense of comfort knowing the staff and the rules that will govern these mega-paying events.
I guess you could say I’m a bit of a sentimentalist. I have lots of great memories from my childhood of going to major events that were unsanctioned. There’s just always been a different feel about these types of races. I love seeing a random field of racers chasing big paydays and laying it all on the line.
Sometimes, I personally feel that it cheapens major events when they award provisional-starting spots based on touring points. I love the thought of 24 drivers battling tooth and nail to earn a spot in the finale. There’s no handouts or free passes to the big show.
These days most big events are now sanctioned. However, there are a few exceptions to the rules in the South. One such event that comes to mind, is this weekend’s Magnolia State Cotton Pickin’ 100 at Johnny Stokes’ Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus, Mississippi.
The race is unique in many facets. Not only does it represent one of the last great unsanctioned races in Dirt Late Model Racing, but it also features the merger of two storied events.
Veteran southern businessman and promoter, Dewitt Singleton, founded the Magnolia State 100 back in 1989. For the next 11 years, he held the event at various tracks around the state of Mississippi. After not holding the race in 2000, Singleton moved the event to Columbus Speedway in 2001. The decision set things in motion for the race’s current configuration.
“I had been having the Magnolia State 100 at tracks throughout Mississippi, but after the 1999 edition, I decided that there just wasn’t a track around that really offered what I wanted for the race,” Singleton recounts. “In 2000, I started to take note that Johnny Stokes had really turned around Columbus Speedway, so we decided for the 2001 season to bring the race back to life and have it as his place.”
The race thrived for the next 11 years at the track, known as “The Baddest Bullring in the South.” Winners included names like Billy Moyer, Mike Marlar, Chris Wall, Don O’Neal, Shane Clanton, and Anthony Rushing.
While the Magnolia State 100’s run at Columbus Speedway was something special, it soon drew to an end. By 2010 Johnny Stokes had made the decision to assume operations at Magnolia Motor Speedway, which is also situated in Columbus. The respected promoter and track-prep guru had been assisting at the state-of-the-art oval and ultimately made the decision to depart Columbus Speedway to run the 3/8-mile oval on a full-time basis.
“Columbus Speedway was getting to a point, where it needed some upgrades,” Stokes remembers. “I didn’t really have the money required to do what needed to be done to keep running big shows there. It was about that time, I was presented with the opportunity to fully takeover the reins at Magnolia Motor Speedway. I loved the Bullring, so it was a tough decision, but one that I knew needed to be made.”
With Stokes making a transition to a new facility, the Magnolia State 100 ran for one more year at Columbus Speedway, before going on hiatus once again. While the Columbus-area lost one event for the 2012 season, there was another new kid on the block. The builders of Magnolia Motor Speedway started a new, late-season special event in 2004, which was dubbed the Cotton Pickin’ 100.
The fledgling race quickly gained steam with winners like Billy Moyer, Scott Bloomquist, Jonathan Davenport, Jimmy Owens, and others.
During the winter of 2012-2013, Stokes and Singleton began talking about joining forces to combine both the Magnolia State 100 and Cotton Pickin’ 100 into a single, mega-event. What started as a discussion became a reality for the 2013 season, as the Magnolia State Cotton Pickin’ 100 era was born. Jimmy Owens reaped the benefits as he pocketed a handsome $20,000 for picking up the win in the inaugural collaboration.
“I hated to see the Magnolia State 100 go away, so when Johnny (Stokes) and I started talking about combining the races, it seemed like a total no-brainer,” Singleton comments. “Magnolia Motor Speedway is an awesome facility for both racers and fans, and I’m proud we decided to join forces.”
For Stokes, bringing Singleton on board as a partner for the event, lessened some of the stresses of hosting a major race. “With the two of us spearheading things, it allowed me to share some of the duties with him, and allowed me to focus on track prep and other things,” Stokes said. “We’ve been able to do some really cool things together so far, and hopefully the best is yet to come.”
While having a partner to host such a big event has made life easier for Stokes and Singleton, there’s still new challenges that the duo faces each year. Most notably it’s become tougher and tougher to keep the race successful as an unsanctioned event.
“It used to be that both Lucas Oil and the Outlaws would be off, when we held the race, so we could get big names from both series to go along with all of our regional talent,” Stokes notes. “These days both tours run against us, so we have to work even harder to promote our event to racers.”
While some of the sport’s preeminent names will be in other parts of the country chasing points with the national tour’s during this weekend’s annual Magnolia State Cotton Pickin’ 100, there will be no shortage of talent in the pit area at the Mississippi oval. The pre-entry list is dotted with national and regional talent. Drivers like Billy Moyer, Dale McDowell, Brandon Overton, Ray Cook, Chris Ferguson, Chris Wall, Tanner English, Billy Moyer Jr., Timothy Culp, the Rickman brothers, Jack Sullivan Tanner English, and a slew of others have already pre-entered into the event.
A new wrinkle for the 2018 edition of the storied race found a new Super Late Model format being implemented. Instead of running a single event with qualifications and heat races on Friday night, and the consolation races and a single finale on Saturday night, the format has a new look. Friday night will see a complete $4,000-to-win program contested, while Saturday night will see a full $12,000-to-win program contested.
“We decided that for this year, we wanted to do something different for the racers and the fans,” Stokes states. “So, we came up with a program where there will be two complete shows. We want to give everyone more bang for their buck.”
While the task is tougher than ever, Stokes is also proud to keep the event unsanctioned. “Some of these races need to stay unsanctioned,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with Lucas Oil or the Outlaws, but there’s just something special about a late-season race where there’s no series attached. It just offers something different up to the fans and racers.”
Singleton echoes Stokes comment, and follows it up with one of his favorite parts of the event. “I love seeing who all pulls through the pit gate to start the weekend, because there’s always some surprises,” Singleton comments. “For a lot of folks, they come this weekend to see the Super Late Models chase big cash. But just as much, I love seeing the fields of cars and action we get in all of the divisions. Our Street Stocks and Crate Late Model fields have become something spectacular in recent years, and I think this year will be the biggest yet.”
Kudos to Stokes and Singleton for having the drive to forge ahead against adversity. I salute them and hope that both their grandstand and pit area are overflowing not only this weekend, but also for decades to come.