New Beginnings

Arizona Speedway

The Wild West Shootout moves to Arizona Speedway for the 2017 edition. (Arizona Speedway Facebook image)

The past year has been a series of new beginnings for me. While I continued to operate my motorsports PR and marketing company – MSR Mafia – I made changes in many other aspects of my professional life.

From departing my three-year tenure as the voice of the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series to making the move to a dream role as a CBS Sports broadcaster to taking over the print and digital controls of OneDirt, there have been no shortage of new beginnings for me.

I guess it’s all part of life, but boy what a ride it’s been so far.

I’m never one to be content sitting idle, so I’m always looking for new challenges. Needless to say my plate stayed full of new opportunities in 2016.

For the past 15 years I’ve been announcing races. I’ve been blessed to get the chance to work just about every event on my bucket list. Last year I had an absolute blast announcing dozens of events. Some were mainstays like the World 100, Dirt Late Model Dream, Short Track Nationals, Knoxville Late Model Nationals, etc. Others were new to me such as becoming the voice of the inaugural Gateway Dirt Nationals and the annual Wild West Shootout.

Speaking of the Wild West Shootout, the event itself is undergoing a new beginning in 2017, and thus this article is born.

Wild West Shootout 2017
This year’s edition of the wildly-popular miniseries roars to life on January 6-15. During the course of this stretch there will be an open practice and six events contested. Dirt Late Models, USRA Modifieds, and X-Mods will take center stage in the program as they battle in a complete show each night. Over $200,000 will be paid out during the course of the 10-day endeavor.

Oh and by the way, did I mention that if a Dirt Late Model driver can win all six events, he or she will receive a $250,000 bonus from Keyser Manufacturing? To win five events presents a $100,000 check, and a four-win effort is rewarded with a $50,000 bounty.

Nice pocket change to start the season, for sure.

This event annually draws an eclectic field of competitors from across the United States and Canada. For some it represents the chance to get an early start on the season. For others it offers the chance to escape the clutches of Old Man Winter.

The miniseries has a storied history. Early foundations for what we know today as the Wild West Shootout were laid almost two decades ago by Midwest transplant, Ernie Mincy. The promoter had the dream of bringing eastern drivers to the West early in the season.

Not only did Mincy see it as an opportunity to give drivers the opportunity to start their season early, but he also saw it as a chance to bring top-notch Dirt Late Model action to an area of the country that typically didn’t get to see this type of competition.

Early efforts were held at Central Arizona Raceway in Case Grande in the late 1990’s. Moderate success was enjoyed, but as is the case in anything, the event went through various trials and tribulations.

Ricky Thornton Jr. (33) and Billy Moyer (21) battle for position. ( photo)

Ricky Thornton Jr. (33) and Billy Moyer (21) battle for position during the 2016 Wild West Shootout. ( photo)

From changing promoters to changing locations the event has seen more than its fair share of challenges. There’s been more than one hiatus thrown into the mix as the miniseries searched desperately for stability.

Fast forward to 2017 as the event prepares for its 11th edition, and yet again change is at hand. A new venue, a new format, and increased prize monies are all part of the equation.

In 2015 promoters, Chris Kearns and Kevin Montgomery took over the reins of the Wild West Shootout. The event was held at USA Raceway in Tucson. It enjoyed considerable success, and in 2016 the event again was contested at the state-of-the-art Tucson facility.

2016 was another banner year for the event as more than 160 competitors converged on the 4/10-mile oval to do battle. Another wildly successful event was enjoyed. Unfortunately, various issues forced Kearns and Montgomery to search for a new home for the race in 2017.

Once again the Wild West Shootout was facing adversity. Possible venues, ranging from Arizona to Nevada, were evaluated. Ultimately Arizona Speedway – just outside of Phoenix – was selected as the new home for the event.

The 3/8-mile oval, located in Queen Creek, Arizona, had been catching a lot of attention from racers, fans, and industry insiders over the previous years. Led by Jonah Trussel the track was making steady improvements to every aspect of the facility. It grabbed national attention in 2016 as the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Cars and USAC Sprint Cars both made visits. Huge crowds and fantastic action headlined both events.

These national-level shows accompanied by a steady, successful weekly program made it the clear-cut choice to be the new home of the Wild West Shootout.

So here we are with yet another new beginning for the Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts. Less than a handful of drivers have any experience at the track. Drivers and fans alike have clamored to videos of racing action from the facility to get a feel for what to expect. Research to date all points toward the possibility for the racing to be really great.

However, as is the case with any new beginning until this event officially comes to life, it’s impossible to forecast exactly how things will go. It’s all part of a new beginning.

Arizona SpeedwayFor me as an announcer, I’m not sure what to expect from the sound system, the speakers, etc. It’s both exciting and a little nerve-racking to start something new. It’s the nature of the beast. As I type this on an American Airlines plane bound for the desert, I know I’ll feel better in 24 hours when my equipment is completely installed and tested. Just like moving into a new apartment, it’s always a feeling of comfort when you are able to comfortably settle into your new digs.

Racers that I’ve talked to are all saying the same thing. There’s a nervous anticipation of learning the characteristics of Arizona Speedway. From the preferred line to run to gearing to everything in between, just about everybody is starting with a blank notebook on this one.

For Kearns and Montgomery, there’s clearly a nervous anticipation. I mean they have over $200,000 invested in the miniseries. They already know that the racers will be there, but will the fans support the event at its new home?

For the promoting pair there is some comfort in their experiences to date at the facility. Montgomery was a co-promoter for the Western World Championships held at the track late in 2016, and was more than pleased by the racing action and the fan support. Hopefully this transitions over to Dirt Late Models and Modifieds in January.

So maybe “new” is the norm these days. Whether it be new challenges or new beginnings, perhaps we are all looking for a fresh start. While old and familiar can be comfortable, maybe there’s just no fun in not challenging the unknown.

With determined minds and a diligent focus, we all prepare to embark on the 11th annual Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout at Arizona Speedway. Hopefully in two-week’s time we can look back and proudly say that this new beginning was just what the doctor ordered.

I hope to see many of you fine folks in the desert with us watching all of the action, but if you can’t make it, you can tune in to a pay-per-view each and every night at .

Ready or not the 2017 season is officially here, so let’s grab it by the horns and have some fun!

About the author

Ben Shelton

Ben got his start at historic Riverside International Speedway. His accomplished motorsports media career includes journalist, race announcer, and on-air personality.
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