On July 18-20, I was lucky enough to again be part of the broadcast team for the annual Silver Dollar Nationals. The ninth edition of the annual classic at the Kosiski family-owned I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Nebraska, was yet another barnburner of an event. So many storylines emerged from the event that I deemed it sensible to put together a notebook of some of the notable happenings.
But First, The Earlier Events
While the 9th Annual Imperial Tile Silver Dollar Nationals was the headline gig for the week’s events, activities in the Midwest kicked off much earlier in the week. I joined the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series as part of the broadcast team on Tuesday night, July 16 at South Dakota’s Brown County Speedway.
Late-afternoon severe storms looked likely to doom the event, but somehow, someway, the track only received a brief shower. Twenty-four entries took to the 3/8-mile oval and Josh Richards raced to his second win of the 2019 campaign. Meanwhile, Stormy Scott scored a season-best Third-place finish after running in Second for much of the feature.
The next night slated to have the tour in action at the state-of-the-art Jackson Motorplex (Jackson, Minnesota). Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas and nixed the program with torrential rain. As a result, our traveling circus of gearheads headed southwest to Nebraska to prepare for the Silver Dollar Nationals.
Some Like It Hot
Living in Memphis (aka, the land of humidity), I always assumed I was acclimated to hot temps. Yet, I-80 Speedway always has a special way of reminding me I’m still a heatwave novice. Temps for the first two days of the events surpassed the 100-degree mark, and the heat index soared to as high as 118 degrees.
While the heat might have weighed us all down, it didn’t put a damper on the red-hot racing action. We were all thankful for northern winds on Saturday evening, which thoroughly put the smackdown on the humidity and miserable temps.
The Highs and Lows of Racing
Arizona’s Jake O’Neil has enjoyed a banner year in his #0 Modified. With wins across multiple sanctions, he entered the Silver Dollar Nationals weekend with eight triumphs already to his credit. In Thursday night’s $2,000-to-win, IMCA Modified program he only led one lap, but it was the most important one. O’Neil charged to the top spot on the final circuit to claim his ninth win of the year.
The next night, he debuted a brand-new LG2 Modified in preliminary action with the United States Modified Touring Series (USMTS). The talented, young racer quickly saw his luck flipped upside down. During hot laps, he broke the transmission, bellhousing, and associated components. The result was a scratch from the remainder of the night’s program.
He bounced back on Saturday night to charge from the C-Main to the B-Main to a Sixth-place finish in the finale.
“It was definitely a weekend of new-car blues, but we persevered through the adversity and came away with a solid finish in the final race,” O’Neil said. “It wasn’t the way that we envisioned the weekend going, but that’s just racing.”
In 2018, Bobby Pierce made an impressive debut at I-80 Speedway. He charged from 28th on the grid to quickly take the lead in the $53,000-to-win, LOLMDS finale. The Illinois racer looked unstoppable, but alas a thorn in his side began to emerge in the closing laps. With smoke starting to billow out of his familiar #32, ultimately Pierce was sidelined with an engine failure with just three laps remaining.
Pierce returned in 2019 with a sense of determination. Despite a handful of scuff-ups with other drivers as well as the concrete retaining wall throughout the 80-lap feature, Pierce achieved sweet redemption. He charged away from the field to get his first win in the storied event.
“I’ve been thinking about this race for 365 days,” Pierce shared. “Last year, we didn’t get beat. We gave it away. That made it a much-more painful loss. However, we came back this year and got the job done. Emotionally, this race means as much to me as any race I’ve ever won.”
Oklahoma-native Jason Hughes has achieved just about everything possible in the USMTS competition. The four-time series champion has been prolific throughout his career. However, as he moves into the future, he’s looking to scale back his racing operation.
“We built a new house a few years ago, and honestly the house and surrounding lot are only about 70% done because I’ve been so busy racing. I want to catch up on that and a lot of other stuff,” the 45-year-old Hughes revealed. “I’ve got my hauler for sale, and I’m going to likely just get a single-car trailer. I’m not retiring or anything like that, but I’m just going to focus more on my family and getting some non-racing things done.”
Doing What They Say Can’t Be Done
When it comes to the Malvern Bank Super Late Model Racing Series (SLMRS) action at I-80 Speedway, Kyle Berck is one tough cookie. In 27 series events at the oval, Berck has won almost half of them. As a result, he was the odds-on favorite to take home the big check in Thursday night’s Malvern Bank 35. Apparently though, Iowa’s Tyler Bruening didn’t get the memo.
Bruening caught Berk in lapped traffic and overtook the Nebraska racer for the lead on lap 26. Once out front, Bruening cruised to his third SLMRS win of 2019 by more than a straightaway.
“It’s tough to beat [Kyle] Berck anywhere, much less at I-80 Speedway, so this is a special win,” Bruening shared. “Early in the race he got away from me, but I was able to catch him in lapped traffic to get the victory.”
Unbeknownst to most, Berck’s runner-up performance came as the veteran driver battled a severe case of shingles. The ensuing pain kept him from competing in the remainder of the weekend’s Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event.
Rocket Rodney Does It Again
To say that the USMTS Modified competition at I-80 Speedway belongs to Rodney Sanders would be a giant understatement. Over the past several events at the 4/10-mile oval, he has been thoroughly dominant. Sanders picked up a $1,000 prelim win on Friday night and backed it up with a wire-to-wire victory in Saturday night’s $8,000-to-win finale. With the wins, he’s now won 10 of the last 12 events he’s entered at the Nebraska facility.
“Needless to say, I absolutely love coming here,” Sanders exclaimed after claiming his seventh win of 2019. “Something about this place just fits my driving style. Because of that, we always seem to be a contender anytime we come here.”
With his weekend performance, Sanders clinched the USMTS Northern Lights Series championship and the USMTS Mid-American Series championship. He also extended his advantage atop the USMTS Nationals point standings as he pursues his third-career title.
Back To Bloomquist
After departing Skyline Motorsports following the Dirt Late Model Dream in June, Chris Madden returned to the driver’s seat of a Bloomquist Race Car over the weekend. In fact, he was in a team car to Scott Bloomquist.
Making his debut at I-80 Speedway was no challenge for the South Carolina driver. He led laps in the 80-lap, LOLMDS finale before ultimately finishing Second to Pierce.
“This is a really cool place and reminds me of the old configuration of the Cherokee Speedway [South Carolina] a little bit. We had a great car all weekend, but Bobby [Pierce] did what he had to do to win, and I salute him for it,” Madden commented. “It feels great to be back in a Bloomquist Race Car. I’m excited about the remainder of this year and what we can accomplish.”
Mo’ Money, Mo’ Money, Mo’ Money
Before the start of Saturday night’s finales, track-promoter Joe Kosiski revealed plans for an expanded purse in 2020.
“The race is still going to pay $53,000-to-win, but we’re adding more than $50,000 to the total weekend payout,” Kosiski revealed. “Every spot, all the way through last place in the non-qualifier’s race, will receive an extra $1,000. In addition, the feature will be 101 laps [instead of the standard 80], and the leader at lap 10 will get a $1,000 bonus. The same goes for lap 20, 30, 40, etc, So if you lead the whole way, you’ll win $63,000.
The 2020 edition of the mega event is set for July 16-18. If you’ve never been, I can’t stress enough, how imperative it is for any true race fan to check it out. Sure, it’s hot, but man the racing is impressive. I always describe I-80 Speedway as a big track that races like a bullring.
In my humble opinion, the Silver Dollar Nationals is quickly racing up the list of crown jewel events and has established itself as a must-see event.