Why Locals Attempt To Compete Against The Pros In National Events

The two national dirt late model tours — Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series — typically see 10 to 12 drivers follow the entire schedule. To make up the rest of the field for a feature, they rely on regional and local racers. While some regional teams race to make a living, most do it as a hobby.

So, why would a hobbyist dare to compete with a professional? It’s the equivalent of a beer league baseball slugger stepping into the batter’s box against a Major League Baseball pitcher. As crazy as this sounds, it happens every Lucas Oil or World of Outlaws race. We asked three local stars who hail from the Bluegrass State — Tommy Bailey, Tanner English, and Dustin Linville — why they chose to compete in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event last August at Ponderosa Speedway in Junction City, Kentucky.

Lives Up to His Name

Tommy Bailey, aka “The Big Show,” hauls from Corbin, Kentucky, an hour-and-a-half away from Ponderosa. The 37-year-old steers a Late Model that consists of a 2015 Swartz Race Cars chassis and a 434ci, standard-bore Chevrolet powerplant from Custom Race Engines.

“Just one car and engine,” Bailey said of his fleet. “I’ve got good stuff. I just ain’t got two of everything — only one of everything.”

His team consists of a bunch of buddies who help as volunteers. Together, they frequent the top five in Super Late Model events at Ponderosa and nearby Lake Cumberland Speedway in Burnside, Kentucky. Nevertheless, Bailey maintains realistic expectations of competing with the professionals.

Late Model driver Tommy Bailey of Corbin, Kentucky, at Ponderosa Speedway in Junction City, Kentucky for a Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event.

“We’ll try to do our best with them,” Bailey said before the race. “They’re tough. We’ll see if we can get into the show.”

Competing at a national event requires significant investment. The heavy equipment mechanic bought six tires at $175 apiece — four new ones that he raced the whole night on, with two spares. Add fuel for the race car, entry fee, pit passes, and fuel for his tow-rig (a 2003 Ford F-350 diesel, with a 40-foot enclosed trailer), and the expenses for the night near $1,500. Bailey feels it’s worth it. He gets to compete against racers who he idolizes.

“I always liked Jimmy Owens and Earl Pearson Jr.,” said Bailey. “They’re fun to watch, and they’re fun to race against.”

It makes you feel pretty good to compete against the caliber of those guys. — Tommy Bailey

With 27 cars attempting to make the 24-car field, Bailey did more than just eke his way into the show. He finished well enough in his heat to start Ninth in the feature. However, in the feature, he broke a right-rear axle, ending his night early, earning $1,000 for his efforts.

“It was a good experience, even if we finished 22nd,” said Bailey. “It makes you feel pretty good to compete against the caliber of those guys.”

Don’t Call Him Chicken

Dustin “The Rooster” Linville returned to racing in July after taking a couple of years off to spend more time with his growing family, which includes his wife, Shae, and two daughters, Riley (6), and Haisley (2). The 28-year-old carpenter from Bryantsville, Kentucky, races for Tim Short, who owns several car dealerships in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, and Tennessee.

If we were to have a top-ten tonight, I’d be tickled to death.  Dustin Linville

While Short funds the deal, Linville and his father perform most of the maintenance on the car. Their ride is a 2019 Rocket Chassis XR1, with a 434 ci, 13-degree, standard-bore engine from local builder Bullock Race Engines. Linville also drives the hauler, which is a toterhome and a 26-foot trailer. The race was convenient for the driver who once regularly raced big events like the one held at Ponderosa.

“We’re 30 minutes from Ponderosa,” Linville said. “It’s hard not to come and see how we can stack up with them.”

Don’t mistake that convenience for less expense. As with the others we interviewed for this story, Linville estimated they spent around $1,500 to race that night.

Late Model driver Dustin Linville, of Bryantsville, Kentucky, at Ponderosa Speedway for a Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event.

“To come [to Ponderosa] for a local event, it’s anywhere from $400 to $600 to race,” said Linville. “Lucas Oil events are more costly. Tires are priced higher, along with entry fees and a longer race.

“It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to do, but it’s a hobby and hobbies cost money. We work Monday through Friday to spend money on the weekend to do what we enjoy, with people we enjoy being around.”

Like Bailey, Linville had measured expectations.

“If we were to have a top-ten tonight, I’d be tickled to death,” said Linville before the heats. “Our goal is to keep the car in one piece, have fun with it, and do the best we possibly can. If everybody’s smiling at the end of the night, it’s a win.”

Linville almost achieved that goal. He started 13th and raced his way into the top-five. Unfortunately, he got caught in a wreck, resulting in a last-place finish and a $1,000 payday. Luckily, most of the damage he incurred was cosmetic. He ventured the next night to Portsmouth Raceway Park in Ohio, another Lucas Oil event, which allowed him to race in front of his family on a national stage.

Tanner Terrific

Tanner English, 26, of Benton, Kentucky, rides to the races with a team primarily consisting of three people — himself, father Terry, and older brother Justin. They show up with a tractor-trailer that holds their sole car, a 2016 Rocket XR1, with a 430ci, 13-degree, standard-bore Chevrolet from Jay Dickens Racing Engines.

I feel like our odds are pretty good. The last time we were here, we won. — Tanner English

The family team hauled from four hours away. They figured they spent close to $1,500 to race at Ponderosa, although they only bolted on one new tire for the race.

After a win earlier in the month at Ponderosa, and another victory the week before at Lake Cumberland, the driver who earns a living as an HVAC technician felt he could mix it up with the professionals.

“I feel like our odds are pretty good,” English said earlier that night at Ponderosa. “The last time we were here, we won — there were a lot less high-quality cars, but it’s still a win. We might as well come out here and race against the best.”

Late Model driver Tanner English, of Benton, Kentucky, at Ponderosa Speedway for a Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event.

English started the feature Fourth and contended for the win, finishing Second to eventual race winner and Lucas Oil 2019 points championship runner-up Tim McCreadie. The effort earned English $5,500 — a sum of $1,500 more than what he got when he won the unsanctioned event at Ponderosa earlier in the month.

“When you see who didn’t run as good, that’s when you put things in perspective,” said English.

Names below English’s in the results rundown include series champions such as Jonathan Davenport, Don O’Neal, Jimmy Owens, Josh Richards, and Earl Pearson Jr. Indeed, the Bluegrass State native did well.

His performance proves that local and regional racers do more than just fill the field. Strong runs by locals strengthen a hometown crowd’s connection to the national touring events and inspire other weekend warriors to chase their dreams, both of which keep car counts and crowds robust in dirt Late Model racing.

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