Georgia Dirt Late Model veteran Dale McDowell hadn't seen Winchester Speedway for a number of years, but that didn't stop him from winning the 49th annual Winchester 200 in dominating fashion.
McDowell didn't set a fast time in qualifying Friday -- that distinction went to Austin Hubbard -- but McDowell's dominance started that night when he led every lap of the 35-lap preliminary feature starting the 24 fastest cars. That win sent the 46-year-old back to his hauler with $3,500. Bo Feathers won the 25-lap non-qualifiers race, making him the 16th different winner at the track in 2012.
Saturday's Late Model action began with two 25-lap, $1,000-to-win qualifying races. D.J. Myers and McDowell won those events, putting them on the front row for the 50-lap main event.
McDowell's dominance continued, as he jumped to the lead when the green flag flew and, although Myers got close at times, nobody else had a chance at the $8,000 winner's purse. On top of that, McDowell received $2,500 in bonus money from Ernie Davis, sending him home with $15,000.
Support divisions were in action both nights at Winchester. Friday night winners were Mike Corbin in Pure Stock, Cody Sweeney in U-car, and Greg Gunter in Four-cylinder. Saturday's support division winners were Tanner Kerr in Limited Late Model, Kenny Thomas in Enduro Stock, and Kevin Oates in U-car.
Greg Gunter has always been a great competitor in the Four-cylinder division. He's also made a lot of improvements to the facility since he's purchased Winchester Speedway. But I hesitate to endorse track owners competing on their own track.
Nothing that Gunter did makes me question the wisdom of owners racing at facilities they own. I once went to a $100,000-to-win Super Late Model show on pavement at Wiscasset, Maine. My 12-hour drive to the track got me there in time to see qualifying races.
I sat in the stands outside the pits with crew members from the various teams; it was like sitting in the backstretch stands at Winchester. Each of the qualifying races secured the top-five finishers into the feature.
In one of the races, the guy running fourth seemed to be desperate to grab third. Mind you, they were both well ahead of the fifth-place car and qualified for the show in the positions they ran. Then, with one lap to go in the qualifying race, the fourth-place car wrecked himself and the third-place runner.
The man sitting next to me turned and said, "You'd think the track owner would know enough not to race like that!"
Needless to say, the wrecked driver was not pleased, and vowed never to return to that track. He had supporters in the pits as well, and a few cars left that night. I'd never seen anything like it.
Every time I've seen Gunter compete, he's always been a clean racer. I would never expect him to make the move I watched that track owner in Maine make. But anything can happen on a racetrack, and usually does, and it's easy to hurt another racer's feelings. Why risk it? Of course, unlike that track owner in Maine, Gunter isn't competing in his headlining division. And I'm sure if I owned a racetrack, you can bet I'd be on it.
Speaking of being on it, how about that Denny Hamlin? It's good to see a guy whose roots are racing Late Models in Virginia do well. He bounced back nicely with his dominating win in New Hampshire after running out of gas at Chicago. Jimmie Johnson now leads the Sprint Cup points by one over Brad Keselowski. Hamlin is seven points behind in third, followed by Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer.
James Buescher won the Camping World Truck Series race at Kentucky, and Austin Dillon grabbed the Nationwide win. I think NASCAR needs to change one of those divisions to help maintain fan interest.
Why not change the trucks' format? How about if they run two heat races to determine the starting grid -- pay points and purse for the heats -- and then run a shorter feature. Make the trucks seem like more of a short track show, even when they run on superspeedways.
They could invert the top-10 starters in the feature. The fifth-place truck in the first heat starts on the pole, the fifth-place truck in the second heat starts second. Even make the truck that won the previous feature race start no higher than 10th. Something needs to be done to keep the fans interested.
-- Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.