Elite Chassis finishes 1-2, six-straight Big Gator points championships for Hoffman
The Little Gator is now officially a Big Gator winner.
Justin Allgaier cashed-in on his DIRTcar UMP Modified experience at Volusia Speedway Park Monday night for his second career DIRTcar Nationals victory and first in the division’s most prestigious event – the Gator Championship Feature.
For his efforts, a $5,000 check in his pocket and one of the most coveted dirt track racing trophies in the world headed back to his race shop.
Over 100 different drivers entered at least one event over the seven-day stretch, and Allgaier has now topped them all. Including his car builder and the newly crowned six-time Big Gator points champion, Nick Hoffman.
“We’ve been coming down here for a number of years,” Allgaier said. “What this week means to all of us as racers… I really don’t think people understand what the DIRTcar Nationals is all about.
“To have over 100 cars here this week and just to grind it out and battle some of the best racers in the country is truly special.”
Hoffman started on the pole of the 30-lap main event and looked as strong as he ever had been before, opening up a solid gap over the other leaders until the lapped traffic hit on Lap 11.
“I went into [Turn] one, and I don’t know what actually happened in front of me in the lapped traffic, but it was about four rows in front of me,” Hoffman said. “It looked like somebody was turned sideways and they were gonna wreck, so I checked-up because I didn’t know which way they were gonna go.
“Then they were four-wide down the back-straightaway; I got tight getting into [Turn] 3, so Justin passed me, then [Michael] Altobelli passed me. I think [Spencer] Hughes was alongside me; luckily the caution came out and saved me right there.”
With Hoffman now in his rearview, it was Allgaier’s time to shine. He picked up the pace throughout the rest of the race, keeping Hoffman, Altobelli and eventual third-place finisher Mike McKinney at bay behind him through several restarts.
McKinney came from 12th on the starting grid and made big gains throughout the first half of the race, cracking the top-five by the halfway point.
“There was a mud ring down on the bottom and some guys just weren’t really hitting it right,” McKinney said. “Once I hit it, I’d just wait for those guys to push up out of the groove and I was already set up to pounce on it when they made a mistake.”
Hoffman tried mightily throughout the final laps to catch Allgaier after making his way back around Altobelli for second, but just could not muster the speed he needed to get by his fellow Elite Chassis driver in the end. However, he was proud to see so many of the cars be built have success at Volusia over the entire week. His sixth consecutive Big Gator points championship is just icing on the cake.
“It’s one of the best years that I’ve had down here, for sure,” Hoffman said. “Very consistent every night. To run second to one of my team cars is pretty cool. I couldn’t ask for a better person to run second to.”
In Victory Lane, Allgaier jumped atop his Elite Chassis #7 before the confetti cannon was even in position, displaying his excitement after winning one of the biggest and most meaningful dirt races of his career after so many attempts at it throughout the past several years.
“I was able to win a [little] Gator on multi-Feature night one time, and I knew how much that meant to me. But this Big Gator, to add our name to the list, to beat the caliber of drivers we had here this weekend… there were a lot of teams that put on an all-out assault to try and knock Nick off, and we just got lucky enough that we were the ones to be able to do it,” Allgaier said.
This concludes the DIRTcar UMP Modified action in the 50th DIRTcar Nationals, but the Late Models are just getting started. Night #2 of Late Model Week gets underway Tuesday night with the second show for the DIRTcar Late Models; watch all the action live on DIRTVision!
Both winners now with a chance to start on the pole of Monday’s Gator Championship
Two of the biggest names in DIRTcar UMP Modified chassis building were shining bright on Gator Qualifier night.
Nick Hoffman, representing his own Elite Chassis, stood tall in Volusia Speedway Park Victory Lane with his 20th career DIRTcar Nationals Feature win Sunday night in Gator Qualifier #2.
The first Gator Qualifier from the rained-out portion of Saturday night was contested immediately following the Sunday Qualifier and saw the return of a former DIRTcar Nationals champion to Victory Lane for the first time in 14 years. Steve Arpin, representing Longhorn Modifieds by Loenbro Motorsports, was presented with his first Gator trophy as a DIRTcar Nationals Feature winner after leading flag-to-flag in Gator Qualifier #2.
The top-10 finishers from each of the Qualifiers have now been locked into Monday’s $5,000-to-win Gator Championship Feature; the top-five will redraw for their starting spots before the Feature Monday. Everyone else will be placed into a Last Chance Showdown event to try and get one of eight remaining spots on the grid of the big show.
Gator Qualifier #2 (Sunday’s program) – Nick Hoffman
Nearly nine years ago, Nick Hoffman captured his first Gator trophy at Volusia with a Feature win, then an up-and-coming UMP Modified driver with no national championships, Summit Modified titles or Big Gators. Sunday afternoon, he stood in Volusia Victory Lane after his third victory of the week in the 50th DIRTcar Nationals, now a favorite to win the Big Gator a sixth time.
On the track, it was another giant helping of Elite Chassis dominance, not only by Hoffman who led all 20 laps nearly unchallenged, but by many of Hoffman’s Elite customers. Four of the top-five drivers in the official finishing order are Elite pilots, including Hoffman himself, Garret Stewart, Matt Crafton and Justin Allgaier.
Hoffman now has a shot for the pole on Monday as he’ll be one of ten drivers in the redraw before the $5,000-to-win Gator Championship Feature. Sunday’s Qualifier redraw could be a sign of things to come for the five-time and defending event champion.
“Tonight, I was on my game on the redraw to draw the one, and I think that was crucial just to get out and set the pace and control the race myself,” Hoffman said. “My stuff’s just really good when it cleans up like that.”
Regardless of where he starts, there’s plenty of time in the 30-lap Feature to get it done from almost anywhere on the grid. He’s got the car, confidence in the seat and success in the history books on his side as he chases another coveted trophy that he comes to Florida every year in search of.
“[The Big Gator] is one of the most prestigious trophies in all of motorsports, and I’m lucky enough to have a bunch of them,” Hoffman said.
Gator Qualifier #1 (from Saturday’s program) – Steve Arpin
The last time Steve Arpin was in Volusia Speedway Park Victory Lane, he was a 23-year-old Modified ace who had just claimed his first DIRTcar Nationals championship on the back of five-consecutive Feature wins. On Sunday night, he made a big trip down memory lane with a dominant victory in the second of two Gator Qualifiers.
“Honestly, I have never in my life had such a proud moment in my racing career,” Arpin told DIRTVision pit reporter Chase Raudman after the race.
Arpin, the Rallycross racer and Longhorn by Loenbro pilot, started on the pole after a Heat Race win and cleaned-up in the Feature, leading all 20 laps for his first Gator trophy and first Volusia win since his event championship year in 2007.
Three of the top-six drivers in the Feature finishing order were Longhorn by Loenbro cars, including Nick Allen and Mike McKinney who have been fast all week.
“To have these Longhorn by Loenbro cars just so consistently fast for our first time out, honestly, the only thing I’m more excited about than standing here is coming back next year,” Arpin said.
McKinney did try and swipe the lead from Arpin on one corner after a restart, attempting a big slide job as they dove into Turn 1. He was unsuccessful and later faded back to sixth, one spot out of the redraw, but gave those watching on DIRTVision a bit of mid-race excitement.
The Longhorn by Loenbro bunch has been fast all week, notching several podiums, top-fives and top-10s. Arpin has been taking notice and expressed his gratitude for each of their new customers on the property.
“I remember when my dad was out here watching me in 2007, and I could just see it in his eyes how proud he was of me,” Arpin said. “I feel like that now watching Tyler Nicely, Brandon Green, all these guys coming out here.”
The seventh and final round of racing for the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds at Volusia Speedway Park goes down Monday night in the 30-lap, $5,000-to-win Gator Championship. Last Chance Showdown races will kick things off before the redraw; catch all the action live on DIRTVision!
Logano 19th-to-3rd in impressive UMP Modified debut; Michael Jr. beats division’s best in stacked Feature
Five separate DIRTcar UMP Modified Features raced, four first-time winners went to Volusia Speedway Park Victory Lane on Friday night.
Night #4 of the 50th DIRTcar Nationals was all about appreciation for each and every one of the 96 UMP Modified drivers signed-in for competition; everyone got to form-up in the four-wide salute to the fans and race a 15-lap Feature for $700-to-win and a chance to stand in Victory Lane, front and center on the DIRTVision cameras.
Each race was lined up by the overall event points standings going into the evening, inverting both the top-10 starters in each race and the order the Features ran in. When all was said and done, four brand-new faces and one repeat winner from last year stood in Victory Lane, collecting their Volusia Gator trophies as DIRTcar Nationals Feature victors.
Feature #1 – David Reutimann
David Reutimann’s first DIRTcar Nationals victory came on Friday last year in the quad-Feature night, setting the stage for his second act as Friday night’s only repeat winner of the five Features contested.
“We’re not in the race we need to be in, but it’s a far cry from dropping out nine laps into the Feature because we were terrible last night,” Reutimann said in Victory Lane. “Track’s a little bit different; they’ve done a great job. Track’s got a little moisture in it, so it was fun.”
Reutimann started 15th on the grid and advanced through the field rapidly, using the wrecks and restarts to his advantage to gain his first chunks of position. By Lap 3, he had already cracked the top-five and was hot on the trail of the leaders.
Reutimann finally reached the back of leader Taylor Cook as they got the two-to-go signal, and that’s when he pulled the trigger. A great run down the backstretch set Reutimann up for the pass on the high side coming out of Turn 4, which he executed perfectly to take the lead and the eventual win for his second career Volusia Gator trophy.
Crossing the stripe third was none other than the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano, making his DIRTcar Nationals debut in a UMP Modified. Starting dead-last 19th place on the grid, Logano avoided multiple wrecks in front of him and made several clean passes under green-flag conditions to grab the final podium spot in what was a very impressive first competitive start in a UMP Modified.
“I only got one gear, and it was to go,” Logano told DIRTVision pit reporter Chase Raudman in his post-race interview. “It was a good time, I finished third, that’s great, and learned a little bit. Got a little bit of damage to fix, and we’ll come back at it tomorrow night.”
The first of four first-time Volusia Gator trophy winners went to Jupiter, FL’s own Clay Harris.
Harris, a notable 602 Late Model driver, wasted no time, getting right to work on leader Troy Johnson from his fourth-place starting spot in the early going. He got a good run on Johnson on Lap 5, completed the pass and cruised home for the win after a late restart, despite making an error in car setup.
“We tightened it up for the slick and it ended up being hammer-down,” Harris said in Victory Lane. “We had a little hiccup, but we recovered and [the car] was awesome tonight.”
In what was easily the best race of the night for the lead, Nick Allen squared off with three-time NASCAR Truck Series champion Matt Crafton and came out on top in the end for his first career Volusia Gator trophy.
Allen pulled out to a comfortable lead from the outside pole in the early going but was quickly met by a challenge from seventh-starting Crafton, who was a rocket ship on the bottom.
Crafton pulled up alongside Allen and took the spot away for two consecutive laps as the field eclipsed half-way; their side-by-side battle bringing those in attendance to the edge of their seats. Allen then cracked the whip on the top side and wrestled the lead back, fending Crafton off in the final laps and crossing the stripe first to collect the $700 check.
“I knew [Crafton] was good around the bottom; I just couldn’t hold the bottom like he could,” Allen said. “I was just trying to carry a little more momentum through the middle.”
With Strickler, Hoffman, Stremme, Nicely, Arpin, McKinney and Hughes all in the same Feature, Richard Michael Jr. knew he had to be on his A-game if he wanted to win his first Volusia Gator trophy from outside the front row Friday night.
When the green flag dropped on a re-do of the original start after polesitter Kyle Strickler hit the Turn 2 wall, taking him out of the race, Michael pulled that A-game right from out of his pocket and put it on full display, leading all 15 en route to his first DIRTcar Nationals victory in dominating fashion.
“This is probably the biggest one of my career,” Michael said in Victory Lane. “We used to come down here a lot; haven’t been down here in about eight years. Every time we came down here, we didn’t have any good equipment.”
Once he got the lead on the original restart, Michael took off and flat-out ran away with the win, pulling away from the stacked competition in his Elite Chassis, built by Nick Hoffman, who finished fourth.
“We just put this car together about a week and a half ago at Nick [Hoffman’s] place. I’ve just got to thank him; if it wasn’t for him, there’s no way we’d be in Victory Lane,” he said.
The first of the two Gator Championship qualifying nights for the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds hits the track Saturday night in Round #5 of the 50th DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park. Half of the field in attendance will race while the other half will have the night off and return on Sunday for their qualifier night, all helping to determine a portion of Monday night’s starting field for the $5,000-to-win Gator Championship finale.
First DIRTcar Nationals win for Hughes while Strickler remains unbothered by injury
A new single-day record car count 96 DIRTcar UMP Modifieds signed-in to compete Thursday night at Volusia Speedway Park for Round #3 of the 50th DIRTcar Nationals and graced those in attendance with another double-shot of Feature racing action.
Jason Hughes, the Dirt Modified veteran from Westville, OK, made the move early on Wednesday night winner Tyler Nicely to hoist the gator trophy as a first-time DIRTcar Nationals winner in Feature #1. Kyle Strickler, with a bandaged-up finger and all, caught David Stremme in the thick of lapped traffic and made the move to win Feature #2.
Feature #1 – Jason Hughes
Dirt Modified racing and chassis-building veteran Jason Hughes had made multiple DIRTcar Nationals appearances with the UMP Modifieds in his career but had never been able to reach Victory Lane. Until Thursday night.
“I’m pretty happy, we finally got us a gator,” Hughes said. “I felt like we got one stolen from us last year, and to come back and get one this year is pretty good.”
Hughes started his journey to Victory Lane from the fourth position and wasted no time going forward, reaching the runner-up spot inside of the first five laps. Tyler Nicely, Feature #1 winner from Wednesday night, led the opening laps and looked to be the one to beat until an early caution flag stacked up the field with Hughes right on his tail.
The green flag waived and Nicely got a solid start, as did Hughes. They raced close for three corners before Nicely made a rare slip-up out of the groove in Turn 4, opening the door for Hughes down low to take the spot.
“[Nicely] got in there tight and shoved across the corner and I got turned underneath him, and that was what got us out front,” Hughes said.
Nicely, of Owensboro, KY, came back at Hughes to his inside just a few laps later but was unsuccessful. Hughes put it on cruise control after a few more restarts and took the checkered flag for his first time at Volusia, Nicely coming in right behind.
Steve Arpin, of Fort Frances, ON, bagged his first podium finish of the week and his first at DIRTcar Nationals since his championship year in 2007 with a third-place run Thursday night. Fellow Longhorn by Loenbro chassis driver Mike McKinney was scheduled to start third and was penalized to the tail for a late arrival to staging, but overcame the fault and made it all the way back up to eighth by the checkered flag.
Kyle Strickler went from the hospital, back to the track, from the Last Chance Showdown to the Feature and from 23rd to third in the Feature on Wednesday for one of the wildest nights in DIRTcar Nationals history. He backed that up Thursday night with his ninth career Feature win in the event, holding off longtime competitor Nick Hoffman in the process.
Fellow notable DIRTcar Nationals frontrunner David Stremme brought it home right behind them. Stremme, Hoffman and Strickler have become among the brightest faces of the UMP Modified division over the past few years, which Strickler made it a point to acknowledge in his Victory Lane interview on DIRTVision.
“These three cars here on the front-stretch here, we come down here and this Speedweeks means so much to us. We know who we’ve gotta outrun when we get here, and we all work really hard,” Strickler said.
Stremme kicked off the 20-lap Feature by jumping out to the lead in the opening laps, looking very strong and keeping Strickler and Hoffman at bay behind him. That was, until he hit lapped traffic.
Just past the halfway point, Stremme dove deep into a field of slower traffic, which gave Strickler and Hoffman the opportunity they needed to slip by. Which, they did, when Stremme got pinched a bit by a lapped car out of Turn 2 on Lap 13. Strickler got a great run out of the corner and drove firmly into Turns 3-4, sliding up in front of Stremme to complete the pass as they crossed the stripe.
“I was adjusting my driving style, and when we caught lapped traffic, it’s so tough when you’re the leader. So, that helped us out a bunch, and I think the track started coming our way too,” Strickler said.
Hoffman went with him one lap later to secure the second spot. A final restart appeared with 5 laps remaining but did not affect the running order; Strickler was just too smooth for anyone to catch.
The DIRTcar UMP Modified action continues Friday night at Volusia Speedway Park with one of the pit area’s favorite nights of the year – everybody runs a Feature! A total of five Feature races for the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds is preliminarily scheduled for competition, lined up by points totals after the already completed Features. Catch all the action on DIRTVision!
Strickler bags podium finish out of Last Chance Showdown after hospital visit just hours before
A grand total of 94 DIRTcar UMP Modifieds packed Volusia Speedway Park’s pit area Wednesday for night #2 of competition at the 50th DIRTcar Nationals, prompting a format change that called for two separate, 20-lap Features before the night was out.
Volusia’s reigning Reutimann Memorial winner Tyler Nicely, of Owensboro, KY, took advantage of another slick and smooth racing surface to grab the win in the first Feature, while the five-time and defending DIRTcar Nationals UMP Modified champion Nick Hoffman, of Mooresville, NC, did the same to score the victory in Feature #2.
Feature #1 – Tyler Nicely
Tyler Nicely seems to be picking up right where he left off at Volusia last November.
His then-brand-new Longhorn by Loenbro chassis powered him to his first career victory in the track’s marquee event, the Emil & Dale Reutimann Memorial, in November of last year. Less than three months have passed and he’s already back in Victory Lane. This time, making the pass for the lead on Lucas Lee and holding off another star-studded cast of competitors for his fourth career win in the event.
“All Speedweeks I’ve been trying to get this win; I’m glad it’s on this stage at Volusia,” Nicely said. “It’s always nice to win it with a bunch of cars, standing on this stage and getting a gator.”
Nicely’s been in action since the opening round of the Winternationals at East Bay Raceway Park two weeks ago and hadn’t been able to find Victory Lane through those five starts plus another last weekend at North Florida Speedway. But after a third-place finish in Tuesday night’s opener, Nicely cashed out with his momentum and advanced two spots higher to collect the $1,000 victory Wednesday night.
Nicely started on the outside of the front row and immediately went to work on polesitter Lucas Lee, catching him in open track and making the pass to his inside on Lap 5.
From there on out, it Nicely’s race to lose. Nobody seemed to have anything for the race leader by the end of 20 circuits as he crossed to collect the checkers. However, if there had been just one more caution later in the race, he may have had a familiar foe knocking on his door.
Kyle Strickler, of Mooresville, NC, may have gone though one of the most bizarre, painful, yet most successful runs to the front in DIRTcar Nationals history Wednesday night.
Earlier in the evening, Strickler was taken in an ambulance to a nearby hospital after severely cutting his left middle finger in the pit area while operating the lift his team uses to raise their car up.
“When I was in the ambulance after almost cutting my finger off, they told me, ‘it’s a hard no on you racing tonight,’ because that was the first question I asked them,” Strickler said. “We ended up going to the hospital, getting it stitched up and making it back here in time.”
Indeed, he did get back to the track on time. But only to tag the tail of Last Chance Showdown #1, where he snagged the final transfer spot into the first Feature. This set him up for a 23rd-place starting spot in that event, where he drove all the way back to finish third, making for what will surely be one of the most memorable nights of his career.
Nick Hoffman has often preferred the slicker, slower racing surfaces at the big tracks like Volusia. That certainly showed again Wednesday night, as he took full advantage of it in collecting his 19th career DIRTcar Nationals Feature win.
Compared to the Feature event previous, Hoffman wasted even less time in moving to the front, making the pass on polesitter David Stremme on Lap 3. From there on out, nobody had anything for the two-time and defending UMP Modified national points champion as he crossed the stripe for the win.
He makes it look so simple on the DIRTVision cameras, but sometimes, much of the battle is won before the race even starts in the pit area. Like Tuesday night, it came down to a tire selection to help Hoffman pick up the win.
“I knew it was probably gonna latch-up there in the second Feature, so I went with the hard tire again tonight,” Hoffman said. “Once it started to latch-up, I got really tight and just couldn’t maneuver quite like I needed to.”
Hoffman’s Elite Chassis had yet another good showing with himself and Justin Allgaier finishing 1st and 3rd, respectively.
“I know every nook and cranny on that racecar, so that really helps. Just running my own chassis for the last eight years; we’ve got a really good balance, obviously, at this place. It just suits my style, momentum racing, and when it gets dead slick like this, it’s really where I’m the best,” Hoffman said.
The DIRTcar UMP Modified action continues Thursday night from Volusia Speedway Park’s 50th DIRTcar Nationals with Round #3 of racing. Catch all the action live on DIRTVision!
Spalding pleased with runner-up after leading most, Arpin sixth in return to Volusia
There was just no stopping the five-time and defending DIRTcar Nationals champion Tuesday night.
Nick Hoffman scribed yet another chapter in his big book of DIRTcar UMP Modified dominance at Volusia Speedway Park with his 18th Feature win in event history, making the pass on eventual runner-up Curt Spalding in the second half of the race after a restart to claim victory.
Chilly temperatures and a smooth, slick racing surface made for ideal track conditions for the two-time and defending DIRTcar UMP Modified national points champion to race on.
“Normally I suck earlier in the week here. It’s normally pretty fast and I’m just not as good in that condition. For it to be this slick already this early in the week, hats off to the track prep crew. It’s way easier on equipment and makes our week a hell of a lot easier when the track is slower,” Hoffman said.
Volusia’s track surface was just recently redone, which presented each driver with a new element to take into account as they selected tire compounds for the 20-lap Feature.
“I just went harder on tire than them guys around me, so that definitely paid off by the end of the race,” Hoffman said. “My cars just work way better on a harder tire, so it was kind of a no-brainer for me.”
Hoffman, of Mooresville, NC, put those tires to the test almost immediately, taking second from his fourth-place starting spot in just five laps. Spalding, of Watervliet, MI, had jumped to the lead from the outside pole and had a decent gap on Hoffman in the opening circuits, until Hoffman turned on the jets and closed the gap to just a car-length as they approached halfway.
A caution flag on Lap 9 reset the field gave Spalding his first test on the restart, which he solidly passed by keeping Hoffman at bay behind him, but only for a few more times around. Another yellow on Lap 13 put Hoffman right behind him once more, and Spalding knew what was coming.
“I knew he was gonna banzai me,” Spalding said. “I was pretty good in [Turns] 3 and 4, and he had to get me passed in 1 and 2, and I knew it.”
Hoffman got a tremendous run to Spalding’s outside as they took the green on the restart, then blasted off again out of Turn 2 to complete the pass as they raced down the backstretch.
“I was able to roll down the hill and get the momentum on the front-straightaway, and I was actually just riding at [Spalding’s] quarter-panel, running at about quarter-throttle so that way, when he peeled-off to run the bottom, I could just gas-up and drive back by him,” Hoffman said.
Spalding was able to maintain second through the checkered flag while Hoffman cruised to the victory by almost five seconds. Despite giving up the lead in the second half, he was very pleased with his performance.
“We’re very happy,” Spalding said. “To unload with this caliber of cars and get the job done, we’re pretty happy.”
Tyler Nicely, of Owensboro, KY, crossed the line in third after a strong drive from fifth. The most recent Emil & Dale Reutimann Memorial winner found a hot rod early in the week with his new Longhorn by Loenbro chassis, as did fellow Loenbro pilot Steve Arpin, who placed sixth in his first race back in his own car at Volusia since 2008.
Polesitter David Stremme crossed the stripe in fourth after slipping back in the first half, but his Lethal Chassis cars looked strong, especially with fellow Lethal racer Spalding going runner-up.
The DIRTcar UMP Modified action continues from the 50th DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park Wednesday night with another 20-lap, $1,000-to-win program in race #2 of 7 for the division. Catch all the action live on DIRTVision!
The former DIRTcar Nationals UMP Modified champion from Fort Frances, ON, won a record five-consecutive Features at Volusia in 2007, leading to his first event points title. A year later, he decided to leave the dirt track world behind to pursue other racing ventures after suffering severe burns when a water line came unhooked while on the track.
This year, Arpin makes his return to Volusia behind the wheel of a Longhorn Modified by Loenbro Motorsports, debuting his new #00eh against a deep field of UMP Modified talent as they race seven-straight nights, Feb. 2-8, in search of the Big Gator championship.
Twelve seasons away from the DIRTcar world has left Arpin longing to strap back into the seat of his own UMP Modified, and what better place to do it than on the 50th anniversary of Volusia’s biggest event.
“The time was coming regardless because this has been where my passion is from the get-go,” he said.
EXPLORING HIS PASSION
Since his debut in 2013, Arpin has become a household name in the Rallycross world, competing internationally in events under several sanctioning bodies and the X Games. Several seasons of success on the circuit have quenched his thirst for thrills, but his passion for the dirt track has never been a dying flame.
“When I got into Rallycross, I was actually in Brazil racing, right after the X Games, and I called my dad and said, ‘This is as much fun I’ve had since I was racing Dirt Modifieds.’ So that’s always been my benchmark for where my love in the sport is,” he said.
Like most of the nation’s top wheelmen, Arpin advanced through several levels of motorsports before seeing success on the big stage. Racing everything from go-karts, mini-sprints and even snowmobiles as a kid, Arpin got his first Modified start at the age of 15. Although he had raced (and won) at Volusia before, a 23-year-old Arpin came to Volusia in 2007 and made DIRTcar Nationals history with his record five-consecutive Feature wins – one that has since only been tied by Jared Landers in 2009.
His accident in the following year’s DIRTcar Nationals took him out for the better part of 2008. Then, in 2009, he cashed-in on an opportunity to drive in the ARCA Menard’s Series. Some great finishes there landed him a NASCAR Xfinity Series ride at JR Motorsports in 2010 before making starts for Turner Motorsports in both the Truck and Xfinity Series through the 2012 season.
Two seasons of Rallycross competition led Arpin to NASCAR team owner Chip Ganassi’s new Rallycross program for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Loenbro Motorsports proprietors Paul & Jon Leach were co-owners of the operation at the time and eventually took over the team’s assets after Ganassi’s disinvolvement in 2017.
Arpin has been with Loenbro ever since and brought the Modified program into the mix in October of last year. Loenbro partnered with Longhorn Chassis to build cars at their shop in China Grove, NC, as well as Bilstein Shocks, to provide customers with their own take on the UMP Modified.
“For me, it was just all about the people,” Arpin said. “It wasn’t the plan going into 2020 that this is what we were going to be doing. I had a great opportunity to start building a relationship with Bilstein on lots of the other programs that we’re doing. Ultimately, those conversations just led to the Modified program.”
The Loenbro squad brings in several experienced professionals to the table, including those who have already worked with some of the division’s biggest names. Austin Bloom, who worked with multi-time DIRTcar Nationals Feature winner Kyle Strickler, has helped the team with their Rally car program and is one of many on the frontlines of the Loenbro Modified fabrication efforts.
“It was about that group of people all collaborating all their strengths to build an awesome racecar,” Arpin said. “It’s all just a bunch of steel, you just need really good people to tell it what to do.”
For every great car, there’s a great driver sitting behind the wheel, and Longhorn by Loenbro’s got quite a stacked lineup ready for to compete in the 50th DIRTcar Nationals and throughout the 2021 season.
Mike McKinney, of Plainfield, IL, suits up with a Loenbro Longhorn for the 2021 season after a solid year of competition in 2020 that saw him reach DIRTcar UMP Modified Victory Lane 19 times. The Magic Man has zero plans of scaling back on that number in 2021, and Longhorn by Loenbro is where he feels he has the best chance of continuing his success in the future.
“For me, it was kind of a business decision,” McKinney said. “This sport – it isn’t a hobby of mine; it isn’t something I do for fun. It’s something I take very seriously and want to be around for a long time.”
Like Loenbro, McKinney has built a professional relationship with the folks at Bilstein Shocks, which also aided in making the connection to Loenbro.
“For me, it’s a no-brainer with the support that Steve and the Loenbro guys are going to bring,” McKinney said. “I’ve worked really close with Bilstein Shocks, and they’re the primary shock on this car. To work directly with them on one chassis brand’s gonna help a lot.”
Two-time and defending Summit Racing Equipment American Modified Series champion Tyler Nicely, of Owensboro, KY, also stepped up to the plate with a Longhorn by Loenbro last fall and scored two big victories – one right at Volusia Speedway Park in the 7th annual Emil & Dale Reutimann Memorial.
Nicely was introduced to Arpin and the opportunity to drive a Longhorn by Loenbro through his team’s new business partners, John & Scott Clippinger. Scott and Arpin are longtime racing friends and reconnected last year, settling on a plan for both John and Nicely to drive Loenbro Longhorns in 2021.
“This is a good opportunity for me to try and take my racing career to the next level,” Nicely said. “We’re all gunning to be in a Late Model, so we’re just surrounding ourselves with the right people and trying to make the next move in our racing careers.”
Both McKinney and Nicely spent several years with their former chassis brand Elite Chassis, owned and operated by two-time and defending DIRTcar UMP Modified national champion Nick Hoffman. Each won numerous races and are very pleased with the time they spent driving under the Elite banner. Their talks were mutually understanding, and all recognized that the switch was just the next step in each of their racing careers.
“I talked with Nick and he understands the people I’m involved with, Bilstein and them,” McKinney said. “He understands it as well, to be in this sport, you’ve got to surround yourself with the right people and the right help. Nick’s been my buddy well before he was building Modifieds, and he’s going to continue being my buddy.”
“I still consider Nick one of my best friends,” Nicely said. “If it wasn’t for Nick, my name probably wouldn’t have been a bigger name in the Modifieds. He’s helped me tremendously.”
Back at the shop, Arpin and the Loenbro group have some big plans for 2021 and beyond. In addition to continuing the Rallycross ventures, Arpin and Loenbro plan on producing their Longhorn chassis under multiple different rules packages for the different sanctioning bodies across the country. But there’s a reason why they’re starting 2021 racing with the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds.
“It’s where the technology is,” Arpin said. “It’s been fascinating watching Hoffman and [David] Stremme do what they’ve done with their cars. The Lethal [Chassis] and the Elites – they’re good cars.
“To have the opportunity to come out and compete with those guys… I feel like they’re at the top of their game, and if you want to be the best, you’ve got to race against the best.”
The events that are yet to unfold for Arpin as he makes his return to DIRTcar UMP Modified racing in 2021 are as good as anyone’s guess. But one thing’s for sure – he’s proud of where he’s been, and has the utmost confidence in his team to help him reach new heights.
“I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in my Modified career, but I’ve been gone for a long time,” Arpin said. “For the likes of Justin Labonte and everyone at Longhorn to have the confidence in me to take this over… it’s truly one of the highlights of my career.”
Be on the lookout for Arpin as he takes on a full week of DIRTcar UMP Modified racing in the 50th DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park, Feb. 2-8. McKinney, Nicely, Hoffman, Stremme and more will be on the track; catch all the action live on DIRTVision!
Elite Chassis and Lethal Chassis have been among the most successful brands in recent UMP Modified history — accounting for 48 percent of all Feature wins recorded by the top-10 drivers in 2020 national points. But in 2021, a new challenger will look to end their reign.
October 2020 brought forth the formation of Longhorn Modifieds by Loenbro Motorsports into the DIRTcar realm, featuring the 2007 DIRTcar Nationals UMP Modified champion Steve Arpin and Longhorn Chassis proprietor Justin Labonte joining forces to start the production of Loenbro-unique chassis from within their shop in China Grove, NC. The brand immediately recruited several big-name drivers to their lineup, including a few of Elite’s biggest names.
Longhorn by Loenbro made its first on-track appearance in the Drydene World Short Track Championship at The Dirt Track at Charlotte with 8-time DIRTcar Nationals Feature winner Kyle Strickler at the controls. A $4,000 Feature win Saturday night verified the brand’s projected competitiveness and gave a glimpse into the future of the battle forming between Elite and Longhorn.
Two-time and defending Summit Racing Equipment American Modified Series champion Tyler Nicely, of Owensboro, KY, took the checkered flag in last November’s Emil & Dale Reutimann Memorial at Volusia, besting Elite Chassis owner/fabricator Nick Hoffman and NASCAR regular Justin Allgaier in a 50-lap, $5,000-to-win throwdown. Hoffman and Allgaier drove their Elite Chassis to a 2-3 finish Saturday’s night main event, but could not catch Nicely, a former Elite pilot, making his debut in a brand-new Longhorn by Loenbro.
Their next heavyweight bout went down the very next weekend at 411 Motor Speedway in Seymour, TN, where Nicely took his Loenbro Longhorn to Victory Lane on Friday night with Allgaier and Hoffman again finishing 2-3. But Saturday night was Hoffman’s turn to get one for Elite, besting Nicely over 25 laps to keep the friendly rivalry going.
While their competitiveness was on full display in the fall of last season, the Loenbro Longhorns will face some decorated Elite and Lethal drivers at Volusia come February.
Hoffman, the two-time and defending DIRTcar UMP Modified national champion, has left Volusia in each of the last five DIRTcar Nationals with the Big Gator trophy and a total of 16 Feature wins in the event since his first in 2012. His triumph in 2020 kicked off one of the most dominant seasons in Elite’s history, featuring four of the top 10 drivers in DIRTcar UMP Modified national points standings at season’s end driving Elite Chassis – himself, Mike McKinney, Will Krup and Hunt Gossum. All four combined for 61 total Feature victories in DIRTcar-sanctioned competition.
Former NASCAR veteran David Stremme founded Lethal Chassis in 2014, serving several big names in the UMP Modified community that always bring tough competition into the state of Florida.
Stremme himself has two career DIRTcar Nationals Feature wins. Spencer Hughes pulled off a thrilling victory in last year’s Gator Championship on Monday night, passing Jason Hughes (no relation) on the final lap to bag the $5,000 prize. NASCAR Xfinity Series star Justin Haley scored his first DIRTcar Nationals victory in 2019, as did Michigan’s Curt Spalding last year. Floridian Modified veteran Devin Dixon and North Carolina’s Austin Holcombe are also projected to join Lethal’s roster at Volusia in 2021.
The 50th DIRTcar Nationals will feature a stacked lineup from Elite, including the regulars Hoffman, Allgaier and Krup. Kenny Wallace, who switched to Elite last fall, makes his first Elite starts at Volusia this year. Garret Stewart, Volusia’s winningest driver in 2020, and Kyle Hammer, the Illinoisan making his first trip south for Florida Speedweeks this year, also bring Elites for 2021.
Longhorn by Loenbro will also bring a stellar lineup to Volusia in February, including Nicely and Strickler. Arpin will make his return to the seat of a UMP Modified for the first time since 2008, alongside Floridian Modified veteran Jeff Mathews. Plainfield, IL-wheelman Mike McKinney will also be making his very first trip south to compete at the 50th DIRTcar Nationals behind the wheel of a Longhorn after spending all eight of his first UMP Modified seasons with Elite, finishing second only to Hoffman in 2020 national points.
The rosters for each side are set. Every driver knows the score. When the teams pull into Volusia to compete for seven-straight nights, the gloves will come off in search of dirt racing’s most prized trophies. There’s no telling what kind of history will be made in the 50th edition of DIRTcar Nationals when the ironmen hit the track.
Don’t miss the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds in action at Volusia Speedway Park, Feb. 2-8. Tickets are on sale now at DIRTcarNationals.com or by calling 844-DIRT-TIX. If you can’t make it to the track, watch all the action live from the comfort of your home with a Platinum Fast Pass subscription to DIRTVision!
McCarter goes 20th-to-second to win title by 5 points, Bronson collects another $10k for finale victory
Kyle Bronson’s dominance at Volusia Speedway Park’s Sunshine Nationals continued Saturday night with an unexpected win.
Michael Page was initially declared the winner of the DIRTcar Pro Late Model Feature, beating everyone to the checkered flag first, but faced a disqualification following a post-race technical inspection.
It was determined by DIRTcar and Crate Racin’ USA officials that Page’s car had a valve spring installation height infraction, nullifying his victory. Upon a passing inspection of Bronson’s engine, Bronson was awarded the $10,000 check and declared the Feature winner.
“Anytime you can make some money, it’s always good. You hate to win ‘em that way, but we all know how these deals are going in. You’ve got to be 100 percent right,” Bronson said.
Mack McCarter was determined the overall Sunshine Nationals mini-series champion of the Pro Late Model division after back-to-back second-place finishes, beating Bronson 140 to 135 points over the two contested races.
Bronson began his charge to the front from outside the third row, using the early caution flags to his advantage by doing some of his passing work on the restarts. By Lap 6, he had cracked the top-three and was hot on the trail of second-place Joseph Joiner and leader Page.
Bronson was able to get by Joiner on Lap 13, setting him up for a charge through lapped traffic in pursuit of Page, who was a few car-lengths ahead. Bronson was able to close the gap to just over .3 seconds before Page pulled away again, and a final yellow was displayed with just eight laps remaining.
When the checkered fell, Bronson was unable to get ahead of Page at the stripe, leaving him with a runner-up finish but only for a few hours. Page’s technical inspection wrapped up after midnight on Sunday; Bronson passed his and was declared the winner in the early morning hours.
This victory now makes four Feature wins in five starts for the Brandon, FL-native in Sunshine Nationals Pro Late Model competition after sweeping all three Features last year, and two total on the weekend after his World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series triumph Thursday night.
“We won $10,000, motor got torn down and was 100 percent right and everything passed. So, I’m more than happy with it. We won two races this week for $20,000 and it’s going to help us pay for Speedweeks a little bit,” Bronson said.
Outside of Victory Lane was another unsung hero, making his Sunshine Nationals and Volusia Speedway Park debut, and he did not disappoint. Twenty-seven-year-old Mack McCarter put on a dazzling display of passing on both nights in his first-ever appearance, coming all the way from 20th to cross the line in third Saturday. He was later awarded a second-place finish following Page’s disqualification.
McCarter, of Gatlinburg, TN, was awarded Hard Charger honors on both nights, passing 17 cars Thursday en route to his runner-up finish and 18 cars (17 on-track) Saturday. As impressive as the run was, he knew he may have had something for the leader had he started farther forward.
“Our racecar is really good when [the track] blows off and gets kinda dirty,” McCarter said. “We qualified really well but the invert put us behind in the Heat and we didn’t tighten-up enough. I think if we would have started up front, I would’ve had a good shot to run, and possibly have won.”
Overall, McCarter was pleased with his performance and that of his crew and car builder. Considering he made his first-ever laps on the track just two days prior, coming out of the weekend with two runner-up finishes and an overall mini-series title wasn’t too shabby.
“Just to come down here and run with these guys like Kyle Bronson, outrun him Thursday night and then finish behind him tonight, it just speaks volumes to where our team is,” McCarter said.
McCarter soars from 19th-to-second, Bronson finishes fourth right after World of Outlaws win
The last time Kyle Bronson and Michael Page went head-to-head in DIRTcar Pro Late Model action at Volusia Speedway Park, Bronson got the upper-hand in a furious battle for the inaugural DIRTcar Sunshine Nationals finale victory. On Thursday night, it was Page’s turn to shine.
Page, of Douglasville, GA, led all 25 laps en route to his first victory in the event, snapping Bronson’s three-race win streak that be built in last year by sweeping the weekend and winning all three Pro Late Model Features and clinching the overall event championship.
A big move at the drop of the opening green flag really set Page out front quickly and gave him the advantage he needed over his competition. After redrawing sixth upon winning his Heat Race earlier in the evening, Page came out of Turn 4 considerably lower than the two cars in front of him on the original start and zoomed into third-place, full-bore into Turn 1. By the time he entered Turn 3, Page was the race leader.
The +5-spot differential in one lap made for quite an exciting sequence of passes, showing off the alive-and-well strength of a new power plant under the hood of 2003 MasterSbilt Race Cars chassis that Page used in his runner-up finish in this event last year.
“It’s a new motor, a Matt Bishop racing engine, a local guy around where we live, and that thing ran better than anything I’ve ever drove Crate-wise. And for an old MasterSbilt, that thing will get around the racetrack as good as anything,” Page told DIRTVision pit reporter Ruben Mireles in Victory Lane.
Beyond a few restarts in the second half of the race, not much else gave Page a serious challenge for the top spot. Bronson, however, was stopped just a bit short of his quest to continue his winning streak.
After winning the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series Feature just one hour before, Bronson hopped into his Pro Late Model and went from the pole but did not look as strong as he did with the Outlaws.
Bronson had faded back to sixth at one point but was able to rebound on the late restarts and lock up a fourth-place finish.
One of the race’s biggest highlights outside of the Page-Bronson storylines was the climb of young Tennessean Mack McCarter. He and his #51 came all the way from 19th to finish second in the Feature. McCarter had passed 15 cars in 10 laps and made the most of his time in the podium, even making up a little distance on leader Page in the closing circuits.
But there just was no catching Page and his #18x. His start was just too great, and the car was just too stable for any worthy challengers.
“I just tried to do something; to go where they couldn’t,” Page said. “The car just took off immediately. Sometimes doing whatever they don’t do is the right thing to do, but sometimes it’ll kick you in the butt. But it worked out tonight.”
Magic Man Mark Whitener crossed the stripe in third after a solid run inside the top-six the entire distance. Driving for Dale Mosley Racing this weekend, he really had a handle on his Pro Late Model ride, setting a new personal-best finish in the event.
The Sunshine Nationals action continues Friday night with more Pro Late Model, World of Outlaws, 602 Late Model and Florida Late Model action from Volusia Speedway Park on night #2 of the DIRTcar Sunshine Nationals. Catch all the action live on DIRTVision!