Max McLaughlin

MAD FOR GATORS: Max McLaughlin scores second DIRTcar Nationals win, Big Gator points lead

The first three times Max McLaughlin asked Volusia Speedway Park for its iconic gator trophy this week it said “no.”

With every “no,” frustration grew. A third; an eight; and then a second. The latter, causing dejection to take over his posture.

Friday night, during the fourth round of DIRTcar Nationals Super DIRTcar Series action, “Mad Max” no longer asked politely. Feeling like he should’ve already had a 2022 gator resting in his trailer, the Mooresville, NC driver extracted every ounce of grit he had for 30 laps to wrestle his way to victory.

Jimmy Phelps, Mat Williamson and Demetrios Drellos tried to deny McLaughlin another win, but his patience triumphed, and he was handed his second DIRTcar Nationals little gator trophy – along with the Big Gator Championship points lead.

“At the start of the drop of the green I thought we were going to go backward in a hurry,” McLaughlin said. “I was really tight. I was like, there’s no way we’re going to be able to get off the bottom. The track had a lot of grip and the car kept getting better and better. Man, it was fun to drive.

“My guys worked their asses off this week. We changed a motor and brought out a backup car. I got the best team in the world and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

McLaughlin showed his speed early, claiming the Billy Whittaker Cars Fast Time Award. That earned him the pole for his Heat Race but had to settle second at its conclusion after Peter Britten bested him for the win.

Luck helped him in the Albany-Saratoga Speedway Redraw, placing him on the front row, alongside polesitter Demetrios Drellos, for the Feature.

The two young stars raced side by side for the first lap before Drellos edged ahead and left McLaughlin to fend off Williamson. McLaughlin’s fear of fading soon set in as Williamson easily slid by him for second.

Then, a caution arose that not only changed the complexity of the race but the Big Gator Championship. Then point-leader Peter Britten slowed on the backstretch due to a broken shock.

On the restart, McLaughlin tossed his F.X. Caprara #8H machine to the bottom of the track, blowing by Williamson and pulling even with Drellos by the center of the first corner. He was able to maintain his pass on Williamson, but Drellos again got the better run off the turn.

The caution flew again on Lap 14 due to Matt Sheppard suffering a flat tire. When the race resumed, McLaughlin again powered his way into the first turn, getting an advantage on Drellos and pulling ahead of him down the backstretch. By sliding high and blocking Drellos’s run, the orange and white #8H got breathing room to drive away.

Behind him, Williamson and Phelps were on the move, both passing Drellos to fill out the podium. With six laps to go, they were given a final shot at the 21-year-old when Britten blew a tire and brought the caution out again. According to officials, Williamson jumped the gun on his attack during the restart and was moved back a position before the next attempt. That placed Phelps alongside his teammate for a six-lap duel.

The veteran was unable to match McLaughlin in those final laps but earned his second runner-up finish of the week and helped Heinke-Baldwin Racing bring home its first 1-2 finish since 2015.

“It says a lot. It says we came down here prepared,” said Phelps, of Baldwinsville, NY. “We typically, me personally typically, haven’t run strong down here and they gave me a great race car.”

Williamson was unpleased with the rule of being put back a position for jumping the start and stated his car had an issue with restarts all race.

“We ran a harder tire and just couldn’t fire on the restarts,” the St. Catharines, Ontario driver said. “Hats off to Max and Jimmy, they ran a great race.”

With Britten’s issues causing him to finish 22nd and Stewart Friesen missing the race due to his NASCAR commitments, McLaughlin catapulted to the Big Gator Championship points lead with one race to go – currently leading Williamson and Phelps by five points and Britten by 18.

In his first week back with Heinke-Baldwin Racing – after a two-year absence – winning in just their fourth race together, the defending Big Gator champion now has his sights set on asking Volusia for a gator one more time.

“We’ve been so damn fast. It’s been so much fun,” McLaughlin said. “Tonight, was a great race. Last night was a great race. We just need to keep the momentum rolling.”

UP NEXT
The Super DIRTcar Series returns to Volusia Speedway Park for the 51st DIRTcar Nationals finale, Saturday, Feb. 19 – the Big Gator Championship night. For tickets, CLICK HERE.

If you can’t make it to the race, you can watch all the action live on DIRTVision – either online or with the DIRTVision App.

RESULTS
DIRTcar Nationals Feature #4 (30 Laps): 1. 8H-Max McLaughlin[2]; 2. 98H-Jimmy Phelps[6]; 3. 88-Mat Williamson[3]; 4. 99L-Larry Wight[15]; 5. 3J-Marc Johnson[11]; 6. 111-Demetrios Drellos[1]; 7. 2L-Jack Lehner[7]; 8. 23C-Kyle Coffey[5]; 9. 35M-Mike Mahaney[10]; 10. 3H-Justin Haers[26]; 11. 215P-Adam Pierson[14]; 12. JS98-Rocky Warner[13]; 13. 16X-Dan Creeden[12]; 14. 30W-Joseph Watson[20]; 15. 8S-Rich Scagliotta[9]; 16. 54-Steve Bernard[24]; 17. 12S-Darren Smith[25]; 18. 14-CG Morey[19]; 19. 1K-Rick Laubach[22]; 20. 1-Andrew Smith[16]; 21. 35LJ-LJ Lombardo[23]; 22. 21A-Peter Britten[4]; 23. 1G-Darwin Greene[21]; 24. 83-Brian Swartzlander[17]; 25. (DNF) 9S-Matt Sheppard[8]; 26. (DNF) 19-Tim Fuller[18]

UNDER PRESSURE: Williamson uses Super DIRT Week pressure to claim third DIRTcar Nationals victory

Mat Williamson felt the pressure of NAPA Super DIRT Week Thursday evening.

But that pressure had nothing to do with the October event. He and his Buzz Chew Racing team were 1,200 miles south of where it’s even held.

It was the third of five straight days of Super DIRTcar Series racing at Volusia Speedway Park during the 51st DIRTcar Nationals. And after back-to-back sixth-place finishes in the first two races, something needed to change. He knew it. His team knew. So, they treated Thursday’s event like it was the Billy Whittaker Cars 200 at Super DIRT Week.

“Today, you would’ve sworn it was Oswego, Sunday morning, trying to decide what we were going to do for a 200-lap race,” Williamson said. “We took this one pretty seriously and hopefully it leads to some momentum going forward.

“Just because we haven’t lived up to the expectations of how we ran last year. I think we got through the middle of September to Charlotte, we didn’t run out of the top-five. Then, we had two six-place finishes. People expect things. We worked really hard over the winter to build this car, me and Spot. We tried some things we learned over the years and came here wanting to win. That’s kind of what we expected. If you don’t turn things around by Wednesday, you’re going to have a rough week.”

And a rough week he will no longer have.

Williamson drove like he was after his third NAPA Super DIRT Week title, wrestling with Stewart Friesen and Max McLaughlin for 30 laps, emerging the victor by the time the checkered flag was revealed.

His path to collecting a third golden gator trophy looks smooth on paper – qualifying fastest in his group, winning his Heat Race and drawing the #2 pill in the Albany-Saratoga Speedway Redraw – but when it came time for the Feature, Friesen and McLaughlin showed him no mercy.

The St. Catharines, Ontario driver raced side by side with fellow Canadian Stewart Friesen for the first two laps, neither showing an upper hand. On the third lap, Friesen threw an early Hail Mary into Turn 1, crossing in front of Williamson and stealing the lead by the exit of Turn 2. But the speed difference from their choice of line benefited Williamson. He crossed underneath Friesen down the backstretch and catapulted his Buzz Chew #88 back to the lead in Turn 3.

An early caution lined them back side by side for the restart, setting up a battle that would last the rest of the Feature. Williamson ran high, Friesen low, and the two raced side by side for more than 10 laps. The SRI Performance/Halmar International #44 would nose ahead of Williamson every time Friesen dove it into the corner, but Williamson was always stronger on the exit. Friesen tried another slide job with 17 laps to go, moving himself to the high lane and Williamson low, but Williamson still prevailed.

While they sparred, Max McLaughlin – from seventh – surprised them both, creating a three-car battle for the lead. He snuck underneath Friesen for second and then surprised Williamson with a run through the middle that helped him edge ahead of the #88 for a corner.

“Any time you’re racing with Stewie (Friesen) you know you have to be up on the wheel,” Williamson said. “He never gives up and he gives it his all. I thought that was him on the outside of me down the back straightaway there. I didn’t know that was Max. Max is still pretty young, and God damn, he’s putting together some good finishes down here. He’s going to be tough to beat this year.

“Them two, the race out front was pretty hectic. It kept me on my toes.”

With eight laps to go, Williamson put the final nail in the coffin, getting a run through Turns 1 and 2 that propelled him ahead of McLaughlin and allowed him to drive away.

“We were just really good on the bottom and through the black there in the middle. I don’t know, I might be a little too soft on the right rear. I don’t know,” a visually dejected McLaughlin said after the race. “Just got to get with these guys and see what we got. Late in the run when it started to rubber up there, I had such a good car at the start, but it started to latch down in (Turns) three and four and I couldn’t turn in a 40-acre field.”

Friesen ended up losing third with two laps to go when current 2022 DIRTcar Nationals Big Gator Championship points leader Peter Britten made sure to continue his streak of not finishing outside the podium. So far this week, Britten has finished second, first and third.

“We didn’t fire as well as I had hoped but we had all good cars in front of us,” Britten said. “Just held steady with them at the beginning and later on in the race I felt like they were getting worse, or I was getting better. Either way, I felt good. At the end, I saw those guys coming back to me. I just wish I had another 10 laps.”

Matt Sheppard also got Friesen in the final two laps, moving past him for fourth – his first top-five and top-10 of the week – and forcing Friesen to settle for fifth.

Britten currently holds a 24-point lead over Friesen in the Big Gator Championship points standings. However, Friesen will have to miss Friday’s race due to running the NASCAR Truck Series race at Daytona. The next driver in line is Williamson – 25 points behind Britten.

“The rest of the week is big,” Williamson said. “We’ve got two more big races here and we can leave with our heads held high because we’re going home with a gator. It’s pretty sweet. The rest of the week, the pressure is off.”

UP NEXT
The Super DIRTcar Series returns to Volusia Speedway Park for its fourth night of racing during the 51st DIRTcar Nationals on Friday, Feb. 18. For tickets, CLICK HERE.

RESULTS
DIRTcar Nationals Feature #3 (30 Laps): 1. 88-Mat Williamson[2]; 2. 8H-Max McLaughlin[7]; 3. 21A-Peter Britten[8]; 4. 9S-Matt Sheppard[6]; 5. 44-Stewart Friesen[1]; 6. 98H-Jimmy Phelps[10]; 7. 1K-Rich Laubach[4]; 8. 30W-Joseph Watson[5]; 9. 99L-Larry Wight[21]; 10. 16X-Dan Creeden[3]; 11. 8S-Rich Scagliotta[9]; 12. 23C-Kyle Coffey[16]; 13. 12S-Darren Smith[12]; 14. 19-Tim Fuller[15]; 15. 3H-Justin Haers[20]; 16. 111-Demetrios Drellos[13]; 17. 2L-Jack Lehner[14]; 18. 35M-Mike Mahaney[11]; 19. 14-CG Morey[25]; 20. 118-Jim Britt[19]; 21. 215P-Adam Pierson[18]; 22. 83-Brian Swartzlander[23]; 23. 25P-Michael Parent[22]; 24. 3J-Marc Johnson[26]; 25. JS98-Rocky Warner[24]; 26. (DNF) 37MD-Jeremiah Shingledecker[17]

VICTOR FREEZE: Stewart Friesen wins barn burner over Peter Britten at DIRTcar Nationals

Ripped from the pages of the greatest fiction stories, like those featuring epic duels between Mr. Freeze and Batman, Stewart Friesen and Peter Britten created a live-action duel of epic proportions at Volusia Speedway Park.

However, there were no fancy gadgets or corny catchphrases, just two hellacious 800hp Big Block Modifieds wheeled by men throwing every ounce of talent they brought with them at each other.

In the final pages, Friesen is the victor after taking advantage of a jaw-dropping wheelie Britten pulled in Turn 1 after hitting a rut with two laps to go.

“That was awesome,” said a winded Friesen about his battle with Britten. “What a race. What a racetrack. It was great. I love this place. You can race anywhere… Great race. It was awesome racing with Peter.”

The setting was the first of five straight nights of racing for the Super DIRTcar Series during the 51st DIRTcar Nationals. Britten emerged as the early hero, claiming the Billy Whittaker Cars Fast Time Award and then winning the first Heat Race. That path led to the pole for the 30-lap Feature – originally scheduled for Tuesday night, but due to evening rain shows got pushed to running early Wednesday morning. Friesen also won his Heat, which put him on the outside of Britten for the main event.

They made for an international front row with Britten hailing from Brisbane, QLD, Australia and Friesen from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. The diversity extended into their DIRTcar Nationals experience, too. Friesen is a two-time Big Gator champion and had nine DIRTcar Nationals wins. Britten was looking for his first.

When the green flag flew, the Aussie launched ahead of the SRI Performance/Halmar International #44 to claim the early lead, but Friesen kept a tight grip on him. Working the top of the half-mile track, Friesen powered by Britten to steal the lead on Lap 2.

The NASCAR Truck Series star then held command out front for the next 13 laps. Not comfortably, though. Britten stayed in Friesen’s tire tracks and got close enough to show him a nose about 10 laps in. And while, they toyed with the idea of a battle, Max McLaughlin – in his first appearance behind the wheel of the #8H for Heinke-Baldwin Racing – lurked in third, waiting for a chance to attack.

A caution on Lap 14 for Erick Rudolph getting into the wall created a plot twist and laid the foundation for an epic conclusion.

Lining up double file, Friesen picked the bottom for the restart with Britten to his outside. The choice ended up favoring Britten. Earning the title of a “gasser” Britten, already known as “The Batman” kept his foot in the throttle and manhandled his way past Friesen for the lead.

“I was able to get rolling on the top there early,” Friesen said. “Peter was on the gas. I felt like we were pretty good before that caution, and I picked the bottom, and it didn’t really fire off. He got me in the middle, and we went back and forth a bunch of times. Just had a great race. Great race car.”

Then, it was on. There wasn’t a lap the two didn’t attempt a pass on each other, whether with a dive bomb into the corner or with a massive slide job through Turns 1 and 2. The scorecard will say there were seven official lead changes, but unofficially the two went back and forth with the lead about every lap.

Under 10 laps to go, lap traffic started to play a significant role. While sparring for the lead, Britten and Friesen were given the extra challenge of calculating every maneuver with accurate precision. As the end neared, Britten positioned himself as the likely victor, holding a steady lead over Friesen.

However, with three laps to go, Britten hit a rut in Turn 1 that bounced his front end about two feet off the ground, causing his Ryder Racing #21A to wheelie through the corner. That allowed Friesen to sneak underneath him and drive away with his 10th DIRTcar Nationals Feature win.

“We seem to have a flat left rear now, so I don’t know if that is what was going on,” Britten said about what may have led to his demise. “I got just a little bit tight and couldn’t quite roll the corner the way I needed to, and I started shoving and Friesen went around me. We were going back at it. It was a lot of fun. I would’ve loved to have been on top.

“We’ll dust it off and try again tomorrow.”

McLaughlin, the defending Big Gator Champion, was unable to get close enough to contend with Friesen and Britten but came home third with his new team.

“First night out with a new team and have a chance to contend for a win with Peter and Stew is a pretty good accomplishment,” McLaughlin said. “We were really free there. Not good in the black and that’s where we needed to be to pass them.”

Further behind them, eight-time and defending Super DIRTcar Series champion Matt Sheppard made the biggest improvement of the night. After having to race his way into the Feature through a Last Chance Showdown, Sheppard charged his way from 26th to 11th.

With the win, Friesen is now the early points leader for the Big Gator Championship – crowned on Saturday, Feb. 19. However, he’ll miss Friday night’s race due to his NASCAR commitments, meaning this story is only the beginning of an epic week-long saga.

UP NEXT

The Super DIRTcar Series returns to Volusia Speedway Park for its second night of racing during DIRTcar Nationals, accompanied by the World of Outlaws CASE Late Model Series. For tickets, CLICK HERE.

If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch all the action live on DIRTVision – either online or with the DIRTVision App.

RESULTS
DIRTcar Nationals Feature (30 Laps): 1. 44-Stewart Friesen[2]; 2. 21A-Peter Britten[1]; 3. 8H-Max McLaughlin[3]; 4. 98H-Jimmy Phelps[7]; 5. 8S-Rich Scagliotta[5]; 6. 88-Mat Williamson[11]; 7. 111-Demetrios Drellos[4]; 8. 99L-Larry Wight[14]; 9. 6S-Matthew Stangle[10]; 10. 25P-Michael Parent[9]; 11. 9S-Matt Sheppard[26]; 12. 215P-Adam Pierson[12]; 13. 1K-Rich Laubach[19]; 14. 35M-Mike Mahaney[8]; 15. 12S-Darren Smith[23]; 16. 2L-Jack Lehner[28]; 17. 30W-Joseph Watson[13]; 18. 83-Brian Swartzlander[17]; 19. 3H-Justin Haers[22]; 20. 3J-Marc Johnson[18]; 21. JS98-Rocky Warner[24]; 22. 16X-Dan Creeden[25]; 23. 14-CG Morey[27]; 24. 11T-Jeff Taylor[20]; 25. 19-Tim Fuller[15]; 26. 118-Jim Britt[21]; 27. 71-Jimmy Zacharias[16]; 28. (DNF) 25R-Erick Rudolph[6]

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Big Blocks head south to chase DIRTcar Nationals Big Gator title

The Beasts of the Northeast have awakened from their hibernation with an appetite for gators.

Before the championship season kicks off in March, the Super DIRTcar Series will have some fun in the sun for a week’s worth of racing at Volusia Speedway Park for the 51st DIRTcar Nationals, Feb. 14-19.

Monday will be a day of practice for the nearly 40-car field of prospective entries before they battle wheel to wheel for the next five straight days. Each night will award the iconic golden gator trophy to the winner and points toward the overall Big Gator Championship. Tuesday through Friday will pay $4,000-to-win and Saturday will pay $5,000-to-win, meaning if fortunate enough, one driver could leave the week with more than $20,000 in their pocket.

The last driver to come closest to that feat was Larry Wight in 2020 when he won three straight nights – becoming only the second driver in the history of the Series to do so (first since 1978).

Wight will be joined by a plethora of talent from across the country including eight-time and defending Series champion Matt Sheppard, 2021 Big Gator champion Max McLaughlin, 2019 Series champion Mat Williamson, 2005 Series champion Tim Fuller, NASCAR star Stewart Friesen, rising stars Jack Lehner, Adam Pierson, Erick Rudolph, Mike Mahaney and more.

DIRTcar Nationals Tickets, CLICK HERE

The Super DIRTcar Series will be accompanied by the DIRTcar Late Models and Xtreme Outlaw Sprint Cars on Monday and Tuesday. Then, the World of Outlaws CASE Late Models will join the Series for the remainder of the week.

If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch all the action live on DIRTVision – either online or with the DIRTVision App.

Jacy Norgaard Photo

Here are the top stories to follow for the week:

BIG CHAMP AFTER BIG GATOR: Matt Sheppard said he feels like he’s due for another win at Volusia Speedway Park. The eight-time and defending Super DIRTcar Series champion, of Waterloo, NY, has three DIRTcar Nationals titles and eight wins, but his last title was in 2016 and his last win was in 2019. He acknowledged his trips to the Florida track can be hit or miss, demonstrated last year by his finishes of 6th, 9th, 5th and 2nd, respectively.

However, this year, he enters the season with the momentum of having set a history-making title in 2021. He surpassed dirt Modified legend Brett Hearn for the most Super DIRTcar Series championships of all time. With that confidence propelling him into the new season, “Super Matt” may find himself making history again at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile.

MAX ON REPEAT: Max McLaughlin accomplished a feat last year at 20 years old that some veterans are still struggling to achieve. He first won a golden gator – his second career Super DIRTcar Series win – and then ended the week as the 2021 Big Gator Champion. Now, at 21 years old, with a new team and head full of confidence, the young Mooresville, NC driver has sights on a repeat.

McLaughlin rejoined Heinke-Baldwin Racing – the team that gave him his first shot in the Super DIRTcar Series – this season with the goal of earning the Series title. Feeling back at home, he spent most of his off-season in Weedsport, NY at the team’s shop preparing for the new season. Preparing to collect more trophies.

STARTING OFF RIGHT: While the five nights of racing during DIRTcar Nationals may not be points events for the Super DIRTcar Series, they’re crucial to many teams who use it as a chance to knock off the rust of the off-season and get back into a racing mentality. For drivers like Mat Williamson, Peter Britten and Jimmy Phelps, who got off to a slow start last year, it’s a chance to change that and start 2022 off on the right foot.

Of the three, Williamson is the only one with a couple of wins at Volusia – both coming in 2020. However, last year, he had an average finish of seventh at DIRTcar Nationals and didn’t get into a rhythm for the season until about the end of summer, picking up his second consecutive NAPA Super DIRT Week title and ending the year second in points.

Jacy Norgaard Photo

Britten and Phelps have come close to snagging a gator trophy but have had to settle for second at best. The Aussie had the better 2021 season of the two, having captured his second career Super DIRTcar Series win, while Phelps went winless for the first time in three years. Starting off the season strong in Florida could give them the momentum needed to challenge for their first championship when the points season starts at Atomic Speedway Park, March 25-26.

FLORIDA FRIESEN: Florida speed weeks is always a busy time for Stewart Friesen, jumping between his Halmar International #44 Big Block Modified and #52 NASCAR Truck throughout the week, but he wouldn’t miss the chance to chase more golden gator trophies.

The Niagra-on-the-Lake, Ontario driver is a two-time Big Gator champion (2011, 2014) and a nine-time DIRTcar Nationals Feature winner – most recently picking up two more wins last year. His NASCAR duties Friday night will take him out of contention for the Big Gator title this year, but Friesen plans on being at Volusia every other day throughout the week.

He also enters the week with a slight advantage over the other drivers. New clay was put down on Volusia and Friesen got to make a few laps on it with a Late Model during the World of Outlaws Late Model Series’ season-opener in January.

WIGHT RETURNS: After missing DIRTcar Nationals last year, Larry Wight returns to re-stake his claim as the top gator hunter. Prior to his absence in 2021, he claimed the 2019 and 2020 Big Gator titles – adding to his 2015 title. He also won three straight races in 2020 – becoming only the second driver in Series history to accomplish that feat and the first since 1978.

The Phoenix, NY driver will have sole focus from the LJL Racing team this year as it sized down to a one-car team. With the new focus, Wight will look to put his #99L Big Block back in Victory Lane with the Series for the first time in more than a year.

Jacy Norgaard Photo

POTENTIAL SURPRISES: Five straight days of racing at the same track provides the potential for new and surprise winners. Last year, Max McLaughlin prevailed on the third night, claiming his second career Series win. Then, on the final night, Michael Maresca brought fans to their feet by outrunning Matt Sheppard and Billy Decker to earn his first career Super DIRTcar Series win.

A long list of drivers entered for the 2022 edition of DIRTcar Nationals has the potential to be the next new or surprise winner. Jack Lehner had a career year with the Super DIRTcar Series in 2021 and picked up his first DIRTcar Big Block win. Adam Pierson, a former Sportsman star, is in the same boat as Lehner, having earned his first Big Block win last year, too. The Vermont driver is planning a trip south as he also eyes a potential full tour with the Series. The possibilities are endless. See the full list of entries below.

PROSPECTIVE DIRTcar NATIONALS ENTRY LIST
Francois Bellemere
Steve Bernard
Jimmy Britt
Peter Britten
Danny Creeden
Marcus Dinkins
Olden Dwyer
Stewart Friesen
Tim Fuller
Justin Haers
Ryan Krachun
Jeffrey Lapalme
Rich Laubauch
Jack Lehner
Mike Mahaney
Max McLaughlin
Corbin Millar
Russell Moresman
CG Morey
Michael Parent
Jimmy Phelps
Adam Pierson
Rich Regalski
Erick Rudolph
Rich Scagliotta
Matt Sheppard
Jeremiah Shingledecker
Andrew Smith
Darren Smith
Matt Stangle
Brian Swartzlander
Jeff Taylor
Rocky Warner
Joseph “Jo Jo” Watson
Mat Williamson
Larry Wight
Jimmy Zacharias

PAST DIRTcar NATIONALS CHAMPIONS
2021 – Max McLaughlin
2020 – Larry Wight
2019 – Larry Wight
2018 – Tim McCreadie
2017 – Brett Hearn
2016 – Matt Sheppard
2015 – Larry Wight
2014 – Stewart Friesen
2013 – Danny Johnson
2012 – Matt Sheppard
2011 – Stewart Friesen
2010 – Matt Sheppard
2009 – Pat Ward
2008 – Brett Hearn/Billy Pauch
2007 – Danny Johnson
2006 – Brett Hearn
2005 – Brett Hearn/Andy Bachetti
2004 – Pat Ward
2003 – Tim Fuller
2002 – Brett Hearn
2001 – Brett Hearn
2000 – Brett Hearn
1999 – Jimmy Horton
1998 – Brett Hearn
1997 – Jimmy Horton
1996 – Brett Hearn
1995 – Doug Hoffman
1990-1994 – No champion
1989 – Alan Johnson
1988 – Danny Johnson
1987 – Danny Johnson
1986 – Jimmy Horton
1985 – Billy Pauch
1984 – Kenny Brightbill/Jack Johnson
1983 – Alan Johnson
1982 – Jeff Kappesser/Billy Pauch
1981 – Jack Johnson
1980 – Kenny Brightbill
1979 – No champion
1978 – Walt Breeding

TRACK FACTS
Volusia Speedway Park
Configuration: Semi-banked, Half-mile
Big Block Track Record: 16.754 sec. set by Jamie Mills in 2015
# of Big Block Features: 135
First Big Block Feature: Feb. 10, 1978
Website: VolusiaSpeedwayPark.com

AROUND THE TURN:  The Super DIRTcar Series will kick off its championship season at Atomic Speedway, March 25-26, for the Super DIRTcar Series Showdown doubleheader. Friday night will pay $10,000-to-win and Saturday night will pay $12,000-to-win. Both nights will also award a 50th NAPA Super DIRT Week guaranteed starting spot.

DIRTcar Nationals set to bring big names for Super DIRTcar Series Big Block action

The winter blues will melt away in less than a month when the Beast of the Northeast fire their engines for the first time in 2022 during the DIRTcar Nationals, Feb. 14-19.

Volusia Speedway Park will again host the season-opening week of racing for the Super DIRTcar Series, featuring the best Big Block Modified drivers battling for the iconic golden gator trophy each night with the goal of also claiming the Big Gator Championship at the end of the week.

Forty-two Super DIRTcar Series DIRTcar Nationals champions have been crowned since 1978; the most recent being 21-year-old Max McLaughlin in 2021.

“Not only have I wanted to win at this race track for a long time, but to get a DIRTcar Nationals championship is really special,” McLaughlin said last year. “I almost got one in 2017 when I tied with Brett Hearn. He ended up winning the final night which gave the championship to him. It’s been bothering me for a few years that we didn’t win it. Now, this makes up for it.”

His Big Gator championship was the second in two years for the Coffey-McCreadie Enterprises team (2021 with McLaughlin and 2018 with Tim McCreadie). However, in 2022, McLaughlin is rejoining Heinke-Baldwin Racing to chase the Super DIRTcar Series championship. The team gave him his first start in the Series, and he nearly won the Big Gator title with them in 2017.

He’ll have to compete against the likes of eight-time Super DIRTcar Series champion and three-time Big Gator champion Matt Sheppard, two-time NAPA Super DIRT Week champion Mat Williamson, NASCAR star Stewart Friesen, three-time Big Gator champion Larry Wight and three-time Super DIRTcar Series champion Billy Decker.

Sheppard claimed the throne as the winningest Super DIRTcar Series champion last year. And he’ll try to use that momentum to find success again at Volusia. While he’s a three-time Big Gator champion, his last title came in 2016 and his last win at the half-mile track came in 2019.

“You know, [Volusia] is just a strange place,” Sheppard said. “It’s hard to get your car to steer there. If you can get your car to steer and have traction, you’re going to have a good weekend. I think we see it a lot; a guy will roll in there and for whatever reason, he just gets rolling all week.

“I think we saw Stewie (Friesen) have a good week there last year. You roll in there with a game plan and some guys hit on something and it seems they’re good all week. Other guys, if you’re off a little bit, it seems like you’re chasing all week. It’s certainly a unique place.”

However, for this year, he stated his team has put together a good program he’s confident in. And with no Series points on the line, they can go in and throw everything they have at it.

“So, you can go down there and run five nights in a row and see where your program is,” he added. “Make some adjustments and try to get better. We keep hoping one of these years we’ll roll in there with the magic set up and we’ll have a killer week. I feel like we’re due. But, man, I never rule anything out at that place.”

In the last few years, Wight has been one of the most dominant drivers at Volusia, picking up three Big Gator championships (2015, 2019, 2020) and four victories – including three consecutive wins in 2020. He missed DIRTcar Nationals last year, but a return in 2022 would see a full-focused effort on his Gypsum #99L machine. Wight is now the sole driver for LJL Racing, as it reduced to a one-car team for 2022. Decker, who drove the team’s other car, will drive for Jeremy Smith Racing this year.

Friesen started DIRTcar Nationals as the dominant driver last year, winning the two opening nights before having to leave for his NASCAR duties. While those duties will take him out of contention for another Big Gator title, he’ll still return to add another golden gator trophy to his mantel – currently at nine.

When he left, that opened the door for McLaughlin to claim his first DIRTcar Nationals victory and second career Super DIRTcar Series victory. Then, on the final night of racing, a special moment. A first-time winner. Michael Maresca held off Sheppard and Decker to pick up his first Super DIRTcar Series win. Several drivers have the potential to be another surprise first-time winner this year like 2021 Rookie of the Year Chris Hile and Jack Lehner, who had a career season last year.

Veteran Brett Hearn made it loud and clear at the 2021 Super DIRTcar Series finale to never count him out. The 63-year-old won his 450th DIRTcar sanctioned event and his 920th Feature overall at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. His DIRTcar Nationals stats supersede all with nine Big Gator championships and 20 Feature wins.

A plethora of storylines will again be present throughout the week. Monday (Feb. 14) will be a practice night for the Super DIRTcar Series, then from Tuesday to Saturday (Feb. 15-19) the Big Blocks will have a Feature every night. They’ll be joined by the Xtreme Outlaw Sprint Cars and DIRTcar Late Models on Monday and Tuesday. Then, the World of Outlaws Late Models will accompany the Super DIRTcar Series Wednesday to Saturday.

For DIRTcar Nationals tickets, CLICK HERE.

If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch all the action live on DIRTVision – either online or with the DIRTVision App.

Super DIRTcar Series DIRTcar Nationals Championships
2021 – Max McLaughlin
2020 – Larry Wight
2019 – Larry Wight
2018 – Tim McCreadie
2017 – Brett Hearn
2016 – Matt Sheppard
2015 – Larry Wight
2014 – Stewart Friesen
2013 – Danny Johnson
2012 – Matt Sheppard
2011 – Stewart Friesen
2010 – Matt Sheppard
2009 – Pat Ward
2008 – Brett Hearn/Billy Pauch
2007 – Danny Johnson
2006 – Brett Hearn
2005 – Brett Hearn/Andy Bachetti
2004 – Pat Ward
2003 – Tim Fuller
2002 – Brett Hearn
2001 – Brett Hearn
2000 – Brett Hearn
1999 – Jimmy Horton
1998 – Brett Hearn
1997 – Jimmy Horton
1996 – Brett Hearn
1995 – Doug Hoffman
1990-1994 – No champion
1989 – Alan Johnson
1988 – Danny Johnson
1987 – Danny Johnson
1986 – Jimmy Horton
1985 – Billy Pauch
1984 – Kenny Brightbill/Jack Johnson
1983 – Alan Johnson
1982 – Jeff Kappesser/Billy Pauch
1981 – Jack Johnson
1980 – Kenny Brightbill
1979 – No champion
1978 – Walt Breeding

50th DIRTcar Nationals Big Gator Championship Goes to McLaughlin

BARBERVILLE, FL – Max McLaughlin walked into Volusia Speedway Park with one mission —  win races. He captured one victory, three top-fives and four top-10s to take the 50th DIRTcar Nationals Big Gator championship for the Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modifieds.

The banner win came with a dose of redemption that had been on McLaughlin’s mind since he drove for Heinke-Baldwin Racing in 2017. 

“Not only have I wanted to win at this race track for a long time, but to get a DIRTcar Nationals championship is really special,” said McLaughlin, of Mooresville, NC. “I almost got one in 2017 when I tied with Brett Hearn. He ended up winning the final night which gave the championship to him. It’s been bothering me for a few years that we didn’t win it. Now, this makes up for it.”

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the multi-discipline race car driver at The World’s Fastest Half-Mile. The 20-year-old driver of the #32C made contact with seven-time Series champion Matt Sheppard in Turn 1, Lap 1 during the rain-delayed Feature on Feb. 11. McLaughlin went on to win the race with Sheppard finishing fifth, however the drivers were involved in an altercation afterward.  

“I made a mistake hitting the water on Lap 1 and got into Sheppard and got punched in the face for it,” McLaughlin said. “That’s alright. Whatever. I got one black eye, one busted lip, and one DIRTcar Nationals championship.”

Sheppard was penalized

McLaughlin now has his first two Super DIRTcar Series wins with the Sweentener’s Plus Big Block. 

“Thank you, Vic Coffey and everyone at the Sweetener’s Plus race team, for giving me the opportunity,” he said. “We won our first Heat Race of the week and I remember saying in an interview that this team has won here before and now it’s up to me and that’s what we did.”

McLaughlin finished in an average position of 4.5 and accumulated 594 points in four completed 30-lap Features. Just behind him was The Franklin Flyer Billy Decker in his Gypsum Wholesalers Big Block who finished with 589 points. Decker had four top-five finishes to finish the week in second place overall which is a good indicator that the #91 will be contending for a Super DIRTcar Series championship in 2021. 

Michael Maresca finished in third place overall and came out with his first career Super DIRTcar Series win. The St. Lawrence Radiology #7MM is off to a strong start in 2021.

Check out the final Big Gator championship points standings here.

The Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modifieds start up the championship points season at The Nasty Track, Can-Am Speedway, on Saturday, April 10. If you can’t make it to the track DIRTVision will have you covered for the broadcast. 

Be sure to follow us on social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also bookmark SuperDIRTcarSeries.com for the schedule, features, race reports, and more. 

HALF-SECOND HERO: McLaughlin Edges Decker for First Career DIRTcar Nationals Win

BARBERVILLE, FL – Max McLaughlin raced home to his second Super DIRTcar Series win and his first trip to Volusia Speedway Park’s confetti-filled Victory Lane on Thursday night during the 50th DIRTcar Nationals.

The 20-year-old pilot of the #32C Sweetener’s Plus Big Block Modified was just barely able to box out future Hall of Famer Billy Decker in a wild finish where the two swapped lines on the track trying to block and slide each other at the same time. Hard charger Michael Maresca in the #7MM car cruised from 19th to third in an amazing run through the field.

After a lengthy rain delay, drama built quickly in the 30-lap Feature as McLaughlin made contact with seven-time Series champion Matt Sheppard on the first lap, sending Sheppard’s #9S up the race track and into Peter Britten’s #21A. Sheppard made his displeasure with McLaughlin known during the caution flag, but was able to recover for a fifth-place finish. 

“I got into the water there on lap one,” said McLaughlin, of Mooresville, NC. “It was a bonehead move, I guess. They checked up and he [Matt Sheppard] started pushing and I figured I’d go right below him. The left front hit the water and pushed up and I got into Matt. I hate that. That’s kind of what I was thinking about the whole race.”

When the race returned to green flag action, McLaughlin had to contend with some heavy hitters. “Mad Max” found a way around defending Series champion Mat Williamson as well as “The Baldwinsville Bandit” Jimmy Phelps, who started on the outside pole. 

However, once McLaughlin took the lead on Lap 15 there was no time to relax. Decker had his Gypsum Wholesalers #91 at full song around the top side of the speedway in pursuit during the closing stages.

“I didn’t really know where he was but I knew he was coming around the top,” McLaughlin said. “I knew I had to change something and I saw the [signal] sticks get smaller and smaller. I had to do something different.”

With an adjustment of his line, McLaughlin was able to hold Decker’s crimson #91 at bay. 

Decker did all he could to try and pass for the lead.

“We had to go where he wasn’t,” said Decker,  of Unadilla, NY. “I think we were as good as he was on the bottom, but he fired a little better on the restarts than we did. After a few laps, I think we got it rolling so it was one of those deals where he had to stick to his lane. I started hazing the outside and closing the gap. He obviously got the signal from the infield to move. If he didn’t, he was going to finish where I did. He had to move and I didn’t get him soon enough.”

Decker will look to improve just one more position tomorrow night for a coveted 50th Anniversary DIRTcar Nationals win.

Michael Maresca, from Pierrepont, NY, advanced 16 positions to capture his second consecutive third-place finish. The #7MM started the night behind the eight-ball.

“We buried ourselves in a hole in qualifying,” Maresca said. “We had a really good car all night. I think with it being a little bit wetter, I think it threw me off on my gear selection. We were able to capitalize on good restarts.”

A fast, widening race track gave him what he needed to work through two-thirds of the field in 30 laps. Unfortunately, for the pilot of the St. Lawrence Radiology Big Block Modified, Decker and McLaughlin were just a click faster. 

“Congrats to Max and Billy,” Maresca said. “I couldn’t keep up with them. I think I was just a little bit under-geared for that. But I know our car is good so we are just going to keep trucking and hopefully contend for a win tomorrow.”

Catch all the action in person or on DIRTVision on Friday, February 12 at Volusia Speedway Park as the Super DIRTcar Series take on The World’s Fastest Half-Mile for the fourth night in a row alongside the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Models. 

Keep up with the Super DIRTcar Series at SuperDIRTcarSeries.com and on social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Full results available here

Feature (30 Laps) — 1. 32C-Max McLaughlin [5][$4,000]; 2. 91-Billy Decker [11][$2,000]; 3. 7MM-Michael Maresca [19][$1,000]; 4. 88-Mat Williamson [4][$800]; 5. 9S-Matt Sheppard [3][$700]; 6. 25-Erick Rudolph [15][$650]; 7. 98H-Jimmy Phelps [2][$600]; 8. 23-Kyle Coffey [21][$550]; 9. 21A-Peter Britten [6][$500]; 10. 1D-Tyler Dippel [10][$450]; 11. 8-Rich Scagliotta [14][$400]; 12. 7F-Tim Fuller [12][$375]; 13. 4-Billy VanInwegen [23][$350]; 14. 16X-Dan Creeden [26][$325]; 15. 118-Jim Britt [9][$300]; 16. 19M-Jessey Mueller [13][$300]; 17. 17D-Marcus Dinkins [25][$300]; 18. 1-Darwin Greene [22][$300]; 19. 20-Brett Hearn [16][$300]; 20. 14-CG Morey [29][$300]; 21. 88T-Tyler Jashembowski [17][$300]; 22. 30-Ryan Godown [8][$300]; 23. 6-Matt Stangle [1][$300]; 24. 2-Jack Lehner [7][$300]; 25. 33T-Cass Bennett [27][$300]; 26. 01W-Justin Wright [24][$300]; 27. 17-Rob Pitcher [20][$300]; 28. B52-Brandon Hightower [28][$300]; 29. 26-Derrick McGrew [18][$300]. Hard Charger Award: 7MM-Michael Maresca[+16].