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!
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!
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park. In that time, hundreds of talented drivers have entered Volusia County, attempting to leave a winner. Many have. More are still trying.
From Sprint Cars to Late Models to Modifieds to Big Blocks, Volusia and the DIRTcar Nationals has served as one of the best time capsules for all of dirt racing. For the 50th year of the event, we went through the long list of drivers that have competed for the coveted DIRTcar Nationals championship title and picked 50 of the best to ever grace the clay surface.
These are the top-50 drivers of the DIRTcar Nationals in alphabetical order:
Each February, racers of all disciplines descend upon Volusia Speedway Park to compete for one of the most iconic trophies available: The Big Gator.
Be it World of Outlaws Sprint Cars, World of Outlaws Late Models, Super DIRTcar Series Big Blocks, or DIRTcar UMP Modifieds, the goal is the same. Take a stroll through any legend’s trophy room and the DIRTcar Nationals Big Gator remains one of the coolest, most unique awards in all of dirt racing.
As such a special prize, these big guys don’t just go to the basement and collect dust. They’re centerpieces at the core of any room. So, where exactly do some of the Big Gators end up? We talked to six superstars to find out where they are today.
Nick Hoffman went beyond collecting a few gators or establishing a gator family, he built an entire gator farm. The single-most dominant force in the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds division, Hoffman has earned more than 20+ of the iconic Volusia trophies. His seven Big Gators have been enough motivation to build a new office and new home for all of them, with more to come.
“I’ve got so many that they’re spread out all over the place right now,” Hoffman said with a laugh. “I’ve got some in my office, some in my living room, and others at some different sponsors shops. I’m currently building a new office and I’ve got it all planned with shelves on the wall, one for all of my Big Gators.”
Daryn Pittman owns more Big Gators than any other driver in World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series history. His first DIRTcar Nationals championship in 2013 went back to Kasey Kahne Racing, but his two most recent titles in 2015 and 2019 are on constant guard watch at home. Those two Big Gators sit on the floor sandwiched between his 2003 Historical Big One and 2008 Kings Royal trophies, and protect his 2013 World of Outlaws championship award, which is right above them.
“It’s no midget in my dining room, but it’s the best I got,” Pittman kidded. “I always get a kick out of seeing those two Big Gators on the floor, guarding all my other trophies. Some of my most prized possessions and special moments of my career are all there in that room.”
Brandon Sheppard started collecting gators in 2017, and has since become the fiercest hunter in all of the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series. His most prolific year came in a record-setting four-night run at the 2019 DIRTcar Nationals. B-Shepp won every single World of Outlaws show and easily scored the overall title, snaring up a family of five gators in just about 96 hours.
“We kept the whole family together actually,” Sheppard joked. “They’re all in the trophy room together at Rocket1 Racing headquarters. We’ve got my two Big Gators in there, plus Josh [Richards] won four of them too. A lot of little gators in that room as well, but the Big Gators are by far the coolest.”
The Georgia Bulldog Shane Clanton has found plenty of success in his days at the DIRTcar Nationals. In fact, he has six gators in total, all sitting in a small shrine in his house; a testament to his love for and success at Volusia.
“I made a gator pond out of them,” Clanton commented. “They’re all sitting in my mancave looking at each other.”
When it comes to the Super DIRTcar Series, Matt Sheppard has been king of the Big Blocks at Volusia of late. His eight feature wins and three Big Gator championships are some of his most memorable moments in the Savannah, NY native’s legendary career.
“I kept a few of the little gators, but everyone loves them so I gave a few away to fans and crew members,” Sheppard noted. “I’ve got a big trophy shelf across the top of my shop and there’s a Big Gator up there along with some of the stuffed animal gators. I’ve got one of the big bronze ones on the floor and the kids are always intrigued when they see that. I remember we always strapped it into the front seat for the ride home to be safe.”
For Paul McMahan, his 2014 DIRTcar Nationals title came via the consistency of a 3.75 average finish with two runner-up results in his CJB Motorsports No. 51. He has yet to score a feature victory at Volusia, so the Big Gator sits in his office as his lone connection to the Barberville, FL half-mile.
“It’s a really cool tradition they’ve built with all of the gators given out,” McMahan said. “I see mine almost every day, it’s right there in my office at home up on a shelf. It’s really neat to look up and see that big, long golden gator. I’ve got it right next to one of the slot machines I won at Las Vegas. I’d put it up there with my Brad Doty Classic cup and the Williams Grove checkered flags as one of the coolest items I’ve got at home.”
When the 50th DIRTcar Nationals begins next week on Tuesday, February 2, a whole fleet of 30 gators will be waiting for their relocation. In all, 25 feature events will be contested with little gators as the top prize. Only five Big Gators will be given out to the respective point champions of Sprint Cars, Late Models, Big Block Modifieds, and UMP Modifieds, which also awards an additional Big Gator in the Gator Championship race.
Fans can buy tickets and packages for the 50th DIRTcar Nationals (Feb. 2-13) by CLICKING HERE.
If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch 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!
When the stout field rolls into Volusia Speedway Park Feb. 2-8 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the event, one hand will point to the division’s future stars while the other reaches back on the history books. Some of the division’s most exciting points chases and storylines have been produced over the past 15 years, featuring a slew of instantly recognizable names.
The 2007 DIRTcar Nationals was headlined with the success of one young Canadian, who ushered in a new level of dominance not previously seen in DIRTcar Nationals UMP Modified history. Twenty-three-year-old Steve Arpin, of Fort Frances, ON, brought his Larry Shaw Race Cars #00 into the facility and made his mark on history, winning an incredible five consecutive Features in seven nights to earn his first DIRTcar Nationals championship. It seemed as though Arpin would hold this record forever, until one man sparked a legacy of his own the following year.
When Arpin was seriously injured at Volusia in February 2008, the door swung open for another driver to step up to the plate. Jared Landers, of Batesville, AR, won two Features that year, setting him up for a memorable run in 2009 where he won five non-consecutive Features over seven nights of racing, tying Arpin’s record and crowning him DIRTcar Nationals champion for the first time in his career.
The next four years didn’t see quite the level of dominance brought on by Arpin and Landers but was made up for with a diverse group of Feature winners and champions.
Present-day Late Model veteran Dave Hess Jr., of Waterford, PA, won two Features en route to his Golden Eagle trophy in 2010, one year before Emporia, KS’s own Clint Bowyer led the charge of NASCAR-driven success at the event.
Bowyer won three Features on his way to a Golden Eagle in 2011, paving the way for fellow Richard Childress Racing teammates Ty and Austin Dillon’s three newly styled Big Gator championship trophies, collected from 2012-2015. The brothers won a combined 12 DIRTcar Nationals Features over that period, missing out on only the 2013 points championship to another NASCAR legend, Kenny Schrader.
While Austin hoisted his first Big Gator in 2015 with Ty finishing just 10 points behind in third, one driver stood between them in the points that year.
Belleville, IL-born Nick Hoffman, now residing in Mooresville, NC, has since been the one man to beat when it comes to the UMP Modifieds at the DIRTcar Nationals. He and his blue/orange Elite Chassis #2 have been tearing up Volusia in February for the past five years, winning 13 Features and five consecutive Big Gator trophies from 2016-2020.
Armed with his second consecutive DIRTcar Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals championship and DIRTcar UMP Modified national championship honors that 2020 brought him, 2021 is looking brighter than ever for the reigning Big Gator champion to repeat at Volusia.
Of course, several big-name contenders in the division will be gunning for their right to hoist the Big Gator trophy as well, including former NASCAR stars David Stremme, Kenny Wallace and 2020 Reutimann Memorial winner Tyler Nicely.
Tickets for the 50th annual DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park, Feb. 2-13, are on sale now at DIRTcarNationals.com. If you can’t make it to the track, be sure to tune into DIRTVision to watch all the action live from the comfort of your home!
Previous UMP Modified Feature Winners February 10, 2020 – Spencer Hughes
February 9, 2020 – Kyle Strickler
February 8, 2020 – Nick Hoffman
February 7, 2020 – Curt Spalding, Jason Beaulieu, Christian Thomas, David Reutimann
February 6, 2020 – Nick Hoffman
February 5, 2020 – Kyle Strickler
February 4, 2020 – Michael Long
February 11th, 2019 — Kyle Strickler
February 11th, 2019 — Kyle Strickler
February 11th, 2019 —Lucas Lee
February 8th, 2019 — R.C. Whitwell, Justin Haley, Gordy Gundaker, Brandon Green, Jesse Rupe
February 7th, 2019 — Nick Hoffman
February 6th, 2019 — Taylor Cook
February 5th, 2019 — Michael Long
February 11th, 2018 — Kyle Strickler
February 10th, 2018 — Tyler Nicely
February 9th, 2018 — Kyle Strickler, Tyler Nicely, Frank Paladino, Larry Mott
February 8th, 2018 — Nick Hoffman
February 7th, 2018 — Nick Hoffman
February 6th, 2018 — David Stremme
February 21st, 2017 — Jacob Hawkins, Jonathan Taylor, J.E. Stalder
February 20th, 2017 — Nick Hoffman
February 19th, 2017 — Nick Hoffman
February 19th, 2017 — Will Krup
February 17th, 2017 — Nick Hoffman
February 16th, 2017 — Brian Ruhlman
February 15th, 2017 — Nick Hoffman
February 14th, 2017 — Jacob Hawkins
February 16th, 2016 — Derrick Ramey, Justin Allgaier, Ray Bollinger
February 15th, 2016 — Nick Hoffman
February 14th, 2016 — Brian Ruhlman
February 13th, 2016 — Nick Hoffman
February 12th, 2016 — Trent Young
February 11th, 2016 — Tyler Nicely
February 10th, 2016 — Nick Hoffman
February 9th, 2016 — Nick Hoffman
February 16th, 2015 — Austin Dillon
February 15th, 2015 — Austin Dillon
February 14th, 2015 — Nick Hoffman
February 13th, 2015 — Ty Dillon
February 12th, 2015 — David Stremme
February 11th, 2015 — Kyle Strickler
February 10th, 2015 — Austin Dillon
February 18th, 2014 — Ty Dillon
February 18th, 2014 — Joel Ortberg
February 17th, 2014 — Ty Dillon
February 16th, 2014 — Austin Dillon
February 15th, 2014 — Ty Dillon
February 14th, 2014 — Ty Dillon
February 13th, 2014 — Kyle Bronson
February 11th, 2014 — Kyle Strickler
February 19th, 2013 — Ty Dillon
February 19th, 2013 — Jacob Poel
February 19th, 2013 — Jason Zimmer
February 18th, 2013 — Ken Schrader
February 17th, 2013 — Matt Westfall
February 16th, 2013 — Jacob Poel
February 15th, 2013 — Nick Hoffman
February 12th, 2013 — Rodney Sanders
February 21st, 2012 — Austin Dillon
February 21st, 2012 — Mike Wedelstadt
February 21st, 2012 — Tyler Carpenter
February 20th, 2012 — Nick Hoffman
February 19th, 2012 — Kenny Wallace
February 18th, 2012 — Chad Kinder
February 17th, 2012 — Ty Dillon
February 16th, 2012 — Kenny Wallace
February 15th, 2012 — Kenny Wallace
February 14th, 2012 — Dale Mathison
February 15th, 2011 — Ty Dillon
February 15th, 2011 — Kenny Schrader
February 15th, 2011 — Austin Dillon
February 14th, 2011 — Ty Dillon
February 13th, 2011 — Clint Bowyer
February 12th, 2011 — Richie Tosh
February 11th, 2011 — Ryan Gustin
February 10th, 2011 — Clint Bowyer
February 9th, 2011 — Clint Bowyer
February 8th, 2011 — Austin Dillon
February 8th, 2010 — Jared Landers
February 7th, 2010 — Austin Dillon
February 6th, 2010 — Dave Hess, Jr.
February 4th, 2010 — David McWilliams
February 3rd, 2010 — Dave Hess, Jr.
February 10th, 2009 — Austin Dillon
February 9th, 2009 — Jared Landers
February 8th, 2009 — Jared Landers
February 7th, 2009 — Randy Hall
February 6th, 2009 — Jared Landers
February 5th, 2009 — Austin Dillon
February 4th, 2009 — Jared Landers
February 3rd, 2009 — Jared Landers
February 11th, 2008 — Dave Groves
February 10th, 2008 — Tim Hancock
February 9th, 2008 — Dave Hess, Jr.
February 8th, 2008 — Jared Landers
February 7th, 2008 — Jared Landers
February 6th, 2008 — Scott Drake
February 5th, 2008 — Jesse Stovall
February 12th, 2007 — Joey Kramer
February 11th, 2007 — Steve Arpin
February 10th, 2007 — Steve Arpin
February 9th, 2007 — Steve Arpin
February 8th, 2007 — Steve Arpin
February 7th, 2007 — Steve Arpin
February 6th, 2007 — Kenny Wallace
February 12th, 2006 – Joey Kramer
February 10th, 2006 – Duke Whiseant
February 9th, 2006 – Duke Whiseant
February 8th, 2006 – Chad Ohnsted
February 7th, 2006 – Craig Thatcher
February 6th, 2006 – Blake Jetvig
February 14th, 2005 – Joey Kramer
February 13th, 2005 – Craig Thatcher
February 12th, 2005 – Joey Kramer
February 11th, 2005 – Joey Kramer
February 10th, 2005 – Craig Thatcher
February 9th, 2005 – Steve Arpin
Nicely’s Longhorn by Loenbro Chassis wins in first weekend out, Elite Chassis finish 2-3
BARBERVILLE, FL – Nov. 21, 2020 – When Tyler Nicely and his team loaded up after their testing session earlier this week, he knew he had a car he could take to Volusia Speedway Park and contend for his first Reutimann Memorial Feature victory.
Not only did Nicely, of Owensboro, KY, and his new Longhorn by Loenbro Chassis score the victory in the 7th annual Emil & Dale Reutimann Memorial, he showed consistent strength in the new car throughout the weekend. Setting fast time and winning his Showdown Feature on Friday night set him up for a spot in the redraw on Saturday, where he took full advantage of his forward starting spot, leading 30 total laps en route to the $5,000 payday.
“I didn’t want to lose the race and I was going to do everything I could to win it,” Nicely said in Victory Lane. “I knew I just needed to get out in clean air and just dictate my own race. I knew we had a pretty good car early; I just knew I needed to make a smart move early to get to the lead.”
Starting from position #4 on the grid, Nicely showed speed right out of the gate, chasing down NASCAR standout Justin Allgaier, of Riverton, IL, and leader Devin Dixon, of Apollo Beach, FL, inside the first 10 laps. After an early caution, Nicely made the move around Allgaier for second and cracked the whip, gunning for leader Dixon’s rear bumper.
As Dixon worked his way around a slower car out of Turn 4 to complete Lap 21, he got a bit too wide out of the groove and the door opened for Nicely to his inside. Nicely threw it hard into Turn 1, slid up the track and took the lead away.
Dixon came back at him with a slide job of his own a few laps later, but the non-existent cushion up top threw him wide once again as Nicely drove back by. Dixon was able to grab the lead back briefly on Lap 27 after Nicely slipped high in Turn 2, but lost it again as Nicely threw a big slide job on he and Allgaier on a restart just one lap later.
Then came the opening Allgaier had been waiting for. Nicely slipped way high again in Turn 1 on Lap 35 as Allgaier jumped through the open door. Nicely recovered quickly though, throwing yet another slider for the lead as they came back around to Turn 1.
“We got the lead there and then Tyler slid me down in [Turn] 1,” Allgaier said. “I didn’t know if he was going to make 1 and 2 or not, so I jumped out of it. I wish, in hindsight, I’d have stayed in it.”
Allgaier’s presence out front seemed to spark a fire under Nicely’s seat. He dropped the hammer on the high side and never relinquished the lead again, fending off Allgaier and fellow Elite Chassis pilot Nick Hoffman’s surge for the front in the final laps.
Hoffman, the five-time DIRTcar Nationals UMP Modified champion at Volusia, took a shot at Allgaier with five-to-go for the runner-up spot, but was unable to hold the car down in Turn 1 and gave the spot right back as he washed-up the track.
“Justin had a way better racecar, so once he showed me a nose, I just let him go back by; the only shot for Elite Chassis to win tonight,” Hoffman said.
The Elite cars brought the heat after one final restart in the home stretch but couldn’t get a big enough run in either groove to threaten for the lead. Nicely was too fast on the top side and brought the field back around to the checkers to score his first career Reutimann Memorial victory.
“I kinda liked getting that caution with six to go, just because that took the lapped cars out of it; that’s how I got passed for the lead when we got into lapped traffic,” Nicely said.
Allgaier crossed the stripe in second – now his best career finish in the event. He was the only driver that kept it inside the podium for all 50 laps, despite his feelings on how the race began for him.
“In the beginning there, I struggled to get a line that really worked for me. Once we figured that out, I was able to make up some time,” Allgaier said.
Hoffman rounded out the podium in third, crossing by a slim margin over Justin Haley and Austin Holcombe. His newly-built Elite Chassis was quite the hot rod in the latter half of the race, but ultimately came up one spot shy of tying his personal best finish in the event (second, 2018).
“At the middle of the race, I kinda got my motor too hot and kinda cruised for a little bit; I wanted to cruise anyway. Once it was time to go, I was able to cool it down and really hustle,” Hoffman said.