Shane Clanton

WHERE ARE THEY NOW: DIRTcar Nationals Champions Reminisce on Big Gator Trophies

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.

Daryn Pittman’s gator trophy collection.

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.

Shane Clanton celebrates his Big Gator championship.

“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.

The famous gator trophy drivers get for winning at Volusia Speedway Park.

“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.

HALF-CENTURY GRIND: Late Models Extending Legacy at 50th DIRTcar Nationals

Late Models have long been part of the action at Volusia Speedway Park, and will continue to play a large role in 2021 when the 50th anniversary of DIRTcar Nationals takes center stage from February 2-13.

It all started in 1968 when Benny Corbin bought the property and opened “Barberville Speedway” as a quarter-mile oval. Over the years, several transformations saw the track converted to a 3/8th-mile track, then half-mile, and even paved at one time for NASCAR competition.

Since switching to the current half-mile configuration, the Barberville, FL destination has truly become a national phenomenon known for high-speed and high-action. It’s that intensity which will be fully on display when the DIRTcar UMP Late Models (Feb. 8-9) and World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series (Feb. 10-13) headline six straight nights alongside the Super DIRTcar Series to close out DIRTcar Nationals.

Buck Simmons (41) and Jack Boggs (B4) race at Volusia in 1986. [David Allio]

Before The Most Powerful Late Models on the Planet were revived in 2004, Volusia welcomed a handful of different sanctioning bodies to carry the late model load at DIRTcar Nationals.

In the 1980’s, the Stars Late Model Series led the way with icons like Larry Moore, Jeff Purvis, Freddy Smith, Larry Phillips, and more, nabbing victories. Another noteworthy winner came in 1985 when a young 27-year-old buck from Batesville, AR strolled into Volusia victory lane. His name was Billy Moyer; He would become the winningest late model driver in DIRTcar Nationals history with 15 W’s to his credit.

The Northern All Stars, ALMS, and Hav-A-Tampa came into play during the 1990’s and ushered in the next generation. Eventual legends such as Rick Eckert, Chub Frank, Jimmy Mars, Dale McDowell, Earl Pearson Jr., and more, topped features. In 1994, Scott Bloomquist took a big bite out of Volusia with back-to-back triumphs. A telling sign for Black Sunshine’s success in Barberville, who is a winner of 12 different DIRTcar Nationals races.

Bloomquist’s biting of the gator is his Volusia signature. [Chris Dolack]

A new millennium began in 2000 and it became all about the DIRTcar UMP Late Models. Moyer and Bloomquist kept on winning, while others like Don O’Neal, Tim McCreadie, and Josh Richards hit their marks.

In 2004, the World of Outlaws Late Models restarted and instantly made an impact. A set of four winners in four nights kickstarted the Outlaws/Volusia relationship, which is now the most visited track in Series history.

A pair of DIRTcar triumphs and an additional World of Outlaws win in 2005 made Tim McCreadie the first man to collect three wins in a single Late Model week. In 2008, Moyer did it himself. At that point, the records were only beginning.

The World of Outlaws have been a mainstay at DIRTcar Nationals since 2004.

Shane Clanton took it a step further in 2015, sweeping the weekend by winning all three World of Outlaws Late Model shows at the half-mile and walking away with the glorious Big Gator championship. There’s no topping that, right? Think again.

In 2019, Brandon Sheppard did the unthinkable and brought a family of FIVE gators back to New Berlin, IL. The Rocket1 Racing driver swept all four World of Outlaws Late Model features, cashing in on four little gators to go along with his first-career Big Gator.

B-Shepp won his sixth consecutive Volusia race with the Outlaws to open last year’s DIRTcar Nationals, but from there the whole show was The O-Show with Jimmy Owens going back-to-back-to-back to end the week.

B-Shepp’s four-peat in 2019 will forever go down in the history books. [Chris Owens]

Since 2005, no man has tamed more DIRTcar Nationals titles than Josh Richards, who has used unrivaled consistency and ten victories to lay claim to four crowns. Moyer has three in his own right, while Sheppard and Clanton each have a pair.

Since the trophy switch in 2012, only six men have won the big golden gator:

– Brandon Sheppard (2019 & 2020)
– Shane Clanton (2015 & 2017)
– Josh Richards (2013 & 2016)
– Chris Madden (2018)
– Scott Bloomquist (2014)
– Dennis Erb Jr. (2012)

It hasn’t just been the veterans at Volusia, as eight first-time winners have also tasted their first bite of World of Outlaws Late Model glory at the DIRTcar Nationals.

In less than 50 days, we’ll write the next chapter in the milestone 50th year of DIRTcar Nationals. Late Model Week (Feb. 8-13) will be highlighted by two nights of the DIRTcar UMP Late Models on Monday-Tuesday, followed by a Wednesday-Saturday slate full of World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Models.

For tickets to the Feb. 2-13 50th DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park, BUY HERE.

If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch all the action live on DIRTVision.

Previous World of Outlaws Winners at DIRTcar Nationals:
2020: Brandon Sheppard / Jimmy Owens / Jimmy Owens / Jimmy Owens
2019: Brandon Sheppard / Brandon Sheppard / Brandon Sheppard / Brandon Sheppard
2018: Tim McCreadie / Dale McDowell / Scott Bloomquist / Brandon Sheppard
2017: Shane Clanton / Don O’Neal
2016: Josh Richards / Josh Richards / Shane Clanton
2015: Shane Clanton / Shane Clanton / Shane Clanton
2014: Casey Roberts / Kyle Bronson
2013: Scott Bloomquist / Billy Moyer Sr. / Darrell Lanigan
2012: Dennis Erb Jr. / Billy Moyer Sr.
2011: Scott Bloomquist / Scott Bloomquist
2010: Josh Richards / Brady Smith
2009: Josh Richards / Steve Francis
2008: Josh Richards / Billy Moyer Sr.
2007: Josh Richards
2006: Earl Pearson Jr. / Steve Francis
2005: Billy Moyer Sr. / Tim McCreadie
2004: Steve Francis / Bart Hartman / Shannon Babb / Scott Bloomquist

Previous UMP Late Model Winners at DIRTcar Nationals:
2020: Brandon Sheppard / Tim McCreadie
2019: Mike Marlar
2018: Jonathan Davenport
2017: Chris Madden / Brandon Sheppard
2016: Billy Moyer Jr. / Josh Richards / Scott Bloomquist
2015: Scott Bloomquist
2014: Ivedent Lloyd Jr. / Kenny Pettyjohn / Scott Bloomquist
2013: Josh Richards / Josh Richards / Tim McCreadie
2012: Steve Francis / Billy Moyer Sr. / Scott Bloomquist / John Blankenship
2011: Billy Moyer Sr. / Don O’Neal / Jimmy Mars / Billy Moyer Sr.
2010: Darrell Lanigan
2009: Darren Miller / Earl Pearson Jr. / Dan Schlieper / Josh Richards
2008: Billy Moyer Sr. / Billy Moyer Sr. / Clint Smith
2007: Earl Pearson Jr. / Shannon Babb / Darrell Lanigan
2006: Chub Frank / Darren Miller / Rick Eckert
2005: Rick Eckert / Tim McCreadie / Tim McCreadie / Billy Moyer Sr.
2004: Tim McCreadie / Don O’Neal / Rick Eckert / Greg Johnson / Jackie Boggs
2003: Don O’Neal / Don O’Neal / Brian Birkhofer / Scott Bloomquist / Earl Pearson Jr. / Don O’Neal
2002: Don O’Neal / Don O’Neal / Joe Izzo / Rick Eckert / Chub Frank
2001: Rick Eckert / Chub Frank / Donnie Moran
1998: Tom Izzo Jr. / Ronnie Johnson / Dale McDowell / David Gibson / Bart Hartman
1997: Billy Moyer Sr. / Billy Moyer Sr.
1996: Pat Doar / Jack Boggs / Billy Moyer Sr. / Billy Moyer Sr. / Steve Cornelius

Other Late Model Winners at DIRTcar Nationals:
2001: Rick Eckert / Davey Johnson / Matt Miller
2000: Donnie Barnhart / Jimmy Mars / Mike Duvall / Rick Aukland / Rick Aukland
1999: Wendell Wallace / Dale McDowell / Rick Eckert / Rick Aukland / Chub Frank / Ray Tucker
1997: Earl Pearson Jr.
1994: Jeff Smith / Ronnie Johnson / Scott Bloomquist / Scott Bloomquist
1985: Jeff Purvis / Freddy Smith / Larry Phillips / Larry Moore
1982: Larry Moore
1981: Larry Moore