The NASCAR star shared his passion for racing at DIRTcar Nationals and why he cherishes his gator trophies most
Justin Allgaier occasionally peered into the Volusia Speedway Park pond hoping to see its resident gators during DIRTcar Nationals last year.
Each time, he found himself – the “Little Gator.”
However, there was another gator the NASCAR star was truly searching for. The golden gator; given only to those capable of winning during the historic DIRTcar Nationals event.
Allgaier had already claimed the unique trophy in 2016 with the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds – a prize he said he cherishes over every other trophy he’s collected.
“I’ve got the little gator that we won years ago sitting front and center in my trophy case,” he said. “It’s out in front of all the NASCAR wins. It’s out in front of everything I got because it means a lot to me.”
What he didn’t have yet was the Big Gator trophy. That prestigious life-size idol is reserved only to those who master the points battle for the week or win the biggest UMP Modified race of the event – the Gator Championship Feature.
Modified champion Nick Hoffman was on a path to conquer both last year but a rare slip by the multi-time gator winner allowed Allaiger the opportunity to slide into the lead. Hoffman tried desperately to run down Allaiger – driving a chassis built by Hoffman – but the “Little Gator” used all his might to finally earn a Big Gator trophy.
“More than you’ll know,” Allgaier said. “Obviously, the NASCAR side (driving for recent NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Dale Earnhardt Jr.), I love what I do, and I have great sponsors over there. I love the NASCAR side of things but there is nothing like coming out in front of you (dirt) fans. Everybody is watching at home on DIRTVision. Just putting it all out there with 30 of the best drivers in the world. I truly mean that.”
He’ll be back this year for the 51st edition of DIRTcar Nationals, Feb. 7-12, to hunt for both gators again. Participating in the event is a privilege he cherishes, having visited Volusia as a fan long before he started his racing career. Even before the track had dirt on it.
When he turned from fan to driver at the half-mile track, he started in a Late Model before moving to a DIRTcar UMP Modified. He credited his years in dirt racing as a key to his success, which includes 16 NASCAR Xfinity Series wins and the 2008 ARCA championship.
“This is an integral part of who I am as a racer,” Allgaier said. “It’s a huge part of who I am. It drives me to be a racer. I love what I do on Saturdays, and I love the NASCAR scene. It is so totally different than this. They’re both great in their own right. They’re so totally different. Dirt racing fans are incredible. They’re passionate. They love their sport. And rightly so, right? Whether it’s Late Model, Sprint Cars, Modifieds, just in general they love this sport so much. And it drives us. You put in hours. You put in time.”
And don’t think he finds dirt racing any less stressful than his NASCAR duties.
“I get more heartburn and sleepless nights coming here (to DIRTcar Nationals) than I’d like to admit,” Allgaier said. “You know, it’s so difficult to come down here. And so many things have to go right. But you look at guys like Nick (Hoffman) who come here year in and year out, they find their way to the box. They make no mistakes. They’re on their game. The amount of focus and discipline it takes to come here, when you have this many cars, it really is incredible to see the talent level here right now. It’s really amazing.
“I think a lot of NASCAR guys come back here because we truly believe it’s a huge test of our abilities. A test of the people around you. There’s just something different about it. This week is mentally draining. When you walk out of this place, you’re either pumped up and ready to come back next year or you’re so demoralized that you’re ready to come back next year so you can redeem yourself. It’s pretty awesome. It’s something that… yeah, there’s really no words that can describe it.”
If you venture to the gator pond this February, you may find the “Little Gator” again peering into its depths, searching. Always searching for a gator – green and gold.
Strickler and Nicely drop out early, Stewart hard charges 25th-to-6th
Nick Hoffman has won a lot of races at Volusia Speedway Park in his career. Just consult the golden gator farm at his home in Mooresville, NC, reflecting his unprecedented six-straight DIRTcar Nationals championships.
However, entering Saturday night, there remained one prestigious DIRTcar UMP Modified race he’d yet to win at the venue – the Emil & Dale Reutimann Memorial.
With some speed on the bottom and a good line in Turns 3-4, Hoffman was able to swipe the lead away from defending race winner Tyler Nicely in the early going and hold the field off the rest of the way for his first career triumph in Florida’s most prestigious Dirt Modified race.
“Everything they do – the Reutimann family, Volusia Speedway Park, everybody that puts this deal on – I can’t thank them enough,” Hoffman said. “This race has kind of eluded me. I’ve ran second, I’ve ran third… I’ve been close, just not close enough to win.”
“Tyler [Nicely] beat us up pretty good last year, but this year I was just a little bit more on top of my game.”
Starting fourth after a Showdown Feature win Friday night, Hoffman didn’t have to wait long for his shot at the lead. Nicely jumped to the early lead from the pole and led the opening circuits before the first caution was displayed with four laps complete. But Hoffman was all over him on the restart and drove it deep into Turn 3 with speed and completed the pass coming out of Turn 4.
“[Nicely] was pretty good there at the beginning, and then I just kinda bided my time to get to second,” Hoffman said. “I was all over him on that restart, so I just figured I’d try and get the lead and control the pace.”
By this time, Strickler had cracked the whip on his #00EH, normally piloted by Longhorn by Loenbro head and former DIRTcar Nationals champion Steve Arpin, and followed Hoffman around Nicely to take second. Now only a second behind Hoffman, Strickler pinned the throttle.
Through lapped traffic the two raced, weaving inside-and-outside in an exciting chase around the half-mile oval with a blistering pace.
“This place – when it widens out like that, you can pretty much go anywhere,” Hoffman said. “It was actually really fun to maneuver through lapped traffic. I was having a pretty good time just picking lanes and trying to carry as much speed [as possible].”
The chase soon reached a fever pitch, bringing spectators to the edge of their seats, until Strickler lost the handle on his car in Turns 3-4 and looped it by himself to bring out the yellow.
He had just tapped the inside retaining wall, which sent him around in a spin and left him with nose damage. He took it to pit road in an attempt to make repairs but retired to the pits after the restart from the persistent damage.
One lap later, Nicely – who inherited Strickler’s runner-up spot – slowed suddenly on the backstretch and brought out caution again. He took his #25 to pit road with an apparent air cleaner issue and was back out for the restart, but dropped out one lap later, done for the night.
“Strickler just pushed the issue really hard, really early,” Hoffman said. “I was running way harder than I wanted to be at that point in time. Once he had his issue, I was able to cruise.”
And cruise he did. Hoffman drove the remaining 26 laps unchallenged and led the field back to the checkers to collect the $7,000 check and his first tractor trophy as winner of the eighth annual Emil & Dale Reutimann Memorial.
“This is pretty unbelievable, the whole year we had,” Hoffman said. “From Summer Nationals, DIRTcar Nationals, everything we’ve done to get the DIRTcar national championship again… To get that ride with Scott [Bloomquist] and learn from him and run really well in the Late Model, that’s gonna catapult my career, I feel.”
Though he hadn’t raced at Volusia in 20 years, Victor Lee was thrilled to bag $3,000 for a runner-up finish to the #1-ranked driver in the country.
“We’ll take that as a win, for us,” Lee said. “There haven’t been too many people to beat Nick this year. He’s been phenomenal, he’s on his game, so hats off to him and his crew.”
The Danville, KY-native started third and kept his #4L inside the top-five the entire race while fighting mechanical issues throughout the night.
“At the end there, I was really hanging on,” Lee said. “I don’t know if I overheated the brakes and one started sticking on it or what. But when I rolled off the throttle, it wanted to turn dead-right without touching the brakes.”
Kenny Wallace crossed the line in third, improving on his best finish of 10th from his debut in the event last year.
“It was a great race for us,” Wallace said. “We started ninth and really didn’t know what to expect. This is my first year with an Elite Chassis, and I feel like I’ve been getting better all year long.”
Wallace, of Arnold, MO, steadily climbed through the top-10 over 50 laps and was battling for third with Chris Arnold before the final caution with 4-to-go. He hammered the throttle on the restart and powered around Arnold on the bottom to grab the spot, which he held for the final laps to bag a $2,000 check.
“I was really strong on the bottom,” Wallace said. “My car surprised me. I could really drive in hard on the bottom and I had to get used to that. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to drive in that hard on the bottom.”
2021 UMP Modified track champion Garret Stewart found himself in a challenging situation Saturday night after getting into a wreck the night before. He finished repairs on Saturday afternoon and arrived back at the track just in time, scooping a transfer spot from 12th in the first Last Chance Showdown. But he didn’t stop there – the Leesburg, FL-native climbed nineteen positions over 50 laps to finish the Feature 6th from 25th on the starting grid.
Hoffman, Nicely, Wallace and more battle Stewart and the local field in $7K-to-win spectacle
BARBERVILLE, FL – The biggest DIRTcar UMP Modified brawl on the fall calendar is finally here. The eighth annual Emil & Dale Reutimann Memorial race boasts a bigger $7,000-to-win purse this year, and the stars will be out to come and chase it.
Thursday night kicks things off with a practice session for all divisions. Hot Lap/Qualifying and Showdown Features for the UMP Modifieds highlight Friday’s program alongside a full show for 602 Late Models and Thunder Stocks. Modified Last Chance Showdowns and the 50-lap Feature are on-tap for Saturday, while DIRTcar Pro (604) Late Models and Street Stocks support the show.
Driver pre-registration is still open at the link below, but will be closed on Wednesday evening. Upon arrival, teams are reminded that all upper pit parking spaces have been booked, but plenty of room is still available around the Gator Pond.
All tickets will be sold at the gate on race day – $20 for single-day admission, $30 for both days. Kids 12-and-under are free. If you can’t be at the track, watch every lap of Friday and Saturday live with a FAST PASS subscription to DIRTVision presented by Drydene.
Here are the drivers to watch and storylines to follow this weekend…
TRACTOR HUNTING – The champ is here, and gunning for the gold. Or, in this case, the farm tractor trophy.
Defending DIRTcar UMP Modified national champion Nick Hoffman, of Mooresville, NC, just clinched his third consecutive DIRTcar national championship after another dominating season that saw him capture 26 Feature wins in 49 starts. In February, Hoffman also clinched a sixth consecutive DIRTcar Nationals Big Gator trophy as champion of the UMP Modified division – the most by any one driver in the event’s 50-year history.
However, there is one trophy he’s never hoisted in the Sunshine State. Hoffman will take his Elite Chassis #2 southbound one final time this year in search of his first win in the event, one year after coming up two spots short of victory in the Saturday finale.
HOME TURF – Over the last two seasons as a UMP Modified regular at Volusia, Garret Stewart has lost a total of four points Features.
The 2020 & 2021 track champion from Leesburg, FL, has since become the local favorite and will lead the charge into the Reutimann Memorial on the back of seven Feature wins in ten regular season starts at the track in 2021. Volusia underwent a resurfacing at the beginning of the year, which 100+ UMP Modified drivers raced on at the 50th DIRTcar Nationals in February. Stewart has now been racing on the new dirt all season, and says those laps on it are going to pay off come Saturday.
“I think we’ve actually gained on our car when it’s not so slick,” Stewart said. “So, I actually do think this year we have a little bit of help on our side just being on the race track seven or eight times throughout the year.”
FRIENDS IN SOUTHERN PLACES – It’s been another successful year behind the wheel for Matoaca, VA-driver Chris Arnold, who locked-up his first regional UMP Modified championship last weekend with the Southeast Dirt Modified Series. This weekend, he’ll have an extra resource on hand with him in the pit area – his car builder, David Reutimann.
Reutimann is the owner, founder and builder of Beak Built Chassis, which Arnold has been piloting for the past few seasons. David and father Buzzie, 80, of Zephyrhills, FL, will both be on the roster for the event – which David won in 2015 and 2016, when the event was held at East Bay Raceway Park.
NO MORE MR. NICE GUY – Tyler Nicely entered the Reutimann Memorial and came to Volusia last year, driving a brand-new Longhorn by Loenbro, with one goal in mind. Win.
When the weekend was over, he had done just that, defeating Hoffman and NASCAR star Justin Allgaier for his first career tractor trophy. This year, his goal is exactly the same – win in a brand-new car, in preparation for Florida in February.
“We’ve got a whole year under our belt and we ran solid during Speedweeks,” Nicely said. “I’m excited to get back. We’ll have a new car, and the car I started running at the end of the year. We’ll practice on both Thursday night, see which one I feel like I’ve got the best shot at and hopefully bring another one of them tractor trophies back to Owensboro.”
WILDCARD WINNER – Kenny Wallace brought his Elite Chassis #36 to Volusia last Saturday night, in preparation for this weekend, and won, defeating David Reutimann and Garret Stewart in the Wildcard 25 main event.
Wallace, of Arnold, MO, made his Reutimann Memorial debut last year and had a strong run in Saturday’s finale, driving all the way from 21st to finish 10th. He’ll be back on the roster for another try at the coveted farm tractor trophy and a $7,000 check this weekend.
Nicely preps for title defense, Stewart looks to continue reign of weekly dominance
The national points season has concluded, but one of the biggest DIRTcar UMP Modified events on the calendar still remains.
The eighth annual Emil & Dale Reutimann Memorial kicks off in one week’s time – Thu-Sat, Nov. 18-20 – at Volusia Speedway Park. The nation’s best UMP Modified drivers will flock to the half-mile oval to take part in a night of practice on Thursday, followed by two nights of racing on Friday and Saturday.
Drivers will Hot Lap/Qualify to get Friday’s program started, then be divided into four separate Showdown Features. These Showdowns will take a number of transfers into Saturday’s Feature, while everyone else will file into a Last Chance Showdown. Once Last Chance Showdowns are complete on Saturday night, Feature cars will take to the track for the 50-lap, $7,000-to-win finale, live on DIRTVision.
When the race was founded in their remembrance in 2014, the depth of its reach and prestige in the DIRTcar UMP Modified world was only a fraction of where it stands today. The growing list of local, regional and national talent that attends every year has surprised even third-generation racing veteran David Reutimann.
“I never dreamed it could get this big,” he said of the event’s growing prestige. “It started off just as a local deal.”
Reutimann won the second and third editions of the event in 2015 and 2016, when it was held at East Bay Raceway Park in Tampa, FL. The race moved to Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and has now made its home at Volusia – right where Reutimann had always hoped it would.
“Out of all the dirt tracks that I’ve been to – and I’ve raced a lot of dirt for a lot of years – Volusia’s by far my favorite place,” Reutimann, of Sherrills Ford, NC, said. “I always wanted it to end up at Volusia. That was kinda my vision.”
Volusia is also a favorite to defending Reutimann Memorial winner Tyler Nicely. The track was covered with new dirt for the 2021 season, which suited him well for his victorious run on the second night of competition in the 50th DIRTcar Nationals in February.
“[DIRTcar Nationals] racetrack was perfect,” Nicely said. “It got slick every night we ran on it, so hopefully it’s like that and we can stay on top.”
He debuted a new Longhorn by Loenbro chassis in the event last year and made a statement win, holding off Justin Allgaier and Nick Hoffman to capture his first farm tractor trophy.
This year is more of the same for the driver from Owensboro, KY. He’ll take another new Longhorn with him to Barberville, looking to duplicate the success he found earlier this year at DIRTcar Nationals.
“We learned, just like when we went to Speedweeks, we just had a handful of races in on that Longhorn,” Nicely said. “We ran on the podium every night except for two, I think. I feel like we’ve learned more about the racecar and I’ve gotten better with the racecar.”
While Nicely, Hoffman and Allgaier bring the national talent, the local stars shine just as bright. Garret Stewart has won all but five points Features over the last two seasons en route to dominating consecutive track championships.
Although he enters the event as the local favorite, he has yet to reach Victory Lane in the track’s marquee events. Armed with an Elite Chassis, built by Hoffman – the three-time and defending DIRTcar national champion – Stewart’s feeling more confident than ever this season.
“I’m excited to see what we got because I feel like we’ve made gains since the last time we went to Volusia,” Stewart, of Leesburg, FL, said. “[Hoffman’s] helped me a little more this year than in years past. Hopefully that pays off.”
With pre-entries on the list including Hoffman, Nicely, Chris Arnold, Kenny Wallace and Justin Haley, Stewart knows he’s going to need to bring his A-game if he wants to beat them.
“We can’t have any mistakes the whole weekend,” Stewart said. “You’re going to have to put together Qualifying, Heat Race and a Feature. You can’t have any missteps, because those guys don’t make mistakes.”
$7,000, a unique custom trophy and a spot in the history books of one of Florida’s most prestigious dirt track races is at stake. Stewart will have home-track advantage and a legion of his local fanbase on his side as he chases what would be the biggest win of his career.
“Any big race at Volusia is awesome,” he said. “When you get national level guys, just to run well is exciting. But if we can win it, it would be huge for our program too.”
The on-track action begins with practice on Thursday, followed by racing on Friday and Saturday. If you can’t be at the track, stream every lap of Friday and Saturday live on DIRTVision presented by Drydene.
Elite Chassis finishes 1-2, six-straight Big Gator points championships for Hoffman
The Little Gator is now officially a Big Gator winner.
Justin Allgaier cashed-in on his DIRTcar UMP Modified experience at Volusia Speedway Park Monday night for his second career DIRTcar Nationals victory and first in the division’s most prestigious event – the Gator Championship Feature.
For his efforts, a $5,000 check in his pocket and one of the most coveted dirt track racing trophies in the world headed back to his race shop.
Over 100 different drivers entered at least one event over the seven-day stretch, and Allgaier has now topped them all. Including his car builder and the newly crowned six-time Big Gator points champion, Nick Hoffman.
“We’ve been coming down here for a number of years,” Allgaier said. “What this week means to all of us as racers… I really don’t think people understand what the DIRTcar Nationals is all about.
“To have over 100 cars here this week and just to grind it out and battle some of the best racers in the country is truly special.”
Hoffman started on the pole of the 30-lap main event and looked as strong as he ever had been before, opening up a solid gap over the other leaders until the lapped traffic hit on Lap 11.
“I went into [Turn] one, and I don’t know what actually happened in front of me in the lapped traffic, but it was about four rows in front of me,” Hoffman said. “It looked like somebody was turned sideways and they were gonna wreck, so I checked-up because I didn’t know which way they were gonna go.
“Then they were four-wide down the back-straightaway; I got tight getting into [Turn] 3, so Justin passed me, then [Michael] Altobelli passed me. I think [Spencer] Hughes was alongside me; luckily the caution came out and saved me right there.”
With Hoffman now in his rearview, it was Allgaier’s time to shine. He picked up the pace throughout the rest of the race, keeping Hoffman, Altobelli and eventual third-place finisher Mike McKinney at bay behind him through several restarts.
McKinney came from 12th on the starting grid and made big gains throughout the first half of the race, cracking the top-five by the halfway point.
“There was a mud ring down on the bottom and some guys just weren’t really hitting it right,” McKinney said. “Once I hit it, I’d just wait for those guys to push up out of the groove and I was already set up to pounce on it when they made a mistake.”
Hoffman tried mightily throughout the final laps to catch Allgaier after making his way back around Altobelli for second, but just could not muster the speed he needed to get by his fellow Elite Chassis driver in the end. However, he was proud to see so many of the cars be built have success at Volusia over the entire week. His sixth consecutive Big Gator points championship is just icing on the cake.
“It’s one of the best years that I’ve had down here, for sure,” Hoffman said. “Very consistent every night. To run second to one of my team cars is pretty cool. I couldn’t ask for a better person to run second to.”
In Victory Lane, Allgaier jumped atop his Elite Chassis #7 before the confetti cannon was even in position, displaying his excitement after winning one of the biggest and most meaningful dirt races of his career after so many attempts at it throughout the past several years.
“I was able to win a [little] Gator on multi-Feature night one time, and I knew how much that meant to me. But this Big Gator, to add our name to the list, to beat the caliber of drivers we had here this weekend… there were a lot of teams that put on an all-out assault to try and knock Nick off, and we just got lucky enough that we were the ones to be able to do it,” Allgaier said.
This concludes the DIRTcar UMP Modified action in the 50th DIRTcar Nationals, but the Late Models are just getting started. Night #2 of Late Model Week gets underway Tuesday night with the second show for the DIRTcar Late Models; watch all the action live on DIRTVision!
Both winners now with a chance to start on the pole of Monday’s Gator Championship
Two of the biggest names in DIRTcar UMP Modified chassis building were shining bright on Gator Qualifier night.
Nick Hoffman, representing his own Elite Chassis, stood tall in Volusia Speedway Park Victory Lane with his 20th career DIRTcar Nationals Feature win Sunday night in Gator Qualifier #2.
The first Gator Qualifier from the rained-out portion of Saturday night was contested immediately following the Sunday Qualifier and saw the return of a former DIRTcar Nationals champion to Victory Lane for the first time in 14 years. Steve Arpin, representing Longhorn Modifieds by Loenbro Motorsports, was presented with his first Gator trophy as a DIRTcar Nationals Feature winner after leading flag-to-flag in Gator Qualifier #2.
The top-10 finishers from each of the Qualifiers have now been locked into Monday’s $5,000-to-win Gator Championship Feature; the top-five will redraw for their starting spots before the Feature Monday. Everyone else will be placed into a Last Chance Showdown event to try and get one of eight remaining spots on the grid of the big show.
Gator Qualifier #2 (Sunday’s program) – Nick Hoffman
Nearly nine years ago, Nick Hoffman captured his first Gator trophy at Volusia with a Feature win, then an up-and-coming UMP Modified driver with no national championships, Summit Modified titles or Big Gators. Sunday afternoon, he stood in Volusia Victory Lane after his third victory of the week in the 50th DIRTcar Nationals, now a favorite to win the Big Gator a sixth time.
On the track, it was another giant helping of Elite Chassis dominance, not only by Hoffman who led all 20 laps nearly unchallenged, but by many of Hoffman’s Elite customers. Four of the top-five drivers in the official finishing order are Elite pilots, including Hoffman himself, Garret Stewart, Matt Crafton and Justin Allgaier.
Hoffman now has a shot for the pole on Monday as he’ll be one of ten drivers in the redraw before the $5,000-to-win Gator Championship Feature. Sunday’s Qualifier redraw could be a sign of things to come for the five-time and defending event champion.
“Tonight, I was on my game on the redraw to draw the one, and I think that was crucial just to get out and set the pace and control the race myself,” Hoffman said. “My stuff’s just really good when it cleans up like that.”
Regardless of where he starts, there’s plenty of time in the 30-lap Feature to get it done from almost anywhere on the grid. He’s got the car, confidence in the seat and success in the history books on his side as he chases another coveted trophy that he comes to Florida every year in search of.
“[The Big Gator] is one of the most prestigious trophies in all of motorsports, and I’m lucky enough to have a bunch of them,” Hoffman said.
Gator Qualifier #1 (from Saturday’s program) – Steve Arpin
The last time Steve Arpin was in Volusia Speedway Park Victory Lane, he was a 23-year-old Modified ace who had just claimed his first DIRTcar Nationals championship on the back of five-consecutive Feature wins. On Sunday night, he made a big trip down memory lane with a dominant victory in the second of two Gator Qualifiers.
“Honestly, I have never in my life had such a proud moment in my racing career,” Arpin told DIRTVision pit reporter Chase Raudman after the race.
Arpin, the Rallycross racer and Longhorn by Loenbro pilot, started on the pole after a Heat Race win and cleaned-up in the Feature, leading all 20 laps for his first Gator trophy and first Volusia win since his event championship year in 2007.
Three of the top-six drivers in the Feature finishing order were Longhorn by Loenbro cars, including Nick Allen and Mike McKinney who have been fast all week.
“To have these Longhorn by Loenbro cars just so consistently fast for our first time out, honestly, the only thing I’m more excited about than standing here is coming back next year,” Arpin said.
McKinney did try and swipe the lead from Arpin on one corner after a restart, attempting a big slide job as they dove into Turn 1. He was unsuccessful and later faded back to sixth, one spot out of the redraw, but gave those watching on DIRTVision a bit of mid-race excitement.
The Longhorn by Loenbro bunch has been fast all week, notching several podiums, top-fives and top-10s. Arpin has been taking notice and expressed his gratitude for each of their new customers on the property.
“I remember when my dad was out here watching me in 2007, and I could just see it in his eyes how proud he was of me,” Arpin said. “I feel like that now watching Tyler Nicely, Brandon Green, all these guys coming out here.”
The seventh and final round of racing for the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds at Volusia Speedway Park goes down Monday night in the 30-lap, $5,000-to-win Gator Championship. Last Chance Showdown races will kick things off before the redraw; catch all the action live on DIRTVision!
Logano 19th-to-3rd in impressive UMP Modified debut; Michael Jr. beats division’s best in stacked Feature
Five separate DIRTcar UMP Modified Features raced, four first-time winners went to Volusia Speedway Park Victory Lane on Friday night.
Night #4 of the 50th DIRTcar Nationals was all about appreciation for each and every one of the 96 UMP Modified drivers signed-in for competition; everyone got to form-up in the four-wide salute to the fans and race a 15-lap Feature for $700-to-win and a chance to stand in Victory Lane, front and center on the DIRTVision cameras.
Each race was lined up by the overall event points standings going into the evening, inverting both the top-10 starters in each race and the order the Features ran in. When all was said and done, four brand-new faces and one repeat winner from last year stood in Victory Lane, collecting their Volusia Gator trophies as DIRTcar Nationals Feature victors.
Feature #1 – David Reutimann
David Reutimann’s first DIRTcar Nationals victory came on Friday last year in the quad-Feature night, setting the stage for his second act as Friday night’s only repeat winner of the five Features contested.
“We’re not in the race we need to be in, but it’s a far cry from dropping out nine laps into the Feature because we were terrible last night,” Reutimann said in Victory Lane. “Track’s a little bit different; they’ve done a great job. Track’s got a little moisture in it, so it was fun.”
Reutimann started 15th on the grid and advanced through the field rapidly, using the wrecks and restarts to his advantage to gain his first chunks of position. By Lap 3, he had already cracked the top-five and was hot on the trail of the leaders.
Reutimann finally reached the back of leader Taylor Cook as they got the two-to-go signal, and that’s when he pulled the trigger. A great run down the backstretch set Reutimann up for the pass on the high side coming out of Turn 4, which he executed perfectly to take the lead and the eventual win for his second career Volusia Gator trophy.
Crossing the stripe third was none other than the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano, making his DIRTcar Nationals debut in a UMP Modified. Starting dead-last 19th place on the grid, Logano avoided multiple wrecks in front of him and made several clean passes under green-flag conditions to grab the final podium spot in what was a very impressive first competitive start in a UMP Modified.
“I only got one gear, and it was to go,” Logano told DIRTVision pit reporter Chase Raudman in his post-race interview. “It was a good time, I finished third, that’s great, and learned a little bit. Got a little bit of damage to fix, and we’ll come back at it tomorrow night.”
The first of four first-time Volusia Gator trophy winners went to Jupiter, FL’s own Clay Harris.
Harris, a notable 602 Late Model driver, wasted no time, getting right to work on leader Troy Johnson from his fourth-place starting spot in the early going. He got a good run on Johnson on Lap 5, completed the pass and cruised home for the win after a late restart, despite making an error in car setup.
“We tightened it up for the slick and it ended up being hammer-down,” Harris said in Victory Lane. “We had a little hiccup, but we recovered and [the car] was awesome tonight.”
In what was easily the best race of the night for the lead, Nick Allen squared off with three-time NASCAR Truck Series champion Matt Crafton and came out on top in the end for his first career Volusia Gator trophy.
Allen pulled out to a comfortable lead from the outside pole in the early going but was quickly met by a challenge from seventh-starting Crafton, who was a rocket ship on the bottom.
Crafton pulled up alongside Allen and took the spot away for two consecutive laps as the field eclipsed half-way; their side-by-side battle bringing those in attendance to the edge of their seats. Allen then cracked the whip on the top side and wrestled the lead back, fending Crafton off in the final laps and crossing the stripe first to collect the $700 check.
“I knew [Crafton] was good around the bottom; I just couldn’t hold the bottom like he could,” Allen said. “I was just trying to carry a little more momentum through the middle.”
With Strickler, Hoffman, Stremme, Nicely, Arpin, McKinney and Hughes all in the same Feature, Richard Michael Jr. knew he had to be on his A-game if he wanted to win his first Volusia Gator trophy from outside the front row Friday night.
When the green flag dropped on a re-do of the original start after polesitter Kyle Strickler hit the Turn 2 wall, taking him out of the race, Michael pulled that A-game right from out of his pocket and put it on full display, leading all 15 en route to his first DIRTcar Nationals victory in dominating fashion.
“This is probably the biggest one of my career,” Michael said in Victory Lane. “We used to come down here a lot; haven’t been down here in about eight years. Every time we came down here, we didn’t have any good equipment.”
Once he got the lead on the original restart, Michael took off and flat-out ran away with the win, pulling away from the stacked competition in his Elite Chassis, built by Nick Hoffman, who finished fourth.
“We just put this car together about a week and a half ago at Nick [Hoffman’s] place. I’ve just got to thank him; if it wasn’t for him, there’s no way we’d be in Victory Lane,” he said.
The first of the two Gator Championship qualifying nights for the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds hits the track Saturday night in Round #5 of the 50th DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park. Half of the field in attendance will race while the other half will have the night off and return on Sunday for their qualifier night, all helping to determine a portion of Monday night’s starting field for the $5,000-to-win Gator Championship finale.
First DIRTcar Nationals win for Hughes while Strickler remains unbothered by injury
A new single-day record car count 96 DIRTcar UMP Modifieds signed-in to compete Thursday night at Volusia Speedway Park for Round #3 of the 50th DIRTcar Nationals and graced those in attendance with another double-shot of Feature racing action.
Jason Hughes, the Dirt Modified veteran from Westville, OK, made the move early on Wednesday night winner Tyler Nicely to hoist the gator trophy as a first-time DIRTcar Nationals winner in Feature #1. Kyle Strickler, with a bandaged-up finger and all, caught David Stremme in the thick of lapped traffic and made the move to win Feature #2.
Feature #1 – Jason Hughes
Dirt Modified racing and chassis-building veteran Jason Hughes had made multiple DIRTcar Nationals appearances with the UMP Modifieds in his career but had never been able to reach Victory Lane. Until Thursday night.
“I’m pretty happy, we finally got us a gator,” Hughes said. “I felt like we got one stolen from us last year, and to come back and get one this year is pretty good.”
Hughes started his journey to Victory Lane from the fourth position and wasted no time going forward, reaching the runner-up spot inside of the first five laps. Tyler Nicely, Feature #1 winner from Wednesday night, led the opening laps and looked to be the one to beat until an early caution flag stacked up the field with Hughes right on his tail.
The green flag waived and Nicely got a solid start, as did Hughes. They raced close for three corners before Nicely made a rare slip-up out of the groove in Turn 4, opening the door for Hughes down low to take the spot.
“[Nicely] got in there tight and shoved across the corner and I got turned underneath him, and that was what got us out front,” Hughes said.
Nicely, of Owensboro, KY, came back at Hughes to his inside just a few laps later but was unsuccessful. Hughes put it on cruise control after a few more restarts and took the checkered flag for his first time at Volusia, Nicely coming in right behind.
Steve Arpin, of Fort Frances, ON, bagged his first podium finish of the week and his first at DIRTcar Nationals since his championship year in 2007 with a third-place run Thursday night. Fellow Longhorn by Loenbro chassis driver Mike McKinney was scheduled to start third and was penalized to the tail for a late arrival to staging, but overcame the fault and made it all the way back up to eighth by the checkered flag.
Kyle Strickler went from the hospital, back to the track, from the Last Chance Showdown to the Feature and from 23rd to third in the Feature on Wednesday for one of the wildest nights in DIRTcar Nationals history. He backed that up Thursday night with his ninth career Feature win in the event, holding off longtime competitor Nick Hoffman in the process.
Fellow notable DIRTcar Nationals frontrunner David Stremme brought it home right behind them. Stremme, Hoffman and Strickler have become among the brightest faces of the UMP Modified division over the past few years, which Strickler made it a point to acknowledge in his Victory Lane interview on DIRTVision.
“These three cars here on the front-stretch here, we come down here and this Speedweeks means so much to us. We know who we’ve gotta outrun when we get here, and we all work really hard,” Strickler said.
Stremme kicked off the 20-lap Feature by jumping out to the lead in the opening laps, looking very strong and keeping Strickler and Hoffman at bay behind him. That was, until he hit lapped traffic.
Just past the halfway point, Stremme dove deep into a field of slower traffic, which gave Strickler and Hoffman the opportunity they needed to slip by. Which, they did, when Stremme got pinched a bit by a lapped car out of Turn 2 on Lap 13. Strickler got a great run out of the corner and drove firmly into Turns 3-4, sliding up in front of Stremme to complete the pass as they crossed the stripe.
“I was adjusting my driving style, and when we caught lapped traffic, it’s so tough when you’re the leader. So, that helped us out a bunch, and I think the track started coming our way too,” Strickler said.
Hoffman went with him one lap later to secure the second spot. A final restart appeared with 5 laps remaining but did not affect the running order; Strickler was just too smooth for anyone to catch.
The DIRTcar UMP Modified action continues Friday night at Volusia Speedway Park with one of the pit area’s favorite nights of the year – everybody runs a Feature! A total of five Feature races for the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds is preliminarily scheduled for competition, lined up by points totals after the already completed Features. Catch all the action on DIRTVision!
Strickler bags podium finish out of Last Chance Showdown after hospital visit just hours before
A grand total of 94 DIRTcar UMP Modifieds packed Volusia Speedway Park’s pit area Wednesday for night #2 of competition at the 50th DIRTcar Nationals, prompting a format change that called for two separate, 20-lap Features before the night was out.
Volusia’s reigning Reutimann Memorial winner Tyler Nicely, of Owensboro, KY, took advantage of another slick and smooth racing surface to grab the win in the first Feature, while the five-time and defending DIRTcar Nationals UMP Modified champion Nick Hoffman, of Mooresville, NC, did the same to score the victory in Feature #2.
Feature #1 – Tyler Nicely
Tyler Nicely seems to be picking up right where he left off at Volusia last November.
His then-brand-new Longhorn by Loenbro chassis powered him to his first career victory in the track’s marquee event, the Emil & Dale Reutimann Memorial, in November of last year. Less than three months have passed and he’s already back in Victory Lane. This time, making the pass for the lead on Lucas Lee and holding off another star-studded cast of competitors for his fourth career win in the event.
“All Speedweeks I’ve been trying to get this win; I’m glad it’s on this stage at Volusia,” Nicely said. “It’s always nice to win it with a bunch of cars, standing on this stage and getting a gator.”
Nicely’s been in action since the opening round of the Winternationals at East Bay Raceway Park two weeks ago and hadn’t been able to find Victory Lane through those five starts plus another last weekend at North Florida Speedway. But after a third-place finish in Tuesday night’s opener, Nicely cashed out with his momentum and advanced two spots higher to collect the $1,000 victory Wednesday night.
Nicely started on the outside of the front row and immediately went to work on polesitter Lucas Lee, catching him in open track and making the pass to his inside on Lap 5.
From there on out, it Nicely’s race to lose. Nobody seemed to have anything for the race leader by the end of 20 circuits as he crossed to collect the checkers. However, if there had been just one more caution later in the race, he may have had a familiar foe knocking on his door.
Kyle Strickler, of Mooresville, NC, may have gone though one of the most bizarre, painful, yet most successful runs to the front in DIRTcar Nationals history Wednesday night.
Earlier in the evening, Strickler was taken in an ambulance to a nearby hospital after severely cutting his left middle finger in the pit area while operating the lift his team uses to raise their car up.
“When I was in the ambulance after almost cutting my finger off, they told me, ‘it’s a hard no on you racing tonight,’ because that was the first question I asked them,” Strickler said. “We ended up going to the hospital, getting it stitched up and making it back here in time.”
Indeed, he did get back to the track on time. But only to tag the tail of Last Chance Showdown #1, where he snagged the final transfer spot into the first Feature. This set him up for a 23rd-place starting spot in that event, where he drove all the way back to finish third, making for what will surely be one of the most memorable nights of his career.
Nick Hoffman has often preferred the slicker, slower racing surfaces at the big tracks like Volusia. That certainly showed again Wednesday night, as he took full advantage of it in collecting his 19th career DIRTcar Nationals Feature win.
Compared to the Feature event previous, Hoffman wasted even less time in moving to the front, making the pass on polesitter David Stremme on Lap 3. From there on out, nobody had anything for the two-time and defending UMP Modified national points champion as he crossed the stripe for the win.
He makes it look so simple on the DIRTVision cameras, but sometimes, much of the battle is won before the race even starts in the pit area. Like Tuesday night, it came down to a tire selection to help Hoffman pick up the win.
“I knew it was probably gonna latch-up there in the second Feature, so I went with the hard tire again tonight,” Hoffman said. “Once it started to latch-up, I got really tight and just couldn’t maneuver quite like I needed to.”
Hoffman’s Elite Chassis had yet another good showing with himself and Justin Allgaier finishing 1st and 3rd, respectively.
“I know every nook and cranny on that racecar, so that really helps. Just running my own chassis for the last eight years; we’ve got a really good balance, obviously, at this place. It just suits my style, momentum racing, and when it gets dead slick like this, it’s really where I’m the best,” Hoffman said.
The DIRTcar UMP Modified action continues Thursday night from Volusia Speedway Park’s 50th DIRTcar Nationals with Round #3 of racing. Catch all the action live on DIRTVision!
Spalding pleased with runner-up after leading most, Arpin sixth in return to Volusia
There was just no stopping the five-time and defending DIRTcar Nationals champion Tuesday night.
Nick Hoffman scribed yet another chapter in his big book of DIRTcar UMP Modified dominance at Volusia Speedway Park with his 18th Feature win in event history, making the pass on eventual runner-up Curt Spalding in the second half of the race after a restart to claim victory.
Chilly temperatures and a smooth, slick racing surface made for ideal track conditions for the two-time and defending DIRTcar UMP Modified national points champion to race on.
“Normally I suck earlier in the week here. It’s normally pretty fast and I’m just not as good in that condition. For it to be this slick already this early in the week, hats off to the track prep crew. It’s way easier on equipment and makes our week a hell of a lot easier when the track is slower,” Hoffman said.
Volusia’s track surface was just recently redone, which presented each driver with a new element to take into account as they selected tire compounds for the 20-lap Feature.
“I just went harder on tire than them guys around me, so that definitely paid off by the end of the race,” Hoffman said. “My cars just work way better on a harder tire, so it was kind of a no-brainer for me.”
Hoffman, of Mooresville, NC, put those tires to the test almost immediately, taking second from his fourth-place starting spot in just five laps. Spalding, of Watervliet, MI, had jumped to the lead from the outside pole and had a decent gap on Hoffman in the opening circuits, until Hoffman turned on the jets and closed the gap to just a car-length as they approached halfway.
A caution flag on Lap 9 reset the field gave Spalding his first test on the restart, which he solidly passed by keeping Hoffman at bay behind him, but only for a few more times around. Another yellow on Lap 13 put Hoffman right behind him once more, and Spalding knew what was coming.
“I knew he was gonna banzai me,” Spalding said. “I was pretty good in [Turns] 3 and 4, and he had to get me passed in 1 and 2, and I knew it.”
Hoffman got a tremendous run to Spalding’s outside as they took the green on the restart, then blasted off again out of Turn 2 to complete the pass as they raced down the backstretch.
“I was able to roll down the hill and get the momentum on the front-straightaway, and I was actually just riding at [Spalding’s] quarter-panel, running at about quarter-throttle so that way, when he peeled-off to run the bottom, I could just gas-up and drive back by him,” Hoffman said.
Spalding was able to maintain second through the checkered flag while Hoffman cruised to the victory by almost five seconds. Despite giving up the lead in the second half, he was very pleased with his performance.
“We’re very happy,” Spalding said. “To unload with this caliber of cars and get the job done, we’re pretty happy.”
Tyler Nicely, of Owensboro, KY, crossed the line in third after a strong drive from fifth. The most recent Emil & Dale Reutimann Memorial winner found a hot rod early in the week with his new Longhorn by Loenbro chassis, as did fellow Loenbro pilot Steve Arpin, who placed sixth in his first race back in his own car at Volusia since 2008.
Polesitter David Stremme crossed the stripe in fourth after slipping back in the first half, but his Lethal Chassis cars looked strong, especially with fellow Lethal racer Spalding going runner-up.
The DIRTcar UMP Modified action continues from the 50th DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park Wednesday night with another 20-lap, $1,000-to-win program in race #2 of 7 for the division. Catch all the action live on DIRTVision!