Thursday's live updates from IMIS trade show
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com managing editor
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 6) — The doors are open Thursday at the final International Motorsports Industry Show at the Indiana Convention Center. More than 25,000 attendees are expected with more than 500 exhibitors at the event that runs through Saturday afternoon. Thursday’s blog-style updates of interest to the Dirt Late Model folks:
5:25: p.m. | Davenport’s new ride
Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., ended the 2012 season with the Rookie of the Year honors on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series — but without a ride after Clint Bowyer Racing replaced him with Steve Francis.
But Davenport, a former Barry Wright Race Cars house car driver, rebounded quickly, landing a new ride with Mount Airy, N.C.-based AES Racing and team owner Steve Cooke.
“Steve, he’s been a sponsor of mine, even through Barry and everything, for a number of years now, and I’d go back and drive his (Crate Late Models) some,” Davenport said at IMIS. “One crew guy that’s with him, he’s been with him forever, I know him forever — Slim — and we’re still looking to hire on more right now, but all the pieces we’re putting together right now seem to be falling into place pretty well, and we’re really excited about next year.”
Davenport, 29, had just three victories in 2012, including a Crate Late Model triumph for AES at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway, but he said he can rebuild his confidence.
“Just believing in yourself and know that you can do it,” Davenport said. "With me and Steve, we’ve sat down, we’ve thought of a plan and we’re looking two, three, four years into the future. We’re partners — I’m not just driving for him, I’m going to have part ownership in it. That way I can invest in myself, and I’ve always got something to fall back on.”
The team, which includes teammate Dennis Franklin of Gaffney, S.C., hasn’t firmed up its schedule, but Davenport said a national tour run isn’t out of the question.
"We might even end up at East Bay and go to the first Lucas (Oil Series) races there, and then maybe go to Brownstown and see how it turns out from there,” he said. "It just all depends on what kind of help we get ... what kind of personnel help we get, and whatever’s going to work out best with us financially.”
4:58 p.m. | A few changes for MasterSbilt
There’ll be a few changes for the Crothersville, Ind.-based MasterSbilt house car team in 2013, the most apparent being the look of the No. 71 driven by Don O’Neal.
O’Neal’s car has traditionally been yellow through most of his career, including while driving for Keith and Tader Masters, but the team unveiled a red-and-black graphics scheme at IMIS, with most of the nose and front of the car red and the rest of the sheet metal in black. The No. 71 is white with red trim.
Why the change? The team is sponsored by Optima Batteries and the Late Model was designed to mimic the Kalitta Motorsports top fuel dragster driven by Optima-sponsored David Grubnic, Tader Masters said.
Additionally, the team will be adding a new crew chief. Cody Mahoney of Madison, Ind., plans to work primarily in the MasterSbilt shop in 2013, and Tader Masters hopes to replace him with an experienced hand. Mahoney was set to be honored as the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Crew Chief of the Year at Thursday evening's postseason banquet.
“When you get on the road like that, those guys have gotta know what to do,” he said.
O’Neal won a series-best 11 Lucas Oil Series events in 2012 and finished second in series points.
Correction: Fixes details regarding Optima sponsorship.
4:51 p.m. | New York rookie
Father-and-son drivers Ed and Zack Carley of Freedom, N.Y., are working the Genesis Shocks booth at IMIS, and dad was proud of his 21-year-old son’s first season in Crate Late Models.
Zack notched a victory at Ontario’s Humberstone Speedway and grabbed Rookie of the Year honors at Stateline Speedway in Busti, N.Y.
Zack, who went straight from motocross racing to Late Models, had the edge of his father’s experience to avoid too many miscues.
“Second-generation drivers make better drivers,” said Ed Carley, who ended up lining up against Zack a few times. "He’s a hard racer. He’s tough.”
Listening into the conversation, Kennedy Motorsports United Late Model Series director Chris Zuver talked about seeing a raw Zack early in the season and thinking he might bang up a few race cars. But Zuver was impressed at his improvement throughout the season for the driver who Ed Carley shows little fear.
“He ain’t scared of nothing,” Ed said.
4:40 p.m. | First day wrapping up
The first day is wrapping up but we've got some final notes on New York rookie Zack Carley, the MasterSbilt house car team and Jonathan Davenport that we'll be posting shortly. The show floor reopens at 10 a.m. Friday.
3:33 p.m. | A good job (and chance to drive)
Driver A.J. Diemel, formerly of Navarino, Wis., was making his second appearance as IMIS as an employee for Mars Racing. It's a job that keeps him plenty busy in the shop but has also given him a chance to drive Mars-provided cars with his own engines.
The 31-year-old Diemel clicked off a six-victory season in 2012, even though he only made about 20 starts. "We ran good every time we races — we just didn't get to race that much," said Diemel, who was hampered by engine problems.
Taking a position with Mars Racing was a natural move after Diemel's own chassis-dealing business got to the point where he had "to get bigger or to get smaller." So he made the move three hours across Wisconsin and has settled in to a job he enjoys — and the chance to do a little racing.
3:26 p.m. | Trade show networking
All the major Dirt Late Model manufacturers have a presence at IMIS, but it’s an important show for up-and-coming businesses, too. That’s why Bryan Larimore and Brantlee Gotschall of 10-month-old Dirt Track Specialist were in Indianapolis as the network for customers and product reps during the three-day show.
The 28-year-old Larimore and 33-year-old Gotschall, who also drives a Dirt Late Model, opened their full-service race shop in Nevada, Mo., in February. Besides selling virtually any product a racer needs, they offer consulting services for drivers who can bring their cars to the shop and have the Dirt Track Specialists accompany them to the racetrack.
They work mostly with modified teams at eight or nine tracks within a few hours of Nevada, and the list of Late Model drivers they’ve worked with includes Matt Johnson of Archie, Mo., Eric Turner of Springfield, Mo., and Justin Zeitner of LaVista, Neb.
Larimore, who has worked as a crew chief for three-time MLRA champ John Anderson of Omaha, Neb., and Will Vaught of Crane, Mo., is pleased with the progress as a regional consultant patterned off big-time consultants such as Ronnie Stuckey, Robby Allen and Randall Edwards.
“I had to prove it to (drivers) that I’m not just talk and I can improve their program,” said Larimore, adding that getting the faith of drivers is key.
He enjoys assisting mid-range teams — drivers with good equipment who are lacking in experience and help — so they can compete with top regional drivers like Anderson, Vaught, Terry Phillips and Jesse Stovall. The more teams battling for victories, the more exciting it is for everyone, Larimore said.
For more info on Larimore and Gotschall, visit dirttrackspecialist.com.
2:37 p.m. | McDowell's perfect mix
Former World 100 winner Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., has a three-pronged racing career. He works in driver development for Richard Childress Racing, teaches at driving schools — and of course still climbs behind the wheel of a Dirt Late Model 40 times a year.
"I ain't complaining," McDowell said at IMIS, reflecting on a racing career that keeps him busy most of the year.
McDowell enjoyed the 2012 in part because he's on a more relaxed and flexible schedule with Team Dillon Racing after chasing the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series for three straight seasons with Clint Bowyer Racing. He also got the chance to race again for the first time in six years with his brother Shane, who served as Dale's crew chief most of his career.
Shane's first priority is working with Austin and Ty Dillon's programs, but sometimes Dale and Shane slipped away for races on their own. "When the boys weren't there, it was just like it was years ago," said McDowell, who won eight features in 2012 including a $15,000 weekend at Winchester (Tenn.) Speedway.
His favorite events are still the biggest races, especially on the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. "That rates your program where you're at," he said.
McDowell is grateful his association with Childress and the Dillon family has helped him carve out a multi-faceted career. "Thank goodness for those boys," he said.
2:26 p.m. | Busy off-season for Wells
Eric Wells of Hazard, Ky., has plenty of keep him busy in the race shop in putting together a new Bloomquist Race Car. And then there's 5-month-old Nylla, who also keeps him plenty busy. "She's a handful," Wells said with a smile.
The 23-year-old Wells was a regular on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series last season, finishing 10th in points, but he's not sure he's going to run the series in 2013. Wells said his team will be ready for Georgia-Florida Speedweeks and he'll sort out his plans then, but he'll definitely follow either the Lucas Oil or World of Outlaws Series.
1:12 p.m. | Berck's offshoot chassis
Kyle Berck, one of Nebraska's best all-time Dirt Late Model racers, last season debuted a self-designed car that came with some frustrating limitations. Berck, who has worked closely with Ohio chassis builder Audie Swartz for many years, designed his new chassis so it would still fit the standard Swartz Race Car jig for repairs.
The car worked plenty well as Berck clicked off an impressive 16 victories, but he's taking the design another step for 2013, Berck said at IMIS. He and Swartz are building a new jig that will fit Berck's car — it's called a KBMR Chassis built by Swartz for now (for Kyle Berck Motorsports Racing) — which gives Berck the opportunity to make even more design changes for safety, strength and handling.
Berck, who would like to following the Lucas Oil MLRA tour in 2013, hopes the have the new car ready in Jan. 15 and, if plans hold, he'll aim for developing a marketable chassis starting in 2014 and get into the chassis business. After all, the 43-year-old Berck won't be behind the wheel forever, and he and wife Stacy have three young mouths to feed.
Berck is excited about the car designed with a focus on developing traction for hard-tire rule races, which dominate his region. With a KBMR jig at Swartz's Minford, Ohio, shop, "now we can do whatever we want" instead of having the restrictions of matching Swartz's regular chassis.
1:03 p.m. | Like a political campaign
Lebanon, Pa., driver and chassis builder Jim Bernheisel has been through enough trade shows to know the drill. What's his plan to develop new chassis customers over the next few days? "Shaking hands and kissing babies," he said with a smile.
Bernheisel's booth has a cutaway version of a new Lazer Chassis for Ricky Weeks of Rutherfordton, N.C., a driver who just beginning driver a Lazer late in the season. Bernheisel has been strongest in his home region, with a few pockets of cars in Michigan and Nebraska, but he's making some inroads in the Carolinas and Georgia in Limited and Crate cars, and he's glad to have Weeks fielding a Super Late Model for Lazer.
"We're getting things rolling down there," Bernheisel said of the North Carolina and surrounding states. And with that another customer walked up with a question about his car, and Bernheisel went back to shaking hands and kissing babies.
12:51 p.m. | Who's running WoO? Wait and see
Driver Kent Robinson of Bloomington, Ind., visited the World Racing Group's expansive booth at IMIS and chatted with World of Outlaws Late Model Series director Tim Christman about which drivers might be following the tour next season. Robinson, who followed the series last season, finishing 11th in series points, gets plenty of questions about his plans.
"I'm already tired of answering the question," Robinson said, although he allowed A reporter to ask one more time. Robinson's plans are to run WoO's Georgia-Florida Speedweeks events at Screven, Ocala and Volusia before plotting the rest of his 2013 campaign.
Years ago, Christman said, he got a little anxious during trade show season about which drivers might follow the tour. Not anymore. "It's December," he said, and lots of things can change before racing gets rolling in February.
"Everyone and their brother is running the series, or no one is," Christman said. "It just depends on who you talk to."
What Christman focuses on is the late spring when things shake out and the World of Outlaws will have 12-15 drivers as series regulars, he said.
12:45 p.m. | More IMIS tidbits
Jase Kaser's Swartz Race Car is on display on the show floor in cutaway fashion showing the car's full frame. ... Other drivers spotted: Dennis Erb Jr., Jason Feger, Mike Spatola, Kent Robinson, Kyle Berck and Jim Bernheisel, who is working a booth as usual for his Bernheisel Race Cars. ... While Sam Driggers was handing out the Summernationals schedule, he's putting together a new series of events in August for the Western states that likely won't be announced until after the show. ... New Lucas Oil MLRA series director Dan Robinson plans some announcements about the series at Friday's Lucas Oil luncheon as he tries to build a solid core of drivers to follow the Missouri-based tour. ... IMIS draws scores of Dirt Late Model-types while last week's PRI show in Orlando drew just a handful. "I saw more people I knew walking to the booth than I saw all last week," said World of Outlaws Late Model Series director Tim Christman.
11:46 a.m. | Summernationals slate
11:44 a.m. | Shirley's quest at IMIS
UMP weekly and Summernationals champion Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., toured the show floor Thursday morning with his wife Shannon, stopping for a chat with World of Outlaws regular Rick Eckert and perusing the exhibitors in the the first few rows. Any big news?
"I just need money," Shirley cracked, although he said he didn't have any master plan to draw new sponsorship for his team.
He did pay a visit to one of his sponsors, Keyser Manufacturing and Integra Shocks, and joked with Scott Keyser about ignoring texts from the previous night. Shirley had planned on taking Keyser to dinner, but they never connected. Shirley feigned hurt feelings, and Keyser joked that with his championships and success in recent years, he's no longer the driver Keyser first met in Batesville, Ark., in need of a boost.
"Now that you're somebody," Keyser joked, "you don't need me."
11:33 a.m. | Marlar's power breakfast
Plenty of drivers come to trade shows looking for more sponsorship, new connections — or even a new ride.
Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., is plenty happy with his Bryson Motorsports ride, but he boasted at IMIS that he had breakfast with NASCAR team owner and racing legend Roger Penske at his hotel earlier in the morning. “We had oatmeal,” Marlar said. “He was looking at me — from across the room.”
Indeed, Marlar was merely in the same room with Penske and NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, and you can be assured he’ll be sticking with his No. 5B Rocket Chassis next season.
The end of Marlar’s season was highlighted by big victories at Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Ga., and Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, S.C., while a low light was East Alabama Motor Speedway disallowing his fast qualifying time at the National 100.
Marlar disputed the disqualification that was based on a portable gas detector that found his left-rear tire six times above the legal limit for chemical presence. While he vowed to take a polygraph test to proclaim his innocence, he said he probably won’t do that on his own unless events warrant.
However, Ultimate Super Late Model Racing Series officials took a sample of the tire the following week at Screven, and the rubber came back clean in laboratory tests, Marlar said.
11:26 a.m. | More trade show tidbits
The No. 46 of Tim Rivers is on display in the outer hall. ... The line for picking up badges to enter the trade show appears to be about an hour wait. ... Chad Simpson's No. 25 is on display in the Wehr's Machine and Racing Products booth with the left-side body panels removed to view the sparkling clean components. ... Other drivers spotted: Kyle Berck, Paul Glendenning, Eddie Carrier Jr., Josh McGuire, Rick Eckert, Brian Shirley and Scott Bloomquist. ... Among Dirt Late Model-related seminars at IMIS is Racetrack 101: Planning for Success. Hosting will be Gerald Newton of Arizona Sport Shirts and Kelley Carlton, the Ultimate Super Late Model Series race director. It's scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday.
11:17 a.m. | New roles for Chancellors: Consultants
Title sponsor Lucas Oil acquired the Midwest LateModel Racing Association this fall, but they’re not letting former owners Allen “Cowboy” Chancellor and his wife Harriett off the hook just yet. They’re touring the IMIS show and Harriett handed a reporter her new business card: Lucas Oil MLRA consultant.
“They won’t need to consult me much,” Harriett said in all seriousness, thrilled that the series is staying in the Lucas Oil family with Lucas Oil Speedway promoter Dan Robinson taking over as series director. “It was really the perfect thing at our age.”
Allen said he’s glad he’ll get to relax in the grandstands with buddies he’s merely waved to in the past because he’s been so busy. And Harriett is grateful to the drivers, employees and tracks that worked with the Missouri-based tour for so long.
“We’d like to thank the people that have helped us the last 16 years,” said Harriett, who plans to spend some of her extra free time helping Protect the Harvest.
10:15 a.m. | A few early notes
The UMP DIRTCar Summernationals schedule has been released with 31 dates stretching from June 12-July 20. It’s a week longer than normal, but the series is taking most off most Mondays and Tuesdays. We’ll have it posted later today, but it appears the only tracks not on 2012's schedule are Twin Cities Raceway Park in North Vernon, Ind., 34 Raceway in West Burlington, Iowa, and Vermilion County Speedway in Danville, Ill. .... Driver Ray Cook, who wearing a promoter’s hat works at Tri-County Racetrack and runs the Schaeffer Oil Southern Nationals, is expected to announce at IMIS a series of spring special events over several weekends, starting with Volunteer Speedway’s Spring Thaw. ... The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series is expected to beef up its Crown Jewel Cup in 2013. Details will be announced at tonight’s banquet at the Lucas Estate in Carmel, Ind. ... Not sure we’ll be able to list all the Dirt Late Model drivers but even before entering the show floor we’ve seen Mike Marlar, Gregg Satterlee, Jesse Stovall, Jimmy Owens, Dale McDowell and more. ... Among cars on display in the Hall of Champions are the No. 29 of Darrell Lanigan, the No. 3s of Brian Shirley, the No. 10 of Matthew Turner and the No. 42 of Chris Garnes.
10:07 a.m. | Bigger (and better) in 2013
While this is the final IMIS show, the PRI show, held in Orlando, Fla., after leaving Indianapolis in 2004, is returning to Indy next year and absorbing IMIS. The blending of the two biggest postseason trade shows will encompass virtually the entire Indiana Convention starting next year. Next year’s show is later than normal — Dec. 12-14 — because of scheduling issues, but it’s expected to be earlier in successive years.