Story by Rhonda Beck 

Dirt slinging is about to begin in Concord, NC and fans will have a whole slew of fun activities and on-track action to look forward to May 11-14, 2022 at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. And several racers from North and South Carolina are set to compete in the XR Super Late Model and Mid-East 604 and 602 Late Model Series.

Two that have started their year off with a bang and are running strong in the 604 division and the Mid-East Series are Dale Moore of Reidsville, NC Jeremy Steele of York, SC.

Moore had a dominating victory at Carolina Speedway on April 16, 2022 and there was an interesting fact about that win.

“That’s been definitely the best part of my season, the win at Carolina. I had been there several times in the past, like helping people. I would go with Benji Hicks and help him when he’s raced crates and run supers there. I’ve been with GR Smith before in the past and helped him there. Just, I’d never raced there. Like Friday night, that open practice they let the 604s do, that was the first time I’d ever personally made laps on that track,” said Moore.

As far as The Dirt Track at Charlotte, Moore has some experience there.

“I’ve been two times for the World Short Track Championships, the October race before the World Finals. I’ve made the show both times for that race. I went to the Carolina Sizzler last year. We didn’t make the show. When I first started racing, we did go a few times then too and missed the transfer spot one year by one. Made the show the year before that. It’s always one of those big shows that you go to because I can be in Charlotte in an hour and twenty-five minutes. To me, it’s a prestigious thing. If you can go and make the show at Charlotte, you’ve done something,” said Moore.

Moore said there are certain things a driver knows about running at Charlotte.

“The biggest challenge is finding speed there. Every time I’ve been, I’ve had a really good car. You’ve got to be good qualifying. You’ve gotta have speed. The hardest thing there is keeping your corner speed going. Because coming off the corners, not bogging the car down, keeping momentum built up in a crate, is a big deal. When you go to a big track like that, you’re pretty much hammer down, wide open and you have to be smooth,” said Moore.

Moore plans to continue running the Mid-East Series.

“What was really awesome about that series is that it was only planned out to be about 10 races, so we set out and nothing is farther than three hours from the house. That is a good trip, but still nothing is seven hours or six hours,” said Moore

Jeremy Steele, of York, S.C. has followed in his father Chris Steele’s footsteps as one of the area’s best crate late model competitors. He currently has the Mid-East 604 late model series points and is looking forward to being at Charlotte on Friday and Saturday.

“I like Charlotte. I’ve probably raced there three times in a modified and then I’ve raced the 604 car there probably three times. We’ve been decent. I mean, I really like the track. I should have won it one year in the modified. And then in late model I had a good run the first year we went and then we had a tire issue or something after qualifying and it made us start in the back. Then we went last year. They had that big $10,000 to win race up there for us in the middle of the summer. I think I was running seventh or something really early in the race and the engine run hot and I had to pull off,” said Steele. “If it dries out, it races pretty good. But if they’ve got it really wet, it’ll really be hammer down. It’s so wide and so round that in a 604 car, assuming you don’t slow down, it’s so hard to race and pass when the man in front of you is not letting off the gas,” said Steele.

Steele is hoping his season improves after a decent start and then a few issues.

“We started off good. I picked up two wins really early. And then after we won that race at Friendship the other week, something was off. I couldn’t figure it out. We went to Carolina–we weren’t no good. We went to I75 and we were okay and I run like fifth and eighth for a two night show. And we went to Carolina and we were terrible from where I thought we should have been. After that I found a couple things bent on the right front and then I also found our Springmasters machine was off calibration, that we set all our shocks and springs with,” said Steele.

There are many strong competitors in the series, several who compete often in the area, like at Carolina Speedway and Friendship Speedway.

“I think me and Benji are tied for the lead after Carolina, and I’ve won a race and he hasn’t, so technically I still should be leading. That series is definitely going to be tough. I’m glad to see that we’re going to have a little 604 series around here.  I’m going to try and support it so that we can grow and then we can have some $5000 and $10,000 to win around the house. Because right now, if you want to race for that kind of money, you’ve gotta go a Mid-Georgia or just South or East Tennessee.”

Drivers topping the points list at the end of March in the Mid-East 604 late model division included: Jeremy Steele, Benji Hicks, Dillon Brown, Justin Hudspeth and Colby Quick. In the Mid-East 602 late model division, the points leaders include: Cole Apple, Matthew Duggins, Daniel Parker, Caleb Simmons and Bill Tesh. Preston Blalock was the most recent 602 winner at Fayetteville while Bryan Mullis finished second.

On the super late model side, Mount Holly’s Chris Ferguson has been successful early in the season in the XR Super Series and after bringing home big money at Bristol, is set to go at Charlotte.

“Yeah, we’re pumped. I know it’s tough for fans to make it to midweek races, but I really hope that the fans come out, at least for Friday and Saturday. I hope the fans tune in online. Because there’s not been a lot of promoters that stick their neck out for the racers the way this guy’s done this year so far. I really hope a lot of people can get on board and support it. I’m looking forward to racing in front of all my friends and fans and local fans because we don’t get to do this normally but once a year, and that’s in November when it’s cold outside. But it’s beautiful right now. It’s just nice to be able to race at the premiere facility in Charlotte in good weather; just really looking forward to it,” said Ferguson.

Clover, SC’s Ross Bailes also competed at Bristol and had some strong runs after opening the season claiming the Drydene Xtreme Winter Nationals points championship in March while racing at Cherokee Speedway.

“We were pretty good that weekend up there at Bull’s Gap, Wytheville and Tazewell. And then we went to Lavonia and Travelers Rest and kind of struggled. At Bristol, we ran good in the features, but we didn’t qualify there very good, so that kind of put us behind,” said Bailes. “I felt like we were pretty competitive, with the exception of qualifying. So we’ll figure out how to get better there– looking forward to get to Charlotte.”

Bailes hopes for some good finishes this time at The Dirt Track at Charlotte.

“I like going there, but we’ve never really had really good results there. I can’t put a whole night together, I guess. I’ve got four nights to figure it out,” said Bailes.

Bailes noted that the XR Super Series payouts are good and more of his friends and family can attend the races.

“Since it’s close to home, I’ll have a lot more people come to the race than usual. I’ve only raced with them at Bristol, the second weekend they were there. I’ve never met the promoter, but he’s putting the money up. That’s definitely turning heads. Charlotte is 45 minutes from me and it’s $25,000 each night with $50,000 on the last one. That’s tough to beat there,” said Bailes.

As far as the rest of the season, Bailes has some plans, like going to Eldora Speedway, but has to wait and see because of the tire and equipment shortages.

“We’re planning on it, but like you said with the tires, it’s hard to get ‘em right now. Like we barely got enough for Charlotte. We’re just taking it basically week by week, really,” said Bailes.

Michael Brown, the 2021 Carolina Clash Series Champion, became a new dad recently and won his first ever World of Outlaws Super Late Model race at Cherokee Speedway in March. The driver from Buford, SC is ready to go this week at Charlotte and recently competed with the XR Super Series down in Florida.

“I just really like racing with the XR Super Series. I feel like it’s been a long time coming. We’ve been due for a series to pay what they’ve been paying. I feel it’s what it’s going to take, as expensive as these cars are. And I really enjoyed All-Tech. Wendell and the guys down there are really good people and the racetrack is probably the most technical place I’ve ever been in my life,” said Brown.

Brown said he is curious to see how the track will be at Charlotte this week.

“XR has got their own guy working it–interested to see how that goes. He’s kind of said in a video I’ve seen that he’s reshaping it and doing some different things with it. I’m really not sure what to expect. I don’t know if it will be much different but certainly am excited to have a purse for four nights like they have so close to the house. So hopefully we’ll just have a good showing, and they’ll have a big car count because I want to see it be huge. The more people that come out, the more likely this is to continue to grow,” said Brown.

Brown thinks there might be an even bigger car count if the tire and equipment shortages didn’t exist.

“I talked to a couple of people who would have liked to come but just couldn’t make the haul because they weren’t sure if they were able to get tires or not. So that’s definitely a little bit of hindrance on the car count, I think. But if we’ve got 50, like you said, that would be a good showing,” said Brown.

Brown is waiting to see what will shake out for the rest of his season.

“We’re more or less taking it week by week. I’m not sure if we’ll go to Eldora or not. A lot is gonna depend on how we do this week. Like if I have a really good showing and I feel pretty competitive, I’m sure we’ll probably go. But if I don’t fair too well this week, then I probably won’t because the bigger, rounder race tracks really haven’t been my strong suit. If I get a little better at Charlotte, then I definitely am going to take a stab at Eldora,” said Brown.

GR Smith of Charlotte, NC was a competitor in the previous Colossal 100 at Charlotte as well as various dirt and NASCAR events over the years. He is ready to race this week again.

“I just am excited to get back. This is actually my first race this year; I haven’t raced since last November. Obviously with what I’ve been doing with Ashton (Winger) is my priority, so I really wanted to make sure we had enough equipment early in the year with all this Covid and parts shortage. Now we’ve got to the point that we’ve got enough equipment and feel a little more secure. That’s kind of what delayed the start of my season there,” said Smith.

“In the original Colossal we were leading that race, one of my heat races, and I had a tire go down real early in the race. But that’s been a long time ago. But yeah, we’ve been fast there. We’ve had good runs there and some not so good runs. It’s close and we have a lot of friends and family who can come and watch; it’s a great facility and everybody gets extra amped up for Charlotte,” said Smith.

Smith is especially happy with how the XR Super Series is being run and making dirt racing accessible to many more people.

“What Barry Braun and the XR Series has done, putting this money up, is really building the sport of dirt late model racing.  And putting it on another level with all this T.V. exposure and Internet and streaming– people can sit now and watch the race from California to Florida to really anywhere around the world. I think that’s great for the sport and it allows good drivers, the team, and the car owners to get paid more fairly or taken care of better for what it really takes to run these teams,” said Smith.

Smith feels the sport can keep building with the right combination of factors.

“Anything they can do to put the money behind it. Add the support classes. If you really think about it, if you would have told me even seven, eight, ten years ago that you could race dirt full-time for the purses they’re racing for today and that people could watch from all over the world and that you could see the races live, I would have told you it was crazy. So, to see how far the sport’s come and especially guys like Barry Braun taking the initiative to up the purses to be racing for $50,000 to win and $300,000 for points money at Bristol–now you got races almost all through the summer that are $50,000 and $75,000.  I like the direction that it’s going and like I said, I can’t thank these guys in this series enough, especially Barry Braun. He started with it last year and really woke a lot of people up to what it could be. And he really listened to the racer. Like Charlotte is a really close place for us, but for some other people, they’re coming from Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida and wherever. And we’ll do the same when we go to Texas or Las Vegas or wherever it is. So it’s just really great to see the money come back into the sport,” said Smith.

The list of racers has increased in the last several days, with The Dirt Track at Charlotte expecting close to 50 super late model drivers. Younger drivers will be there along with certain veterans in the sport, like Gaffney, SC’s Chris Madden, who dominated at Bristol taking home the @$100,000 prize. Madden also has a long history of success at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. And Jonathan Davenport won the main events during the World Finals last fall and had recent victories in the XR Super Series and other series.

Jeff Smith, 2009 Carolina Clash Champion out of Dallas, NC finished 15th in a race with the XR Super Series at All-Tech Raceway a few weeks ago. He and his father Freddy Smith, National Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer, have many fans in the Charlotte area.

“We’re looking forward to it. I haven’t raced at Charlotte in several years, so it’ll be cool to get back over there and try to run all four nights,” said Smith.

Other area drivers from the Carolinas to watch include Adam Yarbrough of Denver, NC, who just got his first super late model win this year in the Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series and Concord, NC’s Carson Ferguson, who also got his first super late model win. Ferguson also leads the Schaeffer Oil Southern Nationals Series points and finished third in the Drydene Xtreme Winter Series. Kyle Strickler of Mooresville, NC is always in the mix and had two second place finishes at All-Tech Raceway in the XR Super Series as well as good finishes in other top series.

Lancaster, SC’s Ben Watkins, who won earlier this year at Lancaster Speedway with the Carolina Clash and finished second in the Dryden Xtreme Winter Series points will be there along with Fayetteville’s Daulton Wilson, who has had many strong runs and is competing on the Lucas Oil circuit.

A few more from the Carolinas who are on the XR participant list, some who have been top competitors in the Carolina Clash and Ultimate Super Late Model series, include Trent Ivey, Kenny Collins, Anthony Sanders, Derrick Ramey, John Henderson, Jordan Koehler, Tim Vance, Cla Knight and Brenden Smith.