Dirt racing roundup: Could Kyle Larson win an Outlaws title this year?

Jimmy Dearing/World of Outlaws

Running full time in the World of Outlaws and winning a championship in the sprint car series has been a longtime objective for Kyle Larson.

“NASCAR is where I wanted to make it, but I would have been perfectly fine if I didn’t make it either,” Larson said on a December 2017 episode of the Outlaws’ “Open Red” podcast. “I’d probably be on the Outlaw tour probably right now, racing and loving life. … I would say racing on the World of Outlaws tour full-time is my main goal; NASCAR’s just the step to get there.”

The presumption then was that Larson, who also has said he wanted to race full time with Outlaws before turning 40, would have to wait until his NASCAR career was over.

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But given his recent tear (five victories in seven days across four states last week) while concentrating on sprint cars during his indefinite suspension from NASCAR, the circumstances radically have been altered for Larson.

It still doesn’t change the fact that any shot at an Outlaws would have to wait at least another year.

Though he has a 33% winning percentage in main events he has entered this year (three victories in nine starts), Larson isn’t eligible, according to series rules.

An Outlaws driver must have a full-time platinum agreement with the series and attempt every event (though dispensation can be provided for missing races because of injuries and travel woes).

Though Larson attempted the year’s first eight races (failing to make the main event in the Feb. 7 season opener at Volusia County, Florida), he skipped the June 5-6 doubleheader at Beaver Dam Raceway in Wisconsin.

But even if he were in championship consideration, it would be difficult to make up the lost ground in the standings through a points structure that heavily emphasizes consistency (click here for the distribution by finishing position, which is similar to how NASCAR awarded points before 2011).

Larson is ranked 14th and 400 points behind leader Brad Sweet (the defending series champion and also Larson’s brother in law).

With 49 races currently left (which could be lessened by rainouts or postponements that become cancellations), he would need to make up slightly more than eight points per race on Sweet while also leap-frogging some formidable contenders such as Donny Schatz and Logan Schuchart.

In a schedule already heavily affected by a two-month layoff for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it would be virtually impossible. David Gravel’s season illustrates another reason why.

Despite a victory, five top fives and nine top 10s in 11 starts, the defending Knoxville Nationals champion is ranked eighth in points because he missed the Feb. 8 race at Volusia (Gravel was competing in the ARCA race at Daytona International Speedway). His Outlaws car (which had a replacement driver at Volusia) is ranked fourth in team points.

Larson currently ranks second this season in NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series victories behind Sweet (four). If he manages to lead the series in race wins without winning the championship, it wouldn’t be unprecedented.

In 1995, 20-time Outlaws champion Steve Kinser returned to sprint cars after a short-lived stab at the NASCAR Cup Series. Kinser scored 18 victories in 64 starts that season but finished ninth in points (Dave Blaney won the title with 12 victories).

That might be the benchmark that Larson is aiming for this year, presuming the Outlaws remain firmly in his plans (as he hinted at Saturday and previously).

Even if Larson can’t win a championship, coming at “The King” of sprint car racing might be a decent consolation prize.

Even with its namesake out of championship contention, Kyle Larson Racing still has an Outlaws sprint car title shot. Carson Macedo’s No. 2 car is fourth in the standings, 128 points behind Sweet (and with Donny Schatz and Logan Schuchart also ahead of him)

The Outlaws Sprint Car Series will hold a June 19-20 doubleheader at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Indiana, this weekend with Saturday’s race televised live on CBS Sports Network (the first of three consecutive Outlaws weekends on the network).

The series’ Sprint Car and Dirt Late Model series also will be featured in a CBS documentary at 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday (the Outlaws’ first appearance on national TV since 1995).

Dominic Scelzi, son of four-time NHRA champion Gary Scelzi, scored his first victory Sunday in the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions at Chatham (Louisiana) Speedway.

It was the fifth top five in eight series races for Scelzi, who held off two-time series champion Aaron Reutzel.

“I have one more mark to add to my resume, and that’s an Outlaw win,” said Scelzi, whose younger brother, Gio, is in the Toyota Racing Development TD2 driver development program. “Hopefully we can do that real soon.”

FloSports announced Tuesday morning the acquisition of Speedshift.tv, which streams many grassroots racing events.

The move will add more than 400 races to the streaming platform of FloSports, which broadcasts a full schedule of USAC races as well as events at Eldora Speedway and the Ollie’s All Star Circuit of Champions 410 sprint car series. Combined with DirtonDirt (a subsidiary of FloSports), FloRacing will stream more than 800 racing events annually.

FloSports will begin simulcasting SpeedShift races with the Pennsylvania Sprint Speedway event June 27.

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws

More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”