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World of Outlaws Opener Challenged by Tricky, Heavy Track

Above average rainfall has marred the start to Florida Speedweeks.


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Donny Schatz left Volusia Speedway Park with the trophy and everyone else left the World of Outlaws season opener with several thousand pounds of mud.


Three-time and defending champion Brad Sweet brought out the final caution with four laps to go on Thursday night because he couldn’t see and couldn’t steer. He started the race in 12th and had driven to sixth by virtue of running the topside and paid the price.

He ultimately finished 16th.

After the race, mechanic Joe Mooney pulled what he estimated to be a 100 lb. piece of clod out from under the front wing.

"Too much mud in the front end," Sweet said. "We were trying to run a different line than everyone else and kind of had to go through the holes to do it. My tear-offs got stuck and then I couldn't see. It was really kind of a tough circumstance to race on, but it was the same for everybody."

Those circumstances were a month of intermittent rain on a reworked dirt surface at Volusia Speedway Park dating back to a challenging Florida Sunshine Nationals for the World of Outlaws Late Models last month.

The most recent rain came through over the weekend and didn’t stop until Tuesday night. That canceled the All Stars Circuit of Champions DIRTcar Nationals opener. Its follow-up race on Wednesday night was also preemptively canceled because the track wasn’t ready for racing even after a day of sunshine.

A day after that and the track was still soft, heavy, wet and rutted.

One race into the World of Outlaws season and drivers' physical fitness was tested by cars that bounced through the corners and were on the edge of realistic control. James McFadden compared the track to a supercross course with whoops and jumps.

Brian Brown withdrew from the race after hot laps and and Gio Scelzi was a last minute scratch before the feature -- both not wanting to risk harming themselves or their cars.

Donny Schatz took the lead from pole-sitter Aaron Reutzel on the first lap of the feature and had a clean track for most of the 25-lap feature with timely cautions preventing him from moving off the bottom or running into traffic.

With that said, the track was still every bit as difficult to navigate, and Schatz earned his front row starting position throughout time trials, his heat and the pole dash.

From second on back, there was a lot of mud getting kicked up and a lot of drivers like Sweet trying to find a way to complete passes.

Brock Zearfoss finished 17th and had his hands full throughout the heat, last chance and feature. He says he started the race with 30 tear-offs and probably only had two or three left.

"Not fun," Zearfoss said. "I ran a couple of laps and didn’t even know where I was. You wipe it and it just smears. You just got to do the best you can. Everyone is on the same surface. It comes down to hitting the hole right and hoping the guy in front of you doesn’t."

The general consensus was that drivers felt like it was a physical risk to attempt passes on Thursday night.

Jacob Allen navigates a tricky Volusia on Thursday (DB3 Inc.)

The one guy who seemed to enjoy it was Larson, who welcomed the challenge and a change of pace from national touring races where tracks are immaculately prepped for Sprint Car main events.

"Honestly, I like it when it has character like that," Larson said before pausing and thinking about his next line. "The Outlaw guys don't like it when there's a 2" deep rut but I like it. The line changes lap by lap. You’re huffing and puffing and you're working harder than you would and it’s just different.

"You don’t get to race on tracks like that all the time. I like it when it’s technical."

Before the races began, World Racing Group officials made the decision to run the entire World of Outlaws program before the UMP Modifieds. The latter ran just a hot lap session before their races were canceled in the name of safety.

The Modifieds were digging up and sending those giant mud clods into the stands.

Sweet and Zearfoss are hopeful track officials can get the track packed in overnight and have the sun dry it out to make it a little more reasonable for Friday night. All told, over 3” of rain fell on the track over the past week before the biggest event of the year at Volusia and there wasn’t much that could be done about Mother Nature.

"Hopefully it's a little better tomorrow night," Sweet said. "Hopefully the sun beats down on it and they can give us something a little smoother to race on."

That sentiment was echoed by Zearfoss.

"The race track is so soft," Zearfoss said. "They had so much rain and we couldn't get on it, that's how soft it was. They put a lot of effort and time just to try to get us a track we could race on tonight. I'm really glad they took the extra day and let the track dry out a little bit more instead of trying to push it and rush us into it. Someone could have gotten hurt yesterday and they realized that, so a little more work on it tonight and hopefully it's ready by tomorrow."