(The following is the first of our annual mid-winter looks at the coming season, plus a look back to see how we fared with the previous year’s picks. Today we examine the UMP Super Late Models.)
We learned something during the first year of those UMP Super Late Models at the Bullring. We had about the expected amount of first-year visitors stop in on a semi-regular basis — guys like Kevin Weaver, Brian Shirley, Dewayne Kiefer and a host of others — and more will assuredly show up in 2013.
But when it came down to the track title, the championship was a battle between the track regulars, ultimately won by Jason Perry. And that’s the way it should be. The UMP travelers gave us the added thrills like we hoped, but it was the Bullring regulars who battled one another for the championship.
So who are the drivers to watch heading into the new season? One we can eliminate from title consideration, if we can believe what he told us at the end of the 2012 campaign, is Perry. The defending champ said he would be cutting back his schedule a little in 2013 in an effort to spend some more time with his family. He said they made sacrifices so he could make an all-out run at the championship, and he wanted to return the favor next year. Good for Jason. When he’s not there on occasion next season you’ll know why.
This all means there will be another new late model track champ. There has been no repeat winner since Mark Burgtorf won three straight titles between 2005-07. Here’s how we see things shaking out:
1. Dustin Griffin: He won just about everything last season except the track championship, and I think this year he adds the big iron to his growing list of accomplishments. But it won’t be easy. This could be a memorable showdown with 14-time champ Mark Burgtorf, one that fans talk about for years. I don’t think you will want to miss even one Sunday night this season.
Why he’ll win: The Black Car Superstar is bad fast. No other late model driver at the track attacks a corner like Griffin, or comes of turn two with his kind of tenacity.
Why he won’t:Just like last season, when mechanical failures cost him the equivalent of two points weeks — and he still came within 19 points of first place.
2. Mark Burgtorf: Make no mistake about it, the Hall of Famer still has the touch. We’ll see plenty of victories from Magic Mark — but can he overtake The New Kid on the Block?
3. Justin Reed: He has one championship to his credit (2011) and has not finished out of the top five in points since 2006. Yeah, he’ll be in the hunt come the stretch drive in September.
Dark horse No. 1: Michael Long gets one more season as a “dark horse” in the late model division. Next year we’re going to have to include him among the favorites.
Dark horse No. 2: I would imagine quite a few will forget about Denny Woodworth heading into the season, following his struggles in 2012. But before you cross him off the contenders’ list, don’t forget how he looked in the closing weeks of last season after getting that new/different car (see more about this below).
Comeback of the Year: Hopefully, it’s Lonnie Bailey. Last year’s late model series always seemed to have something missing … like the No. 25 car, maybe?
A LOOK BACK AT HOW WE SAW THE 2012 PRESEASON
This is what we said a year ago at this time, plus with updated comments:
1. Denny Woodworth: Make no mistake about it, this year’s points race will be a war. And there will be plenty of ups and downs, but I like D.W.’s overall experience with the UMP package.
Why he’ll win: Denny is enjoying the peak years of his career and would relish nothing more than winning the track’s first UMP late model title.
Why he won’t win: Getting stuck behind the eight ball early in the season. This is not the season to get buried in the points race in April or May.
(Almost nothing seemed to go right for Denny 2010 — until he got behind the wheel of that new ride late in the year. In the closing three weeks of the season, his average feature finish was 4.7, including a runner-up performance the final night of the season. This prediction might have been one year too early.)
2. Justin Reed: The last late model driver to win back-to-back titles not named Mark Burgtorf was Terry Gallaher in 1987-88. The law of percentages is definitely against Justincredible.
(Justin was in the title mix until the closing weeks, but … the law of percentages was simply against him.)
3. Keith Pratt: It’s been a few years, but Keith was a UMP regular for several seasons. Depending on how the breaks fall, he could easily win his first track championship. A fast start to the season would do wonders for his chances.
(Well, Keith definitely got off to the aforementioned rough start. This year will likely give us a truer idea of The Kool Kat’s UMP capabilities.)
Dark horse No. 1: Jason Perry, who if he opts to race a full points schedule could be the wild card this season.
(Obviously, Jason opted for that full points schedule, and it resulted in his first track title.)
Dark horse No. 2: Michael Long, who will drive the No. 56 car operated the last two years by Justin Jennings. Need I even explain this selection?
(Michael definitely lived up to the hype. Don’t be surprised if he ups his late model game to the next level this summer.)
Comeback of the Year: Ricky Frankel. I’m not sure if Ricky technically qualifies for this, but it will be great to see him run a full points season at 8000 Broadway.
(We got to see him run for about half of 2012. Here’s hoping we see both Ricky and brother Jason running in 2013.)
2012 POINTS LEADERS
Jason Perry, 993
Dustin Griffin, 974
Mark Burgtorf, 940
Justin Reed, 921
Jim Moon, 888
2011 POINTS LEADERS
Justin Reed, 348 (won title on “features won” tiebreaker)
Lonnie Bailey, 348
Denny Woodworth, 340
Keith Pratt, 340
Joey Gower, 338
2010 POINTS LEADERS
Denny Woodworth, 471
Jason Perry, 463
Justin Reed, 449
Joey Gower, 436
Keith Pratt, 434
LATE MODEL TRACK CHAMPIONS
2012: Jason Perry
2011: Justin Reed
2010: Denny Woodworth
2009: Lonnie Bailey
2008: Jason Frankel
2007: Mark Burgtorf
2006: Mark Burgtorf
2005: Mark Burgtorf
2004: Lonnie Bailey
2003: Mark Burgtorf
2002: Brent Slocum
2001: Mark Burgtorf
2000: Mark Burgtorf
1999: Mark Burgtorf
1998: Mark Burgtorf
1997: Mark Burgtorf
1996: Mark Burgtorf
1995: Mark Burgtorf
1994: Mark Burgtorf
1993: Mark Burgtorf
1992: Mark Burgtorf
1991: Terry Gallaher
1990: Steve Fraise
1989: Steve Fraise
1988: Terry Gallaher
1987: Terry Gallaher
1986: Dick Crane
1985: Terry Gallaher
1984: Steve Fraise
1983: Steve Fraise
1982: Steve Fraise
1981: Steve Fraise
1980: Steve Fraise
1979: Steve Fraise
1978: Jim Swank
1977: No LM division
1976: Steve Fraise
1975: Larry Pipes