Fans pack the stands in 2019 during the World of Outlaws World Finals. (Frank Smith Photo)
Fans pack the stands in 2019 during the World of Outlaws World Finals. (Frank Smith Photo)

KERCHNER: Anticipating The World Finals

CONCORD, N.C. — Another dirt-track season is winding down and it’s time for what has become — in some ways — a rite of passage, the NGK NTK World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte.

First run in 2007, the World Finals has become one of the most popular events of the dirt-track racing season and has found a fitting and enduring place at the end of the year when many of the country’s race tracks and series have already concluded their campaigns.

The event brings together the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series, the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series and the Super DIRTcar Series big-block modifieds on the same card for the only time all season, concluding schedules that began 10 months earlier.

Initially, a doubleheader event for the sprint cars and late models, the modifieds joined the fray in 2010.

The World Finals has become a lot like the final party of the school year. Everyone is there. It’s the last chance for entertaining dirt racing and to see all your friends and colleagues before a long winter.

It also serves as an interesting bridge between northern sprint car and modified fans and southern late model supporters. That in itself makes for an interesting diversity of race fans. Some stand, some sit. Some clap, some yell loudly.

Not only does it bring the fans from the Northeast, Pennsylvania, Ohio and other far away locations, but competitors from various regions of the country compete in the same field for one of the few times all season.

For example, in the sprint car pit area will be the World of Outlaws, plus the best All Star Circuit of Champions, the best of the Pennsylvania Posse, the top drivers from Ohio, Wisconsin’s IRA circuit and even a handful of regulars from Iowa’s legendary Knoxville Raceway.

The story is similar in the late model pits, with teams from the WoO LMS, Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, Iron-Man Series, Carolina Clash, DIRTcar and so many other traveling tours participating.

What makes that so interesting?

It’s because the variety creates drama and surprises. As a fan, you are never certain what you will see. Yes, the top dogs such as Brad Sweet, Brandon Sheppard and Stewart Friesen are going to win their share of races, but there’s always room for an upset.

Ian Madsen won a sprint car feature in 2018 and Dusty Zomer triumphed in 2015. Dennis Erb Jr. won a World Finals late model feature and Tim Kerr went to victory lane with the modifieds.

There is high anticipation for this year’s event that will run Nov. 4-6 at the four-tenths-mile track located between Charlotte Motor Speedway and zMAX Dragway.

First of all, it will be the climax to what has been a highly entertaining season of dirt-track racing that has seen large crowds throughout the year, particularly for signature events such as the World Finals.

As well, the World Finals was not run last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was replaced by an event known as Last Call and fan attendance was limited to seven percent of capacity. Thus, only the sprint cars and late models competed before a sparse crowd.

Close title races and the crowning of champions have been an element of the World Finals that will likely be absent this season with Sweet, Sheppard and Friesen holding commanding point leads as the schedule winds down. 

Still, there will be much to watch.

In the sprint car division, Sweet has been unbelievably consistent en route to what will be his third straight WoO championship. However, Kyle Larson and Tyler Courtney split the two Kings Royals and Larson won the Knoxville Nationals. David Gravel and Carson Macedo have been strong all season and Donny Schatz has shown speed during the second half of the year.

Sheppard will win the WoO LMS title, but the story of the season is the big-money victories accumulated by Brandon Overton and Jonathan Daven­port. Overton won both Dirt Late Model Dreams at Eldora Speedway, the pair split the World 100s at the Ohio half-mile and Davenport claimed the big money at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

Friesen has dominated the DIRTcar campaign, but eight-time series champion Matt Sheppard and Mat Williamson will be among the others to watch.

The World Finals will put the lid on the 22nd season for The Dirt Track at Charlotte. 

See you there.

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