Column By: MIKE WARREN / WORLD OF OUTLAWS – BARBERVILLE, FL – When the calendar turned to February, the annual hunt for a Big Gator trophy began for the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Models.
The Series will make its second and final stop of the season at Volusia Speedway Park for the 52nd Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals, Feb. 16-18, contending for a $187,000 overall purse.
On Thursday, Feb. 16, the World of Outlaws kick off the three-race weekend with a 30-lap, $10,000-to-win Feature, followed by a 40-lap, $12,000-to-win Feature on Friday, Feb. 17.
The week-long Big Gator chase finishes with a 50-lap, $20,000-to-win finale on Saturday, Feb. 18, along with the crowning of a new Big Gator champion.
Also, before the Series kicks off its portion of DIRTcar Nationals, the DIRTcar Late Models are in action Feb. 13-15.
On Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 13-14, they’ll run a 25-lap Feature paying $7,000-to-win. Then, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, the DIRTcar Late Model field will be split into three Features, each 20 laps paying $5,000 to win.
Here are some of the storylines to keep an eye on entering DIRTcar Nationals:
Hunting for 3: Since the first Big Gator trophy was awarded in 2012, no driver has won the week-long chase more than twice.
Devin Moran, Brandon Sheppard, Shane Clanton and Josh Richards have each won two Big Gators, with Moran winning the last two.
The Dresden, OH driver has momentum entering DIRTcar Nationals, sweeping the opening weekend of World of Outlaws action at Volusia Speedway Park during Sunshine Nationals.
Brandon Sheppard has the most DIRTcar Nationals wins out of those four drivers, finding Victory Lane eight times.
Big Gator Champions
- 2022-Devin Moran
- 2021-Devin Moran
- 2020-Brandon Sheppard
- 2019-Brandon Sheppard
- 2018-Chris Madden
- 2017-Shane Clanton
- 2016-Josh Richards
- 2015-Shane Clanton
- 2014-Scott Bloomquist
- 2013-Josh Richards
- 2012-Dennis Erb Jr.
Madden Out Front: After the first two World of Outlaws CASE Late Model events, the season-long points chase is off to a “Smokey” start.
Chris Madden leads the standings entering DIRTcar Nationals on the strength of two top-five finishes—eight points ahead of Rookie of the Year contender Nick Hoffman and Brian Shirley.
Madden already has a Big Gator trophy to his credit, winning the week-long hunt in 2018. He also has two Feature victories at the track, coming in 2017 and 2022.
The Gray Court, SC driver hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in 13 straight races at Volusia.
A Thrilling Start: While Hoffman is only eight points behind Madden in the championship standings, his consistency at Sunshine Nationals vaulted him to the top of the Rookie of the Year chase.
The Mooresville, NC driver turned heads at Volusia in January, scoring two top 10s and leading six laps of a Feature.
Hoffman has a 40-point lead in the chase for rookie of the year over Payton Freeman and is 48 points ahead of Johnny Scott.
He’s also no stranger to success at DIRTcar Nationals, collecting seven Big Gator trophies and 21 Feature wins in a DIRTcar UMP Modified.
A Wide Variety: DIRTcar Nationals sports one of the most challenging fields of the season for dirt Late Model racing.
That was apparent last year, as six drivers found Victory Lane throughout the week.
Ricky Thornton, Jr., Ryan Gustin, Brandon Overton, Dale McDowell, defending Series champion Dennis Erb Jr., and Madden each took home a gator last season.
For Gustin and Thornton, their DIRTcar Late Model Feature wins were their first at Volusia.
Thornton, Gustin, and Overton enter the week with momentum as they’ve each found Victory Lane during Florida-Georgia Speedweeks.
Century Mark: Last season, Tanner English became the 99th driver to win a World of Outlaws CASE Late Models Feature, meaning history is on the line at DIRTcar Nationals.
The next driver to win a Feature for the first time will bring the Series to the century mark.
World of Outlaws regulars like Boom Briggs, Brent Larson, and Gordy Gundaker are searching for their elusive first checkered flag, along with names like Thornton, Hudson O’Neal, and 2021 Series Rookie of the Year Tyler Bruening.
Those drivers are just the beginning of a substantial list of competitors searching for their first gator trophy and World of Outlaws win.