USCS/URC: North-South Shootout on Tap for East Coast 360 Sprint Cars; Analyzing the Favorites

Jacob Seelman Dirt Track Racing, Featured, Northeast, Other Sprint Cars, Southeast, Sprints & Midgets 1 Comment

GASTONIA, N.C. — Story by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Chris Seelman photo — Fall is in the air; it’s the time of year when leaves start changing, temperatures start cooling off and sprint cars start roaring to life from up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

Yes, the North/South Sprint Car Shootout is back for the second straight year and that means 30+ ground-pounding, fire-breathing, methanol-burning winged warriors will take to the clay on Friday and Saturday night this weekend (October 3rd and 4th) for two action-packed 360 sprint car races at Carolina Speedway in Gastonia, North Carolina and Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, South Carolina. The www.rockauto.com USCS 600cc mini-sprints will also be on the racing card, with feature racing both nights.

But as much as it’s about the what, where and when, it’s also about the excitement — so let’s cut to the chase.

When the stars of the Atlanta, Georgia-based United Sprint Car Series (USCS) filtercharged by K&N come together to do battle with the warriors of the rival Dover, Delaware-based United Racing Company (URC) Rislone Sprint Series, anything can and probably will happen.

The challenge event has turned into an annual affair this year after having a hugely successful showing in 2013 but it’s not the first time the two series have come together in their storied history.

Eight-time URC champion Curt Michael swept the series’ inaugural combined showings in 2006, winning North/South Shootout events in July of that year at Riverside (S.C.) Speedway and I-20 (S.C.) Speedway.

In total, six prior events have been contested under combined USCS/URC sanction, the two South Carolina events in 2006, the 2013 North/South Shootout at Carolina and Cherokee and the 2014 Spring Showdown at Carolina and Lancaster (S.C.) Speedways. Curt Michael and defending North/South Shootout champion Eric Riggins Jr. each lead the pack with two wins apiece, while Johnny Bridges and Lance Moss split the Showdown wins in the spring between them to become the third and fourth different winners in the challenge-style events.

That’s the history, but who are the favorites? Here’s a list of five drivers to watch out for on Friday and Saturday night.

5. Morgan Turpen (USCS)

Morgan Turpen may be the queen of the USCS, but she’d like to be queen of the Carolinas again as well. The likable 21-year-old, who likes to be known as a sprint car racer who happens to be female rather than a female sprint car driver, has not won at Carolina Speedway since her sophomore season in 2011, when she won what was then called the Carolina Thunder Nationals in the fall.

Turpen has not won on the dirt in 2014, and that may make her even more dangerous come Friday night’s opening night of the Shootout — she’s going to be motivated to get it done. A five-time winner in USCS competition, Turpen will be looking for career win number six this weekend; she finished fifth (Carolina) and fourteenth (Cherokee) in last year’s North/South Shootout.

4. Josh Weller (URC)

Josh Weller has been a man on a mission lately, and he’s a man with a score to settle in the Carolina region.

Weller finished second (Carolina) and fourth (Cherokee) in last year’s two events — the best average finish of any driver not named Riggins. Weller picked up his first URC victory of 2014 in late August at the Delaware International Speedway — his first victory in almost a full year. The Mertztown, Pennsylvania native is primed for a hot finish to the season after an uncharacteristically slow start to the year. A victory in one or both of this weekend’s challenge events might be just the cure that the doctor ordered.

Oh, by the way? Weller is driving the Eldreth Construction entry that 2013 URC champion J.J. Grasso scored back-to-back third place finishes in at the Shootout last fall.

Keep an eye on the No. 25.

3. Terry Gray (USCS)

Few drivers are more decorated than Terry Gray in sprint car competition. The ten-time USCS champion has 89 career victories to supplement that total, with five wins in the last five years at the 4/10-mile Carolina Speedway.

The catch? Gray has not won a race at the North Carolina speed plant since 2010. It doesn’t mean he’s lost his touch, but in his own words — the rest of the field has caught up.

“It’s gotten tougher to win these things,” Gray said after a win at Lavonia Speedway in July. “The field’s gotten deeper, more talented. Tracks we used to dominate at we just can’t anymore because there’s eight or nine guys win a shot to win every night.”

While Gray is winless at Cherokee Speedway in USCS competition, the veteran sprint car driver is a threat anywhere he goes in USCS competition — you just can’t count him out. He’s got two wins on the season and if he’s in the field, he’s going to be contending for the win.

2. Davie Franek (URC)

I had this slot open for eight-time champ Curt Michael, but as he’s not racing this weekend down south (instead running the National Open at Williams Grove with the World of Outlaws) I’ll move from a champion of the URC to a driver looking to ice the URC championship this season after what has been a breakout year.

Franek has led the URC points since the early stages of the 2014 campaign — and they call him “No Panic” for a reason. The Wontage, New Jersey native has not blinked once this season and carries one victory and a 118-point advantage into the season’s final three races.

If he can hang on, it’s going to be the first series championship for the New England driver, but I know he’d like to pick up another victory or two along the way. He’s only got two of them in his career, and while this is the most consistent season he’s ever had since joining the tour — there are three drivers: Mark Smith (4), Aaron Ott (3), and Curt Michael (2) who all have more victories this year than the championship leader. I know the title leader would like to change that.

Davie was one of the underrated drivers in the field coming into the 2014 — that fact has driven him to change that. He has to now be considered among the breakout favorites for this weekend’s action.

1. Eric Riggins Jr. (USCS)

Johnny Bridges may be the all-time “King of the Carolinas”, but Eric Riggins Jr. has to be considered the crown prince.

Riggins, just 19-years-old, is already in his fifth season of 360 competition and has had a stellar run through the second half of the 2014 campaign, with three wins in the last five USCS races he’s entered and two straight headed to the Carolinas, where the Charlotte native calls home.

His record at his home track in Gastonia? That might even be better.

Three of Riggins’ eight career USCS victories have come at Carolina Speedway, and Riggins is always fired up any time he gets to compete at his home race track. His all-time record at the Gastonia oval? 3 wins, 6 podiums, 8 top fives, 11 top tens and only 2 DNFs in 13 starts.

Notice that. Every time Riggins has been running at the finish at Carolina Speedway — he’s been in the top ten. Those two DNFs? His first start at the speedway…and his most recent, when he flipped out of the ballpark while racing for the lead in April.

In all, five of Riggins’ eight wins have come in either North or South Carolina, and he also won last season’s inaugural showing for the USCS and URC at Cherokee Speedway, so Riggins is the man with all the momentum in his court as the defending champion of the North/South Shootout.

Now, anything can happen during the race itself — but if Riggins is in the mix in the closing laps either event this weekend? He’ll have a shot to win.

 

Are there other drivers in the field with a chance to win? Absolutely. These are just five of the favorites. Anything can — and probably will — happen over the course of this upcoming weekend. One thing is for certain though:

It’s going to be exciting to watch.

 

For more information and evening schedules for both nights of racing, visit the tracks’ websites at carolinaspeedway.net and www.cherokeespeedwaysc.com.

For more information on the United Sprint Car Series, visit uscsracing.com. For more information on the URC Rislone Sprint Series, visit urcsprints.com.

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