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Mississippi State Championship Challenge Series looks for deeper field

 

Brian Rickman (90) tries to pass Michael Arnold (4) during the State Series Super Late Model feature at Columbus Speedway earlier this season.

Brian Rickman (90) tries to pass Michael Arnold (4) during the State Series Super Late Model feature at Columbus Speedway earlier this season. Photo by: David Miller/Special to The Dispatch

 

David Miller/Special to The Dispatch

 

 

The Mississippi State Championship Challenge Series' low car-counts in recent weeks are not exclusive to the state's top dirt series, according to Charles Thrash, series director. 

 

In three of the last four races, the series has had fewer than 15 Super Late Model cars start the race. Only 12 cars made the field last week at Greenville, and five Crate cars padded a 19-car field the week before at Magnolia. 

 

Thrash is hoping for a better turnout this weekend, when the series visits Hattiesburg tonight and Jackson on Saturday. 

 

"It's really hard to answer exactly why car counts are low," said Thrash, who has operated the series since the late 1990s. "I had guys that were supposed to be at both of the last two races and didn't show up. Take Greenville last weekend - we had one local car there. The week before, they had eight local guys show up." 

 

Greenville is the only dirt track in the state that runs Super Late Models in its weekly shows, making the State Series the only outlet for competition for the majority of the drivers in the state, as weekly show money in the Delta isn't worth the time for what's become the most expensive division in racing. Additionally, the funding gap between teams discourages some drivers from competing on the series, Thrash said. 

 

"Especially when they go out there and get lapped," Thrash said, "that's when it's really discouraging. I've heard that some guys know right off the bat think that they can't compete with the Rickmans and people like that. So, cars sit at the house when it comes to one of these series races because they don't feel they can justify spending their money, even though they get good money just to make the race." 

 

Former State Series points champion Brian Rickman is currently third in the 2018 standings. He said the COMP Cams series, Arkansas' state Super Late Model series, is also struggling with car counts. He said he "doesn't know where everyone is," but the economy and the expense of the sport are likely to blame. 

 

Neil Baggett, who leads the State Series points table and has won two of the last four State Series races, said the sport is "too expensive." 

 

"An average guy cannot race this series," Baggett said two weeks ago after winning the Governor's Cup at Magnolia. "[His team's success] isn't me - it's [car owner] Prate Montgomery. I wouldn't be able to live this dream if it weren't for Prate Montgomery. 

 

"For example, we went through $600 worth of tires this weekend. That's not including the entry fee, fuel, getting here, pit passes ... it's $1,000 when you unload these cars, and it's ridiculous. But if you want to win, you got to spend it." 

 

Thrash said car counts won't affect the series, at least not on his end; Thrash has a fulltime job and operates the series for fun. However, since the series gets part of the entry fees at each track, low car-counts impact the points fund at the end of the year. 

 

While Thrash doesn't think a smaller pot at the end of the year will deter drivers from competing in the State Series' eight remaining races, turnout may influence promoters' willingness to host the series in the future. 

 

"I keep stressing to the racers that the promoters expect a full field," Thrash said. "If we don't have a full field, the promoter will say, 'I don't need your race.' I might have 10 guys that are badass, but the promoter wants to see a full field to start a race. The more people you have racing, the more fans it will generate." 

 

NOTES: Magnolia Motor Speedway will host weekly points racing Saturday. NeSmith Late Models, Street Stocks and Sportsman will feature, as will Factory Stocks. Columbus Speedway will return to action Aug. 3.

 

 

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