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2024 Celebrates 20-Year Anniversary of World of Outlaws Late Model Revival, Significance of Dirty Dozen 

Dirty Dozen 2

Richards, Bloomquist, Francis, Eckert, and McDowell recall forming and racing in the revival year of the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

 

This year marks the World of Outlaws Late Model Series’ 23rd year of competition, but also a significant anniversary.

2024 is the 20-year anniversary of when the World of Outlaws Late Models were revived in 2004 after a 15-year absence. With the revival came the rebirth of a prominent national touring Late Model series for drivers and fans, and the assembling of one of the greatest classes of drivers in the sports’ history.

Ted Johnson — founder of the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars — formed the World of Outlaws Late Models in 1988. The Series ran only two years before going on its hiatus.

After Boundless Motor Sports (current-day World Racing Group) bought the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series from Johnson in August of 2003, talks amongst Boundless, Rocket1 Racing team owner Mark Richards, and then five-time national dirt Late Model champion Scott Bloomquist began about the possibility of a new national touring Late Model Series.

“We kind of knew that a group at the time, which was Boundless, had bought the World of Outlaws, so, Scott Bloomquist and I had a meeting with them as a possible option for the Late Models to have another Series,” Richards said. “They were interested, obviously, and were trying to figure out what we would call it.

“I said, it was pretty simple, you have the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars, so it’ll be the World of Outlaws Late Models.”

Bloomquist had the idea of having the 12 best dirt Late Model drivers on the same track in the same Series, but never had the chance to create it with success. He sold the idea to Boundless by picking out the best drivers they thought fit the Series. Bloomquist then gave the group its iconic name — “The Dirty Dozen.”

“(Boundless) did some research,” Bloomquist said. “They said that if we got the top drivers, along with myself, they would consider a Late Model Series. I had the concept of the Dirty Dozen years before that… And I took that concept to them, and they liked what they heard. That initiated the guarantee of the 12 top drivers at the time, and we picked guys from other areas of the country like Pennsylvania and Georgia. It created a wide variety of drivers from different areas.

“I didn’t see the (Dirty Dozen) happening because I never ran against competition. I’ve always wanted to be in the biggest events. Everyone knew where these 12 were going, and the locals knew who was gonna be there. But it was a fun time. It was the first time that so many of us guys worked together. We had shirts made, my mother sold the shirts and gave them to the drivers… I was really trying to take care of the drivers and wanted everyone to feel like our group of 12 could market it well through the year together.”

The Dirty Dozen included:

  • Rick Aukland of Zanesville, Ohio
  • Mike Balzano of Parkersburg, West Virginia
  • Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tennessee
  • Rick Eckert of York, Pennsylvania
  • Steve Francis of Ashland, Kentucky
  • Chub Frank of Sugar Grove, Pennsylvania
  • Bart Hartman of Zanesville, Ohio
  • Darrell Lanigan of Union, Kentucky
  • Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Georgia
  • Billy Moyer of Batesville, Arkansas
  • Dan Schlieper of Sullivan, Wisconsin
  • Wendell Wallace of Batesville, Arkansas

Before the Outlaws, there was the Xtreme DirtCar Series, which had signed an exclusive tire deal with Goodyear for 2004. This alienated several drivers and owners like Richards from participating because they had previous agreements with Hoosier Tires, forcing them to look elsewhere to race.

“Back in those days, the drivers were the sole proprietors of the race teams,” Richards said. “There wasn’t many car owners. And the car owners that were around in those days weren’t at the level of what a car owner is today. Over time, drivers put together their portfolio, and Hoosier basically took care of them based on performance and how they promoted the product.

“These guys are busting their butt trying to make it with little to no sponsorship money, and Hoosier becomes one of their biggest sponsors. You get to a point back in those days, that you worked to get a tire deal and a guy comes along and wants to wipe that out and put everybody on another brand of tire.”

For the drivers and team owners, that didn’t sit well.

“Obviously, I was a team owner, but I was the same way as those other drivers,” Richards said. “We were struggling, we didn’t have much sponsorship money. And that tire sponsorship with Hoosier. The discount program and the sponsorship part of it was a big factor in our race team and how we paid our bills.

“When somebody tells you you’re going to go from paying all that to paying retail from tires, and you don’t have money to offset it, that’s what created the interest in looking for an alternative.”

Not all drivers jumped on the idea of joining the new Series, but eventually saw its potential.

“I remember before that there was a lot of us that traveled up and down the road together with (Xtreme) while doing other things,” McDowell said. “So, when they started organizing the (World of Outlaws Late Models), they asked us if we wanted to be a part of it. I wasn’t entirely sure at first. It was a good deal for us because we had a good product, we just needed to get everybody together. That made for a good program to sell to promoters and to bring that group of racers in, and that’s what we did.

“Once it took off, it was really good and great to be a part of.”

The World of Outlaws Late Models Series commenced the 2004 season at Volusia Speedway Park on Feb. 3 during the 33rd DIRTcar Nationals. Opening ceremonies for the new Series featured a group photo of the “Dirty Dozen” on the front stretch of the track and a ceremonial ribbon cutting to welcome the World of Outlaws Late Models back to action.

Controlling the debut night at Volusia was Francis — “The Kentucky Colonel” — who piloted his #15 Mopar Late Model to the first Feature win of the new Series, collecting the $5,000 prize.

“It was like a new year,” Francis said. “Nobody knew exactly where we were going in dirt Late Model racing because of the tire companies coming in and out of the sport at the time. Nobody knew where it was going so it was us 12 guys that got together and decided we wanted to go another direction, we had a lot of big names. It was awesome to be able to win that first race back because it was a really big deal.”

 

Steve Francis celebrates his first win with the World of Outlaws at Volusia Speedway Park on Feb. 3, 2004

The new Series showcased a 41-race schedule with the “Dirty Dozen” traveling to 17 states and competing at 28 racetracks.

When the checkered flag flew on the 2004 season at Delta Bowl Speedway in Tunica, MS, Bloomquist took his ninth win and clinched his first Series championship — concluding a year that included 25 top-fives, and 34 top-10s.

The title was tightly contested all year by Bloomquist, Francis, Eckert and McDowell. By the season’s end, the four were separated by 105 points and combined for 23 victories.

The championship had its trials for “Black Sunshine” both on and off the track in 2004, most notably when his rig burned down on the side of I-40 on the way to the Aug. 28 race at Milan Speedway.

“We got that first championship and we had quite a bit of adversity to it,” Bloomquist said. “My rig burned down on the way to Tennessee on the side of the road. We got our cars out before the flames could get them, but we didn’t get everything out. I actually sat down on the side of the road, saved our cooler, cracked open a beer, and sat there watching it burn. I shook my head because I pretty much figured that we were done and there’d be no championship that year.

“(Brad Hall) loaded up one of my cars in his open trailer and I decided to try one of John Blankenship’s backup cars to save points and see what happens. I qualified his car and didn’t do so well… Then, I heard the whole grandstands erupt. I wondered what it was, and it was my car rolling in on an open trailer. They hadn’t run Heats yet, so we unloaded my car and started in the tail of the Heat race. I won the Heat, started on the front row of the Feature, and led every lap and won.

“It was a bizarre year, but I’m proud to have my name on that title.”

“Black Sunshine” Scott Bloomquist won nine races in 2004, including Volusia Speedway Park.

Francis came short of defeating Bloomquist by 13 points in the final standings. He ended the season with 28 top-fives, 33 top-10s, and scored three victories.

“Well, anytime you assemble a group like (the Dirty Dozen), the competition is unreal,” Francis said. “It’s tough when you roll into a venue anyway through the local drivers. So, when you get a traveling group like that to go into the event, you just have that much more talent that you’re facing every weekend… Putting us all together made it tough on us competitors, but they made a pay structure that made it make sense for the teams. We would have travel money and support financially by getting sponsors that helped it make sense for us.

“It was tough. At the end result though, that really makes you put yourself in those positions, it makes you a better racer and race team. It makes you overall better when you’re going out there against the toughest drivers and teams there is.”

Grabbing the final step of the 2004 podium standings was the #24 Raye Vest Late Model of Eckert, who earned a season-high 36 top-10s, 18 top-fives, and won five races.

Bookending the historic season’s top-five finishers were Dale McDowell and Bart Hartman, respectively. Other members of the Dirty Dozen who picked up Feature wins in 2004 included Chub Frank, Dan Schlieper, Billy Moyer and Darrell Lanigan.

Historically, the 2004 season of the World of Outlaws Late Models was monumental in creating the identity that drivers, sponsors, and fans have come to love by innovating and carving a new path for the Series to follow.

Leading that new path is Francis, who took over as Series Director in 2023. To Eckert, seeing a former driver in that role is vital toward its success.

“Steve and I went up and down the road together for years,” Eckert said. “I think we both ran Hav-A-Tampa, UDTRA, and then we switched over to the World of Outlaws at the same time. Steve’s a good guy. And that’s not a very forgiving job. I don’t know if it’s a job I would want to have but it’s cool seeing him have it.”

Looking back on the unique 2004 season, McDowell believes the “Dirty Dozen” helped grow the sport of dirt Late Model racing over the two decades since.

“The popularity of the sport has for sure grown over the last 20 years,” McDowell said. “You have the continued marquee events throughout the year where you’ll have guys branch off and have some of the toughest fields out there.

“The competition level and the product we have in dirt Late Model racing right now is probably the best I’ve ever seen it. All the races are really good, and that’s a credit to the race teams, owners, and the talented drivers. That’s what we want as an industry, and to work towards that and see it become better and better makes me glad to be a part of it.”

The World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series has seen more than 3,000 drivers pass through and 101 of them pick up victories. Moyer won the Series’ first two titles in 1988 and 1989, and since the revival of the Series there have been 11 more names added to list of champions — Bloomquist, Tim McCreadie, Francis, Lanigan, Josh Richards, Eckert, Shane Clanton, Brandon Sheppard, Mike Marlar, Dennis Erb Jr., and Bobby Pierce.

Along with the rise of new talent every year, purse money has continued to increase under the World Racing Group banner as well.

The Series added more than $140,000 to the 2024 points fund, seeing the champion now walk away with a Series-high $175,000. The points fund was also expanded to now pay out the top 13 full-time drivers with the goal to expand that further in the future.

And that’s not the only check they’ll be walking away with at the end of the year. With the Winner Circle bonus — awarded monthly — the top 13 full-time drivers can earn an extra $30,000 in total by the end of year with perfect attendance — $5,000 more per driver than 2023. So now, the 2024 champion could end the year with $205,000, and even the driver that finishes 13th could walk away with $55,000.

“It’s our mission to see Late Model drivers thrive so they can give fans an exciting show every race night, and the best way to do that is by helping them be as financially healthy as we can,” said Brian Carter, World of Outlaws CEO.

Looking back at the revival of the World of Outlaws in 2004 and where its help bring to sport to now, Richards said it’s something he’s proud to have been a part of.

“They were the 12 best drivers in the country,” Richards said. “They were without a doubt the toughest group of drivers ever assembled to represent a Series… I think that made it to where the World of Outlaws Late Models could grow over the period it grew. It’s tough at a national level to start a Series like that and just take right off with 12 of the best racers in the country.

“I feel like Scott, and I, worked really well together that first year on organizing it. And I stayed there 18 years and, truthfully, I still feel like that’s something that I helped create. My heart will always be with the World of Outlaws.”

As the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Models celebrates its 20th year under the World Racing Group banner, the Series was forever recognized by the “Dirty Dozen,” a keystone group of drivers that will never be forgotten in dirt Late Model history.

The World of Outlaws Late Models continue their 2024 journey at Farmer City Raceway for the Illini 100, April 19-20. For tickets and the full 2024 schedule, CLICK HERE.
If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch every lap live on DIRTVision.

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