This weekend’s Arizona Sport Shirts Gateway Dirt Nationals racing event held in the former home of the NFL’s Rams franchise when that team still played in St. Louis is bringing together two parts of the racing world that do not always fit on the same page. Competitors in Super Late Model, Modified, and Midget Sprint Cars will take to the make-shift track inside the Dome at the America’s Center for three nights of racing action beginning on Thursday.
As part of that racing action, several very recognizable names from outside the ranks of dirt racing will be taking part.
NASCAR Cup Series regulars Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. will wheel Midget Sprint Cars around the indoor oval. They will be joined in that division by rising star Christopher Bell who will race alongside the aforementioned Cup regulars in the sport’s top division in 2020. Also, NASCAR Xfinity racer Chase Briscoe will enter the Midget portion of the event.
Former NASCAR competitor and television commentator Kenny Wallace, who is now full-time Dirt Modified racer, will be taking on all combatants in that form of racing.
No NASCAR drivers are entered in the Super Late Model division.
There are getting to be more and more of these crossover type moves from one form of the sport of auto racing to the other. Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Stenhouse and Larson are among the current and former regulars in NASCAR who are involved in dirt racing by owning either Dirt Late Model or Sprint Car teams. Stewart is also heavily invested in dirt racing through his ownership of the famed Eldora Speedway located in Rossburg, Ohio.
Although these types of crossovers are becoming a bit more commonplace, there is still somewhat of a divide between dirt racing and the NASCAR community. For example, Larson has been chastised by fans on social media and elsewhere for comments he has made regarding his desire to someday become a full-time Sprint Car racer rather than spend his entire career in the Cup Series. And dirt racing enthusiasts are often quick to use the phrase “Dirt is for racing and pavement is for getting there” when the mention of any sort of asphalt racing, particularly NASCAR, is made.
But the reality is that having NASCAR drivers race on dirt serves to benefit both ends of the racing spectrum.
NASCAR fans may attend or watch a dirt racing event for the simple reason that someone such as Larson or Newman is entered while a dirt racing fan may watch the mastery of a driver such as Bell on dirt and be intrigued enough to follow along with his career on pavement as well.
Media outlets that might not otherwise pay very much attention to dirt racing could be enticed to cover that particular discipline because of a noteworthy driver’s involvement. The website page dedicated to NASCAR on NBCsports.com featured a mention of the Gateway Nationals on Monday. That, in turn, focuses more eyes in the direction of dirt and could very well bring in new fans.
Of course, the highly anticipated Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals held indoors annually in Tulsa, Oklahoma for Midget Sprint Cars on dirt will no doubt also feature a few NASCAR stars in much the same way this weekend’s action will.
The Gateway Nationals will be broadcast live on a pay-per-view basis by DirtonDirt.com.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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