By Phil Whipple,
RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer
KAUFMAN, Texas — Among the many different classes that compete on dirt ovals in Texas are the mighty Late Models. Sleek, fast and easier to relate to than some types of race cars, the Late Models have a special draw. Whether it's the look, the speed or the rich history – they are extremely popular.
As of the mid-point of 2021, there was a new man behind the scenes of organized, touring Late Model racing in North Texas. For 35-year-old Dustin Daniel, brother of successful racer Patrik Daniel, taking over the reigns of the newly-renamed American Crate Late Model Series was a challenge he welcomed.
After getting his ship pointed in the right direction, he's working to enhance the series.
“I took over the reigns in the middle of July,” Daniel said. “We held our first race under my direction on July 23 at Heart O' Texas Speedway. The first thing we changed was the draw-in procedure. We took it from electronic only to an old-school system where racers actually draw their number in person.
“It creates more of a visual deal where it's all out in the open. We write it down, the drivers see that, then we enter it into the computer. We also leaned into the technical inspection side, we're more strict on a number on things like motor seals, MSD boxes and tires. We got a lot more in-depth with that.”
The newly-renamed American Crate Late Model Series (ACLMS) will have roughly 24 races on the slate next season, and will pay a minimum of $1,100 to the winner. And for the first time in series history, there will be a year-end points fund in 2022, along with a handful of contingency sponsors.
“I've been a huge fan of Late Model racing all of my life,” Daniel added. “My goal is to get it back to where it was 25 years ago, when those wedge-nosed cars were popular and we all went to the races to see the big dogs battle it out. I firmly believe we can restore the “wow” factor if we use the right ideas.
“I'm hoping to achieve two things here; to restore racers' faith in this series so we have good car counts, and to expand the fan base across north Texas. If we enforce the rules consistently, maintain a level playing field and pay a decent purse, racers will come. In turn, our fans should see some great racing.”
Daniel knows the challenges for Late Model racing are many. The cost to race for teams is always a big priority for any track or series, hence the decision to go with GM Spec motors like Crate Racin' USA.
“Right before our second race in early August at Devil's Bowl, I called Kody to talk, ” he explained. “I told him we needed to go Crate racing. I felt like if we followed the whole Crate Racin' USA package, it would be a win-win for everybody involved. He agreed, so I announced it in the Driver's Meeting.
“Starting in July of 2022, we'll be running Crate engines specs exclusively. This gives racers some time to get their motors freshened and get things in line. For any new guys considering our series, they can know what they'll need. I didn't want to make any major changes that would take effect immediately.”
Sanctioning a tour for Late Models can be a challenge, with concerns like keeping costs down for racers while maintaining a high quality of racing. Just ask veteran racer and promoter Kody Hardage, who works hard to keep his Southern Touring Late Model Series (STLMS) thriving as best he can.
Daniel wisely leans on Hardage for guidance, a man with great organizational and promotional skills.
“We started out as co-promoters or co-directors when I took over this series,” Daniel said. “He and I have established a truly good friendship. I communicate with him a couple times a week now, any time I have a question I run it past him.
“He's helped me get this series turned around and headed to where I want it to go. My goals are in sync with his; he's straight-forward and I can't thank him enough.”
With 2021 fading into memory and a fresh new start for 2022 just around the corner, Daniel sets his sights on filling out the series schedule and preparing for any challenges/obstacles that may lie ahead.
“I have 10 races all booked solid and we're in talks with several tracks about their dates,” he concluded. “I have a big two-day show at 67 Speedway of Texarkana, that will be the Ken Mitchell Memorial. Now that Thanksgiving is over, I'm going to get with several promoters to fill out our remaining dates.
“I'm trying to keep it within about four hours of the Dallas/Fort Worth area. That's about the longest trip I want our guys to make, these guys work all week and have families, as well. We'll shoot for 24 races and hope to get 18 to 20 completed. That will make for a full season, one I think will be very exciting.”