DIRTRACKR Daily Podcast - Episode Transcript

Dirt racing news, results, discussion, analytics. Sprint cars, late models, modifieds, you name it. From national series, to top local shows. Brought to you five days a week. Email the show at info@dirtrackr.com.

Just another dirt late model BOMBSHELL | Daily 7-8-2024

In a Sunday stunner, SSI Motorsports has parted ways with probably dirt late model racing's top driver right now in Ricky Thornton Jr. We'll talk about what we know, what's next, and react to the situation. Let's go!

It's Monday, July 8th, I'm Justin Fiedler. This is DIRTRACKR Daily presented by Kubota Genuine Parts.

Did you guys know the MyKubota app is your ultimate companion for managing your Kubota equipment on the go? Stay connected with your machinery with real-time monitoring and maintenance reminders. Track your equipment's performance, view manuals, and more with just a few taps. I was curious what the closest dealer was to me here in the Charlotte area, so I opened the app, one tap on the Dealers button, and there it is. Highway Equipment and Tractor. Never miss a beat with MyKubota - because your success is Kubota's priority. Download now and revolutionize the way you work with your Kubota! To get the MyKubota app, scan the QR code in the lower right corner of the screen, click the links below in the video description, or search for MyKubota in the Apple App and Google Play stores.

So as I'm sure many of you have already seen at some point over the last 12 hours, we had an absolute bombshell dropped on us in the late model world. Around 9PM eastern last night, it was revealed that SSI Motorsports and driver Ricky Thornton Jr. had split. More than 60 wins together since 2020, lots of big paydays, a record setting Lucas season in 2023, including a best ever win tally of 19 and over a million dollars in earnings, plus an already decorated 2024 campaign so far. Thornton currently has 11 Lucas wins, plus one with DIRTcar at Volusia, two Northern All Stars victories, the wild Flo series win at Macon, plus that Dirt Late Model Dream prelim win last month. He's leading the Lucas championship by a wide margin over Jonathan Davenport, tops the Flo series, and is second in the XR standings. The 20RT went fifth to second on Saturday night at Muskingum County with Lucas, and hasn't finished outside the top ten in a late model race since pulling in early during that XR show at Kokomo. He hasn't finished outside the top ten in a Lucas race since running 23rd at Golden Isles in February, and he hasn't been out of the top five since an eighth place run at Atomic in March. The quote from RTJ in the press release said that he and SSI Motorsports team owner Todd Burns met on Sunday, and that Burns quote "expressed that he felt the last few months hadn't been going in the direction that he envisioned for SSI Motorsports and has decided to hire another driver" unquote. The timing of all of this is pretty wild, as the FloRacing Night in America series races today at Lincoln Speedway, and Lucas is back to action on Thursday at 34 Raceway, with a three race weekend coming up. It seems like a quick turnaround on a new driver, but I guess it doesn't take all that long to bolt in a new seat. So there are the most important facts of the situation, and I'll give you everything else I've got, which isn't much. I was just as surprised as you are about this move, and like many out there, I can't square it in my brain. And because it makes absolutely no sense, at least in terms of performance, that's going to give way to all sorts of rumors and speculation. Whatever Burns' motivations were though, which I doubt we will ever truly find out, they must have been pretty strong to bounce the most successful late model racer over the past two years from his team midseason. At the end of the day, it's his money, and his operation. And this was a stark reminder that the car owners hold all of the power. If RTJ can get dropped after the run he's been on, than nobody is safe. All of those wins and all that money won was no sort of leverage for Thornton to keep his seat. From a second place run and a nearly $11,000 check on Saturday, to out of a ride on Sunday. Looking at the way the release reads too, it doesn't seem as though RTJ was expecting this either, as his phone number and email address were listed for any teams that were interested in putting him in a car. That's not something you do if you knew this was coming and had something lined up on the other side. When the Flo series hits Lincoln tonight though, it sounds like Thornton will be in attendance to race. I don't know at this moment which car, but his Facebook page made a comment about having a ride for tonight, and FloRacing's Dustin Jarrett tweeted this morning that Thornton does indeed plan on racing. As for the SSI car, all signs here are pointing to Hudson O'Neal. I don't think Burns make this move without knowing who the next guy is. Huddy drove the SSI car before RTJ, and supposedly O'Neal has been getting support from Burns as he's been working through the startup of his own team. O'Neal and RTJ's haulers were parked next to each other at Muskingum County just this past Saturday night, and those two black trailers sure look similar. This will be an ongoing situation for at least the next several days, and maybe more. I'd assume we'll know pretty quickly the future for the SSI car, but RTJ's plans may take a little longer to settle out. Especially with no big rides open at the moment, at least publicly. I do think it's likely we aren't done yet with late model silly season, and I've been told the next 30 days could bring even more changes. I think especially if you are a Longhorn associated team, having the chance at a driver like RTJ could open some things up and have other owners questioning their current drivers. I also think this sets up some intriguing things to watch going forward. Can the SSI ride be as successful with a different driver? We'll see. If it is indeed O'Neal, it's taken him some time to adjust to the Longhorns since leaving Rocket, and getting in this car will not exactly be pressure free. It will be incredibly difficult for any driver that takes that seat with all of the winning that Thornton had done. My assumption is that crew chief Anthony Burroughs is staying, RTJ thanked him in the release, which would seem to be a plus there. And on the flip side can RTJ recreate what he had going somewhere else? At the moment he needs at least something to keep his Lucas season from completely going sideways, but it may not be a car and team ready to win right now. My feeling is that both sides will likely suffer at least a little bit in the near term during the adjustment period. This puts a pretty wild spin on the rest of the Lucas season as well, especially with that top four having been fluid already this year with O'Neal parting with Rocket. Davenport and Devin Moran look good, and Tim McCreadie has been making moves to get himself up in the mix. But I don't think Thornton's lead is safe now, especially with so many nights still to come before the cutoff. Mike Marlar and O'Neal are on the outside looking in, but I wouldn't count anyone out at this point. I feel like back when O'Neal and Rocket split we were left saying, wow this was big, when was the last time something like this happened. But for it to happen twice in a season like this is beyond crazy. The comment section below is open, feel free to share your thoughts on the whole situation.

I know there were a lot of things that went down over the weekend, but we'll call it good there today. There will be plenty of time in the coming days to talk other things, like PA Speedweek and more.

Hope you guys have a great Monday out there, we'll see you back here tomorrow!