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EXPLORING THE EVOLUTION AND FUTURE PROSPECTS OF THE XR SUPER SERIES

By Robert Holman

Heading into the XR Super Series’ third season, the Barry Braun-founded tour is admittedly still finding its niche among the Dirt Late Model racing establishment. The upstart series burst onto the national scene with an ambitious 22-race schedule in 2022 before tailoring back to just five full-field features in 2023, in part thanks to a bevy of rainouts last year.

With the 2024 season set to get underway with April 5-6’s Spring Thaw at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn., there are 17 races on this year’s docket following the cancellation of a pair of February events at Ultimate Motorsports Park in Elkin, N.C. (thanks to Mother Nature).

The season-opener at the Vic Hill-prepared east Tennessee oval pays $30,000-to-win on Saturday and $12,000-to-win on Sunday, giving drivers a chance to walk away with $42,000 if one could sweep the weekend. Leaving an XRSS event with a solid payday has been one of the tour’s staples since its inception.

Through 27 full-field features in the series’ brief history, no XRSS race has paid less than $20,000-to-win — a pair of split field races at Off Road Speedway in Norfolk, Neb., last season paid $5,000-to-win each. Nearly half of the events (13) have paid at least $40,000 to win, including six $50,000-to-win events and three $100,000-to-win events.

One thing Braun hasn’t been afraid to do is make adjustments to his product to make it better for competitors. From race formats to purses, there have been tweaks along the way in an effort to appease racers while still remaining entertaining for fans. Braun said making the adjustments has been a “very important” part of the process. This season for example, $12,000-to-win events pay $1,200-to-start, while $30,000-to-win events pay $3,000-to-start as the purse gets distributed through the field a bit more evenly.

“We continue to find our place as a complimentary series that allows teams to earn more money without restrictions,” said Braun. “(Drivers appreciate) great payouts and a relaxing environment to race at. Our staff has always been welcoming to the racers and teams.”

And teams have responded likewise. The tour’s first-ever champion was future hall-of-famer Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., a five-time World 100 winner, while last year’s champ was superstar Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill.

There have been 11 different winners in the 27 full-field features and 13 winners overall when factoring in the two preliminary features winners. It’s a list packed with the sport’s biggest stars, led by Gray Court, S.C.’s Chris Madden, whose six XRSS victories tops the list. Davenport has five wins, followed by Georgia’s Shane Clanton with four and Pierce with three. Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., and Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., have two series wins apiece.

Drivers winning a single series race include Chris Ferguson, Kyle Larson, Ashton Winger, Hudson O’Neal, Ricky Thornton Jr., Devin Moran and Daulton Wilson. McDowell, O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., and Thornton of Chandler, Ariz., are the series’ lone $100,000-to-win race victors.

While the XRSS has drawn some of Dirt Late Model racing’s top talent, the series has also visited some of the sport’s best venues, highlighted by the dirt-covered Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, which hosted the tour’s first four events in 2022, not only reinvigorating, but giving an entirely new meaning to the phrase “It’s Bristol baby!”

Events at the Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C.; Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway; All-Tech Raceway in Ellisville, Fla.; Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway; and Belleville (Kan.) High Banks helped strengthen the XRSS scheduled as well.

“Many felt that our efforts at Speedway Motorsports tracks were funded by that company and we would be a one-trick pony,” said Braun. “The opportunities at Speedway Motorsports tracks were a great launching pad, but the rumors and slander by competing broadcast companies stunted our growth. The challenge to prove our model outside of those mega facilities, without that narrative hanging over our head, was important to proving our legitimacy.”

Braun pointed to the “great racing at some of dirt track racing’s storied facilities” as a driving factor during the 2023 season and hopes this season will prove to be even more successful. A return to Kokomo (twice) is planned, along with first-ever visits to Ogilvie (Minn.) Raceway; Davenport (Iowa) Speedway; 300 Raceway in Farley, Iowa; Muskingum County Speedway in Zanesville, Ohio; and Ultimate Motorsports Park in Elkin, N.C.; and of course returning to Volunteer Speedway, which is celebrating its 50th season.

Perhaps the most anticipated event on the slate however is Oct. 25-26’s doubleheader at historic Pennsboro (W.Va.) Speedway, the original home of Carl Short’s famous Dirt Track World Championship, which hosted the race 18 times.

“The revitalization of Pennsboro Speedway is the next step in our effort to give back to the sport that provides for XR Events,” said Braun, adding that he hopes by year five the XRSS can be “a collection of the largest events in the entire industry.”

He understands that in such a competitive sport, however, that won’t come without challenges.

“Due to our unorthodox business model and independent operating spirit we are not well liked or accepted by the industry,” Braun said. “Our purses, provided by broadcast revenue, have pushed our competitors to provide a larger distribution back to the racers and teams. No company wants to pay more if they don’t have to and our disruption to the business forced a market correction.”

For more information on the XR Super Series, visit xrsuperseries.com. To watch XR events all season long, visit plus.xrevents.com.

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