YORK HAVEN, Pa. – As he packed up shop following the final 410 sprint car event of the year Nov. 13 at BAPS Motor Speedway, Danny Dietrich pointed to the broken wing tree on his race car that encapsulated his season.
“That, right there,” Dietrich said when asked to summarize year eight as a full-time sprint car driver, underscoring the latest run-in with sour luck and an 11th runner-up finish on the year that could have easily been a win.
Dietrich had everything it took to outrun the country’s hottest sprint car driver, Brent Marks, with 13 laps remaining in the Sprint Showdown two weeks ago.
He ran down and passed Marks to lead laps 18 and 19, and came .058 seconds short of leading lap 20, which would have given him the lead on a restart following a lap-21 caution.
But the faulty wing that created excessive drag hampered the “fastest car,” in Dietrich’s view, from delivering on its surefire speed.
Those deflating events capped perhaps Dietrich’s weirdest season to date, a string of 91 races in which he churned out so much promise but only six wins.
“Anybody could see … fastest car doesn’t always win,” Dietrich said. “I felt like we had the fastest car and didn’t win. That seemed to be a lot of our season, especially at times.
“We had the fastest car before that happened,” Dietrich added on his wing malfunction following the race’s final restart with 13 laps left. “But you can’t have a wing eight inches back and expect to be as good as you were with it forward. And you’re not going to beat Brent like that in his game.”
At the beginning of the year, Dietrich boldly proclaimed his drive for dominance in and around the Central Pennsylvania sprint car racing scene.
He aimed at numbers Fred Rahmer and Greg Hodnett regularly put up, that being 20-plus wins embellished by big-money events.
Dietrich had every right to think that lofty. He won 51 features from 2017 to ‘20, a run he produced double-digit win totals each season but never topped 15 wins.
The last time Dietrich didn’t win 10 or more races in a year was 2009, but even then he won nine times.
Dietrich keeps close tabs with the record books and understands the last Pennsylvania Posse driver to win 20 or more times during a single season was the late Greg Hodnett in 2016.
One day he hopes to join that exclusive club.
“We’ve had our moments we were plain horrible,” Dietrich said. “Like [The Dirt Track at] Charlotte, we got some stuff to work on there, maybe our car, our big-track engine program. It’ll be a nice winter to regroup and work on getting that better. We’ll find out when we go to Florida early in the season.”
Dietrich was either hot or cold on the national stage. He won the Pennsylvania Speedweek points, finished second in the Ohio Speedweek points, placed second during the 38th Kings Royal at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway in July and qualified for the Knoxville Nationals main event, but couldn’t finish better than 14th in the Last Chance Showdown at the World Finals.
Positioning, whether missed chances in time trials, Central Pennsylvania’s handicap formats or poor pill draws, didn’t help Dietrich either.
Outside of Dietrich’s July 20 win at Selinsgrove (Pa.) Speedway from the pole, Dietrich went 25 races without starting from the front row July 10 through Sept. 11.
Seventeen times Dietrich qualified outside the top 10 the final 23 time-trial races. Seven instances in that span, however, he battled from mid-pack starting spots to top-10 finishes.
Dietrich’s signature win of the year came Aug. 29 versus the All Star Circuit of Champions from the 10th-starting spot at BAPS, an event he qualified 14th and overcompensated for with his knack as a racer.
“We still struggle a little bit at home,” Dietrich said in an interview earlier this year. “It’s not that we’re slow. It’s just we haven’t been in position.
“I’ve had years where you couldn’t draw the wrong pill, you couldn’t time in the wrong spot,” Dietrich continued. “This year, we’re timing in the wrong spot, we’re drawing in the wrong spot. That’s just the nature of racing anymore and the pill draw.
“We’ve been fast on the road, which is something to take away from this year, for sure,” Dietrich added, referring to his runner-up finish at the Kings Royal, his Knoxville Nationals main event start and win at Sharon Speedway during Ohio Speedway.
Dietrich shoulders much of the responsibility for his shortcomings, not allocating all his frustrations on circumstances outside his control.
His son, Emmitt, turned 1 year old on Tuesday. Adapting to fatherhood has naturally compelled Dietrich to become more organized and healthier in all facets of life.
He’s settled down, his focus fixed on the larger picture, which is now preparing for February’s DIRTcar Nationals at Florida’s Volusia Speedway Park. Last year Dietrich put forth finishes of fifth and second in four February races at Volusia, a major leap in performance opposed to previous years.
Dietrich surprisingly won just twice at Pennsylvania’s premier sprint car facilities — Lincoln Speedway, Port Royal Speedway and Williams Grove Speedway — and clearly conveys what he needs to improve.
“I’m very confident we’ll be better next season on the big tracks, including Port Royal,” Dietrich said. “Selinsgrove, we have speed. … We just have to get better. [The final night at BAPS] was the summary of our year: shit luck.
“At the end of the day we’re going to turn the page,” Dietrich said, “this season’s over.”