Wallace, Lee, Strickler, Allgaier and more names set to join projected field of 100-plus cars
DIRTcar UMP Modified Florida Speedweeks multi-week grind continues with a weeklong affair at Volusia Speedway Park – Monday-Saturday, Feb. 5-10 – and the single toughest endurance test in all of open-wheel dirt Modified racing – the 53rd Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals.
Over 100 UMP Modifieds are projected to chase nightly Feature winner’s trophies and a starting spot in the 30-lap, $5,000-to-win Gator Championship Feature on Saturday. New for 2024 are the cash bonuses for the top three in the final DIRTcar Nationals points standings and a nightly purse increase, making all Features run Monday-Friday $1,000-to-win and $125-to-start.
The revamped event format unveiled in 2023 will outline this week’s Modified happenings, consisting of six separate Features on each of the first five nights of competition. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday’s Features will be lined up by Qualifying laps, while Thursday will set the field according to points accumulated by each driver over the previous three nights. Friday’s field will be split in half for the Gator Qualifier night before Saturday’s Gator Championship.
The driver with the most points at week’s end will be crowned the DIRTcar Nationals Big Gator champion and hoist the iconic Big Gator trophy. Drivers will also be earning points toward the UMP Modified Florida Speedweeks championship chase, which crowns its champion after the conclusion of Saturday’s Feature.
Here are the drivers to watch and storylines to follow this week:
GUESS WHO’S BACK – He took one year off, but Kenny Wallace admits it. He just “can’t stay away” from DIRTcar Nationals.
This year, Wallace – the four-time DIRTcar Nationals Feature winner from Arnold, MO – returns to Volusia to compete in the UMP Modified division for the first time since 2022, piloting a car fielded by the only seven-time Big Gator champion, Nick Hoffman.
Wallace was last a winner at DIRTcar Nationals in 2012, when he nearly clinched the Big Gator points championship but was forced to miss the final race of the week due to his NASCAR obligations in Daytona. He’ll have his best chance since to go for another gator trophy behind the wheel of the Hoffman-prepared, JEGS-sponsored Elite Chassis #36.
Hoffman is the winningest UMP Modified driver in DIRTcar Nationals history with 23 Feature victories, including his first in 2012. He will serve as Wallace’s crew chief throughout the week, wrenching on the ride he built and owns in addition to providing support for several of his other Elite Chassis customers in the pits.
GATOR GETTER – After years of suffering defeat at the hands of his closest rivals, Kyle Strickler finally hoisted the Big Gator points championship for the first time in his career last year and will return to defend it in 2024.
Strickler, 39, of Mooresville, NC, clinched the weeklong championship on the back of three Feature wins, including the prestigious Gator Championship finale, which earned him his first of two Big Gator trophies that week.
He and the Melanie Motorsports, Longhorn Chassis #8 are coming off a solid ending to a week of racing in Tampa at East Bay Raceway Park, compiling three-straight top-five finishes including a runner-up in the Winternationals Championship Feature.
He and the team have good reason to believe they’ll be contenders again at Volusia this year as their historical records shine bright. Strickler has amassed 12 Feature wins in DIRTcar Nationals competition – including three Gator Championship Feature wins – and ranks second on the all-time wins list.
NICELY (NOT) DONE – Tyler Nicely comes into DIRTcar Nationals as the reigning national DIRTcar UMP Modified points champion after a stout weekly racing season in 2023, complete with a nation-high 24 Feature wins from January-to-October.
Included in those 24 wins were five UMP Modified Florida Speedweeks wins – one at North Florida Speedway, his first career Winternationals win at East Bay, and three-straight at Volusia during DIRTcar Nationals. Despite his success at the half-mile last year, Nicely ended up third in the event points standings after a P3 finish in the Gator Championship race.
Nicely, 28, of Owensboro, KY, will have his Elite Chassis #25 ready to go in search of his first career Big Gator win in 2024. He currently sits tied for sixth on the all-time DIRTcar Nationals UMP Modified Feature wins list with seven.
GENERAL LEE – Following a strong first week out on the Speedweeks trail, defending UMP Modified Florida Speedweeks champion Lucas Lee will head on to Volusia this week, shooting for his first Big Gator trophy.
Lee, 36, of Paris, TN, has raced DIRTcar Nationals several times before but has been admittedly disappointed with his overall results, having won only two Features at Volusia in his career. However, he had a personal best DIRTcar Nationals last year, finishing sixth in event points after a runner-up finish in the Gator Championship Feature.
He captured his third career UMP Modified Winternationals Championship Feature win at East Bay Saturday night and expanded his Speedweeks points lead to 17 over Cole Czarneski, making him the early favorite to win the Speedweeks points chase, which would be Lee’s third-straight after clinching the honors in 2022 and 2023.
WISCONSIN’S FINEST – Completely unknown to the DIRTcar UMP Modified world until last week, 18-year-old Cole Czarneski has taken the Speedweeks trail by storm. He bagged a win and three podium finishes at East Bay and now heads to Volusia for his DIRTcar Nationals debut in pursuit of the points championship.
The young Wisconsin driver has been cutting his teeth in the Sport Mod and Stock Car divisions back home for the past four years and recently took the step up to a full-size Modified. Piloting his brightly colored Pro 1 Property Services, Elite/Mullins No. 21cz, Czarneski comes into Volusia firing on all cylinders, ready to take on one of the largest and deepest fields of competition he’ll see all year.
Czarneski is coming off five-straight top-five finishes, including one win, in his first week out at East Bay. For his efforts, he now sits second in Speedweeks points – 17 back of leader Lucas Lee – and will also meet Volusia for the first time this week.
LITTLE GATOR – Every February, Justin Allgaier comes to Volusia to compete with the UMP Modifieds at DIRTcar Nationals before his NASCAR duties – driving for JR Motorsports – in Daytona and will return to the half-mile track again in 2024 searching for more little (and big) gator gold.
The 37-year-old NASCAR Xfinity Series star from Riverton, IL, has had success at Volusia in the past, bagging his first career gator trophy in 2016. His next came on the big stage, scoring a marquee victory in the Gator Championship Feature in 2021 to claim his first Big Gator trophy. He went back to Victory Lane in the event one year later in one of the 11 UMP Modified Features run in a single day in 2022.
Allgaier returns to the seat of his Federated Auto Parts, Elite Chassis No. 7 this week looking for his fourth career DIRTcar Nationals win, representing the heap of NASCAR names that annually compete in the division including Kenny Wallace, David Stremme, Ken Schrader, Matt Crafton, Austin Wayne Self, among others.
DIRTcar Nationals UMP Modified Big Gator champions:
2023 – Kyle Strickler
2022 – Nick Hoffman (7)
2021 – Nick Hoffman (6)
2020 – Nick Hoffman (5)
2019 – Nick Hoffman (4)
2018 – Nick Hoffman (3)
2017 – Nick Hoffman (2)
2016 – Nick Hoffman
2015 – Austin Dillon
2014 – Ty Dillon (2)
2013 – Ken Schrader (2)
2012 – Ty Dillon
2011 – Clint Bowyer
2010 – Dave Hess Jr.
2009 – Jared Landers
2008 – Ken Schrader
2007 – Steve Arpin
2006 – Scott Drake
2005 – Craig Thatcher