It was a dream match-up until suddenly it wasn’t.
Five months after all the clay had been removed from Fairground Speedway Nashville’s quarter-mile for a pair of World of Outlaws Sprint Car races, WoO Dirt Late Model champion Mike Marlar appeared on the entry list for the prestigious All-American 400 without significant fanfare.
The 41-year-old approached 2019 wanting to dial back his racing operations but has maintained a steady diet of dirt crown jewels over the summer. He also made his NASCAR debut at Eldora in the Dirt Derby for Reaume Brothers Racing and followed that up with a one-off at Richmond in the Xfinity Series for Carl Long.
He has a NASCAR license now, after all.
But the pavement experience gave Marlar the itch to try something else. He convinced team owner Ronnie Delk to purchase a brand-new Rowdy Manufacturing pavement Super Late Model and made their debut together in one of the pavement crown jewels.
However, it did not go well.
Marlar was the first driver to make a qualifying attempt and he crashed in Turns 3 and 4 during what became an expensive warm-up lap.
“I wasn’t even up to speed yet,” Marlar told Short Track Scene after the incident. “I don’t know if I bottomed-out or if the tires were too cold, but it just went around.
“I even told myself to just go easy and I was only at three-quarters speed. I had turned about 50 laps this weekend and some on new tires too. They say tires are everything here. It lost the front end and I corrected it and around it went.”
The car backed into the wall, erupting the fuel cell and destroying the rear clip with it. The car was beyond immediate repair.
Prior to the incident, Marlar had endeared himself to the pavement community, even striking a conversation with the discipline’s most known driver, and a fellow dirt devotee, in Bubba Pollard.
The conversation left a positive impression.
“He’s been real busy trying to get up to speed but he came over and started a conversation and I didn’t think he knew who I was,” Pollard said. “That’s pretty cool when a guy who has had that kind of success in another form of racing comes over and talks to you.
“I hope he comes back and races with us more often and sees how we do things. I want him to bring some of his knowledge about how they do things in dirt over here. There is a lot of things they do that would make a lot of sense for us too.”
In his spare weekends, Pollard races a Dirt Late Model near home at Senoia Speedway (GA) and even made his World of Outlaws debut last year.
“He can bring a lot to the table and if these promoters were smart they would make a point to talk to this guy and pick his brain,” Pollard said. “He gets it.”
Despite what happened on Saturday, Marlar still plans to make a handful of appearances next season – likely with a more powerful motor.
Marlar made a point to introduce himself to Pollard as a sign of respect, hoping to eventually race alongside him at the front of the field.
“I keep up with a lot of different kinds of racing and I’ve watched Bubba a lot over the years,” Marlar said. “I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a while. He’s really on the top of his game and there is a lot I can learn from guys at this level.
“He’s turning a lot of heads across the country and he’s doing it without being a NASCAR guy. It’s cool to race together against guys of this caliber.”
The result of Saturday’s time trials session notwithstanding, Marlar anticipated pavement Late Models to be more about finesse and precision rather than manhandling a chassis.
“I get the impression that this kind of racing is more about muscle memory,” Marlar said. “What we do is more seat of your pants. I was telling Bubba that I feel like this requires more focus and less impulse.
“I like both. I feel like doing a little bit more of this will make me a better dirt driver. I really believe that. It will also be nice to experience a different world and some new race tracks. I’m not looking for a new career. I just want to be the best race car driver that I can be.”