Among dirt late model racing's legion of diehard followers, no one arouses more emotion — both positive and negative — than Hall of Fame driver Scott Bloomquist.
Among the competitors, no one is more intimidating to his foes.
That combination made its way to Central Illinois last weekend when Bloomquist made a rare appearance in these parts, competing in the Prairie Dirt Classic (PDC) World of Outlaws Late Model Series event at Fairbury's American Legion Speedway.
It was a visit that almost didn't happen, except that it fit in nicely with Bloomquist's immediate plans on two fronts.
"This is, actually, the least paying race right now among the big events that are coming," said Bloomquist of the PDC and its top prize of $26,000. "This would be the one that I would miss if I needed the weekend off, but we decided to come here and do some testing against a pretty heavy-hitting field, trying to get a little edge for these next shows."
The next "shows" include this weekend's $50,000-to-win USA Nationals at Wisconsin's Cedar Lake Speedway. That will be immediately followed by the 33rd Annual North/South 100 at Kentucky's Florence Speedway, also paying $50,000 to its winner.
It's the beginning of a string of dirt late model "crown jewel" races leading up to the sport's most prestigious event, the World 100 at Eldora Speedway on Sept. 10-12.
In preparation for the upcoming grind, Bloomquist also planned to grab a little rest and recreation. A brief stop for some business in Fairbury fit in nicely with those plans, as well.
"Sunday we'll be in Wisconsin Dells and we'll stay there all next week," said Bloomquist, who lives in Mooresburg, Tenn. "We don't have a weekend off through the summer at all when my daughter (Ariel, 9) is out of school for summer vacation. This is on the way there and it's going to be my one summer vacation with my wife (Katrina) and daughter."
Arguably the greatest dirt late model driver of all-time, Bloomquist, at age 51 and still at the top of his game, will be a favorite to win in each of the upcoming marquee events. In a 30-plus year career that's seen him win a whopping 36 percent of all the races he's entered, he's been particularly adept at capturing the "big ones."
He's won dirt late model racing's most lucrative prize, The Dream at Eldora and its $100,000 paycheck, on six occasions. He's also won the World 100 four times and a fifth victory in that event would be especially welcome.
Bloomquist was stripped of a seventh Dream title at the Ohio track in early June. He took the checkered flag first, but was disqualified when his car weighed 25 pounds under the 2,300 pound post-race weight requirement.
Bloomquist has yet to put the matter behind him.
"The letdown at the Dream, not done with that yet," he said.
Bloomquist continues to question the legitimacy of the scales used at Eldora and told The Pantagraph that he's presented the issue to the Ohio Department of Agriculture's Division of Weights and Measures. He said he's waiting to hear back from them.
In the meantime, Bloomquist also is continuing a quest for a Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series crown. He's involved in a two-car Lucas effort that has, in a roundabout way, garnered the support of NASCAR great Mark Martin.
Martin owns a chain of automobile dealerships in his home state of Arkansas. A partner in that venture is Lance Landers, whose son Jared was the 2011 Lucas series rookie of the year, but has experienced limited success in subsequent years.
To give the program a boost, the elder Landers turned to Bloomquist for some new cars for 2015 and to serve as a quasi-driving coach for his son.
Although retired from driving, Martin is still employed by NASCAR's Roush Fenway Racing as a driver development coach. Bloomquist says that while also backing the Lucas effort, Martin doesn't have a lot to do with the dirt late models.
"He's enjoying the little bit of time that he has to come see us race and Jared race and he likes throwing ideas around," Bloomquist said. "I can run a few ideas by him and he's quick to respond."
Bloomquist is currently fourth in Lucas series points and Landers eighth, heading into next week's North/South 100 at Florence.