2024 Wild West Shootout

For Cade Dillard, 'Everything's Clicking' At The Wild West Shootout

For Cade Dillard, 'Everything's Clicking' At The Wild West Shootout

Cade Dillard has never felt more optimistic after winning Saturday's opener of the Wild West Shootout at Vado Speedway Park.

Jan 7, 2024 by Kyle McFadden

Cade Dillard’s season couldn’t have ended more bittersweet last November at the Dirt Track at Charlotte.

The Robeline, La., driver neared his first World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series victory in more than two years — at the World Finals nonetheless — until Ricky Thornton Jr. ransacked those hopes and ripped the would-be win right from his grasp.

“It’s hard to be disappointed with as many cars that were at Charlotte. But to be leading and only podium, that was tough,” the 32-year-old Dillard said. “There was so much time to sit around this winter to think about what I did wrong with the car.”

Fortunately for Dillard, those words are within a sweeter context: After he triumphed on Saturday’s opening night of the Wild West Shootout at Vado Speedway Park, a race he never let down his guard despite the times that hinted otherwise.

In magnitude, the $11,000 victory on the first race night of the 2024 season is likely Dillard’s biggest since capturing Sept. 2021’s Texas Dirt Nationals prelim, a field that featured a number of the sport’s stars. A win at November’s World Finals would’ve been even more significant for Dillard, who instead went into his self-imposed offseason hellbent to find the missing ingredient that’s kept him from tasting victory.

But beneath that bitter surface, Dillard sensed he’d been on the threshold of his breakthrough because of the building expectation that a return to victory lane on the national stage was imminent.

Although Dillard failed to meet expectations last year, he concluded 2023 with 15 top-10 finishes over those final 18 races. He was also one of five drivers — along with Thornton, Mike Marlar, Chris Madden, and Dale McDowell — to place inside the top 10 all three nights at the World Finals.

That, along with the silver lining of leading the most laps at the World Finals finale, already had Dillard feeling as good as ever before the new season. With Saturday’s win, deem him now rejuvenated.

“I told my car owner (Shane Sprinkle) the other day, this is the most excited I’ve been in years to get a season kicked off,” Dillard said. “I just have a lot of confidence in my equipment right now and the crew. And the whole combination. It’s just clicking.”

The whole shebang fired on all cylinders for the better part of Saturday’s riveting 40-lap headliner. When Bobby Pierce drew the pole, the result seemed like a forgone conclusion. But Dillard, starting on the outside of the front row, refused to back down. He got the initial start necessary to clear Pierce by the apex of the opening corner — a well-timed launch that favored Dillard’s gamble of softer tires.

By lap seven, Pierce’s harder tires sagged him to fourth while Dillard quickly stretched the lead to more than two seconds. While striking, the early laps were never going to be telling. Softer tires almost always give a driver who employs them a leg up on those with harder tires. That’s exactly what happened between Dillard and Pierce.

“I knew he’d be coming on a little harder tire, and naturally, he was,” said Dillard, who also overly aware of an inability to finish races strong.

Last year, Dillard started inside the top five 16 times but could only turn out two top-five finishes in those races. So, when Dillard saw leads of more than 1.5 seconds shrink to mere car lengths on three occasions, doubt arose. Dillard, on the other hand, never doubted himself, even when Pierce took the lead for a split second rounding the frontstretch to take lap 34.

“I mean, we had a really good car,” Dillard said. “I was able to pace myself. I was good enough to pace myself early and not use up what we had there. And we stayed there at the end.”

It was on lap 33, through turns three and four, that Pierce unleashed a brow-raising slider that never fazed Dillard. Actually, like a sport’s coach making adjustment to the opponent showing their hand, Dillard too adjusted to Pierce’s tactics thereafter.

“Once he slid me, I kind of changed my line by accident to block the slider, and I found speed through three and four,” Dillard said. “I felt like that helped keep us up front the last few laps.”

Dillard’s also no stranger to the rip-roaring and often exciting Vado Speedweek Park that’s truly grown into one of the premier facilities in dirt-track racing. Vado is home to Dillard’s first career WoO triumph in Jan. 2020 back when the national tour started its season at the New Mexico oval and served as a prelude to the Wild West Shootout at FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway.

Three modified wins of more than $20,000 legitimize his fondness of Vado, too. Dillard then added another modified win at the New Mexico oval on Saturday.

“I enjoy coming to this place. It’s been good to me,” Dillard said. “We have a lot of big wins here. We’ve just put in a lot of work over the winter and Vinny Guliani has been a big help to me with my shock program. The technology, the engineering aspect of things, where he’s smart has really helped me take us to the next level.”

Guliani, a consultant for Bilstein Shocks and Longhorn Chassis, has been held in esteem by Dillard since the two partnered partway through last season. Being part of Jonathan Davenport’s monstrous two-million-dollar 2022 season as Double L Motorsports’ race engineer has boasted Guliani’s reputation.

And now he’s found a niche as a consultant for some of Longhorn’s emerging drivers, such as Dillard, Devin Moran, Garrett Alberson and Dillon McCowan, among others. Dillard’s taken pride that he’s “always done all my own setup stuff.

“I do all my shocks, springs, any setup,” he added. “I’ve kind of always been that way, I’m hands-on. I know what I feel.”

But Dillard will also admit “by no means I’m an engineer” and with the sport’s advancing at a technological rate like never before, third-party guidance from someone like Guliani is immeasurable.

“At the level racing is at right now, there’s so much technology,” Dillard said. “With somebody like him, he teaches me a lot of things that normally I’d never learn. He’s taken our technology to the next level.”

Dillard said that for the past few seasons, an undisclosed corner of his race car had left him perplexed and out to left field on more race nights than he liked. Since switching to Longhorn and teaming with Guliani last summer, Dillard’s closed the gap significantly and has great balance on all four corners of his race machine.

“I’m able to give him feedback on what I feel. And we just communicate really good together,” Dillard said. “I tell him what corner I feel like we’re struggling on, and he gives us expertise on what he’s doing with his experience and all that. And what we should do to make it better. Like I said, we get along good and communicate well.

“There are some people, for a country boy like me, I can’t talk to certain people with that knowledge. We just get along good. The whole crew gets along good. He’s been a huge help and I’m thankful for his help. And our car owner for making it possible for him to help us.”

Dillard’s now won a pair of races in a 13-race span (dating back to last September’s Comp Cams Super Dirt Series win at Louisiana’s Boothill Speedway) for the first time since fall of 2021. He hasn’t won more than one race in the same month since September 2020 either.

At Vado this week he could very well rewrite that narrative and bottle the momentum into the WoO’s opener on Jan. 18 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., and on toward the rest of the long season.

“Everything’s clicking. Good cars. Good motors. Good crew,” Dillard said. “The best car owner you could ask for. Everything’s clicking right now and hopefully we’re reaping the rewards from it.”