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    Florida Open Wheel

    By Richard Golardi

    Remembering Robert Smith

    By Richard Golardi

    Joe Melnick -
    “Robert Smith was probably the best sprint car driver to come out of Florida. They would be hot lapping for the feature and Robert Smith would be unloading his car and start dead last and win the feature. I don’t know how he did it. It didn’t matter if it was dirt or pavement. He was the best. It was just natural talent. He could build it, drive it, and fix it. He wasn’t always on time, but he could pretty well do anything. Robert Smith - he just had it, man. I’ve watched him win and win and win. When it was his time, you couldn’t beat the guy.

    He’s my ex-brother in law, but that’s not why I’m saying it. That’s just the way it is. I was married to his sister, a long time ago. I was in the family. I raced against him, but I didn’t really get to race with him until the end. I didn’t have sprint cars back when he was doing all the winning. When I finally got one, he was kind of getting out of it. We were teammates for C.T. Earle. We had two sprint cars. I’d go to East Bay one night, and he’d go somewhere upstate or he’d go to another state to race. He liked to travel. He kind of got out of racing, and he would work on my car for C.T. Earle. He could weld it, build it, and put the motor together. You name it. He was one of the best.

    We had our fights, but he was good to me. He was a good guy. When he worked on my car, he’d come over Saturday afternoon and look at the car, and he goes, ‘don’t touch nothin’. I’ll be back in a minute. I’ll set it, and then load it up.’ We used to sit around the shop until like four or four-thirty, and then start panicking. We’d go, ‘where is Robert Smith?’ All of a sudden, he’d pull up and say, ‘now load it up and go to the race track.’ We’re like, ‘Robert! We can’t do like that, you know?’ But, that’s the way he did it.”

    Taylor Andrews –
    “Robert was racing when I got into it. Robert was probably one of the first people to help me out. He’d help anybody out. What I remembered about Robert was that we’d all be at the race track, and it’d be about 6 or 7:00. He’d go, ‘don’t look like it’s going to rain. I guess I better start working on my car and bring it up over.’ He’d get here about 7 or 8:00, wouldn’t practice or do anything, and go out and win the feature. Robert’s forgotten more stuff about sprint car racing than all of us combined. Robert probably beat me most of the time.

    One time, we were all up in Savannah racing, and it rained out and we were going back to the hotel. I remember that I saw Robert over there, and he’s got a sign that he’s holding up that reads, ‘will work for beer.’ He was waiting for all of us to get back there. We all sat around and drank a lot of beer, and didn’t do much work. Robert ran dirt and pavement both, and was super-good on both surfaces. He was one of the few guys that could run on both surfaces. Robert lived a great life, as far as a racing life goes. He was as good as a racer could get.”

    Sport Allen –
    “He used to help us out some, and point us in the right direction on what to do to the car. What to do to make the car safer and more drivable for me. The first car we had was a crossover car. We used to run it on the dirt and pavement. He used to drive it – the Alfater car. He knew exactly what to do to get it around there, because he won races in it.

    He was never in a big hurry to do much. He didn’t get too excited. We were there at the Tampa Fairgrounds, and warm ups were fixing to start. Here comes Robert Smith, hanging off the side of the open trailer, still bolting the headers on. He never got in a hurry to do it; he may have even won that night. He just had natural ability, and knew what to do to the car. He never really got too flustered, because he has that knowledge bank of what to do. He would just hustle it around there. I’m sad he’s passed. That’s a lot of talent there. He was one of the original Outlaws, and a lot of people don’t know that.”

    Kurt Taylor –
    “He was good on dirt and pavement. He could run either one. He was just a racer. He was amazing. Robert was just a down to earth human being. Between him and Charlie Alfater, you couldn’t beat them. Him and Robert got together, and when he settled Robert down, Robert would go racing, buddy. And you could see it. When Robert would go to the race track, he was ready to race. He was always late getting there. That was the funny thing. He would come after warm ups and go out and win the feature.

    He loved drinking beer, and I drank many a beer with him. He was a diehard racer. I don’t care what it was – midget, sprint car, late model. He’ll drive it. Robert was just a good ole boy. It’s a shame we lost him. It’s going to be hard to replace him. I used to go and work down there, and he and Round Daddy (Robert’s father) would get into arguments. He would say, ‘Robert, you need to do this the next time you go racing.’ He’d say, ‘Round Daddy’, he would always call him Round Daddy, and he would never call him Dad. I’d say, uh-oh, this ain’t good. All of a sudden, we’d go to lunch, and it was like nothing ever happened. It was just neat working with them. That’s about all I can tell you about Robert. He was one of a kind.

    Robert Smith in George Rudolph car in 1984 at Sunshine Speedway Courtesy Chad Freeman

    Robert got to driving for Butch Hall, in the Black Deuce. He won a lot of races in that. Robert was a natural. He could work on them, put them together, and make ‘em go. He did it all. He’d haul them to the race track. He went out to Knoxville, Iowa for the Knoxville Nationals. He qualified for that race. He went up to the Little 500, and he run second up there and he about won it. He always supported that up there. God bless him. I know he’s up there racing. I hope he does good up there. The Good Lord has got him a good one up there.”

    Pancho Alvarez –
    “One distinct memory that comes to me is when he was racing on the East Coast of Florida, and he was racing Frank Riddle. And they were see-sawing back and forth and I said, I remember this guy when he was just a kid, and was hanging around with my kids. And I said, look at this. And he won the race finally. He just persevered, beating Frank Riddle. I think Frank Riddle had just won the Little 500.”

    Randy Alvarez –
    “In Gibsonton, he was an idol. He raced for a living. He had his speed shop. I’d go there after work, and help them, building torsion arms and radius rods. He was the original Gambler dealer down here.

    1986 Little 500, Anderson Speedway, Anderson, IN, May 24, 1986
    Robert had a compression fracture during the Nationals that year. He calls me, and he says, ‘Cuban, I don’t know if I can last this far or not. Why don’t you go ahead and be my relief driver?’ I was also going to be David’s relief driver, if he needed it. So, I was suited up, and we were over there on the number three turn. All of a sudden, a guy blew an engine in front of Robert, and he hit the wall in the middle of the one and two turns. The rear end turned around and popped up, and he didn’t have a bladder in the tank. And that car just went up in flames. We took off in a run from the number three turn and they had it on ESPN, and you can see me in my orange uniform running to the number two turn. And when we got there, Robert asked me, ‘did you pull me out of the car?’ No. You got out of the car by yourself. I pulled you out of the fire. He made it to the left rear tire. And I grabbed him, and yanked him off the tire, and pulled him into the infield.

    The ambulance was there, and they took his uniform down. Well, he had these second and third degree burns all over him, especially on the back of his legs. He had gotten that far out of the car, but he couldn’t get any further. I was so close to the fire that it singed my eyebrows and the front of my hair. That’s how hot it was. I did get burned a little bit. It was like a sunburn-type burn. When he got to the left rear tire, I grabbed him and yanked him off the car. About four months ago, he asked me if I pulled him out of the car. I said no, you got out on your own. I got you out of the fire. He was maybe three-quarters of the way out of the car. He made it to where his ass was hitting the left rear tire. I grabbed him and snatched him the rest of the way. They were there quick. This happened within seconds. That was my best friend. I wasn’t going to let him die.”

    Robert smokes the rear tire on the dirt, from Robert Smith Collection

    Conclusion –
    I did have the opportunity to interview Robert Smith on Saturday, July 26, 2014. He died just 4 weeks later, on Saturday, August 23, 2014. I had never been to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, just outside Tampa. Robert suggested that we meet there, and have lunch at the sandwich shop. I found that I had parked in the wrong garage for the Casino, and had managed to walk toward the Smoke Shop, which had no direct walkway over to the Hotel and Casino. My cell phone rang, and it was Robert. “No problem. I’ll be right over there, and pick you up,” he told me. Robert had just been discharged from Tampa General Hospital the prior day. I was concerned about the stress of an in-depth interview, but Robert insisted that he wanted to meet that day. He bragged that his weight had dropped from 263 pounds down to 239 pounds, and that he was feeling good.

    We did squeeze his life story and racing career into an eighty two minute interview over lunch that day. I asked Robert if he had any regrets about living that lifestyle of a racer, with having to endure the risk, the danger, and the pain of his injuries. “No regrets. None whatsoever,” he told me. “I wouldn’t change it for nothin’.”

    The video from the Florida Open Wheel channel, “Remembering Robert Smith” is here (highlights of Robert’s racing career are also listed in the video description):

    http://youtu.be/LG3RoLS6eIA

     

     

     

     

    Don Rehm Interview – Winging Into the Second Half of 2014

    By Richard Golardi

    The Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series has had a satisfactory season this year, according to owner and founder Don Rehm. Just don’t look for them to join the Florida non-wing sprint car racing resurgence anytime soon. They are definitely keeping the wings on for the foreseeable future. The series is also considering a rule change requiring a driver to remain in his car until released by track safety personnel. It may resemble the most recent rule change adopted by NASCAR, but the penalty for violating the rule change is still under consideration. An incident in the most recent Florida sprint car race, at Desoto Speedway last weekend, did see a driver exit his car to express anger toward another driver. This occurred before the track’s safety crew arrived at the place where the cars were stopped in turn two.

    Don Rehm at Volusia Speedway

    Don Rehm did have recent knee surgery, and told me that he is up and walking around, and no longer using a walker. He is getting around by using a cane, and intends to be at East Bay Raceway Park on both Friday and Saturday for sprint car practice and racing. The next Top Gun Series event will be at Bubba Raceway Park on August 30th, the first series visit to Ocala since May. “I’m doing extremely well,” he told me. He was looking forward to getting out of his house, and becoming more mobile.

    How has the 2014 Top Gun Sprint Series season gone so far, I asked? “I’m very pleased with it,” he replied. “For whatever reason, it seems like it always starts out slow, and car counts are down a little bit, and then the car counts pick up. We’ve had good races, and I’m really pleased with the turnout, and the amount of cars that we have, and everything else. I don’t really have anything negative to say about it.” There were two summer races at Bubba Raceway Park that were cancelled, but you are back there next week, and have more races in the coming months. Is there still a good relationship with that track and the track owner? “Oh, absolutely. The reason that the races were either changed or cancelled was because there was a conflict with some other traveling series. They asked me if we could drop a race. At the beginning of the year, they actually asked for more races than I felt like we needed to have there anyway. It’s kind of worked out to everybody’s satisfaction. There was no problem as far as the relationship with them.”

    Top Gun sprint cars at East Bay

    The series does not have a minimum age limit for drivers, and has seen 12 year old Tyler Clem race with the series earlier this year, when he was 11 years old. Don Rehm informed me that they make a judgment call, based on their own observations, and then decide whether to allow a younger driver to compete. “Right now, we do it on a case-by-case experience,” Rehm said. Clem has driven at both Bubba Raceway Park and Volusia Speedway Park, as they do not have a minimum age for drivers. He has not competed at East Bay Raceway Park, as Rehm has informed me that East Bay’s insurance carrier has required that all racers be at least 16 years old for sprint car competition. Rehm has spoken to the track’s insurance carrier, and they are unwilling to waive the age minimum for any driver. Tyler is still eligible to race at the remaining Bubba Raceway Park and Volusia races this year. His father is his car owner, and also an owner of Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala. Recently, Bubba Clem has been vocal about his support for Tony Stewart, who is a close friend.

    The series has had a good safety record this year, without any serious injuries to its drivers. There have been some more serious wrecks, including some at Volusia Speedway Park, the track with the highest speeds. “You know – they get banged up. But as far as injuries – no. We haven’t had any injuries that would hospitalize them, as far as I know,” Don Rehm said. In the June race at Volusia, Bryan Eckley got together with another car and flipped violently down the front stretch, but escaped uninjured. “He got banged up pretty good. That’s probably the most severe. Last time we were there, AJ (Maddox) took a pretty good tumble also. But, in talking to both of them, they were sore and stiff, but no injuries per se.”

    Is there any rule right now concerning getting out of the car while on the track prior to safety personnel getting there? “We are working on an amendment or an addendum to the rule. It’s very easy to say you can’t do this, but what happens if you do it? That’s where we’re trying to come up with something that’s the correct answer for that. You say – OK, you’re disqualified for the night. Well, if you’ve crashed, you aren’t going to come back and race anyway. We’ve got to derive something that will address that part of the situation. As far as getting out of the race car, that’s easy to state and write a rule to do that. It needs to be a fairly severe penalty, I feel.” The current Top Gun Rule Book does not have a penalty for getting out of the car on track prior to safety crews arriving at the scene.

    What are you looking forward to the most in the remaining competition this year? “Good, even competition amongst the members and good car counts at the race tracks. Having good car counts leads into the next year and what race tracks want from you as far as number of shows. There’s some things that we’re looking at, maybe go out of state next year. Maybe once, maybe twice. I’ve had an out of state race track contact me. Right now, that’s about all I can say about it. Like I told the gentleman that owned the race track, I only get one chance to make an impression on him. So, I want to go and make a good impression. So, I need to have good car count. That’s the biggest thing, getting participants to travel and participate. He wanted to have a show this year. I told him we had all the shows that we could justify at that time. He asked if he could be considered and put on the list for next year.”

    Rehm feels that dirt sprint car racing is on an upswing in Florida. There are a number of new cars, and he mentioned some cars that showed up in mid-season that had slowly gotten assembled. There were also cars that hadn’t been at the track in a while that had recently returned to competition. What about the resurgence of non-wing sprint car racing in Florida? Is it possible that non-wing racing may return to the dirt with Top Gun? “At the present time, no.” The last time I had asked about non-wing races in the Top Gun Series, it was the drivers and car owners that objected to it. Is that still the same? “Well, exactly. That’s still the main opposition that in the past when we tried to do it, they all told us they would be there, and when it came time to race, it was, ‘oh, I don’t want to do that, all it does is tear up race cars.’ We try to put together what people want, and it don’t always work out that way.”

    Rehm told me that the Eagle Jet International is on board again as the series title sponsor next year. They have also agreed that if another potential series title sponsor comes along that is offering a bigger sponsor package to the series, then Eagle Jet will be satisfied with being a presenting sponsor. Right now, they are the intended series title sponsor in 2015. “Don’t stop taking on sponsorship, is what he said,” according to Don Rehm. Top Gun seems fortunate to have Eagle Jet International as a very dedicated sponsor during a time when sponsor dollars are in short supply.

     

     

    Thunderstruck – Disqualifications Strike Again in Pavement Racing

    By Richard Golardi

    At Desoto Speedway on Saturday for the non-wing sprint car race, another round of disqualifications removed two of the top three finishers from the final feature race order. The second place car of Mickey Kempgens was disqualified because of the angle of the cylinder heads. The third place finish of Collin Cabre, in his first race in the Jimmy Alvis owned #21 car, was wiped out because of the right rear wheel offset (Source – Desoto Speedway race official). After an extraordinarily long post-race tech inspection, which involved track owner Jimmy Cope being called to the tech area, the measurements of cylinder head angles allowed Shane Butler to retain his feature race win. I next witnessed a race official call out “twenty one point six”, after making a measurement on the #5 car of Kempgens. He would not retain his second place finish.

    Feature Race Winner Shane Butler

    With the cars of Kempgens and Cabre now disqualified, second and third place in the finishing order now went to the #88 car of Sport Allen, and the #19 car of Keith Butler. These cars had been in the inspection line at the tech shed, and had been released and left the area. I had asked about the method used to inspect the American Racer tires (now required on all four corners), and was told that the durometer measurement was done prior to the race, when the tires were cold. I was also informed that the tires were dismounted and inspected after the race, for those cars at the inspection shed. This procedure was in contrast to the method used at Citrus County Speedway, and by the TBARA, which had both done post-race durometer measurements. Both Citrus and the TBARA had 2014 feature race winners that were disqualified for tire prepping (Citrus) and failing the tire hardness test (TBARA).

    Collin Cabre

    With the cars of Allen and Keith Butler now moved into the top three in the order, would they be recalled to the tech area to have their cylinder head angle measured? The car of Sport Allen remained at the track, and was available to be inspected. Keith Butler’s team had left. I was told that the reason for the inspection of the #88 car of Sport Allen was because other car owners and teams had protested and requested this inspection. This was the third car that I had observed having the angle of the cylinder heads measured.

    The rule being followed was from the TBARA rule book, after a previous verbal statement from Desoto Speedway that they would incorporate the TBARA rule book into their track rules. From 2014 TBARA Rule Book, Revised January 4, 2014: “No heads other than original twenty-three (23) degree valve angle heads are allowed. All heads must remain within one (1) degree of twenty three (23) degree valve angle heads. This rule pertains to small block Chevy; however, any engine may be used after approval of the TBARA.” At a stated 21.6 degrees, and using tenths of a degree, this was the reason given by the speedway race official for the disqualification of the #5 car, which crossed the finish line in second place.

    Feature Race Pace Lap at Desoto

    I have learned that there will be a request for a vote of the members at next week’s TBARA series race at New Smyrna Speedway to change to a “no punch rule”, and eliminate the use of the durometer. I do not know if there will be a vote to eliminate the post-race durometer test, and instead have only a pre-race durometer test. This procedure resulting in no DQs for failing the tire hardness rule at the last Desoto Speedway non-wing race. It seems likely that one of these two alternatives will be chosen by the members at next week’s race, as the tire hardness rule has brought a lot of frayed nerves and discontent. In prior years, when Hoosier Tires were used, there was not a corresponding high level of DQs and disgruntlement. This year is the first year with widespread use of American Racer tires in Florida sprint car racing.

    Why does pavement sprint car racing in Florida have such a high number of DQs for various reasons (many relating to tires), when other pavement series (mainly in the Midwest) do not have a similar dilemma? The Midwest-based Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series has not had a similar rash of DQs, and has also used American Racer tires this year. The Little 500 was another stellar show, and attracted a star-studded field of short-trackers this year, without DQs. The fans knew who won the race when they left the track, and it was the same driver who sprayed the champagne and raised the trophy in Victory Lane. Florida sprint car racing fans deserve the same, as do all the car owners, drivers, crew and sponsors.

    The videos from the Desoto Speedway Non-wing Sprint Car race are on the Florida Open Wheel channel here:

    http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSdPdgmUo6WfkfR6Eo__QBA

     

     

     

    The Life of a Florida Sprint Car

    By Richard Golardi

    The setting sun lights up the sky with shades of pink and orange as Richie Corr wheels his winged sprint car out on the track at Citrus County Speedway. The # 14 pavement sprint car has the Hurricane logo, known as the most popular chassis make in the Sunshine State. The fun-loving Corr has chosen the team name Blue Balls Motorsports after painting the car with a blue and black color scheme. His racing comeback this year, after thirteen years out of the driver’s seat, has seen a best feature race finish of third place in a non-wing race. He also has struggled to make repairs after several mechanical failures. On this night at the TBARA mid-summer race in Inverness, FL, he would drop out late after another failure, a broken lifter and rocker arm.

    1985 Gambler dirt sprint car- original version of car

    His car has not always been blue, and did not look like the current Hurricane chassis in its prior reincarnations. It was a blue #17 dirt car at one time, and raced on Florida’s dirt tracks. The car owner was James Donaldson, father of current car owner/driver Todd Donaldson. The list of drivers to drive the car on Florida’s dirt and pavement tracks includes the names Todd Donaldson, Todd Schmidt, Tommy Nichols, and Richie Corr over its thirty year life. It started life as a 1985 Gambler dirt car raced at East Bay Raceway Park, with the Donaldson family. When they tired of running on dirt, it was converted to a pavement car, to run in TBARA series races in Florida. It stayed in this iteration for about 15 years, racing on pavement tracks such as Sunshine Speedway, Desoto Speedway and Orlando Speedworld until 2010.

    After the car had been unused for about a year, Corr bought it from his uncle, James Donaldson at the end of 2012. “When I bought it, it was in bad shape, after sitting for about a year,” Richie Corr told me. It still had the low, sloping wedge-shaped front end, a style that was popular with car builders in the 80s and 90s. The car had a TBARA win at Lake City, and numerous other top three finishes. Corr had driven the car twice during this time, for car owner Donaldson.

    The car began its life as a blue #17 Gambler dirt car, before being converted over to the red #17 pavement car with the wedge shaped front body work. Today, the car has 2013 Hurricane chassis updates, and looks very much like all the other Hurricane labeled cars that it races against. “The updates were done by Jerry Stuckey, right here in Lecanto, Florida – builds all the good race cars,” Corr remarked. Why was it changed to the wedge-shaped type car from the Gambler dirt chassis? “My uncle (James Donaldson) is old school, he’s an older guy. He likes the look of the old sprint cars, the cars driven by Frank Riddle and the old school guys. The whole deal with the car is that it’s been in the family for almost thirty years. My uncle owned it, my cousin Todd owned it, and now I own it. It’s never going anywhere. That car’s going to be around for a long, long time,” Corr said proudly.

    Pavement sprint car - second version of the car

    Corr wanted the car to look new, with an updated appearance. It was taken to Jerry Stuckey, car builder at Hurricane Race Cars. “I told him that I want it to look like the brand new Hurricane. Do the body, whatever you’ve got to cut off the chassis to do the updates, do it. Spare no expense. It has been ‘Hurricanized’,” according to Richie. He explained that the updating makes it handle better, and improves the aerodynamics. It’s safer and more stable. Corr believes the car has the potential to be a front-runner, with or without wings. “Since I’ve owned that car, if it hasn’t broke, with every non-wing race in that car, I haven’t finished less than fifth place. It’s a really good non-wing car.”

    The team operates on a small budget, with a small crew made up mostly of family and friends. Long term goals include adding sponsors to assure the team can continue racing. The business that Corr owns and operates is listed as a sponsor on the car now, which is RDC Restorations. “We want to keep making improvements, and eventually bringing that thing into Victory Lane.” What about the driver, I asked? Is he as skilled as he was in prior years? “I took about a thirteen year hiatus from racing. February 1st this year was my first race back since November or December of 2000. It goes to show you that you can just wipe the rust off, and keep on trucking. I’m about the same weight that I was whenever I raced the last time, but the 30 lap and the 40 lap races – they’ll get to you. We wear the fireproof underwear and the Sparco three-layer suits, and man, it’s brutal,” he said, talking about racing in Florida during the summer heat.

    The car rebuilt at Hurricane Race Car shop in May 2013

    Richie Corr feels that the car performance has improved over the years, and that it is now a consistent top five car. It did previously have a small number of wins as both a Gambler dirt car and as a pavement car. Corr did have a chance to drive in the Must See Racing Series during the April races in Pensacola and Mobile, driving Johnny Gilbertson’s #15 car. He does want to consider races outside of Florida, in addition to winged and non-wing races in Florida. “After we work a few more of the bugs out, we’d like to travel. So that is my goal for April of next year – if we have a good enough motor. They will let you run the 360s with the 410s for car count. I have another car that I am building that is strictly for big tracks – like New Smyrna and Bradenton,” he said, jokingly calling the project “top secret” after revealing some details to me. A photo had also “leaked online”, showing a car-sized object hidden under a tarp. “It’s big enough to go 410, and if I could find a 410 for that car, I will take it to Pensacola and Mobile next year.”

    Completed car 29 years later - 2014 version driven by Richie Corr

    “If I start jogging, and trying to get in shape now, I could probably finish that race,” he said, when asked about trying the Little 500. “But Rich, I bet you I couldn’t go seventy laps right now. If I had to go seventy laps right now, I would need oxygen and a paramedic. I’m in shape, but I ain’t in no kind of endurance shape to go run 500 laps, I can guarantee you that. Those guys that go run the Little 500 – they are machines.”

    “This beautiful race car has been involved in the Florida racing scene for thirty years, and I hope that it has another thirty years. Because my stepson (Justin) is fifteen, and within the next year, we’ve got a car at the house that we’re putting together for him. We’re going to do non-wing only, at first, when he turns sixteen. So, my stepson can carry on this family tradition of this particular car that we all love so much. Maybe his kids one day can have this car around when you and I are seventy years old,” Richie said, looking over to a blue winged sprint car, sitting quietly after the night’s task was done. He had a look of contentment on his face, and smiled.

     

     

    Odds and Ends – Of the Dirt and Pavement Variety

    By Richard Golardi

    Only one Floridian is listed on the pre-entries for the Knoxville Nationals in Knoxville, Iowa this week - car # 71A of RJ Johnson, hailing from Tampa, FL. His qualifying night is Wednesday night on the half mile dirt track. His ultimate goal will be to make it to the final night’s feature race, this coming Saturday. In comparison, in this year’s Little 500 in Anderson, Indiana (a race considered by many to be the year’s biggest pavement sprint car race), there were four Floridians among the 33 qualifiers. Granted, it appears to be an easier task to qualify for the Little 500, as this year saw 34 cars attempt to qualify. The list of pre-entries on the Knoxville Nationals race website shows 108 cars attempting to advance through Wednesday and Thursday qualifying rounds.

    Why are there so many Floridians that make it to the top level of pavement sprint car racing in the US, but so few dirt sprint car racers that make it to the top level? You may consider the World of Outlaws, All Star Circuit of Champions, ASCS and USCS in this group. They all lack any significant number of drivers who list a town in Florida as their home town. The height of domination for the pavement sprint car drivers from Florida was reached in the mid-‘80s, when forty percent of the Little 500 starting field was composed of Floridians, and Floridians won the 500 from ’84 through ’86. There are Floridians who have seen success on dirt outside of Florida. Kenny Adams has over 100 wins on both dirt and pavement with the USCS Series.

    Collin Cabre

    I have learned that Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series founder and owner Don Rehm is recovering from knee surgery done earlier today. I will follow up with Don next week, to do a mid-year interview as the dirt sprint car series moves into the second half of its 2014 season. Don has told me that he currently plans to be at the next scheduled Top Gun race at Bubba Raceway Park on August 30th, as long as he is fit. Dirt sprint car racing does have one other major event during the month of August. Coming up at East Bay Raceway Park on August 23rd is the Bob Long Memorial Race for the East Bay Sprints series.

    I was pleased to see Chase Cabre dive back into the video production business last weekend, producing a YouTube video of the most recent Citrus County Speedway Sprints race from Saturday, August 2nd. Chase has been diligently studying video production, and it showed in his smartly stylish video, with graphics and voiceover that he produced. He even risked the Citrus front straight camera stand, with its rotting plywood under foot. I jokingly told him that he would only fall about six or seven feet if the plywood gave way, to a lower level building’s roof. I still have hopes that we’ll see an upcoming TBARA or dirt race from Florida on the MAVTV program schedule in the near future. Hopefully this will happen before the Citrus camera stand plywood gives out and causes a “crash on Saturday, wake up on Monday” moment.

    I spoke to Florida’s own legendary photographer Max Dolder earlier today, who is in Knoxville for his 35th year of photographing the Knoxville Nationals. He has a family reunion to go to this week, so he is not attending all of the nights of the nationals from Wednesday through Saturday. As of today, he will be at the track on Thursday and Friday. He had already covered the 360 Nationals, and said he had not spoken to RJ Johnson, the lone racer from Florida, but had spoken to his father. I’m looking forward to seeing some of Max’s work at Knoxville later in the week.

    I have confirmed that Collin Cabre will be in the Jimmy Alvis owned black #21 car for two pavement races in August. The Collin Cabre Motorsports team had previously sent out a teaser photo of Collin’s seat sitting in the car, with no car number visible. Collin had been running a limited schedule of both dirt and pavement sprint car races so far this year. The family owned #12 dirt car had run in Georgia recently, and Collin raced on pavement at Anderson Speedway early this season. The first of two confirmed pavement races is next week at Desoto Speedway for the track’s own non-wing sprint series (8/16). Then it’s on to Atlanta Motor Speedway’s short track for the Friday, August 29th USCS Road to Atlanta season-ending race for the series that calls the Deep South home. The #21 team apparently has no plans to enter any TBARA or Citrus County Sprints races, and may limit its late season racing to Desoto and Showtime Speedway.

    A late model race at New Smyrna Speedway last Saturday night was won by a dirt sprint car driver from Australia named Will Carroll. He is in the states from March to December this year racing the red #81 pavement late model car. As he autographed and handed out a glossy magazine spread showing him in his sprint car on the dirt in Australia, he told me of the tracks that he raced down under. Rex Hollinger and I got to speak to him for a few minutes while he waited for the command for the drivers to go to their cars. Carroll made a daring late race pass for the lead on the half mile track, and looked smooth all night long. He also remarked that he was looking for any available seats in a dirt sprint car in Florida, and wanted to get in some dirt racing in Florida this year.

    On sad note, I have learned that Joe Renna, the father of the late IndyCar racer Tony Renna, passed away in DeBary in July. Joe was 74 years old, and was a friend of legendary Florida racer Ralph Liguori. Tony Renna was killed in an IndyCar practice crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October 2003, shortly after being added to the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver lineup. He seemed destined to be the first American driver from Florida to win the Indy 500, an honor that went to Ryan Hunter-Reay earlier this year.

    The feature race video from the Geared Up Productions YouTube channel is here (Citrus County Speedway Sprint Series from 8-2-2014):

    http://youtu.be/la2qxHMelms

     

     

     

     

    The Wild World of Pavement Sprint Car Racing – Tires and Testing

    By Richard Golardi

    The term durometer is often used to refer to the measurement of a hardness of a material, as well as the instrument itself. The basic hardness test requires applying the force in a consistent manner, without shock, and measuring the hardness. The tire durometer used at tracks in Florida is a small, hand-held mechanical device. Many consider it to be a reliable tool for measuring the relative hardness of racing tires. It may help a team decide when to replace a used tire. The device is rolled over the surface of the tire until it is flat, and a reading is taken immediately. Temperature can play a part in tire hardness. A higher temperature equals softer rubber. And softer rubber can create a problem for a pavement sprint car racer in Florida.

    Feature race winner Tommy Nichols

    In June, Jimmy Alvis pulled into Victory Lane and was interviewed as the winner of the Citrus County Speedway Sprint Series race in Inverness (race date 6-7-2014). In July, Mickey Kempgens pulled into Victory Lane and was interviewed as the winner of the Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series race, again at Citrus County Speedway (race date 7-26-2014). Both smiled for the cameras, and held a checkered flag or trophy in their hand. Neither of the drivers is listed as the feature race winner in the official results. After completion of post-race tech inspection, their cars were disqualified. Car # 21 of Jimmy Alvis was disqualified for tire preparation, or "tire-softening", as it was called by an official. Car #5 of Mickey Kempgens was disqualified because it failed the tire hardness test (as was told to me by TBARA officials.)

    Spin in turn four from the 16 car of Ben Fritz

    “No prepping – that’s my rule,” Citrus County Speedway promoter Gary Laplant told me earlier this year. “They wanted rules – strict rules,” he added. TBARA officials used a tire durometer to measure tire hardness after the completion of the feature race, and those cars that were outside of the prescribed guidelines were disqualified. Car #5 (Kempgens) and car #92 (Dave Retzlaff) were disqualified because they failed a tire hardness test (done by TBARA officials). I was also told that many cars had tires that failed the tire hardness test earlier in the day, during the height of the midday sun. The high temperature that day in Inverness was 91 degrees.

    Sunset at Citrus County Speedway

    Does the disqualification of a race winner result in confusion and dissatisfaction for the race fan – the “end customer” for Florida sprint car racing? Is the race tire manufacturer (American Racer Tires) able to guarantee uniformity in its tires sent to Florida such that they will not fail a tire hardness test after 30 laps in the Florida summer sun? The most recent feature race at Citrus County Speedway pushed off under the setting sun, and began with the last rays of the setting sun visible over the second turn wall. That meant that the track surface still retained a great deal of heat from the sun and air temperatures in excess of 90 degrees. Lastly, will the teams continue to race in those series and at those venues if they are dissatisfied with the current rules and tire testing procedures? The Doug Kenny owned #5 team was originally scored in first place and given the trophy on Saturday. The car was acquired so that it may be raced as a winged car in Florida. All of the remaining winged pavement sprint car races in Florida this year are TBARA sanctioned events, save for one race at Showtime Speedway in December.

    Is it possible that one or more teams that were disqualified did not use tire softening agents on their tires? I did not survey all of the competitors that were disqualified, but one of these teams insisted that they did not do any tire prep or tire softening, and were still disqualified at the June race. If the teams are dissatisfied and withdraw from racing, then will the fans return in sufficient numbers to maintain the new found interest in sprint car racing in Florida? Two of the best attended races last year (not involving a national series) came after mid-October, at Citrus County Speedway in October, and also at New Smyrna Speedway in November. The answer to this question may involve checking back later in the year.

    Mickey Kempgens with new graphics on car

    Many have offered their opinions and recommended solutions to assist in reducing the number of disqualifications, and keeping the racing fair and unbiased. I offer a sampling of those opinions here, without an attempt to reveal the identity of the person making the comment:
    • Submitted a rule change last week to get voted on at our next race to have no punch rule (referring to TBARA).
    • It's concerning and a bit scary thinking you could lose a race because a durometer isn't used right or a tire did something different.
    • Then let's all go back to Hoosiers and ban chemical prep and be done with it.
    • Must buy tires the day of the race at the track.
    • Speaking from a spectator point of view, you need to try and work out your differences. If you keep losing cars and end up with only a handful of cars showing for the races, the spectators will stop showing up too.
    • Do away with durometer.
    • That is the reason tracks and series have gone to the punch rule. They can't enforce the prep rule, so they allow the prepping, as long as the tires punch legally. I don't see a better way of enforcing it.
    • My issue is the duro gauge. It's never been designed or endorsed as a tech tool because of its inconsistent results either by user or environment.
    • There is too big of a grey area, Florida sprint car racing isn't strong enough to throw guys out for tires.

    A TBARA official later stated that all of the top five cars were initially checked well after the feature was complete. Three of those cars passed the durometer test, and two others did not. He added that all five were initially checked within a two minute window, and that the winning car did not pass. Upon the disqualification of the #5 car, the feature race win went to Tommy Nichols. It was his second TBARA feature race win within the past twelve months. Nichols was challenged by Shane Butler for the race win on the last restart with one lap remaining, but held him off by one car length. After the race concluded, Nichols remarked to Butler, “I knew you were coming!”

    The videos from the Citrus County Speedway TBARA race are on the Florida Open Wheel channel here:
    http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSdPdgmUo6WfkfR6Eo__QBA

     

     

    The Night of the Rookies

    By Richard Golardi

    Blake Rose, Chad Freeman, Kyle Bookmiller, Todd Blevins, Curtis Neumann, Jason Kimball and Herb Neumann Jr. These are the names of some of the rookie sprint car racers that competed at the most recent Citrus County Speedway Sprint Series race earlier this month. The group raced at the pavement track in Inverness, FL in a non-wing race that was the fifth series race of the year at the Central Florida track. Two members of the group took home the second and fourth place positions behind feature race winner Mickey Kempgens. They were the father and son team of Herb Neumann Jr. and his son Curtis. The rookies’ performance, with two of the top four finishing positions, and three members of their group in the top ten, further solidified Florida’s position as a fertile training ground for future sprint car champions.

    For some members of the group, like Chad Freeman and Todd Blevins, they had experience in multiple vintage sprint car racing events. For regular series competition, they were rookies. Blevins was competing in his first ever non-vintage sprint car race, and Chad Freeman was in the second race of his first year of non-vintage series competition. He had even towed his own vintage sprint car from his home in Kentucky to Florida for some winter season competition this year. Curtis Neumann was the other non-Floridian to make the trip to Inverness, traveling from his home in North Carolina.

    2nd place finisher Herb Neumann Jr. and his son, 4th place finisher Curtis Neumann

    The track itself is viewed as an ideal training ground for rookies, without high banks or high speeds, and with a rumble strip down on the apron as a reminder to keep four wheels on the track surface. Teenage racers Ty DeCaire and Garrett Green have also turned in impressive performances at the track this year, with DeCaire getting his first heat race win, and Green getting his first top three feature finish. Blake Rose had also been in the top ten finishing order. The Tampa Bay Area Racing Association has taken note of the activity at the track this year, and recently added two additional dates at the track for 2014. The first is next week on Saturday the 26th, and the second is a non-wing race on Friday, October 17th, the first non-wing race for the TBARA in decades.

    The most impressive performance by a rookie this night was likely turned in by twenty six year old Curtis Neumann, with a fourth place finish in his first ever sprint car race. He had the good fortune to have a seat in a Butler Motorsports team car, a team which has one win at Citrus thus far this year. His father Herb, a prior Citrus County Speedway track champion, was added as a teammate to Shane Butler in a second team sprint car earlier this year. “I’ve always been a sprint car fan. This is always what I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid,” Curtis Neumann told me. “I moved to North Carolina, and I came down for a vacation. We had a family vacation planned, and it just worked out that there was a sprint car race tonight, so we scheduled it to give me some seat time. Kind of fulfill a longtime dream of mine. I grew up racing here, starting when I was fourteen in the hobby stock class. Moved up to the modifieds, and traveled all over the state.” Curtis raced only on pavement, and continued to race while studying engineering at the University of South Florida in Tampa. “I graduated and packed my stuff, and moved to North Carolina to get a job and be a part of the NASCAR deal. I’ve got a late model stock up there that I race. That’s been fun – way different than Florida racing.” Curtis had just moved to Raleigh after living in Concord, North Carolina.

    Curtis Neumann

    “I’m a mechanical engineer, so I was an engineer for a racing company up there, Richardson Racing Products. We do the templates for the Cup cars, and Nationwide cars, and the trucks. We manufacture the templates, and we manufacture all the spoilers for the cars. I was the engineer there, and I worked with the engineers over at the NASCAR R&D Center. It was a lot of fun,” Curtis Neumann said. He had just a handful of practice laps in a sprint car before his first sprint car race earlier this month. “I’ve got a lot of time now, because I just moved to Raleigh after quitting my job to start my own business. I parked my late model up there, because I’ve got to put all my extra money into the business to get that going. I’m going to start with racing products, and branch off into other areas. Some might find their way into NASCAR.” Curtis said that he is single and has a girlfriend, and they are making plans to move to Raleigh, NC together.

    Kyle Bookmiller is one of Keith Butler’s co-workers, and Keith was aware of Kyle’s success in modified racing in Florida. Keith, as the owner of KJ Motorsports, had a second sprint car available, and offered the seat to Kyle for the most recent race at Citrus on July 5th. The Wednesday prior to that date was the first time he had ever sat behind the wheel of a sprint car, and his first laps came on race day during practice. “It’s something that I’ve got to get used to. The power is a lot more instant compared to my modified that I normally drive. We’ll get used to it as the night goes,” Kyle remarked. He had started racing go karts at age twelve, and then moved up to open wheel modifieds in 2005, and had been in that division for the past nine years, racing mainly at Showtime Speedway and Desoto Speedway. He is twenty nine years old, and is looking at getting his son into a go kart soon. He works at Ring Power Corporation, a Caterpillar equipment dealer in Riverview, during the week.

    Kyle Bookmiller in the 99 KJ Motorsports car

    “Make all the laps, and stay out of the way.” For Kyle Bookmiller, that was his stated goal for the night. He unfortunately found himself out of the feature race on the second lap. “A disappointing end to last night with the sprint car. Had a blast while it lasted! I was on the outside trying to pass another car when he moved up, and I wheel hopped him and hit the wall. The car needs lots of work,” Kyle reported after his race night ended early. He will still be racing his modified this year. “Modified comes first,” he added, calling it his primary car. He was the modified champion at Citrus County Speedway in 2006.

    “Troy (Thompson) got hurt this week with his back. He pinched a nerve, and I work on some of his road race cars, so he came to me and asked if I would drive,” Todd Blevins told me. “I ran antiques (referring to vintage sprint car races). My grandfather has been around since back in the beach days. I traveled around with him. He announced last night that this is his last rodeo. His name is Russ Blevins. He has a 1950’s CRA sprint car that he ran with DAARA. Open Wheel Magazine is building one, to bring back the Ranger airplane motor, which my grandfather sold to them. It is the last one in existence that is actually running and racing.” Todd spoke about his first race at age four, when Stan Butler took him and Keith go kart racing. He has been friends with the Butler family since that time. The thirty eight year old racer has a fabrication shop in Pinellas Park with business partner Dan Partelo. Is it possible that we may see you in Troy’s #15 car again, if Troy’s back is not healed? “I hope he calls me,” was Todd’s reply.

    Todd Blevins

    “I’ve been in stock cars, and Keith and Shane have been in open wheel. I ran all over. I’ve been up in the Carolinas. I drove for Petty, I did test driving for Ganassi. I’ve been in the Cup, trucks, USAR Hooters series, all that. If it’s a stock car, I’ve driven it,” Todd Blevins proclaimed. “Open wheel, short of the vintage, this will be my first hurrah. It is a blast. It’s awesome. If any racer has never experienced this rush, they need to experience it, because there’s nothing like it. The equivalent to it is strapping a rocket to a skate board. It’s unbelievable. I can’t explain it any more than that.” So, it sounds like you are having fun so far? “Oh, I’m having a blast,” Blevins responded. With that said he pulled on his driving gloves and helmet and headed out for more of his inaugural tour of modern sprint car racing competition.

    Our video of the week from the Florida Open Wheel channel comes from 2014 Speedweeks in the form of a video compilation of sprint car racing at Bubba Raceway Park:

    http://youtu.be/Ak3vDrg3C7Y

    The following video is from the GoPro camera mounted on the car of Mickey Kempgens during his most recent feature win this month at Citrus County Speedway:

    http://youtu.be/OTlRGiOkC6A

     

     

     

    New Sprint Car Team Takes Win in First Pavement Race

    By Richard Golardi

    It was a “Night of the Rookies” at Citrus County Speedway in Inverness, FL on Saturday. Several sprint car rookies were making their first ever start in a sprint car, and others were making their first or second start in a non-vintage sprint car race. But the winner’s trophy belonged to a veteran driver, making his first start with a brand new team. The new team, with Doug Kenny as the car owner, was now in possession of the car that Mickey Kempgens had driven to a tenth place finish in the Little 500 in May. The car even carried a motor with Miller Motorsports engraved into the surface. Miller Motorsports was a team that had raced this car in Florida as the black and green #78 winged sprint car. Mickey Kempgens had even driven the car to victories in Florida. Now a black #5, the car looked similar to the Lee Cipray owned black car that Mickey had driven to wins at Citrus and Showtime Speedway this year.

    Mickey Kempgens

    After transporting the car and motor back to Florida from the Sam Pierce Racing shop in Indiana, the old stickers were removed, new numbers added, and the car was prepared to race. The 360 motor was not even used while in Indiana, due to the lack of Midwest race series using these motors. The team had legendary car owner George Rudolph in their pits, reuniting the group that had raced together at the Little 500 just six weeks ago. The group included Ted Kempgens, who is Mickey’s father. In his March race win at the track, Kempgens had lapped the field up to third place, and had a half lap lead on the second place car. This time, his team did not dominate the 30-lap feature race, despite taking the win in their first race together. It was the second win for Kempgens in the new Citrus County Speedway monthly sprint car series. He had moved into the top five by the end of the first lap, and used the latter stages of the race to pick off the remaining cars ahead of him to finally take the lead on lap 26. At the finish line, the second place car of Herb Neumann Jr. was only about five feet off his rear bumper.

    Mickey Kempgens and Doug Kenny in Citrus Winners Circle

    This non-wing Citrus County Speedway Sprint Series, running their fifth race of the year on the 3/8 mile asphalt, had their first race with an entry list with fewer than 20 cars. The series’ success had even motivated Desoto Speedway and TBARA to add non-wing sprint car racing to their 2014 schedules. The controversy surrounding tire soaking which lead to three disqualifications from the last race in June did not reoccur. None of the three teams returned for this race. I was told that the tests that were done in June were within the purview of the officials to find any tires that had been prepped or soaked.

    Chad Freeman, making the trip from Kentucky, entered his second sprint car race in a non-vintage racing series. Freeman has many miles of sprint car racing in vintage racing series, the most recent with the DAARA Vintage Oval Track Nationals in Auburndale. He was racing a second Rick Venema owned car this weekend, and had also brought his family to Florida for a summer vacation. The other Rick Venema owned car, with Geoff Styner behind the wheel, had its best finish of the year at Citrus with sixth place.

    With a win in his first race as a sprint car team owner, Doug Kenny told me that he was not new to working with and racing with the Kempgens family. “I’ve been working closely with Teddy. I’ve known Teddy and Mickey – I’ve known Mickey since he was born. I’ve watched him race over the years. We used to run a truck together. Just in the last six months, I’ve been watching the sprint cars a little closer. This opportunity came along, and here we are. This car was up in Indiana. It’s a good, proven car. We know the car,” Doug Kenny told me. He also admitted that he was now following sprint car racing much more closely than he had in the past. The PCS Racing team name came from a company that he previously owned that was titled Precision Communication Services. The team had previously raced trucks and did some land speed racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats with a 1931 Ford Roadster. Kenny is retired after selling the company, but still keeps the racing enterprise alive.

    “Mickey Kempgens is the driver, and we are primarily going to use it as a winged car,” he told me. The car may still be raced without wings, as occurred on Saturday night. The car’s main purpose will be as a winged car, as car owner Lee Cipray may still race his #5 car in more non-wing races for Mickey. Doug Kenny told me that he believes the car is suited to high speed tracks like New Smyrna Speedway, and also tracks with lower speeds. There are two winged TBARA races in Florida prior to Labor Day, and all the remaining Florida non-wing races this year are at Citrus County Speedway. Three Palms Speedway and the recently announced Sand Mountain Speedway in Fort Meade are two Florida pavement tracks planning to resume racing later this year, or in 2015.

    Cars on back straight at Citrus County Speedway

    Do you think that you are the envy of some of the other car owners by having such a talented pavement race driver like Mickey Kempgens? “Yeah, I know it. I’m very proud to have him. Without him, I probably wouldn’t have bought the car. You know – it’s the whole package,” Kenny told me. Are you going to run the rest of the TBARA races this year, to go for the championship? “We expect to, but I can’t say that for sure. We go week to week. But, I would say so – I mean that’s the plan.” With the team planning to enter this car in all winged sprint car races, does this make Mickey one of the favorites for the TBARA championship? “Good question. I’m not going to comment on that.” Will Mickey be in this car for any races up north this year, or in the Little 500 next year? “Yeah, we could easily do that,” Doug Kenny replied. “I don’t know what the future brings, but we are looking forward to it, so it should be fun.”

    The feature race video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (Citrus County Speedway Sprint Cars from Inverness, FL on 7-5-2014):

    http://youtu.be/1JuAQEUZNgQ

     

     

     

    East Bay Dirt and A Look at Florida’s Training Ground of Future Champions

    By Richard Golardi

    In the East Bay Sprints racing at East Bay Raceway Park on Saturday night, AJ Maddox and Billy Boyd had contact in the heat race and it resulted in AJ hitting the second turn wall. Later, AJ moved through the field into third place in the feature race, and was penalized for jumping a restart. AJ initially refused to go to the rear of the field. He was black-flagged. “I never had any intention on crashing Billy Boyd. Just wanted to race and put on a show,” AJ Maddox stated after the race.

    AJ circled the track at slow speed for a short time and would not leave, despite efforts to convince him to leave the track, which he did a short time later. He did wave to the fans in the main stand, and was pleading for the fan support, but it was to no avail. He was disqualified from the feature race. Some fans did express their disappointment at seeing him work his way to the front, and not getting the chance to see AJ fight for the feature win.

    Sam Rodriguez at Dirt Devils Speedway

    Aileen Collins had her first top three finish in sprint car competition since making her full-time racing switch to sprint cars in 2014. It came in her heat race after a front row start on a dry dusty track. She later had an eighth place finish in a feature race that was won by 2013 East Bay Sprints driver champion Billy Boyd.

    Rick Byerly, with father Dick Byerly in his pits, had a good night with a fourth place finish. The rest of the family team did not have equal luck, as DJ Peeples had engine trouble and was out of the feature.

    Johnny Gilbertson looked like this could be the night to make his transition from mainly pavement to mainly dirt competitor complete after a heat race win. He was running close to the front in the feature race. When attempting to pass Collins low in the third turn, the resulting bump led to a flat left rear tire.

    On a non-sprint car racing note, I had the pleasure to visit Dirt Devils Speedway in Land O’ Lakes. This is Florida racing legend Sam Rodriguez’s kart racing facility in a rural area west of I-75. The pits were crowded with young racers and their families, as the kart racing that takes place on the dirt one-fifth mile track is very much a family experience. There were several sprint car racing families that were present with the youngest racers in the family, including the DeCaire, Brazil and Bragg families. Terry DeCaire was present managing the racing activities, with grandson Ty DeCaire on the front stretch in the middle of the racing, getting the young racers positioned correctly.

    Dirt Devils Speedway

    The track seemed to have present and former sprint car racers everywhere that I turned, with present-day racer Ray Bragg II in the flag stand on this sweltering summer afternoon. Sam Rodriguez explained that the attendance was down slightly this week, due to an out-of-state event that drew away some of the local racers. The track regularly races on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. The racing that I witnessed was closely contested, and could be treacherous at times, as racers would sometimes spin out in the turns after losing traction with their slick tires. I got the distinct feeling that I could be witnessing several members of Florida’s next generation of winning sprint car drivers getting lessons in the basics of racing and car control.

     

     

     

    Florida Teams Head North for the King of the Wing Races

    By Richard Golardi

    Two Florida racing teams are making preparations to head north next week for winged pavement sprint car competition in the Midwest. The teams are Butler Motorsports and driver Shane Butler, and also Team Green Racing and driver Garrett Green. Gary Green has confirmed that he and his son will be arriving next week, in preparation for the first ever race in the new King of the Wing sprint car series. Series founder Davey Hamilton, who originally announced the new series at the 2013 PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis, has designed the series to have two weeks of racing, with three races in each of the two weeks. The first week begins on Wednesday July 2nd at Toledo Speedway in Ohio, followed by races on July 4th (Winchester Speedway) and July 5th (Grundy County Speedway in Illinois). Toledo Speedway hosts “The Rollie Beale Classic” with drivers from across North America competing in a 40-lap feature race with a $25,000 purse. Then the series turns their attention to California for the second week of racing from November 21st to the 23rd.

    Shane Butler and the 55 car

    Shane Butler will be taking the red #55 car that he raced in the Little 500 in May, and has entered all three of the King of the Wing races with this car. This car has not been in competition in Florida, as the team has a stable of three cars, with the other two cars driven in 2014 by Shane, his father Stan Butler and also Herb Neumann Jr. “Two cars are going to Citrus and one car is going to Ohio next week,” Shane Butler said, referring to Citrus County Speedway in Inverness, which has a July 5th non-wing race scheduled. The #18 and #81 cars will be in competition in Florida on the same day that Shane will be in the #55 car in Illinois. Shane is hoping to improve on his result from the Little 500 in May, when the #55 car was out early in the race with brake trouble.

    Team Green Racing owner Gary Green has informed me that he has entered the team’s #3 winged car for four races in four days in the Midwest next week. In addition to the three races in the King of the Wing series, there is another pavement race with the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series on July 3rd in Michigan, at Auto City Speedway. This will be the first time that Garrett Green will turn laps at these four tracks. Both Winchester and Toledo are high speed half mile tracks, which is a track type that Garrett has raced on twice so far this year. Those two races were at Pensacola and Mobile, both in April with Must See Racing. The team had made some earlier plans to do more dirt racing this year, but the car intended for Garrett’s use on Florida dirt tracks was wrecked at Volusia Speedway Park earlier this month. I was told that the car was totaled, and will be replaced with another dirt sprint car.

    Garrett Green and the 3 car

    The team still plans to add more dirt track racing to its summer schedule, and East Bay Raceway Park, which is close to the team’s base of operations, has several more races this summer. The team may have a new dirt car during July. Green is also looking at more pavement races for fifteen year old Garrett (who turns sixteen later this summer), and is considering those events that will benefit the young racer and bring maximum media exposure. One of those events being considered is the Labor Day 200, a Must See Racing series race at Anderson Speedway on Saturday, August 30th. It was announced earlier today that a new television deal for the series will see the Labor Day 200 being aired in mid-October. The Little 500 is also one of the races to be included, and it will air in late July. Green is also considering making the trip to California in November, to enter the #3 car for Garrett in the second week of King of the Wing races in November.

     

     

     

    Desoto Speedway Adds Its Name to the Pavement Sprint Car Mix

    By Richard Golardi

    Can Florida support additional pavement sprint car racing and additional tracks racing sprint cars? With the TBARA, Showtime Speedway and Citrus County Speedway having hosted pavement sprint car racing in 2014, Desoto Speedway was added to this list on Saturday night. It was the first race at the track without TBARA sanctioning since the most recent ownership change. A spate of driver penalties and disqualifications in Florida pavement racing events this year had drawn attention, and left some with dashed spirits and a sense of uneasiness. This continued on Saturday night at Desoto Speedway, as track management had apparently given two different officials the authority to oversee the post-race tech inspection of sprint cars. Despite the tense atmosphere, the ensuing tech inspection resulted in no penalties and no disqualifications (tires were examined closely by officials). Sport Allen was the winner of the non-wing sprint car feature race that night.


    The 40-lap sprint car race was delayed by evening rain and lightning, and had fourteen starters. Two of the favorites, the #5 car of Mickey Kempgens and the #11 car of Joey Aguilar, had not raced at Citrus County Speedway the prior weekend. The track hoped to attract a larger field of cars by offering a larger purse, with a first place prize of $1,700 offered to the sprint car winner. A super late model race that night was offering a $3,000 first place prize. With numerous car owners having previously committed to running the full season at Citrus County Speedway, it was unlikely that Desoto could match the front-running car count numbers at Citrus. The race itself was entertaining, with Sport Allen, Kempgens and Aguilar grouped tightly after seven laps were complete. It seemed certain that the race winner would be one of these three fast cars. With Allen’s win, his third on pavement this year, his 2014 sprint car win total was upped to four.
    Sport Allen in Winners Circle

    I have learned that Mickey Kempgens may soon have a new car for his use in Florida winged sprint car competition, in addition to the Lee Cipray owned #5 car that he will continue to race in non-wing competition. As of this date, Desoto Speedway has not announced a decision on scheduling further non-wing sprint car races this year. Showtime Speedway has canceled its summer races, presumably due to low car counts (one sprint car race remains on Showtime’s schedule for December 6th). There are eight winged TBARA races remaining in 2014, with one additional non-wing race at Citrus in October. This could explain the team’s effort to find a car for Kempgens to race in winged competition in Florida. There are 6 non-wing races and 9 winged races remaining on pavement in Florida in 2014.
    Aguilar and Allen seemed destined to add to their win totals in 2014, with Aguilar’s total at five feature wins this year. Aguilar said that the team is moving forward with plans to compete in USCS Road to Atlanta pavement races, but still needs additional sponsors to help pay for travel costs. The remaining series races are in Georgia and South Carolina. Sport Allen and car owner Taylor Andrews are moving forward with plans to continue their increased race activity, racing on both dirt and pavement. Andrews also has recently added more hardware to his race shop, buying three sprint cars from Dave Steele.
    I asked Sport Allen to tell me about the feature race that night. How did it go, I asked? “Better than expected,” he said, laughing. “We’ve been trying to get some forward drive in this car for a while. We haven’t ever been able to make it too tight yet. We got a pretty good balance on it right there. I was able to still turn it and get under Joey, but not totally blow the tires off of it, if that makes any sense. We had no forward drive, but I had just enough. I was able to get by him, and then I saw on the scoreboard that Mickey was coming and I saw him poke his nose in there. I went and apologized to him because I thought I slammed the door on him once, but I wasn’t sure. I came to find out that I guess I had pulled out some distance from him eventually, but I didn’t know that at first. I didn’t want to slam the door on him, because I just didn’t want to drive like that.”
    Sport Allen told me that they were lucky to race after the 75 lap late model race, as it put some rubber back on the track that was washed off in the early evening rain. He had gone back to the motor home during the rain delay, and was ready to take a nap. Upon finding out that the rain would not cancel the night’s feature race, he drank a 5-Hour Energy to make sure he was wide awake again. “Once we’re ready to push off, it’s different deal. I’m focused.” How much longer can you continue to win races on a frequent basis, as you have been doing for several months? “Hopefully forever, man,” he replied. “But that’s not realistic. I’m enjoying this as it’s happening because this has been a painful journey. We have had every goofy thing go wrong that could have, and it’s not for lack of nice equipment. We’ve done everything – it’s a top notch piece. Hopefully we’ve worked all the bugs out, and now we can concentrate on racing.”


    Allen explained that the increased racing activity, and daily trips to the shop to work on the cars (I even saw him at the race shop on a Sunday afternoon), were contributing to his ability to win. “It’s a good thing I don’t have a garage under my house, because I would probably never sleep. If I get up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep, I’d be downstairs working on them,” he said, describing what could be either a racer’s nightmare or the ultimate dream home setup for a race car owner/driver.
    “We’ve gotten a lot better on the pavement, both with the wing and without the wing,” Sport Allen told me. His last three wins, all on pavement, have included two non-wing feature wins. “I don’t know if that was a fluke deal on the dirt or not – that night at East Bay. We’ve got to get more dialed in on the dirt. We’re not running that much dirt. We’re running way more pavement than I’ve ever run. In years past I ran a ton of dirt, and very little pavement. Switching gears to the pavement, we’re getting more focused on the pavement. We may have let the dirt slip by us a little bit.”
    Sport Allen is currently in 8th place on the All-Time Florida Sprint Car win list with 65 victories in Florida, 58 of which came on dirt surfaces (Source - 45 Years of Florida Sprint Car Racing, compiled by Bob Patten).
    The feature race video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (Desoto Speedway Sprint Cars from Bradenton, FL on 6-14-2014):
    http://youtu.be/CkeQ3KZjUB4

     

     

     

    The Wild World of Pavement Sprint Car Racing – Florida Style

    By Richard Golardi

    Jimmy Alvis pulled into Victory Lane and was interviewed as the winner of the Citrus County Speedway Sprint Series race in Inverness on Saturday night. He smiled for the cameras as he held the checkered flag in his right hand. But he is not listed as the feature race winner in the official results. After completion of post-race tech inspection, cars # 21, 1X and 1 were disqualified for tire preparation, or "tire-softening", as it was called by an official (Jimmy Alvis, Brian Gingras, and Ty DeCaire cars). Feature winner Shane Butler was fined $250 for disorderly conduct in the tech area, but retained the first place finish and the winner’s share of the purse. Butler later stated that no punches were thrown, but a commotion caused a pair of glasses to be broken, and he paid for the cost to replace the glasses.
    Another disqualification for the #79 car of Jason Kimball was later rescinded, as the promoter determined that Kimball did not go to the tech area immediately at end of race, but was not at fault as this was not mentioned as being required at the drivers meeting that day. (Source - Promoter Gary Laplant). Some have remarked that drivers were told over the radio that the top five were required to go to the front straight, but I have not confirmed this. Kimball was awarded fourth place in the final order instead of second place (where he originally stood when 2 of the 3 cars ahead of him were disqualified).
    “No prepping – that’s my rule,” promoter Gary Laplant told me. “This is the third race where we have enforced the rule of no tire prepping. They wanted rules – strict rules; and they wanted payouts that were guaranteed,” he added.
    The order in which the cars passed under the checkered flag were as follows: 21 (Alvis), 18 (S. Butler), 1 (DeCaire), 79 (Kimball), and 88 (Allen). The official results: Citrus County Speedway Sprint Cars Feature Race Results from Saturday 6/7/2014 (top ten positions):

    Shane Butler Feature Race Winner

    1) Shane Butler, 2) Sport Allen, 3) Dave Retzlaff, 4) Jason Kimball, 5) Herb Neumann Jr., 6) Keith Butler, 7) Terry Taylor, 8) Ric Voisey, 9) Steve Heisler, 10) Geoff Styner
    A new car that debuted at Citrus County Speedway on Saturday night was the #1 DeCaire Motorsports car driven by Ty DeCaire, with sponsorship from St. Joseph's Hospital Federal Credit Union. I was told that it had a motor previously used in the #66 car driven by Ray Bragg II. The #1 car was found to have a broken rear panhard bar at the race’s conclusion, which may have been caused by the high contact style of racing seen in the early stages of the feature race. The race was less than ten seconds old when DeCaire’s head was thrown to the side violently from one collision. Later, he deftly avoided two cars spinning in the fourth turn, and continued on to take third place on track, a position later lost after a post-race inspection.
    Geoff Styner, driving the #4 car owned by Rick Venema, had an incident in his heat race where he went over another car’s tire and did a single barrel roll coming out of the fourth turn. Styner had suffered a broken neck vertebra in a 2013 Desoto Speedway TQ midget crash, and returned to racing early this year. Fortunately, he was uninjured in this crash and the car suffered no major damage. The damage seemed to be confined to body panel and roll cage damage, which left the car still race ready. The team returned for the feature race, and managed a top ten finish with the damaged car.
    Stan Butler and Geoff Styner

    Styner told me that he just held tightly onto the steering wheel when the car went airborne. He did admit that he had one “flashback moment” during the roll, but the crash was far less violent than the roll-cage first impact last year that left him with broken bones and with a halo device holding his head and neck stable. Geoff now uses a carbon fiber Simpson helmet and a Simpson Hybrid Pro Rage for his head and neck restraint.
    TBARA competitor Rex Hollinger remarked, “They pulled in a big field and put on an excellent race. No race fan could watch that one and fail to be entertained. Those guys went at it!” The attendance did not match the size of the crowds during the cooler weather early in the year, but that is an expected pattern in Florida. With the speedway scheduling sprint cars into November, the attendance will likely see an increase after the end of summer.
    DeCaire Motorsports new 1 car

    TBARA officials were present during the driver’s meeting on June 7th, as they wanted to inform participants about some schedule changes and races that have been added at Citrus County Speedway. I have learned that the co-sanctioned races that were scheduled for July at Watermelon Capital Speedway in Georgia have been removed from the TBARA schedule. USCS and TBARA, the two sanctioning bodies involved, were unable to agree to all the details of the contract to co-sanction the two races, and have agreed to end the talks. TBARA will instead add a winged race at Citrus County Speedway on one of the two original Georgia dates (Saturday, July 26th). TBARA will also add one more race at Citrus on Friday, October 17th, one day prior to the Frank Riddle Memorial at the track on the 18th.
    The race on October 17th will mark a departure from the standard of racing only with wings, as it will be a non-wing TBARA sanctioned race. I can’t confirm the date of the last non-wing race held by the association, but apparently it was 25-30 years ago, when they held races on both dirt and asphalt. With TBARA officials and Citrus promoter Gary Laplant building closer ties with these added races, they have also decided to award points in both series for the finishers in the Friday night non-wing race.
    Regarding the upcoming non-wing unsanctioned race at Desoto Speedway this Saturday, racer Joey Aguilar has informed me that race promoters may offer an increased purse to the sprint car racers, if more than twenty cars are entered and race that night. Aguilar has also informed me that he will enter all of the remaining USCS Road to Atlanta pavement races this summer, with an intended goal of winning the USCS Road to Atlanta championship. I asked if this was still possible, seeing that he has missed the first two series races of the year. He replied that he feels confident that he can win the 2014 series title (with five races remaining), and has complete support from his car owner and crew to meet this goal. Aguilar has five feature wins on pavement going into Saturday’s race at Desoto, where he will be one of the favorites to win.
    I was asked if I will be returning for another round of Florida pavement sprint car racing this weekend, scheduled for Bradenton’s Desoto Speedway, with the now trendy non-wing pavement cars. I replied that it’s going to be a dirt week for me, so Bubba Raceway Park is where I’ll be. Compared to the wild and wonderful world of Florida pavement sprint car racing, it should be sedate and far less stressful, right?

     

     

     

    Dave Steele is Still Semi-Retired, Or Is He?

    By Richard Golardi

    Over the past several years, when I have asked Dave Steele if his status should still be listed as “semi-retired”, his answer has always been consistent. His answer has been, “yes”. In 2013, upon hearing his team announce an effort to field a car for him in the 2014 Little 500, I was somewhat surprised. This effort appeared to edge him beyond the boundary of being “semi-retired”. It involved building a new car, and acquiring a 410 motor, and making a trip of over one thousand miles to get to Anderson Speedway, Indiana. The Little 500 is traditionally held on Memorial Day weekend, on the Saturday night before the Indy 500, which is held fifty miles away at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This year’s Little 500 has already been run. Dave Steele was not there (despite a Little 500 program article that unfortunately proclaimed “Dave Steele Returns After Five Year Hiatus”). Dave Steele has sold his three sprint cars (one dirt car and two pavement cars), and has returned to his family and his business as his main concerns. He is once again semi-retired. Or is he?
    The sale of Dave Steele’s three sprint cars was completed within the past week, in spite of rumors that it had been complete prior to race day in Anderson. The cars were sold to current car owner Taylor Andrews, who fields sprint cars on dirt and pavement for Sport Allen. This was confirmed today by Sport Allen, who has emerged as one of the hottest sprint car drivers in the state this year. His three wins have come at East Bay Raceway on dirt, and on the asphalt of Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park, the city where the team’s shop is located. On a recent visit to the Dayton Andrews Dodge racing team’s shop, I found it to be packed with sprint cars. Add another three cars to the team’s stables, and one wonders how they will all fit. One of the cars was the “Little 500 car” that Steele had built for this year’s 500, without wings and with a 410 motor in front (a white number 33 car that Steele had hinted would be piloted at the 500 by him beyond this year). This will now become a Little 500 car for Sport Allen, starting with the 2015 race.
    Sport Allen last raced in the Little 500 in 1985. His only other entry (in 1984) was remarkable because it made him the youngest ever starter in the event’s history at thirteen years old. Why has he not returned in the intervening twenty nine years? Because his employment with UPS made it difficult to accomplish, with more senior employees getting preference for taking off on the days just prior to Memorial Day weekend. But now Sport is one of those more senior employees, making a request for vacation days just prior to a major holiday weekend more likely to be granted. Plus – there’s a “Little 500 car” ready to be repainted and relabeled with Dayton Andrews Dodge and Sport Allen stickers. It’s ready – except for that oil leak.
    The oil leak in the Little 500 car might have been what caused the reversal in plans for Dave Steele’s immediate racing future. At a Showtime Speedway test session on the Wednesday prior to race week, the car developed an oil leak which reappeared in a second Showtime test session on Saturday. There were reports of one or more offers of an engine made to Steele for the Little 500, to replace the troubled engine. The offers were declined. Steele withdrew from the 2014 Little 500, and has withdrawn from being a sprint car owner, for the immediate future.
    Where does this leave Sport Allen? In an enviable position – that’s where. He is not only on a racing hot streak with three recent wins, but has a car owner dedicated to fielding the best equipment for him, and who is adding to the team’s fleet of cars. His three wins came on dirt with wings (with the Top Gun Sprint Series), followed by pavement without wings and then with wings (Showtime Speedway last Saturday night). He missed out on getting three straight wins with three types of sprint cars by just one finishing position, finishing second in a May 10th TBARA race at New Smyrna Speedway.
    Showtime Speedway, sight of Sport’s two most recent sprint car wins, has canceled all sprint car races scheduled for the summer, presumably due to low car counts. Will he enter the upcoming non-wing races at Citrus County Speedway (this weekend), or Desoto Speedway on the following weekend (6/14)? “Yeah, we can,” was the response he received from his car owner, when the issue of running the race at Citrus was raised.
    “He said he’s done (referring to Dave Steele). As far as I know, he’s done racing. He’s going to concentrate on business and his family. That’s kind of what I got out of it,” Sport Allen told me today. If he has sold all of his equipment, that’s his statement that he is done racing for now, would you agree? “Yeah, if there’s no race cars left to race … He was offered to go run Johnny’s car at Showtime last week, but he didn’t want to go run it.” Allen told me that he could empathize with Steele’s current life situation, and that he would also choose to concentrate on building his business. That business is Steele Performance Parts, which operates out of Tampa.
    What did Taylor Andrews get in this purchase from Dave Steele? “The dirt car’s complete, and the 410 car is the one he was going to the Little 500 with. It’s complete. They think that they’ve fixed the oil leak in the motor, so it’s complete. The other pavement car, I guess that they are waiting for the motor to come back. That pavement car and the dirt car are at the body shop (at the car dealer).” Not at the race shop in Pinellas Park? “No. It won’t fit,” Sport Allen replied. So it’s three cars and two motors as of today? “Yeah. I’m not sure yet, as Taylor didn’t really make it clear what the deal is on the other motor. When it comes back from being fixed at Progressive in Miami, I’m not sure if it goes with the deal.” So this was all of Dave Steele’s racing equipment – all of his cars? “Yeah. He spent a lot of time putting that 410 car together for Anderson. It is a really, really nice piece. He built that car for the Little 500. Every possible thing he could put on there was to go win the thing.”
    “It’s a done deal. The cars have been sitting over here for about a week,” Sport said. So the Little 500 car can now be called a 2015 Little 500 car for Sport Allen? “Yeah. That’s kind of the idea behind it. That’s what we’re shooting for. Now we’ve got a year to kind of plan it.” Sport admitted that they feel a need to get practice with the car, preferably a 100 lap race somewhere. They want to feel certain that the oil leak is no longer a problem. “We’ve got nothing but time now. We can take our time getting stuff ready. We’ve got to come up with a crew and a fuel rig, and all the essentials.”
    I volunteered to be the team cameraman for next year’s Little 500, with the belief that I saw a good story developing (the race’s youngest ever starter making his return to the Little 500 after a thirty year absence). “That’s good. That’ll work,” Sport Allen replied. Sometimes you can see a good story taking shape, even if it is a good story that won’t come to fruition until fifty weeks in the future. Something inside just tells you that this is going to be good.

     

     

    Four Went Forth - Florida’s Sprint Car Drivers Take on the Little 500

    By Richard Golardi

    Mickey Kempgens was the highest finishing Floridian in the Little 500 sprint car race at Anderson Speedway in Indiana on Saturday. He overcame multiple obstacles thrown in his path, ranging from running out of fuel twice during the race, and cars crashing in his path. It was his second start in the annual 500-lap endurance race, and his tenth place finish bettered his previous finish by one position. The engine was running very rich from the start of the race, and he and the crew discovered that they could not lean it down enough, resulting in excessive fuel use. It did not seem to affect his speed on the track, as he was able to make passes, and keep up with the lead pack for most of the race. When the fuel ran low, the car was spitting flames from the exhaust and sputtered at times. The only solution was to pit and refuel.
     

    Mickey Kempgens race start

    “I almost got in a couple of wrecks, but I got it turned and moved right at the last second,” Mickey Kempgens told me at the conclusion of the race. The incident between Geoff Kaiser and Jarrett Andretti that resulted in Andretti hitting the wall happened directly in front of him early in the race. “We should have been able to go 160 on fuel, but we were only going 100. And, both times it ran out of fuel, it was under green. It ran out of fuel twice. That’s where I lost most of my laps. It was just way too many pit stops for fuel, but the car was an absolute rocket. I don’t know if we had anything for Jacob (Wilson), but I think we could have run second. I passed the three (Jerry Coons Jr.). I caught him and passed him, and just drove off from him. Oh well – we finished.”
    Mickey said that he was satisfied with the run, and was glad that the car was in one piece. “I wish it didn’t drink so much fuel, but overall, I’m satisfied,” he said. Mickey revealed that plans are being developed to bring the Lee Cipray owned black #5 car next year for him to drive in the Little 500. Mickey has multiple wins in this car, including at Citrus County Speedway earlier this year. “Next year, we’re going to win this thing. We’re doing it. It’s a done deal.” I asked if he would have preferred to have been in the black #5 car on Saturday night. “I mean – this Hurricane is a rocket ship and our situation was good. We had a car to win. Just had motor troubles that plagued us all week long. My crew was absolutely phenomenal.” I remarked that Mickey did not look fatigued from the effects of the stress and G-forces in the race. He replied that he did feel sore from the waist down, and then explained what caused this.
    “My seat belts came loose – like lap 50. I didn’t get the laps belts tight enough, and every time I would go to cinch down on my shoulder harness, it brought my lap belt up until it was up near my belly button,” Mickey revealed, just one of many problems that he was forced to overcome to earn his top ten finish. His next race will be at Showtime Speedway this Saturday, with the orange #84 winged car, as long as the race is run as a winged sprint car race.
     

    Mickey Kempgens early race action

    Troy DeCaire described his ninth Little 500 as an up and down night. “Started off real tight, so I lost positions early. That’s when I kind of settled in behind the top five, and was running right with them. It starting burning fuel off, and started to finally rotate and just got caught up in somebody else’s mess. A wreck happened in front of me, and I got shoved into it. I missed it and had slowed down. I went to turn under somebody and the guy behind me didn’t stop and it caved my tail tank in. It sent me over Gerster and we were out around lap 200,” Troy DeCaire told me, summarizing his night. “It stinks because I really think the car was starting to come around. Actually, two of the guys we were ahead of ended up fourth and fifth (Geoff Kaiser and Kyle Hamilton). We probably would have ended up with a top five. But, there’s a lot of guys that would have ended up a lot better if their car wasn’t wrecked, and we were just one of them.”
     

    Little 500 Florida Driver Group

    Troy said that he knew the nature of the race, and that it was still his favorite race. “In 364 more days, I’ll do it again.” He lamented a chance to put a Florida car in the top five that was lost, but plans to return next year. His relationship with car owner Dick Fieler seems to be a solid one, and the team has added cars and expanded to dirt racing in recent months. Races with AVSS and the Must See Racing series lie ahead. He is hoping for five or six more wins during the summer, after a Must See Racing win on Wednesday. With all the cars available, I wondered if there may even be room for a teammate for Midwest racing, and next year’s 500. “I even told him – find somebody else for a race that I can’t make. I wouldn’t mind at all having a teammate. Dick says, “No – you’re the driver. You’re the guy.’ I was like – you got to love that.”
    Looking forward, Troy DeCaire now sees greatly improved chances of putting together another season with ten or more race wins, like he recalls having in 2007 and 2008. With a stable relationship with a team and car owner now accomplished (something he has worked toward for five or more years), he can concentrate on race wins. “I think that we can get on a roll now,” he said confidently.
    Butler Motorsports had two cars in the race, for the father-son team of Stan Butler and Shane Butler. Stan was uncertain of the tire availability for his car, so the team would likely put most of its time and available funds into Shane’s effort, with a new car built especially for this race. Stan would be making a 26th start in the Little 500, and could move closer to getting back into the top three of all-time laps completed in the race. Shane would be starting in the top half of the field after a four-year hiatus from the classic Indiana sprint car race.
     

    After the race concluded, I asked Stan Butler to give me a recap of the night’s event. “We ran for a little bit, and we only had so many tires, and Shane had a flat right at the beginning. I needed to get in so that we could get that tire back for his car. So, once we got in there was no sense in going back out. We had changed tires on my car, to save the right front for Shane’s car for the race. But they wouldn’t let us do that. They said that we had to start on the tire that we had qualified on, so we had to leave it. The plan was to get in quick and get it off. The tire that he needed was on my car, but then his brakes are heated, so …”
    “The good thing about it is that they are all in one piece, and the motor is still running, and everything’s all good. We’ve still got two complete race cars. I went out of the race first. I parked it so I could put the tire on Shane’s car. Shane lost the brakes on his car. We tried to bleed them, but couldn’t get the brakes back on. He lost the brakes, so we don’t know what happened. We could have ended up stuffed in the fence or something, and had a torn up race car. You just never know. Ultimately, things worked out for the best.”
     

    Bobby Rose

    We’ll see you back next year, since you are the ageless wonder, right Stan? “Well, you never know,” he replied. “If I can get the money, and get some seat time this year, I’d like to come back and do it the right way one more time. So, we’ll see. We’ve got a whole year to figure it out now.” Because this isn’t the last one? “I’m not going to say that now,” he said, and laughed. “It may or may not be.”
    On a sad note, the Florida sprint car racing community lost three of its members over the course of the long Indiana race week. They are Doris Brazil, widow of legendary sprint car driver Larry Brazil, who sits in fifth place on the All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List; Harry W. Campbell, a master sprint car builder and mechanic whose life is a trip through the halls of Florida sprint car racing history; and Bobby Rose, current sprint car owner and driver and father to sixteen year old Florida sprint car driver Blake Rose, who just transitioned to driving his family’s sprint car this year.
    They will be missed.

    Harry W Campbell_ L and Doris Brazil

     

     

     

     

    Four Floridians Make the Field for the 2014 Little 500

     By Richard Golardi

     

    “I'm thinking Stan should quit.” Stan Butler said that he did post this message on a social media website, despite his friend’s proclamations that he must have been hacked. He was feeling frustrated and he wanted to vent his frustration. After his friends expressed their support and encouragement, he was feeling completely different by the next day. He was in the field for the 66th running of the Little 500 at Anderson Speedway, Indiana, and it would be his 26th start in the race. He would be starting from the 30th starting position in the field. His son, Shane Butler, a two-time TBARA champion, would be starting in 16th place. It would be the first start in four years for both drivers, and would further solidify Stan’s position as a Florida sprint car racing legend.

     

    Were you satisfied with that qualifying run, Stan? “No. We just didn’t spend a lot of time making changes because I haven’t been racing the sprint car enough in the last year or two. No, I wasn’t real pleased with it, but I’m glad I’m in the show. Obviously this is a good year to not be as good as you need to be because of the lack of cars (34 cars made qualifying attempts). But, we’ll start another one and see what happens.” We spoke about the overall talent in this year’s field, with several drivers having multiple open wheel championships, such as Bryan Clauson, Jerry Coons, Jr. and Troy DeCaire. “This is probably going to be the fastest field, from start to finish, that they’ve ever had.”

     

    What are your chances of winning on Saturday night Stan? “I’d say I’d have to be pretty low on the totem pole for a chance of winning this thing. But you know – stranger things have happened. We didn’t really come up with the tires we needed. I’m going to run the best that I can with what I’ve got. If the car’s really, really bad, then I’ll park it. I’m not going to take a chance tearing up a race car. Getting more laps completed would be nice, but taking a chance tearing up a race car is not worth it. It doesn’t pay anything to be third on that list of all-time career laps completed. It doesn’t pay any money,” Stan told me. He was also looking to the future beyond this year’s Little 500. “I think with some more seat time again in a sprint car, I think I could get back closer to where I used to be.”

     Mickey Kempgens car for the Little 500

    “I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t having any fun. I felt real rusty,” Stan said, describing how he felt after getting out of the car on Thursday. By Friday afternoon, with his car in the field in row ten, he felt very different. Relaxing at Gas City Speedway on Friday evening with friends and family, he was at ease and smiling. He was ready for Saturday.

     

    Troy DeCaire goes into Saturday’s Little 500 at Anderson Speedway in a familiar position. He is considered to be peaking at just the right time, and is considered to be one of the favorites to win. In fact, he did already win once this week at Anderson, in Wednesday’s Must See Racing 60-lap race with wings. He will be in the team’s car designated for non-wing races on Saturday, starting from the inside of row five. The car was recently purchased by car owner Dick Fieler from Tony Stewart Racing. It will serve as a Little 500 only car for now, as the team may not race it in the Midwest again until next year’s race. Troy will return to winged Must See Racing events after this weekend, with Fieler as sole car owner. Troy had raced in the series last year with Davey Hamilton and Dick Fieler merging their two teams for the season. Davey Hamilton Racing has not returned to race with the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series this year.

     Shane Butler

    ‘We’ve been fighting some gremlins here and there, where we could run in the top three, but we couldn’t knock down a win,” Troy DeCaire said on Friday. “Last year, we were able to get four wins, just none with the Must See. I think we have a car that we can come through the field with now that we have some of our engine issues figured out.” Do you think that you will win on Saturday night, I asked? “I think that if you don’t think you can win on Saturday, you shouldn’t be here. This is a tough field. This is probably the strongest Little 500 field I’ve ever seen. I think anything outside of the top five would be considered a disappointment to us at this point.”

     

    “Right now, me and Brad Brewer (his crew chief) – we jell. He and Ross Rankine work full-time here at the shop in Indianapolis. We’ve got four pavement cars, and two dirt cars now (all owned by Dick Fieler and DJ Racing). We ran some dirt races last week, and we’re going to run some more. Brad and Ross put their heart and soul into this, and I’m glad I was able to give them something back (referring to the win on Wednesday).” A problem occurred during the qualifying run on Thursday, when the weight jacker broke and fell down between the firewall and Troy’s foot in the cockpit. I saw Troy and team examining the part’s position and discussing how they would secure it to prevent it from happened again on Saturday. The car is a Beast chassis that was driven by Levi Jones for Tony Stewart Racing, and was sitting in Bob East’s race shop prior to being purchased by Dick Fieler. “After this week, we’ll put it on a stand, on moth balls, and drag it out next May,” Troy said.

     

    Mickey Kempgens is in Indiana, and has been here for the past week, for one purpose – to win the Little 500. He is in a Sam Pierce Chevrolet Racing team car, as teammate to Aaron Pierce. But the team is run as a somewhat separate entity, not sharing crew with Pierce. Kempgens has George Rudolph as his crew chief, who won the Little 500 twice as a car owner, and once working with Frank Riddle for one of his two wins in the mid-‘80s. The car, originally number 6, has been renumbered as number 68, a number traditionally seen on George’s legendary purple number 68 sprint cars. Kempgens has won races for Rudolph in his number 68 car, and has also won races in the car he will race at Saturday in Anderson. The car was previously the green and black number 78 winged sprint car, which Mickey took to Victory Circle in Florida sprint car competition.

     

    “The motor hasn’t been right all week. It’s been hard to start. Just kind of spits and sputters. But once it got heat in it, it seemed OK. But once I went out for qualifying, I didn’t get a chance to idle around, and get some heat into the motor, and the motor wouldn’t run. It spit and popped for four laps. Which is why I qualified so far back, because the motor wasn’t running,” Mickey Kempgens told me, describing his Thursday qualifying effort. By Friday, the motor problem was pinpointed and fixed, and Mickey’s confidence in the car and motor were restored. “Motor problems are solved – fixed that today. The barrel valve has been off all week. Motor’s been really rich. We got her leaned down. We went out during the last practice today, and the problem’s solved. We have a really fast race car,” he said confidently.

     

     

    Can you win on Saturday, Mickey? “Yes. The car is extremely fast. Pit stops – we should be good to go.” And how is the driver, I asked? I knew that Mickey had previously told me that he needed to build his shoulder muscles back up to prepare (he suffered a broken collarbone in March). “It only doesn’t hurt when I’m in the race car. When I’m turning wrenches, it’s sore. When I’m in the race car, I’m either not thinking about it, or it’s not hurting in the car.” Mickey said he is confident that the muscle soreness will have no effect on his driving abilities on race day. They had considered running the Wednesday race at Anderson, but decided against it in order to not risk damage to the car. The car and team and Mickey are here in Anderson for one purpose. They want to win the 500.

     

    He is the current TBARA points leader, and has 2 TBARA championships to his name. But there is one new title that he wants to earn, and he has even built a new car just to achieve that goal. Shane Butler wants to earn the right to call himself a Little 500 champion. “We can’t complain with 16th – that’s not bad,” Shane said about his 16th place starting spot for Saturday. “It’s been fast right out of the trailer. We’re pretty happy right now.” Can you win on Saturday night? “Actually, there are about thirty three cars that can win on Saturday. We get a little bit of luck, I think we’ve got a car capable of getting the job done. I think it’s definitely going to be a fast-paced race. We’re definitely going to have to be up on the wheel the whole 500 laps,” Shane predicted.

     

    The race marks the first time for father and son to be racing in the same Little 500 since 2010. Only once, in 2007, did Stan Butler and his two sons (Keith and Shane) all race in the same year in the 500. Shane has set a goal to stay out of trouble for the first 400 laps, and then go all out during the last 100 laps to compete for the win. He also thinks that there are some very fast cars starting just behind him that will be immediately attempting to move to the front, like Helberg.

     

    Does it help that your father is here and also competing in the race? “No, actually it doesn’t. We seem to do better when I’m driving and he’s helping me. It just seems to work better that way. I like the fact that we both get to start the 500 again, and this is the second or third time that we’ve had this father and son deal. It’s still neat having your Dad take the green flag at the Little 500. He has quit numerous times, and many times on the same day. When he cuts up his firesuit and throws away his helmet, then I’ll believe it. I’ll believe it when that happens. Until then …,” Shane said, while family and friends knowingly laughed, enjoying the moment and savoring the time together with family.

     

     

     

     

    The Little 500 Florida Driver Lineup and Indiana Race Week

     By Richard Golardi

    Mickey Kempgens –

     Mickey Kempgens in Winners Circle

    Mickey will be making his second attempt to bring the Little 500 trophy home to Florida, having last competed in the 500 in 2012. He will again be in a Sam Pierce Chevrolet Racing car, as a teammate to Aaron Pierce. Both drivers have 2014 wins in sprint cars in Florida, having both won at Citrus County Speedway this year. Pierce also has another 2014 Florida win, at Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway.

     

     Mickey Kempgens 6 Little 500 car

    Mickey told me that this #6 car is actually the same car that he raced in the Little 500 two years ago, and was previously the #78 car that he raced in Florida (with wings) and won. He was originally planning on racing a car that was previously numbered as #70 in Florida, but that was changed in the past week. It is a different engine than the one in the car two years ago. What’s different? “More horsepower,” Kempgens said. Kempgens suffered a broken collarbone in an off-track accident in March, missing the April race at Citrus County Speedway. In one start in the 500 in 2012, Kempgens finished in eleventh place. “This year, we have a little more time to plan, instead of basically the day before qualifying,” he told me previously. “We’ll have enough tires this time. We’ll have a crew. Should be good to go,” Kempgens said.

     

    Troy DeCaire –

     Troy DeCaire

     

    Troy is entered in the #20 DJ Racing entry, a car owned by Dick Fieler, who was the co-owner of his car in 2013 along with Davey Hamilton. With the Davey Hamilton Racing cars apparently not racing in the Must See Racing series, and TruFuel having departed as the sponsor, Fieler and DeCaire have teamed up for their 2014 effort in Must See Racing and the Little 500. DeCaire has one top three finish in 2014 so far, coming at Mobile International Speedway in April. He finished in sixth place on the same weekend in a Must See Racing event at Five Flags Speedway (Pensacola, FL on April 11th).

     

    DeCaire has eight starts in the Little 500, with two top ten finishes, and a best placing of sixth in 2010. This year marks the first time that he will be racing for the same Little 500 car owner for two consecutive years.

     

    Dave Steele –

     

    After debuting his new white #33 car that was built for this year’s Little 500 in a Showtime Speedway test session last Wednesday, it might have seemed that all that was left was to get the car and driver up to Indiana. But, that is not the case. I have learned that the car developed an oil leak, which reappeared in a second Showtime test session on Saturday. With the problems in the engine intended for the Little 500, the unconfirmed report I have heard is that the team may not race in the Little 500. Apparently, there have been one or more offers of an engine made to Steele (one from an engine builder) for the Little 500, to replace the troubled engine tested last week. As of the time of this report, I was unable to confirm that the team would have a replacement engine ready, or would sit out this year’s race.

     

    Shane and Stan Butler –

     Stan Butler

    Shane Butler has been active in both winged and non-wing racing this year in Florida this year. With three second place finishes in early season TBARA competition, he already is one of the favorites to repeat as TBARA driver champion this year. He previously won the TBARA championship in 2002, and again in 2010. He was also penalized by the club after the second race at Desoto Speedway, and is on probation for a five race period now (for rough driving after completion of the race, under caution). He is an owner/driver this year, with a new car built for this race with sponsorship from Southwestern Truck Service. The red #55 car was not seen in competition in Florida, as it was being kept for this weekend in the 500.

     

    Shane’s father, Stan Butler, who is a racer with a legendary record in Little 500 competition and also Florida competition, is making a Little 500 comeback this year. With the Little 500 having 32 race entries as of this date (and more expected to arrive), the Butler Racing team has brought a car to Indiana for Stan to qualify. Stan Butler had previously told me that he was uncertain if the car would be run in the race, even if qualified, as the team needed additional funds for tires for his car in the 500 lap race. Stan Butler, who hadn’t raced in the 500 since 2010, has four top five finishes in the race, with 25 race starts, and is fourth on the all-time list for race laps run. His first start was in 1978. He is in 12th place on the All-Time Florida Sprint Car win list with 44 victories in Florida (Source- 45 Years of Florida Sprint Car Racing, compiled by Bob Patten).

     

    2013 Little 500 Driver Group Photo

    Garrett Green –

     

    Team Green Racing and team owner Gary Green reached a decision over the weekend that they would not race in this year’s Little 500, as the team has decided to put increased emphasis on their dirt sprint car racing program. Driver Garrett Green has raced in two Top Gun Sprint Series races in Florida so far, with a best finish of ninth place on Saturday night at East Bay Raceway Park. The team will enter additional Top Gun Series dirt races, and will likely favor East Bay Raceway, as it is very close to their race shop in nearby Valrico. They will also continue to race in select pavement sprint car races in Florida, and also possibly outside of Florida. The team raced in Alabama last month with Must See Racing, finishing in fifth place.

     

    Gary Green told me that the team is positive about Garrett’s progress on dirt after two races and wants to see him progress further on dirt. They will hold open the option of returning to Anderson Speedway in future years to race in the Little 500 again. Garrett had previously told me that he wanted a top five finish in the 500, after taking home the Little 500 Rookie of the Year title last year.

     

    With the possibility that Garrett Green and Dave Steele will both miss this year’s race, it looks unlikely that the Florida driver total in the Little 500 will exceed the driver total from the last two years, when Florida had four drivers. With other possible entries by Ty DeCaire and some others not developing, it is still likely that the string of Little 500 fields with less than five Floridians will end soon. Florida has developed into a prime training ground for pavement sprint car racers, with Desoto Speedway adding its name to the list of Florida tracks sponsoring sprint cars. Several young racers who moved up to contend in TBARA and non-wing racing have recently received recognition in Florida, and will be bound to gain experience and confidence on the Sunshine State’s pavement race tracks.

     

    In other Indiana race week news, this reporter will be making an appearance at the Hoosier Hundred in Indianapolis on Thursday as a “Guest Crewman” working on the crew of the Sam Pierce Chevrolet Racing team USAC Silver Crown car. Driver Aaron Pierce was brave enough to allow me the opportunity to be a Crewman for a day, despite having never worked as a mechanic. I’ll be limited to dirt-cleaning and body panel polishing duties (and car pushing), and vowed that I would stay out of the way of the “real mechanics and crewman”. This opportunity also allows me to get some various GoPro camera vantages, from a chest and head-mounted camera worn by myself and Aaron, and mounted on the car for the 100-lap race. The car mounted camera should record some high-speed dirt action, as the cars exceed 140 miles per hour on the long straights of the Indiana State Fairgrounds one mile oval. The race was previously part of the IndyCar Series and is returning to the fairgrounds track for its 61st running this year.

     

     

     

     

     

    TBARA – Scotty Adema Wins, Sport Allen Takes 2nd, Misses on Attempt for Three Straight Wins

     By Richard Golardi

     “Got a couple of breaks there on the start. Made it to the front once we got in clean air, and put some good laps down. The car was absolutely one of the best handling cars I’ve ever driven here,” feature race winner Scotty Adema told me. Adema took the lead in the second lap of the 30-lap feature race last Saturday at New Smyrna Speedway with the Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series. The race would be the first this year without Joey Aguilar, who had won all three prior TBARA feature races this year, but was serving a season-long suspension for unsportsmanlike conduct in the last race in April. The TBARA series goes on a short hiatus until the last weekend in July (7/25 & 26), when a joint TBARA / USCS event will be run at Watermelon Capital Speedway in Georgia. That race serves as a precursor to the USCS event at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 29th.

    Scotty Adema in Winners Circle

     

    Scotty Adema’s car had a unique rear suspension, which he described as a totally different setup and a different design. “If we weren’t perfect, we were close,” he said. He only had one challenger for the race lead during the thirty laps, and that challenge came from Sport Allen. Allen had won feature races in the two prior weekends. First he won on dirt, followed by a non-wing pavement race. A win at New Smyrna would give him three straight, in three different varieties of sprint car racing. Starting ninth in the feature race, Sport methodically worked his way through the field to reach the leader by lap19. He would dive for the low groove in turn three, but get loose and fail to complete the pass. A late race caution left two green laps remaining, but Adema would not be challenged for the lead again in his first 2014 win.

    “I had actually kind of gone into conservation mode by about lap fifteen,” Scotty Adema told me. “I was just trying to save something for the very end. I got a little too lax there, and I could tell it was the black car. I saw him poke a nose down there in three, and I just saw it out of the corner of my eye, and I kind of moved up the track a little bit. I wanted to keep the high side for myself, because we were pretty good up top. I was expecting to see him again, because Sport’s resilient. He comes after you full bore, if he’s got anything left in it. Once he poked a nose, I was like, ‘we need to get going again here’. I was trying to get a good restart. I tried to get a nice run down the straightaway where I could at least get clean air to work for me, and outcorner him. It’s so hard to see behind you in these things. I didn’t want to burn the tires up. I was kind of waiting on something to happen.”

    Ben Fritz car - GoPro placement

    In the two races at New Smyrna Speedway late last year, Adema was in contention to win, and had two top three finishes. He did win his first TBARA race at the track in 2003. “I’ve loved this place since the day we starting racing here in Speedweeks ’01,” he said. The winning car was a new Diablo chassis that debuted in those 2013 New Smyrna races, and this was the first win for this car. It is emblazoned with a fire engine red Firefighter theme complete with flames. Adema’s last win was in the black #67 in 2012. “The black one was a different chassis, and then this one we brought into the mix last year. You don’t get a car like that very often. You’ve got a smile on your face because you can just about hold it wide open around there.” He is uncertain about the team’s next race, as they have a car to rebuild that was wrecked in a heat race crash with Ryan Partin behind the wheel. “I think we had a brake line fitting crack, and once you break the system open, as your pedal is going up and down, you are just pumping fluid out of the car. Once the fitting cracks, there’s no backup,” I was told, when I asked about the cause of the brake failure.

    “I fully plan on coming back, putting Ryan in another car. That car, or another car,” Scotty told me, revealing that Ryan was a good friend and that they had been friends for a long time. “I enjoy hanging out with Ryan, I like his family, and he’s a lot like myself. We race the same. We get along really good. We’ve done podcasts and gone go kart racing in Orlando together. As long as Ryan’s OK, that’s all that matters.”

    Ryan Partin, L, and Scotty Adema R

    Ryan Partin Safety Equipment

     

    While heading down the back straight at New Smyrna Speedway in his heat race, Ryan Partin discovered his brakes had failed on the orange #66 car, with the banking and turn three wall looming large at the end of the straight. “Basically, went into one, and I was following Rex there for a little bit, and I was using the brakes harder and harder. Went into one, and the brakes just completely went to the floor,” Ryan told me. “I gave it one or two pumps, and it didn’t pump back up. So, when I came off of two, I lit up and the car unloaded itself and drove down to the inside to the grass. Went through the grass all the way down the back straightaway. There’s a big swell back there, so I figured I’d just take an X Games jump through the swell. When I did that, my foot jammed up on the throttle, and it sent us right into the turn three wall.” The impact with the turn three wall was with the front at high speed, folding the right front corner of the car back. “Finally got my hand to the shut-off valve, and got it shut down, and that was about it.” I saw Ryan jump from the car after about a minute. He walked away, telling safety crew members that he was not hurt.

    “I feel fantastic,” Ryan said. “I’ve been waiting on some soreness to come around, or something. I don’t feel bad at all – no soreness.” Ryan praised his safety equipment, and believes that it saved him from injury in this grinding crash. He was wearing a Simpson helmet and a HANS device for his head restraint. The car also had a Joie of Seating containment seat installed. Would he want to race at New Smyrna again? “Absolutely – yeah. We’re talking now about how we can get back here in August, if we can get a car together. I’m heartbroken for the team – for Scotty and his Dad. If we can, we’ll definitely be back. Not a problem.”

    Jason Kimball

    The Butler Racing team fielded two cars at New Smyrna Speedway, for Shane and Stan Butler. Shane is a leading contender for the TBARA points title, which would be his third TBARA title. He also has a car entered for next week’s Little 500 sprint car race at Anderson Speedway in Indiana. The car was not present at the track, as it had been built specially for the Little 500. The team also revealed to me that family patriarch Stan Butler, the Little 500 polesitter in 1988, would be making a qualifying attempt next week in a second team car. Butler told me that he was uncertain if the car would be run in the race, even if qualified, as the team needed additional funds for tires for the 500 lap endurance race on Saturday the 24th. The qualifying attempt would be a Little 500 comeback for Stan Butler, who hadn’t raced in the Memorial Day weekend classic since 2010. He has four top five finishes in the race, with 25 race starts, and 7,267 race laps logged in his racing career (fourth on the all-time list). His first start was in 1978.

    A new addition at the track on Saturday was the black #79 sprint car owned by Jason Kimball. Kimball was making his second career TBARA race start (and first ever start at New Smyrna Speedway), in a car that he just acquired in a trade with the Reutimann family. This car had previously raced in Florida as the white #00 Case Contracting car, with Wayne Reutimann, Jr. at the wheel. Kimball had traded a dirt late model car for this sprint car. The dirt late model is currently being prepared at the home race shop of Wayne Reutimann, for his son to race at Florida dirt tracks. Wayne Jr., known as Pookie, had raced in sprint cars and USAC Silver Crown cars previously.

    Three rookies at the track were entered for their first ever race at New Smyrna Speedway on Saturday. They were Jason Kimball, and two drivers that are sons of TBARA racers – Blake Rose and Chris Gimmler. Chris has been the most impressive rookie of this racing season, getting his first top three finish at Orlando in April. On Saturday, he passed the ailing car of Ben Fritz in the last turn of the last lap to take fourth place in the feature, and his second straight top four finish. Fritz was carrying my GoPro camera in his car, and a loud click could be heard when he lost a bolt from the left front radius rod with one lap remaining. He brought the car around for the final lap, only losing two positions while going through the grass after taking the checkered flag.

    The videos from the New Smyrna Speedway TBARA race are on the Florida Open Wheel channel here:

    http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSdPdgmUo6WfkfR6Eo__QBA

     

     

     

     

    Sport Allen Goes for Three Straight Wins in Three Sprint Car Racing Types

    By Richard Golardi

    After winning on the dirt of East Bay Raceway Park in a winged sprint car, Sport Allen was at Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park one week later. The track was racing both winged and non-wing sprint cars on the same night. Allen would win the feature race, which was over 25 laps on the tight quarter mile asphalt for the non-wing cars. He would come from the back of the field after a sixth lap spin, and make a dramatic last lap pass to go from third to first in the second turn. One type of win that he still wanted in his sprint car was on pavement with wings, a feature race win he had not gotten since his 2012 racing comeback. That opportunity will come on Saturday at New Smyrna Speedway with the Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Series, which races with wings. With a win, Sport Allen would have three straight wins in three weeks, with three different varieties of sprint car racing.

    I spoke to Sport Allen today by phone, as he took a minute out of his busy day making UPS deliveries in Central Florida. He explained that he sometimes has to work into the evening hours, and will still head to the race shop to work on his car after the day’s deliveries are done. His car owner is Taylor Andrews, a four-time TBARA driver champion and Florida racing legend. Allen had wanted to get wins for his car owner, and he appreciated the quality of the equipment that Andrews supplied to him. In fact, he was the only driver to have two cars made available to him for the night’s two races at Showtime Speedway. Allen felt that he had a chance to win both races, but a mistake at the start of the winged race cost him several positions when a quick green flag was thrown by the flagman.

    “I haven’t been to New Smyrna in some time, but the last time we were there, we ran pretty good,” Sport Allen told me. Do you think that you will win on Saturday, I asked? “Well, I think we’ve got a pretty good shot at it, obviously,” he replied. “The only curveball that we are going to have is running with these American Racer tires. I don’t have a lot of laps on them. But, I don’t think that the other guys have a lot of laps on them either. So, we’re kind of all in the same situation.” When is the last time that you raced a sprint car at New Smyrna? “A long time – 2004 or 2005, somewhere around there. It’s been a while.”

    I asked about seeing the Dayton Andrews Dodge team on an infrequent basis during the fall and winter racing seasons, and why the team has been racing more frequently in the spring. “It’s kind of just hit and miss. We kind of go to what we’re ready to go to, if that makes sense. With my job, and trying to get stuff prepped right, and I’ve got to mount tires and all that stuff. If I have a couple of real long days at work, where I don’t get out of work until nine o’clock at night, it gets tough for me to get all that stuff ready to go. If Taylor wants to take the weekend off, then we won’t push the issue. I go, ‘that’s fine – I can catch on some other stuff at home.’ Remember when I said that things just kept biting us, just weird things kept blowing up in our face? So we wanted to make sure that everything was prepared. I tore these cars apart, from top to bottom.”

    The team is not racing for points in any of the Florida sprint car series. They can be picky about where and when they race. But they are aware of the win streak, and want to keep it going, and get the winged pavement feature win accomplished. I asked if the car and motor are suited to New Smyrna’s long straights and high speeds, and Sport confirmed that the car was well-suited to the track. “I think this motor will be really suited for that place. It’s kind of fast and high-banked and risky. That’s fun, man. That’s what racing these sprint cars is all about. You’re going so fast that your head starts wobbling around from the wind under the wing. It’s cool, man.”

    Sport told me that the team did not have any definite plans for their next race after New Smyrna Speedway on Saturday. They do not appear to be favoring dirt over pavement, or winged versus non-wing racing. They likely will race more frequently at those tracks that are close to home, and close to their Pinellas Park race shop. That includes Showtime Speedway and also East Bay Raceway Park, on the other side of Tampa Bay. They want to make the Top Gun Series races at East Bay, which is coming up again on May 17th.

    In a prior 2014 TBARA sprint car start at Desoto Speedway, Allen started near the back in the feature race, and finished in fourth place. “Taylor is excited about what’s going on right now,” Sport Allen revealed. “We’re finally running a lot better, and we’ve been in contention to win all along. It’s just weird things keep happening.” With all the DNF’s that the team has suffered through, Sport knew that his team needed these wins, and he wants more of them. “I need this, man. You start doubting your ability to even do this. If we could win on Saturday, it would be unbelievable. Three different styles of sprint car racing in three different weeks. That would be a first for me actually too. That would be kind of fun to pull that off, and I hope Florida sprint car racing fans recognize that there’s some good talent down here.” The video of Sport Allen at Showtime Speedway on Saturday, May 3, 2014 from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (Non-wing sprint car feature race): http://youtu.be/PVLQB7D3g08

     

     

     

    Mickey Kempgens Returns to Racing after Injury, Confirms Little 500 Plans

     By Richard Golardi

    Mickey Kempgens made his return to racing on Saturday night at Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park, to race in the non-wing sprint car race that was scheduled just two days prior. A non-wing race had originally been scheduled for Citrus County Speedway on this night, but was cancelled over concerns for heavy rain and flooding in Inverness. Kempgens had suffered a broken collarbone in an accident off the track in mid-March, missing the April sprint car race at Citrus County Speedway. He had planned to return to racing this past weekend, and was also looking forward to a return to the Little 500 later in the month. In one start in the 500 in 2012, Kempgens was in eleventh place when the checkered flag fell. He was offered the seat only one day prior to Little 500 qualifying, and had no crew to prepare the car for race day.

    Sport Allen

    On Saturday, with some foam rubber under the right side shoulder belt to protect his recently healed bone, Kempgens was racing the #5 Lee Cipray owned car. This car had previously been committed to running the full season at Citrus County Speedway. Starting on the front row, Kempgens led early in the 25-lap feature race, and was penalized on the second restart for firing before the fourth turn cone. He, along with fellow front-row starter Jimmy Alvis, was sent to the back for this infraction. Starting in seventh at the next restart, Kempgens had Sport Allen in the last row beside him, who had spun on lap six. Joey Aguilar was the new race leader, with Kempgens and Allen carving through the field toward the front. With two laps left, the trio now held the first three positions, with Kempgens closely behind Aguilar in second place. When Aguilar moved high in the first turn to defend his position, Sport Allen went by both cars low in the second turn to take the lead on the last lap, and the feature win.

    “I didn’t realize we were that close to the end,” Sport Allen told me after the race. “Joey was racing Mickey, and they were getting side-by-side there, and it was getting kind of sketchy. That allowed me to close up on them, and it only took them opening a hole once. I’m greedy man, and I wanted to get a win for Taylor (Andrews) here at our home track. We’ve had such good luck, and then it just kind of blows up in our face. I’m glad to get one for Taylor, and Dayton Andrews Dodge here. And those guys raced me clean. Nobody raced me dirty. If anything, I screwed up on that restart and I ran over the back of the guy in front of me, just trying too hard. That’s my fault. I hope he’s not mad,” Allen said.

    The win was Sport Allen’s second sprint car feature win in a row, after winning on the dirt of East Bay Raceway Park seven days prior to this win. With a winged sprint car win on dirt followed by a non-wing pavement sprint car win, I wondered if Allen could win next in a pavement race with wings, covering all the bases of Florida sprint car racing varieties. “Now we need pavement, with the wing. We need to get that knocked out, and we’ll all be happy that we’ve done our job,” he told me.

    I received confirmation from Mickey Kempgens that he will be entered in a Sam Pierce Chevrolet Racing team car, along with Aaron Pierce, for the Little 500 in Anderson, Indiana on May 24th. It will be his second Little 500 effort, but the circumstances are vastly different when compared to 2012. Both drivers have race wins in Florida in 2014, and raced each other in the February Citrus County Speedway non-wing race won by Pierce. “I’ll be driving for Aaron Pierce in the Hurricane, the car I drove two years ago,” according to Mickey Kempgens. “This year, we have a little more time to plan, instead of basically the day before qualifying. We’ll figure it out, and get a crew together.” In 2012, this same car was offered to Kempgens on Wednesday, just one day before Little 500 qualifying. He arrived in Anderson ready to drive, but without a ride. This time, he will be racing under very different circumstances, and be more prepared.

    “We’ll have enough tires this time. We’ll have a crew. Should be good to go,” Kempgens said, showing his positive attitude about this year’s effort. What will be your goal this year in the Little 500? “I guess a good goal would be to run top five. Obviously I want to win it, but to get out of there with a top five – I’d be happy with that.”

    I asked if the car has been raced in the past two years, and was told that Sondi Eden had driven it with a wing. “I think it’s a brand new motor, maybe has one or two shows on it, a new 410. It’s not the motor I ran two years ago.” So, it’s newer, better, and faster – all of the above? “Correct. So it is the same car, but I don’t know if it will be the same number again (it was #28 in the 2012 Little 500). Two years ago, we still set the sixth fastest lap of the race. The car was really fast. We didn’t have enough tires, and didn’t prepare enough.”

    Mickey Kempgens

    And what about the driver, who’s recovering from a broken collarbone? “Tonight’s the first race back. I’ve got a little pad underneath my HANS. I’m going to be sore, not from the break. That seems to have healed up. Just my muscles haven’t been used like this in a while. I’ll probably be worn out by the end of the night,” Mickey remarked. He had not been feeling any pain in the area of the break, which had already healed. “I can feel my arm is starting to tighten up, just from the muscles,” he told me, prior to the feature race. “I’ll get back in the gym; do a little lifting weights, now that I can. Up until last week, my arm was in a sling for a month and a half.”

    Originally, the #5 car was not going to be entered for Mickey for the May race at Inverness, as it still had repairs ongoing. With the Showtime Speedway race announcement, the team made a last minute decision to run, as it was a closer track and the work could be expedited and completed in time. The car will also be entered for some upcoming winged races, with the next on May 31st at Showtime. Mickey will race in next weekend’s New Smyrna Speedway TBARA race in Tom Rice’s orange #84 car. The car has a new motor that was just installed, and will be ready for May 10th at New Smyrna. “We’ll shake it down over there,” Mickey said.

    Videos from the sprint car races at Showtime Speedway will be on the Florida Open Wheel channel:

    http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSdPdgmUo6WfkfR6Eo__QBA

     

     

     

    Q & A with Aileen Collins – Florida’s Newest Female Sprint Car Driver

      

    By Richard Golardi

     

    Interview conducted at Volusia Speedway Park during the Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series race on Saturday, April 19, 2014. Aileen Collins is the newest female sprint car driver in the state of Florida. On the same night that she raced on the dirt at Volusia Speedway, another female sprinter was in action on the pavement of Orlando Speedworld with the TBARA. Wendy Mathis had not been active with the TBARA since 2012, but made a comeback on this night. Rebecca George is regularly seen racing in her sprint car on the dirt at East Bay Raceway Park near Tampa.

    Q.  Aileen, who is the car owner of your number 17C sprint car?

    A.  I am the car owner, along with my Dad, and Rick from Jobsite Concrete helped us out in the beginning. I definitely funded the entire deal. I continue to. We’re getting a couple new people on board, so hopefully, we get some help out this season.

    Q.  And the body shop that I see on the side of the car, AC Auto Body & Paint, that is your business?

    A.  That is my business, yes. It became mine in October last year.

    Q.  Is it correct that your first practice laps in a sprint car were late last year?

    A. Correct. November 2013 – we went out at East Bay. And then I attempted to make the last race at East Bay, and we had some fuel issues. So, we just decided to wait until the new season started (in 2014).

    Q.  When was your first sprint car race?

    A.  My first race was at East Bay this year. This is my second race (Aileen has since had her third race and finished in 14th place at East Bay on April 26th). Literally, I’ve been on the track four times now.

    Q.  You were racing other types of cars previously. Why did you switch to racing sprint cars?

    A.  This is where we are supposed to go. You’re either a fender car driver or an open wheel car driver. We decided that open wheel was more our deal, so that’s where we are.

    Q.  You’ve been going to East Bay Raceway for years and years competing in other classes, watching the sprint cars. Did you think that someday, this is where you would end up racing?

    A.  Absolutely. My Mom went into labor with me at East Bay, while my Father was driving. They had to stop the race, to get my Dad out. Since then, my Dad was always in modified stocks. The sprint cars – that was where we were all wanting to go. The second I had a chance, I decided that if we are going to do it, then let’s do it. In the open wheel modified, I ran a total of maybe twelve races in two years. That thing was a mess. We got our foot in and I said that I waited seventeen years in between racing go karts; I had a baby, raised her, and decided we’ll go back racing. I’m thirty five years old. There’s no more time left. So we decided let’s just go for the top.

    Q.  And you had also raced a modified mini and the open wheel modified too?

    A.  I ran an open wheel modified on dirt, and then I ran the modified mini, on which Ray Miller was the car owner, my Dad’s buddy. He just invited me to come out and play around on that, and it was a good time. But that was on asphalt, and asphalt’s not my deal. I was the car owner for the open wheel modified.

    Q.  But – East Bay is special, with your Mom going into labor here …

    A.  Yeah, that’s my home track. I grew up in the top of the stands with my Nana and my Papa, eating Candy Corn and watching Dad. I remember that we would pit in the middle. I was born there, so that’s my home track for sure and favorite track. I haven’t been on a lot of tracks yet.

    Q.  So, I’m thinking if you could get a win in a sprint car, it would be at...

    A.  At East Bay. Absolutely.

    Q.  So, that’s a goal you want to achieve?

    A.  Absolutely.

    Q.  Any other goals for this year, being your first year in sprint cars?

    A.  I’m happy to finish races now. I go out with the mentality, don’t let them lap me. I’m happy I’m flat-footing. I’ve known a bunch of these guys for a really long time, and I’ve listened to them all these years. I’ve taken all the information, and hopefully I can make some kind of a winning streak eventually.

    Q.  Is there anyone that’s been kind of a mentor to you in sprint cars, or before going into sprint cars?

    A.  Danny (Martin Jr.) definitely helped me understand driving. A lot of drivers won’t do that. A lot of drivers won’t look at me as a driver, first of all. Danny does – to have a conversation and help me understand the reasons why he does the things he does. He’s definitely been very helpful, in that sense. That’s really appreciated, actually.

    Q.  So – helping you with the transition to sprint cars from other types of cars, you mean all of that?

    A.  No, the difference of driving styles. The mentality in my open wheel modified was definitely different. You know – out of date parts, and I didn’t have crew that understood the car, or anything. It’s basically that’s good enough for her kind of a deal. When I built my sprint car, I told Dave Steele, “I don’t want one thing on my car that you wouldn’t put on yours.” I had neck surgery. For the year, I had to recoup.

    Q.  That neck surgery was one year ago now?

    A.  One year ago, April 16th. I had surgery to do a disc fusion in my neck. So, I said look we’ve got a year, so we stripped the car down and completely rebuilt it.

    Q.  How long were you out of racing after the surgery?

    A.  I got into the mod mini, because my sprint car wasn’t done yet. I got into the mod mini maybe two months after my surgery. They said it was about six weeks for recovery. He wanted me to sit out three to six months. And I was like, yeah I can’t. My surgeon said, “I know you’re a racer, so I can tell you six weeks. I know you’re not going to wait.” So after my six week checkup I was like, “alright I’m good?”

    Q.  Do you see yourself progressing beyond sprint cars, or is this the ultimate, this is what you want to race?

    A.  This is what I’m racing now. Whatever may come about, we’ll take those drives when we get there.

    Q.  So you had your own business last year, in addition to the surgery, and in addition to transitioning to being a sprint car owner/driver. You went through a lot last year. That was quite a year.

    A.  Yeah, last year I said let’s just do it all. Cut my neck up, started a business, built a race car – let’s just do it all.

    Q.  It seemed like every stressful event happened all at once for you last year.

    A.  For sure.

    Q.  That had to have been very stressful, having all those things going on in your life all at once. What do you do to deal with stress?

    A.  I climb in my race car. As soon as my helmet’s on, everything else is gone.

    Q.  So, it’s a stress reliever.

    A.  It is for sure. It’s basically my serenity from everything else.

    Q.  Are you running the entire Top Gun series schedule this year?

    A.  East Bay Sprints and Top Gun – I’m running those two. I’m running them all for the rest of the year.

    Q.  Have you ever driven here at Volusia Speedway before?

    A.  No. I’ve never been on this track. Never in my life. I’ve always wanted to race here, you know? I definitely wanted to run here when I had my open wheel modified, but it just wasn’t good enough for here. So, I said I guess we’ll just do it in a sprint. So - we’re here.

    Q.  Well, I’m looking forward to watching you throughout the rest of the year, your very first year in sprint cars.

    A.  I think we’re going to be alright. I’ve got Mike Sweet helping me. He’s put a couple in the Winners Circle. I have a few new guys that are going to be jumping on board with funding. This year, I think we’ve already surprised a few people. Now that I have everything I need, I can actually be a driver and not so much a worrier. These guys take care of stuff for me, and I show up and get in my car, which I love.

    Q.  That’s all my questions. Good luck this year, and thank you.

    A. You’re welcome.

     

     

    Joey Aguilar Suspended by TBARA for Remainder of 2014 Season

     By Richard Golardi

     The Tampa Bay Area Racing Association has confirmed that they have suspended Joey Aguilar, the current point leader and winner of all 3 feature races this year. Aguilar’s suspension is for the remainder of the 2014 season, and is effective immediately. He is being suspended because of unsportsmanlike conduct in the Winners Circle ceremonies in the last race at Orlando Speedworld on Saturday, April 19th. Aguilar was one of two drivers that were placed on a five race probation after the prior TBARA race at Desoto Speedway on March 22nd.

    The two drivers that were penalized with a fine and five race probation after the March race at Desoto were Aguilar and Shane Butler. I was told that Shane Butler’s status with the club remains the same, meaning that he still has four races remaining on his five race probation. After these two drivers finished in first and second place at Orlando Speedworld in last Saturday’s race, both were required to stop on the front straight of the track. This is reportedly where the incidents happened. A TBARA official told me that there were some taunts and gestures by Joey himself and also one or more members of his crew. Shane Butler and crew were also stopped on the front straight. The club determined that these actions were unsportsmanlike, and decided that a suspension was warranted.

    After the prior race at Desoto Speedway, a small number of race fans had expressed their displeasure at what they saw and heard coming from the Winners Circle, specifically referring to harsh language. If this same scenario were to occur again at another race, it could be embarrassing for the TBARA. They are known as a club who pride themselves for being a family-oriented entertainment option. Many TBARA tracks even have a “Family Section” in the grandstands (no alcohol seating section). This dedication to serve as a family entertainment option meant that TBARA would have to act swiftly after this latest incident.

    I was also told that the TBARA would no longer require that the top three finishers stop on the front straight after the race. Only the feature race winner would now be required to stop on the front straight, and the second and third place finishers would proceed directly to the inspection area (in the pits). This is in contrast to the other sprint car series in Florida, at Citrus County Speedway. Citrus has been requiring the top five finishers to stop on the front straight for durometer measurements of their tires immediately after the race is completed (they have an “inspection shed” for further post-race inspections, next to the pit area).

    In addition, TBARA would begin doing durometer measurements of the American Racer tires starting at the next race in May at New Smyrna Speedway. A durometer is a device that measures of the hardness of a material. These would be done as part of the post-race inspection. One of the reasons for this change (TBARA has not done post-race durometer measurements previously) was that this was a procedure currently being done in other sprint car series using American Racer tires. These other series were the Citrus County Speedway Sprints and the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series.

    This effectively leaves no favorite for the TBARA championship this year, even though Shane Butler has finished in second place in all three series races behind Aguilar. Earlier this month, I did ask Butler if he was committed to running all of the remaining 2014 TBARA races. He replied that his only decision was to run the next race (4/19 at Orlando), and he was also preparing for an entry in the Little 500 at Anderson Speedway in May. He had not yet decided about the remainder of the 2014 TBARA season. After the cancellation of this weekend’s race at Three Palms Speedway (fences and grandstands not installed), there are now ten TBARA races remaining, if Three Palms completes construction by 10/31. Citrus County Speedway still has seven non-wing sprint car races remaining, and will host the TBARA again in October for the Frank Riddle Memorial.

    I have also learned that the TBARA rules do not have a set suspension period listed if a driver on probation commits an unsportsmanlike act. It is possible that a driver could be suspended for one race, or several races, or for an entire racing season, depending on the severity of the rules violation, or on the conduct of the driver. The racing club officials made the decision that the act committed while on probation was severe enough to warrant a season-long suspension, as I was told by a series official today.

    I spoke to Joey Aguilar today by telephone, and he informed me that upon getting out of his car in the Winners Circle at Orlando on Saturday night, he went down into a squatting position, and then while pumping his fist yelled, “five in a row, baby!” Joey told me that he did not make any taunting gestures or statements toward Shane Butler, or toward any official. He feels that the suspension penalty is not fair, and he believes that it should be overturned. He is certain that his actions could not be construed to be unsportsmanlike. In addition, he stated that he does wish to race in the remaining TBARA races this year, if and when the suspension is overturned. He still has a goal of winning the TBARA championship this year. I have no further information on if a protest will be made by his team, but Joey does wish to protest the suspension.

    The next upcoming pavement sprint car races in Florida are during the month of May. First up is the monthly visit to Citrus County Speedway on May 3rd for non-wing sprint car racing. Then, the aforementioned TBARA race at New Smyrna Speedway on May 10th, followed by Showtime Speedway’s winged sprint car racing on May 31st. Sandwiched between these last two events is the Little 500 in Central Indiana on May 24th, its traditional date on the night before the Indianapolis 500. Several Floridians are making plans to make the trip north to Anderson, Indiana next month. It looks likely that there will be in excess of four drivers from Florida, which was the Florida driver total for the past two years.

     

     

     

    Remembering Marty Little – A Florida Racing Icon

     By Richard Golardi

     Martin "Marty" Little passed away 4/12/2014, at the age of sixty seven. He was an iconic short track auto racing announcer, journalist, and historian, and he was a Floridian.

    “Mr. Microphone. The Voice of Hialeah Speedway. A member of our racing family. A friend, mentor, and loved one to many. A great husband, father, and dear friend. You were like my racing father that I never had. The Florida Racing Community lost an icon and we lost a dear friend. A great guy and a great asset to racing. Everybody liked Marty. Marty was always an encourager and always made me smile. I will miss that vibrant smile and those great big bear hugs. Now Heaven has an announcer to work with that score keeper. Announcer, racing journalist and photographer Marty Little lost his battle with cancer. He was the historian and promoter of the racers and tracks in South Florida. RIP Marty. We all love you.”

    Those are a selection of the remarks made by some of Marty Little’s friends. He was a South Florida auto racing icon. Marty could be seen roaming the grounds, or sitting behind the microphone, at Palm Beach Fairgrounds Speedway, Miami-Hollywood Speedway Park or Hialeah Speedway. He also wrote for National Speed Sport News. His last article was on March 30, 2013 on the passing of Floridian Art Malone. In 2012, upon the passing of Chris Economaki, he recalled his 37 year history writing for NSSN, and also the day when Economaki asked him to join the team.

    Little had been writing a limited circulation late model stat sheet called South Florida Track Facts. It covered the local action at South Florida tracks, and listed feature victories, top five finishes, and other stats. When Economaki agreed that he should write a column for NSSN, South Florida Track Facts was an obvious choice for the name of his column in the country’s top weekly racing trade paper. He covered IndyCar Series races at three different places in the Miami area, and NASCAR series races at both Daytona and Homestead. He was proud of his association with NSSN and Chris Economaki, and that it earned him access to the top level racing events in Florida.

    The road to becoming a track announcer started at Miami’s Hialeah Speedway, where he also wrote the track results stories for 28 years until the track closed in August 2005. He was the main announcer from September 1992 until the track’s closing. Marty was planning to be an important part of next year’s planned Hialeah Speedway ten year reunion. “When you’ve got a good race, it’s easy to call,” Little stated at the first Hialeah Speedway reunion in 2010. “The tougher part is when you don’t have a good race, and you’re trying to make it sound exciting for the fans. That’s a little bit more of a challenge.”

    Marty’s race driving experience in his early years was limited to go karts. His first experience working on race cars was at 12 years of age, in Melbourne, FL (the current hometown of this reporter). Next, he moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1960, and his love of cars and racing continued. He now had a choice of different tracks to go to each weekend around the South Florida area, including Hialeah. In Melbourne, the only area track was Eau Gallie Speedway. “I went to Old Hollywood, and Medley. You had a selection of tracks in the area. It wasn’t just Hialeah at that point. Hialeah was club owned, and club operated from 1954 until 1995,” Little said, when asked what allowed Hialeah Speedway to outlast all of the other area short tracks. “What finally helped its demise were the property taxes,” he said.

    Marty started going to Hialeah Speedway as a spectator and a crewman. In 1975, his race team moved to North Carolina, but Little stayed behind in Florida. Danny Taylor, the Palm Beach promoter, asked him to write the weekly news releases. In 1977, the writer at Hialeah fell ill and never returned, so now he had the job of writing the weekly releases at Hialeah also. He held both jobs until the demise of both tracks, which came in 1983 for Palm Beach Speedway and in 2005 for Hialeah Speedway. He got his start in announcing in 1992 when the current Hialeah announcer, who lived in Palm Beach, decided he no longer wanted to make the 200 mile commute between his home and the track, and turned the job over to Marty. Little had limited announcing duties up until this point, but now took over as the main announcer at Hialeah.

    Another experience at Hialeah, a track that was a huge part of Marty’s life, allowed him to add “race car driver” to his resume. Around 1993, he drove a Cyclone at Hialeah and he had a blast.  In fact, the fill-in announcer interviewed him while Marty was still seated in the car on the track. The enthusiasm that he displayed that night for race car driving was unmistakable.

    Two things that made Hialeah Speedway special to Marty and many others were that it was an unusually flat track, and that it outlasted so many other South Florida short tracks. The track was so flat that it even seemed to have a negative 1% or 2% bank. It was that flat. Marty offered an explanation why the track outlived the others in South Florida. "A part of it and probably a big part of it was the club (GMRA - Greater Miami Racing Association). The club gave the whole place a real sense of ownership. Hialeah Speedway has outlived a lot of tracks.” Another thing that made the track special to Marty was that he would have his wife Janet (the track scorer) by his side in the booth.

    At the first Hialeah Speedway reunion in 2010, Marty was the Master of Ceremonies, and was busy with his duties honoring the first ten Hialeah Speedway Hall of Fame members.  He had prepared a short bio for each new inductee. What Marty didn’t know was that there were actually eleven new Hall of Famers, and he was number eleven. Marty was genuinely surprised when the reunion organizer began reading his bio, and announced that he was also a new Hall of Fame member.

    “I was completely surprised. I had no idea this was coming,” Marty Little said at the Hialeah Speedway reunion. He was presented with a plaque designating him as a member of the Hialeah Speedway Hall of Fame. “The other inductees that got it put the show on the track. I was just part of the support network,” he said, in his self-effacing manner. “I never in a million years imagined that I’d be an inductee.”

    Ronnie Bacelo, a friend of Marty Little and race competitor and later manager of Hialeah Speedway, told me of his long friendship with Marty and Janet Little, and how they influenced his life. “In 1992, while trying to win my one and only Street Stock championship, I was being tested by the other drivers. If they ruffled my feathers, I could do something that would get me suspended. Marty pulled me aside and said, ‘listen here. You need to get a grip before this championship slips away from you. Get out there and do what you do best. Drive the damn car and stop with the bull____.’ I won the championship.”

    Ronnie Bacelo again. “One night up in the tower while managing the race track at Hialeah, I was telling stories and had Marty and Janet laughing while he was trying to announce, and she was trying to score the racing. I don’t remember what I said, but Marty turned to me and burst out laughing while eating popcorn. A popcorn kernel shot into my mouth and hit the back of my throat. I proceeded to cough and gag. I thought all three of us were going to be fired. The mic was silent, and they were asking Janet for the lineup of the cars, but nobody could talk. Those are memories I will never forget. Marty was a dear friend, mentor, and the racing father I never had.”

    Thanks to Rex Hollinger for stories of Marty Little at the Hialeah reunion and the Cyclone race at Hialeah. Thanks to Ronnie Bacelo for sharing his memories of Marty. These stories show that Marty Little has a very special place in the memories of all his friends, and that he will be remembered for a very long time. Thank you for all the stories that you told, Marty.

     

     

     

    Aaron Pierce Interview – Florida Racing Plans and More

     By Richard Golardi

     Earlier this year, I spoke to Aaron Pierce on a cool, clear night in Inverness, FL. Aaron had made the trip south in mid-winter to take advantage of the winter sprint car racing taking place at Citrus County Speedway. The regularly scheduled (once a month) non-wing sprint car racing at the speedway was new for 2014. Florida had transitioned to being the hot spot for year-round pavement sprint car racing, both with and without wings. Florida was now on track to have more pavement sprint car races during the year than Indiana. I had also learned that Aaron was considering the possibility of keeping one of his cars in the Sunshine State, to race during the cold weather months. I asked Aaron if he found it surprising to see Florida becoming a dominant pavement racing destination, with more 2014 pavement races than Indiana?

    “Yes, I do,” he replied. “We’ll be down for sure,” he said, referring to a return in the fall, when racing in Indiana winds down. “My friend, Matt Grimes, from down here, knows a lot of these guys. I called and asked if he knew anybody that might have a car available. He kind of turned me over to Johnny (Gilbertson). It was a lot cheaper to do this then bring my own stuff down, and so that’s what we did.” Pierce would race the black #22 car owned by two-time TBARA champ Gilbertson, and would win the first race of the new non-wing sprint car series at Citrus County Speedway in February. One month later, he was back in Florida to race the car again, this time with wings at Showtime Speedway. Pierce would finish in third place in the Florida State Championship race at Showtime on March 1st.

    Other than the annual visit to Pensacola with the Must See Racing sprint cars for the past two years, and a 2013 stop at New Smyrna Speedway for a USAC midget race, Aaron’s trips to Florida have been very limited. “I’ve only been here one time, and that was in ’98. I won the Legend car nationals down here. Long time ago! We’ve wanted to come, but over the last few years, TBARA hasn’t really had many races during February. I’d like to come down during Speedweeks, and there hasn’t been anything for a little while. If they can get that deal working, then we’ll definitely come down.”

    Aaron Pierce will make his 12th start in the Little 500 this year at Anderson Speedway. His family’s car dealership, Sam Pierce Chevrolet, is located nearby in Daleville, Indiana. This makes Anderson the closest thing the family has to a “home track”. He has two pole position starts, and three top five finishes during that time in Anderson’s biggest annual race event.

    Is this the year that you’re going to win the Little 500, I asked? “Not for sure – not saying anything,” he said, laughing. Are you starting to feel like Dale Earnhardt and Tony Stewart, and their ordeal to make it to the Winners Circle at the Daytona 500? “A little. I’ve been running that race since 2000, or 2001. And, I finished second a few times, and every other time that we went, we’ve been in a place where we should have won, and something happened. We were really good last year, and I just got impatient passing a lapped car that had new tires on, and we’d lapped him twenty or thirty times, you know. And, he didn’t give anybody any room. And, everybody remembers it, so…”

    “I’m going to run the USSA stuff (Pierce was 2013 USSA sprint car champion), and probably some AVSS. I’ll run every chance I get. I’ll probably drive for Joe Swanson with HOSS (which has since merged with AVSS) again, like I did last year a few times.” I also asked about his plans in USAC Silver Crown, and last year’s Silver Crown race at the Hoosier Hundred. “We qualified third at the Hoosier Hundred, and had the fastest car there, and I got a flat. I caught the back of the pack, and ended up seventh. We ran the Raceway Park race, and didn’t have much luck there. Any of that stuff that’s close like that, we’ll do. If they get that series turned around, we’ll do more of it.”

    As far as changes to his schedule this year, compared to recent years, Aaron told me, “Yeah, I may run the Redbud at Anderson (Redbud 300 ARCA/CRA late model race in June). We’ve got a car. I’ve probably run 50 or 60 late model races. I finished third at the Winchester 400, and I’ve finished third at the Redbud. I finished second at Plymouth – three times. We did really good in our late model deal. Didn’t win any of them, but we ran good every time we were there.”

    Pierce has also raced a late model in the Governor’s Cup race at New Smyrna Speedway a couple of times, and was satisfied with how he ran there. “We came down for the week prior to that, where they run every night, and we ran in the top three every night that we were there. I was running second in the Governor’s Cup, and blew a right front tire and knocked the wall down. It didn’t hurt me. I like that place. And then we went back in the midget last year, and it was a lot of fun.”

    Will you have a teammate this year at the Little 500? “Not for sure. Could be a couple different people. I was talking to Mickey (Kempgens) a little bit earlier, and he’s going to get a hold of us, and we’ll see what we can do.” We also spoke about the hopes of Florida race fans for more Floridians to make it to the Little 500, and advance beyond the Florida series into the national series. “If they want to get their car count up, they need to figure out something to where the guys who have 410’s can come down. If they are going to restrict them, or whatever they want to do, and I know I would come.” A common argument is that it won’t work because car owners in Florida can’t afford the expense of buying a 410, I said. “Well, if you restrict it down, then no one has to buy a new engine,” he replied. “You can choke those 410’s down. You know – put a one inch two hundred restrictor in it. That’s what they did out in Utah, for the difference in the heads, and it worked fine. It’s a deal that’s definitely feasible, and you’ll have a lot more cars.”

    We also spoke about the pleasant surprise of seeing a sizable field of non-wing cars at Citrus County Speedway for the first race of a new series, and in the winter. “There’s a lot of cars here tonight, for a non-wing race in the middle of the winter down here,” Pierce said. It’s a novelty because it (non-wing sprint car racing) has not been done here in a long time, and there were a number of cars sitting on the sidelines, waiting for something like this, I stated. “Well, for the non-wing deal, you don’t have to have a big motor. We’ve done some things to this car to try to kind of tame it down a little bit. We were really good in the first practice, and I tried some stuff for the heat race, because I could change it back. We’ll just have to see what happens. We’ve got a good piece.”

    The equipment was good enough for Aaron Pierce to end his winter excursion to Florida with one win, and some new fans in Florida looking forward to his next visit. When will his next Florida visit occur? On Friday, he will be in competition with the Sam Pierce Chevrolet race team at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola. The event is the season opening race with the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series. The “Southern Shootout” ends the next day in Alabama at Mobile International Speedway, before the racers head north for the rest of the 2014 season schedule.

    The video of Aaron Pierce’s win from the Citrus County Speedway Wingless Sprint Series in February is here, on the Florida Open Wheel channel:

    http://youtu.be/AVCeRxl1fZM

     

     

     

     

     

    Citrus County Speedway Sprints – April 5th Race Notes

     By Richard Golardi

     At Citrus County Speedway in Inverness, FL on Saturday, Steven Bradley scored a victory on a day that was his birthday. It was only his second start of the year after a three-year hiatus from Florida sprint car racing. The win in the Citrus County Speedway Wingless Sprint Series was not improbable, as Bradley had looked fast during his one prior start at the Inverness, Florida track. He had led early during the last race on March 1st, and went on to finish in third place. He told me that he had been concentrating on caring for his family, including a three year child, and that he felt ready for a comeback this year, choosing non-wing sprint cars at Citrus. He was hounded by the cars of Shane Butler and Dude Teate (subbing for an injured Mickey Kempgens in the #5 car), who later collided with each other, and were sent to the back. Butler would come through the field to challenge Bradley again, making one last attempt to pass at the finish, but failing to complete the pass. Bradley would win by one car length.

    Blake Rose

    Speedway promoter Gary Laplant told me that this year’s three nights of sprint car racing saw paid attendance that was about 40% to 50% greater than the nights without the sprint cars. During the feature race, there were times when cars involved in spins or collisions were sent to the back of the pack, and at other times, they rejoined the field in their old position. I asked for an explanation as to why this was done, and I was told that each incident was being considered separately, and a call was being made each time, base on observer’s viewpoints. The observers were stationed around the track, and were in radio contact with Laplant. This explains why cars that had spun or stopped did not always get sent to the back of the pack.

    Mickey Kempgens was smiling, and looking thinner, in the pits next to the car that he had driven to victory one month ago. To explain was he was not driving this night, he showed me an x-ray on his smart phone. The x-ray depicted a badly broken right collarbone, suffered by Kempgens three weeks ago. With his right arm still in a sling, he was greeting friends and customers, and was looking forward to his racing return. Dealing with pain and the pain meds apparently contributed to some of the weight loss. His planned return to the seat of the #5 sprint car will occur next month, at the next scheduled Citrus County Speedway sprint car race, on May 3rd. The seven-week layoff should be sufficient, as he was told to allow six weeks to heal before returning.

    Steven Bradley

    Part of the appeal of this new non-wing sprint car series has been the appearance of drivers and cars that had been sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the racing opportunity that felt right. Florida has also taken the lead as the place for young pavement racers to have access to year-round racing and practice. Troy Thompson had been racing in SCCA road races for the past 19 years, and had been out of sprint car racing for that time. He’s back in a sprint car now, due to the non-wing cars having their own series. He knew that his car may be underpowered compared to other cars, and was choosing the non-wing races to get the best competitive advantage for his car. He came back from a spin early in his heat race to complete the feature race and garner a 14th place finish.

    Blake Rose was the newest sixteen year old racer to add his name to the ranks of young Floridians in pavement sprint cars. After practicing on Friday night at the speedway, getting his first practice laps in a sprint car, the Rose family felt he was ready to race. Three generations of racers in the Rose family were present, with Blake’s father and grandfather joining him in the pits. His father’s blueberry farm was a prominent sponsor listed on the car’s side panel. Blake raced through the chaos of that night’s race to bring the #56 family car to the finish line for a top ten finish in his first sprint car feature. Rose was joined by Ty DeCaire and Garrett Green as one of three drivers in the field that were sixteen years old or younger (Green turns sixteen later this year).

    Sprint cars lined up at Citrus County Speedway

    Team Green Racing leaves for Pensacola later this week, to enter their #3 car and Garrett Green in their first winged sprint race with the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series. Despite being under sixteen years of age, Green was able to race this year, as he was reaching sixteen years of age during the season. A recent rule change brought this change, after series founder Jim Hanks had previously restricted racing to those drivers who had reached their 16th birthday. The team will race in the “Southern Shootout”, consisting of a Friday night race at Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway and another race the next night in Alabama at Mobile International Speedway. In May, a return to Indiana and the Little 500 will highlight the team’s efforts.

    Shane Butler informed me that he is going forward with plans to bring a car to Indiana for the Little 500 next month, and is continuing efforts to raise the needed sponsor dollars. He may have two cars to take north in May for the Memorial Day weekend classic, but he will be the only driver entered. He will enter his #18 car for next week’s TBARA series race, at Orlando Speedworld (Saturday, 4/19), but will not commit to running the entire series schedule with the TBARA winged racers this year. He will choose some of the remaining races to run, but would not say which he would choose. The return of the TBARA series would see the two racers who fought to the finish of the last race at Desoto Speedway back on the track again. The two racers were Butler, and eventual race winner Joey Aguilar.

    The return of non-wing sprint car racing at Citrus County Speedway may also be partly to credit for renewed interest in running in the Little 500 in May. Dave Steele’s previously announced intentions to enter the Little 500 were later joined by a planned return to pavement sprint car racing for Collin Cabre with car owner Jerry Powell (Cabre’s first Little 500 effort). Troy DeCaire has a planned entry with car owner Dick Fieler, and has his first 2014 Florida race this Friday in Pensacola. Mickey Kempgens seems certain to return, and will be healed from his recent injury by May. Kempgens last raced in the 500 in 2012 in a Sam Pierce Chevrolet team backup car. Kempgens told me that he can’t commit to running an extensive schedule of races outside of Florida, as his growing business (Team MK Graphics) demands his time and attention. Team Green Racing will have one or two cars available, but will likely concentrate on Garrett’s efforts, as he wants his first top five Little 500 finish. This year’s Little 500 seems sure to have in excess of four Floridians racing, which was the 2012 and 2013 driver race count for Florida.

    The 2014 pavement sprint car race total for Florida now stands at 24 races, with seven non-wing races remaining in Inverness, and the three races planned for Three Palms Speedway now considered as cancelled (4/26), or improbable (10/31 and 11/1). TBARA will add an out-of-state venue for the first time in several years (Watermelon Capital Speedway in Georgia). Showtime Speedway soldiers on, in spite of the low car counts from their first two 2014 races, both in March. The two feature races in March both saw seven or fewer cars compete in the feature race (both won by Joey Aguilar). Their next sprint car race is scheduled for the Saturday after the Little 500 (5/31).

    The winning driver interview video on the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (Wingless Sprint Cars from Citrus County Speedway on 4-5-2014):

    http://youtu.be/YbjI5JP2ANs

     

     

     

     

     

    Joey Aguilar Interview – Florida’s Newest Pavement Dominator

     By Richard Golardi

     What is it like to be behind the wheel of a race car? Is it similar to doing a high-wire act, without a net? Or is it more like being next to someone else doing a high-wire act who is trying to push you off the wire?

    Prior to the feature race at Desoto Speedway last month, a supporter admonished Joey Aguilar to, “Take it easy. Use your head. They don’t like winners. They want to crash them every time. They will take you out, just because they don’t want you to win.”

    After Joey Aguilar went on a tear through Florida’s trail of winged pavement sprint car races during the month of March (winning all four races), I wondered if he had felt like a high-wire artist. His answer? No. He didn’t really seem to feel the pressure, as best as I could tell. A recent TBARA fine and five-race probation did not seem to faze him. He was focused on driving in his next race, and other duties to promote his sponsors and get them exposure.

    Joey Aguilar and car owner Sharon Riddle

    He, along with car owner Sharon Riddle, had also had set their main goal for the year. It was to win the Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series championship in 2014. Aguilar had finished second in the TBARA championship in 2013, a season that saw him make a comeback from serious burns suffered late in the season at Desoto Speedway. He didn’t miss a race due to the burn injuries, but could not overcome Dave Steele’s points lead.

    Two of the four race wins were in the TBARA series, giving Joey Aguilar the points lead going into the two remaining spring season TBARA races at Orlando Speedworld and New Smyrna Speedway. An April race that was planned for Three Palms Speedway has now been cancelled by the track, due to construction delays at the track. A two-race weekend has been added to the 2014 TBARA schedule, at Georgia’s Watermelon Capital Speedway. The July 25th and 26th race dates will be co-sanctioned with USCS’s pavement “Road to Atlanta” tour. The USCS series culminates with a Labor Day weekend race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in August. This race is one day prior to a TBARA race at New Smyrna Speedway, so teams will likely have to choose between one of the two dates.

    “It’s always been in three areas – like a triangle,” Joey told me, when asked how he managed such an impressive succession of wins in the month of March. He credited his car owners, and the equipment they supplied to him as the first part of that triangle. “The second part of that triangle is my crew chief, Tra Pissott. He’s the one that twists the wrenches on this car. Me and him are like brothers. We’ve been with each other for so long. We both know each other. He’s a big part of the way the car is running right now. The third part of that triangle, to make the team that I have right now, is my sponsors. It all starts with long-time sponsor Simpson (Safety Products), and a relationship that just started last year with the Robinson Family. There’s a brand-new relationship that we just started with Desoto Speedway. We’re going to do a lot of neat things on promoting that race track this year. I love to promote. I wish I could do it for a living. Another brand new sponsor of mine is Sweet Manufacturing. They do the steering components, the steering boxes, and the power steering pumps, and the hydraulics for the race car wings.”

    Joey Aguilar and Mrs. Brazil.

    Aguilar has power from JRE Racing Engines, which is a Florida based company. He was told that the engine that they supplied for this year’s races was an improvement over last year’s engine. He was skeptical at first, but no longer. “We ran it five times, and won four races with it,” Joey told me (the only race that wasn’t a win was February 1st at Citrus County Speedway, where he finished third).

    George Rudolph recently revealed to me that he is Joey Aguilar’s uncle. Aguilar has never driven the iconic purple #68 car that Rudolph fielded for decades for a litany of legendary Florida sprint car drivers. The car was seen just last month for the Larry Brazil Memorial Race, a race won by Joey. Aguilar was close to Larry Brazil, and considered him to be a mentor. “This is for the old man. He’s a big mentor of mine,” Joey said after winning the memorial race. “He treated me like I was his own son. I drive just like old man Brazil,” he added.

    Joey told me that he was recently asked if he was glad that David Steele was not racing right now. Steele has not completed any Florida pavement races yet this year, after entering one race at Showtime Speedway, and going out early with a mechanical failure. Steele has announced plans to go for his third Little 500 race win next month in Indiana. “I miss David Steele being here racing,” he replied. “When you race against one of the best sprint car drivers in the country, it’s fun to race against a guy like that. You go to the track to race against guys like that. You go to race against competition.”

    What do you think of the penalties that you received from TBARA last week ($250 fine and 5 race probation period)? Do you think they were fair, or were they not fair? “I’m going to have to let the owners handle this one,” was Joey’s succinct reply. The pass for the win at Desoto, where he appeared to have had two tires below the yellow line, was a chance he would take again. If the penalty might be protested, he would leave it to the owners to decide, he said (the penalties were for Winners Circle conduct).

    The #11 team will be at all the TBARA races this year, in their attempt to earn the TBARA championship. As far as other Florida pavement races (Showtime and Citrus County Speedway), they will not commit to running all those races. The team will sit out this Saturday’s race at Citrus, preferring to participate in a community event to promote a primary sponsor, Desoto Speedway. Their next race is at Orlando Speedworld on April 19th. With national series Must See Racing making their annual visit to Florida next week (4/11 at Five Flags Speedway), I asked Aguilar if we might see him racing in Must See Racing’s “Southern Shootout”?

    “I’ve got some phone calls in, and I’m just waiting for the return calls,” Joey said in response. “Driving for a well-established team,” he added. He would not reveal any names, but seemed positive about his chances to show off his driving skills outside of Florida racing series. He had driven in a Must See Racing event previously, with a car entered by Floridian Shane Miller. It was a race at Salem Speedway a few years ago. He also raced at Toledo and Anderson Speedway during the trip north with Miller Motorsports, a team name that is still seen on his driving uniform to this day. He has good memories of racing with the Miller Motorsports team.

    Aguilar did express some remorse about the events that transpired in the Winners Circle of Desoto Speedway immediately after his TBARA race win in March. “I will personally apologize to the Desoto Speedway fans when we go there next time. I shouldn’t have thrown the trophy. Even though the situation happened, two wrongs don’t make a right. When we park it in Victory Lane when we go back there, we’ll make sure that we let the fans know that we love them, and that we are sorry. We are sorry for the way that we acted.”

    Can he win a fifth straight race, and then a sixth race, I asked? “Right now we can be confident. We are beatable,” he added. “We can go undefeated for the year. That’s what we’d like to do. As long as we stay focused, and do what we’re doing, we’ve got a team that can do it.” Joey did tell me that he did win three races in a row previously, when he drove for Todd Smith. “Right now, I’m very confident. I’m driving very confidently. But, I’m not conceited. I know I can be beat. I know it’s going to be tough to try to win.”

    I did meet Joey’s 18 year old son at Showtime Speedway last year. The 43 year old racer runs a warehouse for a carpet company during the week. After winning the Frank Riddle Memorial Race last year, driving a Frank Riddle memorial car, this most recent win at Desoto was equally special for Joey. This was the Larry Brazil Memorial, and Joey spoke of the cars that Larry drove, in addition to the famed George Rudolph number 68. His admiration of Larry Brazil was evident, and Joey spoke of the enjoyment he gets out of seeing pictures and hearing stories of Florida’s legendary sprint cars, and the men who drove them. A little bit of their spirit seems to linger on to this day whenever Joey Aguilar takes to the track somewhere in Florida, somewhere in time.

     

     

     

     

    TBARA Comes Roaring Back – High Speeds and High Stress at Desoto

     By Richard Golardi

     On Saturday, March 22nd, the Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series had its second race in two weekends. The high speeds and close competition on the track at Desoto Speedway did get slightly overshadowed by tempers flaring and harsh words after the feature race was completed. This tension had been brewing since the prior weekend’s race at Auburndale, when the driver’s meeting was a flashpoint. Joey Aguilar’s feature race win was his third sprint car win in a row, this time in the Larry Brazil Memorial Race. Brazil’s family attended en masse, wearing purple shirts emblazoned with the number 68. George Rudolph, Larry Brazil’s long-time car owner, was also present with a Rudolph family-owned purple #68 car, which had Brazil’s name on the side. This car would be driven by Garrett Green, as the Green family was not running their familiar #3 car for Garrett.

    The fines and penalties levied as a result of incidents during Saturday’s race at Desoto Speedway (Source: TBARA):

             Shane Butler – (1) $250 fine, for rough driving after completion of the race, under the caution flag; (2) Five race probation period

             Joey Aguilar – (1) $250 fine, for unsportsmanlike conduct during Victory Lane ceremonies; (2) Five race probation period

    Larry Brazil tribute car

    The impetus for the flaring tempers after the race could partly be traced to a pass for the lead during the next to last lap of the 30-lap feature race. Shane Butler was being closely pursued by the #11 car of Joey Aguilar in second place. As Aguilar dove low on the back straight to attempt to pass Butler in the third turn, his car had both left side tires below the yellow line upon entering the turn and the two cars had tire-to-tire contact in the turn. Aguilar completed the pass and went on to cross the finish line in first place. Butler made contact with the rear bumper of the #11 car after the checkered flag, and the two drivers went face-to-face after stopping on the front straight. The Winners Circle was chaotic, and track officials seemed anxious to end the post-race ceremonies, explaining that they had another feature race to run.

    Garrett Green, L, and George Rudolph, R.

    The race itself was likely the best pavement sprint car race so far this year in Florida, with four to five cars in the lead pack, and multiple lead changes with no certain winner until the last lap. This was also the first time in the past three TBARA visits to Desoto Speedway without a driver injury, as last year saw drivers suffer broken bones and third degree burns in separate incidents (both TQ midget and sprint cars). Shane Butler continued his steady progress so far this year to now compete for the race win. At the same time, Aguilar appears to be the favorite to continue his winning ways and compete for his first TBARA driver championship. Dave Steele (2013 TBARA champion) has sat out the first two TBARA races of 2014. He did show at one Florida pavement race this year, earlier this month at Showtime Speedway. A broken camshaft kept him out of the feature race on March 1st.

    TBARA heat race at sunset

    Problems with the steering box on the #68 Rudolph family car did not permit Green to be competitive in the feature race, but he did get to lead the field during the pace laps to honor Larry Brazil. Team Green Racing is directing their efforts during the next three weeks to Garrett’s entry in his first winged sprint car races with Must See Racing (Pensacola on 4/11 and Mobile on 4/12). It won’t be his first Must See race, as last year’s Little 500 was a part of Must See Racing’s 2013 schedule. He also has experience with high-speed half mile tracks, from competing last year at New Smyrna Speedway with TBARA (Pensacola and Mobile are both banked half mile tracks).

    The final feature race results were not released until 1 AM on Sunday morning, as the TBARA officials reviewed race video files and huddled to discuss the race finish and possible driver penalties. A question that needed an answer was if the final pass for the lead was legal if the car attempting the pass had two tires below the yellow line, but might have been forced below the line by the car defending the lead. Different camera angles (hand held and GoPro cameras) appeared to show either two or possibly three wheels below the yellow line. The details of the fines and penalties were not released until Monday. No changes were made to the final finishing order, and no driver or owner points were docked.

    Heat race start from 11 - Joey Aguilar

    Ben Fritz had his first podium finish of the year, in third place, after driving with a chunk of metal wedged under his accelerator pedal. Contact between Chris Gimmler and Matt Alfonso on the first feature lap sent Alfonso’s car into the air, and he came close to flipping. He was allowed to exit to change a flat rear tire, and to resume racing in the feature, finishing in eighth place. Car owner Lenny Puglio told me that he will enter a car for the upcoming Must See Racing weekend of racing in the South, and also other Must See Racing dates during the year. He has been fielding numerous calls from drivers interested in a seat in his car this year, as he told me. Davey Hamilton competed in his car at Showtime Speedway this month, and will be back in the car at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola.

    George Rudolph had the response of the day at Desoto Speedway, when asked about the long relationship between Larry Brazil and himself as car owner and driver. When asked what made Larry Brazil so good during those thirteen years driving his car, Rudolph had a two word response. “I did,” he said. “He just was a great racer. I won a lot of races with him. He drove for me for thirteen years,” Rudolph added. Larry Brazil was honored for the first time with a memorial race named for him, after he passed away in 2011. In addition to winning the first ever sprint car race at Desoto Speedway, Brazil was the winner of over 80 sprint car races during his career, and is ranked fifth for overall sprint car wins among Floridians.

    The videos from the Desoto Speedway TBARA race are on the Florida Open Wheel channel here:

    http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSdPdgmUo6WfkfR6Eo__QBA

     

     

     

    Two New Faces On the Scene with TBARA – Howard Jacobs and Bud Howell

     By Richard Golardi

     Auburndale Speedway, Auburndale, FL, Saturday, March, 15, 2014

    Bud Howell

    “I am the Flagman for the TBARA, and my job is to make sure it’s safe on the track and put on a show for the fans and the drivers.” I know you flagged TBARA races before, and that you have 30+ years of experience flagging at short tracks, is that right? “Correct. I’ve flagged pretty much all over the United States. I started at Toledo Speedway, and it progressed on to other traveling series. I did flag at Eldora for a little bit for Earl (Baltes), before Tony took over. I moved down here in 2002, and now I’ve been flagging at all the short tracks here in Florida.”

    I asked Bud Howell if the move was because he had retired, or if something else brought him to Florida? “A change in career. I love the weather, and I’m happy to see short track starting to get better for the TBARA.” Were you still flagging up to last year? “No. I had two and a half years of enjoyment,” Bud Howell said, artfully avoiding the word retirement. “I missed it. I was going to a lot of different tracks, kind of nice because when you work for one track, you don’t get to see anything else. I got to enjoy going to other tracks, and when they called and asked me, I told them that I would be very happy and delighted to be their Flagman. I will be at every race that they have. I hope they get some more added in.”

    What were you doing for those two and a half years of retirement, when you weren’t flagging? “Yelling at other Flagmen from the stands (laughing).” Did you like doing that or you would of rather have had flags in hand? “I would have rather been in the perch, is what we call it. It’s funny when I think of how many people pick on me when I’m up there. You see everything, because you’ve been up there. When you sit in the stands, you’re bored because you’re used to being in the action, making the calls, and waving the flags. It drove me crazy, and that’s why I’m happy to be back in it.”

    What were some of the most exciting things that happened over those 30+ years? Have you ever had a car come into the flag stand when you were up there? “I’ve had the top of a car come in, and knock me out. I’ve been knocked out three times. The best was that I got to flag all the NASCAR boys for qualifying at Michigan International Speedway. So, that was really a highlight, and also doing Eldora was a plus, flagging all the top dogs there.” So, nothing worse than being knocked out? “No, I’ve been on fire. Thank God, that’s pretty much been it. It’s a dangerous sport. Those wings put off so much draft that my flags got me a couple of times in the face tonight.” Bud even had a small wound on his nose, a testament to how he put everything he had into his flagging duties that night at Auburndale Speedway.

    Howard Jacobs

    Jacobs, aka “Fastrack Howie”, is a Safety-Kleen corporate man by day, in his position as a Territory Account Manager with a company whose slogan is “Make Green Work”. He was asked to be the full-time TBARA Announcer for 2014, as the club knew that he was experienced at being a DJ, and had many hours behind the announcer’s microphone. His newer duties with Safety-Kleen Motorsports made it a perfect fit. I had seen Jacobs at the track more frequently in recent months, including during February Speedweeks races.

    “As you know, Safety-Kleen is one of the big sponsors of the TBARA,” Howard told me. “I got to going around to some of the tracks with Buff (Fritz), and he found out that I MC’ed several events, and DJ’ed several events, and he said, ‘you know, we’re looking to take this to another level.’ He said, ‘we want to have our own flagman, and we want to have our own announcer. When you look at other successful groups like the World of Outlaws, they will bring in their own crew.’ And I agreed with him. He offered me this job, and I thought about it for about two days, and I called him up and said, let’s do it!”

    “This is a new challenge for me. I’ve been in front of lots of people, doing all different things, but I’ve never done anything like this. It’s exciting. I’ve been around the race track since I was a little kid, sleeping on the stands. I go way back. When I had this opportunity to do this for the Safety-Kleen TBARA Series, I jumped all over it. We want to make this thing bigger every year. That means more races, more purse for the drivers, and more cars here.” Howard Jacobs told me that this was the first time for him announcing an auto race. He felt that his performance improved over the course of the evening, including interviews with fans and drivers on the front straight during the TBARA autograph session. “I think it’s only going to get better as time goes on,” he remarked.

    What are some of your other duties involving Safety-Kleen and motorsports? “I go around and help a lot of the tracks handle their environmental needs, and disposal of their waste oils. I put in cleaning equipment for the drivers that they need to wash their parts, with our parts cleaners. We set up tents and displays, just like we do at NASCAR. You know, Safety-Kleen is huge in NASCAR, and NHRA, and Monster Trucks. I play a big part here in Central Florida with the small tracks, getting these guys on board, and showing them what it takes to be environmentally friendly, and all that.”

    Did he like the announcing duties enough that night that he was looking forward to it, and wanted to do it the full year? “I’m all in. And there’s a good chance that I might sign and be around next year if we can come to an agreement on everything.” So Safety-Kleen’s going to keep you around for a while in Ocala as your base of operations? “I have been with Safety-Kleen 26 years, 4 months and 15 days today. And, I counted every day after twenty five. I’ve moved eight times with the company. My original plan was to leave here, and go to Tampa. But, after being in Ocala for a few months, I decided that’s going to be my home, and that’s where I’m staying. People in Central Florida are wonderful. So, yes, I am here for the long haul. This is where I want to be. I’m excited to be here, and excited to be the Announcer for the Safety-Kleen TBARA series.”

    Videos from the Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series so far this year on the Florida Open Wheel channel:

    http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSdPdgmUo6WfkfR6Eo__QBA

     

     

     

    Notes from TBARA Season Opening Race at Auburndale

      By Richard Golardi

     Tommy Nichols started on the front row for the Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Car Series feature race, with an excellent chance for a top three finish at Auburndale Speedway. By lap 12, he was out with a blown engine, which happened in the first turn with the cars of Shane Butler and Joey Aguilar directly behind him. Aguilar did make slight contact with the #55 car of Nichols and damaged his front wing, but continued in the race. A line of oil was left on the track from the end of the front straight all the way over to turn two, which forced a race stoppage to clean up the oil. A pool of oil was left in the infield where the car was left for a minute. “I’m done,” Nichols said, waving off the safety crew in the infield. “You’re done. You got oil all over the place,” they shouted. “OK,” he replied, before climbing out of the car.

    Tommy Nichols in Heat Race

    Joey Aguilar would shake off the minor wing damage, and continue his tear through the field when the race was eventually restarted. He was looking for his second straight win after taking the Florida State Championship for Winged Sprints earlier in the month at Showtime Speedway. He was also proud to show off two new sponsors on his car. These were new sponsors that he had hinted about previously, but could not name until the deal was final. The new sponsors were Desoto Speedway, the site of the next TBARA race this Saturday night, and also Sweet Manufacturing. His crew was wearing brand new red Desoto t-shirts, and car owner Sharon Riddle was spotted wearing a big smile. Her driver would take the win at Auburndale, giving her #11 car two straight wins to top off the recent sponsor signings.

    Ben Fritz and Shane Butler would also make their charges through the field, with Fritz taking fourth place. Butler would overtake Dude Teate with a pass through the turn one grass for second place. Fritz overcame a first lap tangle with the #9 car of Matt Alfonso to pick his way carefully through slower cars to finish in the top four. Dude Teate held the lead until lap 19, when Aguilar made his last pass of the night, and he was in third place in the final running order.

    Bud Howell, L, and Howard Jacobs, R

    One frightening incident involved the # 3 car of Garrett Green, who pulled his car to a stop in the infield grass of turn three when there was a flash of fire. The hydraulic fluid line to the wing had sprayed fluid on the hot exhaust, causing a brief fire. The hot fluid sprayed Green on the lower half of his body, and he was seen sitting in the infield grass near his car, patting down his legs. He received some minor first degree burns on his leg due to the hot fluid contact. Driver Richie Corr, waiting in the infield near his disabled car, dashed over to the stricken driver, and was the first person to reach Green, who hopped up shortly thereafter. Green walked over to take a look at his car, but could not continue. I have confirmed that Green plans to race this Saturday at Desoto Speedway.

    The field of fourteen cars was slightly smaller than expected, as the two pavement non-wing races held in Florida this year had both drawn more than twenty cars. There are some other cars that are awaiting repairs, or may be entered shortly for later races. The size of the crowd was estimated to be larger than the usual crowd for a Saturday night of stock car racing at the Auburndale track. In addition to the first TBARA race at the track in ten years, a new pre-race fireworks display was debuted for the crowd. The drivers were warned in the pre-race drivers’ meeting that this was a short track that could bring more contact, and they were urged to keep cool and be steady. Some tempers did flare in the meeting itself, and the race was fairly calm in comparison.

    Joey Aguilar and Crew in Winners Circle

    The Auburndale TBARA race was the first of nine straight weekends with a pavement sprint car race in Florida. The races stretch from South Florida’s Three Palms Speedway (4/26) to Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway (4/11), which is more than 500 miles away from Central Florida. The last of nine races is at New Smyrna Speedway (5/10), which saw some of the largest crowds for pavement sprint cars last year in Florida.

    I spoke to Must See Racing Owner and Promoter Jim Hanks earlier today, and he is confident that Pensacola and Mobile will be a successful weekend (4/11-12), with 23 teams planning to race. Showtime Speedway also has a race during this stretch (3/29), hoping for a comeback after the small field of cars for their race earlier this month. This race will allow teams with Hoosier Tires in their tire racks to use up their remaining Hoosier Tires, as other Florida series all transition to using American Racer tires. TBARA will be racing exclusively on American Racer tires after this weekend’s race at Desoto.

    Also:

             A new TBARA black screen print T-shirt was on sale, receiving praise for the stylish design

             Some media restrictions were lifted by track management for this race, allowing media members to take and share still photos and video of the sprint car competition

             Safety-Kleen’s Howard Jacobs had his first race at the microphone as the new full-time announcer for the 2014 TBARA season.

             He was joined by Bud Howell in his first race as the new full-time TBARA Flagman. I was fortunate to get a joint interview with these two men after the night’s racing was completed, which I will include in a later column.

             Dirt racing legend Danny Lasoski was spotted in the pits of Ben Fritz, helping his friend and fellow Ocala resident for the evening (Fritz was a Lasoski crew member during Speedweeks races in Florida)

             The TBARA Series moves on to Desoto Speedway on Saturday night, the first race at the track since it was renamed and new owners took over the helm. It is the first of several races at 3/8 mile tracks, a more familiar turf for the winged sprint cars.

    The Photo Album for TBARA Sprint Cars at Auburndale Speedway on 3-15-2014 is here:

    https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/105092965792373343944/albums/5992203211069845409

    The feature race video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (Safety-Kleen TBARA Sprint Cars from Auburndale Speedway on 3-15-2014):

    http://youtu.be/8Qw09uyImyc

     


    E-mail  Richard Golardi quickterm@yahoo.com


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