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    Florida Open Wheel

    By Richard Golardi

    Billy’s Back

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Billy Boyd is back. He’s back at East Bay Raceway Park, his home track. It’s the place where he won two consecutive sprint car track championships in 2013 and 2014. Before his comeback race on Saturday night could occur he had an opponent to defeat, one that had emerged after he had won the two East Bay Sprints championships. It was cancer.

    “We wound up finding out at the end of 2014 that I had leukemia,” Billy Boyd said earlier this year. “So we kind of had to go in and out of doctors and hospitals and then it got worse, so we wound up missing all of 2015. It was a little bit harder of a fight than what I thought it would be.” The low point in his fight against cancer came earlier this year, in February. The first bone marrow transplant initially appeared to be a success, and then test results conveyed some bad news that it may not have been successful. He was back in the hospital by February, with plans for a second transplant, an endeavor he called “a last ditch effort.”

    The things that Billy needed most of all at this point were patience, prayer, and family. It took time for the transplant to go to work and defeat the cancer cells. After leaving the hospital in March, he made the transition from a wheelchair to a walker to climbing up the steps to the announcer’s booth at East Bay in April. That’s when he made a decision about getting back in a race car. He set a goal of returning to the cockpit of a race car at East Bay in August, telling his doctor, “you’ve got four months to get me straightened up.” His doctor told him his goal was possible. He achieved that goal on Saturday night.

    Billy Boyd entered his own dirt sprint car for the race at East Bay last Saturday. It was a special event, the Bob and Marge Long Memorial race. Friends and family crowded around his car in the pits, where they could see that Billy had gained back some weight since his ordeal, and his hair and beard had grown back a little thicker. They joined in to help replace a magneto when his car’s motor sputtered during hot laps and the heat race. Keith Butler retrieved a replacement magneto from a nearby race shop, and it was replaced in time for the feature race. That race was a wild one, with one car running over Billy’s right rear tire and then going airborne, and others spinning in his path. On the 11th lap, contact with another spinning car caused a right rear tire puncture and he was out of the feature race.

    Billy credited the effort made by his friends in helping to get the car ready, as he had been fighting the symptoms of a cold during the week, but was determined to meet his August racing comeback goal. “Probably really shouldn’t have been out here, but I made it a point of what I was going to do and that’s what I did,” Billy said on Saturday. “A cold wasn’t going to stop me. It would have to have been a little more than that. We just worked hard for a couple of weeks here and got things together and made it happen.”

    Updating his recovery since he was last interviewed in April, Billy said that he was, “a lot better than I was back then. We’re still battling it a little bit, but I’ve just got to get my body back strong again. I had to see where I was at physically so I could work on it, because you never know until you try it.” Billy greeted friends and well-wishers in the pits after the race on Saturday, sitting in front of a large fan with a cold bottle of water in his hand.

    When asked if he would continue to race his #4 sprint car, or if he would return to the #9 car of the Amans Motorsports team and Jerry Amans (his team in 2013 and 2014, the East Bay championship years), Billy responded, “Probably my car. I think he (Jerry Amans) is going to focus on Brian (son of car owner Amans) a little bit before he gets the other car done and once he gets him going, I guess we’ll get back with the nine car but so far, as of right now, we’re mainly going to focus on the four car.” Since the last time he had spoken to Jerry Amans, Billy believed that he would eventually return to racing the #9 car, as that team transitioned to a 2-car team.

    He had planned on returning to East Bay for their next sprint car race, until a friend’s wedding ceremony was scheduled for that same Saturday. He’ll attend the friend’s wedding instead. “Well, if Tommy Nichols wasn’t getting married, I’d be here the next race but I’m in the wedding, so I’ve got to show up.” Nichols was at the track on Saturday, for support and also getting his hands dirty working under the car’s hood.

    With his #4 car having gone unused since prior to the East Bay championship years, the only big obstacle with the car during the evening was the bad magneto that required replacement. Otherwise, Boyd was satisfied with how the car and motor performed. “It was okay,” he said. “It was a little loose coming off the corner from the middle off, but we know what we’ve got to do to it now. We’ve got to do a little bit of work to get it back hooked up like we had it before we parked it.”

    The GoPro video from the #4 car of Billy Boyd during the East Bay Sprints feature race on Saturday, August 20, 2016 is here:

    https://youtu.be/a4zYSYphL_M

     

     

     

     

    Sprint Car Racing Gone From Many Florida Pavement Tracks

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    In the last few years of its operation, the Tampa Bay Area Racing Association (TBARA), raced at Punta Gorda Speedway, Auburndale Speedway, Citrus County Speedway, Orlando Speedworld, and also at Five Flags Speedway (in prior years). In 2016, sprint car racing is gone from every one of these Florida pavement tracks. Granted, there was a sprint car race at Five Flags Speedway scheduled for this year in April which was rained out, then canceled. For the others, they were either mismanaged by blundering promoters (Punta Gorda Speedway, renamed Three Palms Speedway), seem to have lost interest in sprint car racing (Auburndale Speedway and Orlando Speedworld), or are not continuing a track’s tradition of racing sprint cars (Citrus County Speedway).

    Top Three Finishers at New Smyrna Speedway on 8-13-2016

    Trying to reverse the apparent trend of pavement sprint car racing’s downsizing in Florida is the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series. In its first year of operation, the new series began racing in February, after pavement racing had a chaotic year in the Sunshine State in 2015. The series has brought stability to the state’s pavement sprint car racing, while facing the shortage of tracks that want to host their races. Most of the series races being run during the first year are at Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park. While its location is convenient for the majority of the teams based in the Tampa Bay area, the track has received criticism for being far from ideal for sprint cars, severely limiting speeds and sometimes limiting passing.

    There has been a benefit to having a substantial number of races at a smaller track with slower speeds. Showtime Speedway has become a showcase for some talented young rookie drivers. Clayton Donaldson and Carlie Yent have performed well at the track, with frequent top five finishes. The small track likely also lessens the anxiety levels of the racing families that may be more fearful of the high-speed tracks like New Smyrna Speedway (the fastest track on the schedule). Having fewer tracks on the race schedule may be a detriment to competition if there is one team that seems to be able to get the right setup all the time, and has a highly talented driver in their car. This year, that car owner and that driver is Dave Steele.

    BCStrong logo seen on the car of Troy Thompson at New Smyrna Speedway.

    Steele has been at the height of his domination the past three weekends, winning at Showtime, Desoto Speedway and then New Smyrna Speedway on Saturday. With several teams missing that appeared to be in contention for the win at the previous series race in May at New Smyrna, Steele built up a half lap lead over the next fastest car (#88 car of Sport Allen) and was never challenged for his eighth win of the year with the Southern Sprintcars. After going without a win in the 3-month period ending on July 30, he now has three straight wins since that date.

    The race night was not without drama, as a mundane feature race was followed by drama at the post-race tech inspection. The #88 car driven by Sport Allen had “rudders” on the underside of the top wing, which were metal strips running from front to back on the wing. The debate as to whether they were illegal continued after the race and later on social media. The #88 car was not subject to any penalties for the wing, but apparently will not be racing with that style wing again in a series race.

    Feature Race Pace Lap at New Smyrna Speedway

    There has been contact between the Southern Sprintcar series and Citrus County Speedway, according to a series representative. The track has stated that they want to invite traveling series to race at Citrus starting in 2017, and appears to want to control the racing there prior to then. Is there a viable solution to induce more pavement tracks to embrace sprint car racing? The competent management and aggressive racing schedule of the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series is probably the best solution for now. Several of the tracks that included sprint cars on their schedules in prior years are unlikely to see them return, either due to resistant track owners or facilities that have slipped into dormant or near-dormant states.

    The Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series feature race video from New Smyrna Speedway on August 13, 2016 is here:

    https://youtu.be/Tzu8Ctkjoec

     

     

     

    The King of Saturday Night Pavement Back in Winner’s Circle

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    After going without a sprint car feature win for three months, from April 30 to July 30, Dave Steele has won a pavement sprint car feature race on each of the past two Saturday nights. During those three months away from the Winner’s Circle, he concentrated on an effort to gain his third career Little 500 win, missed two Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series races, and finished second in another to Sport Allen. He has won the past two series races, including the Larry Brazil Memorial race at Desoto Speedway on Saturday. His next challenge is to win at New Smyrna Speedway on Saturday, a track where he has not been as dominant in the past several years.

    Taking the challenge to start at the rear of the field at Saturday’s Larry Brazil Memorial (extra $500 to win), Steele methodically drove past all the cars that started ahead of him, including recent series feature race winners Sport Allen and Troy DeCaire, took the lead after a mid-race restart, and went on to a convincing win. That gave him seven feature race wins for the year, including the first five of the year in the new pavement series, and put him in a tie with Jimmy McCune for the lead in national pavement sprint car wins.

    “We drew a bad pill, so it was kind of a no-brainer,” Steele said, referring to the decision to start from the rear in the feature. “We didn’t really have a whole lot to lose.” He does want to race at New Smyrna “if the crew will come help get the car ready, I guess.” With a crew that seems to be one of the most loyal and devoted to him as their leader, and that enjoys their regular trips to the Winner’s Circle, he was joking (of course). “Can’t ever tell about them guys … I’m just kidding … they’ll be there.”

    Regarding the season-long series points contest, where Sport Allen has a slight edge over Steele since he skipped two races, Steele said that the points are something that he does not follow closely, and that he, “hates getting wrapped up in those points battles. I don’t even know what the points are to be honest with you.” Steele said he would not commit to entering and racing in the remaining series races, which continue through mid-November. “Some of my guys might like to go on a picnic or Guns N’ Roses concert, so we’re not tied into anything.” Regarding this Saturday night at New Smyrna, he stated, “I think that’s a go. It’s been a while since I’ve been there.”

    One of the biggest challenges Steele faced during the race was not from another driver, it was from a long red-flag period and the effect of the heat. Without a tow truck present at the track (an announcement stated the truck went on a job elsewhere), a hard crash in the third turn caused a long delay. With temperatures in excess of 90 degrees before the sun went down, and engine heat pouring back into the cockpit, Steele was feeling the heat.

    “Man, sitting there under that red, I was roasting. I was like a roast duck in the oven – man it’s hot. I thought the guy that owned the track owned the tow company.”

    With using one car for both winged and non-wing races (the black #33 car) and endurance sprint car races too (the Little 500 in May), was Steele considering putting one or more other pavement cars into service, and then putting the car up for sale later, as he has in the past? Steele spoke about using “a little different suspension on the rear that works a little better for the non-wing stuff”, and seemed content to use just one car for now, which has been a winning formula for 2016. “We’ve kind of got a combo car – we change some stuff around on it. This is kind of a low-budget deal, we can’t afford a super-big money operation. Just staying with one car. I think we’ve got a pretty good baseline and setup.”

    The only frustration he has had all year has been a meticulous effort to win the Little 500, only to settle for a second place finish for a second consecutive year. Now back in Florida, Steele has only had to settle for a second place finish once since his return. He’s won the rest of his races.

     

     

     

    A Moment to Remember Bryan Clauson

    By Richard Golardi

    What follows is a repost of an interview I completed with Bryan Clauson at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala in February 2016. He was at the track for the All Star Circuit of Champions weekend, which has set a tradition of being the first national sprint car series to race during February Speedweeks. His Circular Insanity tour was about a month old on that day. My reason for this repost is to acknowledge Bryan’s skill on and off the track, and express the admiration that I, and in turn the entire Florida open wheel racing community, had for his talent and bravery as a race car driver and a man. I last saw Bryan and spoke to him at Montpelier Motor Speedway on May 31, 2016. Two days prior, he had made it to the checkered flag for the first time at the Indianapolis 500 and went on to win a sprint car race at Kokomo Speedway later that day. “Thank you, sir,” he replied when I offered my congratulations on that achievement. The sprint car race at Montpelier Motor Speedway was the last time I ever saw him race a sprint car. He won. The interview follows:

    Bryan Clauson knows the press scrutiny this month, and for the remainder of 2016, will be due to two main reasons. The first is due to a quest he has named “Circular Insanity”, a goal to race in a total of 200 races (of all kinds) during 2016. The second is a stop in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500. In two prior IndyCar race entries in the Indianapolis 500, neither resulted in a good race finish or an offer to race full-time in the IndyCar Series. As each year passes, 26 year old Clauson cements his reputation as one of the most talented and accomplished short-track racers in the nation, who likely will not move up into a full-time ride in a higher-paying series.

    At Bubba Raceway Park for the opening national sprint car series race of Florida Speedweeks, Clauson was back in the Matt Wood Racing #17W car that he campaigned in the National Sprint League (NSL) and other winged dirt series last year. He did capture one NSL feature race win at I-80 Speedway in October. “Beat Lasoski and McCarl at I-80 for an NSL win,” he stated. He finished in 7th place in the feature race at Ocala on Friday.

    “We went to the Kings Royal and we were quick time. We ran inside the top ten at the Knoxville Nationals for most of the race. Had a lot of strong runs. I think for year one it was a very strong year. We showed a lot of promise, and went to the World Finals (November World of Outlaws finale in Charlotte) at the end of the year and should have run in the top five twice. Had a top five the first night and was running fourth and got passed in traffic. It felt like at the end of the year we started showing up at World of Outlaws races and being in the dashes and being in contention. So overall it was solid and I think we have a good foundation to go into 2016.”

    This month, he will be at Volusia Speedway Park later this week for All Star and World of Outlaws winged dirt sprint car races before moving on to Bubba Raceway Park next week for non-wing shows with the USAC National Sprint Car Series. But he won’t be racing for a championship with any of the series mentioned previously. “I won’t be running all of anything. It’s going to be all over the place, going to travel a bit more,” he said. Instead, the “Circular Insanity” tour and the Indy 500 race will be priorities.

    The #17W winged sprint car does look different than last year, with new colors and new sponsor stickers added since 2015. Some were due to the new sponsor and car owner alliance for this year’s Indy 500. Added sprint car sponsors: Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality & Restaurant Group (main IndyCar sponsor), and Vantage Hospitality Group, which is represented by a front wing sticker with the Americas Best Value Inn logo. Returning sponsor: Elk Grove Ford. “Bringing some new partners and exposing them to short track racing for the first time,” Clauson revealed.

    Bryan raced in close to 60 winged dirt sprint car races last year, which he says was a transition year after concentrating heavily on non-wing racing with USAC for many years. “I felt like if I was going to do it, I needed to focus on it. So we kind of made that step and found a good home here and started building,” Clauson said. He was USAC midget champion in 2010 and 2011, USAC national sprint car champion in 2012 and 2013, and a Chili Bowl winner in 2014. He will race in about 100 winged sprint car races this year, with the other 100 spread out among non-wing sprint car (about 40-50), midget (also 40-50), Silver Crown (partial season) and the one IndyCar race at Indy.

    He does not anticipate racing in any other IndyCar races during the year, after some hopes to expand his IndyCar race schedule were floated last year. “I don’t know, we’ve been kicking it around,” he responded, when asked about IndyCar racing beyond the Indy 500. “But at this point, Indy is my focus - what I want, what I care about. Honestly, it’s probably unrealistic that we’ll add anything just because of doing so many short track races.” So most likely only Indy? “Only Indy, yeah,” Clauson said.

    Will the notoriety from the “Circular Insanity” tour help propel him into a better-paying full-time ride in IndyCar or a NASCAR series? Bryan Clauson seems to be a realist when it comes to this possibility, preferring to concentrate his mind-set and skills on the two main priorities set for this year. A good Indy 500 finish is high-ranked.

    Playing off the self-titled “Circular Insanity” tour title, some might say he is “insane” to attempt that much travel and that many races in the space of one year. “That’s what most people say,” he responded with a smile, sharing a laugh. “I think I’ve got 215 or 220 on my schedule. By the time it rains (which occurred on Saturday at Ocala, canceling that race), we’ll see where we end up.”

    He does have some race weekends with races planned for Friday, Saturday, and again on Sunday. That draws comparisons to traveling racers from the barnstorming days before WWII. “I race 28 out of 30 days in June. So I mean, we’ll be hustling. Getting to race at some new race tracks, and obviously we continue to race in big races. That’s what it’s built around, all the big races on the schedule. It’s going to be a lot of fun – get to see some new places and new fans. Just be on the road racing – why I wake up in the morning is to go racing. It’s going to be a fun year.”

     

     

     

    AJ Maddox Powers to Third 2016 Top Gun Feature Win

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    In a race with high attrition taking out many fast cars, the winner will need to be very near the front, avoid mistakes, take care of his car and most importantly, be fast. That was what AJ Maddox did on Saturday at Volusia Speedway Park to win his third Eagle Jet Top Gun Series race of 2016. Mark Ruel Jr., the early race leader, along with Matt Kurtz and Tyler Clem, were all taken out or slowed by problems during the feature race. After starting on the second row, Maddox used a slide job in turn one on the first lap to move to second place and stayed there until Ruel fell out, moving him to the lead. That’s where he stayed until the end of the race, building close to a half-lap lead over the second place car at the end.

    With the Top Gun Sprint Series going on a summer hiatus, with only one race between now and October (Hendry County Motorsports Park on 9/3), this night was important for the series. Heavy rains left the track muddy, but it dried out due to sun and summer heat. The race comprised the first of five weekends with one sprint car race on five consecutive Saturdays in the State of Florida from 7/23 through 8/20. With pavement sprint car races on each of the next three Saturdays, it was important for dirt track racing to have it moment in the sun, and fortunately the sun cooperated.

    AJ Maddox, feature race winner at Volusia Speedway Park.

    “Check one off the list in Florida here,” AJ Maddox said in the Winner’s Circle. “I’ve never won here and it’s pretty special. I love this place. I’ve been racing here for quite a while and I’ve run second here probably more than I can count on my fingers and toes. I hate it for Mark with the way he was going pretty good and I hate it for him to fall out and for me to win it like this, but once I got into clean air it felt like the car picked up about half a second. It’s all over now and we got it done.”

    “Pretty much whoever started in the front who didn’t screw up or break was going to win, so I was that guy,” Maddox said later. He was going through about 2 tearoffs a lap in the muddy conditions, thankful that he wasn’t in a pack of cars. Due to track conditions, he said, “There was no hope of passing anybody really. Hopefully somebody would screw up real bad or break and we caught a good break and Mark broke and pulled off, so we got an easy one there.” After seeing the 3 cars mentioned earlier break or pull off, he said, “I figured that was pretty much the competition, really.” He did not know about his sizable lead near the race end.

    Maddox said that he believed being in clean air was worth half second a lap while racing a limited sprint car at Volusia. That made it nearly impossible for anyone to catch and pass him near the end of the race at Top Gun’s fastest track. “I was over a second faster than everybody once I got out in the lead.” He didn’t back off. After all, “There’s no mirrors on these things. You don’t know. You never stop going until the checkered flag comes out. Once you start taking it easy, that’s when stupid stuff starts happening or you get caught up behind a lapped car and you get passed.”

    Feature Race Start at Volusia Speedway Park on 7-23-2016.

    During the Top Gun hiatus, AJ and the Ray Bolin race team will be looking north at upcoming USCS series races, possibly making the Senoia, Georgia races in mid-August. They did put their USCS 360 motor on the dyno recently, and AJ admitted that the team was not happy with it, but will still get prepared for USCS racing. “We’ll be there. We’ve definitely got some work to do,” he said, adding the September USCS national series races at All-Tech Raceway and Bubba Raceway Park to their list of at least 4 planned USCS races this year. Those plans do depend on car owner Ray Bolin’s health. Bolin had triple coronary artery bypass surgery earlier this year, and even though he was at the track Saturday, he was still recovering and may need other surgery.

    Also at the track on Saturday was Top Gun series owner Don Rehm. It was his first time back to the race track after surgery to repair a broken leg and he was mobile, getting around with a cane. Within arm’s reach were his post-op x-rays, allowing him to show off the sizable metal works in his leg, with rods and pins sure to set off alarm bells on his next circuit through an airport metal detector.

    The feature race video of the Top Gun Sprint Series at Volusia Speedway Park on Saturday, July 23, 2016 is here:

    https://youtu.be/ZA0ErcoOM-c

     

     

    Sport Allen Takes “Oddball One-Of-A-Kind” Car to Double Feature Wins

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Sport Allen called the Dayton Andrews Dodge sprint car that he drove to two sprint car feature wins on Saturday at Showtime Speedway an “oddball one-of-a-kind” car. He had just earned his first feature win in the new car, his first Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series win, and best of all for him – he had battled Dave Steele to the finish of the Inaugural Senator’s Cup race and won. There was widespread praise for that 50-lap race as the best sprint car race at the track since it was renovated and resumed racing in 2012 (it was closed from 2004 to 2012).
    Sport began the evening winning the 35-lap feature that was rescheduled to Saturday after being rained out on June 18. He was so dominant in that race, he lapped the entire field, which had 13 starters. In one startling incident, a loose wheel bounced off the wall, soared 40 feet into the air and came down on the top wing of the #44 car of Gary Wiggins, damaging the wing sideboard. Wiggins did not know what had happened, as he could not see the damage from the cockpit. He continued with the damaged wing and finished in sixth place. Meanwhile, Allen was passing slower traffic on the inside and outside down the front straight. Steele was not in this race, as he had not raced on the original race night and did not qualify to race in this makeup race. That set up the scenario for the second feature, a 50-lap main event certain to pit Allen against Steele in a battle for the win.
    “This is the one and only of this style Hurricane that Jerry (Stuckey) built so far,” Sport Allen said. “It’s a one-of-a-kind out here. It took us a while to figure it out. It drives real good, I can go to the top, the bottom, wherever I need to go and I have plenty of motor.” Sport went on to describe what was new and what was unique about this Hurricane chassis, built for car owner Taylor Andrews. “We moved the motor around to make it within the rules. The rear end is on a swing arm system instead of a four-link system so the spring mounts directly to an arm almost like a Beast chassis. It took us some time to figure out the spring rate. It changes everything; it’s just an oddball one-of-a-kind thing. That’s why we got lapped the first two races.”
     

    Feature Race Battle, Sport Allen leads Dave Steele

    In keeping with its oddball characterization, the car did have one odd feature, according to Sport. It had a weird echo, which made it sound like another car was just off to the side, when no car was there. Sport was hearing the sound of his own motor, bouncing off the cavern of cockpit and wing, but it sounded like another car. He would glance off to the car’s side, only to see empty track.
    “You always get this feeling like somebody’s right on your left side,” he said. “It sounds like somebody’s right there. It’s just the way it echoes off the body. I always think somebody’s there, so I just don’t slow down.”
    Sport Allen also discussed the dilemma of how to handle slower traffic, which can be sometimes erratic and other times steady. “Some guys were pushing really bad and then they’d push up to the second and third lane and then once the right front would catch, they’d come right back down to the grass, to the infield. So you never know when to get next to them. Are you going to catch them on the zig or the zag? Some of them are real courteous and they’ll obey the move over flag and hold their line coming off the corner.” But not all are that way, Sport went on to explain. “You’ve got to make a split-second decision to either blast under them and jam on the brakes or try to go around them on the outside.”
     

    Sport Allen's one-of-a-kind car driven to 2 feature wins at Showtime Speedway on Saturday, 7-16-2016

    The night’s next task was to get a second win. The second feature race of the night would add 50 laps to the total of 85 laps of sprint car racing and showcase a new signature event for the series, the Senator’s Cup 50. The #33 car of Dave Steele, winner of all series races up to mid-May, would be racing this time.
    With Dave Steele entering the fray and 35 laps of racing already completed, Sport sought out the comfort of the team’s air conditioned RV to rest. “I had to sit there in the AC and cool off. I’m getting old man!” he said, laughing off the heat-induced fatigue. “If we can get two, that would be awesome. I’d love it.”
    With two months since the last pavement feature race, and several Florida car owners recovering from illness and recent surgery, some familiar faces were in new cars. Richie Corr’s two cars now had Justin Appleby and Clayton Donaldson (while Corr was recovering from pneumonia), with Donaldson moving from the Mac Steele #2 car while Mac was healing from a recent medical issue. Mickey Kempgens took over driving the #55 car of Tommy Nichols, who showed me the bandage on his lower back from recent spine surgery.
     

    Feature Race 1 Pace Lap, Showtime Speedway, 7-16-2016

    Series rookies Carlie Yent and Clayton Donaldson impressed with top five finishes in both feature races. Donaldson benefitted by having TBARA and Must See Racing champion Troy DeCaire in his pits, who he was conferring with at his car in the minutes just before the start of the second feature.
    After leading early in the second feature race, Kempgens was passed by both Sport Allen and Dave Steele in the same turn and ended the race with a broken rear axle causing him to spin after taking the checkered flag. Allen used slower cars to get by Steele coming out of turn 4 late in the race, with the two bumping on the front straight with two laps to go after a side-by-side battle lasted through several turns. Steele stayed close behind, but could not repass Allen and was now winless since April.
    Sport Allen called it his “most satisfying win in a while.” Admitting that he has in the past conceded that Steele was faster, and would “just kind of give up” and hold on for a second place behind Steele, he saw that this race was different because of slower cars. They were racing in small groups, holding up the faster cars. He would need to use them to make a pass.
    “David’s a class act, he had me covered. He kept getting bottled up in traffic and I kept closing up on him,” Sport said. “I’m like, I may have a shot at this. It ain’t over, 50 laps is a long time. A lot of stuff can happen. It slowed his pace down dramatically and let me get right to him. It was a lucky traffic pick. Just like he got me, I got him. If we can run with David, we’ve got a good car. I’m extremely happy with it. We’ve figured it out, which is satisfying.”
     

    Troy DeCaire confers with Clayton Donaldson, Showtime Speedway, 7-16-2016

    Sport was feeling happy, but tired. Preparing three cars for him and a friend for this night, plus a job that keeps him on the road (with UPS) often until 8 pm, he was ready for a short celebration, a good night’s rest, and then back to work the next day.
    “We’ll get up tomorrow, wash all this stuff off, dissect it, and know right where we’re at so we can pick up next time and take off.” Sport Allen seems to have his race mantra memorized well. It is: prepare … win … repeat.

    Feature Race Video, Feature Race #1 at Showtime Speedway, Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series, July 16, 2016:

    https://youtu.be/mRMuSnwxBNc

    Feature Race Video, Feature Race #2 (Senator’s Cup 50) at Showtime Speedway, Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series, July 16, 2016:

    https://youtu.be/1LGmZKa6CrM



     

     

     

    Summer Race Report for Florida Open Wheel Racing

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Nikole Voisey, a 17 year old rookie racing in her first year of dirt sprint car competition, has three top ten finishes in her last three races at East Bay Raceway Park. She is also the newest female sprint car racer in a state that boasts females racing in both dirt and pavement sprint cars. The last time I interviewed her several years ago, she was racing a mini-sprint at Marion County Speedway in Ocala. Her father is pavement sprint car racer Ric Voisey. He brought his daughter through the micro and mini-sprint racing ranks while he was an owner/driver of a pavement sprint car. I frequently asked them if Nikole would be taking over his seat in the car in the future, as the father/daughter duo would go Ric’s races at Citrus County Speedway and other pavement tracks. They decided to go dirt racing at East Bay, where she has five races this year and is competing for rookie of the year. She is in 9th place in East Bay points. “Not too bad for a 17 year old female in her first year in a sprint,” Ric Voisey said.

    Dave Steele at Showtime Speedway

    Citrus County Speedway has delayed the grand opening event from Saturday July 16 to Saturday July 30. They explained that they had ongoing projects at the track that they wanted to get completed prior to their premiere night for the newly renovated and repaved track, and would not be able to have the track in the condition they wanted by July 16. Photos posted yesterday showed underground water or sewage lines being installed, and also the new scoring tower on the front straight appeared to be just a shell, far from being complete. Some fans have been outspoken about their disappointment that the new leaseholders did not choose to switch the front and back stretch at the track when they had the ideal opportunity to do so prior to renovations. That would have allowed fans on the front stretch (the main spectator stands, for general admission ticket holders) to avoid facing the fierce late-afternoon sun, which can be brutal during Florida summers.

    Bubba Raceway Park co-owner Tom Bean previously confirmed that the ¼ mile dirt oval race track under construction on his property would be intended for karts, mini sprints and also micro sprints. The construction of the track, begun in 2014, now appears to have been abandoned. It has no walls, no catch fences, and no spectator seating. Some referred to the track in prior years as “Tulsa South” (a name not embraced by the management), a sign of their high hopes for the new track. They also hoped for a big annual mini-sprint event, similar to the mini-sprint races at the dirt oval in Tulsa known for hosting the Chili Bowl midget race each January.

    Matt Kurtz and car owner Maddox family, Feature Race Winner, Top Gun Sprints, 7-1-2016

    The Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series, which has not held a feature race since mid-May, is preparing for a double-feature night next week, Saturday July 16. The two previous feature races in June were both rained out. Since the heat races on Saturday June 18 were completed prior to the arrival of rain clouds, and the feature race lineup was set for that race, that 35 lap feature race will be held on July 16. A second sprint car feature, dubbed The Senator’s Cup 50, will pay the winner $2,000 to win. I have learned that Dave Steele will participate in this race, but he will not be a starter in the 35-lap feature race postponed from June 18. That is because he did not race in a heat race that night, and only those cars that participated on the original race night are qualified for the rainout makeup race next week. Since Steele has won all the feature races in the Southern Sprintcars inaugural year save for one race, this means there will be a new first-time series race winner that night (May race winner Troy DeCaire is not a qualifier). The front row for 35-lap rainout makeup race will have Dude Teate and Clayton Donaldson, with Rex “Boneman” Hollinger and Tommy Nichols on row two. There are 13 cars qualified for that race.

    Top Gun Sprint Car Series at Bubba Raceway Park.

    Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series owner Don Rehm is recovering from recent surgery and was not present at the most recent series race on July 1 at Bubba Raceway Park. He did share a photo to show that he is back on his feet after suffering a broken hip. The July 1 feature race was won by Matt Kurtz, making it his fourth series feature race win this year. The prognosis for both Don Rehm and his race series appears to be good, as the series recently retained their Hendry County Motorsports Park race dates (the troubled track shut down temporarily this year) and car counts continue to be good for Central and North Florida races.

    With the opening of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America at their new home at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, some may be shocked to see a museum that will feature open wheel racing (in addition to stock car racing, of course) and open wheel race cars at the location of NASCAR’s most prestigious track. But, it’s happening. The old location of the Daytona USA theme attraction (opened in 1996, later called the Daytona 500 Experience in 2007), directly in front of the speedway, is the museum location. A 1914 Stutz race car, looking like the Indy cars of that era, is one of the featured cars on display, in addition to the Ganassi Racing Indy car that won the 2008 Indianapolis 500. This museum will include the cars and objects from a racing museum in Novi, Michigan that was purchased by NASCAR. The “Phase 1” portion of the museum, minus the theater, had a soft opening last Sunday. The current main attraction is likely the Bluebird, a car that set a land speed record on the Florida beach in 1935.

    Whether the museum will have a desire to honor Florida short track racing with a Florida Motorsports Hall of Fame incorporated into their museum is unknown. I intend to ask if they have such a desire, and will report back on what I find.

     

     

     

    Searching for Tampa’s Auto Racing History – Part 2: Tampa

    The former location of Plant Field, with downtown Tampa visible in the distance

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     The search for Tampa’s auto racing history began in Tampa, wound through several East Coast and Midwest states, and eventually returned to Tampa. The Librarians in the main Hillsborough County Public Library in downtown Tampa were particularly helpful. On the opposite side of the Hillsborough River from downtown and the location of the library is the University of Tampa. The university’s soccer field and baseball field now occupy the grounds once occupied by Plant Field, as the half mile dirt oval track at the Florida State Fair was called.

         Auto races were held each year during the South Florida Fair, which later became the Florida State Fair. The Gasparilla Carnival of Speed, also called the World Series of Dirt Track Racing, featured the big cars (not yet called sprint cars) sanctioned by the IMCA. The Sprint Car Winternationals event name was not used until the 1970s. Famous open wheel race drivers like Pete Folse, a local driver who became a 3-time national champion, raced and won at Plant Field. Frank Luptow, who became a Tampa resident, was an IMCA dirt-track champion from 1949 to 1951.

         Lone runner circles the track where sprint cars once raced at Plant Field, Tampa

    Revisiting the former location of Plant Field in early June, I saw that a prominent structure that recognized the defunct track’s legacy was now missing. It was a plaque that was placed at the southeast corner of the grandstand. The stand is used for spectator seating at soccer matches and track and field events. It’s located in the same spot as the race track’s spectator stand. But the plaque was gone. In its place were a construction site and a colorful signboard. The signboard depicted the structure being built. It was two stories, with a brightly lit entrance and ringed by palm trees. The signboard read, “The University of Tampa Fitness Center.”

         “From February 1921 until the mid 1970s, races were held each year during the South Florida Fair,” the plaque read. “Along with talented local racers, the country’s most famous drivers, including Jimmy Wilburn, Emory Collins, Gus Schrader, Ted Horn, Frank Luptow, Tommy Hinnershitz and Bobby Grim raced here during the winter months. Sadly, several drivers lost their lives at Plant Field.” The plaque also stated that it was dedicated to those drivers who lost their lives, in addition to all those who performed and spoke there.

         The plaque was placed at its prior location in 2007, due to the efforts of three groups who were listed on the plaque. Two were auto racing groups – the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum and the Tampa Bay Area Racing Association (TBARA).

         Plant Field plaque, installed in 2007, as seen in 2014, at the University of Tampa

    But what had happened to the Plant Field commemorative plaque? Was it going to be returned to its prior location next to the grandstand, or had it been put in storage and forgotten? The university’s Fitness Center, as seen on the signboard, appeared to be taking up the area where the plaque was placed.

         A call placed to the University of Tampa’s Public Information Department resulted in a swift reply from the university’s Kimberly Shannon. She stated that the plaque was in the university’s possession and was being stored, awaiting its installation in a new location at the university. The plaque was going to be moved to the old entrance to the fairgrounds, around the corner from its old location and to the south of the soccer field. This seemed appropriate, as the Florida State Fair and its dedication to promote auto racing are worthy of being remembered and celebrated.

         Go one block north of the University of Tampa baseball field location (where the race track’s turns 3 and 4 were located) and you arrive at the location of the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park. At the edge of the park grounds is another commemorative plaque (yes, it’s still there as of June 4), for Phillips Field. It was built as the university football stadium in 1936. As with most football fields it was surrounded by a 1/4 mile cinder running track. Midget races on the 1/4 mile track became popular, so it was paved. Then the jalopy era came and so did a promoter who brought them to Phillips Field. If you missed turn one at Phillips Field, you went into the Hillsborough River. Racing lasted there until the early 1960s. Now you hear the sounds of basketballs, children’s voices and tennis balls hitting racquets where the midgets and stock cars once roared.

        Plant Field - 50 Years Later, left photo approx. 1964, right photo from 2014, photos from approx. same spot, Richard Golardi Photo on right.jpg

     Speedway Park in Tampa was constructed in the late 1940s and lasted only until 1954. Jim Hurtubise started racing there. It was a 1/2 mile dirt oval with a 1/4 mile track added later that used part of the front stretch. In addition to big cars and midgets, Speedway Park hosted motorcycles, stock cars and jalopies. The area is now an industrial park on West Hillsborough Avenue, west of Dale Mabry Highway.

         Golden Gate Speedway, a 1/3 mile asphalt oval on the northeast side of town on Fowler Avenue (near I-75), became legendary for intense sprint car and stock car racing. Their Florida State Late Model Championship, now known as the Governor’s Cup Race, is still run in November each year at New Smyrna Speedway. The track’s site is now the location of the Big Top Flea Market.

         Is “The Gate” deserving of a commemorative plaque? That’s probably a question that should be directed to the three groups that put the plaque at the Plant Field location – the Hillsborough County Historical Advisory Council, the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and TBARA’s successor group – the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series.

         The Florida State Fairgrounds Speedway made a comeback in 1979. It lasted a decade. The “new fairgrounds” was a ½ mile dirt oval at the state fair’s new site. It was east of town at I-4 and US 301. The last race on the oval was in February 1989. A road course there ran 3 IMSA GT sports car races, on 11-27-1988, 10-1-1989 and 9-30-1990. The 1990 race marked the end of auto racing at the Florida State Fairgrounds. The site is now the location of the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, an outdoor concert venue. Country, Pop, and Rock and Roll pushed out auto racing (“Long Live Rock!” – The Who, 1979).

         In 1971, the University of Tampa Board of Trustees approved a transaction that granted the university the Plant Field grounds and the rest of the fairgrounds. New sports facilities were approved and built and the name Plant Field faded into history. Today, the start/finish line of the running track is at approximately the same place where the start/finish line of the half mile dirt track was located. The stands for the track and the soccer field are in the same place as the stands for the race track.

         If you stand at the start/finish line on a quiet day, you hear the sounds of the plodding footsteps of the runners. If you close your eyes, you can hear the scream of the Offenhauser engines coming down the front stretch. You can imagine a solitary figure standing at the start/finish line, checkered flag in hand. The cars approach. The Starter grasps the checkered flag tightly, and begins to raise his arm. You hear the runner pass, breathing heavily. He is winded from running in the Central Florida heat. His race is over. The Starter strides forward onto the dirt. He takes a few steps toward the approaching cars.

         The checkered flag drops.

     

     

     

     

    Searching for Tampa’s Auto Racing History

     

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     

    The search for Tampa’s auto racing history went from Tallahassee, with a visit to the Museum of Florida History and their auto racing exhibit, to York Springs (Pennsylvania), Anderson (Indiana), Indianapolis, Charlotte and then back to Tampa. The search was made partly to research a book whose subject was the story of Florida’s sprint car racing legends. It was also made to continue to be immersed in a lifetime pursuit – to look for the best of American open wheel racing, including the best tracks, the best races, the best drivers and the best racing stories.

     Three generations of the Liguori family present at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, Ralph Liguori, right, along with his son Frank, and his grandson Joe Liguori, center.

         Mainly due to the popularity of International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) sanctioned sprint car racing on the Plant Field oval dirt track at the Florida State Fair, Tampa became known as “The Winter Auto Racing Capital of the Nation.” Tampa’s short track auto racing history can be traced back to February 3, 1921. That’s when dirt track auto racing came to the Florida State Fair. That was when auto races were staged for the first time at Plant Field near downtown Tampa, a track where horse racing was still the main event.

     

         Short oval tracks dominated the racing scene in Tampa through the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Stock car racing gained popularity in the post-World War II era at Tampa Bay area short tracks.

     

         One of the ads for Phillips Field, a quarter mile track around a football field right on the Hillsborough River, left no doubt about what race fans would see at the track. “For a night of action, thrills, chills, and spills for the entire family … watch drivers turn their cars into murderous masses of mangled metal tonight at Phillips Field.”

     

         Stock car racing grew in popularity at the small track in the 1950s when Jake Kedenburg, a New York promoter, saw the track as just the right size for midgets and stock cars. He rented Phillips Field to run stock car races there, and brought a number of stock car racers from up north with him to Florida.

     Chris Economaki is remembered at the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing in Pennsylvania

         “I’m 90 years old now,” Ralph Liguori said at a recent race in Indianapolis. He was observing his grandson, Joe Liguori, as he raced a USAC champ car in the Hoosier Hundred, a 100-mile race held annually in May at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The sponsor sticker on the car’s side advertised the Sunshine Trailer Park in Tampa, a business that Ralph owns and that is managed by his son Frank. Three generations of the Liguori family were present, with Ralph as the family’s patriarch. He witnessed a great portion of Tampa’s racing history, and was recruited by “Big Bill” France Sr. to race in NASCAR in the 1950s.

     

         Bill France Sr. and NASCAR played a part in Tampa area short track racing. Shortly after the debut of Daytona International Speedway in 1959, short track construction in the Tampa Bay area picked up, influenced by Daytona’s initial success. If Daytona Beach had the big track, Tampans were resolved to make Tampa Bay the epicenter of short track auto racing. Two area pavement short tracks were built in the three years after Daytona opened. On the west side of Tampa Bay, Sunshine Speedway was completed in 1960. It was a slightly banked ¼ mile oval in Pinellas Park. Golden Gate Speedway came next in 1962. Richard Petty won the only NASCAR Grand National (now known as Sprint Cup Series) race ever held in Tampa, at Golden Gate on November 11, 1962.

     

         Golden Gate Speedway was a track that held weekly sprint car racing and contributed to developing the pavement race skills of its drivers. “The Gate” was a third mile asphalt oval about 8 miles north of downtown Tampa. It was a track whose meteoric rise to short track legendary status and eventual decline and failure all happened in a little over two decades.

     

         Floridians who raced and learned their craft on Tampa Bay area short tracks, including Golden Gate, became especially skilled in pavement sprint car racing. They won the Little 500, pavement sprint car racing’s premier event at Indiana’s Anderson Speedway, nine times between 1979 and 2009. The Little 500 winners from Florida are Wayne Reutimann, Frank Riddle, Dave Scarborough, Jim Childers and Dave Steele. All of them are from the Tampa area and surrounding city suburbs.

     Dave Steele, one of 2 Floridians with multiple Little 500 race wins, at 2016 Little 500, Anderson Speedway, IN, 5-28-2016

         York Springs, Pennsylvania, is special because it lies in a middle of a part of the state with many iconic dirt oval race tracks, where the PA Posse live, breathe and race. They are a group of sprint car drivers who know these tracks so well, they routinely beat the best of the national sprint car drivers when they come to town. It is also the location of the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing, whose curator is Lynn Paxton.

     

         Paxton was a friend of many of the Florida racing legends and is still a friend to authors and prospective authors using the museum’s archives for research. The museum houses Chris Economaki’s personal library, donated when he passed, and back issues of his National Speed Sport News, documenting countless Florida races and Florida racers. Economaki was close to many Tampa area racers, including Dave Scarborough and Pancho Alvarez, and traveled to Tampa frequently for race events.

     

         One of Tampa’s most iconic races was the Governor’s Cup late model stock car race, held at Golden Gate Speedway starting in 1965 through the track’s demise in the 1980s. They would honor the race’s winner each year by adding their name to the Governor’s Cup trophy. But that was not the only Governor’s Cup awarded in Florida. Another Governor’s Cup trophy emerged in 1975, and was awarded by Florida’s Governor to the winner of the Daytona 500 that year, Benny Parsons. It resides in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, where it continues to confuse race fans today.

     

         You can almost imagine them saying, “Hey, what a minute! How many different Governor’s Cup trophies are there in Florida?”

     

         As the state government’s official museum, the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee currently presents an exhibit exploring the state’s auto racing history since 1903. It is named “Sun, Sand, and Speed – Florida Auto Racing” and runs through July 4, 2016. A more accurate name would be “Sun, Sand and Speed – Minus Any Mention of Tampa’s Short Track Racing History”. Nearly 100 years of Tampa’s short oval track racing history is completely ignored, as if it never happened. Although it was once recognized as the nation’s Winter Auto Racing Capital, that was not enough for Tampa to be recognized as such by the museum’s curator.

     

         When one examines the exhibit’s official website, NASCAR is the very first race sanctioning body to be mentioned. A conspicuous sponsor logo appears at the bottom of the page, with a prominent NASCAR racing family’s name displayed. It states, “Events Sponsor: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet – Tallahassee.”

     

         While NASCAR racing does receive a center stage position in the exhibit (and rightly so, with displays featuring NASCAR racing suits, helmets, autographed checkered flags and an entire car, driven by none other than Earnhardt Jr. himself), it is puzzling to comprehend why Tampa’s short track history is ignored. With involvement by Don Garlits, the Ormond Beach Historical Society, and other professionals, none appeared to have raised concerns about such a large portion of Florida’s racing history being completely omitted from the exhibit.

     Florida Museum of History's Auto Racing Exhibit

         Tampa does get a mention, begrudgingly left for display on signboards on the museum’s wall (as of April 1, 2016). The statement that one signboard makes is so inaccurate that one is left incredulous, trying to make sense of its nonsensical wording. “Open wheel racing in America is commonly known as Indy Car racing …,” the sign states, as if no other types of racing are done with open cockpits and open wheels.

     

         “Open Wheel Racing: Grand Prix of St. Petersburg” reads the title of another signboard, provided to the museum by the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg organizers. Although the group is from the Tampa Bay area, the signboards they provide make no mention of any Tampa race event other than the Grand Prix IndyCar race. The other 82 years of Tampa Bay auto racing history without a Grand Prix of St. Petersburg are never mentioned once anywhere in the museum’s auto racing exhibit (and those “other 82 years” tell a glorious and historically significant story).

     

         Tampa newspapers previously had motorsports columnists, and the action at local tracks dominated the sports pages through the mid 1970s, along with local high school and college sports. There were no major league professional sports teams based in the Tampa Bay area then. In 1976, their gradual, decades-long takeover of the local Tampa Bay sports scene began with the arrival of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL.

     

         Today, the three remaining Tampa Bay area short tracks are East Bay Raceway Park (Gibsonton), Showtime Speedway (Pinellas Park) and Desoto Speedway (Bradenton). Their future seems promising, mainly due to Florida’s positive economic climate and the continued influx of people and money coming to Florida, many of them retirees from rust belt states. Florida’s robust sprint car and open wheel racing community, which traces its beginnings to Tampa and Plant Field nearly 100 years ago, still has tracks to schedule races, car owners to bear the costs and fans to support the dirt and pavement race events.

     

         On February 3, 2021, short track oval auto racing will celebrate 100 years of racing in Florida. It started in Tampa nearly 100 years ago and it looks like auto racing will be active in the Tampa Bay area for many decades to come.

     

     

     

    Top Gun Sprints and the Southern Sprintcars Both in Action Saturday

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Both of Florida’s traveling sprint car series, which are the Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series on dirt, and the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series on pavement, will be racing this Saturday. They have both been on hiatus for about a month. The Southern Sprintcars had one race scheduled during the past month, the Larry Brazil Memorial Race at Desoto Speedway. It was rained out and rescheduled for Saturday, August 6. They will race with wings at Showtime Speedway on Saturday, a track where they raced without wings in April. The track has two remaining series races without wings this year, in July and October. I have learned that one of these two races may be renamed as the Frank Riddle Memorial Race, which was last held at Citrus County Speedway in 2015.

    The Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series will be at Volusia Speedway Park on Saturday. The series recently revamped its race schedule by deleting those races scheduled at Putnam County Speedway, and moving to add some Friday night races at both All-Tech Raceway and Bubba Raceway Park. Those two Friday races have been slotted for the two weekends following this coming weekend. After losing Danny Martin Jr., the best-known Top Gun Series driver, as a regular competitor earlier this year, no driver has emerged as a single dominant driver in the series this year. The series has had seven different drivers win feature races this year (Matt Kurtz has the most – 3 wins), and has seen an effort from another start-up series to get non-wing dirt sprint car racing back in Florida. Top Gun rejected non-wing racing several years ago, saying that the owners and drivers didn’t want it.

    The Top Gun Series race at Bubba Raceway Park on the night of Friday, July 1 is on the same day as another Florida racing nostalgia event of interest to Florida race fans. The Living Legends of Auto Racing, whose museum in located at the Sunshine Mall in Daytona Beach, will host a Summer Car Show and Autograph Session on that day beginning at 11 am. Their Facebook page has the address and details. Retired NASCAR Archives Manager Eddie Roche, who is the author of the most recent book about Florida short track auto racing, will also be there to speak. His book is the Florida Motorsports Retrospective Pictorial, Volume 1, 2nd Edition, released late last year.

    On the subject of books, also known as “that thing that old people read”, I would like to recommend Eddie’s book to Florida readers. I know that by promoting books, I will alienate myself from my younger readers, who regularly eschew books for whatever they can read on their smart phones (come on, you know it’s true). I made a particularly depressing observation earlier this year at a US airport while flying to Las Vegas for a brief vacation. While waiting for my flight to board, I reached into my briefcase and pulled out a book to read. I looked to my left and right to see if any of my fellow travelers were also reading the old people’s standby – a book. I was the only one. Every other traveler that was reading held either a smart phone or a tablet in their hands. Of course, some of them may have been reading a book, as audio and eBooks are readily available. I will persist. I will also continue to recommend books of interest to Florida readers. I know there are still some of you out there … somewhere.

    Two North Florida racing organizations also recently released some promising news. The two organizations have been intertwined for years, due to occupying the same area of the Interstate 75 corridor with Inverness to the west and the Villages to the east. They are Citrus County Speedway in Inverness and the Villages Motor Racing Fan Club, the state’s largest auto racing fans club, comprised exclusively of residents of the Villages. The club recently appointed a new Crew Chief to be head officer of the club, Tony Kennea. The club’s continued prosperity seems assured. The speedway has undergone a significant renovation that included repaving the racing surface and new bleachers after a new leaseholder took over earlier this year. They are planning an opening night race event on Saturday, July 16 (no sprint car racing). Despite discussions about an interest in sprint car racing, the track has no sprint car race dates through Labor Day.

    Members of the Villages Motor Racing Fan Club frequently went to races at Citrus County Speedway in prior years, often calling it their home track. The connection between the two will be further strengthened when Camron Ray, the track’s new General Manager, speaks at the next monthly meeting of the club on Wednesday, July 6. Ray will speak about the renovations which began in March, upcoming special events and the July 16 “Opening Night Bash.” The club already has announced their support and their intention to fill the stands with yellow shirts, the club’s signature clothing item.

     

     

    The Floridians at the 2016 Little 500 – Heartbreak and High Finish

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Thirty years ago, the 1986 Little 500 was the last of a series of three Little 500 races dominated and won by a driver from Florida. Dave Scarborough dominated the rest of the field so thoroughly, he was 21 laps ahead of the second place car at the finish. It seemed that the era of dominance by Florida drivers in the Little 500 would continue for a long time, but it did not. It was not until 1992 that another Floridian won, with Jim Childers in the George Rudolph owned car.

    Troy Thompson Inc. race team with driver Shane Butler, center, red cap, 2016 Little 500, Anderson Speedway, 5-28-2016

    Unlike 1986, when 14 Floridians were in the race, there were three Floridians who qualified for this year’s Little 500 at Anderson Speedway, Indiana. Dave Steele seemed to have the best chance to win on Saturday night. He had two prior race wins, in 1996 and 2009, had finished second last year, and was the fastest qualifier among the Floridians. He had placed at the top of the practice speed charts during the week, and seemed stolidly confident. His solemn tone belied the intensity he showed on the track, and seemed designed to lull the younger racers into thinking the “old guy” (as he referred to himself) could not compete with them for the race win. He could and he did compete with them on Saturday night. The race’s final laps saw Steele attempting to run down and pass Kody Swanson. He came close to winning, as he did last year, but was about a second behind Swanson at the finish. The Swanson brothers, Kody and Tanner, won three straight major Indy race week events from Thursday to Saturday in Indiana.

    I asked Dave Steele if he would rate this year’s Little 500 as even more intense than last year’s race? “I probably would say yeah,” Steele replied. “It seems like some of the faster cars were in there at the end. Last year, it seems like there was a little more attrition. We had to go all out for the whole five hundred just to stay in the hunt.” The amount of contact between cars was at a high level, mostly in the early and middle potions of the race. The cars of all three Floridians had contact with other cars.

    Mickey Kempgens and car 68 prior to the start of the 2016 Little 500, Anderson Speedway, IN, 5-28-2016

    “There were all kinds of close calls,” Steele said. “You just got to be patient.” Was there more contact and rough driving this year compared to last year? “Nah – it was just the standard deal.” Will he be more motivated to come back and win again now that he has finished in second place for two years in a row? “I don’t know. It’s hard to muster up the motivation. It takes so much hard work to come up here and do this deal. It’s just the way it goes.”

    With the work ahead to “turn around” the car upon arriving back in Florida, Steele said he would return to race in the Southern Sprintcar series, but may “skip one”, referring to the next race planned for this Saturday at Desoto Speedway. The series could possibly have another first-time series winner this weekend, as it did at the most recent race in mid-May won by Troy DeCaire.

    “It was very eventful. Stuff was happening all around us,” Shane Butler said after finishing in 8th place in his sixth Little 500 start, his best ever finish. Early in the race, “we got turned sideways going into one, I don’t know what those guys were doing. It was the first 50 laps, I got turned sideways facing the infield. Luckily someone got underneath me, bounced the left front off of them and straightened the car up. We got to 150 or so laps into the race, and the brake pedal just faded.”

    After a caution period, the brakes in Butler’s car seemed to come back after going a lap down, only to fade again later and keep fading again every 50 to 75 laps for the remainder of the race. “I had to ride and not use any brakes. Then the pedal would come back, and I could race some more,” he said. “Just staying out of trouble was key to our race. The brake situation took us out of any kind of chance for a top five run, maybe even better. Just dodged wrecks.” One of those wrecks was the car of Jacob Wilson hitting the inside wall on the back straight, just in front of his car.

    “The twelve car slap ran Mickey (Kempgens) over getting into three,” Butler said. “That was a tough moment too, we were scattered. He flat drove over Mickey, I don’t know what the heck he was doing. That guy did a lot of stuff tonight that I’m surprised the car’s still in one piece. I really don’t know what he was doing, he had a decent race car.”

    2016 Little 500 Florida Driver Group Photo, L to R, Dave Steele, Mickey Kempgens and Shane Butler.

    Shane felt that his team had two great pit stops, even though he did overshoot the second stop. He was pleased with his team’s effort, including having LJ Grimm doing his spotting from the infield. He was pleased with the car too, calling it “awesome”, other than the brake problem he encountered. He knew he had a year to figure out that problem, as team owner Troy Thompson has stated he did want to come back next year, allowing him a second chance to make the field and have Shane as his teammate at the Little 500. Thompson worked on Shane’s pit crew on race night.

    “I just can’t thank Troy Thompson and Jimmy Brown enough for this effort,” Shane Butler remarked. “Those two guys spent all the money. If it wasn’t for those two guys, this wouldn’t be possible at all.” The car had several co-owners, as Troy owned the motor in a car that Jimmy Brown owned, with several installed parts that were owned by the Butlers. Troy Thompson was listed as the owner for a car that was a joint effort.

    “Going off this run, I don’t see why we wouldn’t come back. This deal worked pretty good,” Butler concluded. “Walked away from this deal with nothing but a bent front bumper, so I’d say that’s a pretty damn good night. Obviously we wanted to get two cars in the show and we only got one, the one we did get in the show we finished and had a good showing. I’m tickled to death. I can’t wait for next year.”

    Mickey Kempgens returned with the same car owner as in last year’s Little 500, Doug Kenny. A hard crash on Tuesday in their winged sprint car eliminated a chance to win two races while in Anderson for the week. That car was intended for the Wednesday night Must See Racing winged race, but was now likely totaled. Mickey called the impact with the outside wall his hardest ever hit in racing, and the subsequent impact into the inside concrete barrier his second hardest hit. He was uninjured, saying the wreck was caused by a front wheel coming off the car in the turn.

    All three Floridians were in the top 12 positions at the finish of the 2016 Little 500, with the #68 purple and black car driven by Kempgens in 12th place. Diving low into the third turn, the number 12 car of Grant Galloway collided with Kempgens and ran over the tail of the number 68 car, which spun out. Kempgens continued in the race, but was slowed for a period of the middle portion of the race.

    “Apparently, the twelve just doesn’t know how to be patient and drilled me and spun me out and I went four or five laps down right then,” Mickey Kempgens said. “That’s pretty much the end of your race. I’m not very happy about it, that pretty much screwed up our whole race. We were behind the eight ball from then on.”

    Unfortunately for Mickey, it was not his only incident of the night. On the back stretch, another crash again involved the number 12 car with Galloway behind the wheel. Jacob Wilson struck the inside concrete barrier, bounced back onto the track, and when oncoming traffic slammed on the brakes, Mickey’s car struck the car of Travis Welpott. His car had front end damage from this impact that slowed him later in the race. “Something happened in the front end. It wasn’t the best after that.”

    Earlier in the race, Mickey felt that, “the car was good, we had to start pretty far back, started picking people off, got up close to the top ten and made our first pit stop. Just cruising along, car was really good.” After the two incidents, he felt he was still, “going pretty good, just four or five laps down at that point, so nothing I could do from there. We finished all in one piece, I guess that’s all that matters.”

    When asked if he will come back to Anderson for next year’s Little 500, Mickey had a very succinct answer. “I sure hope so,” he said. “Hopefully we should be at Bradenton next week.”

     

     

    Three Floridians Make the Field for the 2016 Little 500

     

    By Richard Golardi

      

    All three of the Floridians in the field for Saturday’s 68th running of the Pay Less Little 500 at Anderson Speedway have multiple sprint car racing championships. The fourth was hopefully going to be Troy Thompson, a rookie. But his rookie status did not diminish his importance to the group of Floridians, as he is the owner of half the cars entered by the group, with a third car brought as a team backup. Troy, who is owner of the Troy Thompson Inc. race team and the cars for himself and Shane Butler, had qualified in the field of 33 cars Thursday, only to be bumped from the field on Friday.

     Florida has sent some of their best pavement sprint car racers to the Little 500 this year. Along with Mickey Kempgens and Shane Butler, two-time race winner Dave Steele is back on the grid this year after last year’s second place finish. It is his second time back in the Little 500 since his race win in 2009. This year is also the 20th anniversary of his first Little 500 win in Jack Nowling’s sprint car in 1996. That win came when Steele was in his 20s, and the second when he was in his mid 30s. He is now 42 years old. In qualifying for Saturday at Anderson, he posted the 7th fastest time.

     When asked if he felt comfortable with his starting position, Dave Steele said, “I guess we’re comfortable with it, but we’re a little bit disappointed. Five hundred laps, right now I think we’re on the third row, we’ll be alright.” As far as the reason for feeling disappointed, he commented that he felt that they had, “something a little bit better than that - just the way it is. Even qualifying, we had one pretty good lap, but apparently I can’t string together four of them anymore. I don’t know – see if we can put 500 together.”

     To win, Steele believes that he must be, “patient, not get too rambunctious. You’ve got to run hard, but still stay out of trouble. There’s some fast cars out there. The skill level is there, a lot of those guys don’t have experience in a 500 lap race. They’re fast. If there’s any advantage for an old guy like me, it’s that we’ve got more Little 500 races under our belt than those guys do. We might not have the break-neck speed, but hopefully we can counteract that with experience.”

     Mickey Kempgens is back at the Little 500 one year after his impressive performance in 2015, in which he led laps late in the race for a substantial period. A left rear wheel that could not be removed and a meeting with a lapped car in turn two, which resulted in that car running over the top of his, suppressed his chance of winning. He looks to change that in 2016.

     Mickey said that he had been struggling with the car during this week, and had not been able to find speed. “Figured some things out last night (Wednesday) and this morning and finally got the car half-way decent. Qualifying – tires were cold and the car just didn’t want to get going on the first lap and progressively got loose. Not what we wanted, but we started 19th last year, so we’ve got a good race car. So we’ll race really good, just not a very good qualifying car, or I’m not a very good qualifier. One or the other. I think we’ll be alright. We’re prepping the car, getting all the fluids changed, getting everything ready for Saturday.

     “A lot more maintenance, a lot more going over everything with a fine-tooth comb,” is the way that Mickey and his team intend to prevent a replay of anything like last year’s left rear tire problem. “Just going through the car, checking everything, making sure we’re good to go.”

     Tom and Sid are two new crew members on the PCS Racing Team this year for Mickey Kempgens. Tom might be a fuelman on race day, and Sid may likely be a jackman. Other crew are Mickey’s father Ted, George Rudolph as crew chief, Richard, Charlie and Doug, which is the same as last year’s crew.

     Mickey believes that he can run lap times near those of his qualifying laps and he can do that for 50 or 100 laps on race day. “The car is comfortable and consistent,” Mickey said. “The car was just a hair bit off for qualifying. We’ve got a good race car. We should be OK. I like starting in the back and coming towards the front. That’d be really nice to win this thing, especially for George (Rudolph). It’s the 68th running of the race and we’re in a purple number 68. I’m really hoping to get him a win.”

     Shane Butler stood on his time from his second qualifying attempt on Thursday, the first day of Little 500 qualifying. During his first attempt, he slapped the wall on the front straight during his second lap, cut short the qualifying attempt and headed back to the pits. “I just got a little too anxious on the second lap,” Shane Butler said. “I screwed up and got in the fence. I hit it square enough that it didn’t affect anything. Luckily we came back in and found nothing wrong with the car, so we went back out and kind of got my head squared back up and went out there and laid down four solid laps. I wanted to be locked into the top 15, but I don’t think we have to worry about anything right now.

     “We’re just going to play it smart,” Shane said about his race day tactic. “First couple of laps, we’ll just let everybody get in line and then we’ll see if we can start picking cars off one at a time. The field is going to be pretty damn stout. There’s going to 33 good race cars and drivers.” Shane also spoke about how the team was working hard to get Troy Thompson up to speed and in the field for the race. When I spoke to Troy on Thursday, he was feeling confident about his chance of getting into the race. On Thursday his speed was fast enough, but on Friday the bumping began and the speeds went up, and Troy was not among the 33 fastest cars.

      Dave Steele on his qualifying attempt at Anderson Speedway.

     Mickey Kempgens qualifying for Little 500 at Anderson Speedway.

    Shane did take part in an exercise and weight loss regimen along with Troy Thompson, losing 21 pounds since the beginning of the year. That was when the decision was made to go to Anderson as a team this year. “I didn’t do a whole lot of the working out part, we did jog here and there. Back in January, when we were guaranteeing that we were going to come, I was trying to eat a little better and stay off the sodas is mainly all I did. I’m pretty excited. I can’t wait to get the race going on Saturday night. I feel that pit stops can sometimes make or break this race. If we do our job and get everything right on pit stops and hopefully get some luck from a push truck, we feel like we’re pretty prepared. My guys have done some pit stop practice. We don’t have a front row car, but we’ve got a solid race car.”

     Video – “Little 500 Qualifying for Florida Drivers”, with all four qualifying attempts completed on Thursday, first day of qualifying:

     https://youtu.be/G77rorZd6X0

     Video – “The Little 500 Pace Truck Story”:

     https://youtu.be/DPt3OovgQao

     

     

    Jim Hanks Interview – Looking Ahead and Analyzing the Alliances

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Jim Hanks is a busy man. When I spoke to him at Spitzer Motor Speedway on Sunday, it was during a time when his Must See Racing Sprint Car Series had 4 races in an 8-day period. Two of those races were in Ohio, and two at Anderson Speedway in Indiana, culminating with the Little 500 on Saturday. That race is the only non-point, non-wing race during the year. Prior to last weekend, two races of a 16 race schedule were complete. Although they no longer race in Florida, those two races made up a Southern swing for their season-opening weekend.

    Brian Gerster, Must See Racing Sprint Car Series feature race winner, Spitzer Motor Speedway, OH, 5-22-2016

    “The Car Owner’s Alliance, I think, is a really good thing,” Jim Hanks stated. “Basically, the car owners in the Midwest, the guys who race with us and the other series, decided it was time to get together to have a voice as a group on what they considered a necessity to improve sprint car racing. What they thought needed to be addressed and ultimately improved, was scheduling issues. There were several things going on. Number one: coming out with schedules early in the season that were, bottom line, incorrect or fictitious. Number two, and this was the primary thing, was series booking against other series and they’ve been very successful to get us all on the same page. I said, look I’m all for what you’re doing. If you want to bring out what the facts are, what the truth is, and what needs to be done so that we can all work together, I’m all for it. If you want to clean up bad behavior, let’s call it garbage, I said bring your garbage truck to my house first, because we have not intentionally come up with any bad scheduling. We try not to book against anybody and I think this is all a great idea. They’ve been very successful with that. I for one, really appreciate it.”

    Concerning the 2016 Must See Racing season so far and their outlook for the rest of the year, Hanks remarked that he is extremely positive. He acknowledged that the series had “one down year for sure”, partially due to a sponsor reneging on a commitment. In addition, Hanks endured a heart attack and open-heart surgery in early 2015. “I’m happy to tell you that not only am I back in great health, so is Must See Racing. We’re extremely positive about this year.”

    The car count for the first two races was 15 cars at each. They are integrating 360s and 410s into their races. At Shady Bowl on Saturday, one of the cars with a 360 set a new track record, with Johnny Bridges driving.

    Top Three Finishers, Must See Racing Sprint Car Series feature race, Spitzer Motor Speedway, OH, 5-22-2016.

    “As far as our schedule this year, it speaks for itself,” Hanks said. “I think we have 16 races and we’re putting 8 of them on MAVTV programming. We’ve got a good schedule. We’ve got a good, solid car count base, and we’re trying to improve on that. I see a resurgence, I see a new energy coming back in winged sprint cars.”

    Engine Pro is a presenting sponsor for the series again this year. They bring suppliers or vendors that support them, and they sell their products. The Little 500 will be one of the races on MAVTV, with a one-hour program planned. The remaining races will be part of the Dirty 30 weekly half-hour program on MAVTV.

    Recent posts on social media showed evidence of a meeting of various pavement sprint car racing series, which included Florida’s Southern Sprintcars, the King of the Wing series, Auto Value Super Sprints, and NSRA. I was not able to obtain any further information on the purpose of the meeting or the subjects discussed at the meeting, other than a vague statement about an effort to “unify pavement sprint car racing.” The Must See Racing Sprint Car Series was not mentioned as a participant at the meetings.

    “We’ve never been asked, we’ve never been invited, and we’ve never been a part of any of that,” Jim Hanks responded when asked for comment on the meetings. “I think what they’re doing, and here again I don’t have a dog in that fight, look at what their sponsorship is. I think that’ll answer your questions as to probably what their end game is.” Hanks continued that he didn’t like to comment on a subject that gets into racing politics, and he didn’t want to get into racing politics, because his main concern is what Must See Racing is doing.

    “We focus on that and we think we have a great program going here with great support and great race tracks like this one we’re sitting at, and I feel good about it,” Hanks stated.

    To avoid scheduling conflicts between pavement race series, as has occurred several times in recent years, the Car Owner’s Alliance, with Jim McCune as one of its organizers, asked for 2016 race schedules to be submitted to them to allow them to work toward avoiding conflicts. Hanks stated that Must See Racing typically completes their schedule first, and when their 2016 schedule was complete, it was submitted to the alliance for review. Hanks not only listed race dates on his completed 2016 race schedule, he included the history of how long the series had been competing at each track on that specific race weekend.

    “They reviewed it and they came back to me and said, ‘Those all look good, we understand why you feel you should have that date,’ and that’s where it all started. The other series then came with their schedules later and for the first time there’s no stepping on each other’s schedule. I assume that the coalition had a lot to do with that. I appreciate where we are right now with that. I appreciate what the other series are doing.”

     

     

     

     

    Troy DeCaire Takes First Southern Sprintcars Win at New Smyrna

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    When car owner Lenny Puglio said that he, crew chief Todd Schmidt, and driver Troy DeCaire may choose to skip the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series race at New Smyrna Speedway on Saturday, he seemed open to reversing that decision. Fortunately for the team, he changed his mind. Prospective fishing trips were canceled and the team showed up at the high-banked half mile hoping for their first win in the new Florida pavement sprint car series. After a ferocious charge to the front that included a last-lap pass for the lead, the team was putting on their best smiles in the Winner’s Circle on Saturday.

    Winning team in Winner's Circle at New Smyrna Speedway on 5-14-2016.

    “This is the 48th win for this car,” Lenny Puglio told me in the Winner’s Circle at New Smyrna. “When we reach 50 wins with this car, it will be retired. There’ll be a new car to replace it.” Puglio has had most of his recent wins with Dave Steele, followed by more wins with Troy DeCaire when Steele transitioned to racing his own cars prepared out of his Tampa race shop. The Lenny Puglio Motorsports team will soak in their win for a few weeks before returning to the track for the three-race weekend with the King of the Wing series in June at Toledo, Winchester and Fort Wayne. DeCaire already has one win with that series this year at Mobile, Alabama in April.

    Rex 'Boneman' Hollinger at New Smyrna Speedway, 5-14-2016.

    “We’re going to go do Winchester, Toledo, and Fort Wayne – looking forward to that, three big half miles,” DeCaire said. “Lenny’s got a 410 ready to go. We’re going to put it in there and hopefully do what we did at Mobile.” As far as the team’s plans after June, DeCaire was noncommittal, claiming, “I don’t know, I’m kind of getting old (he’s 30 years old). Just race whenever Lenny wants to race,” he added, highlighting the bond between this car owner and his driver. “Todd likes to fish and he’s got his boat. We’ll race whenever. It’s no big deal, like no set plan, just kind of racing for fun.”

    And the best fun of all – winning. “Tonight was a lot of fun. Mobile was a lot of fun,” DeCaire stated. With their plans to concentrate on winged sprint car racing, the team will skip the Little 500 next week. With Dave Steele going to Indiana for the Little 500, Steele and DeCaire’s plans to continue racing with the Southern Sprintcars has not been verified. Perhaps it may depend on the Steele team getting their own share of the fun with a win on Saturday night next week at Anderson Speedway. It would be Steele’s third Little 500 win, with one win in each of the past three decades, if he does it.

    Top Three Finishers at New Smyrna Speedway on Saturday, May 14, 2016

    ETC.
    Rex Hollinger was in a car with new graphics, a new engine, and new look for himself too, after recent weight loss. It’s still number 85 with a Boneman theme, complete with bones in the graphics. … With a part that broke in his heat race while behind the wheel of Tommy Rice’s number 16 car, Dude Teate thought he was done for the night and would be relegated to being a spectator. Not so fast – didn’t the Doug Kenny team bring both their red and blue cars to practice with at New Smyrna? Yes they did, with Mickey Kempgens taking laps in both cars during hot laps. They put Teate in their blue car, with Kempgens in the red car for the feature race. Both drivers got top five finishes, with Kempgens in third and Teate in fifth. … Rookie Clayton Donaldson’s first ever race at New Smyrna Speedway saw him get a top ten finish by finishing in ninth place. … With Sport Allen performing as “the rabbit” in Saturday’s race, opening up a sizable early lead, his car’s handling seemed to deteriorate later in the race, forcing him down to the track’s apron at one point to avoid spinning. He was nearly passed by DeCaire on the next to last lap when DeCaire went down onto the apron at the same point where Allen went to avoid a spin. That pass attempt caught the edge of the turn 4 grass and sent up sparks when DeCaire went back on the pavement. A half lap later, DeCaire made the pass of Allen in turn two of the last lap and went on to win. … Driver Carlie Yent is making plans to get her undergraduate degree at the University of Florida in Gainesville, starting in the fall. Her chosen major is Business and Marketing. … The next race for the Southern Sprintcars is on Saturday, June 4 at Desoto Speedway. … Confirmed entrants from Florida for this year’s Little 500 stand at four – Dave Steele, Mickey Kempgens, Shane Butler and Troy Thompson. There were also four Floridians in the Little 500 field for the years 2012 to 2014. The “Little Five” is on Saturday, May 28.

    The feature race video from the Southern Sprintcars at New Smyrna Speedway on Saturday, May 14, 2016 is here:

    https://youtu.be/LM-skpSOVNw



     

     

    Southern Sprintcars Will Have a New Winner This Saturday at New Smyrna

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    The Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series will have a first-time series winner when it races at New Smyrna Speedway on Saturday, as Dave Steele will not be racing. Dave Steele is 5 for 5 in series races in 2016. That’s every one of the races ever held by Florida’s new pavement sprint car series and every pavement sprint car race held in Florida this year.

    I’ve confirmed that Dave Steele’s team has already installed his 410 motor in his sprint car, and is preparing it for the Little 500, which begins its race week in 2 weeks. Without Steele in the field, and also without second place finisher Shane Butler from the last series race, 2 other names emerge as favorites for Saturday. They are Mickey Kempgens and Sport Allen.

    Jason Kimball at New Smyrna Speedway, 8-30-2014

    Kempgens has already racked up 3 second place finishes in series races so far this year, in addition to another second place finish in a King of the Wing series race in April. He’ll be that much more motivated to get his first win of the season on Saturday. Sport Allen finished in third place in the last series race, and is coming off a win on the dirt at East Bay Raceway Park last Saturday. With a win this Saturday, Allen will certainly maintain his reputation as one of the most versatile sprint car racers in the nation. Going into the May winged sprint car race at New Smyrna Speedway 2 years ago, Sport Allen was attempting to take three straight wins in three weeks, with three different varieties of sprint car racing. After winning a non-wing Showtime Speedway pavement race, he followed with an East Bay dirt win. He did not win on the third weekend at New Smyrna.

    Troy DeCaire’s effort to take his first Southern Sprintcar win will be hampered by a team decision to possibly sit out this Saturday’s race, and instead concentrate on their next definite scheduled races, with the King of the Wing series in June. Car owner Lenny Puglio confirmed that the team may choose to skip New Smyrna Speedway. Instead, they will race in the Midwest weekend for the King of the Wing at their next races, on June 24-26. He also confirmed that he will not enter a car for Troy DeCaire in the Little 500 this month. Puglio had previously told me that he has a dislike for non-wing races, and prefers to race his car with wings. He has a fishing trip planned for Saturday, May 28, the day of the Little 500 in Anderson.

    Feature Race 4-wide lap at New Smyrna Speedway, 8-30-2014

    In addition, I’ve learned that Troy DeCaire has received offers of four other seats for the Little 500, and has turned down all the offers. It appears that Puglio and DeCaire are committed to working with each other in the future. The duo already have one winged sprint car feature win this year, in Mobile, Alabama on April 2.

    Another car with a good chance to be seen in the Winner’s Circle at New Smyrna is the number 79 of Jason Kimball, who will have some of the Troy Thompson Inc. team members in his pit on Saturday. Neither of the Troy Thompson team cars will be racing on Saturday, as the team is preparing for the Little 500 with entries for Troy and Shane Butler. Kimball most recently won The Frank Riddle Memorial race at Citrus County Speedway in October.

    Turning to the Little 500, Troy Thompson appears to be one of only 2 rookies on the entry list as of today (the other is Ron Larson from Canada). “My biggest goal is making the field,” Thompson said.

    Heat race at New Smyrna Speedway, number 88 car of Sport Allen, 8-30-2014

    The group of Floridian drivers appears to be nearly set, with either four or five drivers, at the most. In addition to the Troy Thompson entries, Mickey Kempgens in the Doug Kenny owned #68 car and Dave Steele in his black #33 car are also confirmed.

    In addition to that talented group of Floridians going for the Little 500 win on race day, another treat will await race fans when they arrive at the track on May 28. The 2016 Little 500 race program will have an article and photos in a two-page spread about Florida sprint car legend Robert Smith. It was 30 years ago, in the 1986 Little 500, that Smith was in a terrifying crash and fire in which he was seriously burned and hospitalized for months. After undergoing skin grafts, he raced in Florida later that year and also made a return to Anderson Speedway to race again in the Little 500. The article takes a look back at his lifetime pursuit of a win in the Little 500.

     

     

    A Month on Pavement with Florida’s Sprint Car Racers

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Dave Steele is the favorite for the 68th running of Anderson Speedway’s Pay Less Little 500 sprint car race, which is about a month away. Fellow Floridian Mickey Kempgens is the “dark horse”. He’s the one that may surprise everyone when he wins the Little 500. He’s been consistent in the past, always making it to the end, with a best finish in 2015. Last year, when race fans were overhead asking, “Who’s in number 68?” as he led for a swath of laps mid-race, he looked like he could win. This year, he may.

    Those statements would all be spot-on if not for all the drivers from the Midwest and elsewhere who will be trying to stop the duo from Florida. They are the ones who may, as they did last year, find themselves battling one of the Florida pavement masters to the finish and then beating them. Dave Steele has another opponent that grows more formidable each year. It’s the effect of aging. He’ll be 42 years old on race day.

    Heat race at Showtime Speedway Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series, 4-30-2016.

    Chris Windom, 25 years old and the 2015 winner, and 34 year old Mickey Kempgens are among the young guns who will be Little 500 favorites on race day. “I’m okay with that,” Mickey Kempgens said on Saturday, when asked how he felt about being labeled as the dark horse favorite to win this year.

    “Who’s this guy? Do you know who he is – the one leading? Anybody heard of him?” Those were some of the questions being peppered back and forth between various race fans in turn 2 during the time Kempgens was leading late in the race. His chance of winning was foiled by a left rear tire which could not be removed, and then by another racer driving over the top of his car coming out of turn 2. He still brought the battered car home, finished in 8th place with the same left rear tire that was there when the race started.

    On Saturday night at Showtime Speedway, it was the first time that the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series raced this year without wings. That was new. The result at the finish was the same old result. The same racer who has won every pavement sprint car race in the state this year was once again the winner. It was Dave Steele, 5 for 5 in series races in 2016.

    Dave Steele in Winners Circle at Showtime Speedway on 4-30-2016

    Of the four Floridians with plans to enter the Little 500 who also raced Saturday at Showtime, only one was in the same car that he intends to race in the Little 500 on May 28. That was Dave Steele. Kempgens raced his number 5 car on Saturday, the one with blue graphics. He’ll bring the number 68 with purple graphics to Anderson for the 500 (photo is in last week’s column). The PCS Racing team will also compete in Wednesday’s Must See Racing 60-lap race, at Anderson Speedway on May 25. The team’s blue car or red car will race that night. Kempgens and car owner Doug Kenny are still looking for their first feature win in a national sprint car series. They came close last month.

    After finishing in second place in the first night of a two-race weekend with the King of the Wing series in their April swing through the Deep South, Kempgens looked like he was about to cruise to the win in night two. In this race at Alabama’s Montgomery Motor Speedway, he had a half lap lead over the second place car at the half way point when the right rear radius rod bolt broke and took him out. Just prior to this, he was, “Cruising, waving at my Dad.” The wave was a response to his father’s pleas to back off, as his lead was big enough to cruise to the win from there. When he waved back, he was trying to convey his message that he had already backed off. “What do you want? I’m already backing off!” was his reply.

    Mickey Kempgens in turn 4 at Showtime Speedway, April 30, 2016.

    Dave Steele has won so frequently because he is the master of peaking at the right moment. On the day prior to last year’s Little 500, he had the fastest practice lap. Was he as fit as he used to be? “Probably not,” he said that day. “Our starting spot isn’t as good … lack of practice time,” he added. With the dour tone he set, he was either downplaying his chances, or ambushing the competition. If they fell into his trap, they wouldn’t know he was coming until he passed. Making his late race surge, he was in second by the last restart. It worked, right until the final laps. Steele’s car pulled alongside Chris Windom twice, but he failed to pass him.

    The 2-driver Troy Thompson Inc. team, both in Saturday’s race, will bring 3 cars to Anderson for the Little 500. Neither Shane Butler nor Troy Thompson were in the car they will attempt to qualify at Anderson in about 3 weeks. Shane Butler was in the #15 car with the “Floridarific” colors (orange and lime green). That car will have Troy Thompson behind the wheel at Anderson. The red #18 car, the backup car for Anderson, was driven by Thompson last Saturday. The red #55 car makes its return at Anderson for Shane. Although the team denied they will put a third team car in the field, Hall of Famer Stan Butler will be present.

    Next up for the pavement racers will be the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series and their first stop at New Smyrna Speedway, with wings. That’s on Saturday, May 14. That high-speed venue offers an extreme contrast to the much slower confines of Showtime Speedway sans wings. Mac Steele intends to enter the #2 car for the team’s new primary driver, Clayton Donaldson. It will be the first time racing on the high banks of New Smyrna for the 17-year old racer. Within 5 days of that race, the Troy Thompson team heads north, with some special practice time at Anderson on the docket after arrival.

    The feature race video from Mike Maglio, Showtime Speedway, 4-30-2016, is here:

    https://youtu.be/HrlWNDd3yV8

     

    The GoPro camera video from the #5 car of Mickey Kempgens at Showtime Speedway, 4-30-2016 is here:

    https://youtu.be/l1ikE0PCzl0

     

     

    A Tale of Two Cities, Near Indy

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    There are two cities near Indianapolis, Indiana, each with a different tale of racing, on opposite sides of downtown Indianapolis. The first city is Speedway, so close to Indianapolis that many assume it’s part of the big city. It’s not. The second city is Anderson, far enough from Indianapolis that it is at the extreme outer limit of being in the Indy metropolitan area, and many assume that it is not.

    Each spring, Speedway’s big race event, the Indianapolis 500 mile race, draws the most attention. Each spring, Anderson’s biggest annual auto race, the Little 500 for sprint cars, starts an equal number of race cars (33), but draws far less attention. The Indianapolis 500 celebrates its 100th running this spring, on May 29. The Little 500 takes the green flag on the night before the Indianapolis 500, on May 28, for its 68th running. The Indianapolis 500 has attracted Formula 1 drivers, and has seen some of its drivers graduate to success in Formula 1 and other series. The Little 500 has been a training ground for drivers to perfect their skills on pavement and move on to success in the Indianapolis 500, with the names Parnelli Jones and Johnny Rutherford being the best known.

    Dave Steele in his car prior to the start of the 2015 Little 500.

    Speedway’s track, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is known for speeds so fast that cars are a blur as they pass by at well over 200 miles per hour, and approached about 250 miles per hour on the straights at one time. Anderson’s track, Anderson Speedway, is known for far slower speeds, and for being a Mecca for sprint car race lovers. They are mostly the ordinary, working class, All-American type that work hard, love their families and want their racing close-up, and their favorite race drivers without trust funds and with blue collar lifestyles, just like them.

    Although the stands at Indy are also mainly populated by the blue-collar class on Indy 500 race day, the same cannot be said for the drivers. Trust funds, famous family last names, big-dollar benefactors, and ride-buyers abound. With the IndyCar Series requiring expertise in road racing, the series and its car owners now routinely assign rides to Formula 1 castaways and road racers from Europe and beyond. With fewer American drivers and the departure of the stars from prior decades, interest in Indy car racing waned. TV ratings plummeted and stands were removed from “the Speedway”.

    Number 68 car of Mickey Kempgens on track for Saturday hot laps at 2015 Little 500.

    Since the start of the current decade, the trend in Anderson has seen the popularity and notoriety of the Little 500, and its ability to attract the best short track open wheel race car drivers, go through a renaissance that almost approaches the “good old days.” At times, the Little 500 rookie class included drivers with multiple open wheel racing championships making the field for the first time, becoming a “Champion Rookie.” Anderson Speedway has not needed to build additional stands for race day. But the fans, the press, and the car owners and drivers have all noticed and acknowledged the trend. The Little 500 is back.

    Floridians have been drawn to the Little 500 for decades, due to Florida’s robust pavement sprint car racing community, with tracks to schedule races, car owners to bear the costs and fans to support the pavement race events. Floridians’ involvement in the race reached a low point at the beginning of the current decade’s Little 500 renaissance. In 2011, Troy DeCaire was the sole Floridian in the race. Since then, there has been a slow revival of Floridians’ interest in the race. The revival peaked in 2015. A Floridian almost won for the first time since 2009.

    Floridians won the Little 500 nine times between 1979 and 2009. The peak of their dominance was in the mid 1980s. In 1986 and 1987, 42% of the starting field was composed of Floridians, an incredible but short-lived stretch of dominance. A Floridian occupied the Little 500 Winners Circle each year from 1984 to 1986. One year was so dominant for the Floridians, it has been called “The Year of the Floridians.” That was 1985. The best of times for Floridians at the Little 500 was in the past. But 2015 did give a hint that a change could come soon. Mickey Kempgens and Dave Steele both had impressive performances in the 2015 Little 500 and Dave Steele nearly won. Both will return to the Little 500 in 2016.

    Florida driver group photo at the 2015 Little 500, L to R, Troy DeCaire, Dave Steele, and Mickey Kempgens.

    Although the best of times for Floridians at the Little 500 was in the past, this is not the case for Floridians in the Indianapolis 500. The Floridians in the Indy 500 are having their best times now. They have had a dominant stretch in the Indy 500 in the most recent years. Although only one of the recent winners was born in America, the Floridians are all year-round residents and now make their permanent home in Florida. They are Floridians. They have now won the past three Indianapolis 500 mile races, and four out of the past five races. Juan Pablo Montoya, 2015 winner (Miami resident), was preceded by Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2014 winner (Fort Lauderdale resident), who was preceded by 2013 race winner Tony Kanaan (Miami resident). With Dan Wheldon’s win in 2011 (Dan and family resided in St. Petersburg), the only non-Floridian to win in the past 5 races was Dario Franchitti, who won in 2012 (and 2007 and 2010). Hunter-Reay’s win in 2014 was the first for an American driver from Florida since Jim Rathmann’s 1960 Indy 500 race win.

    This Saturday’s Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series non-wing race at Showtime Speedway will serve as a good barometer of how prepared the Florida teams are for the Little 500 in one month. Four teams, with five drivers from Florida, have affirmed that they are making the trip to Anderson Speedway for the race. Most or all are anticipated entrants for this Saturday’s non-wing race on the ¼ pavement at Showtime. That makes it as close to a “Little 500 Preview” race as Floridians will see this year.

    Will the winner of this Saturday’s race also be named as the winner of the Little 500 in one month? Dave Steele’s name should be immediately be mentioned when this question is asked. He’s won every series race since Florida’s new pavement sprint car series was announced late last year.

     

     

     

    Billy Boyd – A Champion’s Trial

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    On his way to winning the 2013 and 2014 sprint car track championships at East Bay Raceway Park, Billy Boyd’s driving skills were tested by many different competitors on the dirt surface of the track considered his home track. Dave Steele was one of those drivers. Preparing a dirt sprint car for sale, Steele took it to Easy Bay to race in November 2013. As the resident Tampa Bay area master of the asphalt, Steele was not going to race the dirt car long-term. But an East Bay win in the car may increase its sale value. In both the sprint car heat race and feature race that night at East Bay, Steele came in second place to the same driver – Billy Boyd.

    Winning the East Bay Sprints feature race on November 9th clinched the 2013 East Bay sprint car track championship for Billy Boyd. About 10 months later, Boyd was approaching his second straight championship at his home track. A sprint car feature win in September 2014 would be his sixth of the year. “Well, last year I think we won six or seven. We’re pretty much on even keel from last year,” he remarked then. Could it be his best year ever? “It looks to be that way. We’re happy. These guys work hard and the results show. It was a good night,” he said, smiling confidently.

    Billy Boyd, East Bay Sprints feature race winner at East Bay Raceway Park, Sept. 13, 2014

    Leading the East Bay Sprints points in September, Boyd earned the 2014 sprint car track championship when the remaining East Bay Sprints races rained out. After he missed the last three months of East Bay racing in 2014, Boyd was back in December for a Top Gun Sprint Series race. After winning two of his last three races at East Bay in 2014, Billy Boyd then disappeared from competition at the track he loved, his home track, East Bay Raceway Park.

    “We wound up finding out at the end of 2014 that I had leukemia,” Billy Boyd said. “So we kind of had to go in and out of doctors and hospitals and then it got worse, so we wound up missing all of 2015. I thought I’d be able to come back sometime in between there, but needless to say, it was a little bit harder of a fight than what I thought it would be. A lot of people, they don’t understand, I thought it would be a breeze. But it wasn’t.” He now switched his attention from winning battles on the race track to a different type of battle, the fight to survive. The ferocity that he showed on the race track would now be directed to beating leukemia. There was another goal. It was to return to East Bay to race again.

    Billy Boyd did not ask the question that so many injured or ill race car drivers ask of their doctors, “When will I be able to go back racing?” No, instead of asking that question, he made a statement to his doctor. He told his doctor that he would return to racing, and that his return would occur in August 2016. That was his goal. He just needed to continue his recovery, and convince his doctor that he was right. “I told him you’ve got four months to get me straightened up. He said it’s possible in four months.”

    Billy Boyd at East Bay Raceway Park on April 16

    Billy needn’t worry about having a car ready to race at East Bay in August. That was being taken care of by Jerry Amans and the Amans Motorsports team, the team he was with in 2013 and 2014. They would have the #9 sprint car ready, whenever he was ready. The team had not put their car on the track with another driver since Billy’s departure. They were waiting for Billy’s recovery and return. They wanted Billy in the car.

    Boyd was always quick to credit his car owner and team for doing whatever it takes to go fast. “These guys spend a lot of money on this car and they ask a lot of me,” he said in 2014. “We like it to be perfect. He likes to win races,” he said, speaking about car owner Jerry Amans. “And I like driving fast cars.”

    The #9 Amans Motorsports sprint car was originally built for Brian, son of car owner Jerry Amans. “I told Jerry, why don’t you put Brian in the car and let him run it? You guys don’t need to let it sit. As loyal as they are to me, Brian said he was not going to get in the car. It was no longer his car. It was my car. I can appreciate people like that. I talk to him (Jerry Amans) every day and he’s been real loyal to me. Everybody I’ve talked to has said I’m real fortunate because they don’t make guys like that anymore. He’s a good car owner. That kind of loyalty is rare.” Amans did have other drivers approach him about driving the car during Billy’s absence. Every driver was told the same thing. The car was not available.

    At 44 years old, Billy Boyd has been driving race cars for 30 years. “That’s what cheers the soul is racing. I’ve been doing it for so long. I started when I was about 14, driving mini-stocks for a couple of years. Then we wound up running some asphalt late model stuff. Then I came back over to the dirt and ran open-wheel modifieds for quite a few years. I always wanted to run a sprint car.” His wife didn’t want him in a sprint car at first, considering them dangerous.

    The low point for Billy was a six-week hospital stay in February and early March this year. “Things weren’t looking real good. They were talking about having to do another bone marrow transplant.” Billy had his initial bone marrow transplant in November 2015. He found out that this type of transplant frequently does not produce quick results. Often, it takes 6 to 8 months before steady progress and healing is evident. By February, he was still waiting for his steady progress toward healing to begin. Instead, his health worsened and he was admitted to Moffitt Cancer Center, where he stayed for six weeks. He lost 40 pounds during this stay.

    “It was iffy because they didn’t know. They were looking at another bone marrow transplant because they said the first one didn’t take. The levels were as low as they could go. There was a week there where we didn’t know if we were going to make it out of the hospital or not. I didn’t quite know if I was going to ever get out alive.” An effort was begun, led by his wife Mary, to try to find a 100% matching donor for the planned second bone marrow transplant. The donor used for the first transplant was a 50% match. Mary was determined to find a better match this time. She was updating family members and friends on Billy’s condition by using a website, CaringBridge.org. She was also employed full-time during this entire time as a bank branch manager in Riverview, in addition to caring for Billy while he was at home.

    The first bone marrow transplant initially appeared to be a success. Then the blood test results conveyed some bad news. It might not have been a successful transplant. The transplant was being rejected by his body. He was back in the hospital by February and the plans for a second transplant moved forward, “a last ditch effort.” An opinion from another doctor was sought. This doctor had a recommendation for them. “Why don’t we just wait a couple weeks,” he said. They waited.

    They were amazed at what happened next. They waited, as the second opinion instructed. His condition began to improve. It was just a little bit each day. But he was improving. The transplant was kicking in and going to work, battling the cancer cells and beating them. His doctors were amazing and pleased. When asked for an explanation as to why his prognosis had reached such a place of desperation, and then quickly turned around and steadily improved, they did not have an explanation. It may have just taken a while for the first transplant to kick in and go to work. But Billy had another explanation for the abrupt change in his condition. He knew why he was getting better, without a doubt.

    It was the power of prayer, according to Billy. Billy’s preacher, Pastor Mac Clements from the First Baptist Church of Gibsonton, would come in at least once a week to sit with him and pray with him. His condition improved to the point where he was advised that he could abandon the effort to find a second donor. The second transplant was no longer needed. As he continued to show significant improvement, hospital care was no longer needed either. He was back at home by mid-March. By April, he was looking better and feeling better and was thinner, due to the illness-induced 40 pound weight loss.

    During his time behind the wheel, Billy was the barrel-chested master of the dirt at East Bay, and could push aside opponents either on the dirt or in the pits, if necessary. A month removed from his hospital ordeal, his beard was back, a sun visor revealed his dark hair was still trying to make a comeback, and he was relaxing at home in Gibsonton with his family. Mary and Tyler, his 19 year old son, live there. There is also a 24 year old daughter, Trailene, and 4 grandchildren. East Bay was just a few miles down the road. He smiled when the talk turned to sprint cars.

    “I’d feel fortunate if I can get out there and do one lap or two laps, or just get pushed off. I told my wife if you see something dripping out from underneath my helmet, don’t take my helmet off. Just let me sit there for just a minute and you know, soak it in. I’ll be happy.

    “There’s nothing like not knowing if you can get back to doing something you love to do. And not knowing if you’re even going to be breathing in 4 or 6 months. I was healthy, I’d never been in the hospital. I’d just had common colds. That was the worst I’d had. And all of a sudden you go into the doctor’s office and think you’ve got the flu and they tell you that you’ve got leukemia.” For Billy, the cause was most likely hereditary, as he’d never worked or lived in a hazardous environment.

    “Everything’s looking real good right now. We beat the cancer. It’s just the aftereffect of all the chemotherapy and all the medicines that they gave me. It’s been a battle. If you ain’t around it, you don’t understand it and I’ve learned a lot. It’s definitely changed me as a person. But, we’ll be back, hopefully.” Billy currently goes three times a week to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa to do blood tests and monitor his recovery. Each time, the results show a little improvement. The numbers are a little better each time, showing a pattern of steady recovery and healing. His recovery is ongoing.

    Billy has cast aside his wheelchair, initially used right after his hospital discharge in March. Then the wheelchair was replaced by a walker as his strength improved. Now, he is able to walk without help of a walker or cane. He also made the climb up the steps to the announcer’s booth to be a spectator for his brother’s late model race in April at East Bay Raceway Park. On his next visit to East Bay, he made it back to watch his first sprint car race since falling ill. He returned to the announcer’s booth, as his lungs weren’t strong enough yet to breathe in all the dust and exhaust fumes outside the booth.

    Asked for a photo, he expressed concern about the shine off the top of his head from the reflected overhead lights. “Don’t worry about it. I can avoid shooting the top of your head. The important thing is – you’re back.” Billy Boyd was back. He was back at the track he loved, back at his home track. He was back at East Bay. He was home.

     

     

    Pete Walton Interview - The Fans Want Sprint Cars

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    “We are really concentrating on our sprint car series more than anything this year,” USCS Founder and President Pete Walton said in an interview earlier this month. “We’ve got three series, and it seems like the sprint cars are what the fans want to see and also what works.” The USCS mini-sprint series has had its struggles recently, with low car counts being their biggest current dilemma. Walton’s statement is not surprising, as short track racing, and sprint car racing in particular, has seen an attendance bump this year, while NASCAR continues to see their attendance and TV ratings spiral downward.

    “It seems like the tracks like to have a good sprint car race and we can get enough people here to watch it to make it all work out. I thought they had a pretty good crowd here tonight,” Walton said, referring to the Friday, April 1, 2016 race date at All-Tech Raceway near Lake City, FL. “Considering the weather, it was probably a great crowd here in the stands, wasn’t it?” he asked. The track’s prior 2016 sprint car race, a Top Gun Series race on Super Bowl Sunday in February, understandably had dismal attendance. “They were on a rotten date – Super Bowl Sunday. Probably, I’m sure they won’t try that again,” he added.

    USCS will increase its presence in Florida this year, after making its return to the Sunshine State last year in October. They had a five year absence from the state prior to last year’s return. Originally scheduled to race in Florida in April and September this year (both two race weekends, Lake City and Ocala), the April race weekend was cut to one race after Saturday’s trek down I-75 to Ocala was rained out. Last year’s two-race stint at Bubba Raceway Park produced a win for a Floridian to accompany the win for an out-of-stater. With Danny Martin Jr.’s April 1 win, Floridians have won two out of the last three USCS Florida races.

    The USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour, the national winged dirt series, made history last year by providing the stage for the first female national sprint car series champion, Morgan Turpen. To publicize that achievement and the upcoming 2016 USCS race dates, Pete Walton described the newest publicity endeavor for the series, a weekly internet-based show. “We have an internet radio show we started doing. It’s going to be on Tuesday nights at 8 pm. It’ll be on this Tuesday night for the second time. We actually didn’t publicize it too much last week because it was our first one (in early April). It worked pretty good – we had some listeners.”

    For their first Florida sprint car race of 2016, Pete Walton said he was satisfied with the outcome at All-Tech Raceway. “I thought it went well, considering it was touch-and-go on the weather and we had 18 pretty good cars show up and I thought they put on a great show.” Danny Martin Jr., in first place, was followed by new champion Morgan Turpen in second and another recent champion, Terry Gray, in third. I recently hypothesized that Danny Martin Jr. could easily win the USCS championship by running the full season, which he has decided against attempting. His current employment and family are both in Florida, and his racing outside Florida will be with USCS, but limited.

    “Seventeen of them started the main event and I think about 13 or 14 of them finished,” Pete Walton said. “Danny Martin Jr. started on the pole and it might have been a little tougher for him (he dominated the race). But, you know he did a great job as he usually does and won the race again. I thought a lot of other people did a great job too. Witherspoon did a good job – he was right there. Danny Sams III ran and he did an awesome job. A young driver, he’s 14 years old and 16 year old Nick Snyder finished right behind him. Witherspoon blew a left rear tire running fourth, I believe. He didn’t finish.”

    A mid-May stop at Needmore Speedway in South Georgia is a new item on this year’s race schedule. “You’d hope you see a lot of these new guys come race there. Never been there – same people own it that own Albany Motor Speedway, which we’re not going to so far this year.” So far this year, add a little better luck with weather and the USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour will be able to do what Pete Walton desires – concentrate on sprint cars and give the fans what they want to see. Exciting dirt sprint car racing seems to be a timeless entertainment product. It was around back in the 30s and 40s, and will surely be around for many more decades.

     

     

    Danny Martin Jr.’s Excellent Spring Adventure

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Danny Martin Jr.’s weekend trouncing of the USCS national sprint car series field at All-Tech Raceway in Lake City was so convincing that there was no doubt as to who would win the feature race. It was the first outing for the Doug Shaw owned race team’s new car, which has a new motor coming soon. For now, the old motor was sufficient to easily pull away from the field at the feature race start and at each restart. The team will return to USCS competition at intervals of about once each month, favoring nearby races in Georgia. The USCS series will not return to Florida until September, increasing its tours of Florida to two this year.

    With the Shaw Racing team not racing in Top Gun Sprint Series competition this year, and the new regional ASCS Southern Outlaw Sprints without a Florida race beyond the Florida panhandle, the number of 360 sprint car races in Florida for the team to choose from is limited. They will go beyond Florida’s borders for a significant portion of their racing for the rest of the year. At one time, the ASCS Southern Outlaw Sprints had eight races on their schedule for North and Central Florida. Those races subsequently disappeared from the schedule.

    Danny Martin Jr. and car owner and crew at All-Tech Raceway

    Turn two was the slippery corner at All-Tech, producing the most spins. It was also the most challenging for Danny Martin Jr. “Three and four she was locked down. I’m happy with it, first night out. I just knew if I held my line, they were going to have to really fight to get by me or move me out of the way,” Danny said after the Friday USCS race win. But there were no other competitors who had a chance to try to move him out of the way, as they could never get that close. “The car owner kept telling me I could get some good leads so then I would just ride and hit my marks and not mess up and keep the car under me. It was hooked up tonight. I can’t thank Doug and the crew enough,” he said in the Winners Circle at All-Tech Raceway.

    The USCS race last Friday at All-Tech Raceway was not only the first race in a new car for Danny, it was his first race for the team in a standard arm car. “We’ve been running a reverse arm car since I started with Doug in 2000. I’ve been with him quite a few years, and I’ve never run a standard arm car. So, first night out and I’d say we did alright.” In the reverse arm car that the team had always run previously, Danny explained that the torsion tubes are swapped. He also explained that on a standard arm car (the team’s new car), the shorter arm is on the right side. He wouldn’t say which car type he preferred other than to admit, “We had a lot of luck with that reverse arm car. They’re tighter, but they’re usually hit or miss. They’re hard to get dialed in. These are more forgiving.”

    All-Tech Raceway front straight

    With how fast Danny and the new car were at All-Tech Raceway, it may be on the verge of getting even faster. The old motor may have about 5 or 6 more races on it before it is due to be refreshed. Then the new motor will come out of the box. “We’ve got a brand new Don Ott motor at the shop. At the moment, we’re not lacking for motors.” Even running over an errant cone in the third turn late in the race did not slow down Danny’s dominating race performance on Friday. It seems that he could easily dominate the series and win the USCS national championship if he ran the complete season schedule. But he won’t.

    “I think I heard the car owner say something about Needmore Speedway in Georgia in about a month. Where I’m working now I’ve got pretty good responsibilities, so I don’t know how much I’m going to be able to slip away.” His team did go beyond Florida and Georgia for USCS national series racing last year, but his wins during 2015 were all in those two states. Danny and car owner Doug Shaw have decided on a plan for their 2016 racing competition.

    All-Tech Raceway USCS Pace Lap

    “We’re going to try to just run once a month. The boss is pretty cool but still it’s a big business and I’ve got a lot of responsibility and I kind of need to be there,” Danny said, referring to his current day job. “I think we’re just going to shoot for USCS racing once a month.” So that would be through the summer and for the rest of this year, I asked? “Yes,” he replied.

    The feature race video from the USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour at All-Tech Raceway is here:

    https://youtu.be/a0dzT464WC8

     

     

    Davey Hamilton’s Hopes for A Better Year Start This Friday

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Davey Hamilton did not have a very good year in 2015. He’s hoping to change things this year, starting with the season opening race for his King of the Wing sprint car series in Florida this Friday.

    In 2015, Davey Hamilton found himself employed by USAC in March as the Executive Director of USAC Racing. He and USAC President Kevin Miller could not see things the same way about his exact job duties, and he was gone from this position three months later, in June 2015.

    Davey Hamilton

    Hamilton and Indianapolis Speedway President Doug Boles discussed the possibility of using the infield roads at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to construct a temporary short oval to be used for King of the Wing racing in 2016. “Doug and I spoke for maybe eight or nine months on this subject. I’d like to do it next year, obviously because of the 100th Indy 500 race,” Hamilton said. After a lunch meeting with Boles and Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles in September 2015, Davey stated that he was still positive about the IMS location being on the King of the Wing race schedule in 2016. When the speedway’s 2016 event schedule was released in December 2015, the King of the Wing series was absent from the listed race dates.

    Early last year, King of the Wing races were planned for broadcast on MAVTV during 2015. That deal fell apart when first Dish Network dropped the channel from its lineup and then a major advertiser dropped out of the deal, killing the chance of the series being seen on TV on a regular basis in 2015.

    Two of the race weekends for the King of the Wing national series were interrupted by rain. The Southern race swing was reduced from two races to only one, at Five Flags Speedway. It was a tough weekend for the series, with the Mobile, Alabama race canceled due to rain. The other race at Five Flags Speedway was one that Hamilton characterized by saying, “I know if it had a chance to go wrong that weekend it did.”

    The Midwest race weekend included a day-long water torture at Winchester, Indiana spent watching water being pumped from infield water hazards. By the time they were shrunk in size and the track was ready, open wheel racers were pushed aside in favor of ARCA, who then had the track to themselves all of Saturday afternoon and Sunday. The track remained dry and unused on Saturday after 6:48 pm, the time it was to be used for sprint car racing. Although all the pits were filled with ARCA cars, I observed a lack of rain and a dry track that would have allowed the King of the Wing race at Winchester sufficient time to be completed, albeit with almost empty stands. The ARCA event was given priority. Vintage sprint cars took to the track. The King of the Wing cars never did, as if they were the unwanted ugly stepchild.

    Davey Hamilton Jr. and the 1 car he drove in the 2015 Little 500.

    Hamilton hoped to get another King of the Wing regional sprint car series up and running in 2015, enthusiastically announcing in January 2015 that the series would begin racing in Florida that year. It was the Southern Sprint Car Series, which would race mainly in Florida. The series never turned a wheel and probably never will, now that another Florida-based series has asserted their dominance in the Florida pavement sprint car racing market. That series is the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). They are already 3 races into their 2016 schedule, with 14 more Florida races planned. The possibility of another series getting a foothold in Florida and pushing them aside is near zero, as they have wide support.

    With the first race for Davey’s King of the Wing national sprint car series (he is the series owner) planned for this Friday, April 1, at Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway, Hamilton will surely be looking to get all the bad 2015 mojo behind him. Friday will be the first race of an ambitious three-day race weekend in the Deep South. Day 2 sees the winged sprint car racers head to Southern Alabama for a Saturday race at Mobile International Speedway. Day 3 will be spent in Central Alabama, deep in the heart of stock car racing country. A test day at Montgomery Motor Speedway one year ago got a positive reaction from the stock car partisans, and led to the track getting the third race of the weekend on Sunday, April 3.

    Davey Hamilton’s year was not all bad in 2015. His son, Davey (D.J.) Hamilton Jr., entered the Little 500 with a goal of earning the Rookie of the Race award. D.J. was running at an equal pace with a pack of race leaders for a significant portion of the race. “I came into the race just hoping that I was going to get through turn one. Luckily we did it. It was all about finishing the race,” he said after finishing in sixth place and earning The Herald Bulletin Rookie of the Race honor. Later in the year, a string of wins also earned D.J. the championship in the King of the Wing Western Sprint Car Series, their west coast regional series. He goes into 2016 with a ride in the Indy Lights Series with Jack McCormack and McCormack Racing, and will also continue to race a sprint car.

    The series also had the bragging rights of providing a stage for one of the most promising American female open wheel racers in recent years. Sierra Jackson earned her first national series sprint car win last year with King of the Wing at Kern County Raceway Park. Five days ago, some more good news arrived for Davey Hamilton. A series title sponsor was named for his national series. Royal Purple Synthetic Oil was the new title sponsor for the King of the Wing National Series, effectively immediately. That’s just in time to be part of this week’s season opening Southeast Tour.

    The 2016 national series schedule has been filled out with four weekends of racing, each consisting of three races. That was the 12 race mix that Hamilton desired for the four locales that make up the National series, with Midwest, Northwest and West Coast swings later in the year. National TV exposure for King of the Wing may be sparse this year, as it was last year. The main reason for this is because the rival Must See Racing Sprint Car Series has already inked a deal with MAVTV to broadcast races on their weekly Dirty 30 racing program. Two weeks after the King of the Wing series, Must See begins its race season with their swing through the South with two races in the Carolinas.

     

     

     

    Here Comes Dave Steele – Look Out, SSSS and Little 500

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     The online video shows Dave Steele negotiating through the field of cars on the asphalt of Desoto Speedway during the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series (SSSS) feature race. The GoPro camera attached to the car captures the images as Steele starts on the fourth row, moves into the lead by mid-race, and laps all competitors save for three other cars. Some might think that driving a pavement race car on ovals is not such a difficult task, since it only involves steering, braking and accelerating, with no gear shifts and no broadsliding (as is done on dirt). But very few can do it well. Even fewer can win and dominate their competitors. The video shows just how Steele goes about doing both. Long before the conclusion of the video, the viewer will sense that they know how the story ends – Dave Steele will win.

     As the TBARA’s successor organization for Florida pavement sprint car racing, the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series was conducting its second race of 2016 at Desoto Speedway on Saturday. The race was its first at a high-speed track, and it was also a test of how well it would draw spectators to a race outside of Speedweeks. It had the feel of being the first major pavement sprint car race of 2016, since the first race in February got lost in the chaos of Florida’s Speedweeks. The paid attendance, although far from a sellout, was noticeably larger than prior years, surely benefiting from low gas prices, and Snowbirds and vacationers seeking warmer climates. The race event’s greatest success was the size of the starting field – 23 cars. Compare that to the size of the field for Top Gun’s race in South Florida on the same day, which drew 6 cars.

     Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series at Desoto Speedway

    Dave Steele’s relationship with the new sanctioning body is a close one, but he stated that he is not on the Board of Directors for the SSSS. His business logo, for Steele Performance Parts, does appear on the series logo as a sponsor, along with several other businesses. He is not involved with managing and administering the series, as that is done mainly by Rick Day, a board member and President, and a team of race officials and volunteers. Steele is a sponsor and tire supplier to the series, which races on Hoosier Tires.

     “Well, I’m a series sponsor, my store,” Dave Steele said. “Somebody mentioned something that I was (a board member), but if I am, I’ve never been called to duty yet. If I am, I’ve never been summoned.” As a three-time TBARA driver champion, I wanted to know how Steele felt about the new series (which he supports and participates in) being a replacement for the TBARA, which last raced in 2014. “I mean, it’s pretty much the same deal, it’s just got a different name,” he replied. “If you’re one of those historians that’s hung up on the name itself, I guess there’s something to it, but I mean it’s all the same group of guys. There isn’t much difference.”

     Dave Steele, Feature Race Winner

    For its first season, the Southern Sprintcars will have an ambitious schedule of 17 races (two of them without wings), at three different tracks, two on the West Coast and one East Coast track (New Smyrna Speedway). They are forced to work in a racing environment that has resulted in several Florida pavement short tracks ceasing operations in the past year, reducing their available options for race venues. In addition, with Steele as one of its most popular and well-known racers, he won’t commit to a full season with the new series. “We just go one race at a time,” Steele stated. “I don’t really like getting caught up in a points deal. I’m just here to support the series and add a car to the car count. We’ll do that.”

     For the near future, which sees a Southern swing for the King of the Wing series in April (Pensacola, Mobile and Montgomery), and then the annual trek to Anderson, Indiana for the Little 500 in late May, you can count Steele in for the 2016 Little 500. “Little 500 – I think we kind of plan on doing that. King of the Wing – I don’t know. They kind of changed some rules around and some of the rules they changed, our car doesn’t really meet the specs, so we may not go do that. They changed the rules and it’s some stuff I don’t necessarily agree with, but it’s not my call. We’d have to change our car around,” Steele added, making it clear that the required changes were not to his liking.

     For 2016, Dave Steele’s return to the Little 500 will mark 20 years since his first win in 1996 with car owner Jack Nowling. It will also be one year since he came very close to earning his third career Little 500 victory. Pulling alongside eventual winner Chris Windom twice in the last portion of the race, he could not complete the pass and finished second. He’ll make a change for 2016 to attain his goal. He’ll have a 410 motor under his hood this year, as opposed to a 360 last year when he nearly won. “It should hopefully be better. I think we were giving up some on the weight, weight-wise is mainly why we’re looking to do the 410,” he said, noting that the track doesn’t greatly favor additional horsepower. But he will make the change, in order to take the win.

     Steele looks trim and states that he runs or rides his bicycle each day to keep in shape. Sometimes, the bicycle rides include his whole family. This mostly occurs on weekends, and then the bike rides proceed at a leisurely pace. By race day this year, he will be 42 years old. Windom was 25 years old on the day he won in 2015. “It’s up to me to stay in shape.” Is he? “I’m trying,” he replied.

     Regarding the increased fan interest and attendance at 2016 short track races, Steele states that, “you’ve got to have popularity. You need fans in the stands and you need all of that. Car count, I think is only going to get better and the car count down here is pretty good and it’ll get better. So hopefully that’ll bring some more fans in the stands.”

     Florida now has a relatively stable traveling dirt sprint car series and the new traveling pavement series – the Southern Sprintcars. Will this translate into increased sales and profits for Steele’s racing business based in Tampa, which is the current epicenter of Florida’s short track race supply industry? It apparently already has had its desired effect for his business, which he states is doing better. “Last year wasn’t a good year for us,” he admitted. “Very few pavement races - I mean there wasn’t many. It rained most of the summer. It rained like crazy, so a lot of races got rained out.” And that affected his bottom line? “For sure. Yeah.” Barring another extreme rainy season this year, it seems like business should see a significant increase for a Florida supplier. “It already is for the first couple of months – yeah.”

     Even though Florida’s racing season is less than two months along, Dave Steele already has two feature race wins and is seeing an early season improvement in his business sales, with no indicators that a slowdown is in the future, for either him or for Florida. Could this indicate a trend that will follow for the rest of the country’s short track racing industry? Race engines fire up in the North and Midwest in about a month, so it won’t be long before the trend reveals itself to be nationwide or confined to just the Sunbelt states.

     Mike Maglio’s video from Dave Steele’s GoPro camera, Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series, Feature Race, March 5, 2016:

     https://youtu.be/1qtD4y0QsUg

     Video – “Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series, Feature Race, Desoto Speedway, March 5, 2016”:

     https://youtu.be/0h722x2bWOM

     

     

     

    Is Short Track Auto Racing Experiencing a 2016 Comeback? (Plus: Speedweek’s Best Three Races)

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     The announcer at the first race of the 2016 World of Outlaws sprint car season stated that the track attendance that night, Friday, February 12, 2016, was the largest in the history of Volusia Speedway Park for a sprint car race. Two weeks later, the Saturday night crowd at Showtime Speedway’s World Finals for the Outlaw Figure 8 modifieds was the largest I’d ever seen at the track, despite the bone-chilling temperatures a few hours after the sun had gone down. That same night was a special race event at Desoto Speedway and the attendance was described as “a packed house” (keep in mind this came from a track news release). That same weekend, the World of Outlaws sprint cars had another “largest crowd in the history of the track” (according to the series announcer) at Cotton Bowl Speedway in Texas.

     

    Even the USAC national sprint car series stop at Ocala’s Bubba Raceway Park seemed to benefit from a larger than usual crowd (for them) at the last two nights of their three-night stint at the dirt oval. So what is going on? Is this really a new trend in American short-track auto racing for 2016? Has the overall attendance really seen a dramatic jump in the Sunbelt state events held so far this year? I have received no confirmation from the World of Outlaws about specific attendance numbers outside of the “largest crowd ever” claims. I was at Volusia Speedway Park on the night of the season-opening race (2/12/2016), and the crowd size was large – noticeably larger than the most recent prior years. Friday is usually the biggest crowd, as it has the distinction of being opening night for the Outlaws and they are not directly competing with NASCAR Sprint Cup at Daytona, as they are on Saturday evening.

     As far as what is happening to cause the trend, the lower cost of gas is certainly a motivator to travel as opposed to staying home. Other possible motivators are the drop in popularity for other national racing series, which have seen a drop in TV viewership (include NASCAR and IndyCar in this group). A much-touted sellout for the Daytona 500 last month was mostly due to the dramatic reduction in number of seats at NASCAR’s premiere track.

     

    Is it a trend for short-track racing? So far, it seems like it is a new trend for 2016. To really be a trend, it will have to continue beyond the winter racing in Southern and Sunbelt states, which benefit from Snowbirds and vacationers in the area for the winter months. The real test of the status as a trend will be when Midwest and Northeast short track racing begins full-tilt in April. The melting of the snow (or just warmer climes with the absence of snow) will truly reveal the presence of a trend, or if it was just a short-term phenomenon that fizzled out.

     Here are my picks for:

     'The Top Three Best 2016 Speedweeks Sprint Car Races':

    1) Friday, 2/12, World of Outlaws at Volusia Speedway Park

    2) Saturday, 2/20, USAC Sprint Cars at Bubba Raceway Park

    3) Saturday, 2/13, World of Outlaws at Volusia Speedway Park

     

    Video #1 - "Highlights: World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Cars, Volusia Speedway Park, February 12, 2016"

     https://youtu.be/5dvSOMSD6Gk

     Video #2 - "Highlights, USAC Sprint Cars at Bubba Raceway Park, Sat., 2-20-2016"

     https://www.facebook.com/usacracing/videos/1046106068745164/?hc_location=ufi

     Video #3 - "Highlights: World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Cars, Volusia Speedway Park, February 13, 2016"

     https://youtu.be/0bST-bB-iSA

     

     

     

     

    Opinion - East Bay Winternationals and the Future of 360s in Florida

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    When the USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour, the national series version of USCS’s winged dirt sprint cars, came to Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala last year, the majority of the field (14 of 24 race starters) was made up of Floridians with USCS-ready 360 motors. These are not the type of motors that are raced in Florida’s only traveling dirt sprint car series. The Floridians with ASCS/USCS ready motors also made up a sizable portion of the entry list for the East Bay Winternationals last weekend. But those motors aren’t used for Florida’s home dirt series – the Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Car Series. And many in the Florida sprint car racing community are beginning to wonder – why not?

    Not only are they wondering, but they are wandering. They are wandering off to race in less (or sometimes zero) Top Gun Sprint Series races this year. After discussions with multiple car owners and owner/drivers over the past few weeks, and many more in the pits at East Bay Raceway Park last weekend, I can say the racers planning on committing to a full season with Top Gun are dwindling. Many have, or will soon acquire, a USCS motor and plan on running more USCS and ASCS races, and fewer Top Gun races. The reasons why are many. They want to compete against the best drivers in 360s, they want to be a part of a national series and the increased press coverage and recognition that comes with it, and they want to race in some or all of the upcoming USCS national series and ASCS regional series races that are coming to Florida this year and in the future. Plus, Florida has a storied history of its racers winning and dominating in USCS sprint car racing.

    The USCS national tour, after being absent for five years, returned to Florida in 2015 for 2 October races in Ocala. ASCS/USCS 360 racing was once again back in Florida, outside of just the 360 Winternationals at East Bay in February. For 2016, the USCS national tour is back in Florida in April for two races, this time in Lake City followed by Ocala. They return to the same two tracks again in September, Friday 9/16 at All-Tech Raceway and the next day, 9/17 at Bubba Raceway Park. The Lucas Oil ASCS national tour has two races in Florida to close out their season during the first weekend in November. The track locations are unannounced. The Lucas Oil ASCS Regional tour (formerly Southern Outlaws Sprints) has Central Florida dates in April, May and September, none of which have announced locations.

    The driver from Florida who won the USCS Rookie of the Year title last year, Nicholas Snyder, had to leave the state and go on tour with the USCS national tour to get 360 experience. Wouldn’t it be better if young talented racers like Nick Snyder (include Danny Martin Jr., Matt Kurtz, AJ Maddox, Garrett Green and Kyle Pitts in this group too) could stay closer to home and get the 360 racing experience that they want and need right here in Florida? The answer is obvious. The answer is yes (of course).

    The Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series is fast approaching a certain “point of no return”, as car counts are sure to drop with the continued defection of teams and cars to race with USCS and ASCS in Florida and nearby states. If they hold on tight to the current limited 360 motor rule, and make no effort to transition to using USCS legal 360 motors, they will eventually reach the point of obsolescence. There is even the possibility that they may meet the same fate as another Florida traveling sprint car series, the TBARA (now defunct). The best plan of action that the Top Gun Series ownership can take would be to begin transitioning to using only ASCS/USCS legal 360 motors now.

    It will benefit young Florida racers looking to move up to stock car, other open wheel series and national 410 sprint car racing. It is sad to see only one Floridian racing with the national 410 sprint car series when they come to Florida in February. It is time to change that, and this would be a good start.

    Terry McCarl wins the Saturday finale as King of the 360s at East Bay Raceway Park

    The argument that Florida car owners cannot afford a USCS legal 360 motor has been debunked. They have them and are racing them (see the USCS at Bubba’s and East Bay 360 Winternational entry lists – all the evidence needed). For those who are unable to fund the purchase of a USCS legal 360 motor, they will still have the East Bay Sprints for their home race series. Most of these remaining teams are Tampa Bay area teams, and already race with the East Bay Sprints already. Their limited 360 motors will not be defunct. East Bay Raceway has a full slate of 2016 limited sprint car races on their schedule beginning in March. The arguments for the Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprints to refuse to transition to USCS 360 motors have all been defeated.

    Recently, Davey Hamilton Jr. announced that he was beginning the transition from winged pavement sprint car racing to the next level of American open wheel racing with a full season ride in the Indy Lights Series. He told me that he has the desire to eventually move up to the IndyCar Series in order to achieve his goal of lifting the milk bottle in the Winners Circle at Indy as an Indy 500 winner. Shouldn’t there be one or more Floridians also making this transition to the upper levels of American open wheel and NASCAR stock car racing? They deserve the best possible training ground to move up through the ranks of American auto racing. Florida has now revitalized its pavement sprint car racing, with a new pavement series (Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series) and its ambitious 2016 race schedule.

    It’s time for Florida to take the next step. It’s time to leave the limited 360 sprint car racing behind, or just let it reside at East Bay. It has a home there. It doesn’t need a traveling series too. Here’s another goal for Florida to work towards, beginning with the 2017 Florida Speedweeks. Shouldn’t we have a way for all the 360 race teams coming to race in Florida to have more than just one weekend of three races? It’s currently a glaring omission from the schedule. Arizona has already stolen some of Florida’s winter mojo with their own January sprint series.

    It’s time for a Florida dirt series to plan a 3-day schedule of Florida 360 (not limited 360) dirt sprint car races, run on Saturday, Sunday and Monday prior to the start of the East Bay 360 Winternationals. East Bay traditionally starts with Wednesday practice, so that schedule leaves a Tuesday “rest day” before the move to Gibsonton. Bubba Raceway Park immediately comes to mind as the perfect location for this 3-race series. It’s on the way to the Tampa area for northern race teams, and the track just lost several February race dates with the loss of the World of Outlaws Late Models, and the Lucas Oil ASCS sprint cars (both raced there last year). Their slate of All Star sprint car races was reduced to one race this year after having three races last year. Is there a name for the new Speedweeks series that anyone has in mind? Hmm – “The Bubba Army 360 Winternationals with the Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series” immediately comes to mind. Most of the teams racing at East Bay would surely join the show for a warmup event prior to the main event later in the week in Gibsonton.

    Or, Florida could just stick to a traveling dirt sprint car series with limited 360 motors, because they just don’t feel like changing. Then the next step would eventually be oblivion and the junk pile of racing history. Sadly, that’s where the formerly magnificent TBARA is now, and it could have been prevented. Maybe resisting change isn’t such a wise decision.

     

     

     

    Robert Ballou – The Champ is Blunt and Unabashed, As Always

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     If you pass Robert Ballou’s pits at the track and are the type of person who is easily offended, keep on walking. It is possible that you might overhear Robert Ballou speaking his mind when he is surrounded by friends and crew. And when he speaks his mind, he will be blunt and will likely say exactly what he feels. He said that same thing in the Winners Circle during Florida Speedweeks last year. He also portrayed himself as the outsider knocking on USAC’s door, and that they better be ready for him to speak his mind in a very blunt manner. He didn’t need to mention that he was going to be the driver of one of the fastest sprint cars in USAC national series racing that year. That much was obvious. He had already been fast all through February last year, and had visited the Winners Circle. By the time the season ended, he was sitting on top of the hill of USAC sprint car racers, and was the 2015 USAC National Sprint Car Champion.

     

    Robert Ballou’s impressive driving performance at Bubba Raceway Park on Friday night earned him his first USAC sprint car win of the season, only 24 hours after the USAC season began. The track had multiple grooves, an unusual situation for Bubba’s, and Ballou moved to the upper groove near mid-race, near the turn four outside wall on each lap. Brady Bacon charged to second, but could not overhaul Ballou’s furious assault on the dirt. No one was going to overtake Ballou on this night.

     Robert Ballou, Right, discusses car handling with Aaron Farney at Bubba Raceway Park.

    After a mistake preparing the car on Thursday held him back from being able to compete for the win that night, he let his team know that they would put the mistake behind them, not point fingers, and keep digging. “We had to dig deep but we hit everything where we needed to tonight,” Ballou said on Friday night. Brady Bacon described the track’s top groove as “the only option”, after losing a position when he tried the low groove on a restart. Ballou stayed there for the last part of the race and was never passed.

     

    “We try our best and we know that we can race with everyone,” Robert Ballou told me at Bubba Raceway Park on Thursday. “We know we can race better than everyone, smarter per se. And the qualifying was my downside forever. Our new motor package that we got a year and a half ago has turned our qualifying around tremendously. Still in the top two or three every night, but if you can start me up front in the first three or four rows, instead of the last three or four rows, makes my job a little easier.” Ballou’s team is run without feeling the need to look at other team’s cars, and without trying to copy what others do in the search for speed. “Ultimately, the guy that works the hardest normally ends up on top,” he said.

     

    Now that he is the champion, will he continue to speak as bluntly as he did in Florida a year ago? “Absolutely,” Ballou replied without hesitation. “It’s one of those deals where somebody has to speak and be the voice. Most of these guys around here want to be liked by the series or when they’re being taken advantage of or something wrong happens, ‘oh, well, we’ll try again next time.’

     

    “Unfortunately, this is a rich man’s sport and I’m not a rich man. I work about 60 hours a week and we’ve been working six or seven days a week since December. My boss is busy and his son races cars. His son is Parker Price Miller, so we’ve had to get cars ready for the Chili Bowl and Du Quoin but then we had to work too. There’s not enough hours in the day. We didn’t come down here as prepared this year as we did last year just because my work has been so busy. It’s just me and I’ve got one guy. We had a master cylinder failure tonight (Thursday), and last night had a steering gear that just didn’t feel right. There’s nobody here who works harder than us.”

     Robert Ballou in Winners Circle at Bubba Raceway Park.

    As far as winning the championship again this year, making do with less as they did in 2015, Ballou can foresee it happening again in 2016. “Yeah, I don’t see why not,” he said, crediting their work ethic as the reason why it’ll happen. “A lot of these guys, they either have a good sponsor or they hang out for a living and work on the race car and go fishing and do whatever. I go to work and I work on my race car, so when I come to the race track, if I don’t finish well, I don’t make money to keep going. A hundred percent of the race car earnings go back into it as well as some of the earnings I make on my day job. I don’t sacrifice – if we need new tires, we put new tires on because that’s what it takes to win.”

     

    After the winning season he had last year, Robert Ballou had some news for his USAC rivals for 2016 about how he’ll stay ahead of them this year. He claims his motor program is in even better shape this year as compared to last year, when he won 13 USAC feature races. An “issue” on Thursday was resolved for Friday, and he was back in the USAC Winners Circle. He had also completely recovered from a crash at Kokomo Speedway in August at a USAC event that had “knocked me silly for about a month or two.” He finished that night out and ran twenty more races in 2015 despite feelings the symptoms of the concussion. He then “got things figured out”. He was back on his game. He persevered.

     

    He saw another change come about as a result of less crashes and more races finished. It was part failures. “We used to crash – we either won or crashed. We hardly ever run out of the top five, so we’ve had to figure out life cycles on parts. That’s been our biggest downfall so far. How long is something good for? You could go broke changing parts out, night in and night out. We broke an axle last year and it destroyed a brand new race car. It was three races old. We won with it the night before at Kokomo.” He was testing the car for another party, and that was the night he got the concussion.

     

    The cars that Robert Ballou will wheel for 2016 USAC competition are the same as last year. He now has three cars, and a sufficient supply of parts. Eliminating mistakes, and learning from past mistakes is a high priority for this year. There’s no finger-pointing on the team, as Ballou admits that he too can make mistakes. “That’s all I want to do is win. I want to break the record that Tom Bigelow set in 1977. I missed it by one this last year. Fourteen wins is the most in a season and we won thirteen. I gave away at least seven that I was good enough to win, either my mistake or things just didn’t fall our way.” After the Kokomo crash, he tried a new car, calling it “the worst thing I ever drove.”

     

    He was quick to name his toughest competitor in current USAC competition. It’s Bryan Clauson. “I would say he’s as smart as me. He beat me at two end of the year races. There’s going to be nights with as good as he is, and the equipment that he’s in, he’s going to beat us. He’s got unlimited funds wherever he goes, he’s in the best stuff. He’s going to run 200 races this year. It’s hard to beat the laps. The more laps you run, the more consistent you are and the more things you can learn, feedback you can give to whoever’s helping. You can’t beat money. He who has the most money normally wins. It’s that way in everything in life.”

     

    And yet somehow, Robert Ballou goes to the track with less and produces more. In 2016, the man with less already seems to be on his way to out producing the ones with the money yet again. There will likely be more battles with Bryan Clauson too. The need for funds will be a motivator for Ballou. “I need that money worse than he does, I can assure you of that.”

     

    Video – “Highlights, USAC National Sprint Car Series Win by Robert Ballou, 2-19-2016”

     

    https://www.facebook.com/usacracing/videos/1045102548845516/?pnref=story

     

    Video – “Ride Along With Robert Ballou at Bubba Raceway Park, USAC Sprint Cars, 2-19-2016”

     

    https://www.facebook.com/speedshifttv/videos/967280233340832/?pnref=story

     

     

     

     

     

     

    RJ Johnson – The Lone Floridian in a Posse of Outlaws

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    RJ Johnson, son of Florida sprint car racing legend Roland Johnson, raced in his first ever 410 sprint car race in Florida on Wednesday, the first sprint car race of the DIRTcar Nationals Sprint Week at Volusia Speedway Park. Not only was he the only Floridian in this Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions race on Wednesday, he was the lone Floridian on Friday for the season opening race for the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series. RJ’s Florida racing history was highlighted by earning the East Bay Raceway Park sprint car track championship in 2007. He subsequently left Florida for a place many consider to be sprint car nirvana, with the most passionate fans and best sprint car racing, a place called Knoxville Raceway.

    But he’s still a Floridian. With a new home, career, girlfriend, and home race track in Knoxville, Iowa. Beginning with racing 360s at Knoxville, as he had in Florida previously, he later moved up to the weekly 410 racing. Next he added World of Outlaws and All Star races, when the Knoxville racing season concluded. This year was his first Florida Speedweeks racing with those series. He had raced in 410 races at Williams Grove and Rolling Wheels Raceway Park in the Northeast in prior years. After earning the Rookie of the Year title in the 410 class at Knoxville Raceway in 2014, he will return to the track in 2016 to seek his first Knoxville 410 feature race win.

    I spoke to RJ at Volusia Speedway Park as he neared the end of his stint of Florida 410 racing. He was not going to race in the 360 Winternationals at East Bay this week, a track with a lot of good times and good memories for him. TJ Winegardner is a friend he raced there who is remembered on his car. The gas tank sticker reads “In Memory of TJ Winegardner, 1983-2014.”

     

    At 28 years old, RJ’s maturity and poise belies his young age. With his father at his side as his car owner and mentor, the Tampa native has had many successes while a young racer. He was USCS Rookie of the Year in 2004, East Bay Champion in 2007, racing 360s at Knoxville in 2008 (moving there in April 2008) and got a 360 feature win at Knoxville Raceway before making the move to the ultra-competitive Knoxville 410 class full-time in 2014 (after a half-season of 410s in 2013 subbing for an injured Brooke Tatnell). Then there was the 2014 Rookie of the Year season.

    “For 2016, we’ll start here obviously and if everything goes well and we leave here in one piece, we’ll run the Outlaws shows in Texas and then we’ll go home and wait for the season to start in April in Knoxville,” RJ said. “Then we’ll go from there and head out east in the fall. Between here and going home, there’s two Outlaw shows in Texas, so we’re thinking about rolling over there and running those two before we go home.” After the early September end of racing in Knoxville, “we’ll do like we did last year, just follow the Outlaws out east through the Eldora 4 Crown race and out through the Williams Grove National Open and New York.

    “Winning at Knoxville would be special. It’s an ultra-tough weekly field. We’ve got guys like Danny Lasoski and Terry McCarl every week. It’s like an Outlaw show. It’s the toughest weekly show in the country. The goal for us as a team going forward with the 410 deal, if we could run top ten in points this year and then move forward, we’d be looking pretty good. But obviously you want to win a race and that’s what we’re going for,” RJ Johnson remarked. The family-run team got a 16th place finish in the Knoxville 410 class points for the past two years.

    What’s it like to have a Florida sprint car legend as a car owner? “It’s been good actually. My parents are the perfect owners. My Dad never tells me how to drive a race car, especially since we got into the 410 deal where he doesn’t have much experience. He lets me do my thing and he gives me advice when I ask for it. We get along really well and we race well together.” Roland Johnson has also made the move to Knoxville, and only spends November, December and January at his Florida home. They return in February to get the car and team ready for the Knoxville season-opener in April.

    RJ’s regular day job in Knoxville involves selling sprint car parts at Kustom Sprint Car Supplies in Newton, Iowa, about 30 miles from Knoxville. He’s done that for the past 5 years in Iowa. It seems like a sprint car racer’s dream job, taking advantage of his sprint car expertise while allowing him to go racing when he wishes. “Anytime we want to go racing we just work it out and pretty much just go do it,” he explained. “I can run credit cards and sell parts on the phone so it doesn’t really hurt us that bad.” He was even using electronic technology to make sales while on the road racing. “You can run credit cards on your phone using Square and I can call up and order parts and part numbers. I spent a lot of today on the phone working.” And that was a Volusia race day.

    Having a family and living the married lifestyle is another thing that he plans to have in the future. “Oh, absolutely,” he said when asked about his plans. In fact, he’s had a fairly long-term relationship with his girlfriend Jessi while in Iowa. She’s a Nurse, with whom he has “a good relationship,” as he describes it. “Racing obviously hinders that because you’re on the road a lot. It’s definitely all in the plans. It’s going to be later because we both have things we want to do. I race and she is really into her job and she wants to continue her degree. It’ll be later on, but yeah that’s definitely in the plans.” As the lone Floridian racing in Knoxville and with the World of Outlaws, RJ Johnson appears to be content and well-adjusted with his current status and his plans for the future.

    Photo Album, “RJ Johnson at World of Outlaws, Volusia Speedway Park, 2-12-2016”:

    https://www.facebook.com/richard.golardi/media_set?set=a.1059402877455822.1073741886.100001583600988&type=3&uploaded=16&pnref=story

    Videos: “RJ Johnson at Volusia Speedway Park, 2-12-2016”

    https://youtu.be/uSQz3AXvY6U

    “RJ Johnson Qualifying Laps, Volusia Speedway Park, 2-12-2016”

    https://youtu.be/efKC7UA04B4

     

     

    Dale Blaney – The Good Times & Championships Keep Rolling

     

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     

    It’s become an annual Florida Speedweeks tradition. Greet Dale Blaney by saying, “welcome to Florida, Dale and congratulations on winning the championship in the All Star Circuit of Champions again last year.” Blaney won the championship again in 2015, the first of three major goals that he set for himself during the year. He also wanted to win a World of Outlaws feature race, and lastly wanted to win a major sprint car race. He accomplished those last two 2015 goals also. He won two World of Outlaws feature races during the year, and also got the major race win that he desired, the Don Martin Memorial Silver Cup in July at Lernerville Speedway, PA.

     

    “Everything’s exactly the same. We do have a new car that we’re going to run tonight,” Blaney said, comparing this year’s team to his championship winning team of last year. “How long we run it, I don’t know. Hopefully we’ll keep running it and feel like we really love it and keep on running it. Nothing else really new, we just take one race at a time. I like the way the direction is going with the series. Hopefully we can back up a good year last year with a good year this year.”

     

    The new car is another GF1 chassis, and is now considered Blaney’s primary car for 2016. Last year’s primary GF1 sprint car is now the 2016 backup car. “It’s a GF1, just like we’ve always raced. It’s just a little different than normal. Hopefully it stays P1 (as his primary car) for a long time. Hopefully we like it and keep running it.” The results so far for Florida Speedweeks in the car are as follows (after running his first laps in the car on February 5): Arctic Cat All Star, 2/5 – 2nd; Arctic Cat All Star, 2/10 – 6th (won by his brother, Dave); Arctic Cat All Star, 2/11 – 2nd; World of Outlaws at Volusia – 2/12 – 7th; 2/13 – 3rd; 2/14 – 9th. DIRTcar Nationals Sprint Week Championship Points – 4th Place.

     

    The new tire rule and whether they were happy with it was an unknown factor for Dale Blaney and his team. “We’ll see what we like and dislike about the tire. There’s just still a lot of variables that we can change right now that we’re looking at.” Does he feel that he can top last year’s results? “I hope so. I mean you’re always looking to get better. I mean we had a great year. Won a couple Outlaw races, won a lot of All Star races, won a championship. Hopefully do the same things. Our main goals are to win the All Star championship number one, an Outlaw race number two, and to win a major race, you know – Kings Royal, Don Martin, Brad Doty, Knoxville, Williams Grove. There’s six or seven big races that you always want to try to win. We won the Don Martin race last year over at Lernerville. I feel that’s one of the biggest five races of the year.

     

    “You never know, I’m 52 now and you never know when your time is going to get worse or get better. It’s gotten better the last two years, so since I’ve hit 50, it seems like I’ve gotten better. Hopefully it continues for another couple. I don’t know how many I’ve got,” he said, and laughed at the thought of being a member of the “aged old guard of racers” who are closer to occupying a recliner chair and enjoying retirement than their best racing years. Except in Dale Blaney’s case, the best racing years of his career seem to be now, with no end in sight.

     

    “I’m looking at least four or five more (years). If I hit 55 and I still feel like I’m competitive and can win races, why not do it? But if I feel like I’m on the other end of the spectrum, I probably won’t.”

     

     

     

    Austin McCarl – Ready for 2016 Speedweeks Drama

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Austin McCarl, 23 year old son of Terry McCarl, was speeding down the back stretch of Bubba Raceway Park earlier this month for his Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions qualifying run when the bolts in his car’s steering column broke. He found himself sitting in a winged dirt sprint car with no steering, at one of the fastest parts of the track. He was able to brake quickly and avoid damage to the car, other than a flat tire. Disaster avoided, for the time being.

    Austin McCarl watches qualifying at Volusia Speedway Park.

    Fast forward one week later, to Friday evening for the season-opening race with the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series at Volusia Speedway Park. Making a quick maneuver to avoid Steve Kinser’s flipping sprint car in turn two in the feature (remember Kinser told me he wasn’t going to race, but changed his mind), McCarl bicycled the #59 Tom Leidig owned car, his right front wheel dug in, and he flipped several times. Disaster was not avoided. McCarl was uninjured. He and the yellow #59 car did not return for Saturday’s return of the World of Outlaws. Neither did Steve Kinser. He went back to his new main role for 2016, car owner of his own team with son Kraig driving.

    “Last year I drove my own car, mainly Knoxville and Huset’s up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, some NSL stuff, as much as I could,” Austin McCarl said. “Other than that, just worked for my Dad. This year, Tom Leidig’s given me a good opportunity. This is my very first race in this car (Friday, February 5 at Bubba Raceway Park). Very first race – Tom was nice enough to give me the opportunity to come down here and race and hopefully if all goes well, we’re going to do something for the middle of the summer and head back home in the yellow 59 and hopefully win some races back there in the Midwest.”

    Austin McCarl, left, at Bubba Raceway Park with Chad Kemenah and Dale Blaney.

    But Austin McCarl and the Tom Leidig team are not going to do a full season together at any track or traveling series. They want the freedom to race at the time and place of their choosing. “We’ve kind of decided to go where we feel is best for us. We’re kind of going to be true outlaws, mainly focusing around Knoxville and Huset’s. Knoxville in early April and May and focus more on the Jackson, Minnesota and Badlands Motor Speedway, I guess it is called now (the former Huset’s Speedway). There’s some really good paying racing up there, so we’re going to hit those as much as we can. If everything works out well, we’ll go to the Kings Royal and some other big-paying shows.”

    Some of the plans for Austin McCarl and the team are fluid and subject to change, as is most of the world of short-track racing in 2016. The price of gas has dropped sharply, now about $1.60 a gallon for regular in Central Florida. The result was the largest-ever crowd for a sprint car race at Volusia Speedway Park on Friday night for the season-opening World of Outlaws show. The next night saw a smaller Saturday night crowd, as the Outlaws were up against NASCAR’s Sprint Cup stars in a night race a short distance down I-95 at Daytona International Speedway. Sunday evening will likely be the second-best crowd of the weekend. NASCAR’s stars take the night off. Kasey Kahne usually is seen in the pits at Volusia, as was the case on Friday night when his car won the feature race with Brad Sweet driving.

    “It kind of depends on engines, equipment and sponsorship,” McCarl said concerning their somewhat fluid 2016 plans. “So, we are going to do what we can and do the best we can. We’ll race quite a few NSL races around Jackson and Knoxville both. Should be a fun summer.” So far, Austin has been doing most of his racing in 410 sprint cars, but is open to a ride in a 360 car if available. “If it didn’t conflict with this, I’d be more than happy to do it,” he said. “You never know.”

    Main goal for 2016: “To win – every night we race,” he said confidently while flashing a wide smile. At this point in time, he only had a total of two laps in the car. All of the drama of Speedweeks was still ahead; ready to play out over the next week.

     

     

    Danny Smith – One of the Longest Careers Winds Through Florida Again

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Steve Kinser is not racing in Florida Speedweeks this year, preferring the role of car owner. Not so for Danny Smith. He returns as both a car owner and driver, racing each night of Speedweeks so far, including the Friday night season opening race of the World of Outlaws. That makes his fans happy, and there are many in Florida. His close friendship with legendary car owner Jack Nowling and the tribute car he prepared for him last year for the East Bay Winternationals only heightened his status as an “Honorary Floridian.” It’s a place with people that are obviously very special to him.

    Danny Smith, left, and Jack Nowling, right.

    Danny Smith mentioned the wider tire and two-inch wicker bill, the two rule changes in force at Florida Speedweeks, as the only two changes for him as compared to 2015. He is back with the same crew and same car as last year. In 41 years of World of Outlaws racing, he has 8 Outlaw feature wins. “That wider tire should suit my driving so I’m looking forward to getting some laps on that,” Danny mentioned in an interview at Bubba Raceway Park. The rule change applies to the All Star Circuit of Champions and the World of Outlaws sprint cars, so it has been used in all the national series races conducted so far. “I think most of the 410 tracks will go to that package.”

    With last year marking his 41st year with a sprint car feature win, does Danny think that this year will be his 42nd year with a win, and how much longer does he think the streak will last? “I don’t know. I hope so. We’ll find out,” he replied. “I’m 58 now and I’ll be 59 next month. Hopefully can get a couple more years out of that.” But not for another 5 or 10 years, as he doesn’t see himself racing into his mid to late 60s.

    “As far as this year, we’re just going to pick and choose. A lot of races in Ohio this year, so that will keep us pretty busy with about twenty All Star races and maybe half a dozen Outlaw races,” Danny said. That does represent a change to race more frequently closer to his Ohio home, and travel less as compared to last year. “Plenty of races at home to go to and got a good shot at winning those. If the motor’s in good shape and everything’s working good, we can venture off and run some All Star races or Outlaws (out of area). That’s the advantage of picking and choosing – you do what you want.”

    For February, “we’re going to run all the 410 stuff in Florida (at Bubba Raceway Park and Volusia Speedway Park) plus the East Bay 360. Then back up north.” He arrived at Jack Nowling’s Gibsonton property a few days earlier, with its well-known “Cracker House” and race hauler parking area. The property reaches its maximum occupancy next week, with the Winternationals at nearby East Bay Raceway Park. “Enjoyed a few warm days before the weather went south and going back Sunday for the Super Bowl. Should be a good time,” he said last week.

    Danny told me that with the last night of East Bay’s Winternationals on the night before the Daytona 500, that night and the next day’s 500 may be the biggest and best party and race-story telling experience of all Speedweeks. Seems like a good place to wind down Speedweeks and hear some good storytellers tell their stories of the good ’ole days racing in Florid

     

     

    Danny Lasoski – The Dude Arrives for Speedweeks

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Danny Lasoski’s Florida Speedweeks starts on Wednesday at Volusia Speedway Park, first with two All Star Circuit of Champions races (Wednesday and Thursday) and then three World of Outlaws races (Friday through Sunday). In 2016, his main focus will be to defend his title as Champion of the National Sprint League, a title he won in the inaugural season of winged sprint car racing in the regional Midwest series in 2015. Twenty years ago, Lasoski was the winner of the first national sprint car race of the 1996 Florida Speedweeks. In subsequent years, he won the World of Outlaws championship in 2001, and won the Knoxville Nationals in 1998, 2001, 2003 and 2004. He was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2011.

    Danny also has the honor of being the winningest driver in the history of Volusia Speedway Park, including his win to open the 1996 Florida Speedweeks. When I spoke to him at Bubba Raceway Park, his car was on the way to Florida, which explained why he was not racing in the first Florida Speedweeks race again this year. Teaming again with Tod Quiring and Guy Forbrook and Big Game Motorsports, Lasoski is back with the team that saw him take two 2nd place finishes during last year’s five nights at Volusia’s DIRTcar Nationals.

    A snowstorm delayed the arrival of his car in Florida, but it’s ready now. “My guys have been working really hard all winter long preparing our car for the season,” Danny Lasoski said. “Everything’s basically the same, it’s the GoMuddy.com car, Crew Chief is Guy Forbrook and Tod Quiring owns the car.” Danny said that the team has a couple of new engines, and is prepared and looking forward to the main start of his 2016 season. “We’ll be running the full NSL, which is Knoxville, Jackson, Minnesota and all the others. I think that’s 30-some races, Knoxville every week, the World of Outlaws when they’re close and wherever else we can pick up, we’ll pick and choose. Not California, probably not Pennsylvania, not Canada. With the really good schedule that Tod Quiring put together with NSL, it’s going to keep us pretty busy in the Midwest,” Danny said, outlining his Midwest-centric race schedule.

    Many weekends will see Lasoski racing at Jackson Speedway, Minnesota for Friday NSL races, and then he’ll be back at Knoxville Raceway for Saturday night racing at the Iowa track. This year, many of the Saturday Knoxville races are also NSL Series races. “It’s like Christmas every weekend,” is how he described the frequent travel between Minnesota and Knoxville, Iowa. “We always set high goals. We would love to win the NSL championship again. We’d love to win the Knoxville championship and win the Knoxville Nationals – that’s first and foremost on our list. We won two out of three of those last year (both NSL and Knoxville track championship). Not bad. When you set goals and you come up one short, it just builds that fire a little more to achieve all three.”

    The NSL Series schedule this year has more Knoxville and Jackson, Minnesota races, and less variety of other tracks. The 2015 schedule had more tracks and also more travel. Lasoski seems to prefer the upcoming schedule for 2016. In fact, he’d like to race at Knoxville every weekend. “It definitely spoils you. I think it’s the greatest race track around,” he stated.

     

     

    Steve Kinser Transitions to Car Owner and Semi-Retired Race Driver

    By Richard Golardi

    In 2016, sprint car racing legend Steve Kinser begins a transition in his career that results from the end of his driving stint with Tony Stewart Racing. After ending his period of driving a winged dirt sprint car with TSR at the end of the 2015 racing season, Kinser will concentrate on his car owner duties for the #11K car driven by his son Kraig. In the first February sprint car race of Florida Speedweeks, he was standing in the Winners Circle with Kraig at Bubba Raceway Park. Will we see him behind the wheel of one of his own cars during 2016? Maybe. He hasn’t quite decided yet, so it’s still an unanswered question. “I’m just down here watching Kraig right now,” he said.

    Steve Kinser will be driving less this year. A lot less. He only entered a car for his son at Bubba Raceway Park for the season-opening race with the Arctic Car All Star Circuit of Champions. As the new series sponsor for the Tony Stewart owned sprint car series, Arctic Cat was likely happy to see the car they sponsor take the first race of 2016. Arctic Cat is the new primary sponsor for the #11K car for Kraig Kinser, and also the #11 car for Steve Kinser when and if he decides to drive. Steve has no 2016 planned schedule of races for his #11 car. Kraig will race the full season with the All Star Circuit of Champions, with the next race on Wednesday at Volusia Speedway Park.

    “I don’t even know what we are going to do,” 61-year old Steve Kinser told me at Bubba Raceway Park on Friday. “I’m driving for myself now. I think we might run some, but not a whole lot. It’ll be in my own race car, though. We just did that for one year,” he said, referring to racing only in those races of his choosing in the TSR car last year. “It’s not right for Tony to spend all that money for me to just go out and have some fun for twenty or thirty races. I’m trying to quit this stuff – not trying to keep racing. We’re quite happy with what we’re doing here with Kraig and with Arctic Cat and just going to try to have some fun and race a little bit.” He stated that he does want to “run a few races, but not a lot.”

    Where and when will he drive? “I can’t answer that right now,” Kinser replied. “Right now my plans are to do not any, but we’ve got some people (likely referring to Arctic Cat, primary sponsor on both team cars and his car) that want to run a few races, and I told them that I might be interested in it but that’s yet to be finalized.” The team had three cars at the track for the All Star series season opening race, which saw Kraig get challenged by several drivers, but never give up the lead on the tricky egg-shaped Ocala dirt oval. That was a new beginning that likely made the new sponsor, Arctic Cat, happy about their investment in American short track racing.

     

     

    Bryan Clauson Takes Wing in 2015 and in 2016 Goes Insane

    By Richard Golardi

    Bryan Clauson knows the press scrutiny this month, and for the remainder of 2016, will be due to two main reasons. The first is due to a quest he has named “Circular Insanity”, a goal to race in a total of 200 races (of all kinds) during 2016. The second is a stop in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500. In two prior IndyCar race entries in the Indianapolis 500, neither resulted in a good race finish or an offer to race full-time in the IndyCar Series. As each year passes, 26 year old Clauson cements his reputation as one of the most talented and accomplished short-track racers in the nation, who likely will not move up into a full-time ride in a higher-paying series.

    At Bubba Raceway Park for the opening national sprint car series race of Florida Speedweeks, Clauson was back in the Matt Wood Racing #17W car that he campaigned in the National Sprint League (NSL) and other winged dirt series last year. He did capture one NSL feature race win at I-80 Speedway in October. “Beat Lasoski and McCarl at I-80 for an NSL win,” he stated. He finished in 7th place in the feature race at Ocala on Friday.

    Bryan Clauson is interviewed at Bubba Raceway Park

    “We went to the Kings Royal and we were quick time. We ran inside the top ten at the Knoxville Nationals for most of the race. Had a lot of strong runs. I think for year one it was a very strong year. We showed a lot of promise, and went to the World Finals (November World of Outlaws finale in Charlotte) at the end of the year and should have run in the top five twice. Had a top five the first night and was running fourth and got passed in traffic. It felt like at the end of the year we started showing up at World of Outlaws races and being in the dashes and being in contention. So overall it was solid and I think we have a good foundation to go into 2016.”

    This month, he will be at Volusia Speedway Park later this week for All Star and World of Outlaws winged dirt sprint car races before moving on to Bubba Raceway Park next week for non-wing shows with the USAC National Sprint Car Series. But he won’t be racing for a championship with any of the series mentioned previously. “I won’t be running all of anything. It’s going to be all over the place, going to travel a bit more,” he said. Instead, the “Circular Insanity” tour and the Indy 500 race will be priorities.

    Bryan Clauson on track at Bubba Raceway Park on Friday.

    The #17W winged sprint car does look different than last year, with new colors and new sponsor stickers added since 2015. Some were due to the new sponsor and car owner alliance for this year’s Indy 500. Added sprint car sponsors: Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality & Restaurant Group (main IndyCar sponsor), and Vantage Hospitality Group, which is represented by a front wing sticker with the Americas Best Value Inn logo. Returning sponsor: Elk Grove Ford. “Bringing some new partners and exposing them to short track racing for the first time,” Clauson revealed.

    Bryan raced in close to 60 winged dirt sprint car races last year, which he says was a transition year after concentrating heavily on non-wing racing with USAC for many years. “I felt like if I was going to do it, I needed to focus on it. So we kind of made that step and found a good home here and started building,” Clauson said. He was USAC midget champion in 2010 and 2011, USAC national sprint car champion in 2012 and 2013, and a Chili Bowl winner in 2014. He will race in about 100 winged sprint car races this year, with the other 100 spread out among non-wing sprint car (about 40-50), midget (also 40-50), Silver Crown (partial season) and the one IndyCar race at Indy.

    He does not anticipate racing in any other IndyCar races during the year, after some hopes to expand his IndyCar race schedule were floated last year. “I don’t know, we’ve been kicking it around,” he responded, when asked about IndyCar racing beyond the Indy 500. “But at this point, Indy is my focus - what I want, what I care about. Honestly, it’s probably unrealistic that we’ll add anything just because of doing so many short track races.” So most likely only Indy? “Only Indy, yeah,” Clauson said.

    Will the notoriety from the “Circular Insanity” tour help propel him into a better-paying full-time ride in IndyCar or a NASCAR series? Bryan Clauson seems to be a realist when it comes to this possibility, preferring to concentrate his mind-set and skills on the two main priorities set for this year. A good Indy 500 finish is high-ranked.

    Playing off the self-titled “Circular Insanity” tour title, some might say he is “insane” to attempt that much travel and that many races in the space of one year. “That’s what most people say,” he responded with a smile, sharing a laugh. “I think I’ve got 215 or 220 on my schedule. By the time it rains (which occurred on Saturday at Ocala, canceling that race), we’ll see where we end up.”

    He does have some race weekends with races planned for Friday, Saturday, and again on Sunday. That draws comparisons to traveling racers from the barnstorming days before WWII. “I race 28 out of 30 days in June. So I mean, we’ll be hustling. Getting to race at some new race tracks, and obviously we continue to race in big races. That’s what it’s built around, all the big races on the schedule. It’s going to be a lot of fun – get to see some new places and new fans. Just be on the road racing – why I wake up in the morning is to go racing. It’s going to be a fun year.”

     

     

     

    2016 Florida Speedweeks Preview

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    The 2016 Florida Speedweeks will have a downsized schedule of sprint car racing, it will be rainy (thanks to El Niño), it will have the unveiling of NASCAR’s $400 million Daytona Rising project, and have several future NASCAR stars in training at New Smyrna Speedway’s super late model races (most recent graduates include Kyle Larson and Rico Abreu), and have the season opening races of three sprint car series showing off their new series title sponsors (the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars, All Star Circuit of Champions, and the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series), and have Tony Stewart begin his final NASCAR Sprint Cup season with a spectacular victory in the Daytona 500.

    OK, that last item was pure fantasy and pure fiction. But not the rest – all of the rest will actually happen.

    Tony Stewart’s final NASCAR Sprint Cup season will give him a final opportunity to add one of America’s great 500-mile race victories to his racing resume. After failing to win the Indy 500 (and stating that he won’t return), he will attempt to earn a Daytona 500 win on February 21st. Stewart’s career stats at Daytona International Speedway resemble those of another stock car racing legend prior to his first Daytona 500 win, Dale Earnhardt. Stewart has won 19 races at Daytona, including oval and road course wins, with a streak of wins in Saturday’s XFINITY race, but no wins on Sunday (the day of the Daytona 500). That is eerily similar to Dale Earnhardt’s racing record at Daytona prior to his first Daytona 500 win in 1998. The odds are against Stewart winning however, according to Las Vegas odds makers. One casino (which uses the name of a Roman emperor) currently has Stewart’s odds of winning the 2016 Daytona 500 at 30 to 1.

    “We’re going to call it the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series (SSSS), running at Showtime, Desoto and New Smyrna so far,” stated Rick Day, who is the General Manager/Race Director at Showtime Speedway and a series organizer. “The first race is at Showtime Speedway on February 13th.” The series will be the newest traveling pavement sprint car series and will make its season opening appearance at the Pinellas Park track next week. It fills the hole left by the demise of the TBARA, which last raced in 2014. It is also the only pavement sprint car race during Speedweeks. BG Products, Inc. is the new series sponsor.

    With the first two sprint car races of Speedweeks already completed, the first two race winners are Jeff Taylor and Matt Kurtz. Both won at East Bay Raceway Park last weekend in Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series competition. Taylor won with a 305 engine in a series dominated by limited 360 engines. Next Sunday, the series has its final Speedweeks race at All-Tech Raceway, which converted from pavement to dirt in 2015. They are racing during the day to avoid competing against the Super Bowl, which kicks off after the sun sets in Florida.

    Bryan Clauson at Bubba Raceway Park, February 2015.

    Tony Stewart had planned to be at Bubba Raceway Park (prior to his back injury), as both a team owner and Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions series owner, for this week’s opening weekend of national sprint car series racing. Citrus County Speedway in Inverness, which had a non-wing sprint car event last February, is absent this year and has no 2016 race schedule. Rumors of a “White Knight” leaseholder/promoter stepping in at the track to begin racing in April remain unconfirmed. There will be three successive weekends with national sprint car series racing each weekend, up to and including Daytona 500 weekend. Among the anticipated highlights of this year’s Speedweeks include the following –

    • The first races for the newly renamed World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series, with Craftsman taking over series naming rights for the Outlaw’s dirt late model side also.
    • There is no planned network TV broadcast of sprint car racing during Speedweeks, which is not much different than 2015, with one delayed broadcast. Apparently, pay-per-view is the dominant broadcast method for this year and beyond. MAVTV just announced a broadcast schedule for ASCS races, none of which are in Florida.
    • The #24 Sprint Cup car previously raced by NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon takes to the track for its first races with Chase Elliott, Gordon’s replacement for 2016 and beyond. With 93 Cup race wins and four Cup titles, Gordon retired at the end of the 2015 NASCAR season at age 44. He joins the Fox Sports NASCAR television broadcast team for 2016 Speedweeks.
    • The slate of dirt sprint car racing during 2016 Speedweeks remains impressive, with only the Lucas Oil ASCS Series on the list of 2015 participants missing from 2016. Planned downsizes: All Star Circuit of Champions goes from 5 planned 2015 races to 4, with one fewer race at Bubba Raceway Park; USAC National Sprint Car Series goes from 6 planned 2015 races to 3, with East Bay Raceway Park’s races dropped for 2016.
    • Bubba Raceway Park, East Bay Raceway Park and Volusia Speedway Park all share the title of the Florida track with the most sprint car races during Speedweeks this year. All have 5 nights of sprint car racing planned.
    • NASCAR short track racing returns with the K&N Pro Series East staging one event on the high banks of New Smyrna Speedway on Sunday, February 14th.
    • World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series, which raced at both Bubba Raceway Park and Volusia Speedway Park last year, returns this year with racing only at Volusia. The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series will race at both East Bay Raceway Park and Bubba Raceway Park. It is the first time the series will race at Bubba’s.
    • Rico Abreu, who raced all week at New Smyrna Speedway last year in both K&N Pro Series East and super late model races, will return to Florida Speedweeks this year, but with a new primary focus. He will race a full season in NASCAR trucks, beginning at Daytona International Speedway on Friday, February 19th with ThorSport Racing.
    • It is very likely that there will be rainouts this month, as the El Niño weather pattern is predicted to bring above-average rainfall and storms to Central and North Florida over the next 3 weeks.
    • The most hyped and most expensive unveiling of Speedweeks, and all of Florida for that matter, is the Daytona Rising Project at Daytona International Speedway. At a cost of $400 million, here’s what the race fan gets: fewer, but wider seats (now all on the front straight), the option to sit 170 feet above the track (to which I personally say, “no thanks”), “Injectors” to lead and funnel you into the seating area while pummeling you with sponsor advertising, major league baseball stadium-like concourse areas behind the main seating with more room, more concession stands, more restrooms, “interactive engagement stations” and free Wi-Fi (which presumably will work with non-Sprint smart phones). Fans will like it better, according to ISC and NASCAR. Last weekend’s Daytona 24 Hour race was the first tryout, although with a miniscule sized crowd.

    Daytona Speedway front straight stands under construction, August 2015.

    Daytona Speedway, streetside with Injector entranceway to the right.

    Although they are both recognized as two of the most talented short track open wheel racers in the country, Rico Abreu and Bryan Clauson find their careers taking divergent paths. The two racers have combined to win the last 3 Chili Bowl national midget titles. Both drivers will be the subject of extensive press scrutiny this month. Abreu begins his transition into national-level NASCAR racing with a full-season NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ride. Clauson, overshadowed by Abreu at the Chili Bowl the past 2 years after winning it in 2014, has set a goal to race in a total of 200 races during 2016, a quest he calls “Circular Insanity”.

    With Abreu taking the assumed rout that will eventually take him to NASCAR Cup racing, his future seems set. Not so for Clauson. His main focus in 2016 takes him back to short tracks all over the country, in addition to a stop in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500. A prior foray into XFINITY Series stock car racing, and 2 prior IndyCar race entries in the Indianapolis 500, did not result in an offer to race full-time in either series for Clauson. As each year passes with further short-track racing achievements, it seems more unlikely that Clauson will move up into a full-time ride in a higher-paying series.

    Rico Abreu at New Smyrna Speedway, February 2015.

    The season opening race for the World of Outlaw sprint cars will again be at Volusia Speedway Park, this year it’s the first race of an exhausting 91-race season. Sammy Swindell returns with 60 races planned for 2016, as does Donny Schatz in his Tony Stewart Racing car. Schatz is coming off a 31-win season and his seventh World of Outlaws sprint car title.

    Florida continues to be the nation’s prime location for pavement sprint car racing in 2016. There are a total of 19 pavement sprint car races planned, beginning on February 13th. The King of the Wing Series returns to Florida on April 1st. At one time, Florida was so dominant in pavement sprint car racing that the 1985 Little 500 was composed of almost half Floridians (15 of the 33 starters in 1985 were Floridians).

    Complete Schedule of Sprint Car Races – Speedweeks 2016
    Go to:

    https://calendar.google.com/calendar/

     Short Weekend #1 Itinerary Recommendation
    Friday, February 12 World of Outlaws Sprint Cars / Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville
    Saturday, February 13 ARCA Stock Car Series (Day) / Daytona International Speedway The Sprint Unlimited /NASCAR Sprint Cup (Night) / Daytona International Speedway
    Sunday, February 14 World of Outlaws Sprint Cars / Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville OR NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, New Smyrna Speedway, New Smyrna Beach

    Short Weekend #2 Itinerary Recommendation
    Thursday, February 18 USAC National Sprint Car Series / Bubba Raceway Park, Ocala OR 360 Sprint Car Winternationals / East Bay Raceway Park, Gibsonton
    Friday, February 19 360 Sprint Car Winternationals / East Bay Raceway Park, Gibsonton
    Saturday, February 20 XFINITY Series (Day) / Daytona International Speedway USAC National Sprint Car Series (Night) / Bubba Raceway Park, Ocala
    Sunday, February 21 Daytona 500 / NASCAR Sprint Cup / Daytona International Speedway

    The Daytona 500 race weekend has the addition of a national sprint series running in North Florida on the night before the 500. The USAC National Sprint Car Series is running at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala on Saturday night, which is a 40 minute drive from Daytona Speedway. On Friday night, the race fan in Florida for just this weekend can catch either the sprint cars at Bubba Raceway Park, or the NASCAR truck series at Daytona. With the XFINITY Series running at Daytona on Saturday afternoon, that leaves enough time to make it to Ocala to take in the USAC sprints on Saturday evening. The finale of Speedweeks then takes place on Sunday the 21st, with the running of the 58th Daytona 500.

    That’s when the NASCAR fanatics get their first look at their overhauled mecca, the “World Center of Racing”. It makes you wonder what perennially outspoken Smokey Yunick, Proprietor of Daytona Beach’s “Best Damn Garage in Town”, would think of the new track. I’d be willing to guess he’d speak his mind, and not leave you wondering how he felt about the downsizing of Speedweeks and the downsizing of the track that hosts the main event.

     

     

     

     

     

    Author Interview: Eddie Roche, “Florida Motorsports Retrospective Pictorial, Volume 1, 2nd Edition”

     By Richard Golardi

          It’s a daunting proposition for an author – cover nearly a century of Florida auto racing history, with an emphasis on short track racing, in words and pictures in one book. Eddie Roche has succeeded in accomplishing that task in the second edition of his book, Florida Motorsports Retrospective Pictorial, Volume 1. After publishing Volume 2 of his retrospective in 2002, Roche subsequently marked his retirement from full-time employment for NASCAR in 2013. He was the NASCAR Archives Manager, working at the Daytona Beach location of the NASCAR Archives.

     

        

    When Eddie roams the pits at Daytona, he’s on a first-name basis with the stars of NASCAR racing. He has worked with some of racing’s legendary writers and photographers, such as Chris Economaki and Dick Berggren and Floridian Bobby Day. He is sought after for advice by rookie authors, to speak before groups and clubs, and for his expertise in the areas of NASCAR history and Florida short track racing history. He also is a recent inductee into The Villages Motor Racing Fan Club Hall of Fame, which is administered by the state’s largest auto racing fan club.

     

         When demand for a reprint of Volume 1, originally published in 1997, was high enough, he completely revamped the book with added photos for a 2nd edition. He also decided not to write a Volume 3, taking photos intended for that volume and putting them in the new edition of Volume 1. That 2nd edition of Volume 1 was published in late 2015.

     

         The book’s main subject, Florida short track racing, is one that has been mostly overlooked by modern motorsports authors. In fact, I asked Roche if any other books on that subject have been published since his Volume 2 was released in 2002. There are none, as far as he knows. NASCAR, IndyCar, and short track racers in other parts of the country get most authors’ attention.

     

         “I started right out of college with the local Scripps-Howard newspaper,” said Eddie Roche. “I was their Motorsports Editor right out of college in 1971. I did my first article for Chris Economaki. I was traveling around and hit 29 states. It evolved into Field Editor for Stock Car Magazine, which unfortunately is gone. I worked for them for 4 years. Dick Berggren was doing the modified column and I was doing the late model sportsman column. Way later, Berggren started Speedway Illustrated.”

     

         The 1970s was his favorite era for short track auto racing. “It was the best. No Comparison.” He would go to late model races at Huntsville or Birmingham and there were no back markers, in his opinion. “Even with the Cup Division, I think the 70s was without comparison.”

         

    Roche first worked for NASCAR starting in 1973, and moved to Daytona Beach. His working relationship with NASCAR would last for 40 years, from 1973 to 2013. “I started there in ’73 in the mail room. I was mailing out press releases. And then I wrote for Houston Lawing, the PR guy for them. He was Bill France Sr.’s first PR man and he was the editor of their programs. I wrote for the souvenir programs and the NASCAR newsletter. Then I moved to South Florida.” Free-lancing came next, or as he called it, “doing my own thing.”

     

         His working relationship with NASCAR still continued as a free-lance or contract contributor after moving. His love affair with short track racing also continued during the 40-year NASCAR working relationship. He would spend his Saturday nights at the race track. The tracks were in 29 states, and included every Florida short track except some in the northernmost part of the state. “I think I’ve been to like 75 or 80 tracks.”

     

         Eddie’s full-time employment with NASCAR began again in 2001. “I worked there 12 years in the archives,” he said. “I was their Archives Manager and I licensed all their old film footage and their photos at the NASCAR Archives across the street from the speedway. I hired Dave Westerman and he was the Assistant Archives Manager for 5 years.”

     

         There is no active NASCAR Archives Manager now, according to Eddie Roche. He did not have a successor. Many NASCAR fanatics would have loved to toil at that job, immersed in NASCAR racing history each day. The archives are now part of a speedway tour and are a tourist attraction, as is the speedway itself.

     

         The defunct racing theme park, Daytona USA, that used to occupy a building in the front parking lot at the speedway is gone. That space has been vacant, but will soon be a major racing museum. A racing museum in Novi, Michigan will be relocated to Daytona Beach, and will occupy the old Daytona USA building. Only the Bluebird speed record race car is there now – it’s the car that is known for sitting atop the Daytona 500 race trophy. That car has been owned by the France family since they took over The Museum of Speed in South Daytona in 1979.

     

         “The days of sitting around, shooting the bull and looking through the photo files – that doesn’t happen anymore.” If someone wants a specific photo, it’s done by mail order. The time when you could go into the archive and talk to the archivist is over, at least that’s the way it is at NASCAR now. “That’s been closed down. It’s just part of the tour,” according to Roche. “And they don’t do as much research on anything like I used to do. So that’s changed.

     

         “I always wanted to do a book because I wanted to give credit. The guys that raced in Florida every week weren’t getting their due credit. It was just something that I wanted to do.” The first book, Volume 1, was written when Roche was still a South Floridian. South Florida still had short track racing in the mid to late 90s. Volume 2 was finished the year after he returned to a full-time position with NASCAR. During this time, he lived south of Daytona in Brevard County, making a 172 mile round-trip drive each day to work. “I’m from there. I was raised there. All my friends are there,” he explained.

     

         As NASCAR Archivist, each February would bring the highest level of activity and greatest number of archive visitors. “You’d never know when someone rang that bell who it was going to be. It could be Richard Petty or it could be Linda Vaughn. It could be the Allisons. It was just marvelous. I can’t tell you how many people I met and got to know from the archives.”

     

         Writing the book and telling the stories of racers from Florida was a project that Eddie Roche had been thinking about for 25 years. The quality wasn’t as good as what he wanted on the first book in 1997. “But at least it was a book,” he said. “This second edition that just came out now is mostly a remake of the first one but it’s got a bunch of stuff in it that I would have used in a third volume had I done one, but I didn’t. So it’s a value-added book. It’s got the original stuff, new stuff, and all the expanded records up to 2015. I brought everything up to date. Even if you have the first one, you’ve got to have this one as well. It’s that different.”

     

         For those that never got Volume 1, or loaned it out and never got it back, now is their chance to get the Florida motorsports book that has been at the top of the must-have reader’s list in Florida for almost two decades. “People wanted to replace theirs, or they wanted to supplement it, and that’s what this book does. The best part is in the back – the Speedway Directory. It’s got 150 tracks that once existed in Florida. It’s the most all-inclusive directory you could have for the State of Florida,” Eddie Roche stated.

     

         You may meet Eddie at several Florida Speedweeks or Living Legends of Auto Racing events in February, or go to the Coastal181.com website to order Volume 1 or 2 online:    http://www.coastal181.com/

     

     

     

    Scaled Back 2016 Florida Sprint Car Speedweeks Schedule Set

    By Richard Golardi

    This year’s Florida Sprint Car Speedweeks race schedule is markedly scaled back when compared to the schedule for 2015. There are a total of four weekends of racing, with 17 sprint car races at five Florida race tracks. The Speedweeks period begins Friday, January 29 and ends on Saturday, February 20. Only one of the scheduled sprint car dates is a pavement race, and the remaining 16 are dirt races. This is compared to the following 2015 schedule totals: five weekends of racing, with 24 sprint car races at five Florida race tracks over a 30 day period. There were 3 pavement sprint car races during 2015 Speedweeks.


    The reasons for the scaling back are likely the poor attendance at several tracks, including mid and late February races at East Bay Raceway Park and Bubba Raceway Park. Races during this period were held during a stint of cold weather, with temperatures below freezing on several nights. The extended February schedule included racing by the national sprint car series on the weekend after the running of the Daytona 500, which will not happen in 2016. In addition, the Lucas Oil ASCS National Sprint Car Series, which raced at two Florida tracks last February, has no races in Florida this year. The series will open its national schedule in Texas in March, instead of Florida in February.

    The new ASCS regional series which recently debuted, dubbed the Lucas Oil ASCS Southern Outlaw Sprints, had two February races scheduled for All-Tech Raceway. Those two races disappeared from their schedule this week, along with three Florida races that were scheduled during Memorial Day weekend. It is likely that the schedulers decided not to compete against the All Star Circuit of Champions on the same February dates that they race at Bubba Raceway Park. That Ocala track is only 61 miles away from All-Tech Raceway, located near Lake City in North Florida. One of the May race dates that disappeared was slated for the same day as the Indy 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600. That date was wisely axed. Only 2 Florida race dates remain on the 2016 ASCS Southern Outlaws Sprints schedule. In mid-December, their original schedule showed eight Florida race dates, including Bubba Raceway Park and Hendry County. Those tracks no longer appear on their schedule.

    USAC has reduced its February race total to three races, compared to six scheduled races last year (5 were run). East Bay has been dropped from USAC’s sprint car schedule. Only Bubba Raceway Park remains, with USAC and Tony Stewart’s All Stars comprising their two sprint car weekends. Bubba’s had three February sprint car race weekends last year. February has only one new sprint car series debuting this year, the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series on 2/13 at Showtime Speedway. That series begins their season this Saturday at Desoto Speedway.

    The World of Outlaws will return to their corporate-owned track, Volusia Speedway Park, for three races on Feb 12-14. That is the weekend prior to the Daytona 500 race. As in prior years, their race on Saturday will go up against the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, racing at Daytona in the Sprint Unlimited that night. Bubba Raceway Park’s usual three race All Star Circuit of Champions race weekend has been reduced to two races this year (2/5 and 2/6).

    Beyond Speedweeks, Florida is poised to retain its distinction as a prime location for both winged and non-wing pavement sprint cars, with 18 winged and non-wing races scheduled with the new Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series. Davey Hamilton’s plans for a new regional winged pavement series are apparently scuttled. Instead, the national King of the Wing Series has one race in Florida (4/1 at Five Flags Speedway), and two additional races in Alabama on the same weekend (4/2 at Mobile and 4/3 at Montgomery).

    Florida Sprint Car Race Date Calendar:

    https://calendar.google.com/calendar/embed?src=gc3bg4n941p1mlck9f24232mpc%40group.calendar.google.com&ctz=America%2FNew_York

     

     

     

    TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE YEAR IN FLORIDA SPRINT CAR RACING

    By Richard Golardi

    Here are my “Top 5” stories of the year in Florida sprint car racing and my choice for the 2015 Florida Sprint Car Race of the Year.

    (1) The Demise of the TBARA and the Arrival of a New Pavement Series to Replace It

    Chaos, fights and feuds overshadowed the quality of the racing during the last year that the Tampa Bay Area Racing Association was active in 2014. With no schedule for 2015, Davey Hamilton was the first to come forward to announce an alternative: a regional offshoot of his King of the Wing Series. Florida and several Southern states would host the winged pavement racing in his new series. It never happened, save for one race in April at Five Flags Speedway.

    Central Florida promoters, businessmen, and track owners united to offer another alternative for 2016: a new pavement sprint car series owned and controlled by Floridians, the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series (see last week’s column). Showtime Speedway, Desoto Speedway, New Smyrna Speedway and possibly Bronson Speedway are in. The TBARA and a few remaining supporters are out. If managed competently, the chance of success for the new series is at a high level, as racers may use their current cars and engines. Don’t look for them to campaign to convince car owners that they’ll need to agree to change to 410 engines. Davey Hamilton made a convincing argument for Florida to do that when he spoke at a meeting in Gibsonton in January. Car owners, who seemed supportive at first, later withdrew their support for this proposal.

    The new series will also benefit from Troy DeCaire’s decision to move back to Florida. DeCaire had been living in the Indianapolis area for most of his twenties. His fans will now see him race more frequently in Florida.

    (2) Major Expansion of Florida’s February Speedweeks is a Letdown

    The Lucas Oil ASCS National Series and USAC National Sprint Car series expanded to a total of 11 planned February Speedweeks races (9 were run, 2 rained out) for 2015, after running only three races between the two series the prior year. They are back to a total of three races for 2016, and the Lucas Oil ASCS National Series is gone from Florida. They will open their national series schedule in Texas in March, instead of Florida in February. Only the slate of three USAC sprint car races at Bubba Raceway Park on the three nights prior to the Daytona 500 remains.

    Bubba’s race weekend with the All Star Circuit of Champions has been reduced to two races for 2016, instead of the usual three races. No national sprint car series will race in the state during February after the Daytona 500 in 2016.

    Attendance at the last of five weekends of 2015 Speedweeks sprint car racing was abysmally bad. The last weekend occurred after the Daytona 500, after most out-of-state vacationers had left. Rain mercifully shrank the weekend to three poorly attended races instead of five planned sprint car races. ASCS and USAC were the two national series who went head-to-head at different tracks during the last two weekends, and attendance suffered at both.

    What happened? Promoters depended on Florida’s swelling population, now over 20 million and third largest in the nation, to fill the seats at an expanded schedule of races in February. They didn’t show up. The internet, video gaming, fascination with electronic devices and other attractions and cold weather are mostly to blame. And one more thing: millennials and young adults aren’t as interested in car culture and auto racing as older generations.

    Florida Speedweeks with the All Stars at Volusia Speedway Park.

    (3) Regional Dirt Sprint Car Racing Looks to Planned Expansion in 2016

    Six Florida races from the new ASCS regional series, the Lucas Oil ASCS Southern Outlaw Sprints, will accompany the planned 22 races that make up the 2016 Eagle Jet Top Gun Series schedule. Those 28 races will make up the planned regional dirt series races for Florida in 2016. The Southern Outlaw Sprints, prior to picking up the ASCS sanctioning during the off-season, did not race in Florida beyond the panhandle. Now they will race in both North and South Florida, with three tracks in three days during Memorial Day Weekend.

    (4) Racers from Florida Shine on the National Stage at National Events

    Heat race and B Feature wins by Floridians Matt Kurtz, AJ Maddox and Danny Martin Jr. during the Lucas Oil ASCS Winternationals at East Bay Raceway Park in February were the start of an impressive year for Floridians in national sprint car events. It was a major turnaround for the Floridians. Their Winternationals results in the prior two years were disappointing. Danny Martin Jr.’s usual success on the national USCS tour included three series wins in 2015, with one at Bubba Raceway Park in October. That race marked the return of the USCS national tour to Florida after a five year absence.

    Florida driver group photo at the 2015 Little 500, L to R, Troy DeCaire, Dave Steele, and Mickey Kempgens.

    The Little 500, at Indiana’s Anderson Speedway in May, came close to being won by a Floridian for the first time in six years. Mickey Kempgens led for 78 laps after the race’s mid-point and was prevented from winning by a rear wheel with a frozen nut and a late race wreck. Dave Steele battled Chris Windom for the race win during the race’s final laps, and although he was alongside Windom on two occasions, he could not pass and followed Windom across the line on lap 500. It was the best showing by Floridians at the Little 500 since Steele’s win in 2009.

    Those Floridians who went beyond Florida’s borders and met success during 2015 included: Nicholas Snyder, 2015 USCS national series Rookie of the Year; Kyle Pitts, SOD Driver of the Year and second in series points; and former Florida dirt and pavement sprint car racer Collin Cabre, who was selected for a Rev Racing NASCAR K&N Pro Series East seat and won at Dover International Speedway in impressive fashion in October. He is expected to return to the K&N Pro Series East tour with Rev Racing in 2016.

    Collin Cabre with his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East car.

    (5) Summer of Rain Wipes Out Most of the Racing from June to August

    So many race days were rained out during the wet summer months that East Bay Raceway Park moved some of their racing to Thursday nights, assuming that it would rain every Saturday afternoon and evening. It did, almost every Saturday. One would think that this situation would motivate tracks to move most of their racing from the wet summer months to the cool, dry months during the late fall and winter. That didn’t happen.

    But there is hope of a developing trend. Showtime Speedway has multiple races during their Winter Series and one Saturday even includes sprint cars. That February race is a Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series race, which also has series races in January and March in addition to the February race.

    Winged sprint cars at New Smyrna Speedway, they return to the half mile track in 2016.

    One uplifting story near the end of the dreary summer of rain was the emergence of a new winner on dirt in Top Gun competition, Garrett Green. He won two feature races in late summer and was on his way to winning the last series race of the year in convincing fashion, as Collin Cabre had done in K&N Pro Series East competition. Cruising to what looked like a sure win, Green collided with a slower car and was in the wall, out of the race.

    Garrett Green makes the list of drivers to watch in 2016, who are drivers also most likely to improve on their 2015 race record. Collin Cabre’s year-end performance in the K&N Pro Series East may be a predictor of multiple wins for him in 2016 NASCAR competition. Based on his performance in the 2015 Little 500, Mickey Kempgens is poised to be the next Floridian likely to earn their first Little 500 race win, perhaps in 2016. The slate of young Florida rookies who got their first pavement sprint car race laps in 2015 also holds promise that there’ll be future pavement sprint car champions from Florida.

    Wish List for 2016: • Competent management for the new Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series, so that they may avoid the feuds and chaos that tore apart and wrecked the TBARA. • After over expanding and later contracting for 2016, that Florida’s February Speedweeks may have a standard for now and the future: four weeks of maximum racing excitement, ending on the night prior to the Daytona 500. • For tracks, promoters and series to take advantage of Florida’s population explosion, and turn newcomers into new short track race fans. • Resurrection of Citrus County Speedway and Punta Gorda Speedway, both of which have hosted some of the best pavement sprint car races in the past 5 years. • A short track for East Central Florida (which has none), preferably a high-banked short dirt oval (like Haubstadt, Indiana). Transforming Orlando Speedworld into a dirt track is the next best alternative. • Return of The Frank Riddle Memorial race, which has been held for the past three years. After garnering the title of most entrants for a winged pavement sprint car race nationwide in 2014, the race is absent from 2016 Florida schedules.

    Florida Sprint Car Race of the Year:

    Lucas Oil ASCS National Sprint Car Series, East Bay Raceway Park, Saturday, February 21, 2015

    Most Viewed 2015 Race Video on the Florida Open Wheel Channel:

    “USAC National Sprint Cars at Bubba Raceway Park, 2/20/2015”

    https://youtu.be/g1aNy4W5eTE

     

     

    New Pavement Sprint Car Series Coming to Florida in 2016

    By Richard Golardi

    The Tampa Bay Area Racing Association’s fate is now sealed with the announcement that a new traveling pavement sprint car series is coming to Florida. The new series will begin racing in January 2016 at some of the same tracks that the TBARA raced at, making it virtually impossible for a TBARA comeback to occur. A recent TBARA club t-shirt proclaimed “41 seasons of ground pounding action!” Started in 1973 and operated since then (except for the 1975 to 1981 break, and 2015 absence), it was the longest running sprint car series in the state. That distinction is now held by the East Bay Sprints at East Bay Raceway Park.

    “We’re going to call it the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series (SSSS), running at Showtime, Desoto and New Smyrna so far,” stated Rick Day, who is the General Manager/Race Director at Showtime Speedway. “All events will be run on Hoosier Tires. The first race is at Desoto Speedway on January 9th. It’s going to be probably nine sprint car races here (referring to Showtime Speedway), six at Desoto and New Smyrna is going to be a player in the game and possibly Bronson (referring to Bronson Speedway in North Florida).” A recent confirmation that Desoto Speedway would be switching to Hoosier Tires for their sprint car races seemed to be the last building block needed to build the planned series. The track had used American Racer Tires previously, which were also used at Citrus County Speedway. Showtime had already been using Hoosier Tires for sprint car racing.

    The group that is behind the organizing of this new sprint car series consists of Rick Day, who stated that he is the President. Day also stated that Taylor Andrews, of Dayton Andrews Dodge in St. Petersburg, is on the board and that Robert Yoho, leaseholder at Showtime Speedway, is also on the board. In our conversation earlier this month, Day revealed that there may be one other person who will serve on the board of the new series to bring the total number of board members to four. Taylor Andrews confirmed that they are trying to finalize a contract for a series title sponsor, but the contract is not yet signed.

    An announcement originally planned for the first day of the PRI Trade Show twelve days ago had to be nixed to allow more time for the deal to convert Desoto Speedway to Hoosier Tires to be finalized. Desoto recently announced that they were going to use American Racer tires for super late models, open wheel modifieds, trucks and street stocks in 2016. Sprint cars are the only announced series to run on Hoosier Tires, under the new sanctioning body.

    The full 2016 race schedule has now been revealed. Both Desoto Speedway and Showtime Speedway previously announced unsanctioned sprint car races as part of their 2016 schedules, most of which will be taken over as sanctioned races for the new series. The races already announced at Desoto Speedway, now SSSS sanctioned races, are on the following dates: 1/9, 3/5, 6/4, 8/6, 9/3, and 11/5. The series races announced at Showtime Speedway are on the following dates: 3/19, 4/16, 4/30, 6/18, 7/16, 7/30, 9/17, 10/15, and 11/19. Two races on the current 17 race schedule are non-wing races, both at Showtime Speedway (4/30 and 7/30). Citrus County Speedway in Inverness, which has been the Florida home track for non-wing pavement racers in Florida for the past two years, currently is without a promoter after the departure of Gary Laplant. Rick Day did state that the new sprint car sanctioning body, or its officers, may have an interest in taking over the lease at Citrus County Speedway.

    “We’re looking at in the neighborhood of sixteen to eighteen races (for 2016),” Rick Day stated. Day was at Showtime Speedway on the night I spoke to him in his position there. “Desoto’s got some issues in that they’re looking to grind the corners on their race track. That’s the only reason I said that one might be tentative,” Day remarked, referring to the confirmed race date of 1/9 at Desoto Speedway. That race date was changed to the current date after originally being announced for 1/16. There are also two races planned for New Smyrna Speedway, on 5/14 and 8/13. Sprint car racing was absent from New Smyrna Speedway this year. The track’s last sprint car race was in August 2014, a TBARA sanctioned race won by Larry Brazil Jr.

    “We hope to have the whole schedule, payoffs, sponsorships, all that good stuff,” for a date soon, according to Rick Day. With 18 days remaining until the season opening race of their initial race season, the new series will have to kick their pre-season planning into high gear through the holiday period and into the new year’s first week.

    A partial list of the things that they will need are included on this “To Do List”: series logo (a Cobra or Viper preparing to strike seems an obvious one, with “SSSS” as an acronym), determine Bronson Speedway race dates, points structure and points fund, finalize race payoffs, sponsor deals, selection of race officials to include tech inspector, flagman, series announcer, PR or Marketing/Press Relations Director, Rules and Regulations (although it is likely to match the TBARA rules package to allow racers to race with cars last raced just 17 days ago).

    The name of the series, Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series, does have an unfortunate similarity to a previously announced series for Florida and the Southeast. That series is the King of the Wing Southeast regional winged sprint car series, the Southern Sprint Car Series. Originally announced by Davey Hamilton in a January 2015 meeting, it was a planned follow-on alternative to the TBARA at a time when the TBARA had no 2015 race schedule. "I'm doing it then. I'll tell you right now I'm doing it," Hamilton stated at the meeting, after hearing support from the Florida racing community to go forward with his plans. "I am going to start working on it immediately," Hamilton told the 16 Florida pavement sprint car owners present at the meeting. The regional series had one race in 2015, at Five Flags Speedway.

    Subsequently, Hamilton appeared to have doubts about the possibility that a new Southeast regional pavement sprint car series could be successful. He also knew that car owners wanted to continue using existing 360 engines and were not embracing his proposal to switch to using 410 engines exclusively after three years. With the new series originated and controlled by Floridians, it will eliminate the need to convince car owners to switch to a new engine format. It is a 360 series now, and it will be a 360 series in the future. Getting every car owner to embrace using Hoosier Tires from now on may be a different story altogether.

    With its apparent demise, Floridians can look back at the history of the Tampa Bay Area Racing Association with pride. The list of TBARA champions includes the names Dave Steele, Troy DeCaire, Sam Rodriguez, Wayne Reutimann, Robert Smith, Taylor Andrews, and Shane Butler. TBARA champions have won seven Little 500 races, two Governor’s Cup late model races, two USAC Silver Crown series titles, and two Must See Racing Sprint Series titles. They have raced and won open wheel races in midgets, sprint cars, and Silver Crown cars on dirt and pavement from coast to coast. Their exploits will be part of the extraordinary history of Florida sprint car racing for a long time.

     

     

    Saturday Night Showdown: Showtime Speedway, Part 2

    By Richard Golardi

    Car owner Dick Anderson’s pavement modified race car was referred to by Circle Track Magazine as their “Project Modified.” Dick Anderson completed construction on the car in late 2014, using a Lefthander chassis and a 604 GM crate motor. The car was very fast right away and 67 year old Dick Anderson was looking forward to the 2015 race season in Florida. At the car’s first race at New Smyrna Speedway in January 2015 during the Pete Orr Memorial weekend, Dick was leading when he crashed hard on the front straight. The car was heavily damaged. With both front and rear clips on the car replaced, it was ready to race again. But Dick Anderson was not ready. He was having some lingering after-effects of the crash which affected his memory. He decided to step out of the driver’s seat and put Josh Todd behind the wheel.

    Josh Todd prior to qualifying at Showtime Speedway on Saturday.

    In November, the car was back at New Smyrna Speedway again for the 75-lap modified feature that was part of the Governor’s Cup race weekend. With Josh Todd behind the wheel of the number 7 Project Modified car, the car and driver had won 12 straight pavement modified races. Along the way, they had also spent a little extra time in tech inspection, and sometimes left with their trophy and winnings well after midnight.

    Todd won again on November 14th at New Smyrna Speedway for the team’s 13th straight win with him behind the wheel. He had also won the Eddie Brann Memorial modified race in October at Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park. He knew the track well, and had dominated there and all over Florida during the year in high-horsepower machines. Was it time for him to try something new? Tony Carreno knew of Josh Todd’s talent. He also knew that Lee Cipray’s number 7 sprint car had been sitting out most of the race season. The car had won multiple races with Mickey Kempgens behind the wheel. It was time to put these persons together and get Josh Todd behind the wheel of a sprint car, Tony Carreno thought.

    Josh Todd finishes in 5th place in his first sprint car race at Showtime Speedway.

    The final sprint car race of the year at Showtime Speedway was last Saturday. Lee Cipray decided to get his black number 7 car out of its season-long hiatus and put it on the track. Josh Todd would be driving. Given Josh’s talent on pavement, expectations were high for a good finish that night. Talk of a top-five finish was heard in the pits, as well as a desire to get Josh the maximum number of laps in a sprint car, then bring the car home in one piece. With the track championship on the line and Dave Steele in his car set to dominate again as he so often does, the attention would not be on Josh as it is at modified races. He could get his laps in without pressure to win, or keep a season-long win streak going.

    Tony Carreno had been trying to get Josh Todd into a sprint car in Florida for a while. He had driven Tony’s modified in the Eddie Brann Memorial two years ago. “Ever since then, he’s been trying to get me in it. Actually I drove it down at Desoto in February,” Josh Todd said. Prior to Saturday’s race, Todd only had a total of five practice laps in a sprint car, which came at Desoto Speedway during February’s Ice Breaker. It was the last time Cipray’s car had raced. “They had another kid driving it. I just practiced it. Then they parked it and this is the first time it’s been back out. Tony’s been trying to get me in it. Driving the modified for Dick Anderson, there was a couple of deals that came up and they kind of fell through. So this was the first chance since then and they’ve been getting it lined up to be able to do it.”

    In comparing a sprint car to driving a pavement modified, Josh remarked, “it’s definitely a lot different. It reacts so much faster. You’ve barely got to turn it. It actually brings me back to the go kart days when we first started racing go karts. Just everything is so touchy, but a lot more power than the modified. A lot more.”

    Josh Todd, Modified race winner at Citrus County Speedway, with car owner Dick Anderson and crew, May 2, 2015.

    Getting behind the wheel of this sprint car was a moment he had been waiting for since February at Desoto. That was the last race for the car. “When we ran down there it was actually as fast as Garrett (Green) was in it and that was my first time ever in a sprint car. I’ve been wanting it. With the modified, I was running so good in that, we didn’t want to quit that. And we’re kind of committed to Dick Anderson and they were OK with it. Main thing is I’m hoping to load it up in one piece. Maybe show them that I can do it, and maybe they’ll want me to do it again.”

    Next year, Josh did want to race a sprint car again, and do it more than once during the year. He wants to remain committed to car owner Dick Anderson and continue racing his modified in 2016. Anderson does not restrict Josh Todd’s other racing, leaving him free to race a sprint car when he’s not behind the wheel of the Circle Track Magazine sponsored modified. “I just kind of put the modified first. I was with Dick before Lee,” Josh remarked.

    Could he do as well next year in modified racing in Dick Anderson’s car as he has done in 2015? “I think so. Dick is just so particular on the modified. He puts so much work on it. That’s his job. He works on that thing eighty or ninety hours a week. I know it’s really hard to beat somebody like that. As smart as he is on it, anywhere on the race track I ask for the car to turn better or be tightened up, he can do that and not take the drive away from any part of the car. He’s really good when it come to that stuff.”

    “It’s definitely going to be an experience that I won’t forget.” Josh knew about the talk in the pits that a top five finish seemed to be a foregone conclusion. “Yes sir, I know it’s going to be hard to back that up but I feel it gives me more confidence whenever they have the confidence in me. The car is great. It’s just with me never driving one, it’s so hard to let off the brake and just let it roll and let the wing kind of do it. I feel like it’s the Dick Anderson of sprint cars. Just the man working on it just knows everything. I feel like they’ve got high expectations so I’m trying to get the best I can out of it and bring the car home in one piece too.”

    Josh had the fifth fastest qualifying time and started the 40-lap feature race in third place. At the end of the 40 laps, he was in fifth place, getting a top five finish in his first sprint car race. “Not too bad I guess,” he said. “Had a lot of fun today. Hopefully we can do it again soon. Definitely an experience I won’t forget.”

     

     

    Saturday Night Showdown: Showtime Speedway, Part 1

    By Richard Golardi

    The Showtime Speedway sprint car track championship would be settled on Saturday night, December 5th. It was the nation’s last pavement sprint car race of 2015. On the opposite side of Tampa Bay from the ¼ mile track’s Pinellas Park location, the Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series championship would be determined at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton. In both championship title contests, the drivers occupying the first and second positions in the points still had a chance to take the title. Shane Butler led Sport Allen by one point for the Showtime Speedway sprint car champion title. Matt Kurtz led AJ Maddox by 58 points going into the Top Gun season finale at East Bay. Kurtz would not race, in order to attend a close friend’s wedding.

    A November rainout at Showtime moved the season’s last sprint car race to its new date of December 5th. For some, that’s a problem. That weekend is the Snowball Derby late model race at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola. With the race’s popularity peaking, and its ability to draw the best of the “non Sprint Cup” late model race drivers, many Floridians plan their vacations to make the trip. One of those Floridians was Shane Butler. Car owner Troy Thompson assured me that despite Shane making the trip to Pensacola, he would return to the Tampa area by Saturday to race his car at Showtime. Thompson and Butler had already clinched one Florida track championship this year at Citrus County Speedway.

    Sport Allen is the 2015 Showtime Speedway Sprint Car track champion

    “Well we started Wednesday after work,” Shane Butler said. “Left the house in Bushnell and headed for the Snowball Derby. My buddy LJ Grimm was running his modified so we had already made plans to help him and bought tickets for the Snowball Derby (Sunday). We decided we’d come back after LJ’s race last night (Friday), which we did. We hung out Thursday and had a good time and on Friday LJ raced. We left there about 1:30 am their time, drove a few hours, got some sleep and got back to Bushnell at 11 am today.” From then, Shane would have a couple of hours before leaving for Showtime Speedway at 1:30 pm with a car that was already prepared and loaded in the trailer.

    Shane had never considered skipping the Showtime race to stay in Pensacola. By leaving in the early morning hours on Sunday, they could still get back to Pensacola in time for the Sunday afternoon late model finale. He felt an obligation to car owner Troy Thompson to make it to the race at Showtime. “As much as he’s put into it, I couldn’t let him down,” Shane said. “I figured, what the hell, we couldn’t just give it to Sport. I don’t have a problem with Sport winning. So whatever happens tonight, may the best man win as long as we have some fun. If we’re ahead of him we still go for the win. Maybe not take some chances we would normally take just going for the win.”

    Sport Allen was aware of the extraordinary measures that Shane Butler was employing to vacation in Pensacola and then get to Showtime for Saturday’s race. Sport was showing his usual calm and cool confidence, combined with some race-day intensity. “We both want it but we both respect each other quite a bit,” Sport remarked. “I’m not going to race him and do anything stupid and I know he won’t do that to me. May the best man win. We’d have been up there a little higher if we didn’t have a DNF a little earlier in the year. We had a motor blow and took us out and lost some points. He’s a die-hard. He can go back and forth to Pensacola. That shows a lot of gumption. He wants it pretty bad.”

    As far as seeing a need to win the feature race in order to win the championship, Sport conceded that “we’d have to be right tight to each other qualifying and in the race. I would have to beat him in qualifying, and in the race by at least a spot. I came here to win the race. I want to beat Dave Steele and Mickey and Shane. I want to beat ‘em all and I came here to win.” Sport would take the initial advantage with a near-perfect qualifying lap. It was the fastest lap and he’d earn three points for fast time. He would start the feature race two points ahead of Shane Butler.

    Shane Butler, number 15, and Sport Allen, number 88, at Showtime Speedway

    Dave Steele would take the race lead early and appeared to be on his way to another feature race win until bad luck struck. This night it was a driveline failure. Ahead of Shane Butler early, Sport followed closely behind another car into the first turn and spun. He quickly executed a 360 and continued on, which avoided a caution but allowed Butler to pass. Mickey Kempgens assumed the race lead and kept it until the conclusion of 40 laps of racing without a caution with Butler in second. Sport was in fourth place, losing two points. The two contenders would end the race tied for the Showtime Speedway track championship.

    Across the bay at East Bay Raceway Park, the Top Gun Racing series closing race would also see a racer with multiple 2015 race wins appear to be on his way to a dominating race win, but then fail to win. Garrett Green would lead easily until colliding with a slower car near the end of the feature race. He hit the front straight wall hard and flipped, emerging uninjured. AJ Maddox assumed the race lead and the feature race win. The points garnered from the night were enough to move him ahead of Matt Kurtz into the points lead and earn AJ Maddox his first Top Gun Sprint Series driver championship.

    At both tracks, the driver who began the night in second place in points would ultimately be crowned the champion. Sport Allen and Shane Butler both had the same number of points with the tie-breaker being the number of feature race wins. Sport had two wins (5/30 and 6/6), giving him the track championship. Butler’s best finish during the year was second place, which occurred three times (6/6, 7/11 and 12/5). Sport Allen was the Showtime Speedway sprint car track champion for the second consecutive year. Thirty years had passed since his racing career began at Florida tracks and two starts in the Little 500 in 1984 (at 13 years old) and 1985.

    “Driver error,” Sport responded, when asked what caused the mid-race spin. “I ran in there so hard and didn’t realize those guys were so slow.” Making a quick 360, heading for the bottom of the track, and then resuming the race avoided having a yellow flag shown and being put to the back of the pack. Sport felt that his tires were not the same and might have been flat-spotted. He lost some of his prior speed and could no longer catch the faster cars. Even though he could no longer contend for the race win, the quick recovery from the spin likely was the difference in his finish being good enough to earn the points title. “We’re going to win this thing again,” Sport declared.

    “We gave it all we had. We had a second place car tonight,” Shane Butler said. “Luck has a lot to do with it. You have to capitalize when the luck does go your way.” Next year, Shane did not have any racing plans or race dates that he could confirm yet. Troy Thompson was preparing a dirt Silver Crown car for Shane to drive in several USAC Silver Crown races in 2016. They had discussed a desire to run some of the dirt mile tracks. “Maybe run a couple of races next year. Nothing’s actually set in stone yet. We’ll try to make a plan for next year, hopefully by the first of the year.”

    Part 2, which includes an interview with modified racer Josh Todd at his first sprint car race at Showtime Speedway, will be online tomorrow.

    The Showtime Speedway winged sprint car feature race video from Saturday, December 5, 2015 is here:

    https://youtu.be/Adr14BSBEb4

     

    Kyle Pitts – The Floridian

    By Richard Golardi

    Kyle Pitts is “The Floridian.” That’s what they call him when he’s racing up in Michigan.

    In Florida, where he races during the late fall and winter months, he’s another dirt sprint car driver from Florida. He was one of the few Floridians to spend their summer racing a sprint car on dirt tracks outside of Florida. Midwestern sprint car drivers no longer come to Florida for the winter season. Weekly racing during the winter months has dwindled, other than a few Eagle Jet Top Gun Series races and the usual February Speedweeks races.

    Sprint car driven by Kyle Pitts

    After racing in some Top Gun sprint car races in Florida in 2013, Kyle Pitts headed north. “We’ve been running up in Michigan with Sprints on Dirt (SOD),” Kyle said. He’s 27 years old and he has spent the past two summers up north pursuing wins and titles in the SOD series. In 2014, he was the series Rookie of the Year and finished in third place in the points standing. This year, he was the series Driver of the Year with one feature win and moved up to second place in the series points. “The Series Director has his own criteria for it,” Kyle said, describing the selection process for Driver of the Year.

    “They (referring to SOD) run Michigan, Ohio and Indiana,” Kyle remarked. “We’ve been up there running that all season running for points. Finished second in points and Driver of the Year with SOD this past season, so it was definitely an upgrade from last year. So we’ve continued an uphill climb.” He raced in only winged dirt races this year, and was back in Florida to race at Bubba Raceway Park with the Top Gun Series last Sunday after his return. He raced in the combined races with the NRA in Ohio and one race with the Empire Super Sprints in New York. A single race at Ohsweken Speedway in Canada ended with him “blowing a motor there as well. Was running fifth or sixth when it went.”

    He and car owner Brian Sheldon had their struggles during the year. “We had motor issues all year. We brought this limited engine to the ASCS races and done rather well with it,” he said, describing the way they had worked through adversity this year. “The one win was at Tri-City. We were in contention for a couple of them. The last one at Crystal (Motor Speedway) we were leading the first 13 laps and blistered the right rear tire, so we fell off after that. Got caught up in something at Butler (Motor Speedway), was running second there.”

    Kyle Pitts at Bubba Raceway Park on 11-29-2015

    While living in Michigan he was a full-time race car driver with a part-time day job during the week. “I worked for Advance Auto Parts so I was able to do a part time job while I was there in Michigan.” While in Florida during the cold weather months he works for an engineering company. “I’m doing a little bit of the AutoCAD work so I’m getting enough money so that way I can go out here and race during the winter.”

    Prior to his three years in dirt sprint cars, Kyle went asphalt racing with his father and his brother. His brother was driving late models and trucks and he was racing street stocks. Was the transition from street stocks to sprint cars a shock to make that big adjustment? “It was a big change. It took a long time for me to be able to fully understand how the car works versus asphalt racing. I was going to college too. And then problems, and my brother’s out of a ride and I’m out of a ride. I just got lucky working at the right place and being able to meet Brian and having him have a car ready.”

    Next year’s goal is to race in the Lucas Oil ASCS Sprint Car Series. To do that, the team will need sponsors and sponsor money committed prior to the ASCS series start in February or March. The dollar amount I heard was $300,000 to run the entire ASCS season, but Kyle would not confirm that exact amount. “Well I’m not going to put a number on it but we’ve got to build it up from the ground up. It’s Brian (car owner Brian Sheldon) and I. Sheldon Farms helps us out, which is his brother. That’s where we stay up in Michigan.” A J&J sprint car chassis will be the primary car, with an additional backup car that was being raced on Sunday at Bubba’s. Another J&J would be a backup on the road and they would build their own engines as they have done this year.

    Instead of Kyle’s name across the front edge of his car’s top wing, it has the title Floridian. Midwestern race fans knew who was in the car after he had raced up north for two years. He had not raced in Florida since February, so his name was not as well known in Florida. Most racers in the Top Gun Series had raced against him before when he raced in 7 or 8 Top Gun races in 2013. Going into Sunday’s race, Kyle’s advantage was that he had raced frequently up north, whereas the Floridians had to deal with a summer of rainouts and infrequent races. He would have two chances to add to his 2015 win total with two races this week (Sunday at Bubba Raceway Park, and Saturday at East Bay Raceway Park).

    At the last restart with three laps remaining in Sunday’s Top Gun Series feature race, Kyle Pitts was in third place behind AJ Maddox and Matt Kurtz. He was in second place one lap later and passed Maddox on the last lap to take the race win for his second sprint car feature win of the year. “It was fun. It was tough. Wow, I never expected to win this,” Kyle said in the Winner’s Circle.

    Kyle would like to have some more races during the winter season in Florida. It seems implausible to have most of December and January without racing when the weather is pleasant and rain is less frequent. Summer rainouts were especially brutal to promoters and racers this year. “This is beautiful. It’s 75 degrees. It’s almost December. Why not have more races down here,” he asked? “Why not bring the ASCS down here to run?” After returning to Florida, Kyle Pitts increased his 2015 win total to two wins. And he’d like some more.

    ETC …

    Bubba Raceway Park will move to Saturday night racing in 2016 after racing on Friday nights in 2015. Announcer Joe Linebarier told me that the decision was just made during race day last Sunday … Derek Hagar, 2013 USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour national sprint car champion, will take over the seat in the #82 Hardy Maddox owned sprint car on Saturday at East Bay. He’ll be substituting for regular driver Matt Kurtz, who attends a close friend’s wedding that day. Derek is going for his 13th sprint car feature win of 2015 … The Eagle Jet Top Gun Series driver championship will be decided on Saturday night at East Bay Raceway Park. By finishing in second and third behind Kyle Pitts on Sunday, series contenders AJ Maddox and Matt Kurtz maintained about the same margin between them in the points standings, with Kurtz keeping the points lead. With Kurtz not racing, AJ Maddox will still have the chance to earn his first Top Gun championship on Saturday night.

    The feature race highlight video from the car of Kyle Pitts at Bubba Raceway Park on Sunday, November 29, 2015 is here:

    https://youtu.be/Odqy3BRdLVA

     

     

     

    Florida Speedweeks Dates Filling Up for 2016

    By Richard Golardi

    The dates are set for the All Star Circuit of Champions to return to Bubba Raceway Park and Volusia Speedway Park during February 2016 (see link below). The World of Outlaws sprint cars are set for their usual 3 race dates during the weekend prior to Daytona 500 weekend. The USAC national sprint car series will race at Bubba Raceway Park on Feb. 18-20. The East Bay 360 Winternationals sprint cars are set for the same dates, which are Thursday to Saturday, Feb. 18-20. The Lucas Oil ASCS race schedule has not been released, but there is no mention of the series returning to Florida next year from East Bay or any other Florida track. Top Gun has 2 races at East Bay during last weekend in January.

    Kerry Gilbert, 2015 East Bay Sprints sprint car champion at East Bay Raceway Park.

    The weekend of Jan. 22-24, 2016 is still open. With the Chili Bowl concluding on Jan. 16, this race weekend is still open for another series. The United Sprint Car Series and Davey Hamilton’s Southern Sprint Car Series have not yet announced their 2016 race dates. The 2016 USCS race calendar is anticipated to be revealed next week. For the Southern Sprint Car Series, a King of the Wing offshoot, a state of hibernation has set in with no news forthcoming of any progress or planned races. I did speak to Davey Hamilton earlier this summer and he informed me that he still intends to get the Southeast regional King of the Wing series started, but did not offer any specific plans.

    Changes to the 2016 Florida Speedweeks schedule that have been revealed so far are as follows:
    • The All Star Circuit of Champions race weekend at Bubba Raceway Park has been reduced to two days from three days in 2015. Speedweeks rainouts have been frequent for the past few years, which leaves Sunday as a rain date before the series moves to Volusia Speedway Park for Tuesday practice and Wednesday/Thursday races.
    • The Lucas Oil ASCS series will apparently not start their season in Florida. The series had begun their national race schedule in Arizona for three years before switching to Florida in 2015 with their sanctioning of the 2015 East Bay 360 Winternationals. The Saturday Winternationals finale at East Bay Raceway Park with the Lucas Oil ASCS drivers on Feb. 21, 2015 was chosen by this reporter as the best sprint car race of 2015 Speedweeks, so this was disappointing news.
    • There are no national sprint car series racing in February after the day of the Daytona 500 (set for Sunday, Feb 21). 2015 Florida Speedweeks had two series race then – USAC and Lucas Oil ASCS series.
    • No pavement sprint car race dates have been announced. The Icebreaker at Desoto Speedway in February included two sprint car dates and that event could return in 2016. The return of racing to Citrus County Speedway, which had one Speedweeks sprint car race this year, is in doubt. The current leaseholder has suspended racing at the track and the Citrus County Fair Association has been silent on when racing will return, if ever.

    Shane Butler, 2015 Citrus County Speedway sprint car track champion.

    Rain in the Tampa Bay area last weekend pushed the pavement and dirt sprint car racing finales for Florida to the same date, Saturday December 5. Both the sprint car track championship at Showtime Speedway and the Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series driver championship will be decided that night. Top Gun also has one additional race at Bubba Raceway Park on Sunday, November 29. Shane Butler has a one-point advantage over Sport Allen going into the final winged sprint car race at Showtime, and car owner Troy Thompson has confirmed that Butler will be there to race his #15 car. Matt Kurtz and AJ Maddox are the favorites in the battle for the Top Gun driver title, and they hold the top two spots with Kurtz holding a slim lead. Kurtz has won the Top Gun title once before in 2012.

    Track championships for sprint car drivers this year have already been finalized at East Bay Raceway Park, with Kerry Gilbert as champion; Desoto Speedway, with Dave Retzlaff as champion; and at Citrus County Speedway, with Shane Butler being named as track champion after the final points tally. The TBARA was dormant this year, leaving no pavement touring series for Florida. The Eagle Jet Top Gun Series was the only dirt touring series in the state. The Top Gun champion, along with Showtime Speedway, are the two remaining 2015 champions yet to be named.

    Florida Sprint Car Race Date Calendar:

    https://calendar.google.com/calendar/embed?src=gc3bg4n941p1mlck9f24232mpc%40group.calendar.google.com&ctz=America%2FNew_York

     

     

     

     

    One Year on the Dirt with Nicholas Snyder

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Sixteen year old Nicholas Snyder, from Marco Island, Florida, is the 2015 USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour Rookie of the Year. He won the title in his first full year of dirt sprint car racing on the national touring series, which races on tracks from Arkansas and Tennessee to the East Coast and down to Florida. He follows many Floridian racers who have achieved success in the series in prior years. The United Sprint Car Series national tour also had the distinction of propelling Morgan Turpen to a national sprint car series driver championship this year. It was the first time a female driver achieved this goal.

    One of Nick Snyder's supporters, who came to the track prepared for the Saturday race at Bubba Raceway Park

    Nicholas picked up his first USCS feature win at Travelers Rest Speedway on May 8, which was the highlight of his year, according to Nicholas. Another skill that he is working on developing is as a Pilot. “I’m working on getting my Private Pilot’s license. Actually, we’re supposed to be flying today, but I’m here racing,” Nicholas said. “Racing takes up the majority of my time. I can fly anytime that I want when I’m with Mr. Davis, my teacher. It would be a preferred career (as a Pilot) if I don’t make it in NASCAR or the World of Outlaws in racing.” He credits his parents and his sponsors for making it possible to race full-time on the United Sprint Car Series national tour this year. The family team keeps their Marco Island home base as their place to stay during the week, driving to the weekend race destinations.

    Next year, he wants to race in USCS and some other dirt sprint car series to get more experience and name recognition. “We’re still going to be racing in USCS, but just not full-time next year,” he said. The team did not miss a single race since the season started in March. He was in third place in the points at season end, and was getting noticed by the press and dirt racing fans. “I think I’ve made a name for myself in the series. I think I’ve opened up a lot of eyes, from last year running around in the back to this year now in the top three with Terry Gray and Morgan Turpen and everyone. Just competing against them is like the top level for me.” Nicholas would often go to Danny Martin Jr., who had 3 USCS feature wins this year, for advice on how to drive the tracks that were new. “I always talk to Danny. I’m always at his trailer and he has helped me at every USCS race that he has gone to.” Danny was the driver that Nicholas singled out as the one that was most helpful throughout his rookie year.

    Nick Snyder at Bubba Raceway Park

    Nicholas attends high school in Naples, and when they head out with the trailer and race car for the race weekend, most of the driving is done by his father and mother. That allows him to sleep during the trip and often wake up when they have arrived at their destination in Tennessee, or Arkansas, or in the Carolinas. Often, the family team would stay when a stretch of multiple races warranted staying up north. But they would always return to Florida. They sometimes will keep the trailer with a family member in Georgia, and drive home to Florida with just their truck. But the grueling trips of hundreds of miles across many states lasted for most of the spring and summer this year. The pace did not slow until after Labor Day. The series returned to Florida for the first time in at least five years for a pair of Ocala races in October.

    The first racer in the family was his paternal grandfather, who raced late models in the 80’s. His mother and father were both at Ocala’s Bubba Raceway Park, along with a contingent of family and friends who offered help and encouragement. One even had a homemade sign board that read “Go Nick.” Few Floridians have raced a full season in a national dirt sprint car series in recent years. The recent trend seems to be for dirt sprint car racers to race close to home, or move on to other series when the opportunity opens up. Collin Cabre is an example of the latter type of racer, who has a seat with Rev Racing in NASCAR and a 2015 race win in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East competition.

    Nick Snyder clinched the 2015 USCS Rookie of the Year honors in October.

    “I’m trying to compete against the best of the best and learn from them.” Nicholas spoke of his desire to move up to ASCS or World of Outlaws sprint car competition, and to get a chance to race against Joey Saldana and Donny Schatz. For now, another competitor was on his mind. “We struggled last night, but I’m hoping tonight we can compete against Danny Martin,” he said. Martin won the feature race during USCS night one at Bubba’s.

    Nick’s father Mike Snyder wanted him to “get into something with a roll cage” after Nick had gotten interested in dirt bikes, and wanted to race them. “We said no. So we looked it up and got into quarter midgets. Went from quarter midgets to mini sprints to big sprints. This is our first full season in sprints,” Mike said. There was some pavement sprint racing in Florida last year, and a couple of USCS dirt races at the end of the year. He got a micro sprint driver title in Florida in 2013. The dirt sprint car was being built last year while Nick raced a mini sprint. The quality of the drivers in USCS led them to choose to compete on the USCS national tour this year. “Johnny Gilbertson helped us get a ride for a few races on asphalt, and we tried it out on asphalt and loved that too. It’s good to race both. He has to learn the control of the cars on asphalt and dirt. He helps out with the setups. He’s going faster and faster as the year goes on. I’m still learning how to set the car up,” Mike Snyder said.

    Another family responsibility is paying the bills. There are some small sponsors, but they do not pay for most of the costs of racing. That cost is borne by Nick’s parents, Mike and Dawn Snyder. “We enjoy it, just as much as Nicholas. We have some sponsors … it helps. Every little bit helps. The rest is out of our pocket.” Mike works for the City of Marco Island, as does Nick’s older brother, who is 24 years old. “He’s into football, no racing. My hobby is just racing, full-time,” Mike said. It was a lifestyle of being “on the road. Going from track to track and back home and turn around and do it again.” He was smiling as he said this and confirmed, “I love it. We weren’t expecting to do this good this early.”

    Dawn Snyder described their routine of leaving after the school day was complete on Thursday, travel on Friday to arrive for a Friday or Saturday race about every other weekend, and then return on Sunday in order to be back for school on Monday. Then there is the racing itself. “They’re the best thing to ever watch out there on the track, the sprint cars. There’s nothing better in my world, but when it’s your child out there, you want to go out there, roll the car up in the trailer and he’s safe. We do everything in our power to have every safety thing that we can possibly do. I know that they’re safe. But when they’re out there they’re still your baby. And that’s if they were on the track or if they were playing football. It doesn’t matter. They’re your child,” Dawn Snyder explained. Would the level of apprehension that she feels lessen over time as she sees more races, and knows that Nick emerges safely at the end of each race night? “I’m hoping so. I think it will get better and easier. You just try to make them as safe as you can and let them live their lives and do what they want to do.”

    A pre-season goal of earning the USCS Rookie of the Year title and finishing in the top five positions in the points race has been achieved. “We were not expecting a win this year at all, so we’re very pleased,” Dawn said. “You have to keep up with the tracks, and figure out what it’s going to do, and we lack in that a little bit. But we’re still learning as much as he is. We’re very proud of him.” His parents also require that he is an A/B student to earn the right to go racing in a traveling series. Nick has hit that mark in the classroom. With a tough schedule of classes, he has met his family’s expectations in the classroom and exceeded expectations on the racetrack. The future looks bright for Nicholas Snyder.

     

     

    Wayne Reutimann Looks Back at the Inaugural Governor’s Cup Race 50 Years Ago

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Wayne Reutimann has retired from teaching. He retired in 2014 from his position as an Automotive Instructor as Zephyrhills High School, after teaching there for 34 years. But he won’t say that he’s retired from driving race cars, even though he is now 70 years old. His last races came in 2008, when the TBARA sprint car series made two stops at Orlando Speedworld and New Smyrna Speedway on a Friday and Saturday in June. He won the Friday night race in Orlando when he was 63 years old, driving the #00 Case Contracting car. It was his first TBARA race in a while, and only his second sprint car race of the year. “I never got another ride after that,” Wayne told me. “Actually, I never even had anybody contact me about driving their car.”

    Wayne Reutimann's 50th anniversary of winning the inaugural Governor's Cup race at Golden Gate Speedway on November 14, 1965, pictured at home.

    The All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List still shows Wayne Reutimann’s name at the top of the list, with 97 sprint car feature race wins in Florida. You would have thought that another car owner would sweep in and put Wayne in their sprint car back in 2008. But it didn’t happen. Wayne thinks he knows why. “I guess the reason for that is age and maybe that I was driving for like 25% of what the car made if I won, 20% if I didn’t. And a lot of car owners, with expensive cars now can’t afford to pay a driver. So, you wind up with people that … kids and stuff, younger kids that want to make a name for themselves. They’ll drive for nothing. So, this kind of leaves you out. It’s strange. I thought I’d get a call from somebody to drive their car,” Wayne said. After all, he had just won a TBARA feature race.

    He wasn’t ready to quit in 2008. Loss of a sponsor put him in a position where he didn’t have a ride. Just don’t call him a retired racer. “No, I haven’t ever retired, basically. And I don’t know that I will. My Dad said never say you’re retired, because if you go back racing again, then you’re going to get hurt. Superstition – yup.” Even with turning 70 years old, this life event would not change the way he felt. “My wife will tell me,” he said, and then he laughed.

    Sunday, November 14, 1965 was a warm day in Tampa, Florida. It was race day at Golden Gate Speedway. The 1/3 mile asphalt track would soon come to life with the roar of late model stock cars. The 200-lap Florida State Late Model Stock Car Championship would be contested, and for the first time it would carry the title “Governor’s Cup.” Twenty year old Wayne Reutimann was entered, driving the #00jr Reutimann Chevrolet sponsored ’57 Chevy. His older brother, Buzzie Reutimann, would be in the #00 ’57 Chevy. The other Florida racing legends entered included Will Cagle, Frank Riddle, Dave Scarborough and Cush Revette. Bobby Allison was bringing his #312 ’56 Chevy from Alabama, but ended up missing the Saturday qualifying and would be forced to start back in the pack.

    Wayne Reutimann knew Golden Gate Speedway. He once won seven races in seven starts (heats and features) during one weekend of racing at Golden Gate, when the track had Friday and Saturday night racing. He knew the other Florida racers, and he had his father, Emil Reutimann, as a mentor and adviser. “It was a beautiful race track. Golden Gate was the prettiest, well-kept track in Florida,” Wayne said, while declining to say it was his favorite track.

    Race winner Wayne Reutimann's plaque for winning the inaugural Governor's Cup race at Golden Gate Speedway on November 14, 1965.

    During this time, Wayne worked as a mechanic at his father’s Chevrolet dealership in Zephyrhills, Florida. “My Dad sent me to the General Motors training center for five weeks of training. He sent me back for car salesman school and new product school, and then I’d come back and work in the garage.” He knew Chevrolet cars from bumper to bumper, including his own #00jr Chevy late model. He and his brother Buzzie were both car owners for the cars they entered for themselves. “Buzzie and I both built our race cars in that shop,” Wayne said, referring to the race shop at the car dealership.

    Bobby Allison was racing in Georgia on the night before the Governor’s Cup, when qualifying took place at Golden Gate. Allison and crew made the overnight tow down to Tampa with their '56 Chevy, making it to the track just in time to start last in his qualifying race, which he won.

    Wayne knew that his car would have a special need on race day, because it had a design with a long stroke. Every time that he would back off for the corner, his motor would draw oil up behind the piston ring and burn oil. His car was going to consume an excessive amount of oil on race day. “I knew that for 200 laps, it was going to need some more oil.” He would have to design a system that allowed him to add oil during the race, right from the driver’s seat.

    He took a one gallon metal paint thinner can, soldered a fitting to the bottom of the can and ran a hose to the motor. He filled the can with oil and mounted it on the Chevy’s dashboard so that it would be higher than the motor, and he could use gravity to get the oil to flow down to the motor. It had a valve that he could reach to turn the oil flow on or off. “Halfway through that race whenever a yellow came out, I reached up and turned it on and actually added oil to that motor while we were on the race track. Those ’57 Chevrolets had a pretty high dashboard. I knew I had to get it up high. I wasn’t sure it was going to work, but it did.” He also found that he could squeeze the can to get the oil flowing through the hose. “I’d kind of pump the side of the can a little bit trying to make sure it was getting down into the motor.”

    Bobby Allison would start in 21st position for the 200-lap race. He methodically worked his way through slower cars until he caught Wayne Reutimann's '57 Chevy around the halfway point. Reutimann battled Allison, the out-of-stater from Alabama, for the last 100 laps of the race. For almost 75 of those laps, the two cars frequently raced side by side, with Bobby on the outside lane, Wayne on the inside.

    Wayne believed that his dashboard-mounted oil can played a part in helping him get to the end of the race. Without it, he believed he would have likely run out of oil. Then he would have been forced to drop out of the race. Each time he’d back off to enter the corner, his car would let out a puff of smoke. Trailing closely behind Wayne through most of the race, Bobby Allison would see this happen twice each lap. Did he stay close behind Wayne for all those laps, just waiting for Wayne’s motor to blow up? We know that he stayed behind Wayne, or raced alongside him for much of the race.

    “He ran behind me damn near the whole race just about. Every time I looked in the mirror, I saw he was there,” Wayne remembered. Highlighting the skill of the two racers, Wayne recalled how he and Allison only touched one time during the entire 200 laps. “He was extremely clean, and he always has been. He was a real clean driver.”

    Coming out of the fourth turn on the last lap, Allison made a last effort to pass, but could only reach the back bumper of Wayne’s Chevy. “He was right there next to me, because I let my guard down coming off that last corner,” according to Wayne. Buzzie was already out of the race, and ran toward the finish line as the two battled to the checkered flag, celebrating his brother’s win by less than a car length over Bobby Allison. The exact moment was caught by the track photographer, and the iconic photo appeared on the cover of the 1966 Governor’s Cup race program. “That’s how close he was. It was really neat. That’s the race that I cherish the most because he was right behind me the whole race.”

    That wasn’t Wayne’s only Governor’s Cup win. “I won it twice. I won it once with Lewis Green’s car out of Orlando, the Amick Construction car. I won it one year with that, in 1973.” He would become the first Golden Gate Speedway sprint car track champion in 1969. Wayne’s sprint car success would continue, with a win in the 1979 Little 500 at Anderson, Indiana, and also many dirt modified and sprint car race wins in the Northeast in the ‘70s. He would also earn the TBARA sprint car driver championship in 1988, 1998 and 2001. Wayne was inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame, the Northeast Modified Hall of Fame and the DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame.

    What was his favorite race win? “I’m real proud that I won the Florida State Late Model Championship race, the 200 lap race at Golden Gate in 1965. I think that’s the race that I cherish the most,” Wayne said.

    Golden Gate Speedway would host the Governor’s Cup race through 1978, and again from 1981 to 1983. It would close in 1984, a victim of government noise regulations and Tampa’s urban sprawl. The Governor’s Cup race survives to this day. It is still held on a Sunday in November in Central Florida. The host track is currently New Smyrna Speedway, which has hosted the Governor’s Cup race since 1988. The fiftieth anniversary of Wayne Reutimann’s victory in the inaugural Governor’s Cup race is on Saturday, November 14, 2015. The Fiftieth Annual Governor’s Cup race will be run on the next day, Sunday, November 15, 2015. The two-time Governor’s Cup race winner is still, as of this date, not retired. “I’ve often thought, boy it’d be nice to have a sprint car to race now. When I’m retired, I’ve got all the time in the world to go run it somewhere!”

     

     

     

    Steele Performance Race Shop Sweeps Races in Florida

     

    Feature races at Bubba Raceway Park on Friday night and at Showtime Speedway on Saturday night were both won by drivers and cars based in the Steele Performance Parts race shop out of Tampa. Johnny Gilbertson won his second Eagle Jet Top Gun Series race of the year on the dirt at Ocala’s Bubba Raceway Park, overcoming broken parts, brake failure and avoiding wrecks that felled his pursuers. Gilbertson is the Manager at the race shop that is owned by Dave Steele, located on Lois Avenue east of downtown Tampa. Steele won the winged sprint car race on Saturday night at Showtime Speedway, a ¼ pavement bullring just off Ulmerton Road in Pinellas Park. It was his second feature win of the month, after winning at Desoto Speedway two weeks earlier.

    After pulling in to the Winners Circle at Bubba Raceway Park on Friday, Johnny Gilbertson pointed to the broken left front shock, which he said occurred when he struck an infield tire. He said that his brakes had also failed. A little bit of luck helped get him there, as the second and third place cars had collided mid-race while battling for position, and an early wreck took out the cars that held the top two places in the series points battle. Gilbertson had earlier spent time in the pits helping other teams, and seemed to be spending more time under the hood of competitor’s cars than working on his own car. One of those cars was the number 3 car of Dennis Misuraca, who was back in a sprint car in Florida after breaking both feet when a driveshaft broke in his sprint car three years ago.

    Dave Steele, Showtime Speedway Sprint Cars feature race winner, Showtime Speedway, Pinellas Park, FL, Saturday, October 31, 2015, Richard Golardi Photo

     

    A wreck on the second lap of the Top Gun feature race took out the cars in first and second place in the points race when Matt Kurtz and AJ Maddox collided. Maddox limped away from his car with a bruised leg, and neither car could continue. The two racers are still the favorites for the Top Gun title this year, as they still hold the top two positions in the points race with three races remaining. Matt Kurtz will also be preparing for his wedding nuptials in late November, so could this give the advantage to Maddox? AJ seemed confident of his chance to take the title this year, telling me that he believes that Kurtz will choose to miss one of the upcoming races to go to a friend’s wedding.

    Dave Steele was in eighth place for an early race restart at Showtime Speedway on Saturday, after a couple of early cautions. As he has done many times in the past, he methodically moved through the field, using a low line entering the corner and braking later than his opponents to make the pass in the corner. Sport Allen and Mickey Kempgens used a similar technique to follow Steele through the field and take the next two positions in the feature race. By the last lap, Steele had a half lap lead on the second place car of Sport Allen, showing his domination of the race. Steele has not revealed much about his future plans beyond racing locally in Florida. I have learned that a 410 motor is being prepped for possible use in next year’s Little 500, a race he nearly won this year with a 360 motor.

    Johnny Gilbertson, Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series feature race winner, Bubba Raceway Park, Ocala, FL, Friday, October 30, 2015, Richard Golardi Photo

     

    The number 39 car owned by Alan Randisi was driven by John Rosploch in the Showtime Speedway race, marking John’s return to Florida sprint car racing in October after 15 years. His 16 year old son joined him at the track, marking his first time to see his father race at the track since he was an infant. He does have some photos of himself at the track as infant, being cradled in the arms of his parents. The race was also the first time out for Clayton Donaldson in a winged sprint car race, using the wing from Mac Steele’s number 2 car. Larry Brazil Jr. is recovering from torn ligaments from a crash in the number 2 car at Desoto Speedway last month.

    The next three weekends showcase Florida’s pavement sprint car racers, with one pavement race each weekend. This Saturday is the final non-wing race of the year at Citrus County Speedway. The 14th will see the final Desoto Speedway winged sprint car race of 2015, and the final Florida pavement race of the year will be at Showtime Speedway on the 21st. Florida sprint car racing continues into December again this year, with the final race at East Bay Raceway Park on the first Saturday in December.

    The feature race video from the Top Gun Sprint Series at Bubba Raceway Park on Friday night is here:

    https://youtu.be/SBZ2UTATTSk


    The feature race video of the Outlaw Winged Sprint Cars at Showtime Speedway on Saturday night is here:

    https://youtu.be/xGHvghLREkE

     

     

     

     

    Deep in the Heart of Dixie with Sprint Cars – Pete Walton Interview

    By Richard Golardi

    The racing series primarily responsible for bringing winged dirt sprint car racing to the Mid South and Deep South states is the USCS – the United Sprint Car Series. But why race in these states? “Because that’s where we live,” USCS Founder and President Pete Walton said.

    Grits, Southern Fried Chicken and winged sprint cars slinging dirt – what could be more Southern? Mix in a group of sprint car drivers that speak with a Southern twang (most of them, at least), and you have the USCS recipe for success in the South. “We have a core group of people that want to race in that area and we have a good fan following in that area. A lot of race tracks … there’s no reason to go to Oregon for a race, you know?”

    Why race winged dirt sprint cars? “People in the Southeast, they don’t care about non-wing racing.” Walton concedes that there is a small group that likes non-wing racing in this area, but, “you couldn’t consistently sell tickets.” His target market and his southern fan base want something different. “They want speed,” Walton declared. “They want you to go faster than a super late model, because non-wing sprint cars don’t go faster than Scott Bloomquist. You know, he outruns them. The thing about sprint cars down here is speed. They want to see something that beats what they already see every week. They don’t want to see slow cars.”

    They do have fast cars, but the USCS national tour does have another area that is lacking. They don’t have a core group of young drivers that they’ve built into sprint car racing stars that they can motivate to stay with the tour. Twenty four year old Derek Hagar was dominant in 2013 USCS competition, winning 10 feature races that year. But he stopped competing full time on the tour at the end of his championship year. His original 2015 plans involved full-time racing in the Lucas Oil ASCS sprint car tour. Terry Gray has been the USCS driver to beat for many years, winning 11 of the last 18 driver championships on the USCS national tour. Gray is now 57 years old, and has not yet won a feature race on the USCS national tour this year. He intends to return to the USCS tour next year. “We’ll keep going for a while yet. I enjoy helping Morgan along,” Terry Gray told me.

    USCS President Pete Walton at the Saturday driver meeting at Bubba Raceway Park

    “Terry Gray hasn’t won any races this year. He probably has slowed down some. But he’s still most nights in the top three to five cars every night. He’s still second in the points. He’s very consistent. He’s always at the races and he’s capable on winning on any given night,” Pete Walton said. This could be the year that USCS builds one of its own young sprint car racing stars into a national star. Morgan Turpen, driving one of Terry Gray’s sprint cars, is at the top of the USCS national tour driver points standings. This places her in unique position with only a couple of weeks of racing left in 2015. She could be the first female driver to win a national winged dirt sprint car series.

    “That’s super-cool, I think,” Walton responded, when asked about the possibility of Turpen earning the title and becoming the first female national champion. “I think she’s probably got a real good shot at it. The only person that could unseat her is Terry Gray, unless she gets injured or something.” Pete Walton told how Turpen had submitted an application for the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program, but was not selected. “Terry Gray said that they had never had anybody apply with credentials like she had.” Turpen was the winner of the driver championship for the five race USCS pavement sprint car series in 2014. The twenty two year old racer has been on the USCS national tour for six years.

    USCS has another need, in addition to more young star drivers. They need a title sponsor for the series, and the cash infusion that type of sponsor deal could bring. “We need some real major sponsorship to really help our series grow any more than what it is. K&N is really our presenting sponsor. I don’t know next year what they’ll do, but they’ve been with us for about ten years. They give us some money and tons of products.” K&N is not yet signed to return next year as presenting sponsor. The 2016 national tour schedule is also not set, but is expected to be released around December 1.

    USCS Founder and President Pete Walton at the Saturday driver meeting for USCS race drivers

    The release of that 2016 USCS race schedule will answer an important question. Is the USCS national tour going to come back to Florida again? The tour used to race in Florida, at multiple tracks. That was before 2010, when Floridians like Danny Martin Jr., Kenny Adams and Red Stauffer regularly raced and won on the tour. Martin still races a partial USCS schedule, racing at tracks in Georgia and Florida, and has three USCS feature wins this year.

    The October two race stop at Bubba Raceway Park happened as a result of a phone call from track owner Bubba Clem to series owner Pete Walton. Clem has entered his thirteen year old son, Tyler Clem, in several national sprint car races this year when those series raced at his Ocala track. “I’m going to talk to Bubba, if everything goes good tonight (Saturday). I know Bubba from years ago, when Bubba used to come race with us, with Gene Lasker. Gene’s not the easiest guy to get along with, you know? But Bubba was always great. I mean, I like Bubba. He’s the one that called me up on the phone and said ‘Pete, I’d like y’all to come down here and race at my track.’ The kid (referring to Tyler) probably ought to stick with late models. That’s where the money is.”

    Why was the USCS tour absent from Florida for the past five years, when they used to race here regularly? “We haven’t come back because it seems like our relationship with East Bay kind of fell apart and they didn’t ask us back, for whatever reason. We used to race there every fall, every year. We’d go to Volusia, and then we’d go to East Bay usually. One year, we even went to Volusia, Putnam County and East Bay. We had three weeks down here,” Walton said. Eventually, that dwindled down to one weekend in Florida, and then none. The big fall race became a tradition at Riverside International Speedway in West Memphis, Arkansas. This November, the USCS Fall Nationals there will be a race weekend to benefit recently injured sprint car driver Kevin Swindell. Walton hopes to have Sammy Swindell, Jason Sides and Danny Lasoski in that race.

    Will USCS return to Florida next year, and will there be more than two races at one track, as occurred this year? “We’re looking at some ideas to maybe do more in Florida next year. This track (Bubba Raceway Park), obviously. Yeah, it’d be multiple tracks. Probably do two days at each, for a couple of weekends. Maybe in the early season, and the late season. Sometime during Speedweeks,” Pete Walton said. All-Tech Raceway in Lake City was a possibility, and Walton did place one phone call to them. In recent years, when asked about the lack of Florida races on the national tour, Walton would respond that there weren’t tracks that seemed to be interested. That’s now changed. Bubba Clem has drawn the All Star Circuit of Champions, USAC, Lucas Oil ASCS and the USCS national tour to his track since the year began. That may have changed the attitude of other track promoters and track owners in Florida.

    One factor that’s sure to boost the chances of a return to Florida was the strong showing of Florida cars and drivers. Fourteen of the twenty four drivers on the sprint car entry list for Friday were from Florida. Florida drivers won the feature and two of the three heat races on Friday. Danny Martin Jr., by winning on Friday and dominating again on Saturday (until a feature race tire failure), showed the quality of the skill among the Florida contingent. The racing excitement level was somewhere between good and great, even with a Saturday feature that labored though eight yellow and red flag periods.

    Attendance could have been better, but none of the Florida tracks that hosted a national sprint car event after Daytona 500 weekend this year have been well-attended. With the national press standing up and noticing the late January race weekend that the Top Gun series had at East Bay Raceway Park this year, perhaps the last half of January is better suited for those national events. If Florida doesn’t take those January dates after the Chili Bowl weekend, then someone or somewhere else will do it, and Florida’s chance will be gone.

    “I think if you came back, it will grow. ‘Cause people seemed to be enjoying themselves after the first night, at least anyway,” Walton concluded. He even opened the door to the possibility of a 2016 schedule with two Florida swings, one at the beginning of the year, and another in the fall season. Welcome back to Florida, USCS. Y’all come around again soon, y’hear? The smells of grits, biscuits and gravy, and fried chicken cooking and sprint cars spewing methanol fumes should be a part of the South (and Florida). It just feels right.

     

     

    USCS Sprint Cars Mark Their Return to Florida at Bubba Raceway Park

    By Richard Golardi

    AJ Maddox was in his car, upside down. And he was angry about how he had gotten there, with the rear end of his car on the second turn wall at Bubba Raceway Park. His car flipped after contact with another racer in the first of two nights of USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour competition in Ocala. The series had returned to race in Florida after being away from the state for at least five years. That night, 14 of the 24 starters were from Florida. A Floridian, Danny Martin Jr., won the feature race. Two of the three heat races would go to a Floridian. Florida showed up and had a strong presence for the return of the United Sprint Car Series. Their return to Florida in future years seemed assured. USCS will likely return to Florida next year, and it could be a series of races at multiple tracks.

    Danny Martin Jr., USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour feature race winner, Bubba Raceway Park, Friday, October 16, 2015

    AJ Maddox was trying to lap a slower car around the outside of turn one. “It was just a gaggle of cars,” he said. “You’ve got about ten fast cars on the track, and about fifteen cars that are about three seconds off the pace.” Things went wrong with a slower car that did not hold his line in the turn when AJ was lapping him. The way he viewed it, AJ did not see the driver having his car under control at any time during the race. “I just passed Matt, and I was all over the 47 (Eric Riggins Jr.) for third there. I mean, the car was flying. I think we would have had something for Danny. I was trying to lap him (the slower car) around the outside. Obviously the outside’s the groove. There’s a nice cushion. He slid right up into me.”

    The actions that followed ended up with Maddox’s winged sprint car upside down, with the roll cage badly bent directly behind the driver’s head from the impact with the second turn concrete. “We hit side to side and just jumped wheels and it’s over from there,” he said. “These tires are like basketballs. As soon as you touch, they bounce and you’re going in whatever direction it shot you. The first bounce, I thought I might be able to get it stopped, and it dug in too hard. Once the frame digs in and the rest of the car comes off the ground, it’s done. You better just close your eyes and hang on.” Maddox was hanging on as the car flipped several times, heading in the direction of the outside wall. At first, he feared that the car would continue flipping and end up in the woods outside the track. Instead, it came down hard on the wall, causing enough damage to the frame that car owner Ray Bolin assumed that the frame was ready for the trash. Although the car had now come to a stop, Maddox’s troubles were not over yet.

    Shawn Murray strikes the fence and flips at Bubba Raceway Park during the USCS sprint car feature race on Sat night

    He was upside down and realized that fuel was leaking from the fuel tank, which was now above and behind his head. It was now beginning to pour over him, soaking his driver’s suit. He wanted to get out of there fast, so he unbuckled his safety belts to escape from the wrecked car. Being in an awkward position, with the wing crumpled down around the roll cage, he could not get out. All he could do was hope for help to arrive quickly, since a fire at this time would put him in extreme danger. “It’s like my greatest fear, sitting there upside down. My suit’s all soaked. Oil and fuel pouring out of it. That’s a really bad feeling. I wanted to get out of there really quick. I made the mistake of pulling my belts off before they flipped me over and I kind of got trapped in there.” Maddox let the safety crew know that he had been soaked with leaking fuel, and he was finally able to escape the wreck after it was flipped back over on its wheels. He escaped unscathed, except for a headache. He still had another task ahead for 2015 – to win the driver championship in the Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series. He is currently in second place in the points, and still had a backup car to race in the remaining races through December.

    On Saturday night, two young Floridians would celebrate their achievements, even though a Floridian would not win the feature race on Night 2. The win would go to Trey Starks, who had traveled from Washington to race in North Carolina car owner Jeff McCall’s car in fall season races in the South. He had won within the month in the Northwest, and was now ready to make his name known in the Southeast. Nicholas Snyder, from Marco Island, FL, would clinch the USCS national tour Rookie of the Year honor. The sixteen year old, in his first full year of dirt sprint car racing, had one feature win in USCS racing this year and was in third place in the points standings. Thirteen year old Tyler Clem from Ocala placed third in the Saturday night finale, holding off a late race charge by Danny Martin Jr. and getting his best ever finish in a national series feature race.

    The Friday night feature race was enjoyable mostly because of it being a display of Danny Martin Jr.’s driving skill. As he deftly handled slower traffic, darting left and right down the front straight, fans would marvel at how Martin would seem to always anticipate the slower traffic, and knew where to place his car to advance. On Saturday, things got wild and weird. An early race crash on the front straight by Floridian Shawn Murray, tearing the catch fence and flipping his car, was one of two early race red flag periods. There were multiple wrecks and spins, bringing the caution period total to six, along with two red flag race stoppages. One driver tangled with track safety workers as he ran toward another competitor’s car to fling his steering wheel at his intended target. Danny Martin Jr.’s late race charge, after a blown rear tire took him out of the lead with six laps remaining, saw him advance to fourth place at race end, behind Clem in third. Michael Miller was in second place behind Starks.

    Michael Miller was in the news this week, after merging his Southern Outlaw Sprints, which races winged sprint cars in the Deep South and Florida panhandle, with ASCS to form the ASCS Southern Outlaw Sprints. The series has been using ASCS rules in its three years of racing. It is unknown if the series will expand beyond the current territory into North or Central Florida. Pete Walton has confirmed that the USCS National tour does intend to return to Florida, and could race at multiple tracks in the early season (January or February), or again in the late season. With Morgan Turpen currently in first place in 2015 USCS national points, the series may also claim the distinction of being the first national winged sprint car series to have a female national champion. With the series finale in mid November, we’ll know that outcome in a few weeks.

     

     

     

    USCS Sprint Cars Return to Florida for First Time in Years

    By Richard Golardi

    The winged outlaw sprint cars of the United Sprint Car Series national tour return to Florida for the first time in several years with two races planned for Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala for Friday and Saturday night. Some of the Floridians that are likely to race, who also recently raced in the East Bay Winternationals, are Danny Martin Jr. (2-time USCS feature winner in 2015), Gene Lasker, Matt Kurtz and AJ Maddox. Thirteen year old Tyler Clem, son of track owner Bubba Clem, is entered. Recent Top Gun Sprint Series winner Garrett Green is also entered, racing in a national winged dirt series for the first time. He is joined by another young Floridian, 16 year old Nicholas Snyder, who is currently in third place in the national series points, and has one feature race win in his first year on the USCS national tour. He seems certain to be the Rookie of the Year in the USCS national series this year also.

    Danny Martin Jr., current Top Gun Sprint Series champion.

    The name in Florida that is most associated with USCS racing is Kenny Adams. Adams, who has not raced regularly since 2008, still holds the number one spot on the All-Time USCS National Tour win list. Adams did have a racing comeback earlier this summer, racing in the “Legends of Central Pennsylvania Sprint Car Racing Night” event at Lincoln Speedway in August. Adams, from Malabar, and known as the “Malabar Missile”, led the first 10 laps of the feature race, losing a sizeable lead over Todd Shaffer and the field when the competition yellow came out at the half-way point. He eventually finished second in his racing comeback. Adams was also the 2003 USCS Asphalt Thunder Tour champion and he was named the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Sprint Car Driver of the Year in 360 sprint cars in 2000.

    The USCS 600 Sprint Car Series, which races winged mini sprints, will race versus the FMSA winged mini sprints on both nights. The mini sprint showdown is sponsored by Todd's Tomatoes and pits the regionally touring USCS 600 winged mini sprints against their Florida counterparts from the Florida Mini Sprint Action series. Friday night's preliminary main event pays $500 to the winner. With the weekend’s racing dubbed the Florida State Sprint Car Championship, the Championship Final on Saturday night awards the Mini Sprint Champion with $1,000.

    Nicholas Snyder in his dirt sprint car, Dawn Snyder Photo.

    The USCS drivers entered include current national points leader Morgan Turpen from Tennessee, who is the highest ranked female sprint car driver in America. Her teammate and fellow Tennessean Terry Gray, an 11-time and defending USCS National Champion, is also entered. Gray is second in the national points standings currently. Eric Riggins, Jr. from Charlotte, North Carolina, who has five national series wins this year, is also expected to race in Ocala this weekend.

    Rookie points leader Nicholas Snyder from Marco Island, Florida, third in the national sprint car standings and fourth in the USCS Southern Thunder series points, had raced a sprint car in Florida previously. Returning to Florida racing after an almost one year absence, he had a previous micro sprint title in Florida in 2013. He started racing in Quarter Midget cars, racing under USAC sanctioning and was successful quickly. Moving up to a national sprint car series this year, Nicholas is fighting to keep his top three position in points to go along with the expected USCS Rookie of the Year title.

    Garrett Green, 2013 Little 500 Rookie of the Year, Anderson Speedway, IN.

    The USCS national series, dubbed the USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour, races on dirt tracks throughout the mid-South and Deep South states. They weigh 1,300 pounds, and are powered by 700 horsepower fuel-injected V-8 engines that burn methanol. The series had previously scheduled several Florida stops on their tour, but those Florida races were absent in recent years. Kenny Adams, Danny Martin Jr., and other dirt racers from Florida were regular participants. USCS past champion, Red Stauffer from Winter Park, Florida, was also a well-known Floridian who raced with the national tour.

    At one point in 2004, two teenagers from Florida chased Terry Gray and Kenny Adams in the USCS points race. The two racers were Danny Martin Jr., who was 18 years old and a recent high school graduate at the time, followed by then 16 year old RJ Johnson, who has been racing at Knoxville Raceway in recent years. Johnson has also competed with the World of Outlaws sprint cars in the fall, after the season at Knoxville concluded. Danny has won multiple sprint car racing titles in Florida. One reporter even dubbed them the Florida "Fountain of Youth Gang." Eleven years later, another small group of young Florida racers is again poised for recognition on the national dirt sprint car racing stage. “The New Florida Fountain of Youth Gang” takes to the stage on Friday in Ocala.

     

     

     

    The Frank Riddle Memorial Race Night

     By Richard Golardi

     

    ·         Troy DeCaire was driving the Dode Mercer owned #10 sprint car for the third race since August at Citrus County Speedway. This was a car driven previously by Matt Mercer. In his first two races, he posted finishes of fifth place in August and third place in September. On this night, which was the running of The Frank Riddle Memorial, a race which he won in 2008, Troy had an off-track excursion early in the race and came back through the field for a fifth place finish. He still races in winged sprint car races in Florida in Lenny Puglio’s #91 car, and won the most recent Florida winged sprint car race.

     Jason Kimball, Frank Riddle Memorial race winner, with Riddle family members, Citrus County Speedway, Saturday, October 3, 2015

     

    ·         Brian Gingras, driving his #1X sprint car, was entered in his first sprint car race since 2014, which was also at Citrus County Speedway in Inverness. He moved into the top three late in the feature race, and remained in third place as Jason Kimball and Dude Teate fought for the top position late in the race. These two drivers took over the top two spots after leader Mickey Kempgens drove over the rear tire of John Inman and was out of the race with crash damage after it looked like he was on his way to his first win in the memorial race. Teate pressured Kimball, who held on for his second straight win at Citrus County Speedway.

     

    ·         While waiting for his sprint car’s motor to be rebuilt, Jason Kimball sat out most of the 2015 racing season in Florida. His first race back in 2015 was at Inverness in August. He went into Saturday’s race night hoping to, “just get a good heat race, since that’s how they line us up. Just don’t get tired after 40 laps. The last two races in August and September were 30 laps.” Kimball was in the Winners Circle at nights end, the fifth different winner of The Frank Riddle Memorial in five races.

     

    Billy Riddle, right, and his brother, Bryan Riddle, left, with Frank Riddle's 1984 and 1985 Little 500 winning sprint car

    ·         The #11 blue and yellow sprint car brought to the track by the Riddle family was the same car that legendary sprint car driver Frank Riddle had driven to two wins in the Little 500, in 1984 and 1985. The Riddle family would split the driving duties between brothers Billy and Bryan Riddle, since the car was being raced in both the DAARA (Daytona Antique Auto Racing Association) vintage sprint car race and the track’s 40-lap non-wing sprint car race. Billy Riddle would drive first, winning both the DAARA heat race and feature race driving his grandfather’s car. He also was wearing the blue and yellow race suit worn by his grandfather in the 1993 Little 500, a race in which Frank Riddle crashed and caught fire, burning his hands and neck. The suit still had some visible discolorations caused by the fire, but was still intact and could be used for racing. Bryan Riddle drove the car in the non-wing race, but was out early. He joined the race’s other vintage sprint car in the infield, which was the #3x car driven by Chad Freeman.

     

    ·         Chad Freeman’s restored red #3x car was driven in Florida sprint car competition by Jimmy Riddle, brother of Frank Riddle. Jimmy had a win in the Little 500 as a car owner, with his son-in-law Jim Childers driving the car to win the classic race in 2000. Chad drove from Kentucky to bring his car to race in this special event, and also to display it at this weekend’s Golden Gate Speedway Reunion, which takes place in Tampa on Sunday. “I came 750 miles for the race,” according to Chad. After a spin in the DAARA feature race, he said it was the result of “power steering fluid on the track from the 11. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I have to work on the handling a bit.”

     

    Justin Appleby in the 14JR car at The Frank Riddle Memorial race

     

    ·         Three drivers were racing in their first or second ever sprint car race this night. Clayton Donaldson was driving his second race in the Mac Steele owned car named “The Green Hornet”. I learned that the car was named after Mac’s favorite radio program from his childhood. Clayton built the car and motor under Mac Steele's supervision at his race shop. "Mac is making him the complete racer. Building the car, motor, and driving," his father Todd Donaldson said. The rookie driver was one of two 16 year-old rookies in the race. The other was Justin Appleby, driving his first sprint car race in a car owned by his stepfather, Richie Corr. Richie told me that Justin has had practice laps in the car at Showtime Speedway, and previous racing experience in go karts. The #14JR car is a Hurricane chassis that was driven by Richie Corr previously. He will now have a Shaw chassis paired with a Gaerte motor that he will race as the #14 car.

     

    ·         The third rookie making his first sprint car start was John Inman, a 28 year-old racer who has run a dirt modified and also a pavement modified in Florida competition previously. In addition to being a new sprint car team owner, John just got married in August, and also has a baby on the way with wife Amanda. It was not his first race at Citrus County Speedway, as he has raced a modified at the track in the past. His new car is a Diablo that had never been run before race day on Saturday, not even for practice laps. The laps run this night in Inverness were his first ever in a sprint car. He does intend to race the car with a wing also, at both Desoto Speedway and Showtime Speedway.

     

    Rookie drivers John Inman, 59X, and Clayton Donaldson, 9, during hot laps at Citrus County Speedway

    ·         Troy Thompson’s crash last month at Desoto Speedway meant that he had to do some fast-paced repairs to have his #81 sprint car ready for non-wing racing just two weeks after the crash. The car’s frame was replaced in the nose section, in addition to steering parts, brakes and wheels. “I put the 81 sprint car in the wall passing a lapped car in the feature. Racing happens! Never giving up! We will fix it. Do better next race,” he promised. He did, bringing the car to the checkered flag for an eighth place finish. The #15 team car driven by Shane Butler did not do equally well, as it was forced out early with crash damage.

     

     

    The photo album from The Frank Riddle Memorial race night is here:

     

    https://www.facebook.com/richard.golardi/media_set?set=a.992187850843992.1073741880.100001583600988&type=3

     

    Videos from the DAARA and the Frank Riddle Memorial sprint car races at Citrus County Speedway will be on the Florida Open Wheel channel:

     

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

     

     

     

    Bob Long Memorial Race Winner Interview with Johnny Gilbertson

    By Richard Golardi

    Johnny Gilberston and son, Feature Race Winner, Bob Long Memorial, East Bay Raceway Park

    Q. Johnny, tell me how the feature race went tonight (Bob Long Memorial winged sprint car race at East Bay Raceway Park on Saturday, September 26, 2015, won by Johnny Gilbertson)?

    A. I actually thought we were in trouble the first couple of laps. I couldn’t gain on anybody. I think it was mostly just dirty air. Everybody was single file. When we got a caution, I could get underneath them and get some clean air and I could shoot underneath them on the restarts. I found a little moisture there in two and it worked out pretty good. I missed it every other restart, and then that one restart when I was running third I was able to get those guys. On the final restart, when I was running second, I thought I would just try to slide-job this guy, because it’s probably the only chance that I’m going to have. In dirty air, I was too tight and I couldn’t do anything. It worked out. I’m really surprised and very happy. I’d can’t thank everybody enough, including Steele Performance Parts, Boat Trailers Direct, Florida Hardwood Floor Supplies and Simpson Safety Equipment. Everybody, really.

    Q. When was your last feature race win, on either dirt or pavement?

    A. Man, I really don’t know. Two years ago I guess. (Johnny Gilbertson was the TBARA sprint car champion in 2011 and 2012.)

    Q. That long ago – two years ago? So you were due, or you could say overdue for a win.

    A. Yeah. Way overdue. I mean, I think we had a few of them where we really could have capitalized on it, but something silly would happen. You know, we’d get a tire going down or we’d blow a seal out of a shock. It was just silly stuff, and tonight we were able to put it all together.

    Q. That was a great run. Even the motor sounded like it was really producing horsepower. It sounded good. It sounded fast.

    A. Oh did it? Yeah, I might have been twisting it up a little bit too hard. But I really wanted to win this race and I knew I was starting so far in the back that I knew I had to push the issue a little bit tonight. We probably won’t turn it that hard the next time.

    Q. Well, I hope that you’ll be able to be back in the Winners Circle again soon.

    A. That’d be nice. I hope so. Thank you.

    The photo album from The Bob Long Memorial, East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, FL, Saturday, September 26, 2015 is here:

    https://www.facebook.com/richard.golardi/media_set?set=a.989476891115088.1073741879.100001583600988&type=3&pnref=story



     

     

    Troy DeCaire Takes Emotional Win at Desoto Speedway

    By Richard Golardi

    “They came in there at 1:30 (am) and told me it was time. By 1:45 she was gone, so I went right back and finished two more shocks and I was in bed by quarter to three,” Troy DeCaire said. “I was out in my little shock room working, and they asked me what I needed to do. I was like, I need to finish these shocks, because I’ve got to go race.” Troy’s mother, Sandi Phillips DeCaire, was a woman who was close to auto racing for most of her life, even serving as Miss Golden Gate Speedway (Tampa) in 1976. She later married well-known local late model racer Terry DeCaire. She had succumbed to cancer in the early morning hours of Saturday, September 19th. She was at the track for her son’s most recent race win, a winged sprint car race at Showtime Speedway on July 11th. That night, she stood in the Winner’s Circle with her son for one last time. Saturday was race day again, this time at Desoto Speedway. Troy was asked if he was still going to race at Desoto. He replied, “Hell yeah, I’m going racing.”

    Troy believed that his mother would have wanted him to race. “Not only that, today’s the first day that things are going to get better. Today’s the first day for the healing process. I could have run dead last today. It was just the process of being here. Not being at home and feeling sorry for ourselves. I was just trying to set the tone for my family. Look man, I know it happened today. I want people to see that I’ve got the same last name and she taught me business as usual. That was her thing. She was like, ‘just keep going Troy. You’ve got to keep going.’ It’s just how she was. When she told me she was diagnosed, I said do you want me to fly home? I’m like Forrest Gump. Momma’s sick, I’m jumping off the boat. She said, ‘no, don’t come home. You’re not a damn doctor. Keep doing what you’re doing. That will make me happy.’ That’s what I did, and tonight really worked out for me.”

    Top two cars of Kempgens and DeCaire stopped on track during feature race red flag period.

    “She was a low-key lady,” Troy said, when asked about his mother. “At the track, everybody would ask for her name. She’d always just say that she was Troy’s Mom. She was selfless. She was just that kind of person.” Looking at his personal pages on social media websites, Troy saw almost 500 comments and over 1,000 likes by Saturday night and felt overwhelmed by the support and outpouring of love. “I know I ain’t that cool. It was people that she touched everywhere. Up in North Florida they had a go kart race in Jasper, where my nephew was running. They lowered the flag and had a moment of silence for her. My nephew TJ raced there. He had a good night.”

    Troy also had a message to all those who had expressed their love and support through personal messages and social media. “I really do appreciate everything. Even though I can’t get to everybody and I can’t say everything that I want to everybody. I know everybody wants a one-on one.” Troy was amazed at the number of messages coming from those at the go kart event, and the numbers that came to Desoto Speedway that night, sensing that it would be a special night.


    Troy’s next task was now set before him, and it was to occur mere hours after his mother had passed. It was to prepare for race day, head to the track, and then win. The second heat race at Desoto Speedway included Troy’s #91 car owned by Lenny Puglio. This team was challenged by another two cars that would make up the fastest trio of cars that night. Those cars were the #5 car driven by Mickey Kempgens, and the #15 orange and green Troy Thompson owned entry driven by Shane Butler. That latter duo will be making their USAC Silver Crown Series debut next year, with Butler driving. Thompson had purchased a Beast pavement Silver Crown car to go along with the Hurricane dirt Silver Crown car acquired earlier. The heat race saw DeCaire make his usual high-side pass, this time passing Kempgens in the second turn. DeCaire trailed Butler to the finish line to take second in his heat race.

    On the first lap of the 30-lap feature race, Troy and Mickey Kempgens quickly moved to the front. It was evident that the battle for the win would be between these two experienced racers. Trailing the duo was Shane Butler. All three had multiple sprint car championships on their resumes. Kempgens had a stellar performance in this year’s Little 500, leading many laps, and Butler had won his third TBARA championship last year at Desoto Speedway. Neither would allow another driver to take an easy win. It would be an intense fight all the way to the checkered flag.

    Troy DeCaire, center; car owner Lenny Puglio, left; and crew chief Todd Schmidt, right; Desoto Speedway, September 19, 2015.

    Troy watched Kempgens from his second place position early in the feature race and could tell that Kempgens was a little loose. Troy was content to just keep at the same pace in the early laps, about two car lengths back. Lapped traffic was getting “a little hairy, but not so bad” early. “Then I crept up on him and I was just kind of waiting when all of a sudden I was about four car lengths back when I saw the time for the first pass. I don’t know if he had to jump off the gas, or what. But it worked out and so I got the lead.” It didn’t last long, as Kempgens regained the lead later that same lap in the middle of heavy traffic. Going three wide into the third turn, Troy said that “Mickey was trying to redeem himself so he hit the flat down in three and slid up into us.” That pass involved the two racers bumping each other side-to-side in the fourth turn. Later, during a red flag period caused by Troy Thompson’s hard crash in turn one, which also caused wing damage to Carlie Yent’s car, Troy and Mickey stopped next to each other on track.

    Were any words exchanged between the two while stopped during the red flag? “I just said, hey man, it’s coming. He told me that he was pushing, but I’ve never seen a car that was sliding sideways and was pushing.” Troy did add that Mickey was, “one of my good buddies.” It was also during this time that he realized there was a problem with the car. The wing slider was broken. If he could find a way to jam the broken part into place to stabilize it, the problem could be solved. If not, the wing would be pushed all the way forward, it could not be adjusted, and the car would handle poorly for the remainder of the race. The attempt to make a temporary fix from the driver’s seat failed. He would have to deal with a poor handling car and having the broken part banging against the side of his helmet for the remaining twelve laps.

    With two laps to go, Kempgens was slowed by lapped cars, and Troy saw his opportunity to pounce. He had noticed that the leader was also dealing with a loose race car. “I was about ten or fifteen feet behind him,” according to Troy. “It was the only chance I had, so I just threw it in there the best that I could.” It worked, and he made the pass for the lead just before the two to go signal. “Even all those cars in front of us, it seemed like it just kind of opened up for me those last two laps.” He kept the lead for the remaining two laps to take the most emotional win of his racing career.

    Then he drove a victory lap in reverse around the track. “Then I hit the Polish victory lap for my Mom there. It felt right.” It was not planned. He decided to do it at that moment, as a dedication to his Mom. Friends and fans that he had not seen in a while came to the race that night, including some that were not ardent race fans. They had sensed it would be a special night. They poured out onto the front straight to enjoy the moment and to greet Troy. “It turned out to be pretty damn special, you know? Special night. Special ending.” With instructions from his car owner to pick up their winnings, Troy walked off into the night, with one last interview to complete before he could absorb all that had happened and then rest.

     

     

     

    Garrett Green Interview – How I Did It

     By Richard Golardi

     It’s a question that Garrett Green, who races a winged dirt sprint car in Florida, has fielded many times since his two straight wins in Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint car competition. How did he get so good in his first full year of dirt sprint car competition? The seventeen year old racer from Valrico, FL had mainly been known for his exploits in pavement sprint car racing, with several wins in Florida competition to go with his 2013 Little 500 Rookie of the Year award. That accomplishment came against one of the strongest ever fields of Little 500 rookies, which included Bryan Clauson and Bobby East. At the time, he was 14 years old with less than one year of sprint car experience. Now racing on dirt full-time, how did he manage to find success again so quickly? How did he do it?

     

     Garrett Green in the 28 sprint car

    “Racing’s one of those things, you know. It’s all where you start and the guys getting it set up right in the pits and the homework in the shop and all that,” Garrett replied. He credited Brian Maddox and car owner Hardy Maddox and fellow dirt racer AJ Maddox with helping him to get to this point. Garrett’s teammate in the #82 Hardy Maddox owned sprint car is Matt Kurtz. “I’m thankful for what I’ve done so far. I can’t thank those guys enough. Honestly, luck happened to work our way for two weekends in a row,” he added. His two wins in the past two Top Gun races came at Bubba Raceway Park on August 28th and at Hendry County Motorsports Park on September 5th.

     

     

    In that Hendry County race, a feature race battle between veteran racer Gene Lasker and himself was one of the highlights. “Gene was real fast and he got by me. I took a deep breath and kept my composure and just looked for another way to get back around him. I tried to do it as soon as possible and get around the top side. The car luckily stuck and I took the chance of going out there up on the high side off of four. It just happened to work that time. The car was right on the money,” according to Garrett.

     Garrett Green in the 28 car at Volusia Speedway Park

     Two years ago I wrote, “The maturity and poise that he demonstrated at the Little 500 in May, when he had a top ten finish and earned the Rookie of the Year award, will serve him well.” One of the challenges ahead in the fall and winter will be competing against drivers in two national dirt sprint car series when they return to competition in Florida. The first will be the USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour at Bubba Raceway Park on October 16-17. This will be the first Florida race for the USCS tour in several years. Next will be the anticipated return of the Lucas Oil ASCS sprint cars in February 2016 at the East Bay Winternationals. The Florida drivers had an impressive showing at that event this year, and Garrett hopes to be one of the Florida drivers gaining recognition on the national stage next year.

     

     

    In the near future, he may have a seat in this weekend’s winged sprint car race at Desoto Speedway. This race is receiving heightened anticipation after numerous Florida summer races were rained out. A larger field of cars in expected because of the long hiatus for winged racing in Florida. Next for Garrett Green will be the East Bay Sprints (East Bay Raceway Park) racing in The Bob Long Memorial race on September 26th. He anticipates racing in the remaining six Top Gun Series races this year too.

     

     

    Since he now has two Top Gun Series race wins in a row, how many more can he win? “I’m going to try my best. One thing I’ve learned in racing is that you can go from hero to zero and zero to hero real quick. You know, it’s great to win two in a row. It’s great to win one, let alone two. I’m just going to take it race by race and see what happens.” Green had disappointment this year along with his victories. In February, after crossing the finish line first in the Saturday night Icebreaker non-wing sprint car race at Desoto Speedway driving the Lee Cipray #7 entry, the car was disqualified at the tech shed and the feature race win was gone. I never was able to get a statement from the track regarding the reason for the DQ. Chaos and fights broke out in the pits. Perhaps it was a night that the parties involved wished to forget. Except for Dave Steele. He was the race winner.

     

     

    “Everybody asks me which one I like better, pavement or dirt? I’m more drawn to dirt because I’m not very good at dirt (laughing). I’m better at pavement than I am at dirt. I’m not doing the best that I think I can do,” he explained. “I want to keep doing it until I get better.” His first dirt sprint car race was a year and a half ago, and he has concentrated on dirt since early this year. But he’s definitely not done with pavement. His father Gary Green, who serves as his mentor and team owner of Team Green Racing, has discussed with him the possibility of returning for another run at the Little 500 in 2016. For him and his father, the Little 500 still has a special place in their racing memories, and they do want to return to race again. He was at the Little 500 this year, but it was to serve as the left rear tire changer for second place finisher Dave Steele.

     

     

    Father and son were both feeling a certain sense of disbelief after multiple race wins on dirt. “When we won our first pavement race, he told me, ‘it doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel like it happened.’ I said I know. It feels like we got second or third. It’s finally happened though, and we’re excited, but we’re not. We’re in shock.” The same set of emotions came flooding back for them with their first wins on dirt. 

     

     

    For the future, dirt is the thing. That includes another full season in the Top Gun Series next year. “I’m going to focus on dirt. A hundred and fifty per cent. I want to go run as many races as I can. See what we get out of it.” Based on his past accomplishments, he may be getting a lot. A lot of success, that is.

     

     

    The Hendry County Motorsports Park Top Gun Series feature race video, from the Florida Racing Connection channel, is here:

     

     

     https://youtu.be/trJl3XsdW-s?t=5m

     

     

     

     

     

    Southern Sprint Car Series Has Tentative 2016 Start Date, Indy Short Oval Still a Go

    By Richard Golardi

    Davey Hamilton’s lunch meeting at a restaurant on Main Street in Speedway, Indiana on Tuesday with Doug Boles and Mark Miles covered a range of topics, including one that I had reported on previously. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway management team and Hamilton discussed the subject of using a temporary infield short oval at the speedway for winged sprint car racing with Hamilton’s King of the Wing sprint car series. The 3/8 mile flat oval would use a portion of the current road course near turn four of the big oval. A wide sweeping turn in the road course is located there. The new short oval would not make its debut during the month of May with the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Instead, it may likely see its first race in June 2016, as part of the Midwest race weekend with the national King of the Wing Series.

    Davey Hamilton prefers this June race date, since the sprint car teams that participate in the national King of the Wing series will be in the area for the Midwest race weekend, previously three races in late June. All these teams, including some from California and the Northwest, will now also get to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway short oval. The status of this short oval was unknown for a short time after Hamilton left the USAC management position he held from March to June this year. But he has assured me that the planning for this 2016 race is still moving forward. The history making sprint car race will see the return of larger front engined open wheel race cars at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time since the last front engined Indy 500 car started in the 1960s.

    With the TBARA on hiatus, and without a sanctioned race since 2014, Davey Hamilton appears to have the scenario in Florida that he had been waiting for since January. Hamilton had previously said that he did not want to directly compete with the TBARA in Florida by scheduling winged sprint car racing in the state if the TBARA was active. At a January 2015 meeting in Gibsonton, he declared that he did want to move forward with the King of the Wing regional series for Florida and the Southeast, later named the Southern Sprint Car Series. A winter series was identified as the most desirable time period, a desire further reinforced by the number of Florida race dates rained out this summer. With a November to late March race season, the Southeast regional series will race during the dry season in Florida, and during a time when the population swells with temporary winter residents.


    With Davey Hamilton preparing for the final 2015 King of the Wing race weekend in California in late November, there will not be enough time to set up a Southeast winter series this year. The tentative plan will be to begin racing in November 2016. This will still be during the three year period of transition which allows 360 motors to race along with restricted 410 motors (2015 to 2017). Hamilton stated that he will be flexible with this three-year rule, to allow the maximum number of Florida teams to participate with the sizable out-of-town contingent expected for a King of the Wing winter series. The series may have two races per month, beginning in November and continuing through March or April. It would include the traditional Pensacola and Mobile race weekend, which has been held in March or April in recent years. This weekend may be moved back to March, to allow those teams that brought a car to Florida for the winter to return home in time for their regular race season to begin.

    Hamilton did mention a recent discussion with Dave Steele in addition to the meeting with Doug Boles, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway President, and Mark Miles, the Hulman & Company CEO. This was the first time that I had spoken to Davey Hamilton since late June, during the King of the Wing Midwest race weekend. That race weekend is poised to get a great deal more attention next year with the likely addition of a race at the new infield short oval at the Indy Motor Speedway. Hamilton did not mention if this would result in one of the three Midwest tracks on this year’s King of the Wing schedule being left off the 2016 schedule.

    Hamilton was also aware that he had opened himself to criticism for putting Aaron Pierce in his yellow #1 sprint car for the Northwest King of the Wing race weekend in late July and early August, as this allowed Pierce to earn first place in points for the Northwest race weekend. It also allowed him to retain first place in points for the national King of the Wing ranking. There are three national races remaining on the 2015 King of the Wing schedule. They are in California from November 20 to 22. The Sam Pierce Chevrolet race team does intend to haul their car and team out to California for Aaron Pierce to race that weekend, as they did last year.

    Hamilton was pleased with the performance of those cars that raced with 360 motors during the most recent race weekend in the Northwest. That weekend also included a race at his family’s home track, Meridian Speedway in Idaho. He also expressed some surprise at the rumored price tags on some recent 360 motor purchases by several pavement sprint car teams, with some price tags over $40,000. Another team active in King of the Wing had lost a 360 motor, and decided to purchase a 410 motor to use in future King of the Wing racing. Hamilton is still committed to seeing the series use only 410 motors in future competition after the transition period.

     

     

     

    Rainy Days and Thursdays in Florida

    By Richard Golardi

    Florida is the place to go for year-round open wheel racing. Except not during the summer of 2015. Most of the sprint car racing scheduled for this summer has been rained out. This includes both dirt and pavement sprint car racing. The Eagle Jet Top Gun Sprint Series astutely only scheduled three races between August 1 and October 1 this year. Two races are before Labor Day weekend (8/28 at Bubba Raceway Park, 8/29 at Volusia Speedway Park), and the other race is just two days prior to the Monday holiday (9/5 at Hendry County Motorsports Park). Floridians are hoping for dryer weather this weekend, with the Bob Long Memorial planned at East Bay Raceway Park for East Bay Sprints, and non-wing pavement teams returning to Citrus County Speedway.

    SCCA racer Don Boughan at the start of the F2000 race at Daytona Speedway

    Daytona Rising Construction at Daytona International Speedway

    East Bay Raceway is even trying Thursday night racing this week. This is done to try to make up some of the lost racing since the deluge of rain began in July. By early August, the heavy rains seemed to have subsided, with Tampa having a total of about 12 inches of rain in July and one spot north of Tampa getting over 20 inches, all without a hurricane. As if that’s not bad enough, the area of Central Florida from Tampa to Orlando is known as “The Lightning Capital of the US.” But wait … there’s more. The height of Florida’s hurricane season is typically late August and September – the next 5 or 6 weeks. That certainly makes a Florida Winter Series seem very desirable.

    There is no new winter racing series on the horizon for Florida, as the TBARA and the Southern Sprint Car Series seem to have both gone into a state of hibernation. Hopes were high back in January, culminating with Davey Hamilton’s mid-January meeting in Gibsonton with Florida pavement race teams. Hamilton has since turned his attention to his national sprint car series, the King of the Wing series, which has completed three of its four weekends of racing. Another activity in Central Florida has drawn attention during this time when the short race tracks have virtually been shut down. That activity is sports facility construction.

    The biggest project with the highest price tag has been the Daytona Rising Project at Daytona International Speedway, weighing in at $400 million. This is followed by the $155 million newly redesigned soccer stadium in Orlando for the Orlando City team. The 25,500 seat privately financed stadium is planned for a September 2016 completion. Soccer has exploded in popularity in the Orlando area, mostly due to enthusiastic young fans. "Orlando will soon be the soccer capital of America", or so the Orlando Sentinel's theory states. The original design had 19,500 seats, and was later expanded to add another 6,000 seats. They are not adding seats at Daytona. In fact, they are downsizing. When the project is complete in time for Speedweeks in February 2016, the total number of seats at the “World Center of Racing” will go from 147,000 to 101,000, and the backstretch stands will be gone. There will be redesigned fan entrances, dubbed “Injectors”, wider seats, and more restrooms and concession stands, taking cues from many baseball park redesigns.

    There is a major open wheel racing event coming to Central Florida and Daytona Speedway well before the planned 2016 Daytona Rising completion. It’s the SCCA National Championship Runoffs, the year-ending championship races for Sports Car Club of America racers, scheduled for September 21-27. SCCA divisional champions and other teams are invited to compete for national championships in each class. The SCCA nationals are being held at Daytona for the first time since 1969. Open wheel racers include the Formula Atlantic, Formula Ford, Formula Mazda, Formula Vee classes and others. I got to witness a recent SCCA Central Florida regional event at Daytona earlier this month. Some of the top teams raced during this weekend, to prepare for the upcoming nationals in September.

    Even though the last major open wheel racing event at Daytona International Speedway was in 1959, when the USAC National Champ Car Series ran its last Daytona race, there has been open wheel racing going on in the intervening decades. The open wheel racers have been the little guys, not the big name racers from IndyCar or NASCAR. One of them is Don Boughan, an owner/driver who races his Area 51 Motorsports F2000 open wheel car in SCCA races at Daytona, Sebring and also Homestead-Miami Speedway. He told of a recent race at Daytona when he started in 28th place, and then proceeded to pass every car that started in front of him to win the race. His exploits on Central and South Florida road courses give credence to the age-old axiom that the best racing isn’t in the big national series at the big tracks. It’s at the small ovals and road courses spread out throughout the country.

    The feature race video from the Florida Open Wheel channel is here (Daytona Speedway SCCA F2000 Race, 8-8-2015):

    https://youtu.be/VSDNuZJPaYc

    Photo Album - "Daytona Rising Construction Progress, August 2015":

    https://goo.gl/photos/uf2388ZYX83XCeMF7

     

     


    E-mail  Richard Golardi quickterm@yahoo.com


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