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    Florida Open Wheel

    By Richard Golardi

    2023 Florida Sprint Car Racing Season Concludes

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    November 27, 2023

    The two Florida sprint car racing series, the BG Products Southern Sprint Car Series, which races on pavement, and the Top Gun Sprint Series, a dirt-only series, both conclude their seasons over the next two weekends. The Southern Sprint Cars conclude their year at their final 2023 race at Auburndale Speedway in Auburndale on Saturday, December 2. Top Gun finishes up the slate of 2023 races the following weekend at East Bay Raceway Park on Saturday, December 9 with the Don Rehm Classic (previously announced as a non-wing race, now a winged race). This may be their final December race at East Bay, with the track rumored to be closing permanently after the final race in November 2024 with the Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series.

    Don Rehm, founder of the Top Gun Sprint Series

    2024 will be a climactic year of change for the Top Gun Series, with a changeover to using ASCS/USCS 360 c.i. engines and abandoning the long-term use of limited 360 c.i. engines. They will also be ending one of their most important partnerships, the one they have maintained with East Bay Raceway Park since the inaugural Top Gun season in 2009. It is assumed they will race at the Gibsonton third-mile track next year for the track’s final season (the track’s planned sale is finalized after the 2024 race season, with the new owners already having confirmed they have no interest in operating a race track). Additionally, one of Florida’s most iconic racing families, the Racing Reutimanns, are anticipated to be present in the pits at Top Gun Sprint Series races in 2024. As reported previously, PJ Reutimann, grandson of Florida racing legend Wayne Reutimann, is preparing to enter Florida dirt sprint car racing in 2024, with racing in two series, both Top Gun Sprints and the USCS national sprint car tour, included in their plans.

    The Southern Sprint Car Series will lose a small number of race teams due to a new pavement sprint car event on Saturday in Las Vegas, but will still have some top teams competing for the 2023 point championship in attendance. The No. 5 sprint car, driven by Daniel Miller, may have an insurmountable point lead for two reasons. First, he and car owner Doug Kenny and his PCS Racing team have a 96-point lead in the driver points (eight top-five finishes) over the driver in second place, the No. 93 car driven by Dude Teate.Second, the No. 93 car will apparently not be entered and is not shown in the most recent entry list. In addition, although the season’s leading race winner, Davey Hamilton Jr. (four wins), will not be present, the following 2023 winners are entered: Steven Hollinger (two wins), Scotty Adema, Bo Hartley, and Colton Bettis (each with one win).

    Danny Martin Jr. at Bubba Raceway Park, 2014

    The Top Gun Sprint Series season point chase will be decided by the two top 2023 point-getters, Danny Jones and Dustin Burtron. Jones leads Burtron by a 48-point margin, 2,112 points to 2,064 points. The point champion will be crowned on December 9, and the driver garnering the most wins may also be determined on that same date. As of today, both Steve Diamond Jr. and Danny Martin Jr. have three feature wins in 2023. No other driver has more than two wins. Danny Martin Jr. has a distinct advantage in taking the title of the winningest driver of the year in that all three of his wins have taken place at the track holding the December 9 race, East Bay Raceway Park.

     

     

     

    Florida’s Open Wheel Racers and the Florida Governor’s Cup Race

    Story by Richard Golardi

    November 7, 2023

    Wayne Reutimann, left, and Bobby Allison at Golden Gate Speedway, 1965 Governor's Cup late model race.

    The current trend in Florida short-track racing in which drivers specialize in sprint car racing only, or maybe just pavement late model racing, was not always followed by the state’s short-track drivers. Wayne Reutimann, who made a habit of racing in three classes during the early years of racing at Tampa’s Golden Gate Speedway and built his late model driving skills at the track, was a two-time winner (1965 and ’73) of the premier late model race there, the Florida Governor’s Cup.

    Other multi-class drivers, considered experts in both sprint cars and late models, made a years-long effort to join Wayne as a Florida Governor’s Cup winner. This group included Jim Alvis Sr., Dave Scarborough, and Jim Childers. Although they racked up wins in other “Florida Triple Crown Series” late model races (Dave Scarborough won the 1982 Gulf Coast Classic at Sunshine Speedway, and Jim Childers won the Desoto 200 at Desoto Speedway in 1981), none of these three multi-class aces ever won the Florida Governor’s Cup. Jim Alvis Sr. may have come the closest to winning, dropping out near the end of the 1970 race after leading and dominating. But when his car’s rear end broke, it took him out of what looked like a sure win that year. It was theclosest he came to winning.

    Here's a look back at the 1965 Governor’s Cup race won by Wayne Reutimann, which I have ranked as the most exciting Governor’s Cup in the race’s history, and also the second and third most exciting races since the inception of the event in 1965:

    Top Three Most Exciting Florida Governor’s Cup Races Since 1965

    1) 1965 Governor’s Cup, Golden Gate Speedway, Sunday, November 14, 1965

    November 14, 1965, was race day at Golden Gate Speedway. The one-third-mile asphalt track was host to the first 200-lap Governor’s Cup, the Florida State Late Model Stock Car Championship. Bobby Allison, already a two-time NASCAR modified division champion, was bringing his number 312 Chevy late model. Allison started 26th and methodically worked his way through slower cars in order to catch leader Wayne Reutimann. After Wayne took the lead on the 23rd lap and Bobby caught up to the Reutimann Chevrolet number 00jr,the two drivers were locked in a two-car duel that lasted more than 150 laps. For many of those laps, the two cars frequently raced side-by-side, with Bobby on the outside lane and Wayne on the inside.Bobby was playing a waiting game, later explaining that he was waiting for Wayne to make a mistake. That never happened. Coming out of the fourth turn on the last lap, Allison made a final effort to pass when he saw Wayne’s car slide a little, and he got inside Wayne. The two cars made theirlast dash to the checkered flag almost even. The two best drivers in the field were going all-out to the finish, side-by-side.Wayne beat Bobby Allison to the line and won by less than a car length in a race considered by many fans and media as the mostexciting Governor’s Cup race finish. The two drivers had countless wins and hall-of-fame race-driving careers over the next few decades.

    2) 1977 Governor’s Cup, Golden Gate Speedway, Sunday, November 6, 1977

    Events from the prior year’s race, the 1976 Governor’s Cup race, reverberated the following year. In ’76, the cars of Mark Malcuit and Robert Hamke collided on the front straight, sending Hamke’s car up and over Malcuit’s car.An instant later, Hamke’s car sliced through the front straight catch fence like a giant chainsaw.The number 74Chevrolet Nova was thrown back onto the track. The fence held (fortunately, no fans were injured) and the right front tire and suspension from Hamke’s shattered car were torn off. Hamke was uninjured and starter Johnny Hicks had cuts and bruises. Hamke was determined to return and win.

    Robert Hamke returned to the Governor’s Cup race in 1977, again with the same car wrecked in the race in ’76. During morning practice, the car’s brakes failed and itleft the track in the third turn, landing in the sand dune about 75 feet away. Hamke’s team made some hurried repairs to the car, finishing just in time to allow him to make the start. After a thrilling 110-lap battle for the race lead with Ed Howe, who was trying for his fourth straight win in the race, Hamke drove the home-built Chevy Nova, with its cracked oil pan leaking all the while, to the win.The crowd gave him a standing ovation, as they had a new driver to add to the elite few that they cheered for. Some called it the biggest upset in the history of the Governor’s Cup race.

    3) 1989 Governor’s Cup, New Smyrna Speedway, Saturday, November 4, 1989

    The prior year’s race, the ’88 Governor’s Cup race, was memorable for two main reasons. It marked the first time that the Governor’s Cup was held at New Smyrna Speedway and it was won by a driver who had been trying to win the race for 17 years, Dick Anderson. Dick’s best prior race performance was in 1978, when he held onto second place behind a charging Dick Trickle, a late model legend who was so dominant that day that no one else seemed to have a chance.Anderson was beginning to feel like he had a jinx in this race before getting the win in ’88. He had won just about every other premier late model race in the state, and his son, Wayne, was also in the race, taking ninth.

    1989: Dick Anderson used to travel all over the country, chasing wins in the big late model races, but no more. It cost too much. He was cutting way back on the out-of-state races to concentrate on Florida. Winning the ’89 Governor’s Cup race was now a higher priority for him. After about half the starters in the 42-car field dropped out, LeRoy Porter and Dick Anderson were left to battle it out to the finish. Porter was fortunate to still be in the race after a big crash earlier in the day in hot laps. Porter spent much of the second half of the race trying to get around Anderson and take the lead.In the last five laps, he threw everything he had at the leading late model of Dick Anderson. Fans in the packed stands rose to their feet as one, sensing that Anderson was just hanging on and was about to be passed. But that pass didn’t happen and Dick had his second Governor’s Cup win. His son, Wayne, also became a multi-time race winner (1999, ’03, and ’08). That made the Anderson family the leading Governor’s Cup race-winning family with five career wins.

    NOTE: The 58th Annual Florida Governor’s Cup late model race will be held this Sunday, November 12 at New Smyrna Speedway. Some of the favorites to win as of today include a NASCAR Cup Series driver, William Byron; a 2024 NASCAR Xfinity Series driver, Jesse Love (just signed to drive for Richard Childress Racing); and a Florida driver who has had great success recently in Midwest races, but is still striving to get his first Governor’s Cup race win, Stephen Nasse. There is an entrant who is descendedfrom a Florida sprint car and stock car racing legend – that is Bryton Horner, who is the great-grandson of Frank Riddle.

     

     

    Reutimann Racing Team Confirms Their New Sprint Car Driver

    Story by Richard Golardi

    October 31, 2023

    PJ Reutimann after a 2023 mini-sprint win

    The Reutimann Racing Team, an iconic family team based in Zephyrhills, Florida, has a history of producing sprint car champions. The father and son duo of Wayne Reutimann and his son, Wayne Jr., have both won sprint car championships during their time driving sprint cars (other than Wayne Sr.’s 1988 TBARA championship, they were won racing on paved tracks). Wayne’s father, Emil, was a champion in both modified and stock car racing. Champions all, going back three generations. I have just confirmed that a member of the fourth generation of the Reutimann racing dynasty is preparing to enter sprint car racing in 2024.

    In a discussion earlier today, Wayne Reutimann Sr. confirmed that his 14-year-old grandson, PJ Reutimann of Zephyrhills, will be moving up to dirt sprint car racing in 2024. PJ’s car owner will be Wayne “Pook” Reutimann Jr., his father. Wayne Sr. will act as his grandson’s mentor, team adviser, and driving coach, as he has done this year and last year when PJ raced a mini-sprint, and a micro-sprint before that. PJ, who is a freshman at Zephyrhills High School,got mini-sprint feature wins in Florida at Jacksonville International Raceway and Hendry County Motorsports Park. Those days of driving a mini-sprint as his main class of racing are now over for PJ. His father believes that now is the time for him to move up to 360-cubic-inch dirt sprint car racing in Florida and other select Southern states.

    Wayne told me that there were several reasons for this decision to move up to sprint car racing in 2024. First, Wayne Jr. felt that the time was right. The local Florida dirt sprint car series, the Top Gun Series, has made a rule change to allow USCS/ASCS 360-cubic-inch engines next year (they weren’t allowed before 2024). That will allow the Reutimann team to purchase and use the same engine in both Top Gun Series racing (Florida) and the USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour (dirt 360 racing in Florida and other deep South and mid-South tracks). When ready, they intend to race in both series. The USCS dirt sprint car series has already announced a series of Floridaraces beginning in January 2024. Second, the amount of mini-sprint racing in Florida seems to be on a downward slope. At Jacksonville International Raceway, a track that seemed committed to having regular mini-sprint racing, there may beno further races. East Bay Raceway Park will close in about a year. Other tracks seem to be less committed or unwilling to host regular mini-sprint racing. Thirdly, PJ’s skill level has advanced sufficiently that his father feels he is ready for sprint car racing now.

    There are still a few steps that will have to be completed before there is a Reutimann Racing Team sprint car ready for PJ. The team’s mini-sprint has been advertised for sale (currently listed on Facebook on Wayne Reutimann Jr.’s page). They don’t intend to race it again. The next step will be to purchase a dirt sprint car and 360 c.i. engine and get both ready for 2024 competition. A race shop owned by Wayne Jr. in Zephyrhills will be used to build the car and for their base of operations. Then the driver needs to be made ready. PJ has not yet gotten any practice laps in a sprint car. They intend to get practice on dirt first, with the intention to race only on dirt. Wayne told me that he believes his grandson will be ready for asphalt sprint car racing later, and that it will be to his advantage to get experience in a sprint car on both racing surfaces (as it was for the two previous generations of Reutimanns).

    Wayne Sr. also mentioned his assessment that dirt sprint car racing will offer something that PJ didn’t get to experience much in Florida mini-sprint racing, and that was running different grooves on a dirt track. He wants his grandson to learn and improve his skill at knowing when to make the move from the bottom groove and when to sense that the top or middle groove will be faster and that the dirt up top has the best grip. The tracks in Florida don’t have enough banking to allow a driver to learn these skills, Wayne said. PJ did get an opportunity to race a mini-sprint in Pennsylvania this summerat a track that had multiple grooves and drivers who were ready to use all of them. PJ got to learn when to use the top groove and how to drive it. Another all-important portion of the learning curve was: going too far out there, slammingand then going over the cushion, and meeting the wall, up close. All part of learning the business of dirt racing.

    Due to the need to purchase a car and engine and get PJ prepared to compete in dirt sprint cars, the team has not set a date for their first race and they have not set a goal to be ready by a certain date, other than the intention to begin 360 dirt sprint car racing in 2024. I asked Wayne Sr., “Do you think PJ will be a future sprint car champion, just like his father and grandfather?” With three prior generations of racing champions in the family and championships earned on dirt and pavement in multiple classes of cars, Wayne Sr. did not hesitate in his answer.

    “Yes, I think so” he replied confidently.

     

     

     

     

    The Night Will Cagle Retired, and the Next 37 Years of Racing

    Story and photos by Richard Golardi

    September 21, 2023

    What a way to go out. In his last race, the legend won, and then he retired.

    “A legend retired Saturday night,” the reporter wrote. That was June 21, 1986, at Weedsport Speedway, New York.

    A storybook career, with tens of thousands of laps and hundreds and hundreds of winner’s circle celebrations, was over. A reporter had said it was so. Will said it, too, right in the winner’s circle.

    But the legend wasn’t just a race driver, he was far more. Will Cagle retired as the most dominating big-block modified race driver of all time.

    Then he did what you’d expect him to do. He un-retired. The thrill of speed was just too enticing for him to stay away. There were more tracks and more race car types to conquer. So, he would undo that retirement decision and slam-dunk it into the trash can labeled “Life Decisions in Need of Revision.”

    Will Cagle at home in Tampa, Florida, July 2023, Richard Golardi Photo

    Will Cagle won an astounding 1,000 + feature races in a race-driving career that began in the early ’50s and which for all purposes was over by the summer of ’85 when the driveshaft in his dirt modified broke (at Weedsport Speedway) and tore into his leg, turning it into a twisted and broken mess. He was in the hospital for 33 days, caused when “the driveshaft went right through my leg.” The following spring, he was racing in Tampa and was leading the 1986 late model class points at the Florida State FairgroundsSpeedway when he left in late April for the annual trip up north. He headed back to the Northeast tracks.A couple of months later, he’d put a halt to driving full-time. He hadn’t been winning in the Northeast. Not like before. That’s when the decision to retire was made.

    He didn’t completely retire from driving. Instead, he would be a part-time race driver. Now hewas the general manager at the same track just north of the New York/New Jersey border at which he had so much success as a driver, Middletown’s Orange County Fair Speedway. This turn of fate produced a scenario in which Will was not racing past a point when he was no longer competitive. Not a career cut short, but rather a career for the record books. It was not just the sheer volume of wins, most of them in the Penn-Jersey area and later in the upper New York circuit, but also a different measurement, one of dominating performance.

    With the arrival of rules for the 1966 season that turned the big-block modified into the top-level class of Northeast dirt modified racing (it remains so to this day), Will’s record of wins for the 1966–1986 period in this class of modifieds made him the number one most dominating big-block modified driver of all time. Here are the facts: He averaged 22.5 big block modified wins per season, more than any other driver. Will’s wife, Barbara,has documented 472 career big-block modified wins. There were many more in super-modifieds, small-block modifieds, and others for the pre-’66 period. Some have claimed that his lifetime feature win total, maybe close to 1,100, is the best ever for any driver.

    Will Cagle Shows off a photo from early in his career in his Tampa home, July 2023, Richard Golardi Photo

    Will Cagle is a master storyteller and can compete with the best of them at weaving a tale about racing. He may tell a tale about racing a late model stock car at Tampa’s Golden Gate Speedway in 1962, when track owner Frank Dery spent the summer setting up phony “feuds” for Will with other legends such as Buzzie Reutimann and Cush Revette. Hyped in the Tampa newspapers, these feuds would reach their climax in a two-car match race the following Friday night. Or Will’s story may be about having a Hollywood movie star show up at a dirt track, where Will was waiting with his modified for them to get in some laps. There’s no passenger seat in a dirt modified, so Paul Newman was fortunate not to have his agent or the director of his current film (Slap Shot), which was shooting in Central New York, see him there. He was sitting in a car piloted by Will, hanging on to the roll bar, with no seat belt. There was a possibility that Newman may not still be in the car after Will threw it sideways into the turn, wide open.

    Been there, drove that (and Will Cagle has driven lots of race car types): On September 12, 1970, Will had his best Indy car race finish, ninth place in the Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, at the time the second-biggest Indy car race. USAC Silver Crown racing came later in the decade (1978). He raced on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway a few times in the ’60s in the NASCAR Modified-Sportsman stock car division. When that terrifying 37-car crashhappened at Daytona in 1960, Will was in his ’55 Chevy and was right in the middle of it, followed by a short hospital stay.

    He stacked up super-modified and modified championships in Florida (Golden Gate Speedway, Super-Modified Champion;and Florida-Georgia Modified Championship, 1962) and a few Northeast states(PA: Nazareth Speedway, and 1966 Langhorne Speedway Race of Champions; New York: Orange County Fair Speedway, Canandaigua Speedway, Rolling Wheels Raceway, Weedsport Speedway; and New Jersey: Alcyon Speedway, and East Windsor Speedway). Add in races driven in a midget, sprint car (won in Jack Nowling’s car at East Bay Raceway, March 1985), late model stock car, Trans Am sports car (’68 Chevy Camaro at Lime Rock Park, Connecticut, May 1972, his first “real” road race), Legends car (Charlotte, NC: placed third in 2010 Legends Masters final for drivers over 40, he was 72 and the oldest driver competing), and even a five-ton Mack truck(at the Florida State Fairgrounds Speedway, Tampa, February 1987) and you’ve got a career for the ages and an unforgettable story to tell.

    Will Cagle was inducted into six prominent auto racing halls of fame during his career. They are: (1) Harmony Speedway Hall of Fame; (2) Living Legends of Auto Racing; (3) Jacksonville Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame; (4) Eastern Motorsport Press Association Hall of Fame; (5) Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame; and (6) New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Fame.

    Will Cagle will be the speaker at the next monthly meeting of The Villages Motor Racing Fan Club and will be interviewed by racing journalist and author Richard Golardi on Wednesday, October 4 at 7 p.m. at the Colony Cottage Recreation Center, The Villages.Admission is limited to residents of The Villages.

     

     

     

    Kaylee Bryson Interview – Pavement Sprint Cars and Beyond

    Storyby Richard Golardi

    August17, 2023

    “I’m not really used to running pavement open-wheel,” sprint car and champ car driver Kaylee Bryson told me. Speaking about her opportunity to race in the 500 Sprint Car Tour with a pavement sprint car from the Sam Pierce Chevrolet race team, she was recently at the high-banked Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway asphalt oval. “It’s gone pretty well so far,” Kaylee said, commenting on the season’s first half. “Last time I ran with the 500 Sprint Car Tour, I got fifth. It’s a new series for me, it’s a new learning aspect. I think we’re doing good so far.”

    Team Manager Aaron Pierce with driver Kaylee Bryson.

    I mentioned to Kaylee that I had spoken to Aaron Pierce and that the Sam Pierce Chevrolet-sponsored team plans to have a car for her for next year’s Little 500, a race that is the ultimate endurance test for a pavement sprint car driver. “Yeah, we’re going to have a car there, for sure. We’re probably going to have three cars possibly. It’ll be pretty exciting. It was my first time going last year, and just going and watching Tanner [Swanson] lead laps and the heartbreak that the motor let us down, but watching Tanner lead laps and seeing how fast our cars are is making me really excited for next year.”

    The longest race that she has driven in is “Probably 146 laps – in Silver Crown cars,” Kaylee said. That was at the Hoosier Hundred, which was held at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park on the Friday night before this year’s Little 500, and was a 100-mile race. For Kaylee, the two-hour, or more, Little 500 will be “For sure my longest race. But I feel I’ve gotten pretty used to running longer races and endurance races for sure, so I don’t think it will be too much difference for me because of the experience in Silver Crown.”

    I asked Kaylee about the upcoming final 500 Sprint Car Tour races and the remaining second half of the 2023 racing season and what she is looking forward to the most. “I’m looking forward to the rest of the Silver Crown schedule. You know, we’re third in points right now.” Her current USAC Silver Crown point position as a rookie in the series puts her ahead of other Silver Crown series rookies such as Tyler Roahrig, Dakoda Armstrong, and Wayne Johnson. “It’snew for me, running all these new tracks I’ve never been to. To be able to go to Springfield, to go to Du Quoin for the first time and I’m looking forward to being on dirt in a Silver Crown car.”

    Doing so well in the Silver Crown point race leads to an obvious next goal for Kaylee – win a USAC Silver Crown race. Does she have a choice of track for that first win? “Any track – I don’t care!” she responded. “I just want to win one. But I think it would be pretty cool to do it at Springfield or Du Quoin – one of the dirt tracks, considering that I grew up on those.” Kaylee explained that she is more of a dirt racer, so getting her first Silver Crown series win at an iconic American dirt track would be more satisfying for her. Regarding the dirt-to-pavement transition she is taking part in now: “I feel like no matter where I’m going, I’m learning something new. I’ve jumped in so many different cars and I’m just starting to get used to everything right now.”

     

     

     

    RJ Johnson is Lone Floridian at Knoxville Nationals

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Knoxville, Iowa,August 13, 2023

    Knoxville, Iowa, is a place many consider to be sprint car nirvana. It certainly has the most passionate fans and fantastic, high-drama dirt sprint car racing at a place called Knoxville Raceway.After my first trip to the Knoxville Nationals this weekend, I was fortunate to participate in a book signing in the lobby of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum in Knoxville. I noted that of the 52 sprint car drivers in the Knoxville Sprint Car Nationals on Wednesday night and the 54 drivers on Thursday night, there was a total of one driver with a Florida hometown, RJ Johnson of Tampa in car No. 121 (Thursday night). That's kind of sad – I’m sure that I’m one of many that wished there were more Floridians in the national dirt series.

    At 36 years old, RJ’s maturity and poise have grown during his decades of racing. With his father (Florida sprint car racing legend Roland Johnson) at his side as his car owner and mentor, the Tampa native had many successes while a young racer. He was USCS Sprint Car Rookie of the Year in 2004and East Bay Raceway Park Sprint Car Champion in 2007. He was 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 Tatnall). Then he earned the Rookie of the Year title in the 410 class at Knoxville Raceway in 2014.“It’s the toughest weekly show in the country,” RJ once told me.

    RJ is now married and living in Knoxville, Iowa, but he’ll always have a Florida connection.Beginning with racing 360s at Knoxville, as he had in Florida previously, he later added World of Outlaws and All Star series races when the Knoxville racing season concluded. After earning the 410 class Rookie of the Year title, hereturned to seek his first Knoxville 410 feature race win. RJ Johnson is the only driver with a Florida hometown in the 2023 Knoxville Nationals.

    The new ride for this year’s Knoxville Nationals was just finalized last week, so his mother and father, Roland Johnson, were unable to be there due to an out-of-town vacation previously planned. RJ is enjoying one of his new roles as "Daddy RJ." He's recently a new father and smiled as he described how happy he was in this new role. He said that this was his first time back behind the wheel of a sprint car in two years and he was apparently greatly enjoying himself. A moment later he was behind the wheel and ready to return to the Knoxville Raceway dirt, a place he knew well from his previous time as a weekly racer. A glint in his eye still shone through his face shield and inside his helmet there was surely a smile.

     

     

    Billy Wease Rocks on the Nashville High Banks, Then Strums a Victory Guitar

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Nashville, TN, July30, 2023

    Bill Wease, feature race winner, 500 Sprint Car Tour, 7-29-2023

    From his qualifying time, just a tick over 18 seconds (sixth-fastest) on Saturday at the high-banked Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway asphalt oval, you might think that Billy Wease wasn’t going to compete with the three fastest qualifiers (Jake Trainor, Kyle O’Gara, and Kody Swanson). But you’d be wrong in that assumption. Jake Trainor, still new to asphalt sprint car racing and the winner of the Little 500 in Mayin his second sprint car race, not only looked fast but sounded fast. Something under the hood of the No. 29 Matt Seymour Racingsprint car (or maybe it was in the exhaust?) just sounded powerful, like a lion under extreme stress, roaring at its brain-bursting loudest. After an invert of six cars, Jake started in sixth and wasn’t a factor to win, pulling into the pits with three laps to go due to engine overheating.

    The invert put Billy Wease and Bobby Santos III on the front row, and Wease powered away to an early lead. Santos and Kody Swanson moved up to challenge, but since both sprint cars and stock cars had stayed away from the second groove in the banking and there was no rubber up above the bottom groove, neither could pass.Both mounted an attack on the lead, but a damp, slippery track made that an unsurmountable goal while Billy Wease never made a misstep. The 36-year-old Wease led every lap for his first feature win in the 500 Sprint Car Tour, a fitting victory for a racer who has made a decades-long commitment to pavement sprint car racing and the Little 500.

    Top Three Finishers, Billy Wease, Bobby Santos III, and Kody Swanson, 500 Sprint Car Tour, 7-29-2023

    Billy and second-place Bobby Santos III (his brother-in-law) slapped each other on the back and shared a joyful hug in the winner’s circle. The winner’s trophy, appropriately a slick-looking guitar at a track in “Music City,” was raucously strummed by Billy in the winner’s circle while he showed his winning smile to the TV cameraman. I’ve got a feeling that smile may still be there on Billy’s face, even though we are now approaching 24 hours since his big Saturday night win and boisterous, strumming victory guitar celebration. Now that’s music to a sprint car driver’s ears.

     

     

    Troy Carey’s Somewhat Excellent, Somewhat Frustrating Indiana Sprint Week Adventure

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    July 28, 2023

    Troy Carey crossed the Pacific Ocean in his halfway around the world journey from Tullamore, New South Wales, Australia, to come to America to race a sprint car in USAC’s Indiana Sprint Week. The 48-year-old trucking businessman has been driving sprint cars for nine years and never raced before then. “I was a bull rider before that,” Troy said. “I never raced a thing. After riding bulls and the adrenaline and fun you get out of one of those, I had to find something that was a little bit safer, or I thought it was a little bit safer. It’s something that will give you the same adrenaline rush!”

    Troy Carey at Circle City Raceway, Indianapolis, 7-24-2023

    “I’m racing non-wing sprint cars, 410s,” Troy explained, “competing all over Indiana. We went down into Illinois and raced at Macon Speedway the other week, but mostly around Indiana and we’re based out of Kokomo at the moment.” Monday night at Circle City Raceway in Indianapolis was one of those nights that had a frustrating moment. It occurred after a USAC official checked their tires after a qualifying run and told them there was a problem. “We went out and qualified, wasn’t the best qualifying we’ve ever done so it’s probably not going to really hurt us. We ended up being disqualified because we had the wrong compound tire on. Wasn’t aware of it and we probably should have been. We can’t blame anyone else but the team. We should have checked on it.” Troy was still able to continue competing for the rest of the USAC National sprint car event but lost that qualifying time. “It’s our fault – we take it on the chin and we go from there.”

    No. 45n car of Troy Carey of Australia at Circle City Raceway

    Troy said about his plans for this week, “Then we head down to Terre Haute, back to Lincoln Park, Bloomington, then finish it off on Saturday night at Haubstadt [Tri-State Speedway]. Yeah, we’ll do every show, all eight shows [of USAC Indiana Sprint Week]. We’ve got a spare car. As long as we don’t tear two cars up, we’ll do every one of them. And then, we’re hanging around, we’ve got a steel block motor and we’re going to come and run a few steel block shows and they’ve got a steel block nationals – hopefully getting around to doing that. Then we’re going to hang around and do Smackdown at Kokomo at the end of August. Yeah, we’ll be here around 10 weeks.” But, Troy won’t be doing any commuting back to Australia during his American Summer. “No, not going back and forth. Too far, too big of a trip. Going home, you lose two days doing that. You’re better off staying over here trying to get a few more laps in at different tracks.”

    Racing down under in Australia: “We run non-wings in Australia but obviously don’t have these motors in them. We’re about 550 horsepower up in this motor compared to what we run in Australia so it’s a fair bit different. Car setup’s a lot different, driving them’s a lot different. You’ve got to really back these cars in, where at home, you can sort of turn them in. But, basic setup is exactly the same in the way the car’s built, but when you come to a race setup, they’re very different. There’s a lot more stagger. At home, we’re at about 220 horsepower.” In his car at Circle City, the engine he had was measured on the dyno at well over 700 horsepower. Broadsliding, throttle control, and using as much of that available horsepower as possible took some getting used to for Troy. The additional ready horsepower required changes to his driving habits.

    In his Australian sprint car racing, Troy has gotten “a state title and a rookie title and we’ve won a fair bit in Darwin, raced a lot in Darwin. We’ve always been really competitive in New South Wales, but as for Australian titles, we’ve never got one of those. I think the best I’ve gotten on an Australian title is eighth on the main night, so we’re still a long way off getting one of those but we won’t stop trying.” He turns 49 on the first of August, so Troy Carey’s ability and determination and friendly demeanor mean there will be a lot more racing and surely a lot more friends in America that will be watching and cheering for him.

     

     

    Tyler Roahrig and Statham Construction Racing Team Take on Must See Racing Sprint Series

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    July 26, 2023

    Plymouth, Indiana driver Tyler Roahrig’s latest sprint car racing endeavor is taking him into more winged sprint car racing this summer, and he has recently been assigned to the seat in the bright orange and white No. 36 winged pavement sprint car with the Statham Construction Racing team from Florida. This team has had an enviable record of success in Florida pavement sprint car racing, and after a short respite from active racing, has recently returned with the same colors, owner and sponsor (Statham Construction owned by Ken and Theresa Statham), and car number. The graphics and color design on the Hurricane chassis are reminiscent of the colors previously used on the Marlboro Formula 1 team cars.

    Tyler Roahrig at Birch Run Speedway, July 21, 2023

    I spoke to Tyler Roahrig during last Friday’s Must See Racing Sprint Series race at Birch Run Speedway in Birch Run, Michigan, and asked Tyler to tell me about all the things that were new for him that night. “Just some winged sprint car racing,” Tyler said, “here with the Statham Construction team. They got a hold of me about a month ago and asked if I wanted to do some racing and of course, I said yes. It’s a top-flight car and team. So, I haven’t done much winged racing in a while, so, we’ll see how it goes.” Tyler stated that this was his first race with this team and that they contacted him after seeing him win with another team in a Michigan sprint car race. “They asked if I wanted to run their car at Berlin tomorrow night [a Must See Racing event on July 22] and I said I said yeah, and that we might as well come to Birch Run, too [Friday, July 21 race]. So, here we are. I want to race for them as much as I can. We haven’t really talked about it, though. But, we’ll just kind of see how this weekend goes and move on from there. I think we both want to do some more racing. We haven’t really set anything in stone. I’m sure we’ll talk about it and see. I want to race for them as much as I can.”

    Tyler Roahrig in Statham Construction car, July 21, 2023

    After not seeing Tyler at the wheel of the No. 19 Legacy Autosport USAC Silver Crown car at Winchester Speedway for the Silver Crown race the night before, Thursday, July 20, I asked why he did not drive that car at Winchester (Caleb Armstrong drove the No. 19 car), and Tyler indicated that he will no longer be driving the car. I mentioned that maybe that leaves more time for sprint car racing, with added winged pavement races. “No,” Tyler remarked. “This [winged pavement racing opportunity] came about before that [leaving the No. 19 USAC Silver Crown team car]. You never know – I might have a Silver Crown team out of my own shop next year.” And maybe some engines from Evan Jackson for that new USAC Silver Crown team? “That’s the only engine I’ll ever run,” Tyler confidently proclaimed. I asked if that is because engines from Evan Jackson Racing Engines are so dependable and powerful, don’t fail when put under maximum-stress racing conditions, and he has such a good working relationship with Evan, and Tyler responded, “I mean, pretty much. It’s just that he’s one of my best friends, for one. And, me and him have had a lot of success together, whether it be in late models or sprint cars or anything. I don’t see any need to change. He’s more than just an engine builder. He’s one of my best friends and he knows how to work on a race car, too, not just the engine. He’s very smart on all aspects of the race car and he’s very good to have at the race track.”

    I remarked that they, Tyler and Evan, have been together for a while in Little 500 and other non-wing pavement sprint car racing, and with many success stories, so why would anyone desire to break up such a successful, top-level team? “Exactly,” Tyler stated, and then added, “I wouldn’t do it!”

     

     

     

    Aaron Pierce is Back in Big Cars

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    July 22, 2023

    The location was Winchester Speedway, Indiana, and the occasion was the only open-wheel race of the year on “The Hills” of the high-banked, paved half-mile race tracks of Indiana. The USAC Silver Crown Series champ cars were back at Winchester on Thursday night for an annual visit and also returning was champion driver Aaron Pierce of the Daleville, Indiana, Sam Pierce Chevrolet team. You’ve been seeing less of Aaron in asphalt sprint car and champ car racing lately for a few reasons, and I’ll let him explain why later in this story. The No. 26 Sam Pierce car (both sprint car and USAC Silver Crown champ car) has still been seen lately, but with the names Chris Windom, Tanner Swanson, and Kaylee Bryson on the side.

    Sam Pierce Chevrolet team car for Aaron Pierce at Winchester Speedway.

    Then Aaron decided to get back behind the wheel of a USAC champ car for this week’s race at Winchester Speedway, but as a teammate to the primary car for Kaylee Bryson, with Aaron in the No. 126 car and Kaylee in the No. 26. The track can be tough on equipment, with big bumps in the uneven asphalt and high speeds straining suspension and engine parts. Once dark descends, the cars up in the banks that are spewing sparks from their undersides are providing bright orange evidence of the pounding they are taking.

    I asked Aaron to reveal what led to his decision to get back in a USAC Silver Crown car? “We came over and tested on Tuesday,” Aaron told me on Thursday, “and it went really good and was really comfortable and the car was fast and I love this place, so I didn’t want to miss out on a good car here, for sure.” Regarding having a two-car team, he said, “As long as everything goes smooth, it’s not that big a deal. If something happens to her car, I’m going to get out and let her drive this one, obviously, because she’s running for points. But, I’ve got enough good help down here that it’s going pretty smooth right now.” Aaron remarked that he believes his last race in a Silver Crown car was at “Springfield or Du Quoin, two years ago. Last year, Chris Windom drove here, and Kaylee ran the miles.”

    Could a return to sprint car racing also be near for Aaron? “Oh, yeah. For sure. I want to come down to Florida and race this winter some and I’ve been testing over at Anderson a few times, still running some Trans Am. So, I haven’t been totally out of it.” In addition to the frequent Trans Am road races in the past two years, Aaron has had another project that he has been devoted to during this time. “Getting my driver development program going has been really big, and Kaylee is an awesome driver and she’s young, she’s easy to get along with, she’s a really good shoe and I’m just trying to get her going good on the pavement because she already hauls ass on the dirt. I’m trying to get her an array of experience. She’s driven nine different cars this year, from Trans Am, to winged cars and non winged cars, [Trans Am Corvette] SGT, to [Trans Am Camaro] TA2, just all kinds of stuff! So, I’ve had her busy.” And these nine different cars were all for Aaron and his AP Driver Development program (whose website asks, “Wanna race?” and then provides a way to scratch that itch: “Drive our race cars!”). An obvious motivation that was not mentioned was the need that NASCAR has for more female drivers in their three national series, and Kaylee is getting experience at road courses, as well as at dirt and pavement ovals, which puts her and Aaron, her mentor, in a prime position to make the move up when she is ready and NASCAR is ready.

    “Next year we’ll probably do the same thing as far as run all the Silver Crown stuff. I want to get her some more Trans Am experience over the winter, and then hopefully pick and choose the races we want to go to with Trans Am.” And what about the Little 500 (a race that Aaron has not driven in since 2021), I asked? “Little 500 – I’m not for sure yet what I’m going to do. I’ve kind of got a deal with Tanner [to drive the No. 26 car at the Little 500] and Kaylee really wants to run, so I may run both of them next year, just depending.” But there would likely not be a third car for him at the Little 500, Aaron admitted. “But Tanner and Kaylee – yeah,” he revealed.

    Does he enjoy the position of being the team manager on race day? “Oh, for sure,” he said. “Yeah, it’s a lot of fun doin’ that. I still do all the setups, work on the cars, and build all the shocks,” he added. On race day, he manages the team as well as the pit strategy with the pit crew that he has selected and trained. The day after the race, it’s back to the race shop and the cycle starts all over again preparing for the next race, wherever that may be ... Winchester, Road Atlanta, Springfield, Watkins Glen, or another track.

     

     

     

    Steven Hollinger and Mac Steele are the Hottest Race Team in Florida This Summer

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    July 7, 2023

    Veteran 83-year-old sprint car owner Mac Steele is a pretty good judge of driving talent. He noticed the open-wheel race driving expertise displayed by Steven Hollinger when he was a teenage TQ midget driver racing on Florida short tracks. Steven could be seen in the pits with his father Rex Hollinger, the 2012 TBARA sprint car Rookie of the Year. In the ensuing years, back when there was still an active TQ midget series in Florida, you could find the father/son duo racing (Rex as a sprint car owner/driver and Steven in a TQ) at tracks like Showtime Speedway and Citrus County Speedway.

    Steven Hollinger feature race 2 winner7-3-2023

    Flash forward a few more years and TQ midget racing in Florida has disappeared (too few cars) and the TBARA has done a disappearing act too. Their Florida asphalt series replacement, the BG Products Southern Sprint Car Series, has weathered the death of a star driver (Dave Steele), Florida asphalt oval track closures (Orlando SpeedWorld, Desoto Speedway, and the multi-named Punta Gorda track), and a two-year profit-killing pandemic. The series also provided Steven Hollinger with a follow-up racing series to compete in after racing TQ midgets.

    Now 21 years old, Steven recalled that he went to his first sprint car race 11 years ago and quickly set a goal to win a winged sprint car feature race. He has called racing “more than just a hobby’ and something that “gives my life a larger purpose.” After achieving his childhood goal with his first visit to the winner’s circle in a winged sprint car feature, the June 10 Southern Sprint Car Series race at Auburndale Speedway, Steven had a lengthy list that received their well-earned thanks from him. His father, Rex, was the first listed, along with “countless others.” Mac Steele’s silver and black No. 1 was the car that Steven drove, and Mac’s decades of expertise with car setup, tires, team management, and choosing drivers provided the edge that made a dream come true.

    Steve Hollinger

    “Back on the simulator” – that was the next task Steven set for himself in preparation for his next sprint car race on July 3, a double feature night at the tough, little quarter-mile bullring in Pinellas Park, Showtime Speedway. In its previous iteration, using the name Sunshine Speedway, the track had scores of young drivers like Steven, full of talent, bravado, and promise, who tamed open-wheel beasts in the modified and sprint car classes over numerous decades. In more recent years, the track had become something close to a “home track” for Dave Steele. Of those tracks at which he was a regular feature winner, it was the closest to his Tampa race shop.

    It was also the track that was the location of Steven Hollinger’s second sprint car feature win in the second race of the July 3 double feature night. At the wheel of Mac Steele’s No. 1 once again, he led all 25 feature laps and overcame a possible race-ending slap of the front straight wall with the side of his car on lap 18 that was a nasty impact, hard enough to leave behind a trail of sparks and cause a sore knee that had smashed against the car’s steering column.

    After his feature race win on Monday, Steven spoke about dealing with the summertime heat and humidity, in addition to dealing with knee pain for the last seven laps of the race. “It was the most sweaty, most humid race I ever ran,” Steven remarked. “I think I was boiling the whole time. Man, I had to work for it too.”

    Commenting on his summer win streak, Steven said, “That’s two race weekends in a row we brought one home, both from the front row. So, I don’t think I’m ever gonna start on the front row again, at least not in the next five years. After the first [Monday] feature, I lost hope – we had so many problems. The brakes weren’t working, the car wasn’t turning, and I thought it was a wash. I saw we were starting outside pole [in the second feature], and I thought I was gonna get passed by the whole field. It fired perfectly on the start and I got the lead right off the bat and handling was degrading a bit, but I managed to hold on and bring it home. I was struggling to keep it low off four. That was the only place it was bad. It was perfect in one and two. Down the front straightaway, it didn’t want to straighten out. I was wobbling down the front stretch. I overcorrected for the wobble and it resulted in the right rear smacking the wall pretty hard.”

    Hitting the wall in Monday’s race was a first for Steven. “It was actually the first time in my almost year and a half of racing sprint cars that I’ve done that, ever,” he said. He wasn’t looking forward to Tuesday morning, as he assumed that the swelling and pain in his knee would peak then (“There’s gonna be a bruise,” he said), but wasn’t going to keep him from his third sprint car feature of the week. That race is set for this Saturday, July 8 at Citrus County Speedway in Inverness, the next race on the Southern Sprint Car Series schedule. The series will return to having a single feature race of 40 laps ($2,000 to win), with a $1,000-to-win six-lap dash after the feature for the top three finishers. Other cash bonuses are also set for this “Dayton Andrews Dodge Jeep 40” on Saturday in Inverness, Florida.

    Video – Winning Driver Interview with Steven Hollinger at Showtime Speedway, 7-3-2023

    https://youtu.be/fnRudSNrpcg

     

     

    Learning How to Conduct a Book Tour (When You’ve Never Done It Before)

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     June29, 2023

     I decided that the best way to publicize my newly released book, Racers in the Sun, Volume One (in addition to using a remarkably effective and free marketing channel – social media), was to do a “Book Tour.” Great idea, right? So … how exactly does one conduct a book tour? I wasn’t going to “Google It.” No way. I thought I knew what I wanted to do and who to seek out for interviews.Theywould be those persons who would be supportive of the project.Of course, some of those persons might not yet know that they wished to support this project. Not a problem. I was in sales for thirty years before moving on to be a writer (and you can’t last for thirty years in sales by being a lousy salesman).

     

    Middletown, NY book signing, 6-10-2023

     

    To summarize my objectives, they were: (1) get interviews with radio show hosts, or podcast hosts who have an auto racing-themed show;(2) seek out columnists (internet, newspaper, etc.) for interviews; (3) set up book signing events, preferably with one of the subjects of the thirteen biographies in my book (three chapter subjects survive: Wayne Reutimann, George Rudolph, and Pancho Alvarez); (4) contact libraries and organizers of reunions and racing nostalgia events to either be a speaker or have a book signing (or both); and (5) contact groups who have an interest in one of the main themes in my book (Florida open wheel racing legends, Florida short track racing, pavement sprint car racing, Tampa auto racing history, or the Little 500).

     

    How’s it going so far? Pretty well, actually. No one brought up the subject of stick-and-ball sports and asked me to discuss my favorite team (I have none) or my current fantasy draft picks (What’s that? …might be my wiseguy reply). I did get asked about my favorite racing movie. That’s easy – it’s Grand Prix (an incredible open-wheel racing movie). No one has interviewed me and remarked that they read the book and disliked it. (Whew!) I’ve had one reviewer, Senior Reporter (since 1977) Ken de la Bastide of the Anderson (IN) Herald Bulletin,who wrote the first newspaper review of my book. I spoke to Ken a couple of times from the day in May when I handed him a copy of my book until June 21, when his review went online. I was surprised to hear Ken say that he wanted to read the whole book (quite a task since it’s 569 pages) before he wrote about it and offered his opinion. I was very pleased to see Ken state that he would "highly recommend" my book. Thanks so much for the positive review, Ken, and know that you now hold the distinction of being the first person to read the entire book and tell me that you did it.

    Amazon Listing

     

    I wanted to have a speaking event in Anderson, Indiana, this summer and speak about the book’s 100+ pages devoted to the Little 500 and racing in Anderson, and proudly state that the book was about the Little 500 (not all 569 pages, of course). But there was one problem. If you look at the book’s title and subtitle (The Story of Florida’s Sprint Car Legends), your first reaction might understandably be: “That’s a lie! This book isn’t about the Little 500 and it isn’t about Anderson!”

     

    That’s when Ken de la Bastide’s review of my book came to the rescue to refute any person who claimed that it wasn’t a “Little 500 book.” Ken wrote: “Sprinkled throughout the book is the importance the teams from Florida put in not only running but winning the Little 500 … It was particularly interesting in the interviews with the drivers, family members and car owners of how important it was to race at Anderson Speedway.The Little 500 is mentioned numerous times in the book …”If you add up the pages listed in the index under the Little 500 heading, it comes to more than 100 pages.

     

    I called the Anderson Public Libraryas soon as I could. I wanted to ask to be a speaker at an event at their Anderson location. With a chuckle, I mentioned that one could view the book’s Amazon web page, see the title, and understandably make the “You’re lying!” accusation. “But just check out Ken’s auto racing column,” I said. “You’ll see that I’m not lying.It really is a book that has the Little 500 and Anderson as one of its major subjects, with more than 100 pages dealing with the Little 500.” Thankfully, Rebecca Crowe, the Local History and Genealogy Librarian at Anderson’s library, agreed with my self-assessment that I was telling the truth about my book. Hence, she placed me on the Anderson Library’s schedule as a speaker. On Wednesday, July 19 at 6:30 p.m., I will speak about “Anderson’s Little 500 and the Racers in the Sun.”

     

    I am looking forward to this speaking event with great anticipation. For an author, it’s very enjoyable to speak about a subject that you love and about persons that you admire and respect. I know that I love sprint car racing and the Little 500, and I’ve always felt great respect and admiration for Florida’s sprint car racing legends and also for the people who live and work in Anderson. I hope that becomes apparent to those present at my speaking event in Anderson on July 19.

     

    Racers in the Sun, Volume One is available on Amazon.com:

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0C4WVN4TC

     

    The Anderson Public Library event listing is here:

    https://andersonlibrary.evanced.info/signup/EventDetails?EventId=20197&backTo=Calendar&startDate=2023/07/01

     

     

     

     

    Dave Steele’s Last Major Lifetime Achievement is Revealed in New Book

     Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

     May 30, 2023

     In the new book that I just released earlier this month, Racers in the Sun, Volume One, I included an updated All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List which included all local and national sprint car races in Florida with all engine types. A previous list had been described at one time as an All-Time TBARA Win List, but did include races in other Florida local series while it excluded those national series races held in Florida since 1969 (the year the list was begun). The previous compiler had begun the list when sprint car racing began at Golden Gate Speedway in 1969, and it never transitioned to include all sprint car races in Florida. When I took over the duties of keeping the list current in 2015, I began working on adding those national series races, which were minimal before 1977. Then I pared the list down to the top 40 positions, which could be fit on one page in my book. It is included in the appendix section, Appendix D.

     

    Dave Steele at 2016 Little 500 autograph session.

     

    As you will notice, the Florida drivers dominate the top half of the list, holding the top 20 positions. The highest placed “Out of State Driver” is Danny Lasoski, who is in 22nd place with 32 sprint car feature wins in Florida. Doug Wolfgang is close behind, tied for 23rd place with 31 victories. Neither driver races in Florida, so those positions won’t be changing for a while. Donny Schatz is the next listed out-of-stater with 28 Florida wins. He could pass the others and take over sole possession of that “Highest Placed Out of State Driver on the List” title with some more wins during upcoming Florida Speedweeks.

     

    With the All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List being updated to include national series races from 1969 to 2022, there were two major changes to occur to the list. The first was that those out-of-state drivers showed up in the top 40 positions for the first time. You will note that both Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell don’t show up in the top 40 positions. That’s not an error. They both had less than 18 Florida feature wins during their careers and did not make the top 40 list that I compiled.

     

    The second major change was to the win total for the person occupying the number one position, Dave Steele. Before revising the list, I had Dave Steele’s lifetime win totals (coming from the previous compiler up to 2014, and then my own updates for 2015 to the present) at 99 wins on pavement and one win on dirt for a career Florida sprint car win total of 100 wins. But then I discovered an omission in those totals. Dave had a dirt feature win in a national series race in Florida in 1996, and it was not counted by the previous compiler because of the engine type being used (410 c.i. engine). None of those national series races with 410 engines were counted (just a peculiar bias because the list was something meant to be “local”). The February Speedweeks American Sprint Car Series (ASCS) dirt sprint car feature race won by Dave Steele at East Bay Raceway Park on February 11, 1996, a national series race, was not counted in Dave’s total. That is proven by the fact that a single dirt win, at East Bay Raceway on May 4, 1996, a TBARA dirt feature win, is included because it was a local series and it is the single dirt win shown in Dave’s win totals before 2022. With my revision of the list completed in 2022, and my inclusion of all the national series sprint car feature wins, that gave Dave Steele a new, updated career win total in Florida of 99 pavement feature wins and 2 dirt feature wins and a new career win total of 101 sprint car feature wins in Florida.

     

    That win total, 101 wins in Florida, reveals a detail that is the last major achievement of Dave Steele’s racing career. With his last win at Punta Gorda, Florida, on February 25, 2017, his 101st sprint car feature win in Florida, he became the first driver in Florida racing history to earn more than 100 Florida sprint car feature wins in his career. That’s an achievement that may very likely never be equaled or exceeded. Dave was the first, and maybe the last, to earn 100 wins in Florida, and then go one extra step – exceeding 100 wins. Quite an achievement.

     

    Racers in the Sun, Volume One is available on Amazon.com:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0C4WVN4TC

     

     

     

    2023 Lucas Oil Little 500 Presented by UAW Odds of Winning

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    May 26, 2023

    Here are my “2023 Lucas Oil Little 500 Presented by UAW Odds of Winning” for tomorrow’s race, presented for entertainment purposes only (No wagering!) and with sincere hopes of no one throwing a fit (or feeling like throwing one). Feel free to post your own odds of winning, but remember that you’ll have to present odds for all 33 starting positions (no shortcutting and only listing a few of your favorite drivers).

    So, do I intend on doing this every year from now on, as long as I’m covering the Little 500? You betcha. So, take a deep breath and examine the odds of winning tomorrow’s race, with a very talented group of drivers being ranked by odds of winning. The greatest pavement sprint car drivers in the world? You betcha!

    2023 Lucas Oil Little 500 Presented by UAW
    Odds of Winning as of May 26, 2023
    Tyler Roahrig 8-1
    Kody Swanson 10-1
    CJ Leary 12-1
    Bobby Santos III 12-1
    Jake Trainor 14-1
    Tanner Swanson 14-1
    Emerson Axsom 16-1
    Kyle O’Gara 16-1
    Jacob Wilson 18-1
    Billy Wease 20-1
    Logan Seavey 22-1
    Brady Bacon 24-1
    Shane Hollingsworth 24-1
    Caleb Armstrong 25-1
    Dakoda Armstrong 26-1
    Brian Gerster 26-1
    Isaac Chapple 28-1
    Davey Hamilton Jr. 30-1
    Derek Bischak 35-1
    Chris Neuenschwander 40-1
    Travis Welpott 45-1
    Dalton Armstrong 45-1
    Aaron Willison 48-1
    LJ Grimm 48-1
    Brian Vaughn 50-1
    Shawn Bonar 65-1
    Jacob McElfresh 75-1
    Tony Main 80-1
    Scott Evans 85-1
    Bryan Gossel 100-1
    Justin Harper 120-1
    Doug Fitzwater 150-1
    Geoff Ensign 150-1

     

     

    The Riddle Family Legacy Continues at the Little 500

     

    Story by Richard Golardi

     

    May 26, 2023

     

    Car owner/driver Jim Riddle of Brooksville, Florida, who will be inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame on Saturday at Anderson Speedway, Indiana, is a member of an iconic Florida auto racing family. They are the Riddle family of Tampa and Central Florida.

     

    Jim Riddle

     

    Jim Riddle’s daughter, Ronda, will be present at the Little 500 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Anderson Speedway on Saturday to accept the Hall of Fame plaque for her father. Ronda told me about some of the memories of the time spent with her father: “I fell asleep many nights out in the garage just to be with him,” Ronda recalled. “Dad would carry me inside and put me to bed. Charmaine [Ronda’s sister] and I made a necklace out of blue, orange, and white love beads that matched the car and he wore them every race. One week, we got all the way to the track, which was a pretty good drive from where we lived in Lutz, and he realized he had forgotten them. We went all the way back home to get them. When he first started racing, everyone told him that wearing green and eating peanuts was bad luck. To prove them all wrong, he wore green socks and tied a peanut to the roll cage of the car, and then flipped down the front straight. Needless to say, we and anyone that came to the races was no longer allowed to wear green or eat peanuts.”

     

    Jim Riddle’s legacy as a Little 500 legend reached its climax with his car owner win in 2000 with his son-in-law, Jim Childers, driving and his daughter, Charmaine working the pits as pit crew manager. That 2000 Little 500 win filled in the last remaining part of the portrait of the Riddle brothers as a Little 500-winning family, with Frank winning as an owner/driver (1984 and ’85) and then Jim winning as an owner.

     

    Jim Riddle’s daughter, Charmaine, told me that she will be unable to attend the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but also spoke about the times spent with her father. “From the time I was old enough to walk, my dad had me out in the garage. It was fun!” Charmaine “choreographed those pit stops and everybody had to have their job perfect.”

     

    Frank Riddle at the Little 500

     

    Another major event for the Riddle family occurred earlier this month. On May 10, author Richard Golardi released his new book, Racers in the Sun, Volume One. The authorized biography of Frank Riddle, brother of Jim Riddle, is included in this book. The chapter on Frank is titled, “The Blue-Collar Man Who Became a Legend.” It reviews Frank’s career as a Florida short-track racing legend and two-time Little 500 race winner, and part of the story is told by his son, Bill, who was there through all those big sprint car wins and championships as his father’s crew chief and chief mechanic. The story is yet another tale of the Riddle family going to the track together and racing together. I was so pleased that Bill was willing to share this incredible tale with me (it took a little bit of persuasion on my part), and how willing he was to tell me about both the good times and bad times in both his life and his father’s life. Thank you also to Paula Riddle, who sadly has passed, and other Riddles – Bryan and Billy and Jimmy – thank you all! I hope that all the family, friends, and fans of both Frank and Jim Riddle enjoy the book.

     

    You could say that everything about the Riddle Family was the embodiment of the American Dream – that working hard, and also being fearless and undaunted means that your family will gain an incredible legacy and perhaps reap a few rewards along the way.

     

     

    Jim Riddle Induction into the Little 500 Hall of Fame This Saturday

     

    Story by Richard Golardi

     

    May 23, 2023

     Jim Riddle in the Pete Crocker-owned No. 3X car, Golden Gate Speedway, 1975

    Car owner/driver Jim Riddle of Brooksville, Florida, was already an experienced sprint car owner/driver when he qualified for the Little 500 for the first and only time as a driver in 1973. He’d already won the sprint car track championship twice at Tampa’s Golden Gate Speedway and later added a third championship. Those three Golden Gate Speedway championships included 1971 and ’72 driving the No. 1 car that he owned, and for his third and last track championship in ’75, he switched to the Pete Crocker-owned No. 3X sprint car. Jim’s finish in his only Little 500 start in ’73 was not a satisfying one, as he was buried deep in the bottom half of the field.

    Then things changed when two events in the late ’70s drastically changed Jim’s life situation. The first was on October 2, 1976, when a sprint car crash at Golden Gate Speedway left him severely broken and battered. Immense pain from a broken leg, ankle, and pelvis, in addition to a concussion and internal injuries, meant that some neck pain, downplayed at first, led to more X-rays and the discovery of a potentially fatal broken neck the day after the wreck. They rushed to Jim’s bedside to tell him to remain still, not to move his neck, and then immediately secured it with a halo. Jim remembered those scary moments: “They put the bolts in my head right there. I would have been a dead man if I had tried to get up.” Jim healed and returned to racing sprint cars, but never won another championship and retired from driving a few years later.

    His daughter, Charmaine, remarked that “From the time I was old enough to walk, my dad had me out in the garage. It was fun!” Charmaine, a former Miss Golden Gate Speedway, married sprint car and late model driver Jim Childers on May 6, 1978. That was Jim Riddle’s second life-altering event, leading him to realize that he could still have more sprint car success as a car owner with a family-owned and managed team.

    Jim Riddle eventually got around to forming another sprint car team of his own in the late ’90s. He was going to have his son-in-law, Jim Childers, already a two-time Little 500 winning driver, at the wheel of his car, and his daughter, Charmaine, serving as the team’s crew manager charged with their pit stop preparation. A return to the Little 500 was planned to begin in 1998. Three days before the ’98 race, Jim Childers was inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame, and on race day, Jim Riddle’s J & W Motorsports team got its first top-five finish. A year later, their continued quest for a Little 500 win in ’99 earned them a pole position and a second top-five finish. Charmaine said, “I choreographed those pit stops, and everybody had to have their job perfect. We practiced a lot.”

    With their pit stop strategy planned down to the second and a car, driver, and team at their peak, 2000 was the year they went into the race week overshadowed by other flashier, younger, hot-shot drivers. Jim Riddle was 65 years old and had Jim Childers and his decades of wisdom and experience in his car. If his driver won at age 57, he was going to set the record for the oldest Florida driver to win. A “stay close to the front” strategy paid off in 2000. When the leading car of Dave Steele ran out of fuel with two laps remaining, Jim Childers passed him, lead the final two laps, and won the Little 500. The old guys had the luck, the strategy, and the skill. It was a real-life case of that trucker-cap edict that stated: “Old Guys Rule!”

    That win in 2000 filled in the last remaining part of the portrait of the Riddle brothers as a Little 500-winning family, with Frank winning as an owner/driver (1984 and ’85) and Jim winning as an owner. It was the embodiment of the American Dream – work hard, stay committed, be brave, and you and your family will reap the benefits and recognition, and perhaps a few rewards along the way. Later this week, the Riddle family earns another well-deserved reward. Now the brothers will both be Little 500 Hall of Fame inductees with Jim Riddle’s induction this Saturday at Anderson Speedway, Indiana. Congratulations to Jim Riddle, his daughters Charmaine and Ronda, and the entire Riddle family.

     

     

     

     

    Charlie Altfater Induction into the Little 500 Hall of Fame This Saturday

     

    Story by Richard Golardi

     Charlie Altfater, right, with Robert Smith at the Naples, Florida Mall Car Show, Gene Marderness Photo

    May 22, 2023

     

    Car owner/builder Charlie Altfater, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, who later moved to Bradenton, FL, built the 1979 Little 500 race-winning car driven by Wayne Reutimann and Danny Smith, and also the 1966 winning car driven by Rollie Beale. Charlie was renowned for his midget, super modified, sprint car, and USAC champ car building expertise.

    Charlie was the chief mechanic for the McKay Special Indy car driven in the 1960 Indianapolis 500 by Gene Force. His involvement in the Little 500 goes back to the early ’60s. In 1963, his number 66 car, driven by Little 500 Hall of Fame inductee Buzz Gregory, was one of two cars he owned that finished in the top ten that year. Later in the ’60s, he focused his attention on the USAC sprint car he owned that was driven by Mickey Shaw of Cleveland, and on the super modifieds he built that were raced at the Greater Pittsburgh Speedway by top drivers such as Lou Blaney and Mack Clingan. He worked on cars for such racing greats as Troy Ruttman and Duane Carter, and gave 1976 USAC Silver Crown Series champion Billy Cassella his first big break in racing when he gave him a car to drive.

    Charlie Altfater gained a reputation as a smart and supremely experienced car builder who was willing to share his knowledge with the younger generation of builders and drivers. The car that Florida racing legend Sport Allen drove to his first sprint car wins in 1984 was built by Charlie, and he could often be found in Sport’s pit, lending a hand as a crew chief to the teenage rookie and his family team. Charlie’s expertise guided 14-year-old Sport Allen to his first sprint car feature win in November 1984 at East Bay Raceway, a race in which he had to beat three future TBARA champions to the finish line to win. Another young driver mentored by Charlie was Little 500 Hall of Fame inductee Robert Smith. Charlie was a car builder and mentor for Robert for several years in the mid-’70s, building his 1977 Little 500 pole position-winning car. Robert spoke about Charlie that year, saying, “He’s probably helped me more than anybody. He built the car that I drive now. He’s probably built, I’d say, close to a hundred sprint cars.”

    Frank Rise, the 1979 Little 500-winning car owner, said that he bought the winning car from Charlie, who he said “was like a father to me and one of the most meticulous craftsmen the sport will ever know.” Charlie Altfater’s most notorious Little 500 episode was most likely that moment near the end of the ’79 race when he was acting as crew chief and team manager for Frank Rise, whose car was in the lead. With Wayne Reutimann at the wheel, the car was involved in a wreck while leading with 10 laps to go. The crash damage looked severe, but Charlie and crew flew into action, made some hasty repairs, and got the car ready to return to the track after a red flag race stoppage. Wayne Reutimann was injured and needed to be replaced. The decision to pick a replacement driver was left to Charlie Altfater. He chose Danny Smith and he chose well. Danny Smith bounced the badly damaged, barely drivable car off the outside wall a few times while driving the last nine laps and took the win in one of the most impressive driving performances ever seen in the Little 500.

    In addition to building the car that won the Little 500 in ’79, Charlie also is credited with building cars that finished in second place in 1977 with Robert Smith driving and in third place in 1980 with Bill Roynon driving. His best finish with a car he owned and built was sixth place in 1962 with Mickey Shaw. Charlie Altfater’s mechanical expertise, ability to mentor and guide drivers, skill at picking the most outstanding drivers and crew members, and ability to lead an impressive, winning team are proof that he is worthy of his induction into the Little 500 Hall of Fame this Saturday, May 27.

     

     

     

    Florida’s Newest Sprint Car Racing Legend, Part 2

    Danny Martin Jr., left, and Doug Shaw

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    May 17, 2023

    An interview with driver Danny Martin Jr. and his car owner, Doug Shaw, is the focus of this week’s column. I had previously asked: How does one become a sprint car racing legend? Do you follow a plan with clearly defined steps and list those steps on a race shop sign that you’d glance at each day? You know how those steps are usually listed: rookie hot-shot, champion, dominator and multi-time champion, and finally – legend.

    Danny Martin Jr. was at the East Bay 360 Winternationals in February with the Doug Shaw-owned team, and they had a three-year-old car (“This is our 360 car, the black car,” I was told) that had eight races on it with a motor that had returned from Don Ott’s engine shop up in Pennsylvania after a refresh. The previous night, Danny had competed for the feature race win until the last turn of the last lap, when a slower car blocked an attempt to take back the lead coming off the last turn.
    “Tell me about last night [Friday],” I asked. “That plan to come out of turn four low and sweep across the track to take the checkered flag and the win looked like it was going to work.”
    “That was the plan,” Doug Shaw explained, “until the lapped car slid out there and just boxed us off. He was weaving down the back stretch – you should get out of the way when the leaders are coming. But, that’s inexperience.”
    “With two laps to go,” Danny said, “I hit the wall and Aaron Reutzel got by me. So, I had to turn under him and I found some moisture, so I ran a couple of laps there. Down the back straight, I thought the lapped car was pointed toward the outside wall and he was going to go high and run around the top, and he ended up going to the bottom. It is what it is ... I did have my nose in there where I thought he could have seen me and being a lapped car, I thought he could have given me some more room ... but, that’s OK. We experimented Thursday night and it didn’t work, and we were behind the eight ball, but we made up for it last night. We always try our best.”

    The team was planning to race in the two-day Jimmy Mingo Tribute race weekend, held at East Bay Raceway in March, as their next race. They won; Danny drove to the feature win the first night and then won the rescheduled second night later in April. After that: “Hit or miss, Top Gun races, I don’t know,” Doug Shaw remarked. “It costs too much to go traveling. He’s working a lot more,” he said, referring to Danny.

    “Working longer hours with a new job?” I asked. “Yeah,” Danny replied. “My wife’s uncle owns a construction company. I work for him now. Long hours, but he’s trying to teach me the ropes so that I learn the bidding and I’m trying to go to school so that I can get my contractor’s license so that I’m not just a grunt, the guy in the hole with a shovel my whole life ... I’ll move on up the ladder.” Will that mean he’ll still be available to drive a sprint car on the weekends? “Well, he’ll work on Saturdays sometimes,” Doug said. “It’s not just five days a week. Sometimes it’s six, sometimes it’s seven.” The traveling that the team did in recent years is being eliminated, so that it will be easier for Danny to keep driving while working in a job that is more demanding of his time. “It’s just too far,” Doug remarked, referring to those USCS series dirt races in Georgia and Alabama that they used to enter.
    With Doug Shaw’s team not traveling much last year, their planned schedule for this year will very likely resemble last year’s. Danny had to work on the days of some of the Top Gun Sprint Series races so far this season, so there is the possibility that could happen again. Another topic that was discussed was the desire of some Florida dirt tracks and promoters to have more races with the USCS 360 engines (rather than the limited 360 engines used by Top Gun). Subsequently, the Top Gun Sprint Series management announced that they were going to the ASCS/USCS 360 engine rules for next year, which makes sense with the closing of East Bay Raceway looming. East Bay was the only other place in Florida with a limited 360 sprint car series in recent years.
    “Why hadn’t a Floridian won the Saturday finale of the East Bay 360 Winternationals in 20 years?” I asked. “There’s no 360 racing down here,” Doug Shaw explained, “and it’s a different deal, setup-wise, horsepower-wise.” Danny added: “These guys race day in and day out, and some of them even go to Australia during the winter when we’re hanging out, having Christmas. They’re over there, racing. So they race a lot more.” Doug commented: “The guy that beat us last night [Aaron Reutzel] ran over 100 races last year. We ran 13.” Another advantage that the full-time drivers had was that they raced with a 410 c.i. engine at East Bay on Monday and Tuesday (All Star Series) before switching to a 360 c.i. engine for the remainder of the week’s races.
    “I live here, but it’s not like they have weekly shows,” Danny said. “When Sport [Allen] won it [the East Bay 360 finale], they ran sprint cars here every Saturday night. I’m not taking anything from him, but he ran a 360 here every single weekend. When I had my own car with my dad we won a couple of Thursdays and Fridays and never won the finale but we were also pretty decent because we’d run here every single week with this motor.”
    Danny had even noticed the social media posts and saw that there were friends, lots of them in fact, from Florida who were cheering him on to win. “I’ve got a lot of support from Florida, which is a good thing!” he said. “Racers know who’s going good,” Doug agreed.

     

     

    New Book Published and Available Today Sure to Please Pavement Sprint Car Racing and Little 500 Fans

     

    May 11, 2023

     

    Story by Richard Golardi

     

    Book Title: Racers in the Sun, Volume One

    Author: Richard Golardi

    Available at Amazon.com on May 11, 2023

    Purchase paperback or eBook at:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0C4WVN4TC

    Ever wonder why there’s never been a book published that had pavement sprint car racing or the Little 500 as its main subject? Journalist and author Richard Golardi wondered about the same thing. He has been writing about pavement sprint car racing since 2006 and decided to write a book, published today (Racers in the Sun, Volume One), after covering countless Florida TBARA sprint car races and the Little 500 race in Anderson, Indiana. After interviewing 92 persons and gathering over 95 hours of recorded interviews, he spent the next five years writing a book about sprint car racing with added stories about NASCAR and Indy car racing. But the book is not only about pavement racing. The story of Florida’s most celebrated dirt sprint car driver, a wild dirt track ride filled with lots of emotional highs and lows, is also included. It is the story of “The Master of Dirt,” Pete Folse.

    Are you a big fan of Indy car racing? One of the most popular Indy car drivers from Indy’s “Golden Era” chose to work with Richard Golardi to write his authorized biography, which is also included. It is the story of “Ralphie the Definitive Racer,” Ralph Liguori. Many other authorized biographies, based on the author’s interviews with the legends themselves, are included in this collective biography. Two biographies of National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductees are included: Pete Folse and Frank Riddle; along with six Little 500 Hall of Fame inductees featuring “The Zephyrhills Dominator,” Wayne Reutimann, and also Dave Scarborough, Jack Nowling, George Rudolph, Robert Smith, and “The Blue-Collar Man Who Became a Legend,” Frank Riddle. Additional biographies are included for Johnny Hicks, Pancho Alvarez, Cush Revette (profiled in an incredible untold story titled “American Sprint Car Drivers in Cuba”), Larry Brazil, and Dick Byerly. Tampa’s auto racing history and the story of Tampa’s Golden Gate Speedway are included along with countless exciting, pedal-to-the-floor sprint car racing, late model stock car, Northeast dirt modified, NASCAR, and Indy car racing stories in the first book from award-winning writer Richard Golardi.

     

     

     

    60 Years, 50 Years, and 30 Years Ago ... at the Little 500

     Story by Richard Golardi

     May 1, 2023

     60 Years Ago at the Little 500, May 25, 1963

    Controversy and No Joy for Pete and the Florida Posse

    Pete Folse, the Florida sprint car driver whose mastery of dirt tracks had already earned him three IMCA national sprint car championships, had already gone head-to-head with a pavement sprint car expert named Johnny White within the past year. In October 1962, the ’62 IMCA national point title went down to the last IMCA sprint car race of the year. That race, at Indiana’s Winchester Speedway, highlighted White’s uncanny ability to master the pavement in a sprint car, and he won the race and the ’62 IMCA championship. Pete Folse didn’t want to lose another big title to White just seven months later. While Johnny White knew he had the expertise and the asphalt advantage, Folse was going into the ’63 Little 500 with his own advantages. They comprised a lengthy list:

     

             He had a mechanical genius as his sprint car owner – Hector Honore.

             Pete’s skills had hardly diminished since his last IMCA point title in ’61. He took second place in the IMCA national points in ’62.

             Pete had won on asphalt in the past year, winning a super modified feature race at Tampa’s Golden Gate Speedway on November 18, 1962, beating Donnie Allison, Pancho Alvarez, and Buzz Barton to the checkered flag and taking five seconds off the 20-lap modified track record.

             Pete was determined to get a Little 500 win and believed that his second attempt to win would bring success. When Pete Folse’s determination and will to win kicked in, it was hard to beat him. Additionally, he wanted to be the first driver from Florida to win pavement sprint car racing’s greatest annual event.

     

     Pete Folse and the Black Deuce togther at Plant Field, Florida State Fair, Tampa, FL, 1959

    Toward the end of the ’63 Little 500, it looked like everything was coming together for Pete Folse. After making only one pit stop, Pete was attempting to drive all 500 laps by himself and with 25 laps to go, had led the most laps in the race’s second half. His toughest task in the last 25 laps was going to be fighting fatigue. In second place, Johnny White had shared the driving duties in the prior 475 laps with Californian Bob Coulter. With Johnny now back behind the wheel after getting a mid-race rest for nearly 200 laps while Bob Coulter drove, he was fresh and rested and passed Pete with 22 laps to go and won the race. The post-race controversy occurred when those persons who had witnessed Bob Coulter pass a car under the yellow flag on lap 337 made their argument that this infraction required a penalty according to the rule book. A penalty of just one lap would drop the White/Coulter car to second place and give the win to Pete Folse. Those arguing for a passing-under-yellow penalty were shouted down. The win stood. Pete Folse’s second-place finish was his last at the Little 500. He made an effort to get a ride for the Little 500 again in ’64 but failed after getting injured in Tampa during February Speedweeks racing. Florida sprint car fans had to wait another decade and a half for the first Sunshine State driver to get a Little 500 win.

     

    50 Years Ago at the Little 500, May 26, 1973

    The Dirt Guys Take Their Biggest Asphalt Win

    The Kinser Brothers racing team and those race car-driving members of the Kinser family have had tremendous success in dirt sprint car racing. This dirt domination caused a big asphalt sprint car race win to be routinely overlooked. It was their first Little 500 win in ’73. They earned this win with both skill and luck. Their two drivers were both from the Hoosier State, Dick Gaines and Calvin Gilstrap, and they qualified with the two fastest four-lap times. The Kinsers’ masterfully prepared Chevy-powered cars, choice of pole-winning sprint car ace Dick Gaines to drive, and push to take the lead with dark rain clouds approaching at mid-race showed their skill. Their luck came into play when the rain reached the skies over the track while Gaines led and then lasted long enough to prevent the race from being restarted on race day. After 282 laps were completed, the decision was made to call the race complete. The Kinser brothers shared the winner’s circle with their No. 11 car, Dick Gaines, and Indianapolis sponsor Mike Smith of Mike Smith Racing Equipment. Their No. 22 car and driver Calvin Gilstrap took sixth.

     

    An interesting sidenote reveals why Anderson Speedway didn’t attempt to run the last portion of the race (218 laps) on Sunday night (as they have done several times in recent years). The rain had also washed out the Saturday night USAC sprint car race at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis and that race was reset for Sunday. Anderson and the ASA (which sanctioned the Little 500) could lose cars and fans to the Indianapolis racing with a Sunday restart. Also, after reaching the 251st lap, the race could be considered complete and it made a Sunday restart unnecessary. Three years later, the team won a second Little 500 on May 29, 1976, again with Dick Gaines driving.

     

    30 Years Ago at the Little 500, May 29, 1993

    The First of Nine

    Upon winning the Little 500 for the first time in 1993, driver Eric Gordon remarked, “I would say it was luck that we won.” Oh, how wrong he was.

     

    Decades later, Eric Gordon’s Little 500 win total stands at nine wins, evidence that his skill at driving in long-distance pavement sprint car races is what earned him that first win, and the next eight. Well, maybe luck played a small part in that “greatest so far” Little 500 driving achievement. You certainly can’t predict when or if another car will spin out or crash directly in front of you and take you out. Skill was what Eric Gordon had on his side. The second-place car that day was driven by Bob Frey, who was then the all-time win leader with five Little 500 victories. By 2004, Gordon had his sixth win of nine total wins and was the new all-time win leader, a record that now seems as unbreakable as the NASCAR Cup Series career win record (200, Richard Petty), or single-season win record (27 wins, Richard Petty, 1967). The “interesting sidenote” for 1993 was that with that win, Eric Gordon (from Greenfield, IN) ended a streak of 11 consecutive wins by out-of-state drivers, with four of those victories by Floridians (Frank Riddle with two wins, and one each for Dave Scarborough and Jim Childers).

     

     

    Little 500 Hall of Fame Announces New Annual Legacy Award Honoring Jack Nowling

    April 19, 2023

    The Little 500 Hall of Fame has announced a new annual legacy award that honors the memory of Jack Nowling, a legendary Little 500 competitor and 2006 inductee from Florida. The Jack Nowling Award is named for the 1996 Little 500-winning car owner who loved competing in the Little 500 and dreamed of the day he would win it. This award will stand separately from the awarding of inductee status into the Little 500 Hall of Fame and will be conferred once annually on the day of the induction luncheon. Those eligible for the award are sprint car owners (individuals or teams), engine/car builders, chief mechanics, and those individuals, corporations, or race teams that have designed a system or device that has contributed to sprint car racing competition or safety.

    After Jack Nowling entered a car in the Little 500 each year for over a decade beginning in 1984 and seemed to be on his way to getting a win in ’88, he put together a team for the 1996 race that was a gathering of Hall of Fame talent. Each member of the team has now been inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame. With a car built by Jerry Stuckey, powered by an engine supplied by Harold Wirtjes, and driven by Dave Steele, this car won the 1996 Little 500 pole position, lead the most laps, and won the race.

    Nowling dedicated another decade to his quest to win the Little 500 again with a plethora of talented drivers, many from Florida’s fertile pavement sprint car talent pool. Twelve different drivers started the Little 500 in his sprint cars, and he had either one or two of his cars in the starting field through 2008. In addition to his one win as a car owner, his cars had a total of nine top-five finishes, twelve top-ten finishes, and led a total of 1,220 laps. His tenacity, determination, and friendly, selfless demeanor along with his mentoring of young open wheel race drivers earned Jack Nowling a place in the hearts of competitors and fans in Indiana, Florida, and nationwide. That is why this award will carry his name in perpetuity.

    The sponsors of this new award are Wayne and Shirlene Hammond. They have chosen to honor the memory of Dave Steele with their sponsor donation. Wayne is the general manager of Brandon Ford in Tampa, Florida, and previously drove a sprint car for Jack Nowling in the Little 500 and in Florida competition. In Wayne’s first Midwest racing season with Nowling in 1989, they won the USAC Hardee’s Deluxe Racing Series Championship, which consisted of a series of “Thursday Night Thunder” sprint car races at Indianapolis Raceway Park. The Hammonds’ donation will also qualify them for Associate Sponsor status. A new logo has been designed which will be engraved onto the Award Plaque and features a photo of Jack Nowling in the winner’s circle at Anderson Speedway in 1996 and lettering using the iconic “Quickload blue.”

    Even though Jack Nowling is no longer here to celebrate this honor along with his friends and family, one could imagine that he might react by speaking one of his favorite lines: “Lord have mercy, that’s really somethin’!” He might then go on to tell that story, one of his favorites, about how “it takes four things to win the Little 500.” Surprisingly, he didn’t include himself, the car owner, as one of those “four things.”

    Jack Nowling’s daughter, Dorothy, was asked for her reaction to this award being named for her father, and commented, “It’s absolutely amazing for other car owners, crew chiefs, and others to be recognized. It’s amazing. He would be so proud and honored!”

    The Little 500 Hall of Fame has expressed its thanks to Richard Golardi, columnist with Hoseheads.com, for originating the idea for the award, coordinating with the Nowling family, and obtaining a sponsor; Wayne and Shirlene Hammond for their sponsor donation; Dorothy Nowling for her assistance with the logo design and coordinating with the graphic designer; Mark Crawford for the graphic design of the logo; and Max Dolder for the logo photo. The 2023 recipient of the Jack Nowling Award will be announced shortly. The Little 500 Hall of Fame has invited the Little 500 community of participants and fans to this year’s induction luncheon, which will take place at Anderson Speedway, Indiana, on Saturday, May 27 beginning at 11 a.m. To purchase tickets, please contact Anderson Speedway (765) 642-0206, or David Sink (765) 278-8231.

     

     

     

    Rebels Rule!

     

    Story by Richard Golardi

     

    March 19, 2023

     

    “Rebels rule” read the National Speed Sport News photo caption in May 1977, declaring the rebel racers from “Down South” the victors in qualifying for the ’77 Little 500, a full two weeks before the day of the iconic 500-lap pavement sprint car race. In the photo, the baby-faced youngblood, Robert Smith, was a contrast to the other front-row starting Floridian in the photo, the grizzled, cigar-chomping, veteran racer, Bob Luscomb. Robert Smith had just earned the Little 500 pole position by setting new one- and four-lap records in his qualifying run. It was going to be the first Little 500 being run at the track since it was renamed Anderson Speedway, previously known as Sun Valley Speedway.

     

    In addition to Robert Smith’s record-setting run, which came one year after he earned the Rookie of the Year Award, this event marked the first time that a group of Floridians received headline-making recognition for their deeds at Anderson Speedway’s Little 500. There had been Floridians in the run to win the race before, and they had made a splash at the track and in the news. Pete Folse looked like he was on his way to winning in 1963 before he was passed with a handful of laps left and settled for second, and then Bill Roynon took second in 1975. These newsworthy finishes, accomplished by individual Florida racers, were recognized by those writing the news, but what happened in 1977 marked a turning point. Now the Floridians were getting recognized as a group. It wasn’t just one driver from Florida making the news. Now it was multiple drivers, along with car builders and owners too.

     

    It seemed inevitable that a Floridian would soon win the Little 500 for the first time, and it happened just two years later, when both Dave Scarborough and Wayne Reutimann competed for the win, and Wayne won with relief-driving help from Danny Smith after he was injured (concussion). Five years later, in the ’84 Little 500, Frank Riddle notched the first win for a Floridian who drove the entire distance by himself. All through the late ’80s and into the ’90s, it was an annual event for a group of drivers from Florida to compete to win the Little 500. They had the expertise of a wizard-like cadre of car builders and owners making the trip to Anderson with them, along with crew and family members. For a couple of years in the ’80s (1986 and ’87), there were 14 starters (42% of the qualifiers) from Florida, and a Floridian won in ’86 (Dave Scarborough). For the next four years, the number of Floridians starting the race never fell below 11.

     Jimmy Riddle in the Pete Crocker-owned No. 3X car, Golden Gate Speedway, 1975.

    It wasn’t long before these expert racers from the Sunshine State were recognized for their contribution to the Little 500 by being inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame. In 1996, Frank Riddle was the first Floridian to be inducted, and he jokingly remarked that he “didn’t know you got inducted into things unless you retired or died.” Later years saw small groups of Floridians getting inducted together, including 1997 (Robert Smith and Stan Butler), and then in recent times, there’s been a flood of years with multiple Floridians inducted, including 2013 (Mac Steele and Al Sweeney), 2019 (Bob Gratton and Jerry Stuckey), 2022 (Harry Campbell, Richard Fieler, and Charles Ledford), and now 2023.

     

    This weekend marked the most recent repeat of that “rebels rule” history-making event, with two Florida sprint car racing legends being chosen as 2023 inductees for the Little 500 Hall of Fame. They are:

             Car builder/owner Charlie Altfater, who built the ’79 Little 500 race-winning car and was renowned for his midget, sprint car, and USAC champ car building expertise. He also was a car builder and mentor for Robert Smith, building his pole position-winning car. He also is credited with building cars that finished in second place in 1977 with Robert Smith driving and in third place in 1980 with Bill Roynon driving.

             Car owner/driver Jimmy Riddle, whose win in 2000 came as a car owner with his son-in-law, Jim Childers, driving the car and his daughter, Charmaine, serving as the team’s crew manager in charge of their pit stop preparation (She said: “I choreographed those pit stops, and everybody had to have their job perfect. We practiced a lot.”). That win in 2000 filled in the last remaining part of the portrait of the Riddle brothers as a Little 500-winning family, with Frank winning as an owner/driver (1984 and ’85) and Jimmy winning as an owner. Now the brothers will both be Little 500 Hall of Fame inductees after this year’s ceremony is conducted at Anderson Speedway, Indiana, on Saturday, May 27.

     

    Also – Georgia boy and 1971 race-winning driver Herman Wise, who drove at Tampa’s Golden Gate Speedway, will also be inducted during that same ceremony in Anderson on May 27. Since he was a Southern driver, that still keeps that “rebels rule” theme in place and going strong on that day. Today, there are still lots of talented pavement sprint car drivers from Florida. Maybe a “rebel driver” will also win the “Lil’ Five” later that same day. Hmmm ... maybe ... just maybe.

     

     

     

     

    Florida’s Newest Sprint Car Racing Legend – Here’s Who He Is and How He Got There

     

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

     

    March 14, 2023

     

    How does one become a sprint car racing legend? Do you follow a plan with clearly defined steps and list those steps on a race shop sign that you’d glance at each day? You know how those steps are usually listed: rookie hot-shot, champion, dominator and multi-time champion, and finally – legend.

     

    During my time as a motorsport journalist in Florida, I’ve kept a close eye on the All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List. This list compiles sprint car feature wins that occurred in Florida beginning in 1969. I’ve been updating this list since 2015 when I took over from the list’s previous compiler. Among the names in the top twenty places on this list are such legends as Dave Steele, Wayne Reutimann, Frank Riddle, Jim Childers, Sam Rodriguez, and Sport Allen. In fact, I would classify all of the drivers holding a place in the top twenty as legends. I believe that Florida has had a history of intense sprint car competition on both dirt and pavement with highly skilled drivers, car owners, and teams ever since this list was started over a half-century ago. Because of this, the top twenty drivers have faced the challenge of competition, have emerged victorious, and have earned this status – as a Florida racing legend.

     

    I’ve noted that only three drivers have moved into the top twenty places on this list during my 17 years as a Florida journalist. Of the three new names, all are in the bottom half of the top twenty, and the initial two to make the move garnered most of their wins on pavement. The most recent name to move into the top twenty is the outlier. He has established himself as a dominant dirt sprint car racer and 2022 was another dominating year for him with nine dirt sprint car feature wins in Florida. That year of kicking butt on the Florida circuit catapulted him from 25th place on the list (2021 year-end), where there is a tightly-bunched group, to 16th place, which is where he stands as of December 31, 2022, at 11:59 p.m. That sprint car racer is Danny Martin Jr., and if you want to mark the moment when the 36-year-old racer became a Florida sprint car racing legend (he’d already climbed the next-to-last rung on that career progression ladder as a multi-time champion over a decade ago), well ... there it is.

     

    A little bit of a fun side-note on Danny’s career in Florida is that although almost all his Sunshine State sprint car wins came on dirt, with multiple track championships and three Top Gun Sprint Series point titles, not every win was on dirt. As far as I can tell, there is also one Florida pavement sprint car feature win. It came on May 12, 2007, at a TBARA race at Desoto Speedway with a wild last lap for Danny. Although we’ve seen some exciting last laps in Danny’s races over the years, including one at this year’s East Bay 360 Winternationals, this may have been the wildest of them all. For that reason, I’ll limit my description of this race to just the last lap. TBARA rookie and champion modified driver D.J. Hoelzle and 21-year-old Danny “The Hammer” Martin Jr. (as he was nicknamed) went under the white flag side-by-side. It looked like the driver who was the last to brake for turn one may likely gain an advantage that his opponent couldn’t counter with less than a lap to go. Danny was the last to brake going into Desoto’s treacherous first turn and took the lead and then the checkered flag as the winner, whereupon his throttle stuck open at the finish line. The Hammer then hammered the first turn wall, doing major damage to the car, but fortunately not to himself. In the winner’s circle, where Danny stood without his car, he deadpanned that it “was a great race from where I was sitting,” making no mention of how unpleasant it must have been to head into Desoto’s first turn in a car with a throttle that was stuck wide-open.

     

    I recently had the chance to interview Danny, along with car owner Doug Shaw, and chose not to reveal this latest noteworthy career achievement until the date this article was published. That way, he, his car owner, and all his friends and family would learn of this great achievement all at once. So, be wary of the possibility that if you’re the first to make a congratulatory phone call to Danny, he may be unaware. I’ll have that interview in a follow-up column (Florida’s Newest Sprint Car Racing Legend, Part 2) later this week.

     

    For now, I’ll take advantage of this opportunity that comes with being the current compiler of the All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List to be the first to congratulate Danny Martin Jr. on this remarkable achievement. It is truly a triumph of hard work, bravery, and determination for this adventurer and sportsman with “the right stuff.” I’m fortunate to be the one to report on this transition from ordinary racer to champion to this latest audacious victory, which has earned Danny this status as a legend and full-fledged master of the Florida sprint car racing universe. Danny also has the support of his owner and race team, and has a family that has supported, nurtured, and assisted him every step of the way, and they are all also deserving of recognition and congratulations.

     

    Way to go, Danny.

     

     

    Tonight’s East Bay 360 Winternationals Finale is Next-To-Last for Track

     

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

     Aaron Reutzel, feature race winner, East Bay 360 Winternationals, East Bay Raceway Park, February 17, 2023

    February 18, 2023

     

    Results so far in the first two nights (Thursday and Friday) for the 360 sprint car drivers from Florida at the East Bay Raceway Park 360 Sprint Car Winternationals (which is the next-to-last Winternationals with the track’s anticipated late 2024 closing):

     

    Highest Feature Finishes (so far): Danny Martin Jr. – 2nd (Friday); Garrett Green - 9th (Thursday); and Tyler Clem – 14th (Thursday)

     

    Highest Average Finishers (all races for those who raced on both Thursday and Friday): (1) Danny Martin Jr.: 2.8; (2) Conner Morrell: 5.6; (3) Brandon Grubaugh: 6.0; (4) Tyler Clem: 7.2; (5) Johnny Gilbertson: 7.6

     

    Average Finish for All Florida Drivers: (Clem 7.2; Diamond 7.0; Gilbertson 7.6; Green 8.0; Grubaugh 6.0; Kurtz 7.8; Maddox 11.8; Martin Jr. 2.8; Morrell 5.6; Murray 7.8)

     

    Tyler Clem:  Thursday – Feature – 14th, B Main #4- 1st, Heat #1 – 6th;  Friday – Feature – 17th, B Main #4 – 1st, Heat #1 – 4th

    Steve Diamond Jr.:  Thursday – B Main #3 – 8th, Heat #4 – 6th;  Friday - DNS

    Johnny Gilbertson:  Thursday – B Main #1 – 8th, Heat #5 – 5th;  Friday – Feature – 20th, B Main #4 – 2nd, Heat #6 – 3rd

    Garrett Green:  Thursday – Feature – 9th, B Main #3 – 1st, Heat #5 – 4th;  Friday – Feature – 23rd, Heat #1 – 3rd

    Brandon Grubaugh:  Thursday – B Main #1 – 6th, Heat #1 – 7th;  Friday – B Main #3 – 5th, Heat #2 – 6th

    Matt Kurtz:  Thursday – Feature – 18th, B Main #1 – 1st, Heat #1 – 3rd;  Friday – Feature – 19th, B Main #2 – 2nd, Heat #6 – 4th

    AJ Maddox:  Thursday – Feature – 23rd, B Main #4 – 2nd, Heat #2 – 8th;  Friday – Feature – 24th, Heat #2 – 2nd

    Danny Martin Jr.:  Thursday – B Main #4 – 3rd, Heat #1 – 5th;  Friday – Feature – 2nd, Heat #4 – 1st

    Conner Morrell:  Thursday – B Main #3 – 4th, Heat #2 – 4th;  Friday – Feature – 16th, B Main #1 – 1st, Heat #3 – 3rd

    Shawn Murray:  Thursday – B Main #4 – 9th, Heat #1 – 8th;  Friday – B Main #4 – 7th, Heat #1 – 7th

     

     

    Sam Hafertepe Jr. Interview: The Highs (and Low) of 2022

     Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

     February 14, 2023

     What: interview with winged sprint car driver Sam Hafertepe Jr., a five-time (2016–20) ASCS national sprint car champion. Place: East Bay Raceway Park, Gibsonton, Florida. Event: Tezos All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car Series, 2023 Series Race #3, winged dirt sprint car race. Date: Monday, February 13, 2023.

     Sam Hafertepe Jr. prepares to race at East Bay Raceway, 2-13-2023.

    Q. What was the highlight of the year for you in 2022?

    A. You know, coming off of getting burned early in the year in Georgia and then coming back the next week and winning the King of the 360s at East Bay [Saturday, February 19, 2022] was pretty special to me just coming off an injury like that, actually a lingering injury. To come off something like that and get the win down here at a place that we’re never really that good at, and we won just about every other 360 race besides East Bay. It was really cool to get that win, and then obviously winning the final Short Track Nationals. Between those two, those are pretty big highlights for us last year.

     

    Q. What happened in Georgia and how were you injured?

    A. We caught on fire, got burned decently bad on my left ankle and tried to stay home and recuperate, but I couldn’t stay away, so we just came back down to East Bay a little over a week later. Luckily, I had good bandages and things like that to keep it dry and keep it clean and keep infection out of it. I didn’t need a skin graft. It was close, but not that bad. It was cool just to get down here and win after going through something like that.

     

    Q. What is your main goal for this year?

    A. We’re really just focused this year on running mainly 410 stuff all year long. In the past years, we maybe ran forty 410 races and probably thirty to thirty-five 360 races, kinda mixed between the 360 and 410. And we’re trying to kinda get rid of running the 360 so much, to focus on the 410 primarily this year. I think it messes us up running the 360 and the 410 together. 360 – we kinda really got a lot of good notes in that division. With the 410, I felt like when you start running the 360 more, you start kinda doing some of those same things back to the 410, and the two classes don’t relate at all. So this year, we’ve got the King of the 360s here in February and then the 360 Nationals at Knoxville, and other than that, that’s the only 360 races we’ll run this year.

     

    Q. And where will your 410 races be, and will you run the entire All Star schedule?

    A. No, we’re probably going to run about 50 Outlaw shows and probably 25 All Star shows. Almost all the High Limit stuff, maybe all of it, and then, obviously, we’ll be in Pennsylvania for a few of their bigger races and obviously Ohio a little bit around Speedweek and some of the bigger races as well – ya know, Eldora Million. We’ll hit all the big premier races all year long.

     

    Q. Is there any single race that you’d like to win that you have not yet won?

    A. I mean, in the 410 deal, we’ve been out of it so long that, it’d be nice to win any of ’em. We come in having a positive mindset this year, and getting a good group of guys behind me and me trying to focus on just driving the race car and see what that does for us. I think we learned a lot down in Volusia early in the year already and I felt like we are going to learn a lot this week as well and we keep building on small accomplishments, and towards the middle of the year, I think we’ll have a big head of steam.

     

    Q. How old are you now?

    A. Thirty-seven.

     

    Q. You’re pretty young. A retirement question would be totally inappropriate, so I’ll skip that question. You’ve got another two decades, or so!

    A. Yeah. Me and my wife, we have some kids. That’s a big priority to me, too. Oh yeah, they’re little. We’ve got an 11-year-old, an eight-year-old, and a one-and-a-half-year-old. I still want to be a part of what they do, all the time. So, the biggest thing is if we get some good guys behind me, I can get home and be with my family as well. In years past, I haven’t been able to do that. I kinda ran my whole operation. So this year, I’m trying to step back a little bit and let my guys take care of their job and see if I can do mine.

     

     

    World of Outlaws Season-Opening Race and Weekend Review

     

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     

    February 13, 2023

     

    With the season-opening World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series races completed Friday night (Saturday was another rainout) at Florida’s Volusia Speedway Park, one of the current top drivers, David Gravel, put in a stout performance with two opening-night feature wins. He was able to pull far out and away from the car running in second place in the first feature race, as often happens in winged sprint car races at Volusia Speedway Park. Seeing the older drivers fade and a small group of younger drivers dominating the win column seems to be a normal passing of the guard in the World of Outlaws sprint cars. Of course, no single sprint car driver seems to be emerging as both a new fan favorite and media darling and night-in and night-out blast-through-the-field showman.

     David Gravel, World of Outlaws Sprint Car season-opening feature race winner, Volusia Speedway Park, FL, Friday, February 10, 2023.jpg

    So now that Kyle Larson has come and gone as a semi-regular World of Outlaws sprint car competitor, who is left to provide that type of Kyle Larson-style excitement? Maybe nobody. Maybe we won’t see the skill level that Kyle Larson once provided. Kyle’s reward for focusing his racing efforts elsewhere will be a chance for the “next big things” that he wants in racing: (1) a Daytona 500 win, and (2) an Indianapolis 500 win. He may very likely get both. Of course, he also hopes to be a multi-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and NASCAR legend. A majority of fans like the predictable stable of drivers that they can depend on seeing at any World of Outlaws race from Florida to California and all points in between. Maybe Kyle Larson will dip into the World of Outlaws sprint cars every once in a while.

     

    For the second year in a row, I got the chance to have a conversation with a British fan during the Volusia World of Outlaws show. This fan, himself a British short-track racer, seemed to know as much about American short-track racing as he did about the British variety. We spoke about a recent racing book by a British author, “The Stock Car Ghosts” by Steve Daily, and the legacy of British racing promoter Digger Pugh, and Pugh’s 1955 visit to Daytona Speedweeks to meet with Big Bill France Sr. That meeting resulted in a plan for the two men to take NASCAR stock car racing worldwide, a plan that fell apart by the end of the year partly due to Digger Pugh’s poorly-run stock car series (England vs. U.S.A. stock car series, 1955) that devolved into chaos and angered the American teams and drivers.

     Top Three Finishers, (1) David Gravel, center, winner; (2) Buddy Kofoid, left, second; (3) Danny Dietrich, right, third; World of Outlaws feature race, Volusia Speedway Park, FL, Friday, February 10, 2023

     

    New Smyrna Speedway’s annual February stock car festival, the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing, has an impressive record of showcasing young talent in the early stage of their stock car racing careers. Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell are two recent examples of drivers who raced at New Smyrna Speedway and went on to significant success in NASCAR Cup Series stock cars.

     

    The latest example of a stock car star-in-the-making at the World Series of Asphalt may very likely be 16-year-old William Sawalich from Minnesota, who is racing in the Super Late Model division this week at New Smyrna Speedway. He raced in the World Series of Asphalt at New Smyrna Speedway last year and took third place in the series Pro Late Model points. He already has a top-four SLM qualifying result and one SLM feature win (Sunday) at New Smyrna and may likely get several more between today and Saturday, when the World Series of Asphalt ends. Then, a big opportunity begins for William Sawalich: he has been selected to be a Joe Gibbs Racing driver and race for his new team in the ARCA Menards Series beginning at Phoenix Raceway on March 10. He’ll drive in a 20-race ARCA schedule this year in the No. 18 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing. The teenage racer has already proven his ability at the wheel of a stock car after winning 15 races in 2022, which included a win in Florida at Five Flags Speedway. Now he’s won at another Florida track and Florida race fans should take note, since he could be the next future star that you get to see during the early stage of his racing career right here in Florida during Speedweeks.

     

     

     

    The Future of the 360 Sprint Car Winternationals: Discussion with Pete Walton

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    February 7, 2023

    After overseeing the successful completion of the 900th race for his United Sprint Car Series (USCS) on Friday, February 3, USCS president and founder Pete Walton was feeling cheerful and upbeat when I met with him the next night. It was the second of two nights of racing at Hendry County Motorsports Park in Clewiston, Florida. Getting there requires an East-Coaster like me to traverse the width of Lake Okeechobee’s north coast, and then turn to the south and travel the length of the lake shore to arrive at the track. It is Pete Walton’s South Florida stop on a Speedweeks schedule that includes North Florida (Volusia Speedway Park) and the panhandle (Southern Raceway, Milton).

    License plate from 360 sprint car competitor at USCS Florida race in February

    “Mark Smith won the 900th race last night,” Pete Walton told me. “That means he’s fifth all-time [in career USCS feature wins]. He is 25 races behind Derek Hagar, with 66.” Next, I presented my bold idea to Pete Walton, a recommendation that concerns the soon-to-disappear East Bay Raceway Park 360 Sprint Car Winternationals, which disappears from East Bay after the 2024 running, when the track is sold and is closed (the new owner, a mining company, has no intention of running a race track). I said, “You should take over the three days of 360 sprint car racing in February each year, and then after East Bay is closed, call it your own ‘USCS 360 Sprint Car Winternationals,’ with a $10,000 first-place prize for winning on the last day.”

    Pete Walton’s next comment referenced “doing that,” and by “that,” Walton was referring to a February 3 press release from Volusia Speedway Park. The release announced that they, VSP, prior to next year’s February DIRTcar Nationals, were going to have their own 360 sprint car “high-paying three-day spectacular, Jan. 25–27, 2024.”

    USCS 360 sprint car podium from January race in Florida.

    Pete Walton remarked, “I don’t know if that’s us doing that or them. They ain’t called me about it. They were real happy about everything we did when we left. I saw they announced that.” Volusia Speedway Park is calling it the Southern Sprint Car Shootout, as the 360 Winternationals title will still be claimed by Easy Bay Raceway during its last running in February 2024. There was no mention of any desire to take over the 360 Winternationals title, or to move the event (after 2024) to the traditional time slot during the three nights before the Daytona 500, which this year is Feb. 16-18.

    “They’ve got everybody they need to do that,” Walton said, referring to Volusia. “They didn’t really have to have us there, but they did, and I don’t know if they’ll want us to come back and do that, or not. They said there was more details to follow – so, I don’t know. They may be getting ready to start their own 360 deal, for all I know. You know they [now referring to the DIRTcar Nationals] started the midgets and the non-wing sprints last year, but they got USAC comin’ to their track, maybe that’s a payback for workin’ with ’em. Cause you remember they were kinda doin’ co-sanctioned deals, so maybe they told USAC, ‘Well, we’ll bring y’all down in February and leave our deal home.’ Something to trade-off, ya know? So, they have ‘peace in the valley,’ ya know? Remember the song? That might have been what all that’s about.”

    Walton admitted that it’s likely that Volusia Speedway Park will want to do something that will be a 2025 replacement for the East Bay 360 Winternationals, and that Ken Kinney of Hendry County Motorsports Park told him of a desire to have a three-day 360 Sprint Car Winternationals. “But I don’t know if you’ll ever get enough people down here [in South Florida] to do that,” Walton stated. “I think it’s hard to get everybody down here.” Does Walton think that Volusia is the next-best site available after East Bay’s closing? “Yeah,” he replied, “other than the fact it is so big. We said, ‘Yeah, we’d be glad to have our season-opener again there next year, we’d be glad to talk about it.’ When they run late models, during the last week before the Daytona 500, well, you know that’s a real successful event for them. I’m sure they don’t wanna change it, and it’s also following a big sprint car race [All Star and World of Outlaws sprint cars one to two weeks before the Daytona 500]. Really, probably two weeks out was probably the right timing. To be honest with you, I don’t think they did enough local promotion to have people there.”

    Regarding the rest of this year’s USCS national sprint car racing, Pete Walton says that he is looking forward to “April on, if you don’t get rained-out too much in April, and I enjoy our Speedweeks racing, when we race six times in nine days [from May 26 to June 3]. We are going to West Virginia for our first time ever to Beckley Motor Speedway. That’s a state we never ran in – so that’s kinda cool since we never had a race in West Virginia. I should call Senator Joe Manchin so I can say, ‘I’ve never been to West Virginia, would you like to have dinner with me?’ Right? I’m a Republican, but you can sit down with me! The other races I really look forward to include Riverside Speedway in West Memphis, because that was the location of the first race I went to when I was three years old. Then I put on that Flip Flop 50 race at the end of the year over there in October. And I always enjoy that because it goes really well. We get a lot of people to come out and watch, and it’s the fifteenth year and everybody’s always excited about that race.”

     

     

    Speedweeks National Series Sprint Car Racing Begins and “Race Village”

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    January 26, 2023

    The first national series sprint car racing during Florida Speedweeks arrives this weekend with a surprise. It is 360 sprint car racing, but it is not at East Bay Raceway Park, or Hendry County Motorsports Park, or Southern Raceway (those tracks that hosted all the Speedweeks 360 racing in the recent past). It is at North Florida’s Volusia Speedway Park. Finally, the track that seemed to be absolutely married to winged 410 racing during Speedweeks is branching out. Good timing, too. One of Florida’s most iconic annual 360 sprint car events, the East Bay 360 Winternationals, will soon need a new home (2025?). Hopefully, a new track will take on the event and its usual “race on the three nights before the Daytona 500” time slot. Paging Pete Walton (USCS head honcho) and Volusia Speedway Park! Are you listening out there?

    USCS in Florida -Tony Stewart leads Danny Martin Jr. at USCS race at Bubba Raceway Park on Saturday, April 1, 2017

    Volusia did take some bold steps outside of their usual winged 410s during Speedweeks and local limited 360 racing (during the rest of the year) in 2022. First, there were the Extreme Outlaw Series non-wing races in February (a chilling memory I have of that event was seeing a guy walk past wearing only a T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops with the temperature hovering around freezing). Then there was the 360 non-sanctioned race in December that attracted Floridians almost exclusively (Floridians are increasingly getting into USCS/ASCS 360 racing, but still not willing to totally ditch the limited 360s). That brings us up to this weekend, now with a duo of sanctioned 360 races with USCS (their first time back at Volusia in 18 years) for Friday/Saturday. Perfect timing. That’s because one of the frequently downplayed forms of Speedweeks racing, but often one of the most exciting, is making a big stand this year – winged 360 dirt sprint car racing.

    After this weekend, the USCS national sprint car series travels to the only active short oval in South Florida, Hendry County Motorsports Park on February 3 & 4, followed by the panhandle’s Southern Raceway on February 10 & 11. With one weekend of 360 sprint car racing already complete in Florida (the Top Gun Sprint Series at East Bay, Jan. 19–21), that slots the USCS racers into the next three weekends. But wait, there’s more. A fifth consecutive weekend of Speedweeks 360 dirt sprint cars is next (East Bay 360 Winternationals, East Bay, Feb. 16–18), and then a sixth consecutive Speedweeks weekend when the USCS series is back at Southern Raceway on Feb. 24–25. Is that enough Florida 360 dirt sprint car racing for you?

    Here are the talented artists with a steering wheel showing up for the show this weekend at Volusia Speedway Park. You’ve got the 2022 national 410 sprint car win leader with 23 wins (Anthony Macri), the NA$CAR $tar bringing his NOS Energy Drink $ponsor dollars (Ricky $tenhouse Jr.), a bloke coming all the way across the pond from England (Ryan Harrison), two National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductees (Terry Gray and Danny Smith), and speedy Floridians with recent Sunshine State wins in 2022 (Tyler Clem, Danny Martin Jr., Garrett Green).

    Speaking of dollars, I was puzzled and amused to learn of a recent proposal made for a Manatee County/Bradenton housing alternative for lovers of Florida short track (and drag track) racing, something that has been called “Race Village.” I’ll get this out right up front ... What the bleep were they thinking? First off, this brilliant idea did not come from anybody in the Florida short track racing community. They never would have made such a brainless proposal. They know better. No, this idea came from ... (you saw this coming, didn’t you?) an attorney.

    That’s right – a local attorney involved with the whole mess that is a housing development planned right next to a short oval (Freedom Factory, Bradenton) and a drag strip (Bradenton Motorsports Park) has offered up a rip-roaringly boneheaded idea to make the subdivision land closest to the two tracks (140 acres near State Road 64) into some sort of paradise for wealthy people who like racing (of the short track and drag varieties, it is assumed). They will be close to the tracks, because who doesn’t like to have a family dinner at which you can’t hear anyone sitting at the dinner table, have lots of money for a house with a super-sized attached garage, and will agree (for all time?) to never bad-mouth the track (“raise objections” was their term) or make any trouble for them due to excessive noise. That last point is interesting (and will never stand up in court) due to your lot and home in Race Village coming with a demand to give up your First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Seems kind of ironic for an attorney to propose to people living next to a track called the Freedom Factory that they should give up some of their freedom, doesn’t it? Hopefully this attorney and his law firm will say that Race Village was a really bad idea and that it’s been given the boot. Maybe, Mr. Attorney, you could talk to those people in the Florida short track racing community first. That might help – heck, they might even invite you to a race, and you may like it. You never know.

     

     

     

    Florida Pavement Sprint Car Racing Week in Review – This Week & 25 Years Ago

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    December 29, 2022

    As of the date of this article, a tentative 2023 BG Products Southern Sprint Car Series schedule has seven races being held at two tracks, Auburndale Speedway and Citrus County Speedway. The chance of adding additional tracks to the 2023 schedule might be nominal, and there may be only one track worth considering that is both safe (and can be easily inspected by an independent source [not associated with a sanctioning body, sponsor, driver, or team] to confirm this status) and has recently hosted sprint car racing. That’s the former 4-17 Southern Speedway, which hopefully will be known once again as Punta Gorda Speedway in the near future (one can hope).

    Or, there’s an entirely plausible and not off-the-wall alternative that deserves consideration for the 2023 Southern Sprint Car season, set to begin on January 21 at Auburndale Speedway. It harks back to something that was done in Florida (and nationally) by several sanctioning bodies. I don’t know if the rift (the split?) between Florida pavement sprint car promoters has been healed, or maybe just bandaged-over for the time being. But I do know one thing – they have worked together in the recent past (in October, when a series-sanctioned Southern Sprint Car race was held at Pinellas Park’s Showtime Speedway).

    Non-wing Southern Sprint Car series race at Showtime Speedway in April 2016

    There’s an alternative to considering unvetted, newbie promoters and track owners (or leaseholders) with no circle-track racing credentials. It’s this – have a 2023 Southern Sprint Car Series season with two divisions: Division A, with the current season schedule and all winged events; and Division B, with all races at Showtime Speedway without wings. A solution to the current dilemma? Yes, because the 2023 season could then easily get to 15–18 races. No problem. Points awarded as follows: both divisions will award points toward a division champion in their respective division and also an overall series champion. Only the overall champion will have the right to use the title of “2023 series champion.” Plus, there are two new divisions that present two new sponsor opportunities, e.g., Division B Presented by STG, Speedway-Tested Goop.

    Since the race fans far outnumber the race officials and participants in Florida sprint car racing, here’s a novel approach that we should use on this issue. Let’s find out what the fans think of this two-division revamping of the 2023 season for Florida pavement sprint car racing. Since this can’t be done on the Hoseheads website, feel free to post your fans-only opinion on my social media page (Facebook and Twitter). Or just make your opinion public on your own social media page. Maybe the little guy, who pays for admission and so much more, deserves to be heard. I think they do. Speak up. I can assure you I’m listening.

    L to R, Pancho Alvarez, Larry Tyler, and Gene Adler at the 2014 Golden Gate Reunion

    In December 1997, twenty-five years ago this week, 42-year-old sprint car driver Larry Tyler was celebrating his first Tampa Bay Area Racing Association (TBARA) driver championship. When the TBARA went to an all-pavement format at the beginning of 1997, that was an advantage for Tyler, a recognized Florida pavement sprint car expert (his 25 career sprint car wins in Florida were all on asphalt). A couple of days after Christmas in ’97, Tyler received the news of his second biggest accolade of the year. He was named as the Tampa Tribune’s Short Track Driver of the Year. That was back when the Tribune used to cover all Tampa area sports, not just the ones that they personally liked. Within a decade, the Tribune had shunned local short track racing and ignored it. Fortunately, that’s around the time when the internet took up the duty of keeping Tampa area race fans informed while local newspapers were steering into a ditch and toward irrelevance.

    Larry Tyler earned his first (and only) TBARA championship by winning a series-high five feature races and beating Jim Childers by a 64-point margin. Tyler said that Childers was one of his favorite drivers when he was young and that he started racing at East Bay Raceway in 1980 in the Thunder Car class. A later excursion in Southern Modifieds at the Tampa fairgrounds half-mile dirt oval was followed by his first sprint car ride in one of champion-maker Jack Nowling’s cars in 1988. A superfluous trivia fact about Tyler’s ’97 TBARA championship was that it was the only year a one-time champion was crowned during a 16-year period, 1984–99. Dirt experts and multi-time champions mostly ruled the roost in the TBARA at that time.

    Other 1997 Florida sprint car racing highlights from that year-end review 25 years ago included Gene Lasker getting 14 dirt sprint car feature wins at East Bay Raceway, Kipp Beard earning the TBARA Rookie of the Year title and third place in series points, 1988 TBARA champ Wayne Reutimann winning four series features, and Dave Steele solidifying his status as a top-runner in USAC national open-wheel racing competition.

     

     

     

    Florida’s 2022 Sprint Car Champions

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    December 5, 2022

    With two season finales and two champions crowned this past weekend, Florida’s traveling sprint car series both ended their 2022 seasons. Three track sprint car champions had already been determined prior to this past weekend, so these were the final two champions added to this year’s list of champions:

    2022 Florida Sprint Car Champions

    BG Products Southern Sprint Car Series – Davey Hamilton Jr.
    Top Gun Sprint Series – Brandon Grubaugh
    East Bay Raceway Park 360 Limited Sprint Cars – (Tie) Joe Zuczek and Danny Jones
    Showtime Speedway Non Wing Sprint Cars – Tyler Porter
    Southern Raceway Non Wing Sprint Cars – Blake Bowen

    Davey Hamilton Jr

    The two traveling series, Southern Sprint Car and Top Gun, both had young racers earning their first Florida sprint car championship. Hamilton had previously won the 2016 King of the Wing national sprint car series title. Two of the track series had abbreviated seasons, with Southern Raceway conducting only one weekend of two races in late June, and East Bay Raceway Park only getting in three races with the deluge of rain that slammed Florida during the summer and early fall causing multiple race cancellations. That deluge included both summer storms and hurricanes. The remaining sprint car track champion, Tyler Porter at Showtime Speedway, compiled the most points during an abbreviated five-race season, winning two of the five races. At East Bay, Garrett Green won two of the three races but scored no points in the third, and that took him out of contention for the championship in a shortened season. Two other drivers were tied in points at East Bay and were named co-champions in the limited sprint car class.

    Up in the panhandle, Southern Raceway seemed to depend on the Southeast’s traveling series, the USCS national sprint car series, to bring in dirt open wheel fans. USCS had five races at the Milton, FL track this year, and is expected to have more races in 2023. East Bay’s future is very limited. A five-year deal to sell the track (to Mosaic Co., a mining company) comes due in 2024. Next year’s East Bay Winternationals will either be the last, or next to last. I wonder if they’ll play Auld Lang Syne at the end of the last race, as they did at the end of the last IMCA Winternationals at Tampa’s Plant Field in February 1975. At least we had almost another half-century of racing at another Tampa area dirt track before “progress” pushed that track out. We know it’s coming – the four saddest words in Florida dirt track racing, “So long, East Bay.”

    The two rookies who garnered series Rookie of the Year titles, youngster Steven Hollinger in the Southern Sprint Car Series, and grizzled veteran Troy Thompson in the Top Gun Sprint Series, both expressed gratitude for successful seasons that didn’t exactly have an uplifting final race. Steven, who is 20 years old and lives in Melbourne, placed fifth in the season points as the highest-placed rookie but dropped out of the Saturday season finale with an engine problem. His father, Rex, was the TBARA Rookie of the Year 10 years ago. Troy, the owner of a Brooksville machine shop, earned the Top Gun ROTY title on dirt and crashed out of Saturday’s race, which left him and his car damaged. A trip to the hospital revealed that the hard crash caused a broken sternum and bruised lungs. Troy stated that he’ll be back after some recovery time.

    2022 Florida Sprint Car Win Totals by Driver

    9 wins:
    Danny Martin Jr.

    7 wins:
    Davey Hamilton Jr.

    6 wins:
    Tyler Clem

    4 wins:
    Mark Smith

    2 wins:
    Emerson Axsom
    Garrett Green
    Daniel Miller
    Kyle O’Gara
    Tyler Porter

    1 win:
    Sport Allen
    Blake Bowen
    Shane Butler
    Hayden Campbell
    Tyler Courtney
    Cory Eliason
    Davie Franek
    Justin Grant
    David Gravel
    Terry Gray
    LJ Grimm
    Brandon Grubaugh
    Sam Hafertepe Jr.
    Sheldon Haudenschild
    David Kelley
    CJ Leary
    AJ Maddox
    Thomas Meseraull
    Michael Miller
    Jacob Myers
    Tommy Nichols
    Aaron Reutzel
    Donny Schatz

    Of the 32 different sprint car feature winners in Florida in 2022, six had names starting with the letters G and R. All had one win during the year, except for Garrett Green, who had two. Donny Schatz had one win during February Speedweeks, giving him 28 career sprint car feature wins in Florida. Schatz is edging ever-closer to the current all-time leader in an obscure category: “career sprint car feature wins in Florida by an out-of-state driver.” Since 1969 (when such records began being recorded), the leader in this category is Danny Lasoski, with 32 career wins in Florida. Lasoski had many Speedweeks with a dominating run. First-class cars along with dirt driving skills allowed him to keep his Florida mojo going for years.

    Danny Martin Jr

    Danny Martin Jr. and Davey Hamilton Jr. bookended their dominating runs in Florida this year. Martin’s run happened early in the season, with six of his seven Top Gun series feature wins, and one of his two Bubba Raceway Park wins, happening before mid-May. Hamilton’s 2022 Florida success all came (except for one early-season win) in a compressed period of less than two months at the end of the season. He garnered six pavement feature wins in Florida between October 8 and December 3, with five in the Southern Sprint Car Series and one at Showtime Speedway in their non-wing class.

    The number of drivers doing double-duty racing on both dirt and pavement during the year is decreasing. Drivers who most recently won on both Florida dirt and pavement in the same year (Shane Butler, Sport Allen, and Garrett Green) seemed to be cutting back to one surface only for most of the year. All three drivers won in 2022 on the surface they picked as their favorite, which was pavement for Sport Allen and dirt for both Butler and Green.

    Emerson Axsom

    A couple of the out-of-state drivers who stood out during February Speedweeks were Kyle O’Gara (Indiana) on pavement and Mark Smith (Pennsylvania) on dirt. O’Gara won on consecutive Saturday nights at Showtime Speedway in February, with the second feature win earning him the Dave Steele World Non-Wing Championship title. Mark Smith got an East Bay Winternationals win (as he usually seems to do most years) on Thursday, the opening night, to go along with three February wins in the USCS national series at Hendry County Motorsports Park and Southern Raceway. The Big Gator Sprint Car Championship at Volusia Speedway Park in February went to David Gravel with finishes of fourth, second, and first on the three nights of World of Outlaws sprint car racing. Emerson Axsom won two of the three USAC National Sprint Car Series races at Bubba Raceway Park in February and also won the 2022 USAC Sprint Car Rookie of the Year title.

     

     

    Top Five Greatest Modified Races in Golden Gate Speedway History (1962–69)

     Story by Richard Golardi

     October 4, 2022

     There were a lot of great races and great rivalries during the twenty-two years of racing at Tampa’s Golden Gate Speedway. The track, a third-mile asphalt oval known as “the Gate,” had the good fortune to operate during racing’s “Golden Era,” that period during the 1960s and ’70s when some of the greatest drivers, car owners, and promoters were active. It might seem obvious that the names of the best modified drivers in the Tampa Bay area are seen in this list. Both modified and super modified races are included in the list, which does not include races after August 1969, when the modified class had its name changed to the sprint car class. Here are the Top Five Greatest Modified Races in Golden Gate Speedway History, May 1962 to August 1969:

     

    1)  The Pavement Master vs. the Dirt Master, Modified Feature Race, Saturday, April 4, 1964

     

    The modified feature in early April ’64 matched two drivers who were both inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame: Frank Riddle (inducted in 2010), and Pete Folse (1995). Frank Riddle had matured into a formidable modified driver and pavement racing expert. He had a single super modified track championship at the Gate, winning the super modified championship race in December ’63. His first Golden Gate modified track championship came a few years later, in ’67.

    Pete Folse had established himself as a national racing star by winning the IMCA National Sprint Car Series driver championship three times, 1959–61. His expertise on dirt matched Frank’s expertise on pavement. As Frank led the 20-lap modified feature race, Pete was right on his tail. Pete pressured Frank throughout the race, waiting for Frank to make a mistake that would allow him to pass. Frank was perfect, never making the slightest bobble, holding off Pete to win one of the most exciting modified races seen at Golden Gate (Pete was second). On this night, the Pavement Master defeated the Dirt Master.

     

    2)  Dick Pratt Burns Up the Modified Class in 1965, Wins Super Modified Championship Race, Sunday, October 17, 1965

     

    The 60-lap Super Modified Championship Race on October 17, 1965, was the first super modified race (with no engine size limit) at the Gate in two years. It attracted other Southeast champions such as Mobile and Pensacola champ Ival Cooper, Herman Wise from Atlanta, and Armond Holley. Among the local favorites were Dick Pratt, leading modified feature winner at the Gate in ’65 (17 wins in 21 features); and Dave Scarborough, who held the one-lap super modified track record and was the ’65 modified track champ. The local pilots included Will Cagle (in Willard Smith’s car), Jack Arnold, Bill Roynon, and Frank and Jim Riddle.

    Dick Pratt, the 1963 Golden Gate modified track champion, romped to a dazzling championship race win with a last-turn, last-lap pass while his engine was running on seven cylinders. Fans in the packed stands, a near sellout, watched Dick Pratt pass Georgian Herman Wise within yards of the finish line in the most exciting finish of the year for the modified ace. Wayne Reutimann came in third in the No. 00jr Reutimann Chevrolet modified. His modified-sprint championship at the Gate came four years later.

     

    3)  Pete Folse Breaks Track Record and Beats a Stellar Field of Super Modifieds, Sunday, November 18, 1962

     

    The team of driver Will Cagle and car owner Willard Smith were the biggest winners of the year in the Gate’s super modified class in ’62, taking the track championship along with the Florida-Georgia Championship (at Jacksonville and Savannah).

    Moved to Sunday afternoon in the fall, the super modified class had top drivers such as Dick Pratt, Bill Roynon, and Pete Folse, who recently returned from the IMCA sprint car circuit in which he narrowly missed a fourth consecutive driver championship. Miami racer Donnie Allison was bringing his modified from his home base in South Florida.

    The super modified heat and semifinal were taken by Bill Roynon and Dave Scarborough. With Allison starting on the pole in Sunday’s feature, it looked like the favorites were established for the feature race. Allison held the lead until the 15th lap. Pete Folse moved up, made his pass in the south turn, and took the lead. Pancho Alvarez followed him a lap later and Pete and Pancho continued their battle, now for first place, with Allison holding third in a converted sprint car with a wing. Buzz Barton moved up to challenge Allison for third, and at the finish it was Folse in first (taking five seconds off the 20-lap modified track record), followed by Pancho Alvarez and Donnie Allison. Pete Folse continued racing modifieds at the Gate for several more years in the ’60s, but this was the Tampa ace’s greatest race win at the Gate during his career.

     

    4)  Wayne Reutimann Shows the Way with New “Sprint-Type Bodied Modified,” Saturday, May 10, 1969

     

    With the new “sprint-type bodies” allowed in the modified class at the start of the 1969 season, the advantage went to those modified drivers who already had sprint car driving experience. The drivers with the most sprint car experience were Wayne Reutimann and Frank Riddle, and also Bill Roynon in super modifieds. They were starting the year with an advantage over the rest of the modified drivers. Jim Alvis Sr. and Dave Scarborough were also seen as having expertise in any car they drove at the Gate.

    In the Saturday night 25-lap modified feature on May 10, Wayne Reutimann had several obstacles to victory – the cars driven by Frank Riddle, Donnie Tanner, and Jim Alvis Sr. After Riddle was out with mechanical problems and Tanner flipped his car and was done, Jim Alvis moved up to challenge Wayne for the lead and pulled even with him several times. After his engine started faltering, Alvis fell back and settled for second behind feature winner Wayne.

    In the points battle for the Golden Gate modified/sprint car track championship in ’69, Wayne’s closest competition was from Alvis and Larry Brazil. Both were within 400 points of Wayne’s point accumulation for the season. After Wayne won the final four sprint car feature races of the season, he came out ahead, taking the point championship and the title as Golden Gate Speedway’s first sprint car track champion. Alvis admitted that Wayne Reutimann had earned the championship and just plain “outdrove” him.

     

    5)  “Scarborough Night,” The Night When Dave Scarborough Beat Up the Competition, Saturday, July 7, 1962

     

    Scarborough Night, as it was dubbed, was when Dave Scarborough, a favorite in both the super modified and sportsman classes in ’62, displayed a “sensational bit of driving.” The truth was that he beat up and thoroughly humiliated the competition that night. He deserved for that night to take his name. In a single night, Dave won five races, tied for another race win, and broke two track records. He won the semifinal and feature race in super modifieds, in addition to two heat races and the feature in the sportsman class, in which he also tied for the semifinal win. When the ’62 season ended, Scarborough was the Gate’s first sportsman class track champion. The “Largo Flash” later was a two-time modified track champion at Golden Gate, winning the modified track title in 1965 and ’68, and after the switch to sprint cars, he also took the sprint car track championship in ’70.

     

    This coming weekend, the annual Golden Gate Speedway Reunion is set for an 8 a.m. start on Sunday, October 9 at the Nowling family property located at 8711 Bliss Road in Gibsonton, Florida. The singing of the National Anthem and scheduled speakers begins at 11 a.m.

     

    Here’s a look back at the inaugural Golden Gate Speedway Reunion in 2013 to get you excited for this weekend’s event:

     

    https://youtu.be/iXjbPC0WLDo

     

     

     

     

    2012 TBARA feature race winner Dude Teate

    Southern Sprint Car Series OKs 410s for 2023

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    September 23, 2022

    A recent announcement revealed planned changes to the engine rules for the BG Products Southern Sprint Car Series for the 2023 season. This marks the biggest change for Florida pavement sprint car racing since the 2015 demise of the TBARA and the introduction of a new pavement series to replace it. It was close to seven years ago, in late 2015, when the initial press release to announce the formation of the Southern Sprint Car Series was released.

    Chaos, fights, and feuds overshadowed the quality of the racing during the last year that the Tampa Bay Area Racing Association (TBARA) was active in 2014. With no schedule for 2015, sprint car racing promoter 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 comprise the outlined region, and paved short ovals would serve as hosts for the winged pavement racing in his new series. It never happened, save for one race in April at Five Flags Speedway. An attempt to reinvigorate and restart the TBARA in 2015 failed. The 2014 TBARA season was their last.

    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. Showtime Speedway, Desoto Speedway, Citrus County Speedway, New Smyrna Speedway, and Bronson Speedway (later withdrawn) were in. The TBARA and their few remaining supporters were out. Initial expectations, due to the series’ competent management, placed the chance of success for the new series at a high level. Florida pavement teams could use their current cars and engines. There was no effort 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, Florida, in January 2015. Florida car owners, who seemed supportive at first, later withdrew their support for this proposal and his proposed series.

    In Florida pavement sprint car racing, the TBARA 22-degree cylinder head, 360-cubic-inch engine has been dominant for decades. Fast forward to late 2022, and we have the recent announcement from the Southern Sprint Car Series: a 2023 amendment to their Engine and Weight Rules. The BG Products Southern Sprint Car Series stated that they would adapt the listed engine and weight rules for 2023 and beyond (a 2023 race schedule has not been announced as of today). There are as follows:

    A. Engine Specifications:

    1. CID Engine Specification and Relation to Total Minimum Weight
    3.1.1 Must be piston-driven, cam in block, production-based engine. No superchargers, turbochargers, or nitrous oxide are allowed.
    3.1.2 Minimum Weights per engine
    1550 lb minimum 360 CID cast iron block with 23-degree (+/- 2 degree) heads (open injection)
    1550 lb minimum ASCS 360 CID Ford or Mopar (2 3/16 restricted injection)
    1575 lb minimum 360 CID Aluminum block with 23-degree (+/- 2 degree) heads (2 3/16” restricted injection)
    1600 lb minimum 360 CID Aluminum or Steel block less than 23-degree (+/- 2 degree) heads (2” restricted injection)
    1600 lb minimum 360 CID Ford or Mopar unlimited head (2” restricted injection)
    1625 lb minimum 410 CID Aluminum or Steel (1 7/8” restricted injection)
    3.1.2 2” of total restriction on all combinations.

    Weights and restrictors may be adjusted in the fairness of competition.

     

     

    Sixty Years After: Golden Gate Speedway

    Story by Richard Golardi

    September 1, 2022

    “Welcome to our luxury apartments near Tampa!” The blurb appears along with photos of lots of cheery, smiling millennials for a new (supposedly opening in mid-September) upscale apartment complex, The Livano Uptown. It has “welcoming interiors ... 24-hour spin cycling studio ... virtual training mirrors ... and a new, fierce (huh?) property manager” who has the requisite tattoos and beard, as would be needed by the person holding this position. Looks like he would fit in with their target market, the young Tampa professionals searching for that “easy-living Thonotosassa lifestyle you deserve!”

    The Livano Uptown may be the final successor to occupy the property that once had a legendary Northeast Tampa short track, Golden Gate Speedway, “the Gate.” It’s hard to say for certain if this will be the final structure, the final successor for the Gate, which was the first to occupy the property when it was built and had its grand opening 60 years ago. The previous businesses to occupy the property after Golden Gate’s closing in 1984 were all retail, selling groceries and flea market goods. They were transitory. They faded away and left. The apartment complex is selling something different – a place to live. That’s something that’s needed now and for a long time to come. Will it be the final business to occupy this storied property? Only time will tell.

    A visionary Tampa businessman, Frank Dery Jr., teamed up with a public relations and marketing expert, Gordon Solie, to devise the plans for the Golden Gate Speedway and Sports Mecca, built in early 1962 for a planned opening in early May. It was a time when Tampa area auto racing seemed to have fallen into a malaise, with only a single track built in the Tampa Bay area in the past decade (Sunshine Speedway, Pinellas Park, 1960). Meanwhile, there had been a population explosion in Tampa during the 1950s and early ’60s. The critics said there was no need for another track and that it was sure to fail. Frank Dery knew better. He knew the time was right for his track. Opening night was on May 12, 1962. The crowd was so huge that it was a sellout, overwhelming the parking lots, the roadways, and the spectator stands.

    There were good times and bad times over the next decade. When the attendance numbers faded in the second year, a new race director, Pancho Alvarez, took over the duties in 1963 to get the racing running smoothly and the attendance back up. When Frank Dery chose Pancho Alvarez as the new race director in ’63, he had been trying to handle the duties of track owner and race director himself but got overwhelmed. Pancho recalled that he only needed a couple of weeks to get things turned around. His no-nonsense management style got the racing under control (which had been running until midnight or later) and kept the fans pleased. The Golden Gate Strike of ’67, started by a group of drivers and car owners just before the season-opening race night in March 1967, hindered the racing for a few weeks. After a few race nights were missed, a compromise was reached in early April and the Gate was quickly back to full speed ahead.

    The track had so much going for it for decades. There were so many racing legends making their mojo on the one-third-mile pavement surface that it became the home of the legends, with all of the most talented local racers either racing there all season, or from November to April before heading up north. The racing families grew to love the place, including the Smiths, the Riddles, the Reutimanns, the Folses, the Campbells, the Brazils, and many more. The racers who competed there included Richard Petty, Joe Weatherly, Fireball Roberts, Bobby Allison, Tiny Lund, Dick Trickle, Rusty Wallace, Mel Kenyon, Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Bobby Allen, Pete Folse, Jan Opperman, and all the Racing Reutimanns, the father and three sons. Of those four Reutimanns, Dale was the only one not to win a track championship at the Gate.

    The Gate’s first closing came after the end of the 1978 season. Frank Dery tried all he could to resolve a plethora of problems (declining attendance and car counts, lawsuits filed by the local county environmental protection office for failing tests for excess noise, and a new local dirt track, East Bay Raceway, that was enjoying new-found popularity). Dery tried to find a buyer, and one deal fell apart because of the unresolved lawsuits and threats to close the track.

    The closure in late ’78 was not permanent. An eccentric promoter with big plans, Don Nerone, leased the track in early ’81 after it had been closed for all of 1979 and ’80. Nerone brought back the pride of Tampa racing, the sprint car division, and along with late model racing, it succeeded for a while, lasting three and a half seasons. By mid-season ’84, racing at two other local dirt tracks, East Bay Raceway and the Florida State Fairgrounds Speedway (the “new fairgrounds”), proved too popular and the last race at the Gate was on June 8, 1984.

    Frank Dery sold the property in early 1985. He would get wistful and a little teary-eyed when he drove past in later years. The Gate had meant so much to him and he was proud of his achievement, saying that it was “everything I’d ever dreamed of having.” Later in 1985, the track and all the buildings were leveled and a supermarket named Family Mart was built where the track once stood. It was replaced in October 1990 by the Big Top Flea Market, which had about 600 dealers selling everything from antiques to telephones to socks, and who paid $70 to $165 a month for a booth in the 160,000 square feet of space in the wheel-shaped complex with multiple concourses converging into a central hub. It attracted 15,000 shoppers a weekend in the early years. In its final years, a lot of the booths were vacant and the customers were sparse as the flea market business declined in popularity. Marvin Gill, the developer who spent $9 million on the property purchase and the building, had the longest-running business to occupy the property. When the flea market closed in 2020, it had been at the location for 30 years.

    The plans were announced just prior to the Covid 19 pandemic. A major new project was announced for the former location of the Big Top Flea Market. It would include apartments, retail shops, offices, and a bank. It would have an upscale flavor that appealed to upwardly-mobile young professionals and millennials from the Tampa area, home to major corporations in the insurance, finance, and telecommunications industries. The pandemic delayed the arrival of the wrecking ball until 2021, when the flea market buildings were demolished to make way for the wood-frame apartment buildings of The Livano Uptown.

    For a time when the pandemic had delayed the start of construction, a lone clue remained that told of the property’s past life. It was a faded metal sign attached to a chain link fence that read “No Trespassing, Big Top Flea Market.” The eerie quiet seemed like it could be ripped apart at any moment as if the old race track was trying to claw its way up through the soil and spring back to life, roaring forth with the souped-up horsepower of machines that bore the names of drivers such as Frank Riddle, Dave Scarborough, Donnie Tanner, and Buzzie and Wayne Reutimann. But the race track is gone. After the passing of one or two more generations, the racers and the fans that loved it so will be gone too.

     

     

    Notes from the 2022 Lucas Oil Little 500 Sprint Car Race

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     May 29, 2022

     

      Of the top three finishers, Tyler Roahrig (winner), Dakoda Armstrong (second place), and CJ Leary (third place), two live within 25 miles of the Anderson, Indiana track, and winning driver Roahrig lives in northern Indiana. After the top three, positions four through twelve also were taken by drivers currently living in Indiana. This was definitely not the year for the out-of-state drivers, as the Hoosiers took the top twelve, and seemed to have gained the necessary expertise to dominate at Anderson.

    Shane Butler and his Butler Motorsports team on the grid.

      The promise that this year held to be a good year for the Floridians did not hold true in the race on Saturday. After they all qualified grouped near the middle of the starting grid (many Floridians qualified well back in the field in the past few years), Saturday night was a collective disappointment. Davey Hamilton Jr. (whose hometown is elsewhere, but currently living in Florida) was involved in a spin and trouble in turn one and made some attempts to continue but was out early. LJ Grimm was also out around the same time, and Shane Butler lasted the longest and was credited with 25th place, best of the Floridians. LJ Grimm was considered by many as a favorite for Rookie of the Year, which went to Dalton Armstrong, a Hoosier driver who took ninth place driving a car from Southern car owner Terry Broadus.

    LJ Grimm holds the helmet with the 2022 Helmet of the Year-winning design.

      LJ Grimm was the recipient of the 2022 Lucas Oil Little 500 Presented by UAW Helmet of the Race Award. The Seffner, Florida driver had an out-of-this-world design on his helmet, which looked like a psychedelic nightmare combined with visions from an insane trip to outer space. The helmet was produced with two instructions from LJ to the helmet designer: (1) no red; and (2) no skulls. It looked like "the Seffner Sizzle" got what he ordered. You had to look at the helmet for a minute to take in all the logos, obscure references, and other parts of the life and likes of the stocky Central Florida speedster. Now I can spot a TikTok logo when I see one.

      The trend of all the most violent wrecks occurring down in turns one and two during the Little 500 continued in 2022. That included the most frightening crash of the night, which started when Bobby Santos got together with Tyler Roahrig on the front stretch and didn’t end until he had rolled down the asphalt into the grass infield in turn one. I spoke to Bobby in the team trailer after the race and he told me that he had no injuries, was thankful for all his safety equipment, and that the damage on the car could be repaired. The day had started with the DJ Racing team celebrating the induction of team owner Richard Fieler into the Little 500 Hall of Fame, but they still intended to work toward the team goal of a Little 500 win with Fieler present (he missed the 2020 win due to illness in his family).

      The race this year had a trend not seen in a while, that of most of the fastest cars experiencing problems, with many wrecks and spinouts either taking out or setting back the fast runners. Even eventual winner Tyler Roahrig had to survive the wreck with Bobby Santos and appeared to have some damage to the car’s right front corner that was seen in the odd tire wear on that corner. He seemed to be using only the inboard half of the tread on that right front tire. It didn’t seem to matter in the last green flag run to the finish, when the second-place car was slipping and sliding as much as the leader. Roahrig held strong in that last five-lap run and gave all, which showed in the fatigue seen on his face in the winner’s circle.

      When I asked what was in Shane Butler’s onboard drink bottle, I got the usual wise-guy answers (which I expected): “Twisted Tea! ... moonshine ... etc.” It was probably just water, I’ll assume.

    Davey Hamilton Jr. and the No. 14 car owned by Kirk Moragn.

      Florida car owner Kirk Morgan of Morgan Exteriors, owner of the No. 14 car driven by Davey Hamilton Jr., told me he plans to leave a car in the area to run in the non-wing races with the 500 Sprint Car Tour, which had its inaugural event with Saturday’s Little 500. The tour, which has nine races remaining this year through October 22, resumes in less than two weeks with a doubleheader weekend of races on June 10-11 at Plymouth Motor Speedway (IN) and Berlin Raceway (MI). Davey will be the driver for all these races, as well as the team’s winged pavement races in Florida. Davey drove a USAC Silver Crown champ car owned by his father from a 22nd place start to 8th place at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park on Friday. He also took 8th place in the USAC midget feature.

      Hurricane chassis builder Jerry Stuckey pointed to the black No. 25 car driven by LJ Grimm when I asked how many of his pavement chassis Hurricanes were in the field. It was the only one. There would have been two if Floridian Tommy Nichols had made the field, which seemed likely to happen after he was sitting with the 30th fastest qualifying time on Thursday. He was bumped on Friday because he had the 34th fastest time, and was the first alternate starter.

      Brady Bacon remarked that this year’s pavement sprint car from the Hoffman Racing team was a better car than last year, but was still a difficult to drive car. He was struggling with the handling even though an effort had been made to make the car lighter, and it was lighter than last year’s car. I asked about the car’s shortened stub nose and was told, “That’s just something that Rob [Hoffman] likes.” It was another technique to reduce the car’s weight.

     

     

     

    Richard Fieler is Inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    Richard Fieler is inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame at Anderson Speedway on Saturday.

    May 28, 2022

    Little 500 winning-sprint car owner Richard Fieler of Boca Raton, Florida, started going to auto races as a fan before World War II. His father worked on racing engines and Richard enjoyed racing, “but went off and did other things,” as he said. He raced sailboats after retiring and felt that he got too old to do that type of racing and decided to switch to competing in sprint car racing as a car owner. He started with a sprint car driven by Sonny Hartley in Florida, and also had Jeff Banyas, Jason Cox, and Troy DeCaire drive for him prior to Bobby Santos III, his present driver. Richard Fieler called them all “the best drivers.” Jason Cox earned the Rookie of the Year award driving his car to ninth place in the 2011 Little 500. Richard said, “I’ve had some good finishes here with people other than Bobby, who has won a race and run second twice and fifth once. He’s been really good in the race all the time.”

    And what has been the highlight of his career so far as a sprint car team owner? “The Little 500, winning in 2020,” he answered with a knowing chuckle. “Probably the only car to win it in September. Maybe I’ve got one track record! Unfortunately, there were issues with my daughter’s health at the time, and I missed being at the race and thanks to FloRacing, I got to watch it,” he said. He has returned since 2021 to be with his team at the Little 500 with a new goal: to see his car win the Little 500 and get to celebrate with them in the winner’s circle.

    “That would be really great,” Richard said of getting to accept the trophy as winning car owner with his team present. He’s had many other memorable wins with Bobby driving his car, he stated. Richard has never driven a race car himself and remains satisfied with his past and current role as a car owner. “I would have no idea how to drive a race car,” he said. During his “working life,” as he called it, Richard was an executive vice president in chemical manufacturing, which included plastics and chlorine chemicals, for the Dow Chemical Company. He worked in this occupation for 35 years and retired in 1994. He has been involved in racing since 2007. He raced sailboats until he decided that “the ocean got to be too much for me.” Richard and his wife competed together in “The Great Race,” a coast-to-coast race for antique cars. He has also been involved in some regional antique car races. “Always as the navigator, never the driver,” he added.

    He continues competing in pavement sprint car racing and is entered in this year’s Little 500 with the same car and same driver, Bobby Santos, with whom he won the pandemic-delayed 2020 Little 500 on September 5, 2020. He’s had some “new ideas” for this car, some of which he’d had to delay because the race tire shortage reduced planned practice time. He said, “There’s a lot of fast race cars here. It looks like we’ve got our work cut out for us,” referring to the effort to earn a second Little 500 win for him and driver Bobby Santos. He confirmed that it was difficult to get a Little 500 win, as “trouble finds you here. Trouble is looking for everybody.”

    Richard Fieler wanted all those involved with the Little 500 Hall of Fame to know how he felt. He said, “I especially want to emphasize the great job that Bobby Santos has done for me, and he’s the reason I’m getting this award.” Richard Fieler’s devotion to furthering the development of the sport of sprint car racing, his ability to guide drivers and his team to success, and his expertise as a businessman, family man, and race team owner, in addition to being a Little 500-winning car owner, are surely proof that he is deserving of his induction into the Little 500 Hall of Fame on May 28, 2022.

     

     

    2022 Lucas Oil Little 500 Presented by UAW Odds of Winning

     Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

     2022 Little 500 race favorite Tyler Roahrig qualifies on Thursday.

    May 27, 2022

     Here are my “2022 Lucas Oil Little 500 Presented by UAW Odds of Winning” (for the very first time, at least as written by me) presented for entertainment purposes only (No wagering!) and with sincere hopes of no one throwing a fit, or feeling like throwing one. Feel free to post your own odds of winning, but remember that you’ll have to present odds for all 33 starting positions (no shortcutting and only listing a few of your favorite drivers).

     

    So, do I intend on doing this every year from now on, as long as I’m covering the Little 500? You betcha. What right have I got to ... who do you think ... who do you think you are, Chris Economaki? Well, I’ve been a motorsport writer covering open wheel racing for over 15 years now. I’m me, that’s who I am. No, I don’t think I’m Chris E. As I said, I’m me. So, take a deep breath, keep breathing, and examine the odds of winning tomorrow’s race, with a very talented group of drivers being ranked by odds of winning. The greatest pavement sprint car drivers in the world? You betcha!

     

    2022 Lucas Oil Little 500 Presented by UAW

    Odds of Winning as of May 27, 2022

    Tyler Roahrig 7-1
    Kody Swanson 10-1
    Caleb Armstrong 11-1
    Dakoda Armstrong 11-1
    Bobby Santos III 12-1
    Brian Gerster 14-1
    Tanner Swanson 14-1
    Emerson Axsom 16-1
    Ryan Newman 18-1
    Kyle O’Gara 18-1
    C.J. Leary 20-1
    Shane Hollingsworth 22-1
    Derek Bischak 22-1
    Brian Tyler 24-1
    Shane Butler 25-1
    Jerry Coons Jr. 26-1
    Jacob McElfresh 28-1
    LJ Grimm 30-1
    Davey Hamilton Jr. 35-1
    Brady Bacon 40-1
    Billy Wease 42-1
    Eric Gordon 42-1
    Travis Welpott 45-1
    Aaron Willison 50-1
    Scott Hampton 60-1
    Isaac Chapple 60-1
    Dalton Armstrong 75-1
    Bryan Gossel 75-1
    Shawn Bonar 100-1
    Tony Main 125-1
    Justin Harper 125-1
    Larry Kingseed Jr. 125-1
    Ken Schrader 150-1

     

     

     

    Little 500 Preview: Will One of the “Dirt Guys” Win the 2022 Little 500?

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     May 25, 2022

     The number of “Dirt Guys,” those sprint car drivers who have a plethora of experience and wins on dirt racing surfaces, seems to have been bumped up in the 2022 Little 500 entry list. There hasn’t been a Dirt Guy who has won the Little 500 for a while now. In fact, it’s been since 2015, when USAC racing champion Chris Windom won. That year’s race was especially poignant in that it had an epic late-race battle with the dirt expert (Windom) vs. the pavement expert (Dave Steele), and it was Steele’s next-to-last Little 500.

     

    Since 2016, the pavement experts have been dominant, with Kody Swanson, Kyle Hamilton, Bobby Santos III, and Tyler Roahrig winning every “Lil’ Five” since then. In 2021, a trio of pavement experts heard the “go like hell” call and went at it to the finish of the 500 laps (Kody and Tanner Swanson, and Tyler Roahrig), with Roahrig holding off the Swansons in impressive fashion. Examining the ages of that trio of drivers, and all of the recent winners (all of them younger than 35 when they won), shows that another trend has developed in the Little 500 – youth is king. The “old guys” no longer seem to be in a position to challenge the youth, stamina, and skill of the youngsters. If you’re a betting man, you’d be going against the odds to put money on one of the guys in their 50s or older to win.

     Emerson Axsom at Bubba Raceway Park in February 2022.

     

    But should you bet on a Dirt Guy to win? Well, this just might be the year to do that. Their achievements and driving talent are worthy of recognition. Take Emerson Axsom for instance. The 16-year-old Indiana racer roared into the 2022 USAC season by taking two of the first three series sprint car feature races at Bubba Raceway Park on dirt in February. Although he hasn’t won another USAC national series race since then, the number of races completed has been reduced by rainouts. He’s poised to win more. He’s also a rookie entrant in next week’s Little 500, with Nolen Racing and sponsor Driven2Save Lives in the No. 47BC car.

     

    “We ran about five USAC races [last year],” Emerson Axsom told me earlier this year. He is competing for the Rookie of the Year title in a full season of USAC sprint cars this year, as well as the rookie title in the Little 500. “Just enough to where we could run for Rookie of the Year this year. Tim [Clauson] was really happy with the speed we had and I was happy. We decided to turn a deal for a few races into a full-time gig [with Clauson Marshall Racing]. We were on a roll with the midget and Tim called me and said, ‘You wanna run these three races for me?’ and from there we had a lot of speed and had a shot to win a few and just ... inexperience ... couldn’t get it done.”

     Emerson Axsom in USAC winner's circle in February 2022.

     

    Emerson’s main goal for 2022 is “to win the USAC national sprint car championship. Obviously, that’s a high goal we’ve set but we think that we have all the right people around us to do it, so we’re going for the national championship and Rookie of the Year. If there’s any time to do it, it’ll be now. We’ll do a little bit of midget stuff with Clauson Marshall, and some select winged shows and really just focus on the non-wing sprint car, but get ready for if we want to run winged racing here in a couple of years.” Emerson also had his first USAC Silver Crown series start earlier this month at Terre Haute in the No. 20 Nolen Racing champ car and finished in fifth place after a problem starting the car forced him to start from the back of the field. He’s got more dirt Silver Crown races planned for this year.

     

    The highlight of the year for Emerson Axsom in 2021 was: “Obviously we got two national midget wins last year – me and my dad, kind of on our own. It was under the team of Petry Motorsports, but it was me and my dad, out racing together. That was pretty cool.”

     

    Other Dirt Guys entered for the 2022 Little 500: Another Little 500 rookie who is hardly a rookie to racing and who is also a Daytona 500 winner (2008), and Brickyard 400 winner (2013), and has a career total of 18 NASCAR Cup Series wins is 44-year-old Hoosier native Ryan Newman. Proof of Ryan’s expertise on dirt comes with the championship he earned in 1999 in USAC’s Silver Crown Series.

    Four-time USAC National Sprint Car Series Champion Brady Bacon (2014, ’16, ’20, and ’21) definitely fits the description of a “Dirt Guy.” When I asked him in October 2015 if he had any interest in pavement open wheel racing, he replied, “No interest. No.” So, you’re going to do just dirt, I asked? “Yup,” he replied. He had no plans to race in any pavement races in all of 2016 and had not driven in any pavement races since 2008. Flip over the calendar pages to 2021 and Brady Bacon’s devotion to racing exclusively on dirt had waned. He was entered in the Little 500 and earned a top-ten finish and the Rookie of the Year title with Hoffman Racing. This year, the 32-year-old driver returns with that same team and the No. 69 car.

    Jerry Coons Jr., a 50-year-old USAC Triple Crown winner with championships in USAC’s Silver Crown, sprint car, and midget divisions, and also 2014 Little 500 Rookie of the Year, returns in 2022 driving the No. 64 Tom Brewer-owned Speed Chasers entry. He finished seventh last year.

    C.J. Leary, a 26-year-old full-time USAC driver and 2019 USAC sprint car national champion, has two prior starts in the Little 500 in 2017 and ’18, and a best finish of 13th. This Dirt Guy just won the USAC National Sprint Car Series race on the dirt at Terre Haute, Indiana, on Friday. C.J. will be driving in USAC races this week in addition to driving the No. 5 Klatt Enterprises Beast pavement car wrenched by Bob East in Saturday’s Little 500. This team won the race in 2017 with Kyle Hamilton driving.

    Isaac Chapple, a dirt racer who was second in points in the Buckeye Outlaw Sprint Series (BOSS) in 2021, and also the 2016 USAC National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year, is again concentrating on dirt with a full season in the BOSS series. He has three prior starts in the Little 500 with a best finish of 16th in 2017, and is back in the No. 27R Rice Racing sprint car sponsored by Tin Plate Fine Food and Spirits.

    Oh, and don’t forget the Old Pro himself, 66-year-old Ken Schrader. He now makes a habit of returning to Anderson each May to drive in the Little 500. This Dirt Guy won both the USAC Silver Crown and National Sprint Car Series championships in the early ’80s. For the sixth consecutive year, Schrader will line up to qualify for the race and will be going for his fourth top-ten finish. He has a team change this year, as the team he drove for during the past five years, the Brad and Tara Armstrong/BAR Racing team, will have Eric Gordon driving their No. 99 car this year, and Schrader will drive the No. 29 Matt Seymour Racing sprint car with sponsorship from K-Tron Inc. Long live the old guys (!) and who knows, maybe one of them will surprise us this year.

     

     

    Charles Ledford Induction into the Little 500 Hall of Fame This Saturday

    Story by Richard Golardi

    Charles Ledford, left, and Jim Haynes after a sprint car feature win.

    May 23, 2022

    Sprint car owner/sponsor Charles Ledford of Tarpon Springs, Florida, will always be known for his Charles Ledford Construction Racing Team and the sprint cars he fielded for a variety of legendary Florida sprint car drivers. His greatest success came on pavement with his team, mostly due to the importance that Floridians gave to pavement racing up to the mid-’80s. Charles earned the 1984 Tampa Bay Area Racing Association car owner championship with Jim Haynes driving; and won again in 1986 with Wayne Reutimann, Dave Scarborough, Jim Childers, and Randy Alvarez driving. The reason he won those championships was because of his skill at selecting talented drivers and putting them in the best equipment. In ’86, he owned six sprint cars.

    In 1984, a handsome, young sprint car phenom named Jim Haynes, also from Tarpon Springs, was teamed with Harry Campbell, who built a pavement sprint car for him, and car owner Charles Ledford, who funded the team as sponsor. At the season-opening sprint car race at Golden Gate Speedway in ’84, the team had everything running to perfection, and 24-year-old Jim Haynes was at the top of his skills. No one could compete with them, and Jim Haynes got his first Golden Gate sprint car feature win by a wide margin. “Harry Campbell had the car running super,” Jim Haynes said. Harry had high praise for Jim’s impressive showing: “There’s absolutely no limit to where he can go in this business,” Harry said. “The sky’s the limit if he continues to apply himself and keep his desire to win.” Charles Ledford and Harry were smiling like two fatherly benefactors with Jim in the winner’s circle.

    The rest of 1984 was a dream season, with a second-place finish in the Little 500, right behind the Old Man himself, Frank Riddle. Haynes had 15 sprint car feature wins in ’84. There seemed to be nowhere to go but up, with a possible future in NASCAR or Indy cars being discussed.

    In the February 1985 Copper World Classic in Phoenix, Jim Haynes was in the USAC super modified race in the Ledford Construction sprint car when he hit the turn one wall head-on with a huge impact. When Jim Haynes reached a Phoenix hospital, he was breathing with a respirator due to massive head injuries and was near death. Charles Ledford visited his driver at the hospital. Late Wednesday morning, Jim Haynes died with his wife and parents at his bedside.

    Charles Ledford was devastated. He told his friends that the crash and Jim’s death had ruined his love of racing. After a short time, he decided to continue racing, to continue the Ledford Construction team. His next drivers were experienced Florida pros with resumes that included Little 500 wins and other sprint car championships.

    Ledford began 1986 with Wayne Reutimann as the main driver and with Harry Campbell turning the wrenches on his car. Wayne was injured and replaced by pavement expert Dave Scarborough for the 1986 Little 500. A Little 500 win could go a long way for this team. Charles was still in pain over the loss of a young driver that he treated like a son. Harry and Dave had been working together for years to get a Little 500 win, always heading south each year after the race with a desire to keep trying. The team totally dominated the race, 21 laps ahead of second place. Charles Ledford could feel good about racing once again. Dave Scarborough and Harry had the win that they had been trying to get for a decade. When Harry and Charles Ledford returned to the Little 500 in 1987, they had two cars for Wayne Reutimann and Dave Scarborough. It was a “Superteam” of Florida legends, and Wayne Reutimann and Dave Scarborough finished second and third in ’87.

    Charles Ledford’s business and construction acumen, ability to mentor and guide drivers, skill at picking the most outstanding chief mechanic and drivers, and owning and operating an impressive, winning team are proof that he is worthy of his induction into the Little 500 Hall of Fame on May 28, 2022.

     

     

     

    Harry Campbell Induction into the Little 500 Hall of Fame This Saturday

    Story by Richard Golardi

    Dave Scarborough, left, and Harry Campbell with the Lee Parker 7 sprint car in 1974

    May 22, 2022

    Sprint car builder/owner Harry Campbell of Wimauma, Florida, will always be associated with two pavement short tracks: Golden Gate Speedway in Tampa and Anderson Speedway. You have to examine his time at both tracks to appreciate Harry’s achievements in motorsports. You also have to admire his toughness. After a riotous mass fistfight broke out at Golden Gate in June 1977, Harry was right in the middle of it until somebody grabbed a torsion bar and beaned him in the head with it. Harry had Frank Riddle driving his car that year, and Frank won many sprint car features in his car at “the Gate,” in addition to the Little 500 Rookie of the Year title in 1978 and Little 500 pole position in 1980. Harry earned his first sprint car championship in 1970 with Dave Scarborough driving. Harry and Dave also teamed up again in 1982, a banner year for them in which they took two sprint car championships: the Sunshine Speedway and TBARA championships.
    Every so often, Harry’s health might force him to cut back on his building and owning activities, but then there’d be a comeback, often with a new car, a new car owner, and a new driver. That happened in 1983, when Harry’s sprint car, with sponsor Charles Ledford and talented young driver Jim Haynes, started getting noticed with wins in Tampa area and TBARA races. With a new pavement sprint car in 1984, the trio, Harry, Charles, and Jim Haynes made an assault on the Little 500 that nearly produced a win, with Jim putting on an impressive late-race charge to finish second.
    Two years later, Wayne Reutimann was the driver for Harry (as chief mechanic), and sponsor/car owner Charles Ledford until broken bones in the spring of 1986 bumped him out of the seat of the number 1L sprint car. Dave Scarborough gave up his late model rides that weekend to substitute for Wayne in the 1986 Little 500 and take the win in the most lopsided margin of victory in race history, 21 laps over second place. Scarborough spoke about how he and Harry had been coming to Anderson for years but never could win until that year. This win marked the third consecutive Little 500 victory by a car built by Harry Campbell, with Frank Riddle’s winning car in ’84 and ’85 also built by Harry and purchased by Riddle in 1982. When Harry and Charles Ledford returned to the Little 500 in 1987, their “Florida Superteam” consisted of two Little 500-winning Florida legends, Wayne Reutimann and Dave Scarborough.
    Wayne knew his chance of winning had improved with Harry on the team. “I feel Harry is the best wrench-man in the country,” he said. “Any time he’s associated with a car, it’s a winner.” The Florida Superteam took second (Wayne Reutimann) and third place (Dave Scarborough) in ’87.
    Harry Campbell will also be remembered as “the Innovator.” His had this gift, this ability to innovate in methods of sprint car construction and setup. Harry’s ideas, his inventions, often something totally original, were either a new type of suspension setup or other mechanical device that would make his cars winners.
    Golden Gate Speedway promoter Don Nerone said, “Harry Campbell would come up with something new for the Little 500 every year, and then go faster. Every year, they would outlaw that car by making a new rule, call it ‘the Harry Campbell Rule.’ Next year, Harry would come with something even more innovative. Buddy, he always had some new, crazy idea. And today, you look at some of the stuff on pavement and his ideas are still there. Harry Campbell was the man.”
    When everyone had adopted Harry’s innovation on their car, it was a sure sign of his mechanical genius. His drivers also included Steve Campbell, Larry Brazil, Jimmy Riddle, and Jan Opperman, who once said, “There is no finer man than Harry Campbell. He loves people and he takes in bums like us.” Jan stayed at Harry’s home in the ’70s during the February Florida State Fair races. Harry made them all winners and champions. His fatherly ability to mentor and improve the results delivered by both young drivers and veterans was his legacy. Harry Campbell is worthy of his induction into the Little 500 Hall of Fame on May 28, 2022.

     

     

    Less Travel, More Racing: A Fan’s Perspective of the “New Look” Little 500 and Indy 500 Race Week

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    April 28, 2022

    The “old school” Little 500 and Indy 500 race week (which ends on Sunday with the Indy 500) used to get its start on Thursday at the Indiana State Fairgrounds for the Hoosier Hundred, a USAC Silver Crown champ car race. It’s the place that AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, and Al Unser used to get the dirt flying while winning a race that was once part of the IndyCar Series. When I started going to the fairgrounds (in 2005) on Thursday or Friday, it was still a USAC champ car race, but no longer part of the IndyCar Series. That left Friday as a day to spend at “the speedway,” with the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race and an infield concert at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For a while, I alternated tracks for my choice of Saturday night race locales. It was the night before the Indy 500, and I wanted to stay close to the speedway to avoid the race day morning traffic nightmare, so I went to the Night Before the 500 USAC midget race at Indianapolis Raceway Park. I also went to the Little 500 after I no longer had Indy 500 media credentials (after 2009) and have made that Anderson Speedway stop a permanent part of my plans since then.

    The race week schedule for 2021, an afterthought of poor planning after the loss of the Hoosier Hundred in 2020 (which was run for the last time in August), included USAC racing in both Terre Haute and Indianapolis (IRP in Brownsburg), forcing the race fan who was accustomed to following the best of USAC racing, the Little 500, and the Indy 500 to make multiple cross-state trips to take in all the events, including the Little 500 qualifying on Thursday and Friday.

    I’ll tell you that the poor planning that was seen in 2021 has now been rectified. Hallelujah and happy face smiley buttons all around. Forget driving back and forth across the State of Indiana. That’s now a thing of the past, and not too soon with $4 gas (or will it be $5 by the time you read this) almost causing credit cards to make audible shrieks of horror when inserted into gas pump card readers. If you like the Little 500, want to attend the qualifying days, and have always made a habit of going to those USAC champ car and sprint car races during the Little 500 race week, now you can see it all, as it all is taking place in Anderson and Indy (thank the good Lord and pass the adult beverage [Diet Coke for me, please – trying to cut down on sugar]).

    2018 Little 500 Florida Driver Group

    Here’s how this works: Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (May 25–27, daytime) are the practice and qualifying days at Anderson Speedway, Indiana, for Saturday’s Little 500, set for Saturday night (May 28). To catch the best racing on Wednesday and Thursday nights, head a short way (OK – it’s 41 miles one-way) down I-69 and I-465 to Indy and the new Circle City Raceway at the Marion County Fairgrounds (it’s in Southeast Indianapolis). The USAC National Sprint Car Series (the guys that are the best non-wing dirt sprint car drivers in these parts) will be racing there both nights. That’s the biggest improvement to the Little 500 race week for the race fan, and you have USAC management to thank for that (See that, USAC management? You’re not so mad at me after all, right?). Since it’s not Indiana Sprint Week, that leaves fans with a far greater chance of getting a seat for both nights.

    On Friday night, May 27, Indy will again have the best racing choice for the third night in a row. The USAC Silver Crown champ cars will be racing at Brownsburg’s Indianapolis Raceway Park in the Carb Night Classic, along with pavement midgets and other open-wheel racing of the type that attracts foreign drivers and followers of road racing (I’m trying [fumbling more like it] to say that the Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000 racing is more appealing to the “wine and cheese” crowd, and not the “sprint car types”). But it’s all there at IRP, and you get four “features” for the price of one admission ticket.

    2021 Little 500 pace lap

    Saturday night, May 28, once a night that forced you to choose between the Night Before the 500 (now defunct) and the Little 500, both of which served up excellent racing, no longer forces you to make such a choice. Go to the Little 500, you’ll thank me if you do. Sure, there’s other racing going on that night, but it’s not as exciting, and you’ll have to drive a lot further away from Indy to attend. The Lil’ Five is your go-to event. So go to it. They also have a Little 500 Hall of Fame luncheon on Saturday morning at the speedway, and this year it’s a special treat for Floridians, as three Sunshine Staters will be inducted into pavement sprint car racing’s shrine of honor.

    Sunday, May 29, is for the Indianapolis 500. For me, it was an annual ritual. I always went. Never would miss it. If I had to wheel myself in a hospital bed down 16th Street from my favorite side street parking spot near the 16th Street McDonalds, then that’s what I would do. Sure, I’d get some strange looks, but I wouldn’t care. Nothing could stop me from going. Except for Covid and the closing of the Indy 500 to spectators in 2020, and before I knew it, I was no longer motivated to go to the 2021 Indy 500. So I didn’t go. I had too much to do on Sunday. In addition to a post-race column to write, I had photos to edit for the UAW-sponsored Little 500 webpage in my capacity as their race-day photographer. That takes all day Sunday to complete. It just was not feasible to get to the Indy 500 and do all that writing and photo editing in one day. So, I’m tied to my hotel room and the Wi-Fi it provides to get those tasks done. But wait, there’s more...

    More sprint car racing, that is. After going to a sprint car (or champ car) race for the past four nights, what else could you want to do but go to a sprint car race for a fifth consecutive night? I couldn’t think of a better alternative, thank you very much. If I’ve been diligent, I’ve completed all my writing and messing around with digital photos and have left enough time to make the drive north from Anderson up to Kokomo in North Indiana (one hour trip), where Kokomo Speedway has an event that is called BC’s Indiana Double (honoring the late Bryan Clauson) on Sunday night. Why go there? Because it’s a track that has somehow mixed some voodoo powder into its clay surface that makes for sporty racing and attracts a slew of the best sprint car racers (remember that these guys are the best of the best non-wing dirt sprint car pilots in the area). The voodoo that has seeped into the track also makes the racing more visual, the broadsliding more sideways and risky-looking, and the experience more satisfying to both the eyes and the ears. When I went there for the first time in 2005, I thought I’d found some sort of racing nirvana that just could not be found anywhere else on earth.

    That’s it for the best racing in the middle and upper parts of Indiana. But on Monday ... I’ve often commented that the best race of the weekend has on more than occasion been the Monday, Memorial Day World of Outlaws sprint car show at Lawrenceburg Speedway, Indiana (May 30). It also has the advantage of allowing you to take in a sixth (exhausting) night of sprint car (or champ car) racing and it is on the way home to Florida, even if there aren’t any major interstate highways heading south from Lawrenceburg. Kyle Larson has made a habit of showing up and winning the World of Outlaws race at Lawrenceburg on Monday (at least he used to, winning in 2019 and 2021).

    To sum up, thanks USAC, thanks Diet Coke, thanks Anderson Speedway and the Little 500 Hall of Fame, thanks to IRP and Circle City Raceway, thanks to sandwich shop drive-through windows for allowing one to get in all this racing and not starve, thanks WoO, thanks to the removal of Covid mask mandates and assorted annoying stuff, and thanks to the good ole USA, where we can all enjoy good racing, good times, and our enviable position as Americans who can afford the Little 500 and Indy 500 race week and the freedom to pursue sprint car happiness.

    So, all you Princes of Power Sliding, you Lords of Loudness, you Head Honchos of Horsepower, go out there and rule the dirt (or asphalt). And be like the happy face button – don’t forget to smile.

     

     

    Notes from Florida Sprint Car Racing, Spring 2022

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     April 21, 2022

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

    LJ Grimm

     

             The most uplifting news for Florida sprint car racing so far this year has been the announcement in March that three members of the Florida open wheel racing community have been selected to be inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame. This Class of 2022 consists of Harry Campbell, Dick Fieler, and Charles Ledford. The induction ceremony is set to take place at Anderson Speedway, Indiana, on Saturday, May 28, 2022, also the date of the 74th running of the Little 500.

             I had personally advocated for Harry Campbell’s selection and was pleased to see this Florida racing legend get the past-due recognition that he deserved. One of the most impressive achievements during his career was when the cars he built were driven to three consecutive Little 500 wins during 1984–86 (1984–85 was won by the car he built and sold to Frank Riddle, and ’86 was when the car he built for Charles Ledford was driven to the win by his friend, Dave Scarborough). Dick Fieler is best known in Anderson for sharing the winner’s circle with his driver, Bobby Santos III, as the Little 500-winning car owner in 2020.

             For those Floridians wishing to attend the Little 500 Hall of Fame induction luncheon on May 28, purchasing tickets in advance is the only way to guarantee you have a seat. Tickets may be ordered by sending a check or money order ($15 ea.) to Little 500 Hall of Fame, 5027 Pearl St., Anderson, IN 46013.

             I believe that we are in a “there’s just no way to know” phase for Florida sprint car and short track racing. It may be unwise to try to predict what the effect will be of higher gas prices, supply chain problems, a looming possibility of a recession, and raging inflation taking away the money that working families used to have available for entertainment and are now spending on necessities. Has anyone been to a gas station or supermarket recently and not found themselves remarking, “Wow. That used to cost ___ dollars.”?

             The Southern Sprint Car Series has attained an enviable parity in their competition so far in 2022, with three winners in three races: Daniel Miller, LJ Grimm, and Davey Hamilton Jr. They have also had two rainouts going into this weekend’s fourth race of 2022 at 4-17 Southern Speedway. The only thing that’s been lacking so far has been a variety of venues, Punta Gorda plays host on Saturday to the third race in four 2022 dates. With the loss of Desoto Speedway (sold, no oval racing), Showtime Speedway (hosting its own series), Orlando SpeedWorld (closed to weekly racing), and New Smyrna Speedway (good relationship gone bad ...), a previous plethora of pavement dangles on the precipice of an unknown future. Average feature car count this year: 13.

             Danny Martin Jr. blitzes on in his dirt sprint car racing comeback, continuing his string of wins by taking the feature race last Saturday in the return of Bubba Raceway Park’s BRP Sprints, using limited 360 engines to match those used by Top Gun Sprints. Danny had to beat a field of 18 starters and a hard-charging Tyler Clem to take his fifth sprint car feature of the year (the four previous wins were all Top Gun Sprint features).

             In addition to Danny Martin’s domination, the other two 2022 feature race winners in the Top Gun Sprint Series have been Tyler Clem and Brandon Grubaugh. Average feature car count this year (available from 4 races): 19.

             As of today, the entry list for the 2022 Little 500 has the names of four Floridians included: Shane Butler (Bushnell, best finish: 8th); LJ Grimm (Seffner, rookie); Tommy Nichols (Tampa, best finish: 12th); and Davey Hamilton Jr. (currently residing in Tampa, best finish: 6th). LJ Grimm, winner of multiple asphalt sprint car features in Florida, should be considered the leading rookie candidate; and Hamilton is a former Little 500 Rookie of the Year (2015) and pole sitter (2018), and will be making his first 500 start since 2018. The list currently has the names of 32 entrants.

             This weekend’s Florida sprint car racing consists of three races: Southern Raceway in Milton will have non-wing dirt sprint cars on Friday; the BG Products Southern Sprint Car Series is at 4-17 Southern Speedway in Punta Gorda; and the Top Gun Sprints are at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, these two are both on Saturday.

             This week marks the 26th and 24th anniversaries of two feats of blistering speed set by the late open wheel champion from Florida, Dave Steele. On April 20, 1996, at Phoenix Raceway, he set a world record in USAC sprint car qualifying. His lap of 137.509 mph was a record for a non-winged sprint car on asphalt. Two years later, he beat his own Phoenix sprint car track record with a lap of 144.167 mph on April 18, 1998, which was over 6 mph faster than his old mark. This lap was another world record for a non-winged sprint car. Dave was his usual nonchalant self after the jaw-dropping lap: “Totally unexpected ... it was a shot in the dark. The lap didn’t even feel all that good.”

             Florida sprint car and stock car racing legend Pancho Alvarez turned 95 years old on Wednesday. He is the oldest living World War II veteran and Florida racing legend that I’ve had the honor to interview and get to know.

     

     

     

    Notes from the 2022 East Bay 360 Sprint Car Winternationals

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     February 22, 2022

     --- The orange, black, and white number 82 sprint car is owned by Gary Green and driven by his 23-year-old son, Garrett, and sponsored by the car owner’s general contracting company, Green Development Services in Valrico, FL. This team had its most impressive East Bay 360 Winternationals night ever on Friday at East Bay Raceway Park. The brand new car, along with a new borrowed Fisher motor, led co-crew chief Brian Maddox to state, “This is the cat’s meow.” He added, “The only thing the driver is lacking is a little more seat time.” Garrett won a heat race and had his best-ever Winternationals feature finish on Friday, a third place, and posted a blistering fast lap of 12.82 seconds on the 24th lap, almost one and a half seconds better than any lap posted by the rest of the top five on Friday. After Friday, the top six in points were locked into the Saturday finale, a 40-lap feature, and Garrett missed that honor by one only position, placing seventh.

     Jack Nowling tribute car driven by Danny Smith

    --- Danny Smith, driving a “Nowling blue” number 66 Jack Nowling tribute sprint car during this year’s February Speedweeks, won a heat race at East Bay Raceway on Saturday, making it the feel-good story of the 2022 East Bay Winternationals. Jack Nowling, a Florida sprint car racing legend as a promoter, car owner, and mentor to countless race car drivers, passed away in 2021 and a “Celebration of Life” was recently held for him in Gibsonton, FL, where both East Bay Raceway and his home are located.

     

    --- Danny Smith told me that he does intend to race with the blue number 66 theme on his car later this week in the USCS series races at Milton, FL, but has not committed to running the full USCS race schedule this year. He won the 2021 USCS national sprint car driving championship at age 64, which appears to make him the oldest driver ever to become a national sprint car champion. I asked Danny if he has heard of an older national sprint car champion other than himself, and he said he does not know of any. He is unsure if he will race with the blue number 66 design after this week. He still has the white number 4 body panels used last year on another car.

     Mark Ruel Jr. with a young race fan

    --- Thirty-two-year-old Mark Ruel Jr. from Jacksonville, FL, and the number 83 MRR Racing team were the winners of a USCS sprint car feature race at Needmore, GA, earlier this month. I learned that Mark has won five of the last nine races he’s run (as of Saturday), all five of these wins in the USCS national sprint car series (four in ’21). Anything new with the car that contributed to all these wins, I asked? “We put another motor together and had a new shock program,” Mark replied. I asked if there was anything different about his driving after 17 years of racing with his family-owned team. “No, I’m just getting older,” Mark deadpanned. “I feel like I’m getting less cranky as I get older.” He did race a Frank Carlsson-owned car in the Top Gun Sprint Series during the East Bay races in late January. His racing is “All funded by me, my dad, and my girlfriend. We plan on going to those USCS races that are within six hours of Jacksonville. We are planning on 20 USCS races this year and we raced in 18 last year.” Mark said that the 2021 USCS feature win at Hendry County Motorsports Park was special because it was the first time he won a 360 USCS race in Florida.

     

    --- Doug Shaw, owner of the Shaw Racing Products number 24 sprint car driven by Danny Martin Jr. to three consecutive Top Gun Sprint Series wins at East Bay Raceway Park in late January, was present at East Bay Raceway last week. Doug said that although the team won the first three Top Gun races of the year, they are not planning to run the full Top Gun race schedule in 2022. Instead, they will likely run some of both the USCS and Top Gun schedules during the year, but not a full schedule with any series.

     

    --- Pennsylvanian Mark Smith, who drove his sprint car to the East Bay 360 Winternationals King of the 360s title in 2015 and ’17, did not bring his car, the Mach 1 chassis number M1, to East Bay Raceway this year. He was driving the number 43M car owned by Floridian Terry Witherspoon. Smith drove this car to one USCS series feature race win (Hendry County Motorsports Park, Feb. 5) and one East Bay 360 Winternationals preliminary win (East Bay Raceway Park, Feb. 17) during February Speedweeks in Florida.

     

    --- I asked Mark Smith why he was driving a car owned by someone else, and not his own car? “They asked me to drive,” Mark said, “and I can’t afford to bring my stuff down here this year.” Why not? “Because it takes money.” Lots of money? “Yes. We’ll probably run some more shows [after East Bay]. I think we’re going to go to Milton next week.” Are you going to run the rest of the USCS races outside of Florida after February? “We don’t know. We’ll get past this weekend and next weekend and go from there. I started racing this car for Terry Witherspoon a couple of weeks ago, at Hendry. I still have mine [number M1 car], I just didn’t bring it down here. I’ll spend all my money coming down here and I won’t have nothing to go home and race with. Most of my racing is going to be close to home this year [in his car]. It’s pretty much in Pennsylvania unless these guys call and want me to come down. It’s mostly 410, I’m hoping. I’ll be doing 410 non-wing, some 360, just a little bit of variety. I’m doing local USAC 360 non-wing stuff too. That’s the plan anyway. We’re sitting on the front row for tonight, it’s 40 laps, anything can happen in 40.” Mark finished second in that East Bay 360 Saturday finale, missing his third King of the 360s title by one position.

     

     

     

    Q & A with Logan Seavey

     

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

     

     

    February 18, 2022

     

    Twenty-four-year-old California driver Logan Seavey, who has national midget driving championships in both the POWRi National Midget Series (2017) and the USAC National Midget Series (2018), is making a full-out assault on all USAC national open wheel series in 2022. He won feature races in all three USAC national divisions in 2021 (which included earning the Rookie of the Year title in the Silver Crown champ cars) and intends to race in all three, USAC Silver Crown, Sprint Car, and Midget again this year. He already has finishes of 7th and 12th in the first two USAC national midget races at Bubba Raceway Park last week.

     

    I spoke to Logan while he was at Volusia Speedway Park with the Xtreme Outlaw Sprint Series on Monday, February 14. This series was racing non-wing sprint cars in the two days leading up to the beginning of USAC sprint car practice and racing on Wednesday at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala.

     

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

    A.  No, I’ve never been in any kind of race car here. I’ve never even seen this place. I drove past it 15 times going to Ocala and Daytona and all sorts of travels through Florida, but I’ve never actually stopped and seen the facility or been on the track. This is my first time.

     

    Q.  So what is your first impression of the track?

    A.  I think it’s going to race really good, I’m excited. I really love big tracks and it’s looking like it’s in great shape right now. We’ve had a lot of success on big tracks with this car, winning at Terre Haute and Arizona Speedway. I think the track’s going to be good all night, and this new No. 5 Baldwin Fox racing car is going to be really good also.

     

    Q.  How long have you been driving this No. 5 car for Baldwin Fox Racing?

    A. A little under a year. I started in early May of last year. It’s been under a year, but we’ve had a lot of success and I’m really comfortable in this race car.

     

    Q.  What is your main goal for this year?

    A.  My main goal is to win the USAC championship. I’m just trying to win as many races as I can altogether. This isn’t a USAC race, but we’re here to win and get our season off to a good start. I’ve got Ronnie Gardner working with me this weekend, helping me out. He’s on my Silver Crown car and he’s going to be a lot of help. He’s doing a great job already. I know we’re going to be good and it’s going to be a really fun year.

     

    Q.  What was the highlight of the year for you last year?

    A.  We had a lot of them. Winning three nights during Sprint Week, Turkey Night, Western World. We had a lot of good nights, a lot of highlights. It’s hard to pick one, but if I had to, I’d say it’s between winning at Eldora, Terre Haute, or Turkey Night. Those are all three really big ones.

     

    Q.  You mentioned both midget and sprint car races.

    A. Yeah. I won one Midget Week show [Lawrenceburg Speedway, June 5] and three Sprint Week shows [Lawrenceburg Speedway, July 25; Gas City I-69 Speedway, July 26; and Terre Haute Action Track, July 28], and those are tough to win. Eldora is just cool to win at in general ... Terre Haute is awesome to win at. Hopefully, we can back those up this year and maybe win some more.

     

    Q. Do you have any plans to compete in any more races with this new Xtreme Outlaw Series? Are you running all 14 of their races?

    A.  That’s not the plan at the moment. We’re going to run as many as we can but I’m full-time with the USAC sprint car, midget, and Silver Crown, every single race, so I don’t think I can make all the Xtreme races when I’m running all the USAC races. That kind of takes those off the plate for me. We’re going to run whatever we can, wherever we can. But our main goal is trying to win in USAC and the Triple Crown bonus this year, so we’re trying to go after some money.

     

    Q.  What teams are you racing for in the USAC Silver Crown and midget divisions?

    A.  In Silver Crown, I’m running the Rice Motorsports entry with Robbie Rice, the owner, and Ronnie Gardner works on it, the No. 22 Fatheadz Eyewear car for pavement and dirt both. We have a pavement [Beast chassis] and a dirt car [DRC/Pink] for the Crown Series. The midget is just for dirt only, and we’re running the Trench Shoring car owned by Tom Malloy from Southern California and Jerome Rodela works on it. And this one right here [No. 5 sprint car] from West Lafayette, Indiana, with Baldwin and Baldwin Fox Racing.

     

    Q.  And that’s a car that’s had a lot of wins and is very fast.

    A.  Yeah – very, very fast. I was happy when they called me and I didn’t really know how we’d do but obviously, I knew it was a good race car, and it blew my expectations out of the water, so I’m really happy.

     

     

     

    Fan in the Stand Interview with British Fans Con and Liam Friel

     

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

     British race fans Liam Friel, left, and Con Friel, right

    February 16, 2022

     

    February is an ideal time for British race fans to plan a trip to Florida, especially if they are fans of dirt short track racing (and NASCAR, too, of course). That description may aptly be applied to two blokes (regular guys in American English) from England, a father and son who are both lorry drivers (truck drivers) back on their home island.

     

    These two fans of American auto racing, which includes dirt sprint car racing and NASCAR stock car racing, are Con Friel, 55, and his son, 30-year-old Liam Friel, who are both from London. They are fans of Kyle Larson and were both wearing Larson gear when I spoke to them in the front stretch stand at Volusia Speedway Park recently during a night of World of Outlaws sprint car racing. In addition to dirt sprint car racing, they have also planned their American racing vacation around the Daytona 500 and will be spectators at that iconic race in Daytona Beach on Sunday.

     

    “We are here for the sprint cars and for NASCAR, the Daytona 500,” Liam told me. “We come for the World of Outlaws at Volusia, all three nights, the non-wing on Monday and Tuesday next week, and then we are going to go to either East Bay or Bubba’s, but we are not sure what track we will go to yet. But, we’ll go to both. We might do the trucks on Friday night at Daytona. We’ve got tickets for NASCAR on Sunday. There is eleven altogether in our group [from England], and we know probably another 15 or 20 out here as well.” I learned that this group of eleven are going to races together and are staying in Orlando during their 14-day vacation. They had planned on attending other races prior to Thursday last week, but these Volusia Speedway Park races had all been rained out.

     

    One of the highlights of their tour of American race tracks had already occurred on Thursday. “We met Kyle Larson today in the pits,” Liam said. “That’s the highlight.” Con gave his highlight: “I hadn’t been to Volusia before, so this was my ‘tic-off.’ I wanted to do this.” And meeting Kyle Larson? “That was a big thing for me, as well! I liked that,” he added with a chuckle. Con said that he was looking forward to Saturday night’s final World of Outlaws race the most.

     

    Con and Liam have both been to BriSCA Formula 1 stock car races in England, mainly held on quarter-mile ovals. The speeds on these small tracks are significantly lower than the speeds achieved by winged sprint cars at Volusia, a banked half-mile track. “They’re allowed to make contact with each other,” Con explained. “Push each other out wide, and stuff like that.” England also has banger racing, which is like a destruction derby race, according to Liam: “They go around the track, and that’s full contact. That’s banger racing. They are on a quarter of a mile, not half-mile.” Con also has been to Formula 1 races in England at Silverstone and “the last ever at Brands Hatch about ’86. Where I live in London, I’m on the borders of Kent, so Brands Hatch is only a half an hour from where I live. But, I find it [F1] a bit boring. It’s like, ‘Vroom, vroom!’ [imitating race cars whizzing past].” Getting to see the entire race track at Volusia is also a marked contrast to viewing F1 racing. “I love it,” Con exclaimed, “and I love America as well.”

     

    Con’s favorite thing about America: “Just the respect that everyone’s got for each other and the military and the national anthem, the manners everyone has. In England now, we’re really losing that. We’re really losing self-respect even, that’s why I was pleased when Liam got married and had a baby. He’s moved out of London and moved to more of the country. He was brought up in South London and he’s done well. I was born and bred in South London. I love America, I absolutely love it. It’s only my second time here; I couldn’t wait to come back.”

     

    Liam mentioned Brad Sweet as the driver that he has not met but would like to meet. Their favorite American food is:

    Con – “All of it!”

    Liam – “The barbeque, pulled pork, brisket, there’s good barbeque. In the U.K., it’s ‘imitation.’ It’s trying to be like it [here].”

    Any message for all the American sprint car racing fans?

    Liam – “Just appreciate what you’ve got. It’s a good formula, good racing, and it’s a lot quicker than anything we’ve got in the U.K.”

    Con – “I’d say the same. You meet people, they’re so well-mannered, they’re so polite, you know? They’re interested in where you’re from, what you do. They are so nice, I feel so comfortable here. I feel very comfortable in America.”

     

     

     

    Logan Schuchart – Making the Right Moves

     

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

     

    February 15, 2022

     

    Shark Racing, with 29-year-old Logan Schuchart in the seat of the white and orange No. 1s Drydene/DuraMAX sponsored entry, will compete in the full World of Outlaws NOS Energy Sprint Car race schedule in 2022. Logan also has a valuable asset in his team who’s overseeing things: Pennsylvania sprint car racing legend Bobby Allen, his grandfather. The two-car Shark Racing team, competing in their ninth World of Outlaws season together, has Bobby’s son, 27-year-old Jacob Allen, driving the other team car, the black No. 1a. I spoke to Logan at Volusia Speedway Park on Thursday, the season-opening night for the World of Outlaws.

     

    Logan’s highlight of the year in 2021: “We had a lot of successful things, we won seven races, but it was probably the Jackson Nationals, winning that for the second time in a row. Also, winning at Devil’s Bowl Speedway for the third time in a row was pretty neat too. We’ve got a lot to be proud of, but it’s a new year and we’re starting over.” The main goal in World of Outlaws racing in 2022: “Win a championship. That’s the goal. I believe we have the team to do it and just have to stay strong and make the right moves.” Do you think you are inching closer to that first championship each year? “Yeah, I think we’re getting better. I think our experience shows. We go back to certain race tracks and we’re a lot better than we’ve ever been. I think our engine [program] continues to grow, we’ve got great crew guys that continue to improve and show their experience, and the race cars keep getting better and better. I feel like we have a great race team and can accomplish a lot this year.”

     

    Regarding what’s new for 2022, Logan remarked, “We’re bringing back a lot of the same sponsors, but something new this year is Drydene, who has been with us since 2018, a company named RelaDyne bought them out and DuraMAX is their engine oil. We’re still repping the Drydene name along with DuraMAX and we’re proud to represent them along with a lot of great sponsors that have helped Shark Racing for the last few years, including C & D Rigging, and NGK Spark Plugs, and many more. We have a lot of people to thank and a lot of people who have to do with putting us on the road.” Returning crew members include: “We have the same two guys, Ron and Ben, and then Jack and Tyler on Jacob’s car also have a lot to do with helping my car.”

     

    Lots of family members help out and tag along to the races, according to Logan. That includes, “My grandfather, Bobby Allen, is still the boss and still on the road with us, so we’re very fortunate to have him here with us. I’ve got my stepdad, Bill Klingbeil, my girlfriend, Summer Small, and also my mom, Dana Allen, who is in the T-shirt trailer. They are all here.”

     

     

     

    Sheldon Haudenschild – Subdued and Wanting More

     

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     

    February 14, 2022

     Sheldon Haudenschild, Volusia Speedway Park, 2-12-2022

    If you imagined Sheldon Haudenschild wearing a perpetual smile all Saturday, the day after his stunning last lap, last turn pass to win Friday’s World of Outlaws NOS Energy Sprint Car feature race at Florida’s Volusia Speedway Park, forget that idea. He was more subdued. It was likely because he wanted more.

     

    That’s understandable. The season had just begun, and it was just one feature win. There’s a lot that Sheldon has yet to achieve: his first ... well, first of many things. First Knoxville 410 Nationals win, first World of Outlaws driver championship, for example.

     

    I spoke to the 28-year-old driver of the Stenhouse Jr./Marshall Racing No. 17 winged sprint car on Saturday, less than 24 hours after the big win. At Saturday’s driver meeting, drivers were asked to remember that the timing loop/finish line was located five feet before the flag stand, a spot marked by red tape on the wall. The pass for the lead made by Sheldon on Friday was so close to this spot it could have caused controversy, if not for the trust that everyone automatically gives to results attributed to electronic scoring.

     Sheldon Haudenschild, center, with David Gravel and Brad Sweet at Volusia Speedway Park, 2-11-2022

    I mentioned that he must still be on somewhat of a high from last night. Sheldon responded, “No, not really. It’s the Outlaw tour, you go one night, and you move on to the next. To me, that’s what it’s all about. We’ll enjoy ’em later and focus on the next one while we can.”

     

    During Friday’s World of Outlaws feature race, “It felt good all night. I had good confidence all night. When you have that, it’s just putting the pieces together and being there at the end. That was the position we put ourselves in, to be there in the last five laps. That’s where these races are won.” When that last lap came down to three cars in contention for the win (Sheldon, along with David Gravel and Brad Sweet), it encouraged many to say, “There was no way to know who was going to win.”

     

    “I always feel like I’m gonna beat ’em every night,” Sheldon said. “That’s just the attitude you’ve gotta have. We’ve seen many races won on the last lap or the last corner. You never think you’ve got it until you have it, and that’s just how you’ve got to be.”

     

    The main goal for 2022: “Be there for the championship at the end of the year and win as many races as we can. I think if we keep winning races, we’ll be there for sure.” What was the highlight of the year for him in 2021? “Probably Ironman weekend, sweeping the weekend there. That was a good weekend. Had a good Kings Royal, just stuff to build off of. We want to have a good Nationals this year, and another good Kings Royal. We’d like to pick off some of these big races and working towards what we want to be. I want to win all the big races. Kings Royal is probably at the top of my list because of growing up there at Eldora and paying $175,000 to win is good motivation too.” Does this year feel like a championship year? “Yeah, for sure. We’ve got the team, we’ve got the equipment, and I’ve just got to do my part and be consistent each night.”

     

    As for anything new with sponsors or the car or crew, Sheldon remarked, “We’ve got a couple new crew guys with Jacob and Steven, and we’ve got [Kyle] Ripper and myself. We’ve got a great group of guys and we’re just looking forward to having fun. We’re all pretty young.” His next remark seemed to coin a phrase that might just be that group’s motto: “Have fun and go racing.” NOS Energy Drink and their bright orange and blue colors are back on the car as primary sponsor, and the associate sponsor list seems to be unchanged. “They’ve been supporting us for a long time,” he remarked. “We’re thankful for them, and just hope to do them proud.”

     

    Could Sheldon possibly be racing in any series outside of sprint car racing in the future? “I don’t think so. I’m pretty focused on this and I have a good time doing this and making some money. If I can have fun and make a living, I don’t think you can ask for much more.”

     

     

     

     

    Gio Scelzi – Standing Out at Volusia

     

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

     

    February 12, 2022

     Gio Scelzi at Volusia Speedway Park, 2-10-2022

    Twenty-year-old dirt sprint car racer Giovanni “Gio” Scelzi, from Fresno, California, recently released his 2022 schedule of planned races, which stated that he “will be running a handful of World of Outlaws events, All Star Circuit of Champions, Knoxville Raceway, and most of the prestigious events happening throughout the year.” The son of former drag racer Gary Scelzi is the younger brother of dirt sprint car driver Dominic Scelzi. Gio’s stunning win over a field of 50 cars at Williams Grove Speedway in 2018 at 16 years old made him the youngest World of Outlaws feature race winner in series history (also the youngest ever winner at Williams Grove).

     

    In 2022, he is driving the bright orange and white No. 18 car of KCP Racing, a 410 sprint car team based in Iowa, which explains their plans to run at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway. The team was taking part in Toyota Racing Development’s engine program. I spoke to Gio in the pits at Volusia Speedway Park prior to the Thursday season-opening race with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Sprint Car Series. In addition to the orange fluorescent paint on his car, Gio stood out by having that same bright orange on his firesuit.

     

    Gio’s 2021 racing highlight was, “Definitely winning the 360 Nationals (Knoxville Raceway, 8/6 & 7/2021) and starting on the pole at the 410 Nationals (World of Outlaws, Knoxville Raceway, 8/14/2021). Two good accomplishments. That was a great two weeks and something that I’ll remember forever.” As far as the single most enjoyable win of the year, He replied, “Lakeside was pretty cool (World of Outlaws, Lakeside Speedway, Kansas, 10/22/2021). That was a big relief to win another Outlaw race and I gotta say that was a tie with winning the 360 Nationals. That was pretty fun, too.” His main goal for 2022 is, “I think, consistency, for sure. Just be a contender night in and night out with the Outlaws, it’s getting tougher every single year.”

     

    He is not running the full World of Outlaws schedule but is instead running what he called a “hit-and-miss schedule,” which is an accurate description of the schedule he ran last year. He explained what this entails: “It’s about 60 Outlaw races, 25 All Star races, and some local races here and there.” Is that more races than if you ran an Outlaws-only schedule? “I think it’s pretty close,” Gio replied. “Eighty-nine or so is what we’re doing, and I think the Outlaws is ninety-something. Local [races are] Knoxville and there’s a couple of local Pennsylvania races that pay really good that we’ll run.”

     

    Regarding that fluorescent orange design for this year, “Actually, it’s the same design we had last year, we painted everything instead of powder coating it so it’s a very, very vibrant orange now.” Wearing, and standing out in, that bright orange firesuit: “You won’t be able to miss me. My other suit’s white,” he replied with a chuckle, seeming to revel in playing the role of “the guy who stands out in the crowd.” He paired that orange suit with bright white shoes, perfectly coordinating with the tiny white polka dots seen in his firesuit.

     

    Aspen Aire is the “title sponsor in Iowa – they’re a heating and cooling company. Obviously Bell, Sparco, KCP Racing ... all of our same guys.” Crew: “We added [crew chief] Dylan [Buswell] at the end of last year, Aaron was with us last year, and Adam’s been with us two years. We’re starting to get to know each other pretty well. I think we were at 87 races last year.” With KCP Racing: “I was hired in June 2020, so I only ran half the season with them in 2020. Last year was my first full year with them.”

     

     

    Let the Winter Sprint Car Games Begin

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    February 11, 2022

    With the start of the heart of Florida Sprint Car Speedweeks having begun at Volusia Speedway Park last night, Thursday, the “Winter Sprint Car Games” have begun. They aren’t that blah, totally “meh,” boring winter games taking part on the other side of the world at the same time as this year’s national sprint car racing debut. Oh, no. They are the ear-deafening, alcohol-fueled variety of entertainment. They are the “you gotta go there to experience the noise, the speed, and the majesty of high-speed American open wheel racing” variety. You might even get smacked by a dirt clod or two, but heck, that’s just part of the experience. Brush yourself off and remain tough, or just sit higher in the stands next time!

    World of Outlaws sprint cars at Volusia Speedway Park, 2-10-2022

    Last night’s only downer for the fan was the condition of the dirt surface at Volusia Speedway Park’s half-mile dirt oval. A common refrain from many of the World of Outlaws sprint car drivers, who were participating in Thursday’s 2022 season-opening series race, went like this, “I don’t know what they did to the track, but ...” James McFadden, driver of the No. 83 sprint car, commented, “It’s pretty rough out there, but it’s the same for everyone. It’s pretty brutal.”

    Despite the plethora of rain this week leading up to Thursday’s race, the track did not appear overly muddy. Rather, the problem was the dirt itself, which has been criticized as not being up to the quality that has been used in the past at this track. By the last heat race, won by David Gravel, there was a second, high groove in use after the sun had gone done, the temperature had dropped, and the track had been run-in by prior racing and hot laps.

    A pre-race visit to Daytona Memorial Park, a Daytona Beach cemetery that once was the final resting place of Bill France Jr. and other France family members (their remains have since been moved to another Volusia County cemetery) allowed me to visit the gravesites of Florida racing legends Fireball Roberts and Marshall Teague. Fireball, winner of the 1962 Daytona 500 and the second Floridian to win the race, is buried in a well-kept above-ground mausoleum not far from the main entrance of the cemetery. Teague died in an Indy car crash at the nearby super speedway during its first month of racing in February 1959. I was told by the helpful cemetery staff that I was the first person this month to ask for directions to the gravesites of these two Florida racing legends, but they expected many others to visit during this time of the year since the cemetery is located just on the other side of the Daytona airport and south of the Daytona International Speedway. I was told that Marshall Teague’s race shop was very close by and that his grave and that of his wife were just recently moved to an area that is marked as a family section. Don’t believe the websites that list the France family as being buried here (not Bill France Sr.), as there are no France family members here now. The Fireball Roberts mausoleum was impressive, with a large concrete structure in the shape of an open Bible with carved Bible verses arching above the main block-like entombment.

    Fireball Roberts gravesite in Daytona Beach, FL

    In addition to several World of Outlaws driver interviews that I conducted on Thursday, one of the more enjoyable interviews I conducted was with a father and son pair from England that sat in the main grandstand near me. The fans of American auto racing, to include dirt sprint cars and NASCAR stock car racing, are Con Friel (55) of London, and his son, Liam Friel (30), also of London. These English truck drivers, who are fans of BriSCA Formula 1 stock cars and Banger racing in their home country, were decked out in Kyle Larson gear as they watched cars go by at far higher speeds than they are used to seeing on their home island. I will have more of my fan-in-the-stand interview with these two visitors from the U.K. in my column next week.

     

     

    2022 Florida Sprint Car Racing Wish List

     Story by Richard Golardi

     January 4, 2022

     These are the things that I am wishing for during 2022 for Florida sprint car racing:

     1)  Orlando SpeedWorld to cover their asphalt surface with dirt and bring in dirt sprint car racing in 2022. Of course, this should have been done years ago and would have made the track an ideal location for the newly formed Xtreme Outlaw Sprint Car Series, which has already added Florida dates to its inaugural season this year (Volusia Speedway Park, February 14 and 15). I hope for success for this national non-wing dirt sprint car series since they’ve had the foresight to include Florida in their plans. A dirt surface at SpeedWorld would also attract Central Florida race teams after they lose East Bay Raceway Park (due to the 2024 track sale), the last remaining dirt track on Florida’s I-4 corridor.

     

    2)  Florida pavement sprint car promoters to work together and don’t counter-schedule races.

     

    3)  A Driver Development Program for Florida’s young sprint car drivers. A feeder series for 11–13 year-old drivers would be ideal. Rather than having these drivers immediately move into the premier series, this type of feeder series would be appropriate for younger, inexperienced drivers looking to work their way up to Florida’s premier pavement (or dirt) sprint car series. Florida needs this, as it has twice seen 11-year-old drivers quickly advance in the past decade. Neither of these young lads had such a program available. See Wish No. 4 – a good option for such a program.

     

    4)  That 4-17 Southern Speedway (Punta Gorda) recommit to having a 602 crate engine non-wing sprint car series at their track, as they did early last year.

     East Bay Raceway, Sept. 1, 2012, Richard Golardi Photo

    5)  That a Floridian wins the Saturday finale at East Bay Raceway Park’s annual East Bay 360 Winternationals in February. Danny Martin Jr. got robbed of the opportunity to go for this Saturday win in 2021 when the Saturday grand finale was rained out. He had just put in a career performance in the prior two days at East Bay, winning on Thursday and finishing third on Friday. Maybe 2022 will be the year. If not in 2022, then he (and all Floridians) will only have another year or two (maybe three?) before that 2024 track sale goes through and the property fulfills its ultimate end-use by becoming a mound of phosphate waste, just like that monstrous refuse mound that looms over the track to the east.

     

    6) Since multiple Florida pavement sprint car teams have announced their intention to race in the inaugural season of the “500 Sprint Car Tour,” a 10-race Midwest-based non-wing pavement sprint car series, my wish is that a Floridian wins the first series driver championship. It seems as though it is past due for a Floridian to do this. After all, it has been ten years since a Floridian won a national sprint car driving championship, which last occurred with the second of Troy DeCaire’s two Must See Racing sprint car titles in 2011.

     

    7)  That pavement sprint car racing returns to New Smyrna Speedway. Not every pavement short oval in Florida lends itself to exciting, close sprint car racing. New Smyrna Speedway always did, and it’s a shame that prior mistakes led to the track forsaking future sprint car events from Florida promoters. Maybe there’s a way to patch up that relationship? One can hope.

     

    8)  That 2022 become a year when a greater number of Florida sprint car racers make forays into both national pavement and dirt sprint car racing. Dirt sprint car racing is the arena most in need of more racers to make the leap to race on the national level. Mark Ruel Jr. led the charge of Florida dirt racers making the leap in 2021, and he had the greatest level of success by taking four USCS national sprint car series feature wins.

     

    Dave Scarborough, left, and Harry Campbell with the Lee Parker No. 7 sprint car, Golden Gate Speedway

    9)  That the Floridian who is most deserving of being inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame (but has not yet been inducted) will finally be inducted into this prestigious hall of fame in 2022. His name is Harry Campbell. This genius/wizard sprint car builder/fabricator/engine man has an impressive record of achievement at the Little 500, pavement sprint car racing’s most significant annual event. He was the builder/chief mechanic of the car that sponsor/car owner Charles Ledford entered in 1986 and that Dave Scarborough drove to the Little 500 win on May 24. And it wasn’t just a win, it was a beat-down, with a 21-lap advantage over second place. This was the third consecutive year that a Harry Campbell-built car won the Little 500, as Frank Riddle’s car that won the race in 1984 and ’85 was also built by Harry and was purchased from Harry by Frank Riddle in late 1982. The cars that Harry Campbell owned and entered won the Rookie of the Year in 1978 (driven by Frank Riddle) and the pole position in 1980 (Frank Riddle again). Frank Riddle drove that Harry Campbell-built car to five career Little 500 pole positions, still an event record (tied with Dave Steele). The cars that Harry wrenched and entered with Charles Ledford also finished in second on two occasions (Jim Haynes, 1984; and Wayne Reutimann, 1987). Another of the Campbell/Ledford cars had a third place in 1987 (driven by Dave Scarborough). One of Harry Campbell’s finest achievements was his well-earned reputation for being a sprint car innovator. His ideas and inventions almost always brought new-found speed and competitiveness. Some even believed that later rule changes were brought about in an effort to nullify Harry’s innovations and slow down his cars. But you couldn’t slow down Harry Campbell. He’d just come up with a new innovation the next year. “The Innovator” was certainly a Little 500 legend. He is also certainly deserving of being inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame in 2022. This should be the year that Harry Campbell is awarded this well-earned designation.

    Wayne Reutimann once said, “I feel Harry is the best wrench-man in the country. Any time he’s associated with a car, it’s a winner.”

    After winning the ’86 Little 500, Dave Scarborough said that he and Harry and the crew were going to have an epic celebration that night. Let’s hope that Harry’s family and friends can have “Harry’s Lil’ Five Celebration, Part 2” after this year’s race is complete. Make a note of the date: May 28, 2022. Hail Harry!

     

    10)  Finally, I wish that 2022 will not be a year that sees so many members of the Florida sprint car community taken away from us due to illness. Last year was tough to endure, and I had some close friends who passed. My last and most-hoped-for wish is for that to never happen again.

     

     

    Florida Year-End Sprint Car Review: 2021 Champions

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    December 13, 2021

     Florida’s 2021 Sprint Car Champions:

     Traveling Series:

    BG Products Southern Sprint Car Series: Sport Allen

    Top Gun Sprint Series: Tyler Clem

     

    Shane Butler and his number 18 dirt sprint car.

    Track Champions:

    Showtime Speedway, Non-Wing Sprint Car Track Champion: LJ Grimm

    4-17 Southern Speedway, Non-Wing 602 Sprint Car Track Champion: Scotty Adema

    East Bay Raceway Park, Winged Limited 360 Sprint Car Track Champion: Frank Beck

    Southern Raceway, Non-Wing Sprint Car Track Champion: Blake Bowen

     

    Notable drivers and teams in Florida pavement sprint car racing during 2021:

     

    Colton Bettis, a rookie driver from Lutz, made his sprint car debut this year as an 11-year-old. He was second in points in Showtime Speedway’s Non-Wing Sprint Car Class (only nine points behind track champ LJ Grimm) and has made a splash in the class this season, taking his first sprint car feature win on October 2, 2021, at age 12. In his first sprint car race outside of Showtime Speedway, which occurred at 4-17 Southern Speedway with the Southern Sprint Car Series on December 4, he had a respectable 8th place finish going up against the best pavement drivers in the state.

     

    L.J.Grimm

    LJ Grimm had eight feature wins in Showtime’s non-wing sprint car class, winning on February 20, March 27, April 24, June 12, June 26, July 10, August 7, and October 23. He added a winged sprint car feature win on January 30, thoroughly dominating Showtime Speedway competition with a total of nine sprint car feature wins in 2021. He added another two feature wins in Southern Sprint Car Series competition for a total of 11 feature wins in Florida this year, the most Florida sprint car wins of any driver. He also came in a close second in points in the Southern Sprint Car Series, only 41 points behind 2021 point champ Sport Allen, who was also his teammate this year.

     

    Other Showtime Speedway sprint car winners during the year: Troy DeCaire won at Showtime Speedway on January 23 (winged sprint car) and July 24 (non-wing). Sport Allen won on June 5, and Kody Swanson (February 27) and Kyle O’Gara (February 26) were non-wing feature winners during the Dave Steele World Non-Wing Sprint Car Championship weekend.

     

    Too bad there isn’t a trophy for “2021 Florida Sprint Car Team of the Year,” as it would most certainly be awarded to the Taylor Andrews-owned Dayton Andrews Dodge pavement sprint car team. Taylor Andrews, a four-time TBARA champion, guided his dynamic duo of racing legend Sport Allen along with youngblood LJ Grimm to a total of 13 wins in Florida (11 for Grimm and 2 for Allen).

     

    Danny Martin Jr

    Troy DeCaire was the most successful Floridian in out-of-state pavement sprint car racing during the year. In addition to the six Florida races mentioned previously, he had a seventh Florida win in a short-lived effort to bring sprint car racing back to Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway, winning on July 9. Three trips to the far-away Northwest (how much further could he have gone – Alaska?) resulted in two wins on May 22 and June 19. After racing sporadically in the Midwest-centric Must See Racing Sprint Car Series in recent years, he raced in five series events in 2021, which included three of their four Southern races, winning two (Anderson Motor Speedway, May 15; and Montgomery Motor Speedway, October 8.)

     

    2021 feature race winners in the BG Products Southern Sprint Car Series:

     

    Troy DeCaire (4 wins):  January 16, February 13, March 20, and April 3.

    LJ Grimm (2 wins):  May 8 and October 16.

    Sport Allen (1 win):  October 9.

    Shane Butler (1 win):  November 13.

    Davey Hamilton Jr. (1 win):  December 4.

    Bruce Brantley (1 win):  May 15.

     

    2021 feature race winners in the Top Gun Sprint Series:

     

    Tyler Clem (3 wins):  May 1, October 16, and October 23.

    Danny Martin Jr. (3 wins):  May 22, July 3, and October 30.

    Justin Webster (3 wins):  February 4, 5, and 6.

    Brandon Grubaugh (2 wins):  March 20 and September 25.

    AJ Maddox (1 win):  May 15.

    Shane Butler (1 win):  December 11.

     

    The year’s most versatile sprint car driver in Florida? Well, obviously that was Shane Butler. Call him “Mr. Versatile,” “Mr. November,” and also “Mr. December.” He was the only driver with sprint car feature wins on both dirt and pavement during the year in Florida, again with distinctive year-end punch, winning iconic races in both November and December. After getting his second Frank Riddle Memorial Race win in November on pavement, he followed that up with his second Don Rehm Classic race win on dirt in December. Want some more versatility for “Mr. Versatile"? In those two year-end wins: one was with wings, one without.

     

    In addition to the short-lived return of sprint cars to Five Flags Speedway, similarities could be made to what happened at Showtime Speedway with their early-year foray into winged sprint car racing (two races in January only), and also 4-17 Southern Speedway, who after announcing a five-race non-wing 602 sprint car series lasting through December, scuttled the plan after running two races through May. With a limited number of teams purchasing and readying a 602 crate engine, the track’s series was opened up to other engine types and the two races saw a mix of pavement and dirt cars. Management at 4-17 Southern Speedway had said that they did not want their 602 class to take away from the Southern Sprint Car Series events, but rather to provide an introductory class to those looking to move up in Florida sprint car racing. Veteran sprint campaigner Scotty Adema was a vigorous supporter of the concept of racing with 602 crate engines and won one of the two feature races and the track championship. I asked Scotty about the future of this class at 4-17 Southern Speedway.

     

    “We are looking forward to getting some dates in 2022,” Scotty replied. “The track wants a feeder series to the BG Southern Sprint Car Series (pavement and torsion bar cars allowed).” Scotty then mentioned that others wanted the racing to be for converted dirt cars only. “It’s still too good of an idea to put it on the shelf. We’ve been running our 602 car against the BG cars the last two races, and it’s only a half-second off the pace of a $30k motor.”

     

    Scotty’s next comments were regarding the future of Florida racing and his vision for it: “I think we need a feeder class to the BG series. Late models have 3–4 different levels of cars to drive before making it to the super late level. We need that. New teams, new drivers, and fresh faces can be introduced by a class like the 602 cars. Us old guys are retiring, dying, or going broke and there’s not a line of cars behind us to backfill our spots. I don’t ever want it to be a replacement for the ground pounder type cars, but I would like to see it be a development/feeder class.”

     

    This reporter has sometimes wondered what type of feeder series is best suited for younger or inexperienced drivers looking to work their way up to Florida’s premier pavement sprint car series. A feeder series would be appropriate for drivers in the 11–13 year-old age range, instead of these drivers immediately moving into the premier series. The TBARA had a short-lived driver development program for young drivers during their tenure. That was a good start. Maybe that’s what Florida needs and deserves.

     

    Turning to the dark (dirt) side of Florida sprint cars, the “2021 Florida Comeback Driver of the Year” must be none other than (Well, what to call him? He’s too young to be old, been around too long to use any descriptive term that implies youth!) 35-year-old veteran racer and multi-time Florida champion Danny Martin Jr. After a win on Thursday, the opening night of the 2021 East Bay 360 Winternationals in February, he was in the running again on Friday, beaten only by two hot-shot Northerners (Tim Shaffer and Mark Smith), and came in third. After years of saying, “We’re not running Top Gun anymore,” Danny and car owner Doug Shaw did just that in ’21. They took three Top Gun feature wins, one each in the spring, summer, and fall.

     

    Runner-up in that “Comeback Driver of the Year” category was deservedly earned by another veteran, 51-year old Sport Allen, the 2021 Southern Sprint Car Series driver champion. His two feature wins and his first-ever championship in a Florida-based traveling sprint car series (he had previous sprint car track championships at East Bay Raceway Park and Showtime Speedway) made 2021 his best year in the past five seasons.

     

    Another notable achievement on dirt by a Floridian, mostly in out-of-state races with the USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour, was by Mark Ruel Jr. of Jacksonville. He won four 2021 USCS feature races at Senoia Raceway (GA) on August 13 and 14, at Travelers Rest Speedway (SC) on September 10, and got a Florida win at Hendry County Motorsports Park on November 6.

     

    Seeing an 11-year-old sprint car driver in Florida this year brought back memories of the last time an 11-year-old made a noteworthy debut in Florida sprint car racing. He was also from a Florida racing family. When I interviewed 11-year-old Tyler Clem at Bubba Raceway Park in 2013, he was in his first year of sprint car racing in a car owned by his father, Bubba Clem. Almost a decade later, he’s now 19 years old and just won his first Florida sprint car championship, the 2021 Top Gun Sprint Series championship. That’s a natural follow-up to earning dirt sprint car feature wins in Florida in both local and national series in the intervening years since that first awkward interview with a reporter in Ocala in August 2013. What a difference a decade makes.

     

    It is satisfying to see the Rehm family carrying on with owning and operating the Top Gun Sprint Series since the death of the family patriarch, Don Rehm, in 2018. The ascension of one of their drivers, Tyler Clem, to become a championship-winning driver is one of the things they can be proud of, in addition to the professional manner in which they bring dirt sprint car racing to Florida in those 11 months of the year when the national dirt series race everywhere but Florida.

     

     

     

     Frank Riddle on his three-wheeler in the pits at Golden Gate Speedway in the '80s, three-wheeler and cart painted in the blue and yellow team colors, Bobby Day Photo

     

    Blue and Yellow Forever – The Legacy of Frank Riddle

    Story by Richard Golardi

    October 29, 2021

    The colors that Frank Riddle became known for – blue and yellow – became symbolic of the blue-collar man, “the Flying Trainman,” the hard-working family man, sprint car owner/driver, and businessman who could also keep in touch with the wild side every so often. As an example of that side of Frank, there was that night at the Little Manatee Lounge. Celebrating another sprint car win at Tampa’s Golden Gate Speedway, the closest to a home track for Frank, car owner Harry Campbell, who once gave Frank an Andy Granatelli-like winner’s circle kiss, had a silly moment in a close-dancing clinch with his driver, Frank Riddle.

    “Frank Riddle was a tough old SOB now,” former Golden Gate promoter Don Nerone said. “He didn’t take no crap from nobody. He was as tough a man as there was in the world.” Nerone had taken over from Frank Dery Jr., owner and promoter at Golden Gate from 1962 to ’78, who then leased it to Nerone in ’81. Dery liked to take guests up to the scorers’ box to watch Frank race. Before any race with Frank entered, Frank Dery would tell his guests to keep an eye on Frank Riddle’s car. He knew Frank was going to make the race entertaining.

    “Watch No. 11 down there,” Dery said. No. 11 was the blue and yellow Mar-Har Special sprint car, driven during the summer of ’76 by Frank. “Perhaps the best-known sprint driver in these parts,” one Tampa reporter crowed about Riddle. Another said he was “the dean of local sprint car racing.” Frank liked to try to hoodwink the competition by downplaying his chance of winning, saying it was just luck and that if he won, it was just by chance. Everyone knew better. “The old man around here,” as he called himself (and he was in his 40s when he said it), was still as sharp as ever.

    Frank Dery pointed out the No. 11 car, telling them, “Just keep watchin’. Ol’ Frank is comin’ on.” Dery’s guests were in for a treat because Frank was about to put on a show. Frank was near the back of the pack. It was a foregone conclusion. You just expected Frank to blow past everyone and be in a position to win by the last lap. It didn’t happen every Saturday night. But on this Saturday night, it did (July 24, 1976). Frank won. He stood in the winner’s circle at “the Gate” wearing his colors, blue and yellow, of course.

    Frank Riddle at Golden Gate Speedway in Tampa, FL in the '80s, Bobby Day Photo.jpg

    In their mid-50s, many men spend time looking forward to their retirement years, fretting about having enough money to retire when they wanted and being healthy enough to enjoy those years. Not Frank Riddle. He headed for the track. Running the full season at Golden Gate, or any other track, was now in the past. He had a goal in mind and it was to win the Little 500 sprint car race at Anderson Speedway, Indiana. He was 55 years old in 1984, still looking for his first “Lil Five” win. His facial wrinkles made him look grandfatherly, maybe about 10 years older than his real age, and that only made him more likeable. Back in Tampa, they were trying to figure out how a racer could be getting better as he aged. It defied logic. “Creating the Riddle legend,” a Tampa columnist said, left fans and friends scratching their heads as Frank offered no explanation for his continued success. He had Social Security on his back bumper and old age was encroaching, with all its pains and aches and diminished physical capabilities.

    “Old Man Riddle” slowed his sprint car to a stop in the front stretch winner’s circle at Anderson Speedway on May 26, 1984. He looked fresh and steady as a rock as he rose out of his seat and thrust both fists into the air. He had just won his first Little 500, old age be damned. “Old Bones” repeated the feat the next year.

    Jumping forward eight years, the Central Florida Sprint Car Association had its 1993 season-opening race at Lakeland Interstate Speedway, a quarter-mile asphalt track, on March 26, 1993. Frank Riddle arrived for the race towing his thirteen-year-old car with an eight-year-old engine under the hood. He was 64 years old and had been spending a lot of time on his Thonotosassa farm. He was spending less time racing, but intended to win or at least contest for the win. Everybody seemed to know Frank. Everybody liked him. Even the Tampa Tribune’s motorsport columnist revealed that his father-in-law had worked on the Florida railroad with Frank for years. Whenever Frank raced during this time late in his career, it was a special event. This was one of those nights.

    Frank went into the race with 93 career sprint car wins in Florida. The car was the same one he drove to two Little 500 wins in ’84 and ’85, and he started on the front row for the 25-lap sprint car feature in Lakeland. The race was called one of the greatest of Frank Riddle’s career. He hadn’t won a sprint car feature in two years. Two laps from the checkered flag, a yellow flag bunched up the field with Frank in first place. Close behind were two younger racers in second and third, Wayne Reutimann and Eddie Kelley. In the two-lap dash to the end, they tried everything, threw everything at Frank while attempting to pass, but they failed. It was Florida career win No. 94 for Frank. A question was posed: Which milestone would Frank reach first, (1) 100 career wins in Florida, or (2) his 70th birthday?

    Frank only got one more sprint car feature win, his 95th in Florida. It came at Punta Gorda on June 5, 1993, well before his 70th birthday. He held the top position on the All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List (which compiled all feature wins in Florida) for the rest of the ’90s and into the 2000s. Four years later he retired from driving race cars. Induction into the Little 500 Hall of Fame happened just a year before he drove his last race in ’97, and was followed by induction into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2010. Family and friends gathered in Knoxville, Iowa, when Frank’s name was added to the list of national honorees on June 5, 2010. Frank was not present. He died on March 14, 2007, at 78 years old.

    With about two weeks until the Frank Riddle Memorial Sprint Car Race, scheduled for Saturday, November 13, 2021, at Citrus County Speedway in Inverness, Florida, now is the time to honor and remember a man who is a Florida auto racing icon. Those memories of blue and yellow are going to be in our consciousness for a long time.

     

     

    The Frank Riddle Memorial Sprint Car Race Returns in 2021

    Story by Richard Golardi

    September 11, 2021

    The Frank Riddle Memorial Sprint Car Race, which is scheduled for its 10th annual edition on Saturday, November 13, 2021, at Citrus County Speedway in Inverness, Florida, is being held to honor a man who is a sprint car racing icon and a Florida racing legend. This memorial race was held at Desoto Speedway three times previously, in 2007, 2008, and 2014; and at Showtime Speedway once in 2016; and also at Citrus County Speedway in 2013, 2015, and 2017–2019.

    The BG Products Southern Sprint Car Series has confirmed that the Frank Riddle Memorial this year will be a regular season, 40-lap winged race for the pavement-only sprint car series. Series sponsor BG Products is providing sponsorship of the sanctioning body, the Southern Sprint Car Series, as they have since the series took over the sanctioning of the Frank Riddle Memorial in 2016. The Frank Riddle Memorial race winners include Troy DeCaire, Shane Butler, Dave Steele, Joey Aguilar, Mickey Kempgens, and John Inman.

    Frank Riddle's plaque awarded for the 1980 USAC Rookie of the Year title, sprint car division, Richard Golardi Photo

    Frank Riddle was a family man, a working man, a businessman, and a racer. He was inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame in 1996 and the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2010. This last honor came three years after he died in 2007 at age 78. Frank is known for winning the Little 500, one of the most prestigious and grueling auto races, twice in the 1980s when he was in his mid-50s. Frank had always wanted to race and win in the Midwest. In his first attempt at the Little 500 in 1978, he started fifth and finished in fourth place, earning Rookie of the Year. In just his fourth try in 1984, he qualified on the pole and won the 500-lap race. He came back the next year and repeated the same feat, this time at age 56. In his first five attempts during the ’80s, he was the fastest qualifier each time. In his career at Anderson Speedway, he had sixteen starts in the Little 500, with two wins, five top ten finishes, and seven top five starting positions.

    Frank Riddle’s status as a fierce and talented race car driver was initially earned in Florida while competing at tracks around the Tampa Bay area. These tracks included Phillips Field, Speedway Park, and the half-mile dirt oval at the Florida State Fairgrounds. Early in his career, Frank raced stock cars, modifieds, and super modifieds. He would run two or three super modified races a week, frequently ending his night in the winner’s circle. During this time, Frank also raced all over Florida, from the Southeast coast to Pensacola, and also in the Deep South. Some of the races would be as long as 300 laps, and Frank would show his expertise at taking care of his car and making it to the checkered flag.

    Frank Riddle at Golden Gate Speedway, Bobby Day Photo

    When sprint cars replaced the modifieds at Golden Gate Speedway in 1969, car owners sought out Frank to drive their cars, as he had already shown his abilities at “the Gate” and other local tracks. When the Tampa Bay Area Racing Association was formed, Frank was a regular sprint car competitor on both the dirt and pavement with his fellow Bay area racers. He had 95 lifetime Florida sprint car feature wins during his years of racing in the Sunshine State, which places him third on the overall Florida winners list, behind only Wayne Reutimann with 97 wins and Dave Steele with 101 wins.

    Tall and lanky, Frank’s friends called him “Bones,” or “Old Bones,” and when he raced at Golden Gate, he called himself “the old man around here.” The press called him “Old Pro,” and “the Flying Trainman,” and “the dean of Florida sprint car racers.” His facial wrinkles always made him look at least 10 years older than his actual age, and he used that to his advantage. He’d lull his opponents into thinking he was too old and past his best days, and then he’d go out and beat them. During the 1980 season, he ran the USAC National Sprint Car Series in the blue and yellow number 11 J.W. Hunt Produce car owned by Harry Campbell, and earned the USAC Rookie of the Year title at 51 years old. At that time, it made him the oldest ever USAC Rookie of the Year.

    A well-known story from Frank’s career involved a frightening crash and fire at Anderson Speedway in 1993. His car caught fire after crashing and coming to rest in turn one, where a fan crawled under the catch fence and ran to the car to tell Frank, who appeared to be stunned from the impact, that he was on fire and to get out. Frank would meet with the fan when he returned to Anderson to race, remembering the good deed for many years after that fateful day.

    After starting his racing career in 1948 and getting his first feature race win on March 3, 1951, at Tampa’s Phillips Field, Frank Riddle racked up 250 feature wins over the next 49 years. After he retired from his job as a CSX railroad engineer in 1987, he spent his time farming at a small farm in Thonotosassa, and later retired from racing in 1997 at age 68. That year, he made his last trip to Anderson to drive in the Little 500. He is one of the racers responsible for motivating Floridians to make an annual trek to Central Indiana and the Little 500. Each year, the highest finishing Floridian at the Little 500 earns the Frank Riddle Award. This is why the BG Products Southern Sprint Car Series and Citrus County Speedway are honoring Frank Riddle, naming the race the “Frank Riddle Memorial.”

    The Frank Riddle Memorial Race,
    Race Winner History

    1) 9/29/2007, Desoto Speedway, Winner - Dave Steele
    2) 9/27/2008, Desoto Speedway, Winner - Troy DeCaire
    3) 10/19/2013, Citrus County Speedway, Winner - Joey Aguilar
    4) 10/18/2014, Desoto Speedway, Winner - Shane Butler
    5) 10/3/2015, Citrus County Speedway, Winner - Jason Kimball
    6) 10/29/2016, Showtime Speedway, Winner - Dave Steele
    7) 10/14/2017, Citrus County Speedway, Winner – Mickey Kempgens
    8) 11/10/2018, Citrus County Speedway, Winner – John Inman
    9) 11/9/2019, Citrus County Speedway, Winner – Troy DeCaire

    (NOTE: the race was not run 2009–2012, or 2020.)

     

     

    Top Five Greatest Two-Man Duels in Golden Gate Speedway History

    Story by Richard Golardi

    August 18, 2021

    There were a lot of great races and great duels during the two decades and two years of racing at Tampa’s Golden Gate Speedway. I’ve been researching the speedway’s history for an upcoming book, in addition to dozens of interviews with racers who turned a wheel at “the Gate.” The track, a third-mile asphalt oval, had the good fortune to operate during racing’s “Golden Era,” that period during the 1960s and ’70s when some of the greatest drivers, car owners, and promoters were active. It might seem obvious that the best, the greatest two-man duels in the Gate’s history involved these legends. For the most part, they did. Here are the Top Five Greatest Two-Man Duels in Golden Gate Speedway History, May 1962 to June 1984:

    1) 1965 Florida Governor’s Cup late model championship race, Sunday, November 14, 1965

    Wayne Reutimann crosses finish line ahead of Bobby Allison to win '65 Governor's Cup, Buzzie in foreground, Golden Gate Speedway, Tampa.

    Wayne Reutimann, left, and Bobby Allison at Golden Gate Speedway, 1965 Governor's Cup late model race.jpg

    The first race at Golden Gate designated as “The Governor’s Cup” turned into an epic two-man battle between local racer Wayne Reutimann and Alabama modified and stock car driver Bobby Allison. Reutimann, of the Zephyrhills “Racing Reutimanns,” was a frequent winner in the Gate’s late model class. Allison had honed his championship-winning form in NASCAR modified racing. Wayne set the fastest qualifying lap on Saturday night; Bobby didn’t arrive in town until Sunday morning. He had to earn a spot for the 200-lap championship race in a Sunday afternoon 25-lap qualifying race. Bobby made a furious charge through the field after starting last and won it. Wayne and Bobby had already established themselves as the two fastest. The 200-lap contest was going to determine who the Florida State Late Model Champion was.
    Wayne was in the lead by the 25th lap as Bobby sliced through a gaggle of slower cars. He looked like he knew the track as well as the weekly racers, including Wayne. Soon he was in second, trailing closely behind Wayne. Despite locking bumpers with another car coming off a turn, Wayne had the lead for more than 170 laps. Bobby was looking to pass the entire time. Once, he dove low in the turn, getting his front bumper up to Wayne’s door. There was no bumping. The two racers respected each other too much, and both wanted it to be a clean race. Bobby fell back in behind Wayne again. His best chance to pass had failed, or so it seemed. Wayne appeared to be on the way to winning.
    That all changed on the last lap, coming off the fourth turn. Wayne let his guard down for just a moment, a split-second lapse of concentration. Bobby pounced. He pulled alongside Wayne coming off the last turn. They floored it. It was an all-out drag race to the checkered flag. This was what the Golden Gate fans had come to see, the two best drivers in the field in the two best cars, dashing to the finish. Buzzie ran through the infield toward the edge of the track, urging his brother on.
    Wayne beat Bobby to the start/finish line by less than a car length. It was the biggest win of his six-year racing career. Bobby was sure that Wayne was going to be joining him soon on the NASCAR circuit. He was just that talented. That 20-year-old kid from Florida had skill, nerves of steel, and was a winner.

    2) The Pavement Master vs. The Dirt Master, modified feature race, Saturday, April 4, 1964

    Frank Riddle at Golden Gate Speedway. (Bobby Day Photo)

    The modified feature in early April ’64 matched two drivers who were both inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame: Frank Riddle (inducted in 2010), and Pete Folse (inducted in 1995). Frank Riddle had matured into a formidable modified driver, using the weekly racing on the Gate’s asphalt to develop his expertise on pavement. He had one track championship, winning the super modified championship race in December ’63. His first modified track championship came a few years later, in ’67. Pete Folse had established himself as a national racing star by winning the IMCA National Sprint Car Series driver championship three times, 1959–61. His expertise on dirt matched Frank’s expertise on pavement. As Frank led the 20-lap modified feature race, Pete was right on his tail. Pete pressured Frank throughout the race, waiting for Frank to make a mistake, allowing him to pass and take the win. Frank was perfect, never making the slightest bobble, holding off Pete to win one of the most exciting modified races seen at Golden Gate (Pete was second). On this night, the Pavement Master defeated the Dirt Master.

    3) 1970 Season Finale Sprint Car Feature, Grand Champion-Deciding Race, Saturday, November 7, 1970

    Dave Scarborough, left, and Harry Campbell with the Lee Parker #7 sprint car, Golden Gate Speedway

    The right to be named the “Grand Champion” of Golden Gate Speedway, the overall driving title earned by the driver earning the most points in all classes, was going to be decided in the season’s last sprint car feature race on Saturday, November 7. It was set to be a bumper-bashing, intense duel between two 1970 track champions, Dave Scarborough (sprint car track champion), and Jim Alvis Sr. (late model track champion). They had an intense rivalry going on during the year, and even though Scarborough was the sprint car champ, he wasn’t assured of a victory in the sprint car race. Alvis could, and had defeated him in the past, and was the Grand Champion title holder the past two years, 1968 and ’69. A simple outcome would determine the 1970 Grand Champion: The driver to finish ahead of his arch-rival in the 25-lap sprint car feature would earn enough points to take the overall point title.
    In the feature race, Jim Alvis Sr. led early. Dave methodically advanced past slower cars until he was right there, inches off Jim’s bumper. Dave swung out high to pass leader Jim Alvis Sr., who slid into Dave’s car, sending them both sliding off the track. Both drivers were required to start at the rear when the race restarted. What happened next was astounding. Leaving Jim behind, Dave carved through the field, making passes on every turn. He passed four cars on one lap, six the next, followed by the pass for the lead on the last lap. Taking the checkered flag first ahead of Jim made Dave Scarborough the 1970 Golden Gate Grand Champion. The come-from-the-back win has long been held to be one of the most amazing displays of driving skill by any driver in Golden Gate’s history.

    4) Brother vs. Brother Match Race, The Racing Reutimanns, limited late model race, Saturday, March 31, 1973

    With all of the Racing Reutimanns present at Golden Gate Speedway (Emil, Buzzie, Wayne, and Dale) just before the two oldest brothers, Buzzie and Wayne, were due to leave for six months of modified racing in the Northeast, it seemed like the ideal time for a match race. Track owner Frank Dery Jr. resolved to have this match race for the Reutimanns on the last Saturday in March. In April, Buzzie and Wayne would be a thousand miles away, racing in New York. The ideal match race was going to be a duel between all four Reutimanns, including Emil, who refused to say he was retired, and 17-year-old Dale, who got his first win at the Gate in ’72. But there weren’t four cars available. There were only two, the limited late models being raced by Wayne and Dale on Saturdays in March.
    Dery wanted the match race to be between Wayne and Buzzie, both track champions at the Gate, Buzzie twice in a late model, and Wayne in a sprint car. Dale was asked to loan his limited late model to Buzzie to set up the five-lap match race. Wayne had the advantage, as he had won the limited late model feature for the past three Saturday nights. Unlike his two brothers, Buzzie was not a regular racer at the Gate. This race could reveal how far one brother might go to defeat the other.
    When the green flag was waved, Buzzie and Wayne raced closely, with a few bumps, through the first four laps of the match race, setting up a deciding last lap. Buzzie tapped Wayne’s late model on the rear bumper, sending it up high in the third turn and allowing Buzzie to pass and take the unexpected win.
    Dale was hoping to see his car in the same condition as before the race. It wasn’t. It had gotten bounced around some during the race and it showed on the car’s sheet metal when the battle of brothers had gotten a little intense. He wasn’t pleased. His consolation – he wouldn’t have to race his brother in the Gate’s limited late model class for the next six months. More wins were coming for the youngest Racing Reutimann.

    5) The Veteran vs. The Kid, sprint car feature race, Friday, May 11, 1973

    Now a beloved star and multi-time champion at Golden Gate, 44-year-old Frank Riddle was still looking for his first sprint car track championship there. In a few years, he’d start calling himself “the old man” while still in his 40s. It was a perfect ploy, the wrinkled, grandfatherly racer that the kids all loved, lulling his opponents into underestimating him. The Veteran already had Golden Gate super modified and modified titles. The Kid, 18-year-old Robert Smith, had won his first sprint car feature at the Gate less than one year earlier, October 21, 1972. The teenage sprint car phenom’s breakout year was in ’73. Now he was winning more frequently in the Gate’s weekly sprint car races (moved to Friday night in ’73). Not only was he winning, but he also wasn’t letting the veterans intimidate him, including Frank Riddle. When he was little, Robert would tag along with Frank to go fishing in Gibsonton’s Bullfrog Creek. He looked up to Frank as a mentor, and Frank drove cars for his father, Willard Smith. In the May 11 sprint car feature race, a two-man duel developed between Robert and Frank Riddle, who was right on Robert’s rear bumper from the first turn of the first lap until the last turn of the last lap, but could not pass Robert, who won the feature. Many more duels (and a few punches) between the Veteran and the Kid were ahead, all through the ’70s and ’80s, both in Florida and at the Little 500 in Anderson, Indiana.

     

     

    Origin Story: Florida’s First Long-Distance Sprint Car Race

     

    Story by Richard Golardi

     

    July 29, 2021

     

    If one considers a long-distance sprint car race to be longer than 100 laps, then Florida’s first race to qualify (with sprint cars on a short track) was the inaugural Florida State Championship Sprint Car race. It was a 300-lap race held at Tampa’s Golden Gate Speedway, a paved third-mile oval, on Sunday, December 12, 1971. It was the first 100-mile sprint car race ever held in Florida. Except, that’s where things sort of get a little murky.

     

    Johnny Hicks, starter at Golden Gate, left, and Art Moody, competition director, on race day, Dec. 12, 1971.

    There was a prior long-distance open wheel race in Florida, held far from Tampa, then the epicenter of Florida sprint car racing. It was the Fiesta 200 super modified race, which was run for four years in the mid-’60s at Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway, a half-mile paved oval. It was 200 laps, 100 miles. In its first year, it was the Fiesta 200 (Modified) Stock Car Race, according to the track’s 1963 newspaper ad. By the final race in ’66, it was the Fiesta 200 Super Modified Stock Car Race. But by then, some cars looked just like a sprint car, with the IMCA-required “streamlined body,” except with a roll cage and top wing added (not all cars). That’s the murky part – the race had morphed into a sprint car race with wings and cages. By today’s standards, that would be a winged sprint car race. Not every car looked like that, but Ellis Palasini’s No. V8 did. That car was a sprint car, but that race wasn’t a sprint car race.

     

    Floridians raced in the Fiesta 200, including Jimmy Riddle, Dave Scarborough, Bill Roynon, and Dick Pratt. None of them won it. The drivers from the Deep South, not Florida, did better in endurance races, matched with a fast car and high bank race skills. Texan Wayne Niedecken won in ’64, followed by Mississippian Armond Holley, who won in ’65 and ’66. Super modified racing fell out of favor at Pensacola, and Mobile Speedway had their own race later in the ’60s, the World 300.

     Dave Scarborough at Golden Gate Speedway on race day, Dec. 12, 1971.

    Golden Gate Speedway’s longest sprint car race prior to ’71 was during the Fourth of July championship races in ’69, a 100-lap sprint car race. Jim Alvis Sr. was having his best season yet in sprint cars in ’69 at “the Gate” (as Golden Gate Speedway was known), even beating the cars with offset engines. Alvis, wearing all-white, flashed his winning smile in the winner’s circle on July 3. He won the 100-lap sprint car race and took second in the late models. Over the next few years, several other drivers ascended in the sprint car ranks at the Gate while Jim Alvis Sr. spent his time concentrating on late models, winning multiple track titles. The first two sprint car track championships, in ’69 and ’70, were taken by Wayne Reutimann (for car owner Sam Posey) and Dave Scarborough (car owners Harry Campbell and Paul Urbanek). Scarborough dominated the sprint car points through most of the ’71 season at the Gate. That point lead evaporated by September – Jim Riddle was coming on fast, now driving his own No. 1 sprint car, and he took over the point lead from Scarborough later in the month. The last sprint car race of the regular season, Saturday, November 6, was going to determine the 1971 sprint car track champion. When it concluded, Jim Riddle had the advantage, winning his first sprint car driver title at the Gate by seven points over Dave Scarborough.

     

    That seemed to set the stage for the locals entered in the inaugural Florida State Championship Sprint Car race a month later in mid-December. The locals had a familiar refrain when asked if they could beat the out-of-staters – they would remark that they knew the track, knew which tires and setups to use, and that gave them the advantage. The favorites appeared to be Jim Riddle, Dave Scarborough, Larry Brazil, Frank Riddle, and Wayne Reutimann. Scarborough, upon arriving in Anderson for the Little 500 back in May, was described by a local reporter as the driver who “has won almost every sprint car race at the Golden Gate Speedway.” Wayne Reutimann’s feature win in October proved that wasn’t true, but Wayne was having a mediocre year in sprint cars, out of the top five in points. Not so for Frank Riddle, third in points in ’71. Jim Riddle had another advantage in addition to his hot streak in the Gate’s sprint car battles – the new car that Harry Campbell was building for him especially for this race.

     

    Harry Campbell spent November and the early part of December converting an ex-Indy car roadster, which had been driven in the Indy 500 by Troy Ruttman, to a sprint car. Before Jim Riddle could drive it on December 12, Harry’s rebuilding process involved shortening the wheelbase, putting in a new engine, and adding a roll cage. All the cars entered would have roll cages, not only the racers coming from the USAC sprint car circuit (which required roll cages starting in ’71), but all the Floridians as well, who had weekly Saturday night racing at Golden Gate. Sprint cars raced there with “roofs,” sheet metal over the top of the roll cage, and 302-cubic-inch Chevy engines, some of them offset (pushed over to the car’s left side). Cars from the Southern super modified circuit had to remove their wings.

     

    News was coming in about the Midwest drivers who were expected: Cliff Cockrum from Illinois, Todd Gibson from Ohio (also with an offset roadster), and Dick Gaines from Indiana. There was also a Georgia boy, Herman Wise, who won the Little 500 in ’71, and Chuck Amati from Tennessee.

     

    Unlike the Governor’s Cup late model race in November, which took up a weekend of racing, the Florida State Championship race for sprint cars was a one-day event. Qualifying for the 32 starting spots was planned for just prior to the 2 p.m. start of “the longest and richest ($11,000 total purse) sprint car championship in Florida history.” Track owner Frank Dery chose to break up the race into three 100-lap segments, with a 15-minute pit stop after the first two segments. That eliminated the need for green-flag stops and the frenzied, dangerous conditions they would create. Golden Gate chief starter Johnny Hicks made an investment to make the Gate a little safer – foam fire-fighting equipment to put in use at the Gate and the Florida State Fair track during the February IMCA sprint car races.

     

    Jim Riddle broke the one-lap qualifying record during his pole position-winning qualifying run. In the race, he appeared to settle into a strategy of laying back to see if others went out too hard at the beginning of the 300 laps and subsequently broke or crashed. At first, it was uncertain if this was a wise plan, as Dave Scarborough and Larry Brazil fought an intense battle for the lead throughout most of the race, making it appear as if they were sure to finish one-two. They were the fastest, or so it seemed …

     

    The two-man battle for the lead was interrupted twice by accidents that sent two drivers to the hospital. When Tony Lavata’s onboard “USAC approved” fire extinguisher exploded, he was sprayed with shrapnel which caused bad cuts on his chest, stomach, and arms. University Community Hospital later reported that his condition was fair. He survived. Wayne Reutimann was the second driver hurt, getting burned on both legs when his car caught fire. He was less seriously injured and left the hospital later that night.

     

    Into the last hundred laps, Dave Scarborough had already led for 200-plus laps, followed by Larry Brazil, who had led for less than 20 laps. Then they were both out. It was serendipity, or luck, or just being right where he needed to be, waiting for the hotshots to wear out and go out, that Jim Riddle was there, the new leader as the last few laps dwindled down to a checkered flag. Jim Riddle was the victor at the so-called “first annual” Florida State Championship Sprint Car race. It seemed unusual for a brilliant promoter like Frank Dery Jr. to make such a goof when titling the race. There never was a second annual race. Later that decade, Dery made plans for an even bigger annual sprint car race. But that’s another story ...

     

    Finish, Florida State Championship Sprint Car Race

    Golden Gate Speedway, Tampa, FL, 300 laps

    Sunday, December 12, 1971

     

    1. Jim Riddle (FL);  2. Ollie Silva (MA);  3. Hardy Maddox (FL);  4. Dick Gaines (IN);  5. Bill Roynon (FL);  6. Todd Gibson (OH);  7. Buzz Barton (FL);  8. Billy Yuma (FL);  9. Jerry Mann (TX);  10. Cliff Cockrum (IL)

     

    Photos from Golden Gate Speedway are courtesy of Brenda Huskey Hudnell.

     

     

    Reporter’s Notes from the 2021 Little 500

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    May 30, 2021

    The 2021 Pay Less Little 500 Presented by UAW turned into a race of attrition as wrecked and broken cars gathered at the west end of the track showed that turns 1 and 2 had become the “crunch corners.” Not a single accident occurred in turns 3 and 4, and there was only one spin down in those “quiet corners.” Tyler Roahrig steered through trouble, had a deft hand at dealing with slower traffic, and held off the late-race charge mounted by the Swanson brothers, who both were in the cars of teams new to them in 2021. Kody Swanson appeared to have the best chance to overtake Roahrig but failed to make the crucial pass late in the race. Roahrig later built up almost a half-lap lead over the Swanson brothers.

    Tyler Roahrig holds the winner's trophy at the 2021 Little 500 on Saturday.

    By lap 280, half the field was out of the race. The infield became a parking lot for many cars steered by veteran racers (including Kenny Schrader, Brian Tyler, Shane Butler, Aaron Pierce, and Eric Gordon). Sixteen cars were still making laps, and a few more dropped by the wayside during the last 200 laps. The number 51 car of Scott Hampton seemed to have gained speed over prior years to challenge for the lead and take 4th place; and the number 55, driven by Florida veteran racer Tommy Nichols, took the checkered flag at the conclusion of 500 laps for the first time. Nichols’ 12th place was his best-ever here for the 500.

    Although a substantial number of fans still believed that air jacks had been banned from the Little 500 this year (they were banned for a short time), the rule banning air jacks had been rescinded, and I spotted them on the cars of Shane Butler, Aaron Pierce, and Kody Swanson. Although two-car wrecks in the first and second turns were a recurring calamity through the first half of the race, none compared to the frightening wreck that occurred on the front straight during Thursday qualifying. The car of Rob Keesling seemed to take a sharp left turn at the start/finish line and veer directly into a temporary infield concrete barrier set at an angle to the track. The sharp impact knocked over the barrier, sent Keesling’s car into a pinwheeling flip, and when it landed in the infield grass, the car tore into a series of crazy donuts caused by a stuck throttle or unconscious driver or both. Keesling was awake and alert when taken to an Anderson hospital. I hope that a permanent barrier will soon replace the temporary movable concrete barriers, but the aging, rusted catch fences and safety cables are the structure that is most urgently in need of replacement at Anderson Speedway.

    Tyler Roahrig's race winning car at the 2021 Little 500 on Saturday.

    The crew of Tommy Nichols’ number 55 entry discovered that their refueling hose was damaged and unusable, and when a replacement was pressed into service, another part was still needed for their refueling rig. A trusted friend made the trip to Michigan, picked up the needed part, returned to Anderson, and hand-delivered the part right to the infield pits, where it was installed on their refueling rig within hours of the race start. Everyone was left feeling, “It sure is nice to have good friends!”

    Rookie Cody Karl from Gulfport, Mississippi, was the second-ever racer from that Deep South state to become a Little 500 starter. He had raced at Mobile (Alabama) International Speedway when they previously had sprint car racing, and Cody had a Stealth chassis at that time. Cody finished 20th in a Beast chassis Jett Motorsports car after starting 30th. He told me that he enjoyed racing at Mobile and that he liked that type of high-speed, banked track. A bullring like Anderson was a new experience for him, as was a race with pit stops.

    I got a chance to take a close-up look inside the cockpit of Shane Butler’s number 18 Butler Motorsports sprint car and I peppered Keith Butler, Shane’s brother, with a series of questions regarding all the dials and knobs that I saw inside the cockpit. Unlike the high-tech end of open wheel racing, in which all the car controls are clustered on and attached to the steering wheel, sprint cars still have a basic steering wheel with other controls on the dashboard and to the right and left of the cockpit, within easy reach. There are right (marked R on the knob) and left (a big L) weight jackers, and a fuel adjustment dial, and others. A carbon-fiber containment seat protects the driver, and it’s light and strong. The days of open wheel drivers emerging from a wreck with broken bodies and broken seats seem to be a thing of the past, thanks to these new, rugged seats.

    The high level of talent seen in the current class of Little 500 pavement racers, including Tyler Roahrig, the Swansons, and Bobby Santos III, is a stroke of luck for short track pavement racing, as their talent adds to the excitement, coupled with the knowledge that we’ll likely be able to see them race in the Little 500 for years. At a time in the early ’60s, that wasn’t the case. Parnelli Jones, Jim McElreath, and Johnny Rutherford all came to the Little 500, each for only one race before moving on to successful Indy car racing careers. This weekend, there was a lot of fretting and gnashing of teeth over the lack of opportunities being offered to Kody Swanson, even some anger and indignation directed at Indy car racing. At times, I find that behavior puzzling. Other than that short “prime time for pavement short track talent” during those three years in the early ’60s (1960–62), pavement short track racing has not been a path to Indy 500 glory in recent history. Sure, there was a time in the ’90s when that “prime time” seemed to be having a revival. Steve Kinser and Jack Hewitt raced an Indy car at the Brickyard. None of the pavement short track talent won the Indy 500, none of them ever drank the Brickyard’s milk. Fans of the Little 500 are the winners. The Swanson brothers will be back next year. It’s a safe bet that they’ll be competing for the win. And I’ll back too, and enjoying it.

     

     

    Tommy Nichols: Bravery, Determination, and a Desire to Win the Little 500

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    May 28, 2021

    Fifty-one-year-old sprint car owner/driver Tommy Nichols sits in a folding chair with a large RV looming directly behind him, which serves as a shield from the late afternoon sun in a parking/camping area at Indiana’s Anderson Speedway. The affable racer is showing a few signs of aging, his trimmed beard sprouting some gray and there’s maybe a little added mid-torso weight from a decade or two of middle-age. Two small dogs romp under and around his feet, and when their stares reach a critical level of pity, he feeds them small chunks of pulled pork from his plate.

    Tommy Nichols discusses car setup with crew, 2021 Little 500, Anderson Speedway.

    Tommy is here as an owner/driver to attempt to qualify for his fifth Pay Less Little 500 Presented by UAW. It seems certain that he’ll qualify and be racing in his fifth “Lil’ Five” on Saturday night. His previous starts were in 1991, ’94, ’96, and last year, when he had his best race finish, 13th place with 439 laps completed in his purple and yellow No. 55 Tommy Nichols Enterprises Hurricane chassis. “Tommy Gun” Nichols also fielded a car for Florida driver Garrett Green in 2018, getting 14th place that year as solely an owner. Tommy has been to the winner’s circle in both TBARA and Southern Sprint Car Series competition in Florida, most recently on August 11, 2018, at Citrus County Speedway in Inverness.

    His team for the 2021 Little 500 consists of, “A ‘George Rudolph Hurricane’ that was put together for him, built for him a couple of years ago. And ‘Pops,’ my dad, built a brand-new 410 [cubic-inch] motor for this year, and Mike Alvis and Tra Pissot worked on the suspension and the set-up of the car. I came in here very happy. The first time out on the track today [Wednesday], and the car worked really, really well. Throughout the day, with the adjustments, we kept getting faster and faster. I never put on another new set of tires. We did get a scare today with the motor, blew an oil plug out of the bottom of the motor. We’ve got Wilo USA as a sponsor again this year, also PSI Technologies, Royal Electric, TNT Fabrication, and a couple other product sponsors. Also Troy Thompson, TTI Machine. I’m very grateful for the help and the sponsorship that we’ve got. I think we’ve got a pretty good team this year.”

    Tommy Nichols in the infield during a 2021 Little 500 practice day.

    The original plan that Tommy had for this year’s Little 500 was to have Florida driver LJ Grimm drive a second team car, the blue and black Hurricane chassis that is raced as his Florida winged car. A new 360-cubic-inch aluminum motor was to be matched with that car for Grimm to drive but now serves as Tommy’s backup car. “LJ backed out, probably a month ago,” Tommy explained, “and said that he had other plans, and other things to do, and he appreciated the offer. So, we decided to just come and run one car.” LJ Grimm has revealed that he is driving in this weekend’s Must See Racing winged sprint car race in Kalamazoo, Michigan, making it impossible to also race in the Little 500. “I said, ‘That’s fine.’ ” Subsequently, that blue and black winged car got damaged in a head-on wreck at Auburndale Speedway in April, breaking the front axle and “taking out the front clip,” which is being repaired now.

    Last year’s best-ever finish in the Little 500 for Tommy came with some frustration and disappointment. “We were at lap 472, and we were sitting ninth place and I was passing Kenny Schrader for eighth when the motor blew. Twenty-something laps left to go and we were almost there. We were the highest-placed Florida guy at the time in the race. A bunch of us in the top ten, we were lapping everybody in the field. I guess I was ‘counting my chickens before they hatched,’ and then the motor popped. But – it was a lot of fun.”

    One of his Little 500 memories involved reaching a top-five position early in the 1996 race and then getting “tangled up” with a lapped car. “He tapped me on the front end, it broke the brake line, and I had no brakes. Basically ran into the wall, came off the wall and went down into the pits and took out Frank Riddle’s pits. Frank Riddle came up to me after the race and he had a five-gallon plastic bucket, and he goes, ‘Nichols, this is the only thing I have left from this whole race! I blew my motor up, I crashed the car, you destroyed everything in my pits, and this is the only thing I have left.’ I felt bad. They said I even wiped out his generator and hit his fuel tower, and I had no brakes and no steering because after the brakes went out, I hit the wall and the steering went out. So, I was just a speeding bullet going into the infield. I was just sitting there waving my hands, like, ‘Watch out! Watch out!’ and went into the pits.”

    During the time that Tommy was running the full USAC sprint car season (dirt and pavement) with his father as the car owner, and after qualifying for the 1994 Little 500, “That was back when USAC was running and we would go over to Winchester. I normally qualified in the top fifteen every year we came up here. I qualified and I was happy, we were locked in, and I go over to Winchester and that was the night with the bad accident with Robbie Stanley.” Stanley was going for his fourth consecutive USAC National Sprint Car Series championship in ’94, after winning the USAC title in 1991, ’92, and ’93. Tommy found himself swept into the accident that involved Robbie Stanley. “I destroyed my car, “Tommy recalled. “Larry Tyler hit him in the tail tank, which spun him around and I T-boned him right in the side, and we’re pretty sure that’s what got him. It was horrifying. It was devastating to me for a while. At that point, I kind of got out of racing for a month or two, and then, believe it or not, some Indiana people called me and said, ‘Hey, come back racing. We miss you!’ So, I came back racing. I kinda felt bad, but slowly got over it. That’s just something that you never get over – you learn to deal with it.”

    On the USAC sprint car trail in the early to mid-’90s, Tommy would make the drive back and forth to Florida every weekend. “Now, we stayed up here sometimes with Brad Armstrong. They had their shop up here and we kept our cars up here and we would drive back and forth. Sometimes, we’d leave the rig up here and just drive a car or truck back and forth. It just depended. It was pretty hectic. It was a lot of fun. My dad [Dennis ‘Pops’ Nichols] and Jack Nowling were very good friends. They worked in the marine business, the marine trailer business together. Jack helped us out. I was getting out of go-karts and said, ‘I want to get into sprint cars,’ and Pops takes me over to Jack Nowling’s place and Wayne Hammond put me to work on a sprint car. That’s where I started to learn to work on ’em, with them. That was probably in the mid-’80s. There’s a lot of good memories there.”

    The next stage in Tommy’s racing career was helped by a sponsorship deal with Hooters Restaurants. The Hooters Pro Cup late model series was starting and Tommy was involved from its beginning. A trip to Alan Kulwicki’s shop found them picking up tow rigs, motors, and late model cars for their racing. That was when Lakeland’s USA International Speedway was a prominent part of the Hooters Pro Cup racing.

    “I’ve got probably five thousand laps over there on that track. Hooters owned that. It was the start of the series, and that’s what I ended up doin’. I kinda transitioned to the late models for a couple of years – ’96 and ’97. In ’98, I broke the contract with Hooters and went to drive for Lang Engineering in ARCA. So, I went and ran the ARCA Series for a while, I think a full year. We were going to try to shoot for the Daytona 500 and were getting ready to run some NASCAR practice and then the team kinda fell apart. I went right back to sprint car racing.”

    There was also some USAC Silver Crown racing, in a car previously driven by Dave Steele and owned by Mac Steele, Dave’s father. “Put it together, Hooters sponsored me, and we ran some IRP and some pavement.” Tommy was away from the Little 500 for an extended period, from the mid-’90s until the past four years, due to these other racing pursuits. Technology had changed, for the cars and the tires, and just about everything else. The new way of endurance pavement sprint car racing involved a short learning curve, and Tommy adapted quickly, qualifying in his own car last year for the first time in 24 years.

    “I definitely feel a lot older, I can tell you that,” Tommy remarked. “I sit here and look at some of the young kids that are running, these twenty-something young guys, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I used to be you, you know, thirty-something years ago!’ I don’t know – I think I’m a little smarter now. Back then it was: Put the foot down and go. Didn’t care if you crashed, didn’t matter. Now, it’s smarter, more methodical in what we do, the changes we make to the car, the changes I make in driving style. I wish I would have had the sponsors and this attitude twenty years ago, and I probably could have made something here with this. But, it comes when it comes … and I’m happy.”

    How much longer will he race? “I thought about it,” Tommy replied. “With number 55, I was planning on when I became 55, that would be my final year. But, ya know, I was sitting down with Kenny Schrader at the drivers’ meeting and we were talking. I know he’s in his sixties, and he said basically, ‘You’ll know when you’re done.’ He goes, ‘Until you stop having fun …’ And I’m really having fun right now. I really am. I mean, win, lose, draw, or break.”

     

     

    Kody Swanson: Crossroads Decisions, Throwback Races, and Pavement Domination

     

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

     Kody Swanson at the 2017 Little 500, Anderson Speedway, IN

     

    May 20, 2021

     

    Thirty-three-year-old Kody Swanson is a race car driver whose character and demeanor makes you think of drivers from a past era. It’s almost like he materialized from another era when drivers raced hard and clean, still treated others with respect and courtesy, and then went home to their families and their regular day jobs when the weekend was over. When he wins, you can’t help but feel a little tinge of “things are right with the world.” With talent in abundance, you might also wonder, “How come this guy hasn’t advanced to the highest level in American auto racing?”

     

    Swanson is a five-time USAC Silver Crown Series driver champion, but won’t be in contention for his sixth championship this year, a crossroads year in which he is eschewing the dirt Silver Crown races to allow more time for a burgeoning stock car racing career. But, he’s hardly fleeing from those throwback races in which he’s dominated in the past,  a couple of them prominently part of the “Week of Indy” races leading up to the Indianapolis 500. One of those races is gone, the Hoosier Hundred dirt champ car race in Indy. One remains, the Little 500 in Anderson, Indiana. He’ll race in Anderson one week from Saturday in the 2021 Little 500, as he’s already put together a pavement open wheel program (Silver Crown champ car and pavement sprint car) with Doran Racing. Kody’s talent for pavement open wheel racing is another throwback, evoking memories of another pavement virtuoso, Dave Steele.

     

    This crossroads year for Kody, which got its big jump-start at New Smyrna Speedway during February Speedweeks, will see more chances to dominate on pavement as Kody reduces the amount of dirt racing on his schedule. He recently revealed a race schedule for the last half of May with all pavement races. He’s already racked up wins in pro late model and super late model racing in 2021, along with a pavement sprint car win in Florida.

     

    There was a time when Kody was not that positive about an opportunity coming his way to advance in pavement racing and eventually get to the highest level of American auto racing. It was in late 2015, when he had just clinched his second USAC Silver Crown championship in Syracuse, New York. When I interviewed him in October 2015, Kody remarked, “I would like to make it on at some point to maybe the NASCAR ranks, but I just don’t have the real certain hope that will happen. I’m old in my career, but I’m not as young as the guys that they’re taking. I don’t have some of the rest of the pieces that are needed to make that work. So for now, I’m enjoying my time in the Silver Crown Series …”

     

    Kody has obviously made a concerted effort to put some of “the rest of the pieces” together this year, adding a hearty dose of pavement late model racing and winning the pro late model driver title in February during New Smyrna’s Speedweeks racing. He’s also downplayed dirt racing. In late 2015, he planned “a little bit of everything. Winged pavement, winged dirt … Silver Crown – that’ll be my main season-long goal …” Fast forward to 2021 and those goals from a half-decade ago have been subject to a major makeover. Winged sprint cars (pavement and dirt varieties) seem to have gotten the ax, along with dirt champ cars and having the Silver Crown champ car title as his main goal for the year. Meet the new goals.

     

    While he was at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway earlier this year, I asked about the crossroads in his racing career that he has reached in 2021 and his future plans: “I’ve been really fortunate to have had a great career in Silver Crown and open wheel stuff thus far,” Kody Swanson told me. “I’ve always wanted to continue to move up, whether that be in NASCAR’s Cup Series, or moving toward the Indy 500. In the last year, I’ve had a couple of opportunities to kinda break free.” The ARCA stock car race at Iowa Speedway in July 2020, in which he finished eighth, was described by Kody as “the first time I’ve been in anything with fenders in a while. I drove for Chad Bryant in a late model stock a couple of times. The opportunity came to race here with Team Platinum and they do a really great job with the pro late models and super late models. To come to New Smyrna here, we get a lot of experience in a short amount of time. With successive days in the car and trying to improve each night, it’s a great opportunity to learn.”

     

    Kody also expressed how much he appreciated the Team Platinum crew, and the great cars that they prepared for him. He also said that he’d been close to winning in the pro late model class, and wanted to win a race in that class during eight days of racing in February, a goal he achieved later that week at New Smyrna Speedway, a track he described as “one that’s hard to pass at.”

     

    Pavement sprint car racing has been one of his most successful pursuits in recent years, with three wins in the Little 500 and two wins in the Dave Steele World Non-Wing Championship race in Florida the past two winters. Those wins in Florida were both with Doran Racing, and Kody returns to the Little 500 for the first time with one of the Doran Racing No. 77 sprint cars later this month. “I still love open wheel stuff and I’m going to run all the pavement sprint car races we can with Doran Racing, and the pavement Silver Crown stuff,” Kody stated. Not the dirt Silver Crown races – he admitted that he’s not seeking a ride for those races.

     

    “If my goal for the year is to get moved into new things,” Kody remarked, “and I keep doing the same things over and over, expecting something different, then some people will think that’s insanity! And I’m half a decade in here, been doin’ the same thing. I don’t want to take that focus and put it toward a championship-type thing. I want to continue to try to move forward into new types of racing on the pavement, and see where that goes for a little while.”

     

    Earlier this year, I also asked Kody about his 2015 comments, when he spoke of not having that “real certain hope” about getting to NASCAR eventually. Was he implying that he was too old, then or now? “I probably still am,” he replied. “But I think there’s at least a little hope left. At one point, I was too old and had no opportunities to do something different. I’m older now, but I’ve been fortunate to have some opportunities shake loose, so I’m just trying to pursue those as best I can and I’m enjoying the challenge of learning something new. I’ve been really fortunate to have a lot of good years and a lot of success with those [USAC Silver Crown] cars.”

     

    For the future, Kody told me that he wants to “put more effort into trying these new things, and doing everything I can to pursue them. If it’s things that are along the path to the Indy 500, or even things that are sports car-related, I’ve been enjoying trying them all.”

     

     

    Dust and Rain: An Indiana/Ohio Adventure

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    May 9, 2021

    Part 1 of the weekend for this writer involved choosing to go to the dirt sprint car races at one of two tracks on Friday evening, either Gas City I-69 Speedway or Eldora Speedway, “across the border” in Ohio. I admit that I often don’t have much luck in guessing which track will rain out, and which track will not. Luck was with me this night, sort of. I chose Gas City.

    The rain was falling while approaching Gas City, Indiana, by way of the interstate highway (thank you President Eisenhower for the push to build the interstate highway system, imagine not having it!). It was a good choice, as Eldora had no racing that night after making the decision to not have another “24 Hours of Eldora,” as another endless night at Eldora was dubbed. Gas City was delayed, did have racing, and it became “T-Mez Night” when Thomas Meseraull won both open wheel feature races in non-wing sprint cars and the USAC Midwest Regional Midget Series. I stayed until midnight, allowing me to catch the driving clinic displayed by T-Mez in the sprint car feature. Eldora had no features. They (all four features, two with USAC and two with the World of Outlaws) were all delayed until Saturday.

    World of Outlaws sprint cars at Eldora Speedway, 5-8-2021

    Gas City on Friday was a chilling experience, as temperatures dipped and frozen race fans mostly headed for the exit well before the first feature race started just before midnight. I only stayed for that single feature race and then left while I could still feel my fingers through my thin gloves. It was worth the trip – Meseraull is able to make it enjoyable, even when he beats up the competition, as he did. Of course, it also leaves unanswered an obvious question: “How come T-Mez is here, racing in a ‘weekly series’ when he should be racing in the national series over at Eldora with USAC?”

    With the planned Sunday USAC Silver Crown Series season-opening race at Winchester Speedway (my main reason for coming north) already postponed until July (good choice, as it’s raining now on Sunday), that left Eldora’s planned day of sprint car racing on Saturday (Let’s Race Four?) as my last day of racing for this trip “up north.” With the afternoon start of racing, taking up with hot laps and then right into heat races for the USAC sprint cars, the biggest challenge of the day for Eldora’s track crew was evident from the first race – big, billowing clouds of dust. At one point from my vantage in the front stretch stands, I could see all of the front stretch and about two-thirds of the back stretch, and that’s all. The turns had disappeared into the tall clouds of dust. The Eldora track boys got to work quickly. They knew what to do – put down lots of water, and do this after each heat or feature race. Even though the fans’ view of the track suffered (for a short while), the racing did not. An enjoyable feature of Eldora, especially for a Floridian, is the passing, often by way of the slide job, something seldom seen in Florida racing. The fun part is watching the slide job get set up, and attempting to guess, at this early stage, if the slide job will be successful and result in a pass for position. Robert Ballou provided another bit of fun for the fans. His brutally honest comments and hold-back-nothing criticism of other racers, teams, and track owners are always a highlight and a character trait that journalists always want more of.

    Back in Florida, the obvious star of the racing weekend was a relative newcomer to Florida sprint car racing, LJ Grimm. He won the Saturday night sprint car feature with the Southern Sprint Car Series, a first win in the series for him, which seemed inevitable with the wins he has been accumulating in pavement races outside the series. His next big hurdle in pavement sprint car racing will be as a rookie driver at the Little 500 in Anderson, Indiana, later this month. Grimm will be piloting the No. 25 Wilo USA-sponsored entry owned by Floridian Tommy Nichols. Rookies from Florida have had a tendency to have great success in earning the Little 500 Rookie of the Year award, last accomplished by Garrett Green in 2013. Among the Floridians to earn this award are the following: Dave Steele (1992), Robert Smith (1976), Frank Riddle (1978), and Bo Hartley (1997). Every one of those drivers were Florida race winners, TBARA champions, or future “Lil’ 500” winners. LJ Grimm seems to be on track to be the next.

     

     

    Kody Swanson Not Actively Seeking Ride for USAC Silver Crown Dirt Races in 2021

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     May 5, 2021

     Five-time USAC Silver Crown Series champion Kody Swanson recently told me that he is not actively seeking a ride for the dirt races in the USAC Silver Crown Series in 2021, and will apparently only race in the five asphalt races currently on the schedule. Since more than half of the series races are on dirt in 2021, seven of twelve races, that makes it impossible for the 33-year-old Swanson to earn a sixth USAC Silver Crown Series title.

     Kody Swanson in late model at New Smyrna Speedway, 2021

     

    The early front runner for the USC champ car title in 2021 may likely be defending Silver Crown champ Justin Grant, who earlier this week tested his car on Winchester Speedway’s high-banked asphalt half-mile oval. Grant posted the day’s fastest lap while practicing for this Sunday’s season-opening Silver Crown Series race. If he can win at Winchester on May 9, it will be his first Silver Crown Series win on asphalt. Although the entry list for Winchester Speedway does not list any Florida drivers, a champ car owned by a familiar Florida car owner will be present. That’s the No. 22 DJ Racing car, fielded by Floridian Dick Fieler for the 2020 Little 500 winner, Bobby Santos III.

     

    One of the reasons Kody Swanson decided not to seek a ride for the seven USAC Silver Crown dirt races in 2021 is because of the increased time he has committed to being successful in asphalt late model racing, especially since the beginning of this year. At New Smyrna Speedway’s World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing in February, he had one feature win along with three second-place finishes in pro late model racing, which earned him the track’s pro late model championship during the World Series racing.

     Kody Swanson's late model on pit road at New Smyrna Speedway, 2021.

    That championship motivated the late model team he raced with during February, Team Platinum, to sign him to drive in more super and pro late model races this year. Those dates will be fit in so that they don’t conflict with the commitment that Swanson has already made with Doran Racing to drive in the asphalt Silver Crown races (May 9, May 28, June 25, August 14, and October 10), and select sprint car races, including the Little 500 (May 29), a race he has won three times. Swanson subsequently won the ARCA/CRA Super Series super late model race at Salem Speedway on April 25, again with Team Platinum. It was his first super late model race win. In addition to his late model success, Kody Swanson also won his first Indy Pro 2000 race, also his first race in a rear-engine open wheel race car, in August 2020 at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. Kody’s name was also recently added to the 2021 driver lineup for the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) in its inaugural season, which CBS will broadcast in primetime this summer on Saturday nights.


     

     

     

    Non-Wing 602 Sprint Car Class Debuts at 4-17 Southern Speedway

    Story by Richard Golardi

    April 29, 2021

    Although the 602 crate engine has been seen in Florida sprint car racing in the recent past, this past weekend brought the debut of a new class of sprint cars on the asphalt at Punta Gorda’s 4-17 Southern Speedway. One of the participants in Saturday night’s non-wing 602 sprint car class feature race was veteran Florida sprint car campaigner Scotty Adema from Fort Myers. Florida promoter Don Rehm had previously allowed 602 and 604 crate motors to compete against the mainstay limited-360 motor in the dirt-only Top Gun Series that he owned and operated. This big change came in 2016, allowing engines other than the limited-360 engine that was (and still is) the main power plant in the series for years. In Florida pavement sprint car racing, the TBARA 22-degree cylinder head, 360-cubic-inch engine has been dominant for decades.

    Referred to as a “602 crate engine”, the engine is designed for short track racing weekend warriors and is a 350-horsepower (at 5,000 rpm), 350-cubic-inch GM (Chevrolet) sealed racing crate engine. Sprint car owner/driver Scotty Adema stated that the engine had slightly more horsepower, “375–400 horsepower … on alcohol. On my car, I used a traditional fuel pump in the stock location to avoid using a $500 Waterman pump and costly regulators. It works fine so far.” He added that he was using a battery out of a mini-sprint race car and estimated that a good car with a new motor could be built and assembled for $12,000–$13,000.

    “That’s a lot of fun for pretty reasonable money,” Scotty Adema stated. He gave his thoughts prior to Saturday’s race: “I’m ready to see who’s coming. This class will definitely concentrate on the set-up and the drivers’ ability more than just the amount of money you can spend on a race car. It’s a concept to use the Chevy 602 motor combined with a non-wing car to offer an affordable option for those who may be interested in sprint car racing. I like the concept and enjoy non-wing racing. I’m in. It’ll take a little bit to get a few of them together, but it’ll be a great class. Won’t be a great car count, but a great concept that may spark Florida sprint car racing. I think it’ll grow …”

    One sprint car fan stated that he was “Glad to see they are trying to make sprint car racing a little more affordable. I have been learning more about the LS motor as an option. A more modern version of the old, small block 602 engine …”

    Scotty Adema won the 25–lap feature race last Saturday in the debut of 4-17 Southern Speedway’s 602 sprint car class. “What a blast racing with the 602 crate motor,” Adema said. “It was so much fun and was a great opening night for the new class. These things are so simple to work on. It’s actually fun to drive.”

    There were four cars in the feature race, all with drivers who live in Southwest Florida, and it is believed that more cars will be joining the class shortly. Future 602 sprint car races at 4-17 Southern Speedway are planned for May 22, September 18, October 23, and December 18, 2021. There are also another six winged sprint car races planned at the track in 2021, all with sanctioning from the Southern Sprint Car Series, Florida’s touring winged sprint car series.

    4-17 Southern Speedway, 602 Non-Wing Sprint Car Feature Race Results, April 24, 2021:

    (1) #67-Scotty Adema, Fort Myers, FL; (2) #3-Travis Bliemeister, Venice, FL; (3) #2B-Nick Andrade, Venice, FL; (4) #13-Chaz Hambling, Cape Coral, FL

     

     

    Shane Butler: Seasons of Change

     

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     

    February 11, 2021

     

    Thirty-nine-year-old Florida businessman and sprint car driver Shane Butler, a three-time Florida state pavement sprint car champion (TBARA champion in 2002, ’10 and ’14), has undergone some changes in his chosen career and also his racing career in the last couple of race seasons. In early 2019, he made the change to concentrate on Florida dirt sprint car racing, after a late-season battle for the all-pavement 2018 Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series point title, which it appeared he would win, saw the point lead slip out of his grasp late in the season. The point title that year went to another driver, and Shane was second. The changes continued in 2020, a year that brought a change to how Shane spent the hours of nine-to-five during the workweek. With the new year, 2021 will be another season of change for Shane, with his entry into national 410 dirt sprint car racing, beginning this week with Bubba Raceway Park’s races on Thursday through Saturday with the USAC National Sprint Car Series.

     

    Shane has spent part of the fall and winter preparing a chassis and 410-cubic-inch engine for the arrival of non-wing national dirt sprint car racing, specifically with USAC, beginning today. Shane has dabbled in national series dirt sprint car racing previously. This year brings a bigger commitment and effort into this type of sprint car racing, now with his own team.

     

    Shane was primarily a Florida pavement sprint car racer for most of his racing career, at least up until the end of the 2018 race season. “Yeah,” Shane remarked. “Around 2008 … I think I ran maybe 10 dirt races. We put a car together and started out at East Bay during Speedweeks and broke a motor. Before that, I got the opportunity to drive a car for Kenny Mulligan and we went and ran two shows in Alabama with USCS. I might have run one or two shows before then with the dirt car and probably had 10 races on dirt. I was still learnin’ it and we didn’t put a Top Gun motor [limited 360-cubic-inch] together. My wife, Katrina, was pregnant with Landon when I first got the dirt car. We ran it a little bit in ’08, didn’t want to spend money on a Top Gun motor, so we sold the dirt car and then stuck with pavement up until 2018. I think the race with Wayne Davis [Southeastern Sprint Car Series] at All-Tech Raceway was our first race in a dirt non-wing sprint car. I took my ‘asphalt buddies’ with me, LJ and Devin McLeod, and my dad, and we were like a bunch of pavement racers who didn’t know what the hell to do, and just kinda winged it.”

     

    This was going to be a major change for Shane, a pavement racer, who now was taken by the dirt and wanted to inhale some fine dirt particles along with his usual race day fix of methanol fumes and burnt rubber. This was not unusual for the majority of Florida’s most talented sprint car champions, to race on both dirt and pavement and even in fendered race cars. Shane was merely following a tradition of Florida racers, going back to the late ’40s and early ’50s, who regularly raced sprint cars and stock cars on both asphalt and dirt. The dirt racing and pavement racing “specialist” is a modern invention, mostly seen in Florida in the ’90s and later. It didn’t use to be that way. “If it had a steering wheel, they drove it” was an often-heard refrain in Florida in prior years.

     Shane Butler and his son, Landon.

    Wayne Davis’ idea for a regional non-wing dirt sprint car series, based in the South, with an “open motor rule,” is what at first attracted Shane to commit to concentrate on dirt sprint car racing in 2019. He wouldn’t have to travel outside of Florida and nearby states, and wouldn’t need a limited 360 engine, required for Florida’s Top Gun sprint car series. He liked this plan and decided he’d race in this series. It lasted for a short time, and the at-first promising plans for a regional non-wing dirt series later fell apart and the series failed.

     

    “It was gonna be a good deal – open motors, and we had a 410 sittin’ here. I’m like, ‘Man that’s perfect.’ I can go get a dirt car, I can put a 410 in it, because Jimmy Brown owned it, and he’s like, ‘Whatever you wanna do, go for it!’ ” Shane decided to sit out the first series races in Hendry County, which he wanted to compete in but decided against after a job loss in the family – which was Katrina’s job. He then planned for his first race with the Southeastern Sprint Car Series at North Florida’s All-Tech Raceway on March 16, 2019. He nearly won it, or had thought he won it until a ruling by the series that he was not the winner. It would have been his first career sprint car feature win on dirt.

     

    “We had a blast,” Shane said, “and we were set to run more of his stuff, and we did. What attracted me was that I always wanted to run non-wing dirt sprint cars. I loved non-wing, period, whether it’s dirt or asphalt. I’ll still always love my pavement, but I really love the dirt too. The things I’ve learned, and the challenges that go with running a dirt car, with keeping up with the race track, and lane changes, it’s made it more enjoyable to try to figure out what to do next. It’s kind of a challenge, and it’s been an enjoyable challenge.”

     

    Shane’s third place finish with the Southeastern Sprint Car Series at Southern Raceway in the Florida panhandle, a race that included some of the Midwest dirt hotshots, fed his desire to keep up his effort in non-wing dirt racing. “I was like a kid in a candy store,” Shane recalled. “It was something I’ve always wanted to do, and we’re doin’ it, and we’re runnin’ good at it. The non-wing deal is pushed so much more in the driver’s hands.”

     

    The first dirt sprint car feature win was not long in coming. It occurred at the Don Rehm Classic on November 30, 2019, a race honoring the long-time Florida sprint car driver and promoter. It’s a non-wing Top Gun sprint car series race held annually at East Bay Raceway Park. Shane’s feature win, like the previous dirt feature that he initially was told he had won, came with some controversy. A failure of the transponder scoring system left officials to eyeball a close finish, and without a camera or official at the finish line, that eyeballing of the side-by-side finish with AJ Maddox was the subject of debate. Shane was awarded the feature win. He had his first career dirt sprint car feature win after 31 sprint car feature wins on Florida pavement tracks.

     

    A deal was made with Taylor Andrews in late 2019 to trade one of Shane’s pavement sprint cars for a dirt chassis for Top Gun winged sprint car racing in 2020, and Shane added three more dirt sprint car feature wins in Florida last year. Shane’s 2020 wins also included his first winged sprint car feature win on dirt. It was at East Bay Raceway in Gibsonton. Shane now sits in 18th place on the All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List with 35 career sprint car wins in Florida, four of them on dirt.

     

    “Some people were mad at me,” Shane said of that first dirt sprint car win, “and I wasn’t scoring the race. The track was, and I’m not going to give it back. There were some pictures and some videos, and some questioned it. They made the call, not me! We took that one, and we came back this past year, 2020, started out at East Bay, and wasn’t going to run points, was just going to kinda hit-and-miss.” Another change was ahead for 2020, a career change.

     

    Steele Performance Parts, started by the late Florida racing legend Dave Steele, was going out of business in early 2020 and was going to sell its inventory of parts and other items in their Tampa race shop. The Butlers, Shane and his wife, negotiated to buy the parts inventory, and the shelving that held the parts, from the Steele family in January 2020. Shane then left his regular day job, and an employer he was with for 15 years, to concentrate full-time on building his speed shop business. They would not be purchasing the business name – “They didn’t want to sell the name,” Shane explained – and would also not be purchasing any race cars, engines, or business equipment. They did not purchase the Tampa building that housed the shop, as they planned to locate their speed shop in their Bushnell race shop in North Florida. They also had the advantage of being well-known in the Florida short track racing community and having many friends in the community. Many racers stop by for advice, as well as to make a purchase. Shane and his father, Stan, share their knowledge with these Florida racers, some of them young and inexperienced but willing to listen and learn.

     

    One of the sprint cars inside the race shop holds a clipboard with a neatly printed list of items needed to get the car race-ready. “Disassemble … fix nose wing mount … build new lower panels … paint Troy’s colors, etc.” That last item reveals the car’s future owner/driver – it’s retired sprint car/USAC champ car driver Troy Thompson. He’s about to get back into racing, with the help of the Butlers. Their speed shop, originally called TCB Speed South, has now been renamed Butler Speed & Supply as of January 1, 2021. “We wanted our name on it,” Shane explained. He and his wife, Katrina, are the sole owners of the company. The company logo uses red and black, familiar colors used by the Butler race team.

     

    Nearby sits another sprint car. It’s the black number 18, displaying Shane’s name as the driver and also the Butler Speed & Supply sticker. It’s the Maxim dirt car chassis Shane will use this week for USAC dirt racing, and its engine is installed, sponsor stickers are applied (Keene Services Inc., Cobb Glass Co. Inc., and others), and it is only in need of Shane’s hands to take the wheel, a track, some competition, and a push to get started. That happens on Thursday.

     

    For 2021, Shane has a desire to build his speed shop business – “The number one goal is to concentrate on the business,” he said – and that may involve a plan to “slow down racing a little bit.” He is undecided if he will race the complete 2021 Top Gun series schedule, but will be at the track for every one of the Top Gun series races with his speed shop trailer to make parts sales in the pits. His shop is also frequently open on weekends, when the weekend racers are often working on their cars and in need of parts and advice. The shop has opened its garage doors late at night for that last-minute, gotta-have-it part that a racer could not do without. Orders come in by phone and from in-person visitors to their race shop. Cars come in for maintenance and repairs. New racers have requested a car and engine be built for them to race.

     

    Next in 2021 is “what I’m really excited about,” as Shane stated. This week in Ocala will not be his first attempt to qualify for a USAC National Sprint Car Series race. That first attempt came in 2004, a pavement USAC sprint car race at Toledo, Ohio. Since he didn’t advance to the feature, Shane will be looking to qualify for his first USAC sprint car feature this week. He has two previous USAC national race starts, both in the USAC Silver Crown champ car series. Shane has a new 2020 Maxim dirt sprint car chassis with a Claxton 410-cubic-inch engine under the hood, and a sponsor group in place. The engine is the same one used by Shane in the 2020 Little 500 in Anderson, Indiana, and has not been used since then.

     

    Then, there’s the future of the Butler racing family, the 12-year-old son of Shane and Katrina, Landon Butler, who got his start in go-kart racing. “We’re gonna keep practicing [a dirt sprint car],” Shane replied when asked what was next for Landon. “His most recent practice was at The Bullring [one-quarter mile dirt oval in Ocala]. It’s perfect for him.” The small, flat dirt track gives a new driver a place to learn throttle control and the feel of a sprint car without any big banking or high speeds. It’s a tight, little track that fits Landon’s needs for now, while he’s learning. He’s already put in dirt laps both with and without a wing. “It’s perfect for what we’re trying to get him to learn. I can stop him on the race track and tell him some things that he can do a little differently, or ask him if he feels something wrong with the car or whatnot. I can stop him, talk to him for a second, and we can push him off, and he can go again,” Shane said. Landon’s sprint car practice laps have all been on dirt. Shane estimates he already has between 100 and 150 practice laps completed in four practice sessions at two tracks, and has had no throttle restriction after the first session.  His first sprint car race will be at a smaller track, no Florida half-miles yet. “He’s smooth,” the proud papa said.

     

    Look out, Florida short track racing, as another Butler appears to be closing in on his Florida sprint car racing debut (maybe this summer) and the seemingly inevitable trip to the winner’s circle and eventually into the Florida record books. He’s Landon Butler … remember that name.

     

     

    Q & A with Carson Macedo at Volusia Speedway Park

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    February 9, 2021

    Q. What was the highlight of your 2020 racing season?
    A. We won the CBS race there at Haubstadt [World of Outlaws sprint car race broadcast live on CBS Sports Network on June 20, 2020, at Tri-State Speedway, Indiana, a race which was considered a thriller], really big race, obviously being on TV. That was pretty special. I feel that I learned a lot last year. I feel like I’m bringing that into 2021 here with JJR [Jason Johnson Racing]. Nice to have a fresh start with a new team [Carson has already won once during Florida Speedweeks, at Volusia Speedway Park with the All Star Circuit of Champions on Thursday].

    Q. So that’s the biggest change for you in 2021, with transitioning to a new sprint car race team?
    A. Yeah. Last year, I raced with Kyle Larson Racing in the number 2 car [a team that has been disbanded]. This year, I’m racing the Jason Johnson Racing number 41. I’m happy to get things rolling here with [crew chief] Phil Dietz and Nate and Clyde. We have some really good sponsors on board, and I’m really excited for 2021.

    Q. What is your primary racing goal in 2021?
    A. I just wanna win races, be our best. Our team – our very best, night in and night out. I don’t really have a whole lot of expectations for this year; I wanna win as much as I can. I wanna compete in the points championship in a respectable manner and just be our best every single night. That’s my goal, that’s what I’m looking forward to.

    Q. Are you competing in any other races other than the full World of Outlaws schedule for the rest of 2021?
    A. No, just the World of Outlaws series.

    Q. Are there any big World of Outlaws races that you haven’t won yet that you are especially determined to go out and win this year?
    A. We always wanna win those marquee events that pay big money. Eldora, the Kings Royal, there’s two of them this year, the Knoxville Nationals – these are all really big marquee events that pay really good money. There’ll all important to us.

    Q. How do you feel things have gone for you so far at Volusia Speedway Park?
    A. Not bad. We ran seventh on the first night [Wednesday with the All Star Circuit of Champions], and we were able to pick up a win on the second night at the All Star show, and then fifth at the first Outlaw show of the year [on Friday]. I think that’s three pretty respectable positions, and we’ll keep building on that and keep looking forward to the future [Carson had a sixth-place finish in Sunday night’s World of Outlaws feature after this interview was completed].

    Q. The World of Outlaws is heading for the Deep South states next, so I’m curious if you have ever raced at any tracks in these states in the Deep South – like Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana, for example?
    A. Never. No, that’ll be some new race tracks. We’ll try and tackle it the best we can.

    Q. So, it’ll be your first trip to race at a track in the Deep South. It should be fun.
    A. Yeah.

    Q. Thank you, Carson.

     

    Joey Saldana: The Full-Time Retired Racer Who Still Races

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    Monday, February 08, 2021

    “Last year? Huh!” Indiana sprint car driver Joey Saldana replied when asked about his year in racing in 2020. It was almost as if he was somewhat shocked by the question. He hadn’t disappeared from dirt sprint car racing. Not hardly. He was there at Volusia Speedway Park for sprint car racing with both the All Star Circuit of Champions and the World of Outlaws. He just isn’t seen in the cockpit of a winged sprint car as frequently anymore.

    When interviewed on Sunday afternoon, he spoke of his son’s racing exploits in 2020, not his own. His 2020 racing highlight: “Probably watching my son win the first race he ran at Macon, Illinois in a micro. Then we went to the POWRi show a couple of weeks later and he ran third, so that was definitely the highlight of my year last year.” For himself: “I only dabble in it five times a year, so probably the coolest part for me is going to all the big races, making the shows, and at least being competitive for not racing but five, six times a year.”

    What about 2021 for Joey? “Actually, I wasn’t even going to come down here, but the times I have run this car for Charlie and James Fisher, we’ve had some engine failures, and they tried some different things, and wanted to come down here. This is always a good place to check your motor package to see how good you are. So far, we’ve been competitive all three nights. We had brake issues the first night, which took us out. For not racing in five months [the car and himself], to come down here with the quality of the cars and run eighth and tenth and be competitive, I’d say your motor program is pretty good.” Joey expressed some slight remorse that his team “could have maybe got a win,” if they had a top-notch, full-time driver in the seat. His Sunday night feature finish was 25th place.

    Despite completing his fourth race at Volusia Speedway Park in one week as a part-time, semi-retired racer, he felt like a retired racer. “I consider myself full-time retired,” Joey said. “People like yourself talk about it in weird ways. For me, I was a full-time World of Outlaws driver for 18 years.” Now, in 2021: “When you’re running five to ten times a year, that’s pretty much full-time retired when you’re accustomed to making a living and racing a hundred times a year. Yeah, I am really retired. I’m just out here having fun and it’s cool to get your adrenaline pumped up. These cars are the baddest cars to watch, to witness, to drive, so when you get an opportunity to drive one, I enjoy it because I know how lucky I was to do it at a high level for a long time. But, I consider myself retired. I guess I’m not ‘officially helmet on the shelf’ yet. But to me, I am.”

    This was Joey’s first time in Florida to race in three years. He has enjoyed racing here and recalled his previous Florida Speedweeks wins with a smile. Getting out of the Indiana winter weather for a brief Florida respite also is a perk, whether it comes with wins or satisfying finishes. “You may not see me again this year …,” Joey added, “or you might see me at the Kings Royal or the Nationals. But, I’d say if that’s the case, that’d probably be it [for his five or six annual races].”

    Aside from those races that his son enters, and limited racing in sprint cars, Joey has spent time building his own business as a part supplier to race teams, including many in the World of Outlaws. “I have an oil tank business [Saldana Racing Oil Tanks] I bought last year, and I do probably 80 percent of these guys out here, so they keep me busy. That’s kind of cool to have my name on Donny Schatz’s car, or Brad Sweet’s. There’s a little piece of me still out here, so I enjoy that. We do all the manufacturing and welding of the oil tanks. It’s a little part of a big piece, but you’ve got to have it to make that big piece function.”

    Joey’s father had a similar business, Saldana Racing Products. “It was a company my dad started a long time ago and then sold it,” Joey said. That put him in a situation that was “kinda weird,” as he previously found himself in competition with his father, but “my dad’s no longer involved in that.” Joey went ahead at speed to get as many teams as possible to use his oil tanks on their race cars and has found success.

    “The Saldana name continues,” Joey stated proudly. It can be found on the oil tanks of the World of Outlaws cars, and even in block letters on a World of Outlaws driver’s firesuit … but that’s something you’ll see only every once in a while in 2021. After all, he’s “full-time retired,” and he’s on a Florida racing vacation of the high-speed variety, enjoying how “it’s cool to see the Saldana name out on a race car.”

     

     

    Florida Pavement Sprint Car Racing Heading Toward Split in 2021

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    January 14, 2021

    It last happened at the end of 2014. The Tampa Bay Area Racing Association (TBARA) had become disorganized and unable to put together a race schedule for 2015 and eventually dissolved. The conditions led to a season without a traveling Florida pavement sprint car series in 2015, the first time this had happened in Florida since 1980. Several tracks stepped in to have their own non-sanctioned sprint car races, including Showtime Speedway. By the end of 2015, the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series was formed, an ambitious effort by several Tampa area racing concerns to keep the tradition of a Florida traveling series going for the state’s pavement sprint car teams. Overall, it has been a success, but is still bedeviled by low car counts.

    The continued success of the series will therefore be mostly dependent on keeping the car counts from falling any further, since there is already in place competent management, about 15 active race teams, a primary sponsor, and a small collection of pavement tracks that are happy with the racing provided by the series. In addition to keeping most of the management team from 2020, the BG Products Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series has also planned a 13-race schedule for 2021 across four Florida tracks stretching from North Florida’s Citrus County Speedway to 4-17 Southern Speedway in the state’s southwest corner. Although it lacks the high-speed punch offered by the bigger tracks like New Smyrna Speedway and the defunct Desoto Speedway, the series has managed to build their brand with name drivers, controversies, and races that sometimes become wheel-banging brawls that lack nothing but the pit fistfights.

    The limited racing and scramble for resources and sponsor dollars that emerged in 2020 may be partly responsible for what is coming in 2021: a split in Florida pavement sprint car racing. A glance at the 2021 schedule for the Southern Sprint Car series shows no races at their anchor track, Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park. Track management there has decided to run separately in 2021 by having their own non-sanctioned sprint car races, both with and without wings. So far, three races have been announced (the first race is next week), although there were prior plans being discussed for twice-a-month sprint car races. Robert Yoho, leaseholder at Showtime Speedway, apparently is no longer associated with the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series.

    The man with the unenviable duty to keep the car counts up for the Southern Sprint Car series in 2021 is series manager Rick Day, and I spoke to him at a recent race in Inverness. “We’ve got 13 dates already booked for 2021,” Day told me. “We’ll be at 4-17 Southern Speedway, Auburndale Speedway, back at Citrus County Speedway, and we are announcing that for the first time since 2013, the sprint cars will return to Orlando SpeedWorld in 2021 for two dates. We’re going full-bore, everything’s looking good, we’ve just got to work out a few details on some sponsorship stuff. 2021 should be pretty good.”

    At the time of this interview in November, it was known that BG Products would return as the series title sponsor, and Rick Day stated that there was still a desire to have some series races at Showtime Speedway “because of our sponsor, BG Products. That is their main market area, so we need to be there. Taylor Andrews is trying to work out with Robert [Yoho] to secure some dates there for 2021, but at this time, we don’t know for sure. Through this partnership with Dayton Andrews Dodge, that’s how we got the BG Products sponsorship to start with. That relationship is a long-standing relationship. The marketing partnership [both Dayton Andrews Dodge and BG Products] will continue in 2021.”

    The 2021 schedule has a sizable mid-season break that will last a little over four months, from May 15 to September 18. Winter season races now include the first 2021 race this Saturday at Punta Gorda’s 4-17 Southern Speedway, a return trip there in mid-February, and two December races that include a season finale at Orlando SpeedWorld planned for one week before Christmas Day. “We want to take the summer months off, that way, we’re not fighting the heat and the rain. It just makes sense, it’s better for the teams, and they won’t waste money on travel only to get there and we rain out. We’re just electing not to book anything in those four months.”

    Regarding the option of having a non-wing “Little 500 Warm-Up” race, as was considered recently, Rick Day stated, “We’re open to a non-wing race. We tried to do it a couple of years ago, but to be honest, with the sponsor commitments, they like having that great, big BG logo up there on that sideboard. They like the bigger decals. We’re not opposed to a non-wing race. Actually, I would welcome some non-wing races, especially before the Little 500, like a tune-up race that TBARA used to do back in the day. We’ve just got to work out some of the details with sponsorship and the race track.”

    If the non-wing Little 500 Warm-Up race is a possibility for 2021, the May 15 race date at Auburndale Speedway seems to be a perfect fit, maybe even make it the “BG Products Classic” to placate the primary sponsor. The pavement sprint car racing media members are already onboard as far as their support for such a race.

    Rick Day continued, “He [Robert Yoho] has indicated that he wants to do a Showtime sprint car class, but he’s only wanting to do 25-lap races. It might work for him, but I’m not sure what his plans are. He’s wanting to do a 25-lap, twice-a-month type deal over there. He’s wanting to run the second and fourth Saturday of the month, as to where we’re trying to work with him. We’ve tried to book most of our races on the first and third Saturdays of the month, to kind of stay off of those dates, to work with him just in case we do end up getting some Showtime Speedway dates.”

    A schedule of Florida pavement sprint car racing this ambitious (races on the first through fourth Saturday each month) would likely see high attrition of teams participating and the inevitable low car counts getting even lower. Whether this will happen during any month in 2021 is unknown as of today.

    “Unfortunately, there could be some months that sprint cars would be racing every weekend of the month. It’s actually probably too much,” Rick Day admitted. Weekly sprint car racing was successful at several Florida tracks in the past (Golden Gate Speedway in the ’70s, the Florida State Fairgrounds Speedway in the ’80s), but there isn’t much of a possibility that it could be successfully resurrected in modern times. There aren’t enough active teams to sustain it. “We’re going forward with our deal,” Rick Day stated. “This is our sixth year. There’s still a possibility of some Showtime Speedway dates.”


    E-mail  Richard Golardi floridaopenwheel@gmail.com

     


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