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    Florida Open Wheel

    By Richard Golardi

    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:






    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.



    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.”





    Remembering Those in Florida’s Pavement Sprint Car Community Who Have Passed, 2019-2020

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    Another superlative was needed … because calling Ralph Liguori a legend just wasn’t enough, it just didn’t describe the level of accomplishment seen in his auto racing resume, which covered the entire second half of the 20th century. Ralph’s “membership” in the Florida pavement sprint car racing community was also cemented by his one “official Florida sprint car feature win” in a pavement sprint car (supposedly there was a second win, according to Ralph, but I couldn’t confirm this), at Sunshine Speedway in 1979. Add more wins in NASCAR Short Track stock car racing, sprint cars, midgets, modifieds, late model stock cars, and even sports cars, which was in NASCAR’s SCODA division. They raced sports cars on NASCAR’s oval tracks.

    Ralph Liguori and his grandson, Joe Liguori

    In Raleigh, North Carolina, Ralph was given the name “the Fayetteville Yankee” during his NASCAR years. They even listed him as coming from Fayetteville, getting rid of his heritage as a New Yorker from the Bronx who later moved to Tampa. He set a Raleigh Speedway track record by winning six stock car features in a row and then earned the track’s stock car championship in 1954.

    Then there was “that race,” the one that Ralph loved to talk about. It was the 1970 Hoosier Hundred, a USAC Indy car dirt race in which Ralph had a late-race battle with A.J. Foyt for second place. It was all-so-memorable because Ralph saw A.J.’s car wiggle a little at the end of the back straight with two laps left, dove to the inside of him going into the third turn, and made the pass to take second place away from Foyt.

    “He finally did it!” exclaimed the network TV announcer. He knew what a big achievement it was, and how it was going to be a big deal to Ralph. There was one racer who received the biggest, most raucous greeting from the crowd after the race concluded. It wasn’t A.J. It wasn’t Al Unser, the race winner. It was Ralph. Although he never won an Indy car race, Ralph enjoyed that day as much as a win.

    Ralph said that he led a comfortable life after driving in his last race in 2000, a midget race in Ohio. He made a lot more money from his businesses and prudent investments in real estate than he ever did in auto racing. But when it came time to tell stories, his racing stories and those about his family that he loved dominated his memories. He was especially proud of mentoring and supporting the racing career of his grandson, Joe Liguori. He’d spend his summers up north to follow Joe on the circuit and be involved in his racing, right up to a few years before he died at age 93 on July 21, 2020. He and his wife, Jane, had four sons: Ralph Jr., Michael, Frank, and Nicholas.

    Upon learning that he had earned the 2013 TBARA Rookie of the Year title, Matt Alfonso remarked, “Special thanks to Jimmy Alvis and Sharon Riddle for letting me drive the car this year. I would also like to thank J.R.E. Racing Engines. To all that have helped me out this year, thank you.” I personally remembered Matt as having a quick smile and being easy to talk to at the track. A friend remembered, “He was a great guy. Always in a good mood, very funny, and never asked for a single thing. RIP Matt Alfonso, and thanks for the wild times we had growing up.”

    Matt Alfonso

    Matt undoubtedly had his best two years in sprint car competition during 2013 and ’14. In addition to the TBARA Rookie award, he had several top three finishes during that time. During our talks in the pits during this time, Matt spoke of the change in his appearance, as he had lost a lot of weight after the cancer diagnosis. He continued racing a sprint car until he was gone from the Florida sprint car circuit for a while, and then passed away due to cancer on December 11, 2020. He was 52 years old. On his Facebook page, Matt posted a background picture of tiny, colorful birds, as if he was finding great enjoyment from the little things in life during his last months. He also decided to give himself a nickname. It seemed like it fit him, as he never seemed to have another nickname at the track. Beneath his name, he wrote: “The Quiet One.”

    Steven Bradley

    Since he died on December 31, 2019, I have decided to include Steven Bradley in this remembrance, and to include him with others who passed away from December 31, 2019, to December 31, 2020. Steven won the non-wing sprint car feature at Citrus County Speedway on April 5, 2014. He also was a feature winner in the Checkered Flag Sprint Series in November 2009. He was 34 years old when he died suddenly last year, and is survived by his wife Amanda and four children.

    When he got his 2014 sprint car win, Steven told me that he had been out of racing for most of the past three years. It was the second race in his new car, and he already had a third place finish to go with the win. “I’m excited,” he stated, as the win came on his birthday. “I had some family problems and some stuff I had to take care of, and I ended up having a baby, a little boy. I had to help out at home, and didn’t really have the time to put in at the garage. We took a couple of years break, and now he’s old enough, and it’s not as hard on my wife. We’re back in the garage again, back at it. We stuck together a new car.” Steven thanked Jerry Stuckey for putting together the Hurricane chassis that he wheeled to the winner’s circle that night. “We’re real happy with it,” he added, smiling broadly.




    Danny Smith at Hendry County Motorsports Park, 11-21-2020

    A Dirt King’s Reign Concludes


    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi


    November 23, 2020


    Hendry County Motorsports Park, Clewiston, Florida, Saturday, November 21, 2020.

    If 63-year-old Ohio dirt sprint car racer Danny Smith won the Top Gun Sprint Series feature race, then he would extend his streak of getting a sprint car feature win into a 46th consecutive year. He could return to his Ohio home, satisfied with his accomplishment and feeling happy. What if he didn’t win? “Then I’d still go home feeling happy,” Danny Smith replied.


    And why shouldn’t he feel happy? He would head home knowing that his feat, 45 consecutive years with a sprint car feature win, was in the uppermost levels of difficulty during decades when names like Kinser, Swindell, and Wolfgang racked up countless wins, all during a time when sprint cars were far more dangerous and sometimes killed or crippled their occupants. A serious enough injury could have broken Danny’s win streak long ago. But it didn’t.


    Danny had a habit of steering around trouble, frequently winning, and garnering fans and friends, especially in the Midwest and Florida, and … don’t forget Australia. Along that long, winding trail came a big win on pavement, as a relief driver in the 1979 Little 500 (infamous for having a wild, unpredictable finish), a plethora of track championships (Ohio mostly), a status as an “honorary Floridian” due to his winning ways on Florida tracks and close friendship with legendary Gibsonton car owner Jack Nowling, and induction into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2015.


    Hendry County Motorsports Park, Clewiston, Florida, Friday, November 6, 2020.

    A last weekend of racing, that was Danny’s original plan. That Friday and Saturday, the 6th and 7th, were going to be his last two nights of racing for 2020. But he could stick around Florida for a little longer, I said convincingly (or so I thought). There were two more dirt sprint car races coming up in Florida through early December, I mentioned. But … he probably wouldn’t be interested. I couldn’t recall Danny entering a Top Gun series race previously. Plus, he’d need a limited 360 c.i. engine, which he didn’t have. He probably wouldn’t be interested. Danny shook his head slightly. That meant no.


    Funny thing though, mention more racing to a race car driver, and he’ll scheme to borrow, buy, or cajole his way into that extra racing. A phone call or two was made. Florida car owner Andy Cobb had a Racesaver 305 c.i. engine, an engine eligible to compete along with the limited 360s in Top Gun. If Danny Smith could arrange to borrow it, he’d have another chance to extend that amazing win streak into a 46th year. If not, Danny’s streak would end at 45 consecutive years, as his last win was in 2019. Andy Cobb gladly loaned the 305 engine to Danny. He’d make a last stand, one last effort to extend that streak into a 46th year, and it was planned for Saturday, November 21 at Hendry County.


    Danny was smiling and looking confident before buckling in and heading out onto the third-mile dirt oval in Clewiston. He was going to head home to Ohio after this race, win or lose, he stated. It was his last race of 2020. Passing rain clouds had mostly missed the track, drenching other parts of South Florida. Three-inch-long frogs were romping through the spectator stands, startling race fans as they sought out popcorn kernels and discarded hot dog rolls and providing entertainment by jumping into the laps of unsuspecting fans. If you heard a sudden “AHH!” then you knew what just happened.


    After the green flag flew, Danny fell back to somewhere close to mid-field shortly after the start of the 30-lap Top Gun sprint car feature race. With the flips and crashes that plagued the early laps, it was a smart move. He missed the spinning and crashing cars, including one that spun directly across his nose in the fourth turn. Then came the methodical stalking, passing, and trying different grooves until he came upon a couple of Top Gun dirt aces, AJ Maddox and Garrett Green. He passed them too. He was up to third place. Ahead were Tyler Clem and Danny Martin Jr.


    He stalked, he powered ahead, but those last two passes were a bit too far off. Clem and Martin both headed for the bottom groove as the track slicked up, and that’s the way they finished, taking first and second. It was Tyler Clem’s first win in two years, and he was smiling and thankful in his return to winning. Danny Smith was third.


    Danny Smith was through with racing, but just for this year. He’ll be back for 2021, he said. He’ll be 64 years old and he’ll still be a full-time race car driver. That’s what he liked doing, so he was going to continue doing it … at least for one more year. He knows that question about retirement will come up again, but not for another 12 months.


    You’ll just have to imagine Danny’s smile on the long trip home to Ohio. It was one of those smiles of satisfaction upon setting a goal, and then completing it, a well-earned, deep-seated satisfaction that you feel deep down inside of you. Then you reach your destination, pull into your driveway, and you’re back home, back with your family. It doesn’t get any better.


    Congratulations to Danny Smith on one hell of a 45-year run of success … and welcome home.


    Feature Race Highlights Video, Top Gun Sprint Series at Hendry County Motorsports Park, Saturday, November 21, 2020:




    Sunshine State Invitational at Hendry County Featured 360 Sprint Cars


    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi


    November 11, 2020


    When plans for two nights of USCS sprint car racing at Hendry County Motorsports Park, just south of Lake Okeechobee in South Florida, were scuttled by wind, rain, and a changing USCS schedule, promoter Ken Kinney moved swiftly to change last weekend’s plans. He replaced the USCS races with his own Sunshine State Invitational, an open 360 sprint car two-day event, with hopes of drawing some Midwest and Deep South teams along with the Florida teams that had raced with USCS in the past. The result was impressive racing, less than adequate numbers of paid race fans, and one race win each for the old (middle-aged?) pros and the teenage Florida dirt racing contingent.

     Andy Cobb at Hendry County Motorsports Park, 11-6-2020.

    That teenage contingent, the Young Guns of Florida, has seen past success with both USCS mini-sprint and 360 sprint car racing. One of their members, 16-year-old Conner Morrell, took to Hendry County’s dirt on the first night, Friday, to battle Danny Martin Jr. for the lead early in the race, only to drop back some when Martin put on his usual dirt racing clinic, deftly handling the slower traffic and the track’s sandy surface. Saturday night held greater success for Conner Morrell, and he won the feature for one of his most remarkable Florida wins yet.


    Garrett Green seems to have completely shrugged off the effects of a frightening flip in a wingless show at East Bay Raceway seven weeks ago, and the concussion and black eyes he suffered when the right rear corner of his sprint car’s roll cage was pounded down into the dirt by almost a foot. He pointed out the depth of the penetration on his car’s roll cage, which occurred on the packed dirt of East Bay’s fourth turn groove. He is foregoing the next weekend of Florida dirt racing, this Friday and Saturday in the panhandle at Southern Raceway’s two-day USCS season finale, to concentrate on the remaining Top Gun Sprint Series races. He is still in the running for the Top Gun series point title with two races remaining. The next series race takes him back to the Hendry County dirt on November 21.

     Danny Martin Jr. wins at Hendry County Motorsports Park, 11-6-2020

    Car owner Andy Cobb had a multi-car team at Hendry County last weekend. He had the number 18 car for teammate Shane Butler, and for himself, he had the 1 (Eleven) car, with an “Eleven” placed inside the numeral one. The number was a throwback to his family’s racing legacy and his own admiration for Jimmy Riddle, and the number 111 sprint car that he drove and the number 11 later fielded at the 2000 Little 500 for Jim Childers, who won the race. Andy told me that he has been gone from auto racing for the past seven years while he took a foray into drag boat racing during that time. “I came back to auto racing in the middle of this year,” Andy said. He is also back in sprint cars, with plans for 2021 that include racing in both ASCS and USCS 360 racing with a number 1C car, since the 1 (Eleven) doesn’t seem feasible, and there are other number 1 cars.


    Andy’s grandfather passed away this summer, so the family’s racing legacy has been on his mind lately. The family’s business, Cobb Glass Company Inc., is celebrating 50 years in business this year, and was involved in sponsorship at Golden Gate Speedway during the 1960s and ’70s. The Cobb Brothers Auto Glass cleanup crew was an iconic group at Golden Gate, running the push trucks, crash trucks, and sponsoring the race cars of various owners. They also sponsored Jim Childers’ first bomber stock car at “the Gate.”


    In the developing trend of grandsons of Florida sprint car legends getting involved in Florida short track auto racing, the latest addition is likely going to be 11-year-old Landon Butler, son of Shane Butler and grandson of Stan Butler. Landon has taken some practice laps on dirt in the family racing team’s sprint car at both The Bullring (Marion County Speedway, Ocala) and at Hendry County Motorsports Park. His grandfather told me that he looked smooth and had no problems during his practice sessions. His previous racing experience is in go kart racing. Landon joins Stephen Hartley, son of Bo Hartley and grandson of Sonny Hartley; and also Bryton Horner, who is Frank Riddle’s great-grandson. Both are currently racing Legend cars, recently at Auburndale Speedway and Citrus County Speedway.


    Danny Smith looked calm and confident, almost serene, prior to taking to the track at Hendry County Motorsports Park on Friday. The Friday and Saturday sprint car features were going to be his next-to-last chance to continue his current consecutive year sprint car feature race win streak into 2020. His last feature wins came in 2019, which marked his 45th consecutive year with a sprint car win. He plans one last weekend of 2020 sprint car racing at Southern Raceway, near Pensacola, this weekend with the USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour. That will be his last chance to get a win and mark his 46th consecutive winning year. If he doesn’t get a win during his November tour in Florida, and with no 2020 races planned beyond Florida, his win streak would end at 45 years.


    Danny has had some second and third place finishes this year, and his 410 cubic inch engine has gotten so well-worn from this year’s All Star Circuit of Champions and Ohio 410 racing that he just “shoved it under a bench” in his race shop for the present time. He has been concentrating on 360 racing for several months. He has missed more races this year at his usual Ohio home track, Atomic Speedway, than in the past several years, but has still competed in most of the races there. This year included more races with his 360 engine, in which he has gotten higher finishes.


    At Hendry County last year, Danny Smith won two feature races, in January and November. That last win included one comedic moment when he slipped and fell off the top wing while celebrating, fortunately avoiding injury in spite of the hard fall. Often the USCS 360 wins required defeating other “Northern Invaders” and nationally-known stars such as Tony Stewart and Mark Smith, who have also grown fond of USCS 360 racing in the past five years.


    Video: feature race highlights from Hendry County Motorsports Park, Clewiston, FL, Friday, November 6, 2020, from the Florida Open Wheel channel:




    Don Heckman: A Florida Pavement Sprint Car Racing Icon


    Story by Richard Golardi


    October 21, 2020

     Don Heckman

    Our story begins at one of those race tracks that used to attract Florida open wheel racing fans, but has been long gone. You might assume that it was one of those tracks somewhere in the Tampa Bay area, one of many tracks that used to host sprint car, midget, or even USAC Silver Crown races, as did the Florida State Fairgrounds Speedway. But it’s not.


    The track was in Southeast Florida – the Florida City Speedway, in Florida City, near Homestead. It became known as a haven for TQ midget racing, a class still popular in Florida today. One of the racers who could be seen taking a victory lap of the high-banked, asphalt speedway in one of the toy-like, little TQ midgets was Gary Smith. His entire upper body seemed to extend beyond the tiny car’s body, with a small roll bar that seemed more for decoration than protection in his number 88 TQ midget. Smith would bravely climb into the little race car, clothed in grimy, grease-covered pants, short-sleeve shirt, and bubble-faced helmet. He was a “hard-charging winner who deeply loved the sport … [who] raced in an era before roll cages and adequate driver protection. As a result …” Then the day of tragedy arrived at the tiny, one-eighth mile Florida City Speedway.


    Twenty-two-year-old Gary Smith was killed in a wreck at the track in 1969, just two weeks after his last victory lap at the track he loved. “As a result, Gary was the only fatality at the Florida City Speedway. After his accident, the track closed for a year, but when it reopened, his dad, ‘Smitty,’ stayed on as the starter.” Florida City’s reputation as a small track with reduced speeds, thereby supposedly making it a safer track, was damaged permanently. The track made a comeback in 1970 under the auspices of the SMRA (Southern Mini-Stock Racing Association). The club racers even cut the grass and maintained the track facility, and TQ midget racing was part of the comeback until ’74. Then the club closed it, and the racing was gone for good in ’76. Another asphalt race track, Homestead-Miami Speedway, was built about five miles away in the ’90s. NASCAR now ruled the roost in Southeast Florida auto racing, bringing their season-ending Cup Series race to their track in Homestead up until 2019.


    But Florida City Speedway was not gone and forgotten, thanks to those who helped keep the memories alive, such as racer Rex Hollinger. A Speedway reunion in 2002 leads us to the present day and news from October 2020. “I have just acquired my most prized materialistic possession,” wrote Gary Smith Jr., son of racer Gary Smith. Don Heckman’s family had reached out to Gary.

     Gary Smith after a TQ midget win.

    Don Heckman had a long and fabled career in Florida short track auto racing, both as a racer and sprint car owner. The local newspaper headlines in Miami/Homestead from 1971 would often read: “Heckman Wins Auto Feature (3-14-1971) … Heckman’s victory in the three-quarter midget 20 lapper was his second …” A third, and then fourth victory followed. Often, he was “the man to beat” in the TQ midgets, and also was a friend of Gary Smith at Florida City.


    Sprint car racer and TBARA Rookie of the Year Rex Hollinger went to Florida City Speedway as a boy. After the TQ midget racers bolted roll cages onto their cars, he did witness one shocking wreck there involving Don Heckman. “Don was very aggressive,” Rex recalled, “and very impatient. He was wild. In 1973, he went barrel-rolling on the back straightaway in a TQ midget, all the way to the wall in turns three and four, up and over the fence, and landed on top of a truck in the pits. They took him to the hospital, and he was back at the track later that night. He was kinda pissed-off because the EMTs had cut up his firesuit. He’s old-school tough as nails!” The two racers later became friends after Don helped Rex get his mini-stock car set up, and then they had a shared involvement in Florida sprint car racing and enjoyed reliving the good ole days back in Florida City.


    Heckman’s most successful period came while partnering with legendary Florida sprint car driver Wayne Reutimann. They racked up dozens of wins on Florida’s short pavement ovals, including winning multiple TBARA sprint car championships together.


    When Don Heckman first asked Wayne to drive his car in Anderson Speedway’s Little 500 in ’92, Wayne was somewhat surprised, but took him up on the offer. He was impressed with Heckman’s enthusiasm to win the race, and knew that he had a quality car. Still, he couldn’t understand why a car owner would take on the costs of driving to Indiana, and all the other costs, for a race where “the wear and tear on a car in a 500-lap race is unbelievable. And the chances of winning are almost as high as they are for winning the lottery.” The car owner from Miami was pumped to go to Anderson, wanted Wayne Reutimann as his driver, and wanted to win. That was enough to convince Wayne to say yes to his offer.

     Gary Smith Memorial Trophy, TQ midget at Florida City Speedway.

    Although that highly talented Florida duo of Heckman and Reutimann never won at Anderson’s “Lil’ Five” together, Heckman had one of his most enjoyable years at the Little 500 in 2008. That’s when Doug Heveron, then a Floridian, won the pole position in the number 22 Heckman Motorsports car. Even though they didn’t win the race, Don was still beaming with pride. Heveron had said that he was going to retire as a driver after the race, so Heckman decided that he would join him in retiring from racing.


    “He was as good as there is,” Don Heckman said of Wayne Reutimann’s racing expertise. “Wayne would very seldom mess up, he always raced a lap ahead of where he was. I had three TBARA championships through Wayne, I have five altogether.” Heckman praised Reutimann as a great person, a great family man, and “just a super driver.” What Heckman most admired about Wayne was his expertise at protecting his car, while still being fast enough to get to the front and win, which he did 97 times in Florida sprint car competition. That’s second on the All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List, with only Dave Steele having more sprint car wins (101) in Florida. Lots of Wayne’s wins came in Don Heckman’s number 22 sprint car beginning in 1992.


    The reason that Don Heckman’s family was reaching out to Gary Smith Jr. was because Don had requested that Gary come to see him. They also revealed that Don was feeling under the weather. Florida City Speedway had begun a Gary Smith Memorial race after Gary’s tragic death, and a trophy went to the winner, inscribed “Gary Smith Memorial T.Q. Midget.” Don Heckman had the trophy. He won the inaugural Gary Smith Memorial race during his time as a racer at Florida City Speedway. Gary remembered that Don was “one of the six that walked my dad to his final resting place.” Don Heckman was special to Gary and the Smith family, and many other Florida racers who Don helped achieve success on and off the race track. The news about Don is disheartening. He is dealing with illness, and has not been feeling well lately.


    Gary Smith Jr. added his thoughts: “Don also told me he is right with the Lord, his family, and friends. The world needs more people like Don Heckman … #CANCERSUCKS.” Gary went to visit Don, calling it an “honor and a humbling experience that a person not feeling very well at all … would think of me.” Don presented the Gary Smith Memorial trophy to Gary as a gift. He wanted Gary to have it and keep it. Gary admitted that he was speechless and greatly honored by the gift. He also heard some stories about his father that he’d never heard before. Don Heckman had remembered the tragedy of that crash more than 50 years ago, the sadness of burying one of his competitors, and the fatherless little boy who was left behind, but not forgotten.


    The gift said a lot about the giver, Don Heckman. It said that he was worth remembering too.


    Thanks to Rex Hollinger (credit for the story idea), Don Heckman, and Gary Smith Jr.

    Rex Hollinger’s Florida City Speedway web page is here:





    Tim George and his dirt sprint car at East Bay Raceway, Sept. 5, 2020

    Tim George: The King of the East Bay Raceway Limited Sprint Cars

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    September 30, 2020

    Even if one says that Tim George has dominated the 360-cubic-inch limited sprint car class at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, it’s still an understatement. You need a more powerful word or phrase, like “ruled,” “made a mockery of,” or maybe just say: Tim George is the King of the East Bay Raceway 360 Limited Sprint Cars.

    Tim George was at East Bay Raceway with his family and family-owned race team. Tim George was home. As he moved around the two winged sprint cars, stacks of tires, the race car hauler, various members of the race team, and other observers (along with one journalist), he seemed at ease. The sky seemed to be troubled, seemed to be threatening another summer downpour. The cars were pulled out of the hauler after he took a last look at the skies above East Bay and declared that he was ready for that night’s racing, which included the 360 limited sprint cars. The evening’s one interview was complete, and now it was time to go racing.

    A few drivers can be classified as one of the legends of East Bay Raceway, and Tim George is certainly one of them. A plaque just inside his race car hauler lists the years that Tim earned the title of East Bay Raceway Park limited sprint car track champion. Those years are: 2000, ’02, ’03, ’04, ’06, ’08, ’10, and ’11. That makes him an eight-time East Bay Raceway champion. He also earned the 2005 USA (United Sprintcar Alliance) Sprints series championship. “We were running asphalt with ’em. That was all-asphalt that year,” Tim said regarding that USA Sprints title. “And I won a championship with Top Gun, too.” That was 2010, when he earned the championship with the Top Gun Sprint Series, a Florida traveling dirt sprint car series.

    “My father did it [auto racing] when I was real young,” Tim explained earlier this month. “And I just picked it up from there. Everybody’s got to have bad habits! He was running down here then. Basically, SaraMana Speedway track, late models. Never did much good with ’em, never really put forth the effort. It was asphalt. That was all we had back then around here was asphalt. You had SaraMana, the old Punta Gorda track, right off of 41, and you had St. Pete. That was the first track I ran was the old Punta Gorda track, when I was 13, in a ’57 Chevrolet bomber. What year? I’m 61 now – do the math!” It was 1972. Tim classified his result in that first feature, in a bomber, as “not good. I only ran one late model race, and that was in Okeechobee. I started out in the Super Sixes here, at East Bay.”

    Tim George and his family racing team at East Bay Raceway Park, Sept. 5, 2020

    His transition to improved race results: “Around 1985.” The transition to being a winner: “Probably somewhere around 1990. The first win was around 1989 or ’90, that was in Southern Modifieds.” The Southern Modifieds became popular in Florida in the late 1980s and early ’90s, and looked remarkably similar to the sprint cars of that time. The series later evolved and morphed into the limited sprint car class at East Bay Raceway, and for some years, some still believed them to be modifieds. The statistician keeping the All-Time Florida Sprint Car Win List didn’t include the limited sprint cars in his sprint car win totals, considering them to be modifieds.

    Although his father helped him get into racing, another member of Tim’s immediate family was less enthusiastic about him moving into sprint cars. “My wife, Robin, told me if I got a sprint car, she’d divorce me. She lied! We’ve been married for 37 years. The first night she came, she called it ‘the stupidest thing she ever saw.’ She still comes to every one she can, she’ll work on the car, and she can change the gears in ’em, she’ll change tires.”

    Tim’s favorite track (a question with an obvious answer) is East Bay, of course. “I like this track. I like Volusia [his second-favorite track], but I like this track, too.” Tim believes his sprint car feature win total “is probably somewhere between 20 and 30. Other than in the sprints, I won one other feature race in the late model. I’ve won at probably two-thirds of the tracks in Florida.” Tim’s nine-to-five job: “I drive a tow truck. I’ve got six of ’em, which makes it hard to get away.” His company, Venice Wrecker Service, based in Venice, Florida, has a problem experienced by many employers: “People don’t like to work too much anymore.” He hopped behind the wheel of a tow truck to head to the site of a wreck by himself for the first time at age 13. The driver that he admired more than any other: “Probably Steve Kinser.”

    Tim would have liked to have headed out onto the World of Outlaws tour, as many legendary sprint car drivers did when Tim was a young man. “It might have been nice when I was younger, but when you get older, you just gotta take what you got and go on and try to be happy with what you got.” Going wheel-to-wheel with Steve Kinser, well, that “would have been fun to try.”

    “For 21 consecutive years, until I hurt my back, I was in the top three in points in that [class], the East Bay limited sprints. The worst I finished was in third, up to 2017. It ended two years ago when I had my back surgery. I kinda tried to go out of the park here. I’ve got nine screws, three cages, and two rods in my back. I caught the gate post about 15 feet in the air, and it stopped me. I came back onto the track. I flipped one a month later, and it got to where I could hardly walk. I was out of racing for about a year. I was still fielding a car with Billy [Bridges], my son-in-law. I came back at the end of 2018, when I ran two races. The first race I ran here in 2019, I won it. Last year, I ended up upside down on the front chute again while lapping somebody and took a left knee out. Now I have a ‘fake knee.’ It chipped a bone when I hit the steering box.”

    He had been avoiding the knee replacement surgery, but after the chipped bone, “I couldn’t put it off no more.” That surgery caused him to miss the first two races of this year at East Bay during the February Winternationals. Danny Sams took over a backup for the number 1* car for those two races. Another surgery is looming in December, this time the other knee is due for replacement surgery. It’s becoming one of the most common orthopedic surgeries, and Tim will soon have contributed to the statistics on two occasions.

    “This year’s been ‘up and down.’ I got the new car, it takes a little bit to figure ’em out and I had a few motor problems. We ran third the first night here, fourth last time we were here, that was the second race this year. They’re not getting the cars up here [for East Bay limited sprints], but they’re not wanting to pay no more money either. Money’s a big deal, there’s more of ’em runnin’ the Top Gun because Top Gun pays better. That’s just the way it works out. With the track being sold, and it’s not gonna be around, there’s not too many people for our class of sprint cars in Florida, which is basically a ‘bastard class.’ You can’t go really nowhere else and run that motor combination. You can run 305s just about anywhere, or the 360s, you can run them – ASCS or USCS. But with the motor rules that we have, basically they’re all on their own.

    “I mean, it’s a dying sport. Now, most kids would rather sit at home and play on their video games than do anything that takes manual labor – hot, sweaty work. When I was a kid, you didn’t have air conditioning, you had maybe three TV channels, if you were lucky. You went to the races on Saturday night somewhere. Now, there’s just so many things to do. The local racing, there’s just not much money in it.”

    Some cars were wrecked during the time that Tim sat out a year while recovering, and now Billy Bridges is driving what amounts to something like a “team car,” which travels to the track in Tim’s hauler, but which is owned by the Bridges family. The car driven by Tim is easy to spot, it’s the “one-star,” 1*. “We started out with a number 10, and we kinda crinkled the tank one time and my father just cut a star to cover the spot and it lost the zero. The star covered where the paint was gone and it stayed. Generally, the cars were yellow. This one ain’t, it’s white.”

    Tim recited the names of his family members, in addition to his wife, Robin: “I have four daughters: Brandi, Susanne, Rebecca (Becky), and then Cheyanne, the youngest. She’s 19 now. We basically adopted her, she’s my wife’s niece’s daughter, but we’ve had her since she was like two years old. I’ve raised her. Susie and Becky have run sprint cars with me. Brandi was into beauty pageants. Susie works for me, runs the office for me. Rebecca quit racing to show cows. She’s loved cows her whole life. It’s been a family affair with us. My mother’s here, my wife’s here, my daughter’s here.” Brandi may be most familiar to Florida racing fans as a trophy queen at Florida short track races, often at East Bay, and is a professional model, now doing marketing for a group of lawyers. There’s also one grandchild, a four-year-old girl.

    What’s the future for the East Bay limited sprints, and what about Tim’s future? “The series will [return]; me, I don’t know yet. I’ve done it a long time. I’m getting tired. My body obviously won’t handle me getting wiped out, and it’s got nothing to do with me, it’s just ‘right place, wrong time.’ When you run one of them, it happens. It can get violent – quick. And you gotta know that. I mean, it’s gotta be something you can’t get mad about. It keeps really workin’ on my body. I mean, my back, my knee. Ya just don’t heal the way ya used to – or at least I don’t. I don’t know what would be next. I’ve run this track basically since it opened in 1977, in one class or another. I still enjoy it. It’s cost me a lot of money, but it’s been a lot of fun. If I was bad at it, it’d be real easy to quit. When you’re not bad at it, it’s hard to quit when you still enjoy it,” he said with a laugh. “It’s kind of a catch-22.”

    Tim George had been thinking about making this year his last driving sprint cars. “Yeah,” he said, “back when I had my back surgery done, there when I was out for the year. My wife says I’m unbearable when I don’t go racing.” So, he went back and became “bearable” again. “I guess! So much that she can put up with me anyway, but you know how that goes.” When that question about retiring from driving race cars comes up, he responds: “I don’t know. I keep saying it over and over and every time I seem to come back, so I don’t know. It’s hard to quit. I always said when it quits being fun, I’d quit. And it’s still fun. It’s gotta be something you do for the love of the sport.”

    As he posed for a photo with his car at East Bay, a structure in the background loomed over the iconic Florida dirt track, the racer, and his race car. It was an ever-growing mound of phosphate waste from the nearby phosphate mines. Soon, like time itself, it would take over. The mining company had profits to spend and had contracted to buy the track by 2024. They needed the land for another mound of waste. Racing at East Bay, and Tim George’s time there as a racing legend, would both be coming to an end. The racer and his track had grown old together, but you can’t hold back time. It always moves on.



    2020 Florida Sprint Car Mid-Season Review

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    July 21, 2020

    Kyle Larson, winner, All Star Circuit of Champions, East Bay Raceway Park, Feb. 11, 2020

    Florida sprint car racing has had its most difficult year in recent memory, with Florida now being identified by numerous media organizations as one of the “latest coronavirus epicenters.” In addition to putting a damper on fans’ enthusiasm to attend crowded sports events, the situation in Florida has seen a record number of new infections in recent weeks. The only bright spot has been that all February Speedweeks sprint car events were completed before the lockdown began in March. Some of the February feature race winners included Kyle Larson, Donny Schatz, Kody Swanson, Brad Sweet and Aaron Reutzel, and the racing was excellent. Larson’s Tuesday night All Star dominance at East Bay Raceway was especially impressive.

    The Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series had held two races since Memorial Day, and has canceled two races planned for Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park, due to restrictions imposed by the coronavirus. Surprisingly, Troy DeCaire, who dominated in early season action, has not won a series feature race since early March, when the last race was held before the lockdown and restrictions on sports events by the State of Florida. Up to that time, DeCaire had won the first three points races in the 2020 season, with Kody Swanson winning the Dave Steele Non Wing World Finals (non-points race) in February. After his win at Punta Gorda’s 4-17 Southern Speedway last Saturday, John Inman needs one more feature win to equal DeCaire’s win total for the year. Inman, with top five finishes in all six series races this year, leads the current standings by 52 points over second place Troy DeCaire. The only other driver with a series win this year is Daniel Miller, winner at Punta Gorda in early June.

    Yesterday, Showtime Speedway leaseholder Robert Yoho stated that, “There will be no sprint cars at Showtime this week. Showtime is electing not to race again,” regarding the race planned for this coming Saturday, July 25 at Showtime. The next scheduled race is a return trip to 4-17 Southern Speedway set for August 15. The remaining races through early December are all at the two tracks already mentioned, save for one race at Citrus County Speedway in November. Races at Auburndale Speedway were canceled, and no races were planned for New Smyrna Speedway.

    That mirrors a similar situation for the Florida dirt series, the Top Gun Sprint Series. They also have found that their racing has been limited to a reduced number of tracks, as compared to previous years. After two races at East Bay Raceway Park in January and February, both won by Garrett Green (who got married during the lockdown), the only other track to hold a Top Gun race this year has been Hendry County Motorsports Park in Clewiston, the advertised “Southernmost Dirt Track in the USA.” A.J. Maddox has won two of the races held there in the vicinity of the Everglades, in March and May, and Shane Butler won the most recent race, on June 13. The track’s next race on September 12 has an advertised first place prize of a minimum $2,000. It is also being recognized by the series as the planned “biggest Top Gun Sprints payout ever.”

    In August, the Top Gun Sprints intend to resume racing at both East Bay Raceway (August 1) and Volusia Speedway Park (August 29). There are additional races scheduled at these two tracks through early December, when the season concludes at East Bay Raceway on December 5. Another notable event in Top Gun racing has been the “comeback tour” of Florida sprint car legend Stan Butler, who has raced with the series this year, in addition to his steady participation in DAARA and classic sprint car competition. Garrett Green, A.J. Maddox, and Shane Butler currently hold the top three places, in that order, in series points for 2020. Green is the only one of the three who is looking for his first sprint car series championship in Florida.



    Pavement Sprint Cars Highlight 2020 Indy Race Week, Plus Indy 500 and Little 500 Race Week Schedules

    Story by Richard Golardi

    May 22, 2020

    With the 2020 Indianapolis 500 scheduled for Sunday, August 23, and the usual races at Terre Haute and the one or two USAC Silver Crown races in Indianapolis and Brownsburg now off the schedule, the 2020 Indy Race Week takes on a new look. A major part of that new look is the prominence that pavement sprint car racing takes this year. They will be in the national spotlight for three consecutive days.

    Pavement sprint car racing will take place on the three nights prior to the Sunday, August 23 race date for the Indy 500. The Must See Racing Sprint Series visits the Indianapolis Speedrome on both Thursday, 8/20 (winged speed trials only) and Friday, 8/21 (winged speed trials and feature races). Then, the wings are off for both non-wing sprint car and midget races for the Night Before the 500 at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis on Saturday, 8/22. The sprint car race will likely interest several Florida pavement sprint car teams, as it serves as an Indiana warm-up race for the Little 500, set for two weeks later on Saturday, 9/5.

    Here’s some news that definitely fits into the category of: "I didn't see that coming, but I'm not shocked at the development." USAC has quietly, without a press release, gotten back into sanctioning pavement sprint car racing, and pavement midget racing too. As of today, the pavement sprint car and pavement midget races at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis on Saturday, August 22 are now USAC sanctioned races. They silently slipped them onto the national sprint car and national midget race schedules, listed as "SE," a special event with no points awarded.

    “New Look” Indy 500 Race Week Schedule:

    Pavement Sprint Car Races Scheduled, Indiana races only:

    • Indianapolis Speedrome: Thursday, August 20,
    Indyana Shootout, Must See Racing Midgets, TQ midgets, Ford oval,
    Figure 8, speed trials with winged sprint cars
    • Indianapolis Speedrome, Friday, August 21,
    Indyana Shootout, Must See Racing sprint cars (winged, Twin 50s),
    Must See Racing midgets, TQ midgets, Factory FWD, speed
    trials with winged sprint cars
    • Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Saturday, August 22,
    Night Before the 500, Pavement sprint cars and pavement
    midgets (both non-wing)

    Dirt Sprint Car Races Scheduled, Indiana only:

    • Bloomington Speedway, Bloomington, IN, Friday, August 21,
    Non-wing 410 sprint cars
    • Gas City I-69 Speedway, Gas City, IN, Friday, August 21, Twin
    20s, Non-wing 410 sprint cars
    • Lawrenceburg Speedway, Lawrenceburg, IN, Saturday,
    August 22, Dick Gaines Memorial, Non-wing 410 sprint cars
    • Lincoln Park Speedway, Putnamville, IN, Saturday, August 22,
    Midwest Sprint Car Series, Non-wing 410 sprint cars
    • Plymouth Speedway, Plymouth, IN, Saturday, August 22, All
    Star Circuit of Champions, Winged 410 sprint cars

    USAC Silver Crown Races Scheduled:

    • Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, Illinois, Bettenhausen
    100, Saturday, August 22

    Little 500 Race Week Schedule:

    There are currently two USAC national series events on the same weekend (but a different date) as the current date for the 2020 Pay Less Little 500 Presented by UAW, which is Saturday, September 5:

    • USAC National Midget Series: Sept 4, Sweet Springs Motorsports Complex, Sweet Springs, MO
    • USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series: Sept 6, Du Quoin State Fairgrounds, Du Quoin, IL

    Indiana sprint car races that same weekend, not including 9/5 (as of 5-22-2020):

    • Friday, 9/4: Bloomington Speedway, Midwest Sprint Car Series, Josh Burton Memorial
    • Friday, 9/4: Gas City I-69 Speedway, Non-wing 410 sprint cars
    • Sunday, 9/6: Kokomo Speedway, Non-wing 410 sprint cars
    • Sunday, 9/6: Tri-State Speedway, Midwest Sprint Car Series, Labor Day Weekend Challenge



    April’s Mixed Bag of (No) Racing

    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi

    April 10, 2020

    April’s usual mixed bag of sprint car racing in the Midwest and Florida has brought no racing in either locale this year. News about the immediate future of racing is another mixed bag of both good and bad news. I’ll get some of the worst bad news out of the way first, leaving the good news until a little later. Speaking of little, the Little 500 seems to be holding fast to its intended Memorial Day weekend race date of Saturday, May 23 (at least as of today, 4/10). This commitment has meant that an excellent alternative race day, Saturday, August 22, has already gone to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis and their revival of “The Night Before the 500,” now with both pavement sprint cars and midgets. A decent purse structure seems likely to draw most of the major pavement sprint car teams. It remains to be seen if there will be enough midget teams to take their cars out of storage to race, but the date is a good choice for such a doubleheader. Crowds drawn to Indy for the next day’s Indy 500 make it so.

    A recent University of Chicago study reported by Scientific American (see link below) has detailed a fascinating find: numerous coronavirus “hidden hotspots” across the country. The reason that they are hidden is because they have not received much of any exposure in the press (that may change now with the study’s release). These are areas that are “disproportionally affected by COVID-19.” The researchers looked at infections per county, then made their adjustments. It revealed a significant number of locations in the South where the proportion of people who have COVID-19 is quite a bit higher.

    These hidden hotspots also show another disturbing trend, especially for those Florida sprint car teams intending to head north to Indiana in a little over a month for Indy race week and the Little 500. These hidden hotspots are concentrated right along the route almost always taken by Central Florida race teams to travel from the Tampa Bay area to Indianapolis and Anderson, Indiana, which is I-75, to I-24, and then to I-65. They include Albany, GA (bordering I-75), Atlanta (on I-75), Nashville, TN (on I-24), and then Indiana (I-65 bisects the state right up to Indianapolis). That “route most taken” from Tampa now leads through four of the nation’s COVID-19 hidden hotspots and puts those Florida race teams at increased risk of exposure to the virus twice, going north, and then heading home.

    2018 Little 500 Florida Driver Group Photo

    In addition, a just-released survey conducted by Seton Hall University on April 6–8 has found that a majority of Americans (72%) would not feel safe attending a sports event unless a vaccine for COVID-19 had been developed. Among those persons who identified as sports fans, 61% stated that they would not feel safe. Most Americans are not at the point where they feel safe and without fear of illness while at a crowded sports event.

    A readily available alternative for the Little 500, in fact probably the best alternative as of today, is to postpone the date of the race, and not just for the benefit of the Florida teams, but also for the benefit of the race fans who attend the Little 500, a group that includes a large percentage of over-65 seniors, a group identified by the CDC as “at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness” (, 4-10-2020).

    There is one alternative date for the Little 500 that stands out, and it is the only date providing all these advantages: there are no competing USAC national races on this date, Kokomo Speedway has no race planned (but probably will have one soon), Lucas Oil Raceway has no oval race planned, there is a major daytime race being held in Indianapolis the same day (Brickyard 400), and Anderson Speedway will benefit from the fans already in Central Indiana looking for another race. That date, with all these advantages, is Sunday, July 5.

    Why this day? Because there are already races planned for July 4 for USAC and for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (which has two races) in Central Indiana. That date won’t work. The “speedway” will probably run late into the day with their two races, and many families will have BBQ and firework parties, and will not be inclined to leave the beer and BBQ they plan to consume to go to a race. Little 500 qualifying could be held on Thursday and Friday, July 2 and 3, and the race on July 5. There’s another benefit: owners, drivers, and crew members that have non-essential jobs, and are now out of work and cutting back on all their expenses, have a greater likelihood of being back to work by July, and can therefore afford the costs of running a race team once again. In April and May, many teams have no way to gather funds to afford the cost of racing in the Little 500, which is estimated to cost several thousand dollars.

    A July race date for the Little 500 would also align the race with scheduling decisions made by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IndyCar Series, and MLB pro baseball, all of whom have no plans to hold events in occupied stadiums during April or May. The IndyCar Series will not hold their season-opening race until June. The speedway will not race until July. Other auto races planned for April and May are being canceled and postponed. That makes sense.

    Now, on to that promised good news: Both of Florida’s sprint car series, the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series and the Top Gun Sprint series, have both expressed their intention to return to racing when stay-at-home orders have been called off and race fans may once again safely gather at Florida’s short tracks, both dirt and paved. Two of Florida’s legendary sprint car team owners, Jack Nowling and George Rudolph, have both recently celebrated their 80th birthdays, with George the most recent to turn 80 on March 30. Nowling and fellow Florida car owner Bob Gratton were also the Grand Marshals for the February running of the Dave Steele World Non-Wing Championship at Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park. George Rudolph can still be seen in the pits, wrench in hand, in Florida and at the Little 500 to this day. Wrench on, George! Two early favorites for 2020 championships in Florida’s sprint car racing have already emerged, even though both Florida series have shut down since early March. Troy DeCaire has won three features with the Southern Sprint Car series, and seemed poised to resume that dominance when the season resumes. On the dark (dirt) side, Garrett Green, driving the No. 82 Hardy Maddox car, has taken the checkered flag in two of the three Top Gun series races this year, and is one of the few Florida racers to have multiple sprint cars wins on both dirt and pavement. He’s one of the early favorites to take his first sprint car championship this year with the Top Gun dirt racers, and would be a popular champion. On the pavement side, the next Florida race is tentatively planned for Saturday, June 27 at Showtime Speedway. Top Gun does not have a confirmed date to resume racing.

    Here’s the link to the Scientific American article on “hidden hotspots”:



    Jeff Walker – The Master Mentor of the Champions


    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi


    February 15, 2020


    The names and places were rolling off his tongue. Stories of sprint car races and sprint car places, all told by legendary sprint car team owner Jeff Walker, owner of Jeff’s Jam-It-In Storage in Noblesville, Indiana. Then there are the names – all those young hot-shots that he tutored and molded and made into consistent winners and racing champions. You can start with Dave Steele, a racer who he moved right into his office at his storage facility, and made it into a bedroom for the 22-year-old in May 1996. Then, add the following names to his list of drivers: Tony Elliott (for almost 10 years), Levi Jones, Dave Darland, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson, Brad Sweet, and “I can’t even think of all of them,” Jeff remarked.


    Jeff Walker has experienced loss, too. If you have been around short track auto racing as long as Jeff Walker, it has happened. He was close to Robbie Stanley, a USAC sprint car champion, who died in a sprint car at Winchester Speedway on May 26, 1994. “He was good at a young age,” Jeff said. “Him and I were pretty good friends. We had a pretty long talk, that day that he got killed. That was a pretty sad day for me. We sat in the parking lot there and talked. He wasn’t very happy with that car there at Anderson. We ran [Little 500] qualifying at Anderson that day, and then ran Winchester that night, and that’s when he got killed. I’ve been close to a couple of guys that got killed – and it’s hard. Luckily enough, it wasn’t in my car, so I’m glad of that. I haven’t had anybody really hurt in any of my cars, and we’ve run a lot of races.”


    Levi Jones, present at Bubba Raceway Park last night in his current position as USAC executive vice president, was another of those protégés of Jeff Walker who had success and multiple championships in a sprint car. He also won his last feature race, at Gas City Speedway, driving a sprint car owned by Jeff Walker. “Levi ran for me a lot too. He ran for me before [car owner Tony] Stewart, that was his first ride out of his family car, and he drove for me for a while. It was at the same time I was fielding two cars then, with Tony Elliott.”


    When Levi Jones made a decision about his future, a decision to leave race car driving, he came to Jeff Walker, and let him know, “Jeff, I’ve got three kids that rely on me.” It was when Jeff had just built a whole new race team. “I get it,” Jeff said to him. “If you want to throw in the towel, I understand.” Levi was concerned: “I don’t want you mad at me!”


    “I’m not mad at you!” Jeff responded. “I understand.”


    Jeff believes that the reason his cars have won so many races is because of the high level of talent possessed by his drivers. “Hire the right driver, and you’ll be a winning team,” he proclaimed. Of course, he is downplaying his mechanical genius at preparing his cars, and his ability to pick the future champions – those drivers that he could mold, mentor, and develop into champions, as he has done for decades. Frequently, they were USAC racing champions, who often went on to win their championships in later years, such as Dave Steele’s USAC Silver Crown titles in 2004 and 2005 driving Bob East’s champ car.


    “I’ve probably helped a few of them!” Jeff Walker said of his drivers over the decades. “And today, I’m here in Florida with a rookie out of Arizona, Sterling Cling.” Jeff’s rookie driver, competing for the USAC Rookie of the Year title, is considered one of the favorites for the 2020 sprint car division rookie title along with Anton Hernandez and Anthony D’Alessio.


    “I just started working for them [Cling family] last June,” Jeff said, “and they’re out of Arizona, so I’ve been out there all winter, building cars. Now we’re here, and we’re going to give it a go, and see how he does.” Jeff revealed that Sterling Cling is an off-road racing champion, and is an experienced race winner. Of course, learning sprint car racing “is way different: 800 horsepower in a 1,200 pound car. In 410 sprint cars, he’s had maybe 10–12 races. We ran last year. He’s got a 360, they call it Challenge Cup. We won one of those, a Challenge Cup race in Arizona a few weeks ago, and a third place last week.


    “They’ve hired me to run the whole team. They said, ‘We want you to do it all.’ That’s the only way I probably would have done it, because I didn’t really want the job. We’re going to run up until June with USAC, through Pennsylvania, and just see how we’re doing. Then, we’re going to reevaluate how we’re doing. If we’re not running well, and not staying up with them, then we’re going to run local races, and get some more experience, and then come back for USAC the next year. If we’re doing alright, we’ll keep running the USAC stuff.”



    Greg Wilson – The Long-Time Visitor


    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi


    February 13, 2020


    Ohio sprint car racer Greg Wilson, driver of the No. w20 car, has been a long-time visitor to Captain Jack’s place, the name often used for the home of Jack Nowling. It’s down at the end of a dead-end road in Gibsonton, Florida. It’s a location that becomes a gathering place for dirt sprint car racers during February Speedweeks, and especially during those three days of racing at East Bay Raceway Park for the 360 Winternationals, which begins today through Saturday. In fact, Greg has been coming to Captain Jack’s and his iconic “Cracker House” for 29 years, about as long as Captain Jack has been living in Gibsonton.


    Greg may just be the racer who is not only a long-time visitor, he may have been visiting for longer than any other racer. He recommended to fellow dirt sprint car racer Danny Smith that he should join him at Captain Jack’s during those weeks of racing during February. Danny joined him, as did many other racers, and has also been a regular visitor there for as long as many can remember. Of course, a highlight of their stay is visiting with that iconic, rough, tough, gruff, but extremely lovable, Florida sprint car team owner and owner of Jack’s Place: Jack Nowling. If you have been one of the visitors there, then you know there is one overwhelming emotion that everyone experiences. It’s that everyone loves Jack Nowling.


    Jack opens up his property, his home, and the social gathering place, The Cracker House, to this diverse group of racers from the Northeast, Midwest, and the rest of the country. Also, there is the bunkhouse, like something out of the Old West, and a fire pit, where racers can be found telling stories and spinning tales (sometimes truthful) of racing from decades gone by, and at race tracks that have met the developer’s bulldozers (Boo!). Sometimes, the story telling and the card games go on until the sun comes up. Greg Wilson has been there to greet the sun after the all-night games and stories have wound down, and believe it or not, that happened on days that the racers then headed over to East Bay Raceway to drive their sprint cars.


    For 2020, Greg Wilson told me that his main goal is to compete for the driver’s championship with the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions. “And win some races,” Greg told me at Volusia Speedway Park. “We had a decent year last year, didn’t win some races that we felt like we should have. Kinda changed some things around over the winter time. Got a really good mechanic [Dean “Bonzai” Bruns] starting in April that will take some pressure off me, and hopefully that equals out to be some wins. He’s going to do the full All Star schedule for our points season. We changed some stuff around, worked on the motors a little bit, and just tried to fine-tune some things that we felt like we were starting to learn at the end of last year. So, maybe we won’t start so far behind this year.


    “You always do this to win races,” Greg added. “We do a lot of stuff for our partners, so we’ll be really busy doing stuff for Hercules Tire and all the people that are involved with our team.” Regarding the highlight of his 2019 racing season, Greg remarked, “I don’t know if there was one real highlight. I just felt like there was a lot of times that we started showing signs that we could win some races again. You know, we kind of went through “a low” being out on the road with the World of Outlaws, and not really having our ducks in a row. And we felt like, last year, we needed to work toward getting things simplified, and trying to figure out what it was going to take to get back to being competitive. We felt like there was times that we showed that, but we couldn’t quite get over that hump. Hopefully this year, we can get some wins.”


    In addition to running the full All Star Circuit of Champions schedule, Greg plans to race in about 20–25 World of Outlaws races, and another 10–15 weekly or 360 shows somewhere. This week, “If we’re ready, we’ll be at East Bay for the 360s, if not, we’ll be in Alabama the following weekend.” Greg revealed that he’s got his 360 engine with him, meaning that he’ll race, if that is the final decision this week to enter the 360 Winternationals. “We’re ready. Oh, yeah!” he remarked.


    “We like East Bay Raceway. It’s a cool place,” he said. “It appears it ain’t gonna be around forever, and we’d like to get us a big win there. But, we also have to do what’s right for our team.” Greg plans to reevaluate the teams’ status on Wednesday, a day without racing, and then make his plans for the rest of the week of racing in Florida. “And then we’ll go from there.”


    This happens, all while his anticipation grows about the coming reunion of racers over at Captain Jack’s place in Gibsonton. “We’re excited to be over at Captain Jack’s,” Greg stated. “I’ve been going there probably longer than any of “the clan” has been goin’ there. I started going there when I was 15 years old, and I’m 44 years old. So, he’s like a father. Jack’s been a huge part of my life, and we love the man, and he’s struggling right now with some health issues. We’re excited to get back there and spend some time with him this week. I actually started coming around right when “the move” [Jack’s move from Brandon to Gibsonton] happened. Right when he moved to Gibsonton, like the first or second year, I met him at the race track at East Bay. I was there.”


    And, that is what makes Greg Wilson “The Long-Time Visitor.”



    Terry McCarl – East Bay Time is Happy Time for This King of the 360s


    Story and Photo by Richard Golardi


    February 12, 2020


    In February 2019, Terry McCarl won another East Bay 360 Winternational Saturday finale, the Ronald Laney Memorial race. That’s the race with the biggest payday in 360 sprint car racing during February Speedweeks in Florida. It was the fourth time winning that race for the 55-year-old Iowa racer, which includes one race with a 410 engine, and the other three during the 360 Winternationals. His main competition for that Saturday finale this year may be another two experts on Florida dirt, Aaron Reutzel and Mark Smith. They have both won two feature races so far during 2020 February Speedweeks, Reutzel in 410 racing, and Smith in 360 racing.


    “Man, I just love East Bay Raceway Park,” “T-MAC” had said previously about the small, racy West Coast Florida dirt track. “We had our ups and downs,” Terry said about his 2019 season, “but [Knoxville] Nationals is always our biggest goal, and we had a bad Nationals, had some mechanical problems. We won six features in six different states. We won one at Texas Motor Speedway, one of the finales with the ASCS national group. Picked up our 59th win at Knoxville, we’re only one behind [Doug] Wolfgang on the all-time list. We’re inching up there, slowly but surely. East Bay was our highlight last year, that was our fourth one, the third with 360s, we won one with a 410. That was also our second in a row, only person to do that. Pretty proud, I love East Bay, I love comin’ down here, I love Florida, we’ve got a lot of great friends and have been comin’ down here for so many years. And of course, you can’t beat the weather, compared to Iowa. I’ve said this story a lot, but as a little boy, I used to listen to my dad’s stories about comin’ to Tampa, and racing at the Tampa Fairgrounds and all those places that you see in the history books. My dad was there for quite a few of those and it means a lot to me to come down here and put my name into the record books. I’m into the history of sprint car racing quite a bit.


    “We teamed up with Rick and Barb Rogers at Destiny Motorsports last year, it’s T-MAC Motorsports and Destiny Motorsports, it’s a ‘combo deal.’ They’re good folks, we’ve been friends a long time. They sponsored me for years with Destiny Motorsports on the front wing, and this last year, we combined more, we got their truck and trailer and all their goodies and put a deal together. We’re going to get bigger and better every year, I think, with Dick and Barb. I’m looking forward to being with them, they’re great people. And Mondak Portables, and that really helped us out to get back on track. We had a good year for our first year teaming up with those guys, and I’m looking forward to this year. Florida’s kinda tough, and it’s always been that way. Gary Wright and I always used to joke about it: ‘If you win every night in Florida, or lose every night, you still get to the Georgia line on your way out of town, and throw away all your notes, because they don’t work anywhere else.’ ”


    On Sunday at Volusia Speedway Park, Terry remarked, “I’ve dominated down here, and I’ve run bad down here, like this week. Florida’s a tricky, tricky place for everybody. I really enjoy it, I’m looking forward to being at East Bay this week.” Terry intends to race at all five sprint car races at East Bay Raceway this week, the two All Star series races, Monday and Tuesday; followed by the three nights of the East Bay 360 Winternationals, Thursday–Saturday. Then he heads home, with the possibility of getting in a USCS sprint car race on the way. The World of Outlaws sprint car dates through the beginning of April are also in his plans. Beyond April, it’s “kind of pick and choose,” and after speaking to Rick and Barb, “we might be at Knoxville weekly, I’m not sure. I live 30 minutes from ‘the best track in the world.’ I think we ran 60-some races last year, but we were there for all the weekly shows. What’s nice about where we live, and about Knoxville, is that it pays really well, their point fund is really good, but their season is very short. It lets us race with the Outlaws up until April, and it lets us race with the Outlaws after that [late August end of Knoxville’s sprint car season]. You never know where you’re going to see us, or where we’re going to be – 360s, 410s, we could be just about anywhere.”


    Terry mentioned that his son, Carson, we be racing at East Bay this year, and that he’s “excited about that. Hopefully, next year we can get Austin down here too, and have a ‘McCarl – Fest.’ Carson, my youngest, was the 360 champion at Knoxville last year, and will be racing a 360 at East Bay. Austin is kinda ‘crew-chiefing’ for us. He’s putting his own team, his own ride together with Brandon Ikenberry, they’re looking at doing some racing together. He’s a long-time friend of Austin’s and he’s worked for me for years and years, a great crew guy.”






    Daryn Pittman: Back with Roth Motorsports, Building on Last Year


    Story and photoo by Richard Golardi


    February 10, 2020


    Daryn Pittman, the 41-year old racer from Owasso, Oklahoma, has already won a World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series championship. That happened in 2013. He has a career win total of 85 feature wins with the Outlaws. But Daryn Pittman is looking to improve on his first season with Roth Motorsports last year, when he won four World of Outlaws races, half of which occurred during the February Speedweeks visit by the Outlaws to Volusia Speedway Park. Although he leaves Volusia without any feature wins this year, his speed and impressive car-handling on the last night, Sunday, when he was in contention for the win with Brad Sweet and Logan Schuchart, is a great start to more wins and improved consistency for 2020.


    Later in 2019, Daryn added another win in the Gold Cup Race of Champions at California’s Silver Dollar Speedway in September, and that put him on the way to a fourth place in the final 2019 point standings with the World of Outlaws. Back in the No. 83 Roth Motorsports sprint car this year in his 23rd year of racing, Daryn remarked that he was “glad to be back again. Definitely would like to get to victory lane a few more times than what we did last year, but obviously excited to be back and try to build on what we started last year.”


    Highlight of the year in racing for Daryn in 2019: “We started off awfully good,” he said. “But, honestly, I’d say the highlight for me, especially with how much I’ve struggled there, was running third at the [Knoxville] Nationals. Ran well, we started 10th and got to 2nd and contended for the lead for a few laps, and weren’t quite good enough. But that was really a pretty big step for me, and I think that was a really good effort by the team, and big improvement by myself, as far as performance-wise at that race. So, I actually think that might have been one of my highlights. Winning Gold Cup was obviously a pretty big win for us, as well, and being in Dennis’ [car owner Dennis Roth] back yard in California.”


    Main goal for 2020: “We’ve gotta win races. We only won four last year. I think a realistic goal is we’d really like to try to get close to double digits, if not, as close as we can. We’ve got to do a better job of winning more races and being competitive and contend for more “crown jewels” and be there again for Knoxville. The National Open [at Williams Grove Speedway] is one that’s been there on my radar, and one I’ve been close to winning for way too many years. So, we’d love to be able to click that one off. I’ve run second, five times now, I believe. You gotta go out there and win ’em, and earn ’em. It’s one that we’ve always been good at, and been close, and we’ve love to be able to finally check off the list. If we could be as good as we were at Knoxville this year, I definitely think that we can contend for that one, as well.”


    After Sunday night at Volusia Speedway Park, “We’re done until Texas,” Daryn said. They were not staying around for another two days of 410 racing at East Bay Raceway, as many of the other 410 teams were doing before heading back north for the rest of the 2020 season. “We’ll get ready for just the Outlaws races. We’ll probably run the Front Row Challenge at Oskaloosa, but other than that, no. The Outlaws schedule keeps ’em busy enough. We don’t need to seek too many other races.”


    A track that he’d choose to get a win in 2020: “Knoxville. Only race I’ve ever won in Knoxville is a World Challenge race, so I’d be happy with a July, or June, or whenever we go there, or any race in August, for sure. It’s definitely a track that I’d love to get a win at. Wins have been only the World Challenge race – I’ve won that three times, I think, but that’s the only race I’ve ever won there.”




    Jacob Allen Interview: “Try Again Tomorrow”


    Story and photo by Richard Golardi


    February 9, 2020


    It almost happened in 2019. Jacob Allen’s first feature race win in the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series, that is. He was leading a race at the Stockton Dirt Track, one lap away from winning it, when a part failure took a “sure win” away. That makes the 25-year-old racer from Hanover, Pennsylvania want that first win even more this year. He took 12th place in the World of Outlaws points last year, after a best placing of 11th in Outlaws points in 2018. He is back with Shark Racing, a team owned by his father, Bobby Allen, in 2020, again with Logan Schuchart as his teammate. Jacob was a full-time “PA Posse” racer, racing full-time in Central Pennsylvania through 2013, and then went full-time in the World of Outlaws series in 2014 for the first time.


    Jacob’s main goal for 2020: “Just to have fun,” he remarked, “and to be a good teammate, and have a good attitude.” Highlight of the year for him in 2019: “In a weird way, I’d say, getting that close to winning my first Outlaw race. That was a heartbreak, but that was probably my highlight – just being up front, leading that race, and being fast on a track that we have struggled at in the past.”


    The definite main goal for 2020 is the effort he’ll put forth to get his first World of Outlaws feature win: “Yeah, that’s obvious, just to get that first Outlaw win.” Jacob plans to “just take one race at a time and do the best I can. I come to every race, and it doesn’t matter if I’ve won one Outlaw race, or a hundred Outlaw races, I feel like I’m always gonna treat that the same – one race at a time and try to win it.”


    If he could choose a track for that first Outlaw win, would he choose Stockton, California, or would it be a different track?: “I’ll take it tonight, here at Volusia. If it doesn’t happen today, I’m gonna try again tomorrow, and see how it all plays out. This [Volusia Speedway Park] is a fast race track. It’s pretty technical. After a few months of the off-season, you come right into a lot of speed and great competition, but that’s everywhere. It’s a pretty tricky and aggressive half-mile, but it doesn’t make me intimidated or anything like that. I just take that all into perspective, and I go out there and I give it the best shot I can.”


    Shark Racing plans to compete in the full 2020 World of Outlaws race schedule, and also has plans for the few weeks after the sprint car racing at Volusia ends on Sunday, February 9. “We’re going to go back home after we race here in Volusia,” Jacob stated. “We plan on racing in the Icebreaker, that’s at Lincoln Speedway [Saturday, February 22], and anything with the right scheduling that we have time to do and we’re able to race it, I know my dad is gonna want to race, and we are too. Back home, or wherever it might be. Back in Pennsylvania is where you can find us, if we’re not racing with the Outlaws. At the end of the year, if BAPS [Motor Speedway, Pennsylvania] has that race after the Outlaw season, we always do that one.”




    2019 Champion’s Interview - Aaron Reutzel, All Star Circuit of Champions

     Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

     February 8, 2020


     Aaron Reutzel was already on a roll coming into the Friday night season-opening race for the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars. He had already won at Volusia Speedway Park this week, taking the Thursday night Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions feature race with impressive speed. Earlier this year, he also had a sprint car win in Australia on January 5, his first win “Down Under.” With 18 overall feature wins (16 with the All Star series) and his second consecutive All Star Circuit of Champions driver championship in 2019, what’s left for the 29-year old sprint car virtuoso?


    How about conquer Florida Speedweeks for a start? Aaron and his Baughman-Reutzel Motorsports No. 87 team plan to race in ten nights of competition in Florida this week, and all the way through to the end of next week. After Volusia, it’s off to East Bay Raceway Park on Monday and Tuesday, and that’s where he’ll stay for the rest of the week after the All Star series races on those first two nights. Out comes the 410 engine, replaced by their 360 engine for the East Bay 360 Winternationals on Thursday–Saturday. The rest of the year consists of attempting to win their third straight All Star series championship, while also including a major portion of the World of Outlaws sprint car schedule in their 2020 plans.


    “We’re gonna do the All Star deal again,” Aaron remarked at Volusia Speedway Park on Friday. “So, we’d like to win that again. Last year, I felt like it was a big one for us to win it again. When we won it the first year [2018], it was our rookie year. Last year, we felt like we needed to back it up to prove that we were the team that we were. That was good. This year, I think we want to back-up everything that we did, you never want to go backwards. Sixteen wins, that’s going to be hard to do; and then an Outlaw win, that’s going to be hard to do as well. If I have any goal, it’s going to be to at least get two Outlaw wins this year, and win the All Star championship again.


    “I would like to have a little bit more of a consistent year,” Aaron continued, “where we have a little less DNFs, and try to get more consistent – me as a driver, and also as a team together.” When asked about a track where he has not won, but where he’d like to be a winner, he was quick to respond: “I’d like to get Knoxville out of the way, I haven’t won there yet.” Highlight of the year in 2019: “Winning the Tuscarora 50.” Goal for this weekend at Volusia: “Try to win one of these next three [weekend races at Volusia], and go down to East Bay, I’d like to win the Ronald Laney Memorial [Saturday finale at East Bay Raceway], ’cause Ronald grew up about an hour from me and he was always “the hometown guy,” so, I’d like to win that race. I haven’t been there [East Bay 360 Winternationals] since 2015.”


    All the Thursday speed he showed was quite a contrast from Wednesday night at Volusia, when he struggled for speed. Not on Thursday, when he had speed in abundance, and a trophy. What happened? “I don’t know! At the end of last year, it seemed like it didn’t matter where we went, we were able to make speed and last night just wasn’t any different.” Any other big half-mile tracks similar to Volusia that he’s looking forward to in 2020? “I always enjoy getting back to Eldora, and definitely Port Royal,” which was the location of Aaron’s “favorite win” from 2019, the Tuscarora 50, at Pennsylvania’s Port Royal Speedway on September 7, which was a $52,000 payday for Aaron and his team, their biggest ever.



    USAC Rookie Interview – Anthony D’Alessio

    Story by Richard Golardi

    February 4, 2020

    When legendary Florida sprint car racer Frank Riddle competed for the USAC National Sprint Car series Rookie of the Year title in 1980 (he won it at age 51), he had three decades of racing experience behind him. He was hardly a “rookie.” When Floridian Anthony D’Alessio races for that same USAC Rookie of the Year title this year, four decades after Riddle’s try, he measures his sprint car experience in years, not decades. Next month will mark three years since his first sprint car feature win, in an East Bay Sprints race at East Bay Raceway Park on March 11, 2017. He went on to win another sprint car feature in Florida that year, a Top Gun Sprint Series race at East Bay. By the next year, the Apollo Beach resident had moved on and was racing in the Midwest. New tracks, new competition, and new goals were ahead for 2018 and ’19. Now, when he sits in his dirt sprint car and looks out over the car’s hood, ahead of him he sees 2020.

    Anthony plans to race in the full USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series tour in 2020, beginning with the season-opening race at Ocala’s Bubba Raceway Park on Thursday, February 13. He’ll still be a teenage racer, 19 years old. But that will change soon. On April 6, he’ll turn 20, leaving his teenage years behind, and also embarking on an arduous spring and summer tour of Midwest and Eastern race tracks, most of them new to him. He did race at a number of Indiana tracks last year; highlighted by a feature win at Lincoln Park Speedway during their “King of Non-Wing Sprints” event in August, and also a USAC heat race win at Kokomo Speedway in July during USAC’s Indiana Sprint Week. He raced at a couple other USAC events, and lots of weekly sprint car shows at tracks such as Kokomo, Gas City Speedway, and Lawrenceburg Speedway.

    During early 2020, he showed off the new car colors, with a flash of bright blue and black, on both social media and at a kick-off event held at a pub in Anderson, Indiana last Saturday. Anderson was a short hop down the interstate from where he currently lives, in Gas City. He raced the full season of races at Gas City Speedway in 2019, and will be back there in 2020 with USAC as an owner/driver in company with Parallax Motorsports and owner Joe Brandon. He’ll be driving the No. 01 DRC/ Claxton Mopar. Brandon stated that he decided to move forward with this united team effort after meeting Anthony, who immediately impressed him as “a genuinely nice young man.” Nice … and fast, that is.

    Anthony’s already got a history of success in winning Rookie of the Year titles, winning three of them in Florida before that move to the Midwest about 1 ˝ years ago. First came the Rookie of the Year designations in both the East Bay Raceway sprint car division, and the Top Gun Sprint Series in 2016 (his first full season in sprint cars), followed by a half-year of pavement racing and Rookie of the Year with the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series in 2017. That came at the wheel of Johnny Gilbertson’s No. 22X. He led laps and got a top ten at the Frank Riddle Memorial race in October 2017. That pavement experience plays an important role in one of Anthony’s future goals – getting to race a champ car in USAC Silver Crown, which races on both dirt and pavement.

    But first, it’s time to gain experience in USAC competition on USAC tracks in a USAC sprint car. “When I moved to Indiana, it was always the plan to go USAC racing,” Anthony said. “Last year was my ‘build season,’ I like to call it. I wanted to get one good season of local Indiana racing under my belt before I went full-bore USAC racing, so I used last season to build my operation and just learn as much as I could.” His parents are “still down in Florida. I’m actually living up here by myself – all on my own.”

    Other racing plans for 2020: “If the time comes when we have a week off, and can go hit Kokomo, and any local Indiana track, I probably will. I’m just kind of going to play it by ear. My number one goal is to go out and have fun and that’s what I came here to do. This is going to be a learning season and there’s a lot of tracks on the schedule that I haven’t been to yet. So, I’m going to have to really buckle down, and learn all I can while I can – get my notebook together, I guess you can say, for the coming seasons. Most of the tracks on the schedule, outside of Indiana, I haven’t been to.”

    His family’s plans to come see him race outside of Florida: “They’re going to try to come to the majority of them. My mom’s kind of sick right now, and she can’t travel as much as she’d like. But, my dad is going to try to come to just about all of them. He wants to be there for me, to support me.”

    His opinion of his chance of winning USAC Rookie of the Year: “I think I have a pretty good chance. There’s some stiff competition for Rookie of the Year this year, but I feel I’ve put a pretty good program together, and can definitely be a contender for it. It’s going to be mostly about consistency, and who can make the most races, and right now, that’s all I’m focused on.” On the other two USAC rookie contenders, Anton Hernandez of Texas, and Sterling Cling of Arizona, Anthony said, “I’ve raced with them quite a bit. Anton Hernandez is a great shoe, and he’s got a great car owner, Kenny Baldwin, behind him this year, so I think he’ll definitely be stiff competition. Sterling Cling, as well, he’s also gonna be pretty tough. He’s got Jeff Walker behind him turning the wrenches, he’s one of the most notable [car owners] there is. It’s definitely going to be tough, but I hope I’ve put a good program together, so I can at least contend for it. I actually work over at Scott Benic’s speed shop right now; we also build for Baldwin’s team for Anton’s car. I’ve worked alongside Anton putting the cars together.”

    Would he want to do more pavement open wheel racing? “Yeah, I’d be interested in doing pavement, either at the Little 500, or pavement Silver Crown stuff. I’d love to get behind the wheel of anything on pavement. I’d never turn anything down, that’s for sure.”

    Racing plans beyond 2020: “I don’t know really – I guess it depends on the opportunities that arise. I love the USAC racing, I love the community behind it. I’d love to be able to drive in Silver Crown, and get behind the wheel of a midget. I’ve always said that wherever I go, I just want to be good at it. That’s what I want to do – whatever I race, whether it’s USAC sprint cars, Silver Crown, or midgets, or World of Outlaws, or if I’m lucky enough to make it to higher levels, like IndyCar or NASCAR, I just want to be good at whatever I do.”



    Champion’s Interview – AJ Maddox, Top Gun Sprint Series

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    January 29, 2020

    Rounding the one-third mile dirt surface at Gibsonton’s East Bay Raceway Park for a last time on the night of November 30, 2019, AJ Maddox was in an intense battle with Shane Butler for the feature race win, a race that later was declared the season finale. Going into this Top Gun Sprint Series finale, he had a 20-point lead in the season-long points over second-place Keith Butler. AJ had just surpassed Butler in the series point standings earlier in the month, when Butler had a stretch of bad luck. As AJ and Shane Butler approached the front straight and the checkered flag, with a first or second place feature finish almost certain, AJ had the 2019 Top Gun sprint car driver championship firmly in his grasp. Keith Butler was just inside the top ten in the race, allowing AJ to gain points and sew up the title. That was his. One thing was left … win the race.

    With a win this night, AJ was going to earn his fifth Top Gun series feature race of the season. The four prior 2019 wins came at East Bay Raceway during Speedweeks (two wins), at Volusia Speedway Park in April, and also at East Bay in October. He had already established a record of earning the driver championship in Top Gun Series racing during odd-numbered years, going back to 2015, his first driver championship in the series. That was followed by championships in 2017, and now, 2019. These all came at the wheel of the No. 3A car owned by Ray Bolin. His car had now carried AJ into a tie with Danny Martin Jr. (champion in 2011, 2013 and 2014) for the most career Top Gun driver championships. Both drivers now had three titles.

    AJ Maddox at Volusia Speedway Park, 2016

    Let’s go back to that East Bay race on November 30: Earlier in the evening, race officials informed the teams that the transponders, an electronic device installed on each car for timing and scoring, would not be used, as the computerized system used in conjunction with the transponders had malfunctioned. Teams were informed to return the transponders. There was no system to capture a “photo finish” by a camera at the start/finish line, if one was needed in case of a close finish. The finish was going to be decided by race officials by eye.

    AJ and Shane were now side-by-side coming off the fourth turn on the last lap, and seemed to stay that way upon crossing the finish line. But, one of them was just slightly ahead. The race was now over. The arguing was just beginning. One view of the finish line, slightly askew from directly straight-on, appeared to show AJ and the No. 3A ahead at the line. But he was not declared the winner. Shane Butler was declared the winner, and got the honor of celebrating in the front straight winner’s circle at East Bay.

    AJ had a different opinion of that declared finishing order. He stated that if the transponders had been present and were functioning properly, that he, and not Shane, would have been declared the winner. “I chalk up the last race of the year as a win,” AJ said defiantly. “If we would have had transponders on the cars, I think the end results would have been a little bit different. There’s video evidence of the finish, at the finish line, and at the time, we couldn’t do anything about it, so I didn’t want to make a fuss. It was a Memorial Race for Don [Rehm], and his family was all involved. That’s the way it goes sometimes: sometimes the calls go your way, and sometimes they don’t!”

    About Top Gun Series racing: “It’s one of series where you have to run every race. You gotta support the series, and show up every week. Sometimes that’s difficult to do – life gets in the way, and you’ve gotta truly be dedicated to it. Luckily, every year that I’ve won the championship, it’s been one of those years where I’ve been lucky enough to make every race, and finish well, and have a good car underneath me. That’s what it takes to win championships. It takes dedication, and a good car, and good support.”

    About the oddity of winning his championships only in odd-numbered years: “Some of those years, we’ve been trying to branch out, and run some 360 stuff,” which for dirt racers in Florida, that often consists of the East Bay 360 Winternationals, and USCS national sprint car series races, which require an ASCS/USCS 360 engine to be competitive. Top Gun Series racing does not allow these engines, only limited 360 engines (and some others). “One or two of those years, I didn’t have a motor for some of the races, we had some motor issues” he added. AJ has had a goal to run more USCS races, and those “even-numbered, non-championship years” sometimes marked the time when his team had that goal in mind. USCS races in Georgia and South Carolina were sometimes within reach during the summer months, but the desire not to lose points in the Top Gun rankings often kept them closer to home.

    His goal for the 2020 race season: “Try to not run as much Top Gun stuff, but run a lot more 360 stuff. From 2012 to 2018, I did have a 360, and we ran quite a bit with the 360.” Engine builder Robert Delgado began the rebuild on his USCS 360 engine in 2018. After health issues delayed the rebuild and set back Delgado’s work timeline, car owner Ray Bolin decided to stick with Delgado and wait out the delay. Delgado’s engine work was worth waiting for, they decided.

    AJ Maddox, with car owner Ray Bolin, and Ashlynn Durden in 2015

    After missing last year’s East Bay Winternationals, they’ve got their USCS 360 engine back, and are now ready for more 360 racing in 2020. “It’s a bullet, for sure – came off the dyno with good numbers,” AJ said of his confidence in the rebuilt 360, which will be ready to race in the East Bay Winternationals in two weeks. His 2018 Winternationals results included getting a top six start to get locked into the feature on the final night, Saturday, February 17. Those top six qualifiers are often considered among the best 360 dirt sprint car racers in the nation.

    AJ’s highlight of the year in 2019 racing: “Honestly, it’s going to sound kinda selfless, but, helping Matt Kurtz during the 2019 360 Winternationals was kinda the highlight of my year, in racing. He didn’t make the show the first two nights, and kept workin’ at it, and he went on to start last in the heat race and win. Raced his way in, came from the back in the feature, I think he started 16th, or so, and drove right up to the front, got to second. I think he got a little tired there towards the end of the race; it’s certainly special when you get to do that with that kind of company – even workin’ on ’em and helping somebody else. Seeing an effort like that is really satisfying. We ran the Top Gun stuff, we won some races and it’s always fun to win the non-wing races. Other than the last race, according to the history books, I’ve won every Top Gun non-wing race at East Bay that they’ve held, heat and feature, since 2012. Probably one of the highlights of my career.”

    On Sunday, January 19, the Top Gun Series Annual Banquet saw Ray Bolin and AJ Maddox take the check and trophy for their 2019 series driver championship. I asked who gets the check, is it split between owner and driver? “Any money that is awarded goes to the owner of the car,” AJ replied. “I’m not sure what the amount is, they kinda keep going up every year. It’s between three and five thousand for the championships [driver and car owner both]. Ray will get that. That’ll help out for the following year, and we’ll keep on movin’. I get a picture, and a handshake, and a jacket [Hoosier Tire purple], and get to drive race cars for another year.” But … the check split? “Ahh – we don’t really have anything set in stone. I take care of the cars, and house the cars here. Ray lives in Orlando. He covers the cost of all the racing, I get to enjoy driving and working on the cars. That’s pretty much my payment of the whole deal. It costs a lot to keep these cars goin’. I don’t expect anything in return, honestly. Just get to drive them, and be around it, and live my dream is plenty payment enough.”

    AJ’s “thank yous” to all who helped him achieve another Top Gun Series driver championship in 2019: “First would be Ray Bolin, then his business is the sole sponsor of the car, as of right now: AMP Agri Machinery and Parts. And Robert Delgado Racing Engines, he’s always provided reliable, great power. That’s pretty much all we’ve got right now. And Ashlynn [his girlfriend], of course, for helping me work on it and maintain it.” Is she being assigned the “crew chief” title? “Oh, yeah, for sure,” he answered. “She’s usually got it washed on Monday or Tuesday, and on stands, ready to be worked on. She’ll do most of the work on it if I get hung-up at work, or I can’t make it over there, and she can. She can do full maintenance, and do anything and everything making sure that car’s ready to race.”

    That certainly makes AJ a lucky guy, many would say. “Yeah … I ought to marry her one of these days,” he stated. When I called AJ for this interview, there was the possibility that “home shopping” for he and Ashlynn might necessitate a change of day and time for the interview. They were looking for the perfect home – for the two of them. “Ashlynn and I are trying to get our first house, we’re in the process of that right now. Actually, we put an offer in on one today. I’m working pretty hard at my job [plumber/pipefitter], I’m doing at least 60 hours a week. Between moving, and that, and getting ready for the Winternationals, I’m a pretty busy guy.”

    Racing plans for the next month: “We’re going to do all the Winternationals stuff we can for the next month.” At most, that’s six nights of racing: possibly three nights of the Top Gun Series, limited 360 engine, on January 30, 31, and February 1; and “definitely” three nights of the East Bay 360 Winternationals, on February 13–15. Also – “The majority of the Top Gun stuff throughout the year, and whatever USCS stuff we can break-off and hit, we’re gonna do that. Usually, there’s 10 to 12 USCS races throughout the year that we try to plan on hitting. It doesn’t always work out that way, but we’ll at least try to hit that many. Most of the places are within reason [with cost considerations] – Georgia, and Alabama, or North or South Carolina. Try to look at it as a mini-vacation, just get outta town. We’ve talked about it a little bit.”

    Home plans, looking to the future, looking ahead to more championships, AJ was willing to say how he was putting it all together, his current perspective: “We are plenty excited about it, hopefully it all works out, and we can start another chapter of life here.” The house being considered, it’s “a little three bedroom, two bath, it’s got a pretty decent size shop in the back – plenty of room for us to expand, and get our race car hauler in and out of. It’s a good starter home, at least for now.” His own race shop, right next store to his home: “That was the idea in mind when we started the process. I haven’t been able to keep the race cars where I live yet, since I’ve been racing.”

    If you are wondering: did I ask about a wedding, and family, and children, and so on, in the future? Here’s the answer: No. I didn’t. I’d already demanded that the “ought to marry her” comment be on the record (pretty good – huh?). I decided not to press any further. I believe AJ will tell us what he’s thinking, and what’s he’s feeling. All that will happen … when the time is right.




    A Look Ahead – To 2020 February Sprint Car Speedweeks

    Story and Photos by Richard Golardi

    December 22, 2019

    The swift-approaching February Sprint Car Speedweeks in Florida will have a different look in 2020. The national series will hold their races during a condensed period of just 11 days during the first half of the month. Compare that to 2019 – when just one track, Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, had national sprint car series races for three consecutive weekends during February. Of the three sprint car series that raced during those three weekends, only one returns to Bubba Raceway Park in 2020 – the USAC national sprint car series.

    Bubba Raceway will have two weekends of national open wheel racing in 2020, as they will once again host the USAC national midget series on the weekend prior to the arrival of the USAC sprint cars. But, the All Star Circuit of Champions and the USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour, the other two national sprint car series to visit in 2019, will both be absent from Bubba Raceway in February 2020. Rumors of financial difficulties for track co-owner Bubba Clem have been swirling all through this year, but the truth is that the track will be back with racing in 2020, although with a shorter Speedweeks schedule.

    Despite the announcement that East Bay Raceway Park will likely be sold and closed in 2024, long anticipated as the mound of phosphate waste that looms higher in the east with each passing year seemed destined to overwhelm and supplant the track eventually, the East Bay 360 Sprint Car Winternationals return. If the 360 Winternationals are held each year until the end (which seems sure to happen), then the 2020 edition will be followed by four more before the last ever 360 Winternationals in February 2024. East Bay management is hardly rolling over and waiting for the inevitable, however. They are bringing back national 410 sprint car racing for the first time in years with the return of the All Star Circuit of Champions, filling in the Monday–Tuesday gap between the Florida dates for the World of Outlaws sprint cars and the USAC sprint cars.

    With that “gap” filled in, which was a three-day gap without a national sprint car series race last year, there now will only be a one-day gap without a national sprint car series race during the week before the Sunday, February 16 date of the Daytona 500. In fact, beginning on Wednesday, Feb. 5, there will be a national sprint car race in Florida for all of the rest of that week, and almost all of the next week. The only day without a race will be Wednesday, Feb 12, and it will have national sprint cars on track, but just for practice, and not racing, in Ocala at Bubba Raceway. For an 11 day period from Feb. 5 to Feb. 15, the dedicated sprint car race fan can see cars from a national sprint car series on track for those 11 consecutive days, and all but one of them with racing.

    Despite the disappointment that came with their previous “Big Speedweeks sprint car race,” which saw a depleted car count, few cars with 410 engines, and sparse attendance in 2014, Showtime Speedway will make a try at another big February Speedweeks race, this time a non-wing, non-points race to honor the memory of Dave Steele. The race will be held on Thursday, February 20, at Showtime Speedway, and will be designated as the Dave Steele Non-Wing World Finals. The planned distance is 125 laps on the quarter-mile pavement oval.

    Feeling up to the challenge of going to the track for 11 consecutive days of national sprint cars on dirt? Well, then you’ll need the 2020 February Sprint Car Speedweeks schedule for Florida, and here it is:

    Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 1/30 to 2/1: Top Gun Sprint Series, East Bay Raceway Park, Gibsonton.
    Wednesday and Thursday, 2/5 to 2/6: All Star Circuit of Champions, Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville.
    Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 2/7 to 2/9: World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series, Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville.
    Friday and Saturday, 2/7 to 2/8: USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour, Hendry County Motorsports Park, Clewiston.
    Monday and Tuesday, 2/10 to 2/11: All Star Circuit of Champions, East Bay Raceway Park, Gibsonton.
    Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 2/13 to 2/15: East Bay 360 Winternationals at East Bay Raceway Park, Gibsonton; and the USAC National Sprint Car Series at Bubba Raceway Park, Ocala.
    Saturday, 2/15: Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series, 4-17 Southern Speedway, Punta Gorda.
    Thursday, 2/20: Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series, Dave Steele Non-Wing World Finals, Showtime Speedway, Pinellas Park (special non-points, non-wing race).

    The 2020 schedule for the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series, which does not include any race dates for New Smyrna Speedway, means that next year’s races will be lacking any high-speed, high-banked track. In fact, with a second race date added for Auburndale Speedway, that means that the 2020 schedule will be heavily weighted toward the tighter, slower tracks. No half-mile tracks are on the 2020 schedule. It is unknown if a national pavement sprint car series may be coming to Florida next year, but the only national schedule still open is the King of the Wing series.
    When asked to comment on the lack of New Smyrna Speedway races on their 2020 schedule, the Southern Sprint Car series management responded as follows: “It’s hard to get cars there and they didn’t ask us back next year. Not saying [we] wouldn’t go.”
    Florida’s 2019 sprint car racing champions are: East Bay Raceway Park limited 360 sprint car track champion; Joe Zuczek; Top Gun Sprint Series driver champion: AJ Maddox; Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series driver champion: Troy DeCaire.
    If Troy DeCaire’s new sprint car team for 2019, a team that he took to multiple wins in Florida, plus some visits to Mobile International Speedway’s victory lane, and finally to the championship in the state’s most prestigious pavement sprint car series, the Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series, sounded like a familiar achievement accomplished by a driver from a previous generation of Floridians, then you must be fairly old (or really knowledgeable about Florida sprint car racers). I state that because the last time that a sprint car driver from Florida accomplished something eerily similar was 50 years ago – in 1969.
    That’s when Wayne Reutimann’s 1968–1969 race seasons included a new team beginning in 1968 (with Florida car owner Sam Posey), then a trip to Mobile’s victory lane, a super modified/sprint car race win on April 28, 1968, followed by multiple Florida wins and taking the championship in Florida’s most prestigious pavement sprint car series at that time in 1969 – the Golden Gate Speedway sprint car track championship. November 2019, when DeCaire virtually locked up the Southern Sprint Car title, marked 50 years from when Wayne Reutimann locked up the Golden Gate Speedway sprint car title in November 1969.

    E-mail  Richard Golardi


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